August 18, 1963, James Meredith gradutated from The University of Mississippi with a degree in History. That doesn't sound very impressive by itself, because plenty of people graduate from Ole Miss. However, James Meredith is black. He was the first Black student to graduate from this former bastion of segregation.
Meredith had applied to the University twice, and was denied admission; eventually accepted, he attempted to enter on September 20, 1962 but was barred from entering. Governor Ross Barnett, a staunch segregationist and alumni of Ole Miss, opposed Meredith's enrollment and riots broke out on campus. President John F. Kennedy sent in US Marshalls to qwell the riots, which killed two and injured hundreds, and on October 1, 1962, James Meredith became the first Black student to enter the bastion of Whites-Only education.
Why is this important today? Why is Meredith's quiet heroism important today? And he doesn't see his actions as heroism, all he wanted was an education - something that ALL US Citizens should desire, but apparently don't. Meredith's actions are important today because they remind me of how far we've slipped away from decency, dignity and acceptance.
This week, Jose Padilla was convicted on all charges in his "terrorism trial." What does this have to do with James Meredith? Really?
When Meredith entered Ole Miss, he was
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Mr. Padilla's trial proves that we need to keep our Constitution and return to a real rule of law. Waging a "war on terror" does not require giving up our rights under the Constitution and substituting Constitutional Law with Military Law, which, under this administration, is not law at all.
Padilla, a US Citizen, was arrested in May 2002 in Chicago under a warrant to testify before a Grand Jury. He was held in civillian custody for a month, but on the eve of his hearing in Federal Court, President Bush decided he was an "enemy combatant" and Padilla was whisked off to a military cell in South Carolina. Then-US Attorney General John Ashcroft said that Padilla was part of a terrorist plot to set of a "dirty bomb" in a US city.
Shades of Snidely Whiplash.
For nearly two years, Jose Padilla was denied all access to his lawyers, his family and the court system. The Bush administration claimed that he could be held without trial until the end of its "war on terror."
The war on terror is endless. It is a war on an idea, and an idea whose sole goal is to keep people terrified. Padilla was tortured. He was deprived of sleep. He was subjected to extreme temperatures. He was kept in stress positions. He was held without human contact; without natural light; without a clock - complete sensory deprivation.
I'm not going to list the details of the Padilla case - other bloggers have done so, and done it well. No. What sickens me is how we, as a nation, have gone so completely backward since James Meredith gradutated, with dignity, from Ole Miss and gave that University some measure of dignity with his presence. Meredith broke down a wall of fear. And since September 11, 2001, the Bush Administration has rebuilt that wall bigger, higher, thicker, and with mortar made from the poison of hate.
Jose Padilla and James Meredith are worlds apart. Padilla was a small-time thug, a petty criminal who has become an important symbol of how our government uses fear as a weapon. James Meredith is a writer, an educator, and an example of good. But does that mean Padilla should be stripped of his rights as a US Citizen? Not at all. Not at all.
Padilla did not set out to be a hero, nor is he. The heroes in his case are the attornies who worked on his behalf, and, ultimately, on my behalf and yours attempting to keep our Constitution out of the shredder. We are not out of the woods by any means. Our President is making noises to justify his desire to invade Iran; I still fear an "October Surprise" in 2008 which will let him invoke Martial Law, suspend elections and declare himself President for Life - after all, the "war on terror" is endless if you are in charge of it.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said after the attack on Pearl Harbor "The only thing to fear is fear itself." How the Bush administration has twisted that - because this administration has created so much fear in order to keep people afraid.
In one of the Harry Potter books, the Wizard Students are learning about "boggarts", dark magic creatures that are our deepest fears. The way to combat a boggart is the charm "Ridiculos" - so, to Bush, Cheney, and all their cohorts, I say to you "RIDICULOS" - you are ridiculous. No, I will not cave in to your example of fear and hate. I choose to follow the example of James Meredith. I choose dignity.
cross posted at The Sirens Chronicles