Article 25

Forever Young

In Uncategorized on 04/09/2012 at 11:01 am

Andrew Young. Photo by Paul Davis.

Civil rights hero calls for change

By Gregory Flannery

 

Two men who were present when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated recently visited Cincinnati.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson stood with Occupy Cincinnati at Piatt Park last November and urged the protesters to continue.

When the Rev. Andrew Young spoke March 20 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, he had a different suggestion. The people involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement across the country need more education, he said. He contrasted the new movement, which touts the fact that it has no leadership, with the civil rights movement of the early 1960s.

“We were the beneficiary of maybe 40 years of excellent legal education and research,” he said. “Occupy Wall Street doesn’t know what it’s doing. I went out there and told them, ‘Don’t sit out here in the rain and the cold. Go back to school. Learn to understand Wall Street. When you get on Wall Street, what are you going to do?’ They don’t have the background to be an effective protest movement. It’s not that they’re not right. It’s not that they’re not bright. To be effective, a protest movement in American society has to be very specific and focused.”

Young – former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, former member of Congress and former mayor of Atlanta – was the keynote speaker at the annual YWCA Heart-to-Heart Racial Justice Breakfast.

While dismissing the Occupy movement as an ineffective vehicle for social change, he agreed that the economic inequality that spurred the movement is a serious problem. Casting the issue in spiritual terms, Young said excessive wealth is bad for those who have it, as well as for those with little

“It’s demonic,” he said. “It’s destructive – of them. It’s wealth without values. Money without values is dangerous.”

‘Behind the wall’

Young was instrumental in the founding of the Freedom Center, according to Kim Robinson, chief executive officer of the museum. Young co-chaired the development campaign that built the center, which Robinson called “the house that Andy built.”

“Andy is a master of expressiveness,” Robinson. “While he might not admit it, I believe he must have been a major influence on Martin Luther King Jr.”

Young, however, preferred to point to another influence which, he said, was pivotal in shaping both his and King’s thinking about how to fight racial segregation: their wives. Both came from educated families that owned property, and both had that property taken away during their teenage years, he said. King’s wife went to Antioch College in Ohio, where she took a course on peace studies. Young’s wife went to Manchester College in Indiana, where a course on New Testament non-violence was mandatory.

“Neither of us were particularly committed to non-violence, whereas our wives were. … Had it not been for the coming together of this dynamic, you probably would have never heard my name – or Martin’s, either,” he said.

Women’s rights – and the lack of a movement to promote them – were a major theme of Young’s address.

“Women in today’s world are slaves,” he said. “When you think of child brides, child prostitution, genital mutilation, there is no movement, there is no struggle.”

He described an encounter with a woman from an African country where genital mutilation is practiced.

“She said, ‘You should not mess with my culture,’ ” Young said. “I said, ‘Your culture is very sinister and depraved. You will not make any progress until you have female equality.”

He quoted computer-equipment billionaire Bill Gates, who urged Saudi Arabia to end its repression of women. In Saudi Arabia, women are not allowed to leave their homes without the permission of male relatives. Gates was asked if technology would make the country great.

“He said, ‘It depends on whether you utilize the talent that’s behind the wall. This should be and could be a great country, but it’s not as great as it could be because 45 percent of your population is still behind the wall,’ ” Young said.

Walls of another sort keep too many women from contributing to American society, he said. Young described a visit to a women’s prison with 1,700 inmates.

“For the life of me, I couldn’t understand why this wasn’t a university,” he said. “The reason why it wasn’t a university is because most of them had a problem with some man.”

Many women in prison for drug offenses end up with harsher sentences than the primary offenders, their husbands or boyfriends, who often testified against the women in exchange for lighter sentences.

‘Cussed out’

The 1,700 women in that prison had approximately 6,000 children left without their care, just one illustration of the problems caused by mandatory sentencing and the nation’s high incarceration rate, Young said.

“It’s going to take some courage to stand up for people in prison. It’s not working,” he said. “Kids are coming out with a master’s degree in robbery. They don’t pick somebody’s pocket when they leave the ATM. They’ve learned how to take the ATM out of the wall.”

Pointing to the growth of Atlanta during his three terms as mayor, Young said the key was a commitment by business and civic leaders to make sure economic growth benefited all parts of the community.

“In everything we’ve done, there has been a fairness formula, and that includes poor people,” he said. “Every single contract was a joint venture – 50-50, black and white, male and female. We included the best ideas, the best contractors. We didn’t discriminate against anybody.”

Young called for a massive project to prevent flooding on the Mississippi River, which affected 33 states last year. He said public-works projects during the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt transformed the Appalachian region and helped millions of unemployed people.

Much of the current political dialogue, with calls for smaller government and reduced spending, show a lack of vision, according to Young.

“In times of extremely rapid social change, people panic,” he said. “They want to hold onto things as they are. That means that they have no vision. We have got to get that vision of where we’re going and how to get there. There is no place back toward which we can go.”

Creative financing can use the nation’s wealth to benefit all segments of society, Young said.

“You’ve got to figure out a way to use the money on Wall Street to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to heal the sick,” he said.

His success in Atlanta – for example, building an international airport that is now the busiest in the country, generating $30 billion a year in economic activity, while making sure women, minorities and poor people benefited – shows that government and business can find a way, Young said.

“Everything I did that was visionary, I got cussed out for,” he said. “Twenty years later, I’m a hero.”

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