Last month, I had a wonderful time attending the convention of the Associaton of American Editorial Cartoonists in Washington D.C. It was a great time to meet political cartoonists from all over the nation and to explore Washington D.C. for the first time. I was in awe of the monuments and the museums that are dedicated to the spirit of America. My friends the Liebermans told me wonderful stories about when they visited the capital, and they inspired me to want to see all the great sites that make up Washington D.C. I was not disappointed. The Liebermans were the ones that inspired me to want to travel and explore this wonderful country. They told me that I won't get a full appreciation of this country until I travel and see all the states and talk to people and observe for myself just how diverse this country is. Just like Jefferson Smith in the movie "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington", I walked and visited the monuments and felt a great pride in America's high ideas.
I started walking early in the morning at the mall. The first place that I visited was the Washington Monument. I was in awe when I walked up to the monument. The Washington Monument was closed though, due to some damage from an earthquake a year ago. I was a little disappointed at not being able to walk up to the top, but there were other places to go. After that I took a short walk to the World War II Memorial, which is dedicated to the soldiers who served in World War II. It had plaques dedicated to the major battles of the war, and the area is divided into two parts: one side is dedicated to the Pacific war, and the other side is dedicated to the Atlantic war. When I was there, I observed a group of veterans wearing orange shirts walking around the memorial. Having them there made the memorial come alive for me. It reminded me of the time I watched "Saving Private Ryan" in a theater full of older veterans. Being in a war memorial in the presence of people who actually served in the war makes the experience more real for me.
Many of the memorials in the mall are dedicated to the people who served in the various wars in our country's history. On my way to the Vietnam War Memorial I encountered a moving statue dedicated to the 265,000 women who served in the Vietnam War. It was a simple sculpture of a group of nurses helping a wounded soldier. It is a sculpture by Glenna Goodacre for the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project. When I reached the Vietnam War Memorial, it was not like the other monuments that I encountered. It was a wall of the names of the people who died in Vietnam. I think the low-keyed approach of the wall is what gives the wall it's power. I found it a lot more moving than the World War II memorial, as the World War II memorial focused on the battles while the Vietnam War wall focused on the people who served and died. When I looked at the all the names, I just felt so sad. Scattered at various parts of the wall were flowers, photos and letters left by people who knew the people who died. I didn't read any of the letters, as I felt I was intruding on someone's privacy, but I did glance at a few of the photos. They were old, yellowing photos of young men in the prime of their lives, holding their wives and children.
By this time I reached the Vietnam War Memorial, tourists were starting to make their presence known. I walked passed a statue of three soldiers that was surrounded by a crowd of Chinese tourists who were having a good time taking photos and talking to their tour guide. From their I walked to the Lincoln Memorial. When I caught my first glimpse of the Lincoln Memorial, I was just filled with awe. Lincoln is one of my heroes, and the memorial represents so much of what is best in America. Appropriately, people of all races and nationalities were surrounding the Lincoln Memorial. As you walk up the steps to the Lincoln Statue, there is a spot on the ground that shows where Martin Luther King Jr. stood when he gave his "I Have A Dream" speech. When I went inside the building and I saw the Lincoln Statue, I thanked Lincoln for the great things that he did for this country. If you enter a side door, you can see a short exhibit of the history of the Lincoln Memorial and the various protests and gatherings that have taken place at the steps of the Memorial.
After I spent enough time at the Lincoln Memorial, I wanted to go to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. On my way to the MLK Memorial, I ran into the Korean War Memorial, a series of statues of soldiers walking after a battle. In my opinion, the Korean War Memorial was just as moving as the Vietnam War Memorial, and I think both memorials were better than the World War II memorial. Both the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial were moving to me because they both were able to give thanks to the service of the soldiers who served without glorifying war, which I think the World War II Memorial unintentionally does.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was as moving for me as the Lincoln Memorial was. King is another one of my heroes, and I liked the fact that King's ideas were highlighted in the memorial. Surrounding the King Statue is a wall with various quotes that encapsulated the ideas that King fought for in his life. One of the things that I most appreciated was how the memorial enshrined the idea that dissenting for justice was a very American and patriotic act. Several of the King quotes talked about his dissent of the Vietnam War, his dissent of economic injustice. Among the quotes are these:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.
While I was visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, I encountered a group of people setting up microphones for an event. The National Council of Elders, a group of veteran activists of the civil rights movement of the last 60 years, were having an event to call for social and political moral action during this upcoming Presidential elections. The members of the Council of Elders who were speaking that day included Mr. Lewis A Brandon III, a veteran of the sit-ins of the early 1960s and a member of the Beloved Community Center of Greensboro, North Carolina; Reverand Nelson Johnson and his wife Joyce Johnson, veterans of the civil rights movement and members of the Beloved Community Center of Greensboro; Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, a freedom singer and veteran of the civil right movement; and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a peace activist and a member of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Dolores Huerta, a founder of the United Farmworkers Union and a member of the Dolores Huerta Foundation in Bakersville, California, was going to join the group, but she had to attend a ceremony for Hispanic Americans at another location in Washington D.C.
Rabbi David Shneyer of Rockville, Maryland started the event with the blowing of the Shofar, a Jewish custom. Then Muslim Minister Terence Muhammad and the Reverand Nelson Johnson gave opening prayers to bless this interfaith group. The group then recited The Greensboro Declaration, a statement of principal for economic justice for the poor, to fight racism and gender inequality, fight environmental abuse, and to end the violence of needless wars. They spoke at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial because they felt they were continuing the work of King in his fight for economic and racial justice and for the end of war.
After the Council of Elders spoke, they invited the group Caravan For Peace, Justice and Dignity to speak. They are a group of people who are victims of Mexico’s drug war and are fighting to end the war on drugs that the U.S. and Mexico have been waging. Many of the people in the caravan had lost friends and family members and were deeply committed to their cause. I talked to a few of them, and they were grateful for the Council of Elders for inviting them to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial to speak out.
I talked to a few of the Council of Elders during a break, and they were all very nice and appreciative of the people who attended the event. I was able to get photos of the various members. Joyce Johnson was especially warm towards me, as we got into a conversation about her church and the work of the Council of Elders. I had told her that I had seen a Council of Elders youtube video where they supported the Occupy Wall Street movement and she laughed. She felt that the veterans of the civil rights, women's rights, LGBT rights and anti-war movements could impart some wisdom to the young activists who were participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
After the MLK Memorial, I took a short walk around the lake to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, dedicated to the best President of the twentieth century. Various statues of FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt and the times of the Great Depression are in the space that makes up the FDR Memorial, as well as quotes that are very relevant to the economic troubles of today. Among the many quotes are these:
In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice…, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.
The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough to those who have little.
No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources. Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance. Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order.
Walking around the lake I passed a humble statue dedicated to George Mason, the man who fought for the Bill of Rights, before I got to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Fewer people were at the Jefferson Memorial than at the other memorials, which was rather surprising to me. I enjoyed the less crowded atmosphere of the Jefferson Memorial, and it gave me a chance to read the various quotes that surrounded the Jefferson statue. Thomas Jefferson is one my three favorite Founding Fathers, along with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Though I think Jefferson had his human flaws, I still admire Jefferson for his fight for religious freedom and for individual liberty, and the eloquent words of the Declaration of Independence that still inspire the aspirations of freedom-loving people the world all over. Among the quotes in the Jefferson Memorial are these:
Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.
God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed... And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
After that I walked to the White House and to the Congress and I looked at a George Bellows exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Art. I also took some time off to see the Holocaust Museum, which I would recommend that people take 3 hours to see. After the day, my feet were killing me with all the walking. A few days later, I decided to rent a bike that tourists can find at any sidewalk in the neighborhoods. It was a lot quicker, and better for my feet, to ride the bike and see the rest of Washington D.C. I enjoyed my time in Washington D.C. and felt a lot more American. I missed a few sites that I wanted to see but was unable to because of the convention (chiefly, seeing the Arlington Cemetary and the graves of the Kennedy brothers) but I already saw enough that I really appreciated. I would recommend a trip to Washington D.C. to anyone who wants to learn more about this country.
I end this blog with the Greensboro Declaration from the Council of Elders:
September 12, 2012
We are the National Council of Elders. We are veterans of the Civil Rights, Women's, Peace, Environmental, LGBTQ , Immigrant Justice, Labor Rights and other movements of the last 60 years. We have come together in Greensboro, the birthplace of the Sit-in Movement in 1960, to birth a movement that can share the torch of freedom, justice, peace, and non-violent action with those who have risen anew in the 21st century.
We are moved by a shared sense of national and global crisis and the resultant suffering being inflicted on millions of people in our nation and around the world. As this declaration will attest, our country is gripped by an interlocking, multi-layered economic, educational, social, political and moral crisis. This is part of a worldwide crisis that reflects the end of the industrial era.
The lack of certainty about what the future holds, the dysfunctionality of many of our structures and systems, combined with narrow-minded, manipulative leadership breeds confusion fear, and destructive reactions. As a new era dawns, we are challenged, therefore, to not only hold political and social leaders accountable, but we, the people, must strive, with love at the forefront, to forge more democratic, just and creative structures and ways of living that are consistent with the emerging era that affirms the dignity, worth and unrealized potential of all the people of our country.
We speak, in this time of crisis, out of our commitment to justice and non-violence and to add our collective voices to the unfolding conversation of this historic moment. We speak out of thousands of years of combined experiences of working for the betterment of this nation and our world. It is with compassion, the scars of yesterday's struggles, and a deep commitment to advancing the well being of our nation and all humanity that we call upon the people of our nation, including our national leaders to live out the highest ideals of our humanity and national calling by struggling to make the radical revolution of values not only against racism but against materialism and militarism that Dr. King advocated in his historic BREAK THE SILENCE speech.
We affirm our deeply held conviction that the Creator has granted every resident of our country a place on this earth as part of "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness;" that place ought to be respected by our nation. In our experience it is the people who must move forward, developing 21st century leaders in the process of making this non-violent revolution of values. For that reason, we are grateful for the newly emerging movements of young people. We applaud, support, and join them in our mutual struggle for justice and human rights.
Voting is an important tool of democracy, which must be more fully utilized and further developed. We strongly urge all citizens to vote in the coming elections and to intervene where necessary to ensure As we move towards the November election, we see that the deepest needs and aspirations of the great majority of our 300 million U.S. citizens are largely ignored in the Presidential and Congressional campaigns. Therefore, we call the following critical concerns to the attention of both our fellow citizens and all of our nation's leaders who we hope will search for just and viable solutions:
The well-being and potential achievements of our children are being jeopardized by the destruction of our public schools system and the essential health and welfare services necessary for their development.
The hundreds of thousands of our young adults who must try to establish their lives with limited employment prospects and a staggering weight of debt from student loans. This burden must be eliminated or greatly reduced.
The “Citizens United” Supreme Court Decision, to which we profoundly object, that administers the final blow to our already faltering electoral campaign system by making corporate money practically the ultimate determinate of who wins and loses and, thereby, puts money and greed in charge of critical life or death decisions for many people.
The scandalously lawless practices of bankers and other lending agencies have led to home foreclosures and homelessness, impacting African Americans and other people of color inordinately. Such practices grow out of greed but also a deeply flawed financial/monetary system. We call on the U.S. government to monitor and ensure the implementation of programs to rectify this economic disaster and to bring restitution to citizens who have been victimized. We call for a moratorium on foreclosures where unfair lending practices are involved.
We call for full employment of the U.S. workforce. It is not true, as some politicians claim, that Americans do not wish to earn a living. History affirms a strong legacy of productivity and industriousness among American workers.
We support ending the marginalization of the poor, ensuring greater work opportunities and a higher standard of living for them, as well as for the middle class.
We celebrate the recent legislation of the current administration which extends medical care to greater numbers of citizens, but continue to urge the implementation of a health care system that will ensure equal access and adequate health and medical care for all our citizens.
We affirm the value of our Social Security and Medicare systems. Over several generations, these programs have been absolutely essential lifelines for millions. We oppose all efforts to restrict or diminish them in any way.
We speak out against the virulent racism that continues to fracture our society. This bigotry is manifest in many arenas of our national life. One telling example of this is the manner in which President Obama has been disrespected and demonized, without public outcry at this unprecedented disregard for the Office of the Presidency.
We lift our voices against all of the attacks against the full humanity of women, including physical and mental abuse, economic inequality, and the freedom of conscience and choice.
Although, there are legitimate criticisms of both the Democratic and Republican Parties, we are stunned by the publicly professed determination of the Republicans in Congress to create a congressional “gridlock,” blocking legislation that would provide for the people’s needs, fueled by the singular, deliberate intention of sabotaging the Obama Presidency.
We are outraged by the continuation of U.S. “justice” system’s policies that have led to the incarceration of 2.5 million U.S. citizens, two-thirds of whom are African American or Hispanic, constituting what writer Michelle Alexander calls the “New Jim Crow.”
Without exception, we supported the full elimination of the Jim Crow system of racial segregation and abuse. Many of us were on the front lines of that struggle. Today, we are appalled by the extent to which systemic racism taints the interactions of Americans in mundane and unacknowledged ways – in our workplaces, schools, and courts, even in our places of worship. We call on our fellow citizens to bring their moral principles and spiritual insights into our engagement with each other, trusting that through the consistent practice of being mindful of every human being's dignity, we can begin to rid our society of the poison of racism.
We raise our voices against violence and the ways in which it pervades our national life. The acceptance and propagation of violence has been an essential part of the national culture, from the dispossession of the Native Indians and Mexicans of their land, to the enslavement and exploitation of Africans, Chinese and others, to contemporary wide scale police brutality and massive incarceration. Our deeply rooted culture of violence is increasingly taking the form of targeted as well as random murders; it is entrenched in all our institutions and systems. It characterizes our international engagements, including interventions in Third World countries to seize control of resources and the support of dictators who support US interest and oppress their own people. The United States Government instigates wars of aggression where there has been no threat to our country, and now uses drones, an even more insidious form of war and the culture of death.
Those in power have abused and exploited the environment, rather than co-existing with it or practicing mindful stewardship. This will to exploit, which does not take into account the ways the Earth may be destabilized, has brought us to the environmental crises that we face today, including massive pollution of our air and water resources, global warming resulting in climate chaos, and other threats to the ecosystem of our planet.
Too many citizens have supported these forms of environmental abuses, domestic and international violence and oppression by not speaking out against them. We call on our leaders and our fellow citizens to break with the preference for violence, and to insist that national resources be put to the healing of the natural environment, and to the creation of programs that will bring a higher quality of life for all people, to further insist that funds previously allocated to the buildup of nuclear weaponry and other military programs be diverted to the repair and building up of the national infrastructure, educational system, health and welfare services, all of which will provide much-needed employment for the millions of jobless among us.
We acknowledge that the reality picture we have painted is challenging and reflects a period of danger; it can be a cause for despair by many. We urge you, however, to believe with us that inherent in great danger is also great opportunity. Let us seize on the opportunity and in the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "to hew out of the mountain of despair" stones of hope. History has given all of us – but especially the young generation of the 21st century, the opportunity to forge non-violent hearts, non-violent lives that will result in a caring, nonviolent society.
We urge you to help make this Declaration a living, growing reality by discussing it among diverse organizations and individuals, including family members, young people, workers, teachers, professors, scholars, community groups, and faith communities. Further we invite you to sign onto this Declaration or to produce your own declaration. For as we declare and live into our "revolution of values," we will also be creating a lively national alternative to the multi-million dollar super PACs that increasingly endanger the entire democratic process.
Finally, as elders, we pledge to our nation and especially to our younger brothers and sisters, that we will be faithful to our own history as human rights workers. We will undertake with you the work we have called for in this statement as fully as our lives allow, doing everything in our power to bring a greater measure of justice, equality, and peace to our country and to the world.
A youtube video of the Vietnam War Memorial
A youtube video of Maya Lin talking about the Vietnam War Memorial
A youtube video of the Lincoln Memorial
A youtube video of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
A youtube video of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
A youtube video of the Jefferson Memorial