Building Education for the Commons
As a child, I dreamed of moving to Baltimore and even ran away from home with the destiny of reaching the big city. My late brother, Drew and Tracy were employed by the Baltimore County police and fire departments respectively. When I was first married, I contemplated whether to move to Baltimore or to go to Duke University. Baltimore for me always represented hope. I was told that my Irish grandfather was the first to bring American football to high school in Baltimore after he helped coach Michigan State to victory in the 1956 Rose Bowl game.
What’s in a Name?
The Irish have an expression, Baile an Tí Mhóir, meaning “town of the big house” which was how Baltimore got its name. The big house. And now, not surprisingly, the internal turmoil of this house has come to the boiling point. House in Greek is oikos, which is the basic unit of society whose meaning is directly related to economy.
In many ways, Baltimore began as a city trafficking drugs, which first began when in 1706 the Port of Baltimore was established because of the need to transport tobacco. Then later in that century the technology for granulating sugar was refined and a factory was set-up in the Inner-Harbor there which was fed by the shipped sugar cain from the Caribbean. Sugar cain is the main ingredient in rum, which was the most widely consumed hard-liquor in the colonies during that time.
Then on September 12, 1814 The British Navy attacked Fort McHenry and Baltimore managed to repel the bombardment. One of the witnesses was Francis Scott Key who wrote out a poem being inspired by the sight of the American flag still flying on the morning of September 14. This poem was put to music and became known as “the Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem of the United States.
But in recent decades Baltimore has come to reflect two very different worlds, the world of the wealthy and the world of poverty. The wildly successful HBO Series, The Wire can be said to be the best tragedy written for television that takes place in Baltimore. It’s a show that reveals certain paradoxes and disrupts our stereotypes of the “good guy” “bad guy” as everything from the police to the drug lords appeal to raw human desires to survive a life in the city, with the possible exception of the character, Omar Little.
From the beginning of American history, the nations’ “House” was build divided against itself. It was a nation build on the backs of slaves, and although the Civil Rights struggle attempted to put our house in order by allowing all people freedom and equal protections under the law, we can see now, after a half a century, that our house’s internal turmoil remains. We have failed to see the Civil Rights’ movement was only just the start, and have instead thought of it as an solution to our nation’s deep race problem. Just because the law changes doesn’t mean our hearts will.
The recent publicity of police brutality in America from Ferguson, to New York and now in Baltimore has painted a picture of a broken America. It’s true the circumstances in each case aren’t exactly the same, but the underlying racism and classism persists. As the 1% continues hoarding and growing their resources at the expense of the rest of us Americans, the militarization of the police and governmental controls (school to prison-pipeline, prisons as corporations, the systematic dismantling of public education, spying on US citizens, torture and so on) has continued to amass. The resurgences of racism by the police is the outward expression of a house divided that will burn down unless justice is addressed at the root level. As with any movement for democracy, fairness and equality, there will and must be uprisings, protests and movements for change to happen. And it is starting to happen. What we need now is organization, coordination and a long-term plan to re-birth democracy in America.
Instead of too quickly dismissing this uprising in Baltimore (as the main-stream media are doing) as perpetrated by law-less “thugs” we should be wiser by stepping back to better understand the conditions historically, economically and culturally. That’s why a good education is essential for an democracy for without history, it is like our society is a tree without roots.
When viewed in historical terms, the situation we are observing in America today borders on the rise of a new form of fascism where the concentrations of wealth and power enforced by the police continues to go on without redress. Voices of African-Americans have not been heard, opportunities have not been shared, and yet they are targeted and killed without justice. Its time that stopped.
It’s time to get our house in order by first seeking justice and fair opportunities for all people no matter their race or economic status. For we working and poor people should fight for “the land of the free,” as this is everyone’s home, “the home of the brave.”