William Rivers Pitt: Trapped Like a Rat
Trapped Like a Rat
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 09 February 2006
The funeral for civil rights leader Coretta Scott King on Tuesday was quite a sight to see. The depth of sadness in the room could not be overcome by the happiness that came with the celebration of her life and accomplishments. It was the measure of Mrs. King's impact upon our society that four presidents - Carter, Bush, Clinton and Bush - sat before her flower-draped casket and spoke of her life.
And then, of course, the foolishness began. The nattering nabobs of network nonsense blithered into their cable news studios to deplore all the political statements that were served up before the appreciative crowd in that church. It was the Wellstone funeral all over again.
Let's be clear. The life of Coretta Scott King was one that involved politics from every angle. Any lifelong struggle against poverty, racism and war is going to be a life immersed in politics. That is simply the way it is; because so many politicians and political ideologies center around statements and legislation that directly add to the burdens of the poor and minorities, any person choosing to fight poverty and racism is going to wind up dealing in politics.
Gandhi was elected to no office in his entire lifetime, but every action he took involved politics. The same can be said for Martin Luther King Jr., who won no elections but changed politics in America forever. Coretta Scott King held no office, but her work affected the politics of this country in every way. Ask Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan, who received a warm telephone call from Mrs. King while standing vigil outside George W. Bush's ranch in Crawford last August. If this was not a political act, then political acts do not exist.
Politics belonged in that church on Tuesday. Period.
A good deal of the humbug arising from the political statements at the funeral are based upon the fact that George W. Bush changed his schedule to appear at the event. Because he did this, the thinking goes, he should be above the pointed criticism he absorbed up on that stage. Smart money says he came to the funeral only to avoid the criticism he would have received had he not shown up with those three other presidents. Smart money likewise says he came to try and shore up his poll numbers with African Americans; his support among this constituency stands in the low single digits, well within the margin of error in any poll, suggesting his actual support among this group is zero. This is, however, an issue for another day.
The central tenet of the civil rights movement has, is and will always be one simple truth: one must speak truth to power in order to affect change. This was the maxim by which Coretta Scott King lived her life, and the maxim by which her husband lived and ultimately died by. Had her funeral not involved speaking truth to power, the ceremony would have been incomplete. George W. Bush heard on Tuesday some hard truths that his fanatical insulation has to date spared him from. It may have been the healthiest moment this republic has absorbed in years.
President Jimmy Carter, who has come to be one of the harshest critics of Mr. Bush, hurled fire across the stage over the deplorable administration response to Hurricane Katrina. "This commemorative ceremony this morning and this afternoon is not only to acknowledge the great contributions of Coretta and Martin, but to remind us that the struggle for equal rights is not over," said Carter. "We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, those who were most devastated by Katrina, to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans."
Carter also took a moment to drop a brick over the recent revelations that the NSA has been spying on Americans, without court approval or warrants, at the behest of Mr. Bush. "It was difficult for them personally," said Carter, "with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the target of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance, and as you know, harassment from the FBI."
By far, the harshest criticism came from Rev. Joseph Lowery, a King protégé, who spoke of Mrs. King's staunch opposition to the occupation of Iraq. "She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar," said Lowery. "We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we knew, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor."
Would Coretta Scott King have approved of this? One can be certain that the woman who said "If American women would increase their voting turnout by ten percent, I think we would see an end to all of the budget cuts in programs benefiting women and children" would have certainly approved.
This was a day for speaking truth to power, but it was more than that. Mr. Bush and his people have worked incredibly hard to keep this president from hearing anything that rubs against what he believes to be true. He speaks before hand-picked crowds of adoring supporters, never once seeing the face of someone who thinks he is running the nation into the ground. Millions upon millions of protesters have followed his every move, and yet it is almost certain he has never laid eyes upon a single one of them.
On Tuesday, by his own design. George W. Bush was trapped like a rat on that stage. He was forced to listen to eloquent denunciations of his politics and his policies, perhaps for the first time since he took office. The effect upon him was clear; during the speeches delivered by Rev. Lowery and president Carter, Bush looked as if he was sucking on a particularly bitter lemon.
When one speaks truth to power, especially arrogant power, that is usually the effect. Coretta Scott King would have approved.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.