Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Great Migrations

The Great Migration is a term we use to describe the mass migration of Americans of African descent, most of them descendant of slaves, to the cities of the north.  The first great migration took place between 1910 and 1930 when 1.6 million African Americans left their homes in the Jim Crow South for northern American cities like Detroit, New York, Chicago and Cleveland.  During this time period, the lynching of blacks in the South was happening on an estimated average of one every four days.  The Great Migration is a good example of how economics can drive history.  When the economy improved in the northern US, many of the factories in the north needed more labor.  My family immigrated south from French Canada during this same boom.  Opportunity allowed many to move to a better situations. The move to the new locale had its challenges. Many of the other ethnic groups did not welcome them particularly the urban Irish who were losing jobs to cheaper labor.

The Second Great Migration started during World War II, when factory jobs were many, through the booming time of the 1950's and 1960's.  Five million African Americans migrated from the South this time spreading out West to California, to the Midwest as well as North. Much of the migration routes of families can be traced by the train and other travel routes of the times. For example, Mississippi families migrated to the Chicago area, Alabamans to Ohio and Michigan cities and Louisianans over to California. Up to this point, African Americans were thought to be rural folk This is also where the Black American middle class got its roots.

Author Toni Morrison's family is one of the families that migrated in the First Great Migration.  Her maternal grandparent migrated from Alabama to Lorain, Ohio (on Lake Erie) in 1910 after they lost the family farm.  Her father's family migrated from Georgia to the same town where both sides of the family worked in steel mills.  The Nobel Prize winning author is famous to being a voracious reader, even as a child.   If she had grown up in the Jim Crow South, depending on what state and what year, it is possible that she wouldn't have been allowed to read, to attend a good school or even have a library card.  The world would be missing one of America greatest writers.  You have to wonder who or what other potential was lost during the lynchings in the Jim Crow South.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Don't Be Afraid to Say Revolution

I know a lot of people who are not interested in politics.  Most people don't get interested in politics until they have to.  For me, it was my "Approaches to Politics" class at Bryant College when I was surrounded by Young Republicans.  I was almost always in the minority in any discussion in class.  I was often revolted by some of their opinions and I began to understand why my working class parents were Democrats.  Each time I heard the privileged individuals call a working class person lazy, each time I stepped out of my beaten Dodge Dart into the parking lot surrounded by the smell of new car, each time I heard one laugh at one of the janitors ... I was driven further and further to the left.  I would often say that we were doomed, as a nation, if my fellow classmates were the future leaders of industry.  I regret how correct I actually was.

When I was in my 20's, I thought I was on the radical left.  It wasn't until I moved to Boston in the 1990's and actually met people who were on the radical left, that I realized that I wasn't radical at all.  I realized that people on the far left are as whacked as those on the far right.  Now that my political dust has settled, I have landed on left-of-center clinging desperately, with less faith daily, to a dysfunctional political system. I can see why some people run away screaming from politics.  Everyone has their own sets of facts, stats and favorite pundits. I think of how many hours I've spent yelling back and forth with friends in bars, at parties and on road trips.  We must have looked like such assholes.  Politics is fun, even funny sometimes, but is tiring and sometimes ugly.

Regardless of how far left I thought I was, I have never attended a protest.  Never held a sign, never chanted a slogan.  I've driven by and beeped a few times for protests against the Iraq war. For the most part, I find the protests annoying.  They never seem to accomplish anything and I have always felt that they probably do more harm to their causes than good. I am no activist, not because I am apathetic, but because I have not really seen anyway that actually has a positive effect on change. My political activity, in addition to arguing in bars, mostly involve writing letters, blog posts, attending town meetings and an occasional phone call to a politician.  Nowadays, I am slowly appreciating why one would attend a protest, not because it would affect change, but simply because nothing else will.  So attending a protest, might at least make you feel good and give you the delusion that you are doing something.  Calling your Senator or Rep. isn't going to do anything when a corporation lobbyist can wipe out any appeal you might have as a voter.  For the first time in my life I am tempted to join the protest, for in a world where nothing you do can change anything, it would nice to be around a bunch of people who at least share your concerns.

I have no idea what the Occupy Wall Street folks are up to. They don't seem to know themselves.  Is Wall Street at the root of this country's problems?  Probably, yes.  So Wall Street is probably good place to start.  Their disrespect for environment, their blind dedication to the bottom-line, their true lack of accountability and ethics ... do you really need anything specific to complain about Wall Street?  Revolt is in the air regardless of what side of the political spectrum you are on. Can you imagine if Occupy Wall Street crowd got together with the Tea Party movement and rallied together?  I realize that these two crowds probably have little in common, other than dissent, but that might just be enough.  Earlier this week, one of my favorite thinkers Cornell West, twitted "Don't Be Afraid to Say Revolution."  Probably the most profound statement I have seen on Twitter.  Are we afraid to call it a revolution?  Perhaps. The Age of Revolution took place from 1775 to 1848.  Perhaps we are there again.  After see what has been happening in the Middle East and Northern Africa, it certainly seems that way.  Is this a time of new political thought? or are we just a group of whiners?  I don't know, but I may just show up at the protest this weekend when they organize in Burlington.  Not because I see solutions in sight, but because I see no other options.  Thanks for Dr. West, I am not afraid to say "revolution."