A rug depicting the (now Chinese-banned) Tibetan flag, hand-woven by Tibetan refugees in Nepal.
As a child of the American South, I grew up during the Civil Rights Movement. Underlying racial tensions were inflamed by class and grinding poverty. Television screens and newspapers were filled with images of white-hooded Ku Klux Klan members arrested for burning crosses on lawns or racially-motivated murders. Schools were segregated and doctors' offices had separate entrances and waiting rooms for black patients and white patients.
When schools were integrated, our next door neighbors moved to an all-white town in a different area of the state. Some of my friends' parents sent them off to private schools, while another group of parents started their own charter school. All that upheaval to avoid their children intermingling with black children!
I was lucky that my parents weren't prejudiced and didn't support this ignorant, reactionary behaviour. I never saw my parents treat anyone - no matter their race - with anything but respect. As Martin Luther King said, we should consider a person's actions, not the color of their skin.
Years later, I took a Kuwaiti friend to see the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Martin Luther King was shot and killed at the Lorraine Motel, now part of the museum. My friend - whose family had suffered through Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait - was struck by the model of the segregated lunch counters once so common throughout the South. The museum also displays the Montgomery, Alabama bus where Rosa Parks famously refused to give her seat to a white man.
We listened to a recording of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's speech ordering Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus to allow integration of Central High School in Little Rock, the state capitol. Eisenhower had to call out the National Guard to force Faubus to allow nine black pupils in the school. (Years later, I saw a tipsy Faubus stumbling down exterior hotel stairs in Little Rock. How the mighty had fallen).
Ironically, the same state that kept Orville Faubus in office for 22 years also voted for liberal Democratic senators John L. McClellan and J. William Fulbright. I had the privilege to meet both McClellan and Fulbright, who became leading lights in the Senate. As a teenager, my interest in politics was sparked particularly by Bill Fulbright, who was the powerful and outspoken chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Fulbright devoted his life to public service and education.
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Lately we are seeing eerie echoes of Civil Rights movement tensions. In 2012, The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery - headed by lawyer and activist (and my long-time hero) Morris Dees - reports hate crimes on the rise. The SPLC is working flat-out defending victims of hate crimes, as well as the rights of immigrant workers adversely affected by Draconian anti-immigrant laws in Alabama and Arizona.
Meanwhile, organisations linked to the Republican party are engaged in voter suppression efforts around the US, seeking to shape 2012 election results. Voter suppression is a tactic from the civil rights era, resulting in passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Apparently it's not enough that the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling allows corporate PAC money to pour practically unchecked into political races...now they want to suppress the vote! In the 2008 election, the GOP distributed flyers containing false information and issued robocalls designed to mislead citizens and repress voter turnout.
This year, long-dormant "dog-whistle" provocations are dominating entire news cycles. These cynical attempts to manipulate potential voters are funded by right-wing billionaires the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch and other wealthy corporate heads. Meanwhile, the real issues go largely unreported by the mainstream media.
We cannot allow wealthy corporations to buy an election. Every single American has the right to vote - despite GOP-sponsored bills in several states trying to make this privilege more difficult. It's up to us to stand up for ourselves and not be deterred by cynical machinations of a few unprincipled men with bad intentions.
Know your voter's rights. For Voter ID Toolkits or up-to-date information about voter's identification required in your state, refer to the non-partisan Election Protection's excellent website or telephone 1-866-687-8683.
We honor Dr. King's legacy and his dreams of peace and equality by taking action. And we must stand strong against injustice, no matter its form.