Category Archives: opinion

The Answers Are Blowing in the Wind

There are a lot of substantive issues that should be on the minds of the voting age public in the U.S., but if you check out the varied media headlines, you wouldn’t know it. A short list of substantive issues includes the recent rise in unemployment, the projected $500 billion federal budget deficit, the war in Iraq, (costly in human lives and dollars), the 47 million Americans without health insurance, the oil price bingo game that we are all forced to play, and the ever growing national debt ($9.5 trillion and increasing by the minute). However, to my dismay, I find myself choosing to ignore all of those substantive topics to address some of the decoy topics that clutter up the media.

First up is Sarah Palin and the Heart song, Barracuda. It seems that one of Gov. Palin’s nicknames as a high school basketball player as “Barracuda,” and in honor of Palin’s nickname, the Heart song was played on Wednesday and Thursday evening at the Republican National Convention (RNC). Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson, the front-women for the band Heart, didn’t appreciate the appropriation of their song for use as Palin’s theme song and have sent a “cease and desist letter” to the McCain and Palin camp.

I admit that I am a fan of the Wilson sister’s band, Heart, and I am not a fan of Sarah Palin. However, while the Wilson sister’s are within their rights to ask that the Palin campaign cease and desist from use of the song as her theme song, the Palin camp hasn’t violated any copyright laws. Copyright is a tricky thing and it’s not my area of legal expertise, but the one thing that law school stresses is that when you don’t know the answer, do some legal research until you find it. Of course, you may wonder why I would care about this matter at all. I became intrigued because of another article that criticized the Obama camp for appropriating a Brooks and Dunn song, Only in America, to use as Sen. Obama’s exit music at the close of his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). As I am a country music fan and a fan of Brooks and Dunn, I thought that it was a brilliant choice based on the song’s chorus:

Only in America
Dreaming in red, white and blue
Only in America
Where we dream as big as we want to
We all get a chance
Everybody gets to dance
Only in America

There was one little glitch, Brooks and Dunn played the song at G. W. Bush’s inauguration in 2000; Dick Cheney used it as his exit song at the 2004 RNC; and G. W. Bush used it frequently during his last campaign for office. I didn’t have a problem with Obama re-purposing the song for his campaign; however, not everyone felt that magnanimous. Both of the performers, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn declare themselves to be Republicans, although one of the song’s co-writers, Don Cook, identifies himself as a Democrat.

Given that I find hypocrisy abhorrent, I had to ask myself, how could I side with Heart in their opposition to Palin’s use of their song unless I was going to also condemn Obama for siphoning off Brooks and Dunn’s song for his campaign purposes? As I was reading other blogs dealing with these song appropriation issues, I kept encountering a basic misunderstanding regarding copyright law and use provisions. I realized that if I did a pure legal analysis, that I had a basis for why both Palin and Obama had a legal right to use the songs as they wished.

The intent of singers and songwriters is to have their works heard. To support that intent, and preserve their rights a artists, their works are licensed to be heard in a variety of markets. We are all familiar with radio, but venues like concert and sporting arenas may also obtain a license to play a song. That music that you hear in the elevator is licensed. The way that this typically works is that the songwriters and performing artists contract with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) to distribute their music. Any entity that is licensed with ASCAP can play a song distributed by ASCAP without getting the artist’s explicit permission. So neither the Palin folks, nor the Obama camp had to ask the Wilson sisters or Brooks and Dunn for permission to use the music as long as they had secured the appropriate licensing from ASCAP.

However, nothing in the law is ever simple; if it were, lawyers would be out of work! The ASCAP license only allows a song to be performed; if you want to use the song in a political ad or a promotional video, you have to obtain a license from a publisher known as a “synchronization license.” Singer Jackson Browne’s lawsuit against the McCain campaign for using his song Running on Empty in an ad is based on a violation of the sync license law. There is a backdoor to a possible lawsuit even if the user has a license from ASCAP. If for instance, Palin used Heart’s song to the extent that it becomes identified with Palin, then the Wilson sister’s could sue under a claim of a violation of their “right to publicity,” which allows you to protect your identity or image from being used for marketing purposes. However, the “right to publicity” laws vary from state to state and generally apply to commercial uses of an image, not political ads.

So the bottom line of this non-issue is that unless the Obama and Palin camps have totally lost their minds up in here and neglected to secure the appropriate ASCAP licensing, they can play whatever song that they like and the rest of us need to adopt as our theme song, Blowing in the Wind, a song about issues of substance. Written by Bob Dylan and first released in 1963, the song has been recorded by numerous artists, including Dylan, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Joan Baez, Sam Cooke, and my personal favorite, a cover by Stevie Wonder in 1966. The video is the Stevie Wonder cover.

Blowin’ In The Wind
How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, n how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, n how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, n how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, n how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

How many years can a mountain exist
Before its washed to the sea?
Yes, n how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, n how many times can a man turn his head,
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind,
The answer is blowin in the wind.

(My next nonsense issue to be addressed in an upcoming entry: the woman who called in to the Michael Baisden Radio Show to announce that she couldn’t vote for Barack Obama because he supported killing babies. Please Lord, deliver me from fools.)

Embracing Hope: Why Obama Rocks My World

The world of my youth was a world of separation. The railroad tracks separated our town into black and white. There were two libraries, the Wilson County Public Library and the Wilson County Negro Library. Everyone ate barbecue from Parker’s but my mother had to go to the back door to pick up our order; only white people were allowed to enter the front door and sit in the dining room and eat. The train station had two waiting rooms, one for whites and one for coloreds. The one for whites was bigger, brighter, and cleaner. In facilities where there was no separate area for us, the signs read, “no colored allowed,” or “white only.” There were even two hospitals. I don’t recall the name for the white hospital but the colored hospital was called Mercy. These are my memories of growing up as a colored child in Wilson, North Carolina.

I was born in 1955; I turned eighteen in March 1973. The public school system in Wilson ignored the court ordered integration that came from the Brown decision in 1954, and it was 1971 before the school system fully integrated. I was in tenth grade. My dad, who had been one of four black men who integrated the Wilson police force in the 1960s, worked a detail at the only high school in the city of Wilson, Fike Senior High. The KKK had set up camp across the street from the Fike to make their opposition to the presence of Negro students at the school perfectly clear. The police were there to maintain order. My dad says that when he first joined the police force, the black officers weren’t allowed to drive patrol cars. He was on the force when Dr. King and then Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. I remember him wearing his riot gear as he went to work. I was thirteen.

Darden, which had been the black high school before integration in 1971, became a school for tenth grade only. All sophomores, Negro and white, attended Darden; all juniors and seniors attended Fike. Darden lost its status as a high school for participation in sports, choral competitions, drama competitions, and all other extracurricular activities. When I began my junior year at Fike, I signed up for chorus. The chorus teacher commented that she had noticed that the Negro students all had a lot of vibrato in their voices and asked us why we sang that way. At Darden, we had sung spirituals, jazz, and R&B as well as some classical pieces. At Fike, the spirituals, jazz, and R&B were not regarded as appropriate music for choral presentations. I dropped chorus and took art instead.

A new employee at my office is also from Wilson. She is my sister’s age, two years younger than I am. She is white. She doesn’t remember any of this. She says that her year at Darden was a lot of fun. She has asked me if my class ever has a reunion. I didn’t have the energy to explain to her why there is no class to have a reunion. There are the black students who attended Darden when it was a high school and the white students who attended Fike. When we integrated, all it really meant was that we attended school in the same buildings.

We never became a class. When we got to Fike for our junior and senior, we were still separate, just in the same buildings. Fike was on the white side of town and the KKK felt that it was on its home turf. It was difficult to build bridges among the students when grown men in white robes and hoods were standing across the street shouting epithets at us every day. It was also common knowledge that some of the armed police officers who were supposed to protect us had white robes and hoods in their closets at home.

I had thought that I was done writing about race. Friends whose opinions I value, have cautioned me that I only upset myself when I write of these things. I had decided to move on to other matters and let it be. However, I’ve come to realize that although they are well meaning, they don’t get it at all. Writing about my experiences, what I know to be true, doesn’t upset me. What upsets me is that so many people want to pretend that these things never happened, that they are some distant echo of reality, that what I know to be true is insignificant. That’s upsetting and something that I refuse to accept.

Why am I thinking of these things now, at this time? Because I am witnessing an amazing revolution, a revolution of heart and mind that I never believed that I would see in my lifetime. I am filled with a deep joy as I contemplate the very real possibility that a man, who has brown skin like mine, may well be the next president of this country, my country that for so long has rejected me and my people. I had long ago accepted that there were wounds to my soul that could not be fully healed, wounds made by bigotry and hate, by an unrelenting message that because of the color of my skin, of the skin of my people, we were inferior. Don’t misunderstand, I never believed that we were inferior but it was far too daunting a task to have to constantly fight against the belief by the larger culture that we were, a belief bolstered by pseudo-scientific claptrap like The Bell Curve.

I’ve been working over time to refrain from admitting to anyone, least of all to myself that at least part of the reason that I support Barack Obama is because he looks like me. I’m done with that. I admire Hillary’s strong female base who have not shied away from admitting that they rallied around her in part because she is a woman, and they identified with her accomplishments as a woman in a male dominated world.

What Barack Obama has done is astounding, in a culture that is in its infancy of letting go of the racial apartheid of a less than 50 years ago, the culture of my youth, a culture that I know not through history but because I lived it. I get misty eyed and I have a lump in my throat just thinking about it. Every time I hear Barack Obama speak, I feel a sense of pride and joy that is intoxicating, and I shed all of those scars born of bigotry and I feel newly born into a world of promise. Finally, I can say with no irony, no sense of fabrication, to a little black baby, “Someday, you may be president.”

I make no apologies for my unabashed support of Barack Obama. I have no more tolerance for those who profess that he scares them, that they worry that he’s going to sell out this country. That’s total nonsense and you’re too ignorant for words to even believe it. If I hear or read one more person assert that he’s a Muslim and that he’s going to help the terrorists destroy the United States, I’m going to scream. And so help me, if I read or hear one more white person say that he is a reverse racist, I’m going to forget that I believe in nonviolence and slap somebody up side the head. By the way, my head was wagging when I wrote that last line.

Barack Obama is a man of principle. He is a man of intelligence. He is the man to lead this country forward on this journey of healing and I’m proud to claim him as my candidate of choice.

As a seventeen year old, I dragged around my guitar in a battered case with peace signs all over it, and sang songs about peace and love, but I was filled with the despair of youth, that the world in which I lived would never “give peace a chance,” nor ever find those “answers blowin’ in the wind.” I thought that the racial division that filled my world would outlast my lifetime. My heart cried for the ongoing list of martyrs–Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Jonathan M. Daniels, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, King, JFK, Bobby….

The Civil Rights Memorial that stands in front of the Southern Law Poverty Center includes the names of many of the people who risked and lost their lives in the pursuit of justice. I visited the memorial in August 1993. I recall my visit very clearly, because it was on that trip that I decided to go to law school. The memorial is black granite. It bears the names of the martyrs on a large disc in front of a curved wall that bears a favorite line of Dr. King’s, “Until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” A steady stream of water bubbles out of the disc and washes over its surface, and water cascades down the curved wall. When I visited the memorial back in 1993, I sat and stared at it for a long time and I cried, not so much for the dead, but for the living because I had no hope that we were going forward and I feared that their deaths had been in vain. I am allowing myself to believe that I was wrong. I am engaging in the audacity of hope, and it feels really good.

Below is a poem that I wrote after viewing the civil rights memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.

Memorial in Montgomery
casting long shadows in the afternoon sun
the wall is smooth, black
warm to the touch

the water falls down like healing rain
slides, swirls
drains away
washes clean…

close by, rising from the earth
stands the remembrance of struggle
a litany of the martyred
finite circle of sorrow and joy

cross over the river Jordan
fall down, fall down
like the walls of Jericho
like the walls of Jericho

dark mirror of tears take me home
wash my heart in justice
bathe my soul in peace
fall down, fall down
like healing rain

What’s In A Name?

My friend, BT, began sending emails to a small group of us, who are addicted to the presidential nomination race, a couple of months ago. Everyone now emails everyone with personal observations, news story links, and primary humor.

I received this email from AT, another member of the group today:

you know, I’ve changed my mind about Barack. I now no longer support him for president because I am very concerned that the people of West Virginia will be uncomfortable: Click to read LA Times story.

Naturally, I went to the LA Times story to check out what dire words could be responsible for such a change of heart. To my horror, the story was exactly as AT stated and I immediately began to share his concern about the people of West Virginia.

According to the news story,

“Obama may have emerged from his double-digit victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton in North Carolina and his razor-thin loss in Indiana on Tuesday with a virtual lock on the Democratic nomination. But, his performance did little to reassure political leaders here [West Virginia] concerned by his sagging numbers among once-loyal white Democrats, who have steadily abandoned their party over the last several presidential elections.”

I was particularly taken by the concern expressed by lawyer Clyde M. See Jr., a former Democratic speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates and two-time gubernatorial candidate. He considers Senator Obama to be a “fine speaker,” but worries that, “There’s a lot of bigotry in the country, not just West Virginia.”

I’ve never been to West Virginia but I have known a few people from various parts of West Virginia. I even had a romantic relationship with a man from West Virginia. Of course, he dumped me and I’ve been sort of ticked off about it ever since but I don’t hold the entire state of West Virginia responsible. (Steve W. if you’re reading this, I am so over you.)

I began to wonder if perhaps the LA Times reporter was getting a bit over excited about race relations in West Virginia. Over the years, there have been multiple occasions when people have shared their sympathy over my unfortunate status of being black and southern. They always seem a bit surprised when I reassure them that I love living in the south. Most of these people are well-meaning non-southerners who assume that no black person in her right mind would willingly choose to live in the south. There are days when I feel as if I may be a brick shy of a load, but mostly I’m in my right mind.

Then my mind began to wander as I tried to figure out if West Virginia was really a part of the south. Originally a part of Virginia, West Virginia bears the distinction of being the only state created by seceding from a confederate state. West Virginia was admitted to the Union as a separate entity from Virginia on June 20, 1863. People that I know from West Virginia don’t always agree as to whether it’s a part of the south. However, as most of those people have more of a drawl than I do, I’m calling them southerners whether they like it or not.

As I was pursuing this line of thought, I realized that I had not finished reading the LA Times article. and I set about doing so. As I continued to read, I realized that the reporter had chosen to focus on a particular W. Va. area, Hardy County, with a population that is 97% white. (According to the 2000 census, the state of W. Va. is 96% white.) According to the LA Times, Hardy County is “as conflicted as any rural and working-class Democratic bastion as it struggles to adjust to the likely prospect of the party nominating its first African American presidential candidate.”

I couldn’t help but wonder if the white people that I know, some of whom I count as close personal friends, knew that they were conflicted about voting for Barack Obama. All the white people that I know didn’t vote for Obama but neither did all the black people that I know; however, a lot of people in North Carolina voted for Obama in the primary, enough to give him nearly a 15 point lead over Senator Clinton. Maybe they didn’t know that they were conflicted.

I was starting to get really confused and worried about the conflicted folks in West Virginia, and I began to think that perhaps I should follow AT’s lead and stop supporting Senator Obama.

As I wrestled with my unsettled feelings, I continued to read the news story that had gotten me so worked up regarding my conflicted neighbors in West Virginia, and I came across the comments made by a Mr. Vetter, 64, a farmer and lifelong Democrat who regrets voting for Bush in 2000.

“I’ve got 50-some guns, and I wasn’t crazy about Obama’s talk about small towns,” said Sam Vetter,… “Besides,” he added, “Obama just doesn’t sound right for an American president.”

As Vetter’s words sunk in, I had what Oprah calls an “A-ha moment,” a moment of life changing insight that provides you with the solution to what troubles your mind. I didn’t have to stop supporting Barack Hussein Obama, all I had to do was persuade him to change his name!

Vetter said it, “Obama just doesn’t sound right for an American president!” That’s why the people of W. Va. are so conflicted, Obama’s name is just all wrong for an American president.

I immediately began to think of some possibilities and I think that I’ve hit on one. I need to write the current owner and ask if he minds if Senator Obama borrows his name. It’s a solid name, an American name. After all, the holder of this name has had a long political career. As soon as I get all the legal obstacles cleared, I’m going to have a long talk with Senator Obama to persuade him that he needs to change his name to Newt Gingrich.