Aug 24th 2015

Thank You Julian Bond

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

When Julian Bond died last week, every major news outlet featured tributes praising his more than five decades of leadership in the struggle for civil rights. He was all the things that were said about him. He was courageous and visionary, a steady hand and a thoughtful strategist, and a tireless and eloquent voice for justice for all who were denied their rights. 

But for me, Julian was more. He was a mentor who more than four decades ago taught me a lesson that has guided my work ever since. I have told the story before of my first meeting with Julian Bond back in 1973. But because I believe it remains so very relevant, I want to share Julian's lesson one more time.

The story begins at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, IL. In the months preceding the Convention, the country had been shaken by a series of traumatic developments. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in April. Three popular anti-war Senators (Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and George McGovern) were running strong campaigns against then-President Lyndon Johnson—opposing his Vietnam War policy. Their combined successes ultimately forced Johnson to announce that he would withdraw from the contest. And then, in early June, Kennedy was assassinated.

When Democrats gathered in Chicago, in August, they were still reeling from the shock of these events. The Convention itself was a tumultuous affair that brought together all of the conflicting currents of the period.

Outside of the Convention, there were massive demonstrations against the war in Vietnam coupled with substantial gatherings of "counter-culture" activists. At one point, the demonstrations were confronted by a shameful display of police/military force. A battle ensued.  There were tanks in the streets, beatings and tear-gassing of protesters who chanted "the whole world is watching” because what was playing out in the streets of Chicago was reminiscent of scenes of uprising and repression that had occurred behind "the Iron Curtain".

These same currents played out inside the Convention. As the proceedings began, there was a battle over which delegation should receive credentials to represent the state of Georgia—an all white group, or a mixed-race delegation that included Julian Bond. There was some drama, but in the end, the integrated slate won the right to be seated.

Then came a platform fight over a plank to oppose the war in Vietnam. It became as heated as the demonstrations on the outside. The anti-war plank was defeated, but in a last ditch effort to continue their protest, party progressives decided to contest the party regulars' handpicked choice for Vice-President, Senator Ed Muskie. They put Julian Bond's name in nomination as their candidate to run on the ticket with the party's Presidential nominee, Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey, who, as a Senator had a sterling record in civil rights and labor rights, had served as Johnson's Vice-President and was, therefore, viewed with suspicion by anti-war Democrats.

The party regulars who supported Muskie were too strong and won the day. Outraged by the way their concerns had been ignored by the party leadership and by the use of brute force against the demonstrators, the anti-war delegates had their say in demonstrations on the floor of the Convention—chanting the name of their candidate "Julian Bond". In a crude attempt to regain control of the proceedings, the convention's leadership brought in police who used unconscionable force to bring order.

On the final day of the Convention after Humphrey and Muskie had delivered their acceptance speeches and stood center-stage amidst the balloons and confetti and cheers from the party regulars, a remarkable thing occurred. Onto the stage walked Julian Bond. He went over to Humphrey and Muskie and joined hands. Like many young activists, at the time, the scene left me bewildered and devastated.

A few years later, I met Julian Bond. He had come to lecture at a college where I was teaching. I asked him why he walked out onto the stage that night and told him how let down I had felt.

In response, he told me that there were two types of people. There were those who looked at the evils of this world like war, racism and oppression and said, "I'm going to stand on my principles because it’s got to get a lot worse before it gets any better", and then there were those who would say "I’ve got to get to work to see if I can make it at least better."

“I’m with the second group,” he told me, “because if I took the first view I would be allowing too many people to continue to suffer while I, maintaining my ideological purity, refused to do anything to help them.”

"At that point in the convention", he continued, "it was no longer Julian Bond versus Ed Muskie. It was Hubert Humphrey versus Richard Nixon and I had to make a choice as to who would help make life at least a little bit better.”

I never forgot that lesson and am challenged daily to apply it. It is the reason why I have so little patience for ideologues from the right or the left. They wear their purity with great pride. They arrogantly dismiss those with whom they disagree and never see the need to engage differing opinions. Because they see themselves as bearers of the only truth, they are quick to denounce others, as they say, "with clarity and conviction."

From high on their pinnacle of purity, they often miss the muck of the reality in which most of us live and the tough and often less than perfect choices with which we are confronted in the never-ending challenge we face to make life a little bit better –whether in the struggle for human rights, improvements in the quality of life, or the provision of security and justice for those who are most vulnerable.

And so, at his passing, I am compelled to say "for the life you lived, the leadership you demonstrated, the victories you won, and especially for the lessons you taught, thank you Julian Bond".




TO FOLLOW WHAT'S NEW ON FACTS & ARTS, PLEASE CLICK HERE!

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jul 9th 2021
EXTRACT: ".... ruminants belch and fart methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas. As a result, rearing beef cattle brings about, on average, six times the contribution to global warming as non-ruminant animals (for example, pigs) producing the same quantity of protein. ..... if projected to 2050 [beef production], would use 87% of the total quantity of emissions that is compatible with the Paris climate agreement’s objective of staying below a 2° Celsius increase in temperature."
Jul 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
Jul 7th 2021
EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "