Tag Archives: Civil Rights
* On the 40th anniversary of the MLK Assassination last year, our founding editor New Frontier wrote this remembrance of the tragic events which took place this week in 1968. We wanted to share it with you again today.
MARCH 31-APRIL 4, 1968 – A WEEK THAT CHANGED AMERICA
— Aeschylus, as quoted by Robert Kennedy upon the death of MLK
40 years ago this week brought us to a critical turning point in the American experience.
By March of `68, with the peace movement rapidly growing and anti-war sentiment at its’ peak, it seemed that things might finally be turning around for the better. Robert F. Kennedy had just entered the presidential race opposing the war. There was a brewing sense of hope that a Kennedy presidency would be restored five years after the death of JFK.
Little did America suspect that the era known as “Camelot” was not to rise again. On the contrary, it was about to come to an abrupt, ironic, tragic, and bloody end.
Over the course of just five short days, we watched in shock as President Lyndon B. Johnson stepped aside and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was brutally murdered. We saw race riots erupt in the streets of our cities, and wondered if the whole world just might burn. We heard one of the most stirring pleas for peace and unity ever spoken by any politician when Robert F. Kennedy delivered the news of Dr. King’s assassination in the heart of an Indianapolis ghetto.
Looking back with the hindsight of history, we can now fully comprehend the importance of this pivotal moment. Those who lived through it will never be able to shake the memory. For for the ones who weren’t old enough to remember or had not been born yet, the events of that week still fascinate, even when experienced secondhand through books or grainy old news footage.
It’s a tale of stunning upsets, unimaginable horrors and stark contrasts: of presidents and peace, of war and love, of confusion and clarity, of Kennedys and Kings. Of pain which cannot forget – even after forty years.
LBJ GETS OUT OF THE WAY
The first jolt came on March 31, President Lyndon B. Johnson stunned the nation with the surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election to the presidency in 1968.
Appearing on TV at 9 p.m. that evening, LBJ first announced that he was taking steps to limit the war in Vietnam. He outlined his plan at some length; then, in what seemed almost an afterthought, dropped this unexpected bombshell:
“Fifty-two months and 10 days ago, in a moment of tragedy and trauma, the duties of this office fell upon me. I asked then for your help and God’s, that we might continue America on its course, binding up our wounds, healing our history, moving forward in new unity, to clear the American agenda and to keep the American commitment for all of our people.
United we have kept that commitment. United we have enlarged that commitment.
Through all time to come, I think America will be a stronger nation, a more just society, and a land of greater opportunity and fulfillment because of what we have all done together in these years of unparalleled achievement.
Our reward will come in the life of freedom, peace, and hope that our children will enjoy through ages ahead.
What we won when all of our people united just must not now be lost in suspicion, distrust, selfishness, and politics among any of our people.
Believing this as I do, I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year.
With America’s sons in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office–the Presidency of your country.
Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”
President Johnson addresses the nation on television – March 31, 1968
At that exact moment, Kennedy (who had just announced his intention to run for the presidency two weeks earlier) was coming in for a landing at La Guardia airport. The New York State Democratic chairman, John Burns, raced aboard the plane and breathlessly told Kennedy, “The president is not going to run.”
Kennedy just stared at him. “You’re kidding,” he said.
On the drive in from the airport, RFK seemed lost in thought. Finally, he said, “I wonder if he (LBJ) would have done this if I hadn’t come in.”
Bobby wouldn’t have much time to ponder Johnson’s motivations. While on the campaign trail four days later — again on an airplane — he recieved word that Martin Luther King had just been shot and killed by a sniper in Memphis.
Kennedy “sagged. His eyes went blank,” said New York Times reporter Johnny Apple, who delivered the news to RFK.
By the time Bobby arrived in Indianapolis, King had been reported dead. Fearing a race riot, the chief of police advised Kennedy to cancel his scheduled appearance in a mostly black neighborhood. Ignoring the warnings, RFK arrived at the speech site – a wind-blown lot surrounded by tenements – in his brother’s old overcoat with the collar turned up.
About a thousand people were gathered there, rallying and cheering for Bobby with all the usual excitment generated at his campaign stops. The crowd awaited his speech, happily oblivious to the news that Dr. King had been shot down.
Throwing out his prepared remarks, Bobby pulled from his pocket a crumpled piece of paper with his own hastily scribbled notes and began to speak in quiet, reverent tones, his voice occasionally cracking with nervous emotion:
“Ladies and Gentlemen – I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening. Because…
I have some very sad news for all of you, and I think sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.
(Audible gasps and cries of “No! No!” can be heard from the crowd)
Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.
For those of you who are black – considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible – you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.
We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization – black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.
For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.
But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond these rather difficult times.
My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He once wrote: “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.
(Interrupted by applause)
So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, yeah that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love – a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke. We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past. And we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.
But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.
(Interrupted by applause)
Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people. Thank you very much.”
PAIN WHICH CANNOT FORGET
Late that night, a sleepless, restless Kennedy was seen wandering the halls of his hotel alone. At 3 a.m., he knocked on the door of Joan Braden, an old friend who had also worked on JFK’s 1960 campaign. Bobby confided to her the true source of his agony.
“Joanie,” he said, “that could have been me.”
Two months later to the day Robert Kennedy was gunned down during a celebration following his victory in the California primary, June 4, 1968. He would die 26 hours later.
While it would be easy to look back after 40 years and dwell on 1968’s sorrows, its’ crippling series of tragedies, perhaps we should instead remember and take to heart Bobby Kennedy’s advice:
“Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live.”
“And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.
I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!”
— Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final sermon.
Memphis, TN, April 3, 1968
“INNOCENT PEOPLE WERE TERRIFIED BY THEIR OWN GOVERNMENT”
– ED GUTHMAN, 1998
From accused communists to Freedom Riders to the Branch Davidians, Guthman protected and defended their rights
The late Ed Guthman, who died last Sunday at the age of 89, was a rare bird the likes of which we may never see again in the world of American journalism. He was far more than just a journalist, he was an activist– using the power of his pen to bring our attention to society’s ills. His hard-hitting investigative pieces often turned up evidence which cleared the wrongly accused – and his gift of wordsmithing could then argue a persuasive case in defense of the so-called “public enemy” – eventually swaying the tide of opinion in the accused’s favor.
In short, he helped us all to see just how wrong we usually were about things.
Whereas the mainstream media gold-diggers of today love to blindly pile on any celebrity or public servant suspected of wrongdoing and rip their reputations to shreds, Guthman possessed that now-rare quality called empathy. He understood well how lives could be destroyed, families broken and spirits crushed by simple misunderstandings, or even by deliberate disinformation campaigns. Guthman held dear every Americans’ right to privacy, to express themselves freely, and their right to be innocent until (gasp!) actually proven guilty. What a concept.
Guthman didn’t just spend his life defending the famous — in fact, most of the people he helped were ordinary folks you’ve probably never heard of — but he had this uncanny way of always choosing the most unpopular person or cause in the room and taking a stand for their right to an honest, competent defense. Whether it was his investigative series which cleared the name of accused communist Melvin Rader during the 1950’s “red scare,” fighting for the rights of African-Americans while serving in attorney general Robert Kennedy’s Justice Department in the early `60s, or standing up for the Branch Davidians (at a time when it was quite unfashionable to do so) in the 1990s, Ed Guthman defended them one and all.
He knew about media witch-hunts, allright. As a byproduct of post-WWII America, he watched (no doubt in utter horror) as the private lives and political beliefs of so many innocent Americans were flung open to public scrutiny and ridicule. He saw names and careers dragged through the mud, sometimes with little or no evidence other than Joe McCarthy’s finger pointed squarely at them. Commie-hunting was America’s favorite pastime in the 1940’s and 50’s, often preferable to baseball, Mom, and apple pie, and it seemed like everybody was getting into the act: neighbors snooped on neighbors, becoming amateur informants in the federal government’s seriously overreaching effort to round `em all up. Few dared to question, lest they themselves wind up being accused of sleeping with the enemy, too.
Enter Ed Guthman, a 29 year-old reporter for the Seattle Timesin 1948. Having returned from the war (he was highly decorated, having received both the Purple Heart and the Silver Star), young Guthman was certainly eager for a good story – and boy, did he get it in the case of Melvin Rader.
Rader, a mild-mannered University of Washington philosophy professor, had been swept up in the dragnet, accused of being a Red. A paid government witness told a state legislative committee that Rader had attended a secret communist training school in New York state in 1938. In fact, Rader had been with his family at a forest camp near Granite Falls.
Guthman, with the support of his editor and publisher, tracked down information corroborating Rader’s account, exposing the accusations as groundless, and exonerated the professor. His work earned the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished national reporting and was announced by Dwight D. Eisenhower, then president of Columbia University, which hands out the award. It was The Times’ first Pulitzer.
While most journalists toil for a lifetime towards one day achieving that most coveted of awards, for Ed Guthman, winning the Pulitzer Prize was only the beginning of what would be a very long and distinguished career. At age 29, this man was just getting warmed up.
Mr. Guthman left the Seattle Timesin 1961 to work for Robert Kennedy when he was attorney general and then as senator from New York, from 1961 to 1965. Mr. Guthman drew on those experiences to write or co-edit four books about Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1968. (Guthman was at the Ambassador Hotel that fateful night and had spoken to Bobby just minutes before shots rang out.)
Last year, Kennedy’s brother, Sen. Edward Kennedy, wrote a letter honoring Mr. Guthman for a lifetime-achievement award Mr. Guthman received in Los Angeles. “In those early days at the Justice Department, on Bobby’s Senate campaign, and later at the RFK Memorial, you’ve always been there with your good judgment, unflappable presence and trademark smile.”
THE MAN WHO DEFENDED PUBLIC ENEMIES BECOMES PUBLIC ENEMY #3
Mr. Guthman’s association with the Kennedys also helped land him on President Nixon’s infamous “enemies list.” (Hey, for that alone, the guy deserves a standing ovation.) They say you can always measure the quality of a man by his enemies, and earning the #3 spot on Nixon’s enemies list speaks for itself, does it not?
Colson’s now-infamous memo described Guthman as “a highly sophisticated hatchetman against us in `68,” and menacingly added, “it is time we give him the message.”
Well, things didn’t work out quite the way Nixon and his ratfuckers had planned. Guthman was instrumental in exposing the Watergate scandal over the next few years, and this time it was Nixon who “got the message” when his presidency ended in disgrace. Score one for Public Enemy #3.
Guthman got on the wrong side of another president’s administration – a Democratic one this time – in 1993 when he expressed his outrage at the Justice Department (yes, the same Justice Dept. where he once served with Kennedy, which had somehow lost its’ moral compass along the way) for launching a military-style raid on the Branch Davidian church at Waco, Texas.
83 innocent men, women, and children died in the flames of a church set ablaze by incendiary devices which, as it turned out, had been employed against them by federal agents. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in my America, Guthman said, and he called attorney general Janet Reno on the carpet publicly for having the unmitigated gall to proclaim herself a devotee’ of Robert Kennedy’s. (He was joined by another brave stalwart of Kennedy’s Justice Dept., Ramsey Clark, who also served as attorney general under President Lyndon B. Johnson). Sorry, Mrs. Reno, they bluntly informed her, but Bobby would never torch a church.
In 1993, Guthman was named to a federal panel reviewing the government’s role in the deadly raid on David Koresh’s “compound” (media-speak for offbeat churches these days). The panel concluded that top officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the federal agency that conducted the initial action, had been negligent in overseeing the operation.
“…OF THE GOOD GUYS OF AMERICAN JOURNALISM, ED GUTHMAN IS ON THE FRONT PAGE.”
– TOM BROKAW
Guthman’s many amazing true life dramas (a Pulitzer waiting to happen for any journalist who might attempt the Herculean task of writing his biography) and accomplishments are far too numerous to list here. We can only give you a few snippets, as we did in his obituary earlier this week, and encourage our readers to do a bit of homework on their own. Take some time to get to know Ed Guthman, and you’ll surely wonder why his name wasn’t a household word. But his name wascertainly well-known around schools of journalism, and that’s where you’ll find, to this very day, another crop of aspiring writers who benefited from Guthman’s mentor-ship.
He taught for many years at USC’s Annenberg School, influencing the minds of countless young reporters, who have since gone out into this dog-eat-dog world armed with the knowledge – and above all else, the empathy that Guthman always practised in his own craft. He developed in them a thirst for truth, and taught them how to dig until they found it. Then, he inspired in them the courage to publish that truth and stand by it, no matter what the consequences.
Bryce Nelson, a colleague of Guthman’s at both the L.A. Times and at USC, said, “Ed Guthman was a hard-hitting investigative reporter, an editor who believed strongly in the idea of service to his country and his community. … He was a very warm man of great integrity who was totally committed to protecting each American’s rights to freedom of speech and the press guaranteed by the First Amendment.”
Well said, and very true indeed. But of all the tributes to Ed Guthman I’ve heard and read this past week, none can compare to what Tom Brokaw wrote of him a decade ago in his bestselling 1998 book The Greatest Generation, in which Guthman was profiled. Brokaw said: “In any accounting of the good guys of American journalism, Ed Guthman is on the front page…I will always think of him as “Citizen Ed”…”
It seems fitting somehow to conclude this remembrance of Ed Guthman not with my words, or even those of a famous television journalist like Brokaw. Perhaps instead you’d like to read the sentiments of one of those young journalists who rose up, as it were, under Professor Guthman’s wing.
Just this week, I exchanged correspondence with a writer named Michael Stusser, who reads this blog regularly and who posted a comment about Ed Guthman here shortly after his passing. His article about working with Ed (published in Guthman’s old haunt, the Seattle Times), is one of the best tributes to the man I’ve read anywhere. With Mr. Stusser’s kind permission, his original story is reprinted below. Enjoy!
A LIFETIME OF ADVICE, CAREFULLY SCRIPTED WITH A RED PEN
Special to The Seattle Times
Over the years, I searched for a mentor like most folks look for deals on eBay. I clung to Hunter S. Thompson’s every drunken move when he showed up comatose at the Berkeley campus. After co-authoring the “Doonesbury Game” with Garry Trudeau, I begged him to get his nose out of his own book and blurb mine (he passed, saying he was too busy). And for several years I worked under Ralph Nader, hoping that some of his mad civic brilliance might rub off on me, only to find the consumer advocate goes through organizations, interns and ideas faster than Diddy changes nicknames.
Turns out there are two types of mentors in this world: ones you wish for, and ones who actually turn out to be invaluable advisers. Ed Guthman was the latter.
I first met Ed in 1989 as a staff writer for the Commission to Draft an Ethics Code for the Los Angeles city government. Superlawyer Geoff Cowan had been appointed to put together a tough new ethics package after Mayor Tom Bradley — and pretty much everyone else in City Hall — had been using the legislative branch to remodel their houses and buy Ferraris. Cowan’s genius was in recruiting experts in various fields to help his staff come up with the best regulations possible. If you ever wanted something hard-hitting, honest, and well-researched, the guy you brought in was journalist Ed Guthman.
In 1989, I was a 25-year-old graduate of the Coro Foundation with no idea where to begin writing a code of ethics, much less my own moral code. Ed cleared that notion up in a hurry. “Ya get out there, talk to everyone you can, and sort the details out later. Now let me see your interview list.” My list — made up on the spot — had the mayor, his chief of staff, and a couple of shady city council members I’d read about in the paper.
Well, these people were fine and dandy for background, according to Guthman, but only to cover yourself once City Hall found out how tough the new rules were going to be. Ed had our staff meet with the most corrupt lobbyists, real-estate tycoons and sleazy schmoozers in California, Republican or Democrat, in order to discover how the game was really played. Only then could you find a way to close revolving-door loopholes, “gift exchanges” and pay-for-play schemes being used by those in the know. Turns out, people love to talk, and better yet, will actually answer pretty much anything you ask them. Ed knew that, I didn’t.
It wasn’t until almost six months working with Ed that I found out — from my mother (who had watched him win a Pulitzer Prize at The Seattle Times) — about his amazing credentials. Not only did he stand up against McCarthyism in the 1950s (saving an innocent professor’s career), but Captain Guthman was a decorated veteran (yes, a Purple Heart and, though he’d never show it to you, a Silver Star), RFK’s press secretary at the Justice Department, and No. 3 on Nixon’s list of enemies!
In addition to a wonderful social conscience, Ed had a warm heart, a huge laugh (always a pleasant surprise when dealing with an intimidating and gruff fellow) and a work ethic that would make an over-caffeinated mule look lazy. Unless you’re dealing with Donald Trump clichés, professional wisdom often needs to be culled over time. Just once, I longed for Ed to say, “Son, let me tell ya how we broke the Watergate story wide open.” But the man was too modest to tell tales of yore or give straight-on advice, so you had to dig for it.
Show him your work and ask for feedback, and he’d happily provide it, red pen and all.
One rule I learned from Ed was that the moment you’d finished your research and assumed the job was done was precisely the time to make another round of calls. There was always someone you’d forgotten to talk to, an item that needed clarification, or one more line of questioning that would surely arise after sitting on the info for a night and pondering the big picture.
Our Los Angeles ethics code was eventually packaged into a successful citizen’s initiative, leading to the creation of a new watchdog agency. Ed served a term as president and was a board member on the committee from 1991-98. For Ed, the road was a rocky one; he had no patience for the infighting from council members. Luckily, he had another gig to distract him, teaching students at USC how to be journalists with integrity and a backbone.
When I moved back to Seattle, where Ed was born and raised, I picked his brain about whom I should meet with. “Everyone,” was his response, and rather than give me names and numbers from a Rolodex, he spouted off the top dozen or so movers and shakers in the community. “Just call ’em up, tell them you want to talk about what’s going on, and go from there.”
Could I drop his name? “Sure, if you think that’s really going to help.” It did.
I soon found work on another citizen’s initiative, attempting to create a Seattle Commons — sort of a central park funded by taxpayers. I knew the reasons I supported the plan (green space, anyone?), but didn’t quite have a hook for our publicity campaign.
“Go walk the damn thing,” was Ed’s advice. “Have a look around, talk to a few people, see what’s there now, then convince other citizens to do the same.” The suggestion was classic Ed: simple, based on first-person investigation, and not reliant on spin or politics.
A few months back I met a young salesman at the Apple store. He recently asked me to look over a Web site he had created for the Seattle Symphony. “Where’s the information about the musician’s backgrounds?” I heard myself bark. “And make some calls to the two tenors who are still alive or somebody who’ll endorse the damn thing!”
This kid may not be seeking out a mentor, but, thanks to Guthman, it looks like he’s got one.
Edwin O. Guthman passed away last weekend at the age of 89, but his influence on me — and perhaps the next generation — is everlasting.
Michael A. Stusser is a Seattle-based writer, and author of “The Dead Guy Interviews: Conversations with 45 of the Most Celebrated, Notorious and Deceased Personalities in History” (Penguin).
Copyright RFKJrForPresident.com. Stusser’s article is copyright 2008, The Seattle Times Company.
(A prized “golden ticket” to enter Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory)
GOT A GOLDEN TICKET?
So you wanna go see the big CNN Democratic presidential debate on the UT campus in Austin Feb. 21st? Information on tickets been a bit scarce? There’s a reason for that, and you’re probably not gonna like it. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…
According to the Austin American-Statesman, attendance to this Thursday’s Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton debate at the University of Texas Recreational Sports Center will be by invitation only, said Hector Nieto of the Texas Democratic Party.
“There are no public tickets,” he said. “The majority of the people invited are going to be elected officials.”
OK, lots of people are clearly not happy about the news. But don’t take my word for it – read the hundreds of comments posted on the American-Statesman’s blog by readers.
By late in the week, so many public complaints had rolled in that organizers scrambled to change their story (although not necessarily their attendance policy) to something that at least sounded a bit more inclusive. The Statesman’s Corrie MacLaggan soon updated the blog report to read:
All of you who wanted to go have another option. The watch party sponsored by the Texas Democratic Party will be open to the public. But here’s the catch: it will cost $50.
The gathering will be at the Hyatt Regency, 208 Barton Springs Road, from 6:30 to 10 p.m., said Hector Nieto of the Texas Democratic Party.
Nieto said it wasn’t the state Democratic Party’s idea not to invite the public to the debate. CNN officials “were the ones doing all the logistics on this,” he said.
Nieto said Clinton and Obama have been invited to attend the watch party after the debate.
For the $50 entry fee, you get light food and drinks.
Or, if you have CNN or Univision, you can watch it at home for free.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE…
Well, turns out that Plan B went over like a lead balloon with the general public, too. So organizers scrambled to come up with Plan C, under pressure from the citizenry, to explain why state residents are being shooed away from an event on a public campus their tax dollars pay to support.
It’s one thing to keep the general public (i.e. “riff-raff”) out, but hey, what about the students? Shouldn’t we encourage these young people to feel included and involved in the Democratic process? After all, their momies and daddies pay a hefty tuition, don’t they?
So the story changed again…now debate organizers say:
The Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton debate at the University of Texas may be by invitation only, but that doesn’t mean students won’t be included, according to a school official.
“The audience will be made up of a very diverse population and a very diverse public, including a very strong representation of students,” said Susan Binford, assistant dean at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, which is helping to organize the event. “It’s a priority for us to have students and to have many, many students in the event.”
Although the LBJ School may insist that it’s a priority to have “many, many students” attend, they are still quite evasive when it comes to providing details as to how many students constitute “many, many” – and just exactly how the selection process will work.
At this point, the word is that tickets will be drawn by lottery. All current UT students are automatically entered in the lottery. Undergraduate and graduate students are eligible. No word yet on how many tickets will be available or when students will be selected.
AS FOR THE UNWASHED MASSES…
The Texas Democratic Party then generously agreed to release 100 tickets to the great unwashed (this means you, the voters) through a drawing.
Those wanting tickets will need luck. Lots of luck. More than 10,000 people had entered the state party’s drawing by Thursday evening. By Friday, that number had jumped to an astonishing 26,000. Expect it to top 50,000 by Monday.
In other words, you have about as much chance of winning a “golden ticket” to this event as you have hitting the Lotto Texas Jackpot. But please do feel free to try, anyway.
Enter online or call (512) 478-9800. Only one entry per person. The deadline to enter the drawing is 5 p.m. Monday; winners will be notified Tuesday.
Oh, and forget bringing a date. Each winner gets just one “golden ticket”.
WANT A TICKET? GET OUT YOUR PRESIDENTIAL KNEEPADS
So why are the event organizers guarding tickets to this event like golden eggs? And who gets to issue those prized invitations, anyway?
The Texas Democratic Party, CNN, Univision, UT and the Clinton and Obama campaigns, of course. And they’ve got a lot of Very Important Friends. More Very Important Friends than can realistically be squeezed into a venue which only seats about 5,000 people nose-to-elbow. Out of that number, 100 tickets go to the general public by drawing, and an unspecified number (expect it to be a small token) will go to UT students by lottery.
So unless you just happen to be a party bigwig, a media mogul, a member of the UT Board of Regents, or are rather highly placed within the Clinton or Obama state campaigns, you’re most likely SOL (no translation necessary). Better stay home and see it on the telly.
Or, if you just love the local Democratic Party, you can always give them $50 to attend the official watch party with those deemed Not-Quite-Important-Enough-To-Get-Tickets.
By the way, that’s the same Texas Democratic Party who excluded Dennis Kucinich from appearing on the state primary ballot because he refused to sign a “loyalty pledge” to support the nominee without reservations or stipulations. So as you can see, this is truly the party of the people. We’re all about inclusion and a participatory voice for all, right?
LBJ gives Senator Richard Russell the infamous “Johnson Treatment.”
TEXAS DEMOCRATS – THEN AND NOW
To be sure, this ain’t your father’s Democratic party. Or even your grandfather’s. Would the late great Ann Richards give the party a pass on this one if she were still our Governor?
How about LBJ? Would the old man be doing somersaults in his grave? You bet he would.
While Lyndon would no doubt be pleased that such a historic Democratic debate were to be hosted in his adopted hometown of Austin, he wouldn’t stand for the exclusion of UT students and the general public in favor of party elites. That line of reasoning flies in the face of everything his Great Society stood for.
No doubt, the former President Johnson would be using his considerable powers of persuasion to ensure the event was moved to a venue large enough to accommodate “damn near every man, woman and child” who wished to attend. He’d be leaning on state party officials and the candidates to surrender their golden tickets in favor of seating the public. In other words, he’s be telling them how the cow ate the cabbage. And he wouldn’t just be whistlin’ Dixie, either.
THE “JOHNSON TREATMENT”
Back in the day, when Lyndon B. Johnson got in your face and told you to do something, you By Gawd did it. And he didn’t give a damn who the hell you were – or thought you were. By the time he was finished with you, your knees would be knockin’ so hard, you’d have to leave the premesis on a stretcher. Love him or hate him, that’s the way Lyndon got things done – in Texas, in the United States Senate, and as President of the United States.
Furthermore, not only would Lyndon insist upon a venue large enough to seat everyone, he would have demanded that admission to the event be FREE and open to the public. Come one, come all…that was the motto of the Texas Democratic Party in the days of LBJ.
Remember that the very same LBJ Library which bears his name (and who is a sponsor of this debate) is the ONLY Presidential Library in the entire United States which charges no admission fee. This was at the insistence of the late President before his death, and it shall remain ever so.
Lyndon Johnson was certainly no saint, but one principle he always held onto was that one’s economic or social status should never be a barrier in their ability to participate in their own government. This strongly-held belief came from being a small town farm boy himself, from coming up through the political ranks during the Great Depression, and from being a protege’ of Franklin Roosevelt in the New Deal years.
(At times, LBJ’s fighting style could be a little too over-the-top even for the cool, reserved President Kennedy, as this photo tellingly illustrates. From the look on Johnson’s face, it seems he might be holding up the wrong finger.)
WHAT WOULD LADY BIRD DO?
Of course, LBJ’s late wife Lady Bird Johnson (who survived him by more than 30 years) took a very different approach to influencing important people. Her style was always softer, sweeter – but no less effective.
Where Lyndon’s bullying failed (although it rarely did), Lady Bird’s gentle persuasion nearly always did the trick. She had this marvelous way of getting people to Do The Right Thing, while never making them feel as though they were at fault.
If dear Claudia were with us today, you can surely bet that she would be appalled by the Texas Democratic Party’s exclusion of the public from this important presidential debate, even more so that it was being done in her late husband’s name.
Without raising her voice, without shaming anyone, and without calling any particular person on the carpet to answer for this boneheaded decision, Lady Bird simply would have placed a few cordial courtesy calls to party leaders, letting them know of her displeasure at the very idea of public exclusion.
In her gracious, genteel Southern manner, she easily could have made sure that every student of her old Alma Mater was allowed entrance to the debate as well, even if the whole kit’n’kaboodle had to be moved out to the LBJ Ranch in order to accommodate every last person who wished to attend. And that, my friends, would be that.
Less than a year after her passing, it seems that Austin, her beloved University of Texas, and the Texas Democratic Party have already forgotten the legacy of Lady Bird Johnson and Lyndon Baines – if they ever understood it to begin with. Which means it is up to us, the people of Texas, to remind them.
And so, my fellow Americans – get on the horn this week. Call UT, CNN, the candidate’s headquarters, and your local party leaders – and give `em the “Johnson Treatment.”
We shall overcome.
“All men are created equal…Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man’s possessions; it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, and provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.”
— President Lyndon B. Johnson’s landmark Civil Rights Address to Congress, “The American Promise,” March 15, 1965
THE EYES OF TEXAS ARE UPON THEM
In what promises to be the most important presidential debate since Kennedy-Nixon, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton will square off next week in a televised showdown which may well decide who gets the Democratic nomination.
All eyes are on Austin in the runup to the statewide presidential primary debate which will take place on March 4th. Democratic strategists predict that if Hillary Clinton does not win Texas and Ohio, her campaign is over. That’s why next Thursday’s debate is so critical.
Ironically enough, the site chosen for this key debate is the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library on the University of Texas at Austin campus. Many will recall the uproar caused by Senator Clinton’s comments comparing herself to LBJ earlier this year, in a move some civil rights activists interpreted as an effort to minimize the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – a struggle he gave his life for.
The Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, Austin, TX
CNN will televise the must-see debate live on Thursday, Feb. 21, from 7-8:30 p.m. CST.
Although the event was originally scheduled to take place in the LBJ auditorium, organizers decided to move the debate to a larger venue on campus in order to accommodate the massive number of people wishing to witness this historic showdown.
As of today, here are the known details, according to the University Of Texas website:
WHERE: Recreational Sports Center (between the School of Social Work and the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletics Center). A map of campus is online.
To accommodate the National Democratic Primary Debate, the RSC will close at 2 p.m. on Monday, February 18, and re-open at 8 a.m. on Saturday, February 23.
SEATING INFORMATION: Distribution of student seating for the debate is being managed by the Office of the Dean of Students. Questions: 512-471-5017.
BACKGROUND: The debate is hosted by the University Democrats, a registered student organization, and is presented by the Lyndon B. Johnson Foundation on behalf of the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the LBJ Library, CNN and Univision Communications, Inc.
Admission for students, members of the university community and the public is by invitation only due to what the university calls “security restrictions”.
Come to think of it, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to keep the public at a safe distance after all. When these two candidates enter the arena that night for the battle of their lives, they won’t be pussyfootin’ around. For this duel, 10 paces may not be far enough.
But seriously…all here in Austin are thrilled to host the candidates for this debate, and we welcome them to the Wild Wild West next week.
“Ya’ Ready?….now, DRAW!”
“NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE REAL THE PROMISES OF DEMOCRACY”
Dr. Martin Luther King, from his immortal “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC, August 28, 1963.
“THEY SAID THIS DAY WOULD NEVER COME”
– Barack Obama, Victory Speech in Iowa, January 3, 2008
Last night, America changed forever — and for the better.
Last night, Democratic voters in Iowa shocked the world — and the political establishment.
Last night, 12 days before his birthday and in the 40th year since his assassination, the people of Iowa made Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream come true. They judged a man not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character.
Last night, Iowa Democrats honored the highest ideals that President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy stood and fought for — the ideals that Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, and so many other lesser-known but equally brave Americans gave their lives for. They handed Senator Barack Obama a clear and decisive victory in the first caucus of the 2008 presidential race.
Last night, history was made, a massive milestone reached in what JFK once called the long twilight struggle. The struggle is far from over; we cannot for one moment forget the sacrifices it took to get us where we are — right now, right here in America.
Few under the age of 30 who were fortunate enough to grow up in a largely colorblind and desegregated society can imagine a time when their black brothers and sisters could not even sit beside them at a public lunch counter. Not so long ago in this country, a black American simply seeking to attend a state-run university had to be escorted in by federal troops after riots erupted in the streets. The very act of casting a vote was enough to put one’s safety in danger. In 1961 — the year Barack Obama was born — merely asserting a citizen’s right to travel subjected the Freedom Riders to brutal beatings, assault with firehoses, and the teeth of Bull Connor’s unforgiving, bloodthirsty police dogs.
Few of us over the age of 30 could have imagined the reality of an African-American man being a serious contender for President of the United States in our lifetimes. Few could honestly believe that in the American heartland, in a state whose population is nearly 95% white, Iowans would choose a black man as the candidate best qualified to lead our country.
But they did. And it’s wonderful. Somewhere, MLK is smiling.
“WE ARE ONE PEOPLE. AND OUR TIME FOR CHANGE HAS COME.” – OBAMA
While Barack Obama is not the first black candidate to win a presidential primary (that honor goes to the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who won five primaries in 1984 and 11 contests in 1988), he has upped the stakes considerably. Jackson’s wins made history, but his long history as a civil rights activist unfortunately caused him to be labeled as a radical. Many said Jackson was too liberal, too polarizing a figure to be the party nominee, and gave him little hope of winning a general election. By contrast, Obama appeals to mainstream American voters of both parties, giving him a far better chance to compete in November.
Jackson, a former King aide, was standing beside him on the balcony of the Hotel Lorraine in Memphis when MLK was murdered. His presidential bids in `84 and `88 revived the spirit of Dr. King and this helped propel Jackson’s candidacy to victory in several primaries. Jackson carried mostly left-leaning states with large black populations (Louisiana, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, Virginia and Mississippi in 1984, adding Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, Michigan, Delaware and Vermont four years later), and was considered a frontrunner for the Democratic nomination early in 1988.
Can it happen again? Can Obama do even better? Many believe that he can. What made his surprise win in Iowa so remarkable was not just the fact that he pulled it off in a a key early primary state which is almost all white, but the David-and-Goliath aspect of this race made his victory even more interesting. His opponent was a former first lady and the projected winner in nearly every pre-caucus poll. Jesse Jackson did not have to campaign against a former president (stumping for his wife) of his own party — and an incredibly powerful, well-financed political machine.
But perhaps the most critical difference of all is that Obama seems to be bringing the right message for the times in which we live. A message of hope, of change, of unity — and that this message is clearly striking a deep chord with America’s youth, who will be our future.
In his victory speech last night, Senator Obama spoke of hope winning over fear. “We are choosing unity over division and sending a powerful message that change is coming to America.
“We are not a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States!”
It doesn’t matter if Barack Obama is your candidate or not. At present, he is not my candidate. He is not Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s candidate. What matters is the seismic change in American society and culture Obama’s victory last night represents. And that will reverberate forever.
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