There were huge crowds in several major U.S. cities, including Chicago, at the just-ended 'Pass the Mic' tour. National Public Radio and Public Broadcast System TV host Tavis Smiley thought up the idea of inviting two other distinguished thinkers, Dr. Cornell West and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, to join him. People were not to be passively entertained with sports, rap music or the comedy or drama of a play. Instead hundreds of people came to the Chicago Theater to participate in a winter's night of interactive discussion on the hot topics of today.
Michael Eric Dyson, age 45, and unapologetically cerebral, spoke of living in the 'United States of Amnesia.' Now a Professor of Religious Studies and African Studies at the Univ. of Pennsylvania, Dyson rivited the audience's attention with bold oratory. He said, 'Our country continues to refuse to wrestle with history— we see evidence of that in the uninformed zeal that has accompanied the war on terrorism.' Dyson continued 'And it's dangerously marked without passion or examination of our own moral decay. America is addicted to forgetting because it is too painful to remember. To remember demands the act of self-revealing, and for America would lead us to self-indictment.'
Murmurs of agreement rolled through the audience as the professor listed the ways in which America has been a terrorist nation: through kidnapping thousands of Africans, through allowing brutal chattel slavery from 1619 to 1863, and then through tolerating wholesale violations of human rights of people of color and poor people for an additional 100 years. During that 100-year span of Jim and Jane Crow, the worst single terrorist act ever committed on American soil occurred: the bombing and destruction by fire of the economically prosperous Black community of Tulsa, Okla., in May 1921. The State of Oklahoma itself, created as a reservation for Native Americans, was taken back by the federal government when oil reserves were found there.
Sounds like a modern-day rationale for invading Iraq. History repeats itself, especially when lessons are not learned.
Cornell West, author of 19 books and numerous articles, is Professor of Religion at Princeton Univ. 'I agreed to be part of this tour because we have to keep alive the great tradition of the pursuit of intellectual excellence and remind today's youth that it was done in the past for love by those who had courage,' West said. 'When you listen to young people today there are constant cries for help. Our youth seek the trappings of bling-bling to camouflage their pain.' The audience was embarrassed for a young woman West described. He overheard her in an upscale clothing store mis-pronounce each of several designer brand names she was paying big-profit markups to buy.
West and Smiley implored the U.S. to improve the public education system immediately. 'It is a disgrace for the richest nation in the world to have an educational system that continues to fail students of color and whites without money or privilige,' West said.
An inability to understand the dynamics of the plutocratic oligarchy of the USA's economic system allows youth to seek and to covet the trappings of bling-bling. In fact 1% of the U.S. population owns 48% of its wealth. And while 6% of the people of the world live in the USA, 36% of the world's resources are consumed here.
Television was criticized as the capitalist 'weapon of mass distraction.' People are told to be concerned about all manner of trivia, while little attention is paid to the scandalous executives who have ripped off millions in pension funds at Enron and World Com. Television, like an electronic Peter Pan, lures people to seek only comfort, convenience and contentment. West called for all of Black America to examine our lives, echoing the words of Plato, who said 'the unexamined life is not worth living.'
Near the conclusion of the evening the three men passed the mic to people from the audience. Some asked about prospects for the 2004 election. Tavis Smiley responded that something is wrong when not one of the people in the Congressional Black Caucus has endorsed Rev. Al Sharpton or former Ill. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun. He said a progressive Black candidate needs to run for president every four years so that issues the Democrats are afraid to address get onto the agenda. Smiley said, 'Blacks are the conscience of this country.' Smiley continued 'we lose too many elections by not voting.'
West and Dyson urged everyone to keep the critical thinking going by listening to the Tavis Smiley show: at 2 p.m. weekdays (in Chicago) on WBEZ FM 91.5 radio, and by watching the Tavis Smiley show weeknights on WYCC TV Ch 20 at 10:30 p.m., WTTW TV Ch 11 at 11:30 p.m. weeknights.
For more details on 'Pass The Mic' contact me at MmaxsonnCS@aol.com .