I just finished reading A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America by James Meredith. Mr. Meredith is best known for being the first black American to enroll at and graduate from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). There is a statue of him on the campus that many students find inspirational, though he has asked the university to destroy it because he sees it as being a violation of the second commandment (from the Old Testament), "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." Thus, the contradictions of James Meredith.

But you'll see in my review that I really liked Mr. Meredith's book. I believe it is instructional as a ground-level account of the struggle against oppression. The struggle recounted in the book is specifically against institutionalized white supremacy in Mississippi in the 1960s. Mr. Meredith's description of the attitudes of white people at the time are familiar to me, having grown up in Mississippi during that period, but his descriptions of the black people's attitudes on the flip side are especially interesting. It took me a long time to get to the point of considering the viewpoints of black people in my home-state during that time of intense racial segregation and prejudice, but Mr. Meredith's book added a lot to my education and I found much there that is familiar.

Much of the value of the book lies in comparing the civil rights struggle to the current one, which I see as going beyond civil rights and into the class struggle that is at the root of all social strife around the globe. There is a relentless pressure being exerted by our rulers to undo the advances in civil rights for minorities gained in the 1960s, as well as those for American workers in general gained after the Great Depression. I believe this is coming from a desperate attempt by the world's elite to suck up the remaining wealth and resources, and retain their positions of privilege in the face of civilization's collapse. The white supremacy that Mr. Meredith fought (and is fighting) is a facet of the oppression long held over the working masses and one of many implemented to keep those masses divided.

This current oppression is the revealed parent to that which Mr. Meredith opposed. It is rooted in financial manipulations (see my journal entry, From the Ashes) targeted by the Occupy movement and encompasses the huge income disparity, unending war, destruction of the social safety net, and destruction of the biosphere in the pursuit of fossil fuel profits. It is not discriminating in targeting victims.

The oppressive beast the Mr. Meredith fought was local to him and he found an ally in the federal government and the US Constitution. The armed might of the US government was used to force the implementation of federal law on the state of Mississippi and allow Mr. Meredith to attend the public university of his choice. It was a battle, indeed, but it was won in his (and ultimately in all of our) favor. Because of this experience, Mr. Meredith advocates the use of federal force (especially military), and the force of the law, to gain justice for all and to transform America into the world moral leader that it should be.

I agree with his sentiments, but I fear his tactics are fighting the last war. We're in a new war now (or a new phase of it) that require new tactics.

If the federal government is corrupted by global elites that control the majority of the world's wealth, then the law means only what they want it to mean and so corporations become persons and money becomes free speech, and civil rights laws and the Constitution become unenforced. In such a situation, how do you resist? The Occupy Wall Street movement was clearly a threat to the establishment and faithfully followed the nonviolent tactics of Ghandi and Martin Luther King. They captured the popular imagination and profoundly altered the public discourse of the time (2010-2011), seizing it from the elites' arguments over the federal deficit and turning it to the predatory practices and corruption of Wall Street. But they were brutally ejected from their "occupations" in the end and now exist mostly as an idea (though I'm glad even that idea is alive).

Mr. Meredith concludes his book with a call for people of good will to support the public education of children, especially disadvantaged children. But education is being destroyed as public schools are privatized and teacher's unions are broken. Public universities, like the University of Mississippi, are being starved of funds to diminish them in favor of private "technical" colleges that do no more than minimally train a minimal workforce into neoslavery.

So the great physical force that backed the Constitution in Mr. Meredith's favor in 1962, is now corrupted into the pursuit of a global war on people of color. We the people have the numbers, but they the rulers have the guns. Right is on our side, might is on theirs.

In such a situation, where is hope? For many of the civil rights leaders their hope was in faith. Faith in God, mostly, and the ultimate triumph of His justice. I think Mr. Meredith has the same faith, but he advocates that it be put into action, laying yourself on the line to get justice. He offers the criticism of nonviolence that it does no good to offer yourself to be beaten and imprisoned by your oppressors. You have to oppose them with a force that can defeat them and effect change. But what if you don't possess adequate force?

I've offered questions without answers here, mostly because Mr. Meredith's book has prompted them and I believe that's the main value of his book. I hope it prompts a lot of discussion. The book was given to me in anticipation of a talk by Mr. Meredith that the giver was trying to organize. That talk didn't materialize apparently due to the erratic schedule and mercurial tendencies of Mr. Meredith (tendencies that he himself attests to in his book). That may be just as well. Though I would have liked to have him sign my copy of his book, I suspect he wants to encourage activists ("address the troops") rather than give a talk.

You can see that Mr. Meredith's book has prompted a good deal from me. But the part of it that touched me the most was the one near the end where he talks about his time of spiritual renewal in Japan. He was there as an old man trying to make sense of his life and find a renewed inspiration and mission even as he faces his final years. His words moved me as I face mine, so let me quote him at length from page 241:

"It is very easy to lose your perspective in life. Many people throughout my life have reminded me of my good fortune to have been privileged to live "the Good Life," and the Japanese people I met during this trip made the point to me most clearly. I have never had to really work a day in my life in order to make a living. I've never had a "real job." Yet God somehow always takes care of me. Many times I would not know where it was going to come from but every time it would just be there.

"The only time I ever experienced any difficulty was when I lost faith and failed to believe in my divine responsibility. During these brief periods I felt stress and discomfort, sometimes even a little depression. But something would always happen to reinstill the fire in my heart."

There's something in his words here that I envy. Having never worked "a real job," he has lived a life unmitigated by a delusion of worth that only benefited unsympathetic "superiors." He found his own worth in living actively, with supreme self-confidence for the good of others, even when those "others" reviled him.

There's hope in that.

Leave a Reply.