Twenty years after: From Wilson to Trump- Oppression finds its King

by Emmanuel Burgin

I wrote “A Chicano in Prague” upon my return from Prague twenty years ago. Arriving back in my home state of California, I was struck dumbfounded not only by Governor Pete Wilson’s rhetoric on immigration but, also, by the many willing to follow him. And I found my mother fearful to venture outside even though she had been in the states legally for sixty-four years and had seen two sons serve in the U.S. military during the Vietnam era. Her fear stemmed from having seen two older brothers, although here in the states legally with workers permits, picked up by immigration officers and without due process of the law thrown into a box car on a train a mile long and shipped back to Mexico.

So here I am, twenty years after, never realizing I had been on a slow march to oppression. So in deference to my family history please indulge me if I say that a racist, misogynist who espouses hate and surrounds himself with white supremacist will never be my king. I will resist. I will fight the king in the tower. I will fight with my words. Never my king.

 

A Chicano in Prague

Oppression: Whether communist, fascist or economic, the power to degrade people’s lives speaks the same language.

Los Angeles Times

August 30, 1996|EMMANUEL BURGIN | Emmanuel Burgin is a contributing writer to El Sol de San Diego newspaper. He recently returned to San Diego from Prague where he completed his first novel and began research on a second.

 

PRAGUE — Am I the first Chicano in Prague? Rudolfo Anaya, the esteemed Chicano writer, can lay claim to being the first Chicano to travel to China. It’s from “A Chicano in China,” his journal of that journey, that I derive my title.

Although it would be an accomplishment, something to tell the grandkids, I doubt that I am the first Chicano in Prague; we travel everywhere now, borders never having grasped our imagination, akin, perhaps, to the Native Americans’ inability to conceptualize the owning of Mother Earth.

My sojourn here to live among the people has been twofold: that I may begin to understand the effects an oppressive communist regime has had on its people and to witness the struggle to Westernize in the face of the tidal wave called the global economy.

In so doing, I hope to better understand the intolerant attitudes that sometimes rear their ugly heads in my country. In California, oppression of rights, the plague of the downtrodden, has joined with economic struggle and taken a place at the kitchen table of the immigrant and working poor. The battle to retain rights granted by the Constitution, compounded by the historical economic struggle that all immigrants have known has created a crucible in which something volatile is brewing.

I was greatly alarmed and affected by Proposition 187. Not so much by the politics and the rhetoric of the politicians–after all, politics is a dirty business–but by the public’s prevalent eagerness and acceptance of this mean-spirited rhetoric.

There is always a deeper meaning behind the action. A wildfire needs grass, shrubs and trees to consume in order to move forward. I am alarmed at the deeper meaning of this acceptance: the insensitivity of a friend, the latent racism of a kindly neighbor.

Language that is designed to separate and abuse and spread fear, in other words, oppress, eventually settle comfortably into the laps of those whose ideas of what a good society should be are, those who are, in the extreme, racist and, to say the least, not very understanding of the multiethnic society that we are.

Dialogue of oppression can be wrapped in many colorful packages (economic stability, rights of citizens, unfair tax burdens, crime) but it is still the language of oppression, words that fan the flames of frustration, anger, hate and racism.

It is good to remember the words of Gyorgy Konrad, a leading Hungarian writer who as a child barely escaped Auschwitz, then the Arrow Cross, the Hungarian Fascist party that wanted to shoot him and dump his body into the Danube.

“Intimidating or constraining or killing one’s fellow man for belonging to this or that group has become inimical to Europeans, despite their long history of racial, national and class hatred, or rather because they have learned from their history and finally realize that discrimination leads to murder.”

When our representatives try to pass legislation that will divide the people and discriminate against a segment of the population, we are in dangerous territory.

The Un-American President

I am trying not to lose my mind. I am trying to center myself, trying to dissipate my anger. I am watching my country turn its back on refugees on a most solemn day this International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

I am thinking of those Jews on the MS St. Louis sailing away from evil toward the shining light of hope, the light of freedom, the light of life toward our lady we Americans so proudly show off to the world.

I am thinking of when those refugees arrived at our shores: the land of free and the home of brave. I was trying to walk in their shoes, feel the wear of their clothes. What was it they felt, glee, relief? And cheers. Did they cheer? Or were they quiet in prayer.

What expressions are theirs, when their heart is full, when their spirit finds its room, when the spirit is released, when it is lifted? What is theirs?

The word I know comes passed down from the churches of the slaves. It is in their songs: Glory, Glory Hallelujah! It rings out in their marches Hallelujah! We shall overcome. And it is in their dreams Hallelujah! “Free at last, Free at last. Thank God almighty Free at last.”

But we Americans: The sons and daughters of Mother Liberty. We turned them away. We turned away those refugees seeking safety in our arms. We turned the Jews away. We did not want them here, those nine hundred. We sent them back into the shadows, into the darkness back into the hands of Hitler, into Nazi Germany. We sent them back and placed them into deaths hands.

And today of all days we have done it again. And I am trying not to lose my mind.

How many will die this time?

If you believe in God, then, God forgive us. If you believe in God, then, God help us.

For we have done it again.

None of This Is Normal. All of It Is Un-American.

November 18, 2016 by

This post first appeared on BillMoyers.com.

A friend of mine who has dual Israeli-American citizenship tells the story of entering an elevator in Jerusalem shortly after a bullying right-wing government had taken over the country.

The other passenger was ostentatiously puffing on a big cigar. My friend pointed to the no smoking sign and politely, in Hebrew, asked the man to douse his smoke.

“Eff you,” the man replied. “We’re in charge now.” Only he didn’t say, “Eff.”

Sound familiar? Well, it’s a tiptoe through the tulips compared to what’s going on in the United States right now.

Incidents of hate-related violence and other abuses have proliferated throughout this lovely land of ours. The presidential campaign and now the election results have further allowed the pinheads of society to let their racist, misogynistic, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic freak flags fly. Despite denials from many on the right and the Trump transition team, this is really happening — unlike that avalanche of fake news stories that have been overwhelming social media.

(And yes, I know have been scattered incidents in which Trump followers have been vilified on the streets, but far fewer.)

Journalists who investigated Trump, his businesses, family and associates have been mailed anti-Semitic screeds or threatened with violence and even death. Women who have reported on Trump have been sent the vilest sexist epithets. Kshama Sawant, the socialist city council member from Seattle who recently urged protests at Trump’s inauguration in January has been targeted for email and phone attacks, some of which have suggested that she kill herself.

Just about everyone I know has a story or two or three from the last week and a half. My friend Deana tells of a part-Asian co-worker swung at by a white male who mistook him as being from the Middle East, of a friend’s boyfriend who was told to “Go back to Africa” on his Facebook page, of another friend’s middle-school-aged daughter and other girls who were pushed around by boys in her class, some wearing Trump T-shirts and shouting hateful things about women.

From the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC): “Between Wednesday, Nov. 9, the day after the presidential election, and the morning of Monday, Nov. 14, [SPLC] collected 437 reports of hateful intimidation and harassment… Venues of harassment included K-12 schools (99), businesses (76) and universities (67). Common also was vandalism and leafleting on private property (40) and epithets and slurs hurled from moving vehicles (38).”

A new report from the FBI states that last year, hate crimes were up 6 percent, with a two-thirds increase in attacks against Muslims. According to their statistics, “There were 5,818 single-bias incidents involving 7,121 victims. Of those victims, 59.2 percent were targeted because of a race/ethnicity/ancestry bias; 19.7 percent because of a religious bias; 17.7 percent because of a sexual-orientation bias; 1.7 percent because of a gender-identity bias; 1.2 percent because of a disability bias; and 0.4 percent because of a gender bias.”

Camila Domonosket at NPR notes, “The FBI report is based on local law enforcement data. It almost certainly understates the scale of the problem: In 2014, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated, based on victim surveys, that 60 percent of hate crimes are never reported to police.”

Here in New York City, the police department reports that so far in 2016, hate crimes have jumped 30 percent from the same period last year, “including a spike during last week’s hotly contested presidential election,” according to DNAInfo New York. “NYPD statistics show that anti-Muslim and anti-‘sexual orientation’ motivations were responsible for much of the rise.”

But what was Donald Trump’s response to the reports of the upswing in hate crimes after his election? “I am very surprised to hear that,” he told 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl. “I hate to hear that, I mean I hate to hear that.”

Lesley Stahl: But you do hear it?

Donald Trump: I don’t hear it — I saw, I saw one or two instances…

Lesley Stahl: On social media?

Donald Trump: But I think it’s a very small amount. Again, I think it’s —

Lesley Stahl: Do you want to say anything to those people?

Donald Trump: I would say don’t do it, that’s terrible, ‘cause I’m gonna bring this country together.

Lesley Stahl: They’re harassing Latinos, Muslims —

Donald Trump: I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, “Stop it.” If it — if it helps. I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.

“Stop it.” Really? That’s all? You sounded like a parent telling the kids in the back seat to quit fidgeting. Make your condemnation swift, adamant and loud. We know you know how to do loud. Demand that it cease.

And while we’re at it, Mr. President-elect, the appointment of your campaign CEO Steve Bannon as counselor and chief White House strategist makes a hideous situation even worse. Cancel it.

This is, after all, the person who — more than a year ago! — Joshua Green at Bloomberg BusinessWeek succinctly described as “the most dangerous political operative in America.”

Julia Zorthian at TIME magazine writes that as head of the alt-right news website Breitbart, “Bannon has given voice to some of the unsavory forces floating around the conservative movement’s fringe, including a resurgence of white nationalism. His appointment has fueled anger, with critics decrying Bannon’s connections to racist and anti-Semitic views.”

In recent days, many of you have seen some of Breitbart’s headlines: “Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew,” “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy,” “Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?” and “Gay rights have made us dumber, it’s time to get back in the closet.”

Even The Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker, who cut Bannon some slack in a recent column, concluded that “he has been willing to strategically encourage people’s hate as a way of inciting them to action. How these methods will manifest themselves in the White House remains to be seen. But we can uncomfortably imagine that Trump under Bannon’s direction will do whatever it takes to get what he wants.” Swell.

So hate speech and Steve Bannon: a perfect pair. Donald Trump, you’ve let this evil genie out of the bottle. Set an example for a country so viciously torn asunder.

Use one of your two remaining wishes and end this madness.

Hell No! Trump Must Go!

 

Hell No! Trump Must Go!

When I began reporting for a small local newspaper, I remember standing in front of my editor’s desk and gazing at a poster of a poem on the wall.

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

            Pastor Martin Niemöller

As a Writer I take it to heart to speak out for the oppressed, to be a voice for the voiceless, to speak truth to power, and to speak out against tyranny.

This past year I watched the Trump campaign sprout into existence like a weed and then I watched quietly as it grew and gained momentum. From a distance I looked on bemused as I might observe the antics of a buffoon at the zoo. But bemusement slowly gave way and uneasiness crept in as the weed multiplied, nourished by the language of division, of accusation, and of guilt by association. My uneasiness became fearfulness as I watched the rallies become violent all the while from the pulpit of hate the finger of Trump jabbed and pointed and cheered them on.

I became alarmed and perplexed, as friends jumped on the Trump band wagon, telling me they were angry at the political establishment, furious at the loss of the middle class and frustrated at politicians corrupted by Wall Street and corporations. And just sick and tired of the political system. On deaf ears I expressed my shared anger and frustration but not their choice of leader to voice such sentiment.

In quiet moments I considered if the Trumps would come for me someday, suppressing my freedom of speech, my freedom to write and eventually my freedom to think? As a writer born in a country for which freedom of speech is a constitutional right why was I having these thoughts? Because Fascism had become palpable, what had been just words, echoing from once upon a time had sprouted into existence before my eyes. And the poem of wisdom upon the wall which had been brought forth and thrown against this rising tide of hate had called to me.

So, while I can, I will exercise my right and speak out against the language of division and hate, against the threat of free speech: the tenet of democracy. I will speak out against the bully pulpit of Trumpism.

The love for freedom is the fertile ground from which self-rule springs forth and free speech and the right to protest is its flower, a bloom we cannot allow to suffer the heel of oppression and fear. Anyone who spreads fear through their actions or words is against the people of a free nation and cannot be a friend of democracy no matter how many stars and stripes he or she may wave. Trump is not the way. Be vigilant tending the garden of freedom. We reap what we sow.

Therefore, as I stand on the walls of the City of Democracy and I lookout at the beachhead of the Alt-Right and I gaze upon their gift of Trump placed at the gates of the City I turn to its citizens and I say Hell no! Trump must go!