ANOTHER VOICE: Meeting Reggie Harris

I REMEMBER MORE THAN 30 YEARS AGO when I first heard Reggie Harris in concert. I arranged for Reggie and his wife, Kim, to appear at Siena College in conjunction with my course on the civil rights movement. That evening Kim and Reggie gave a spirited performance capturing the aims and fervor of the African American freedom struggle. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Years later, I invited Reggie to accompany me on a tour of the South for students from Siena College and Albany High School. We retraced the route taken by the Freedom Riders in 1961 and concluded at the 50th anniversary celebration of their historic journey. On that trip, I observed how the young people eagerly learned the songs he taught while they absorbed the history of the veteran Freedom Riders they met. Three years later, Reggie and I escorted a second student group on a study tour connected to Mississippi Freedom Summer. They engaged with movement veterans and discovered that these heroes were once idealistic young people much like themselves. When Reggie accepted the role of leader for the Living Legacy project taking tours of southern places where civil rights history was made, I knew he was the ideal person for the job. Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Could NY turn from blue to red?

THIS COUNTRY IS LEANING more and more to the right of the political spectrum. Don’t you agree? On the one hand, we can elect a Donald Trump president and, in fact, consider doing that a second time. On the other, we embrace certain liberal thought through our contemporary Democrats. Right now, it looks like the Democrats are in firm control in New York, but don’t bet the ranch on things staying that way.

We know that there was a time when the USA was considered a liberal democracy. We boasted the likes of Hubert Humphrey and, at least for a while, Adlai Stevenson who never really caught on. The truth is, socialists we ain’t. I have always believed that much of what this country has become derives directly from the great Civil War between the North and South. If you want to understand the difference between Republicans and Democrats, you might read up on the end of the Civil War, fought in large part over the institution of slavery in the United States. Interestingly, of course, it was the southern Democrats who defended the tradition of slavery and the Lincoln Republicans who were the anti-slavery people.

Of course, things changed down the road. While the southern Democrats remained more conservative than their northern brothers for many years, the party eventually turned around and became the liberal wing of the contemporary political party structure. When Lyndon Johnson was president, we witnessed a sea change in the party. In addition to the War on Poverty, Johnson will be remembered for signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 while the Republican Party morphed into the conservative wing of our politics—that was quite a fall! Today, while neither contemporary party believes in slavery, a good part of this country remains, well, reactionary and it seems the Republican party would put many Americans into economic slavery of a sort. Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Justice Thomas ought to know better

MY GRANDDAUGHTER, HANA, just celebrated her fifth birthday. Can you remember when you were five?

This turned out to be a great birthday party. Lots of people came and we all went swimming and it was wonderful to see parents and children of all ages speaking and interacting with one another after such a long stretch of isolation.

The parents of Hana’s friends and our other guests know I’m a political scientist and they had a lot to say about the state of the country and its politics. Much of the talk concerned the Supreme Court of the United States which, as we know, has been issuing rulings that directly affect each of us.

We all know by now that a Supreme Court judge named Clarence Thomas has been making rulings that affect over 51 percent of the country, namely women. Thomas is exactly what our contemporary political ideology is all about. He is a Black man, but he represents the conservative ideology in this country. I worry about that and specifically, I worry about our little Hana and her future in this country and world. Women have always been treated as second class citizens and despite some progress, they are not where they ought to be. We have a long way to go and much work to do before things even out. Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Who’s on second?

I USED TO ADVISE my political science and journalism students to stand outside the Legislative Office Building in Albany and ask the first 50 passers-by the name of New York State’s lieutenant governor. I also suggested that they ask who the New York governor and the Vice President of the United States were. The exercise proved that relatively few people know who their elected officials are. Remember that our most well attended election is the presidential contest and that only half the eligible voters show up for that one. We proclaim ourselves to be a democratic nation and even send our children to fight based on our democratic ideology. Think about that.

Not much has changed since my days of college teaching except I suspect that three-term governor Andrew Cuomo was pretty well known. There were a lot of reasons why, not the least of which was his famous father. His shrewd anti-Trump positioning helped the younger Cuomo as well. Unfortunately, the notion that a majority of the people could name the current governor of New York, Kathy Hochul, is preposterous. But even if a small group knows who she is, if you were to ask one of them to name one thing that she has done, it’s unlikely they could do so. That raises a lot of questions about how effective our democracy is. How do we get people to pay attention to politics? How come they don’t? The answer is easy—they don’t think that they have a good reason to. They are wrong, of course, because the more people don’t pay attention, the more politicians will think they have license to do bad things.

Kathy Hochul is actually doing a pretty good job but that leads to the age old, troubling question, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it really happen?” Now we have all kinds of contests for what were formerly regarded as insignificant offices like lieutenant governor. With increasing regularity, lieutenant governors have had opportunities to move up to the top job but even when they do, they may get there anonymously. Remember that the present governor, Kathy Hochul succeeded to her top job because she was Cuomo’s lieutenant. Let’s also remember that the lieutenant governor’s duties are pretty much all ceremonial. They have almost nothing to do other than presiding over the Senate on the rare occasions that they are called upon to do so. But as we learned when Cuomo went down in disgrace, things can change very quickly. Read more…