Highway 101 and Laneda Avenue and Black Lives Matter

Whoa! What happened to “Why the GOP will lose the 2020 election”? Well something just as important as the “GOP” subject matter is happening at present, and after giving it much thought, it usurped the “GOP” article. Okay, but is this like a thing? Will you be misleading us on a regular basis? I mean, you’re not building trust here. Hmmm, you know, it’s not done intentionally. Just kind of happens, I guess. Well, do you promise to get to the GOP piece in the near future? Absolutely.…Okay, all’s forgiven. I’d like to know what you’ve got to say about Black Lives Matter, so, let ’er rip.

A wonderful event happened in the small, coastal community of Manzanita, OR, at the intersection of US Highway 101 and Laneda Avenue. Highway 101 is a main north/south artery running adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes, it’s a mere stone’s throw from the beaches. Laneda Avenue is a lateral road that departs 101 and heads to the ocean, creating the main street of Manzanita. As you drive west, through Manzanita, small shops and restaurants border the road, and at the avenue’s visual terminus, the Pacific Ocean greets your arrival. The intersection of these two roads forms a “T” and is framed by scraggly coastal pines and a number of businesses: a lumber yard, a restaurant that is closed because of COVID-19, a pot store (hey friend, this is Oregon), and a grocery store mingle with the beach vegetation and create the “welcome mat” for Manzanita. At the intersection, a long, sweeping, 45-degree curve in Highway 101 slows traffic down, helping travelers to easily depart the main thoroughfare and enter the laidback, coastal living of Manzanita.  

The wondrous event I alluded to occurred on the 4th of July this year, and no, it had nothing to do with celebrating our country’s birthday. Parades and fireworks were cancelled because of the pandemic. No, this event was a Black Lives Matter rally, with mostly local participation. People stood near Highway 101 with face protection on and displayed hand-crafted signs supporting the BLM movement. The positive response given this small group of about fifty individuals by passersby was incredible. It was 99 percent affirmative, and almost to a person, those people who drove by and championed our efforts were white. Various vehicles displaying licenses from, Utah, Washington, Colorado, Michigan, California, Wisconsin, Arizona, Tennessee, and of course Oregon all slowly passed by our small gathering. The travelers waved, smiled, honked, clapped, gave the thumbs-up sign, and some thrust arms through open windows with clenched fists raised into air. It was an incredible, spontaneous display of solidarity to a movement that has engulfed our nation.

The significance of this 4th of July event needs some clarification before you can fully understand it. First of all, Manzanita is a lily white, coastal village in the lily white state of Oregon. The number of black people living locally can be tallied on my left hand. The number of black people participating in the Independence Day rally was one and the number of black people who drove by our demonstration also numbered one. You’d think The Black Lives Matter movement is far removed from the intersection of Highway 101 and Laneda Avenue, and yet, it is not. BLM started because of continual police brutality encountered by Black Americans and the undeniable double standard used by officers in regards to policing blacks and whites. Whites get the “reasonable doubt” approach and blacks encounter the “guilty first” strategy. This double standard seems to be thoroughly embedded in our law enforcement systems. It was created by systemic racism, and now is protected and supported by this form of institutional prejudice. Systemic racism as the term applies is everywhere, and so our little corner of the world is not immune. Actually, being an almost totally white populated area puts us smack dab in the middle of the controversy. What lifts my spirits and my hopes is seeing so many white people trying to understand BLM and visibly supporting it. Black vs white will not change systemic racism. That effort hasn’t buried the ugly beast in some 400-plus years. Black, white, and all other colors working together can. When I see videos of marches from all parts of our country, the one striking, marvelous characteristic being displayed is solidarity between all colors and all ages. This is what a societal change must exhibit. It has to be the core of the movement, but is this quality, everyone working together, enough to dethrone the beast?

I’m concerned about where the Black Lives Matter movement is going and if it will create lasting social change. One of my fears is that the present, massive support from everyone will be wasted because of the campaign’s lack of direction and leadership. The movement is in its infancy, and at times, we’re witnessing the violence-prone initial stage which garners much attention and because of this, helps a movement get off the ground and get going. Hopefully, BLM will quickly evolve into organized actions, which will, ultimately, dismantle the systemic racism found within our police departments.

Unfortunately, without vocal leaders getting national media coverage, the BLM movement could flounder and not gain momentum. There are serious, competing national problems jostling with the BLM movement; the COVID-19 pandemic and a national, presidential election, looming in November, are both receiving huge amounts of “air” time. This doesn’t leave much room for BLM coverage. Is this another example of systemic racism? Probably…whatever’s causing the lack of media coverage, hopefully, will stop, and with everything being right, dynamic, focused BLM leaders will emerge soon. The movement needs these visible, vocal leaders, receiving media coverage before it can move on to the next step, creating changes in police policy. Even with massive, national support from a diversified core, and dynamic leaders gaining national coverage, the BLM movement could eventually burn out and achieve very little significant social change.

 The statement “achieve very little significant social change” needs to be justified, and if you would bear with me, I’d like to revisit the past to find evidence that will verify this statement. Years ago there was a massive movement to create social change, eliminate segregation, and in turn, help end racism. We’re going back to the late fifties, the sixties, and the seventies. Let’s set the stage. By the mid-fifties, the Jim Crow laws and their brethren had been around for nearly ninety years. Black Americans were fed up with segregation, and its cause, racism, which the existing white power structure was fostering and promoting. Lincoln freed the slaves, but he did not end racism. What transpired during this twenty-year time span, from 1955 to 1975, was an attempt to dismantle institutional racism and segregation. Rosa Parks (1955 and 1956) helped end segregation on public transit in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1957 the “Little Rock Nine” with the aid of President Eisenhower who ordered the Arkansas National Guard to protect and help these Black students integrate Little Rock Central High, started the desegregation of public schools. Also, in 1957, President Eisenhower signed into law a Civil Rights Act that was designed to protect voters’ rights, particularly the rights of Black voters in the South. The fifties were followed by the sixties and this decade was filled with activism, civil unrest, and violence. The Vietnam War and Black Power movement began during this decade, and demonstrations against the white power structure by both blacks and whites occurred constantly. In Los Angeles, the Watts Riots erupted in the summer of 1964. Also, in that same year, three civil rights workers, attempting to register voters in Mississippi, were murdered by a gang of vigilantes. An American president, JFK, who initiated the political dialogue toward acceptance of desegregation, and the most significant civil rights leader of our time, Martin Luther King Jr., were both assassinated during this decade. The Black Panther Party rose to defend black rights and protect black people from police discrimination and brutality. (Sound familiar?) They had numerous gun battles with police forces in several US cities and casualties occurred on both sides. The sixties ended with the arrival of the seventies, but activism against social and racial injustice continued, and demonstrations against the White power structure didn’t stop. On the campus of Kent State, in 1970, four students who were demonstrating against the Vietnam War were shot and killed by Ohio State national guardsmen. Eventually, as the seventies waned, so did activism and demonstrations against the white power hierarchy. The Vietnam War ended in the mid-seventies and young people, both black and white, terminated their antiwar demonstrations. The Black Power movement was targeted by the FBI, and weakened by continual arrests, trials, and sentencing of its leaders. When the eighties rolled in, a much quieter populace greeted the new decade, which was welcomed by most everyone, especially the country’s white power structure, which had been under attack for over twenty years.

Out of all the turmoil created by the sixties came the most significant civil rights legislation of my lifetime and probably the most important laws since the 1870s. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law the end of segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination based on race. In 1968, another significant piece of civil rights legislation, the Fair Housing Act, was signed into law by President Johnson. This law forbade discrimination in housing based on race. These Congressional bills, signed into law by LBJ, were powerful deterrents to racism and segregation.

 Here we are, two or three generations removed from the Civil Rights Acts of the sixties and all the demonstrations, the pain, and the suffering endured by the millions upon millions of activists who helped create them. Why do we still have significant systemic racism in our country? Well, because the American people, the demonstrators, the activists of the sixties and the seventies, expected our elected officials and people in power to protect this legislation and see to it that it became modus operandi. We were naïve. These people are just the ones, along with many others, who benefit the most from prejudice and systemic racism. This prejudicial system keeps them in power, and when no one is looking, they do what they can to ignore anti-racist laws and undermine them.

There you have it. Even with everything going its way, the sixties, desegregation, anti-racist legislation failed us. This could happen to BLM, too. Even with its broad coalition and momentum, failure is possible. The sixties legislation looked so promising; it created anti-racist, desegregation laws, which were produced by powerful forces of social change, but it did not succeed in eliminating racism. The sixties did not eradicate systemic racism, and if you don’t eliminate this multi-faceted monster, no legislation, no matter how well it’s written, will be successful against racial bias. What we need to do now, and what we didn’t do in the sixties, seventies, and all years following, is to assume a junkyard dog–like attitude toward the elimination of racism. We need to constantly look for its vestiges. We need to constantly try to sniff it out and locate where it is hiding. If we truly want real social change and the elimination of discrimination in police tactics, we must be vigilant like a junkyard dog and never stop protecting our rights. If we can do this, then the mistakes of the sixties will not be repeated.

My word-counting guardians are tapping my shoulders, again, and I promised them, I’d acknowledge their efforts and react accordingly. I’m going to share a few more thoughts with you, then take my leave. The BLM movement is absolutely essential. Moving our national police forces away from the military units they’ve become and to the “protect and serve” institution which they should be is essential for a healthy country and populace. Eliminating systemic racism from within the police ranks and consequently stopping the prevalent, double standard of law enforcement is a must. Never allowing backsliding or complacency to develop is, also, a must. We can do this!

I’m a bit of an idealist. Can’t help myself. Always been this way. Wear it like a badge of honor. So when I think of the BLM movement, I tend to appreciate it for what it is, a movement to stop prejudicial policing of Black Americans. It’s so important in its own right. Then, I start thinking in a larger, more expansive context, and begin to look at society as a whole. I think it’s time to eliminate systemic racism from our entire culture. Pull out all the stops and go for it. I believe the younger generation is primed and ready for this. It’s time for the corporate world, the political arena, and the educational system to send systemic racism packing. It can only happen with total societal transparency and honesty. So much will have to change and so many institutions and people will have to concede to a cultural power transition. It will take decades to accomplish, but the goal, the destruction of racism in America, will be worth it. Administrations will come and go, but if we’re all diligent and vigilant and determined like a junkyard dog, I think we can achieve a racist-free society.

The BLM movement and in general the termination of systemic racism is a huge, multifaceted issue. I intend on writing many more articles addressing this topic. I have a blueprint in mind, and wish to share it with you. My next writing, well, I think it will be my next writing, will deal with education and how this institution can help eliminate racism in our country. Be looking for it. I promise it’s on the way.

Next Saturday, I’ll be standing at the junction of Highway 101 and Laneda Avenue. I will raise above my head a sign asking for social justice and equality for Black Americans. I’ll be with a small group of people, mostly white, and will be engaging with a larger group of people, mostly white tourists, who will drive by me. I predict we’ll continue to receive favorable feedback. They’ll always be those who pass by with knee-jerk negative messages tossed our way. Their numbers are small. My hope is that in the days, weeks, months, and years to come, with all of us working to end racism, the numbers of racist individuals in our country will become even fewer, and the societal support which sustains them, systemic racism, will erode away and wash into the ocean, leaving behind a nation, truly devoted to the words “that all people are created equal.”

Wow man, you did it. You kept this piece to a tolerable length. There’s hope for you, yet. Yah, maybe there is. You know, it’s hard to write with tears running down your cheeks and falling onto your keyboard and desk top. That might have influenced the word count. Why you crying? Racism’s kind of personal for me, and I find it hard to be stoic under the circumstances. Care to elaborate, amigo? No, no, I think not, at least not right now. Okay, I hear you, brother. Hey, man, get to writing that article about the GOP losing the election. That should be a “piece of cake,” a “no brainer,” a “walk in the park.” Give you a chance to relax and mellow out. Shhhhh…trying to remain unbiased, friend, or I guess, at least, appear to be. Ah, come on amigo. Everybody’s got you figured out. Let ’er rip. Enjoy yourself. Yah, you’re right. I will unchain the beast in my next writing. Damn the guardrails, and full speed ahead. No looking in the rearview mirrors. That’s the way, amigo. Go for it! Uh-oh. Taps on both my shoulders. Gotta go. Stay safe and positive dear readers…until next time…

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