For if Dreams Die…
Many thanks to The Nation for publishing Debbie Nathan’s insightful article “What Happened to Sandra Bland?” as the cover story of your May 9/16 issue. I applaud Nathan for the extensive research that made it possible for her to answer that question, and for her desire to share her findings with your readers.
As I worked my way through the story of Bland’s life, from one painful episode to the next, I remembered the lines of Langston Hughes’s famous poem “Harlem,” which also began with a question: “What happens to a dream deferred?” Hughes wrote his poem in 1951, before the civil-rights movement had reawakened the hopes that Martin Luther King Jr. described in his “I Have a Dream” speech. But that dream of dreams still awaits full realization.
Unfortunately, since the 1980s, too many clueless (and/or spiteful) white Americans have been crushing black hopes with alarming speed and effectiveness. By the time Sandra Bland was born in 1987, the dream was fading fast. Despite her talent, intelligence, and determined efforts, the promise of her early life was never fulfilled. She faced one traumatic episode after another. As a woman who has also battled with depression, I realize that my white privilege, bolstered by religious faith, has spared me from the devastating consequences that Bland had to face. And after reading about her lifelong struggle with clinical depression, I can see why the blues finally got her. Last year, on Thursday, July 10, Bland was pulled over and arrested for failing to signal a lane change—a clear case of DWB (driving while black). She was placed alone in a holding cell because she couldn’t make bail. After three days there, she hanged herself.
By the time I finished Nathan’s article, I found myself moved to change two words in Hughes’s poem. After more than 400 years of dreams deferred, it’s time we asked ourselves a new question: “What happens to a dream denied? Suicide.”
Thinking symbolically, I see Sandra Bland as a canary in the very toxic coal mine that we call the United States. But now that almost all of us (the 99 percent) are also experiencing the death throes of the American Dream, it is time to admit that we are the ones responsible for its demise. We need to acknowledge the racism and white privilege that Jim Wallis has called “America’s Original Sin” and heed his prophetic call to “build the bridge to a new America,” demonstrating love for our neighbors and developing innovative projects that will move us, together, toward restorative justice.
Thinking Big—by Thinking Small
D.D. Guttenplan’s eulogy for Bernie Sanders’s chances [“Sanders at the Crossroads,” May 9/16] is about the Big Game, and what he said was apt. But progressives need to shift their attention and efforts to the Small Game. Guttenplan’s example of the residents combatting the gentrification of their neighborhood was not a Big Game issue; that was local, municipal. And local and state offices are where the other side is gaining ground. In the St. Louis region, where I live, over 60 of the races for seats in local government have no Democratic candidate.
We progressives need to feel the Bern at the local level and start building from the ground up. It’s not news that state legislatures are in bed with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and state versions of the Koch network. They are scrambling to act respectable this election year, and they’ll get away with it to the degree that opposition candidates sit on their hands.
For Bernie’s movement to survive, we must field progressive candidates at the local level. And that’s where Bernie’s army of motivated young people can have a real impact.
J. Terry Gates
st. louis, mo.
“Despite winning 49 New York counties to Hillary Clinton’s 13, and more votes than Donald Trump and John Kasich combined….” So begins the lead comment in the May 9/16 issue on the New York primary. “Counties”? Somehow D.D. Guttenplan forgot to mention that Clinton received 58 percent of the vote to Sanders’s 42 percent. Perhaps you’re assuming that Nation readers are so inattentive that we will skim that sentence and conclude that Sanders really won the New York primary, that Clinton somehow stole it away. And in one more sleight of hand, Guttenplan left Ted Cruz out of the comparisons. If he hadn’t, then the lead sentence would’ve had to conclude by observing that “Sanders got only 105,000 fewer votes than the three Republicans combined.” Please don’t insult your readers this way.
Robert H. Romer
A Chance to Apologize
Many thanks to Raymond Bonner for bringing attention once more to the misguided US policy of supporting the dirty war against civilians and religious leaders in El Salvador [May 19/16].
I’m particularly grateful for his mention of the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero during Mass in March 1980, as well as the savage sexual assault and murder by members of the Salvadoran military of Catholic churchwomen in December of that year. These martyrs were sacrificed for their fidelity to their Christian calling to promote justice for the poor of Latin America.
This nation owes a profound apology for the part it played in El Salvador’s bloody civil war.
Gloria C. Endres
Unfinished or Incomplete?
Barry Schwabsky is in his usual form—insightful, stimulating, and enlightening—in his May 9/16 article “Just One More Stroke!” He raises a good point about the underrepresentation of the Global South and East in the Met exhibition “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible.” As just one example, sand mandalas can be seen as a radical form of “entropic” art in Kelly Baum’s categorization.
Barry Schwabsky’s reply in the June 6/13 Letters section to readers of his essay “The Complete Thing, Unfinished,” makes reference to a letter by Michael Cammer that was not included in the section. It can be found on The Nation’s website. We apologize for the confusion.
Laura Flanders’s “Sinn Féin Battles a New Foe” [May 23/30] stated that Sean Downes was 23 years old when he was killed in August 1984. In fact, he was 22.
Pat Williams’s “From Zubik to Zika” [ June 6/13] described infants born with microcephaly as “encephalic children.” The correct term is “encephalopathic.”