Nelson Mandela: A Champion of Social Justice

 Photo from the Guardian UKA sad day for Social Justice groups around the world with the passing of Nelson Mandela.  Most community organizers, advocates and progressive activists cut their teeth participating in Anti-Apartheid demonstrations.  I joined a group at Case Western Reserve pushing the university to divest of investments in South Africa until their racist form of government was ended.  We had demonstrations and pushed the board of trustees to divest.  Mandela has to be considered one of the greatest champions of Social Justice of the last century.  He persevered and prevailed through his strength of spirit.  He inspired a generation of social change agents throughout the world.   He was willing to die for freedom, but through his imprisonment he started a movement. 

He is the father of a democratic South Africa that most likely would not exist today without his leadership.  He led with grace and a singular purpose to keep one country under one flag.  There was no purge or retaliation or revenge against the oppressors.  Our own elected officials could learn from his example.  In four short years, he moved the country from a colonial authoritarian state on the verge of a revolution to a functioning government in which Afrikaner served next to African National Congress member.  Here is a portion of his closing statement from his trial in 1962 called the Rivonia Trial which resulted in his conviction, imprisonment and solidified his role as a champion of the social justice.  Much of this speech is relevant to minority and oppressed populations today including African Americans living in the United States. 

The lack of human dignity experienced by Africans is the direct result of the policy of white supremacy. White supremacy implies black inferiority. Legislation designed to preserve white supremacy entrenches this notion. Menial tasks in South Africa are invariably performed by Africans. When anything has to be carried or cleaned the white man will look around for an African to do it for him, whether the African is employed by him or not. Because of this sort of attitude, whites tend to regard Africans as a separate breed. They do not look upon them as people with families of their own; they do not realize that they have emotions - that they fall in love like white people do; that they want to be with their wives and children like white people want to be with theirs; that they want to earn enough money to support their families properly, to feed and clothe them and send them to school. And what 'house-boy' or 'garden-boy' or labourer can ever hope to do this?

Pass laws, which to the Africans are among the most hated bits of legislation in South Africa, render any African liable to police surveillance at any time. I doubt whether there is a single African male in South Africa who has not at some stage had a brush with the police over his pass. Hundreds and thousands of Africans are thrown into jail each year under pass laws. Even worse than this is the fact that pass laws keep husband and wife apart and lead to the breakdown of family life.

Poverty and the breakdown of family life have secondary effects. Children wander about the streets of the townships because they have no schools to go to, or no money to enable them to go to school, or no parents at home to see that they go to school, because both parents (if there be two) have to work to keep the family alive. This leads to a breakdown in moral standards, to an alarming rise in illegitimacy, and to growing violence which erupts not only politically, but everywhere. Life in the townships is dangerous. There is not a day that goes by without somebody being stabbed or assaulted. And violence is carried out of the townships in the white living areas. People are afraid to walk alone in the streets after dark. Housebreakings and robberies are increasing, despite the fact that the death sentence can now be imposed for such offences. Death sentences cannot cure the festering sore.

Africans want to be paid a living wage. Africans want to perform work which they are capable of doing, and not work which the Government declares them to be capable o Africans want to be allowed to live where they obtain work, and not be endorsed out of an area because they were not born there. Africans want to be allowed to own land in places where they work, and not to be obliged to live in rented houses which they can never call their own. Africans want to be part of the general population, and not confined to living in their own ghettoes. African men want to have their wives and children to live with them where they work, and not be forced into an unnatural existence in men's hostels. African women want to be with their men folk and not be left permanently widowed in the Reserves. Africans want to be allowed out after eleven o'clock at night and not to be confined to their rooms like little children. Africans want to be allowed to travel in their own country and to seek work where they want to and not where the Labour Bureau tells them to. Africans want a just share in the whole of South Africa; they want security and a stake in society.

Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.

But this fear cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the only solution which will guarantee racial harmony and freedom for all. It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.

This then is what the ANC is fighting. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live.

During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Brian Davis

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Josh Memorial Featured a Thunderstorm

There are no words to express my inability to understand what happened with Josh.  I found this nice picture of Josh in our archive from 2006 or 2007 from a happier time.  I was able to attend a respectful memorial last week in Cleveland for Josh, and everyone who spoke talked about his dedication and commitment to social justice.  It was a hot and steamy evening in Cleveland on Friday July 19, 2013, and at the close of the ceremony the sky opened up for a short thunderstorm.  Obviously, it was not just me who did not understand the loss of Josh to the community.  

It was nice to see Sarah and Emily, his closest co-workers at NEOCH, who organized the event.  Sarah's son Milo did not attend, which was unfortunate, because we have not seen him for years.  Rev. Jim Link officiated the service at St. Paul's and he was caring and calming to those gathered as we moved through a series of reflections.  His old supervisor, Teri' attended along with the old Grapevine Managing Editor, Kevin listened to stories of how deeply violence against homeless people had affected Josh.  Don, a Street Voices speaker, attended and spoke about his interactions with Josh Kanary.  Some of the staff from Kucinich's office and his friends from CSU were present to pay respects to the family.  Two NEOCH Board members and current staff attended to hear about his editing of a literary journal for Social Work students at CSU.   I was able to meet Josh's family from Toledo along with his lovely wife Julie who had only praise for his years at NEOCH.   Josh spoke often about his tenure both as a VISTA and as a Community Organizer with NEOCH, and Julie had fond memories of those stories.  One of Josh's folkie musician friends, Gary Nelson performed at the service. 

We all hope that Josh and his family can find the peace that is often so elusive in this crazy mixed up world we live in. 

Brian Davis

We have link to a number of Josh's stories on our website at the end of the Grapevine archive.

Here is the reflection offered by Sarah at the memorial.

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Timothy Ray Russell

The staff and board of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless have our Board Treasurer, Michelle Russell, in our thoughts and prayers over the loss of her brother Timothy.  His memorial service was today, and featured a moving tribute by his family and friends.

They remembered him as a man of God who had a thirst for life.  Timothy had some rough times, but was trying to get his life in order at the time of his death.  He was a member of the Twinsburg Seventh Day Adventist church, and was fondly remembered by his Pastor Steven Valles.  Russell was a laborer, and had one son also named Timothy. 

The family is trying to make it through this tough time by coming together to support each other.  They talked about all the questions they have had over the last week.  The family of Malissa Williams were in attendance, and were also in shock over this incident.  We hope to have a memorial for Williams over the next few weeks so that her friends in the homeless community can grieve. 

We also wait for some of the questions to be answered by the County and the State of Ohio investigating this tragedy. We hope that people can contain their anger while the investigation is completed.  We hope that people do not stereotype all police as acting in this manner.  We also trust that people will not blame the victims who lost their lives fleeing an army of police while this investigation is taking place. 

I heard from a number of people living in the shelters that they were afraid that relations between the safety forces and homeless people would deteriorate.  I think that the City put to rest any doubts about whether Russell or Williams were using a gun in their meeting earlier this week, but there may be some angry officers who may blame homeless people for the negative publicity.  Every media story and every news item only brings up more questions.  It was a sad day for the Russell family, the homeless community, African Americans who see this through the prism of the civil rights movement and a setback in relations between the police and the public.  Rest in peace Timothy. 


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