|Friends and Colleagues from Around the World,
The “counterculture” segment of this month’s newsletter relates to the three articles published in the The Crested Butte News, which contrasts what I observed in Crested Butte, a small ski town outside of Gunnison, Colorado where I went to school in the early 70s with more recent protests. Cultural Watch will focus on two important books to better understand the underlying causes of systemic racism in this country, as well as what white people can do to combat it. We have several Voices of the Day during this pivotal point in our country’s history, a Special project as well as an event for the Calendar.
My first article, “Crested Butte 1970: Reflections on a Town in Transition,” was inspired by a You-Tube video of protesters marching down the streets of Crested Butte this summer as part of the global Black Lives Matter protest of racial injustice and the killing of George Floyd. The protest reminded me of the summer of 1970 when I took part in national protests against the Vietnam War. I was incensed that several former high school colleagues had already returned home to Colorado in body bags. Our age of innocence had passed with the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968, and several months later, Robert Kennedy, and the chaos around the Democratic convention that year.
I moved up to Crested Butte part way through my studies at Western Colorado State University and met one of my mentors, Dr. Hubert W. Smith, who offered me a position as Youth Outreach Coordinator for the “Law Science Academy,” which he founded. The purpose of the Academy was to bring together lawyers and doctors to discuss medical issues that impacted their work. I dedicated my book, “Different Latitudes,” to Dr. Smith. My stories harken back to a time when protest, drugs, the “Whole Earth Catalog” and classic rock filled our ears and minds. Both Dr. Smith and Duane Vandenbushe, the focus of my first article, “The Legendary Educator of Gunnison Country,” would impact my future choices and career considerably.
The other “counterculture” article, “Crested Butte 2020: What Goes Around Comes Around,” tells of my response to the recent Black Lives Matter protests in July led by Chloe Nicole Bowman in Crested Butte, which reminded me of the anti-Vietnam War protests in the early 70s. Ms. Bowman was moved by the deaths of people who “looked like me,” and was part of both young and old, as well as white and black protesters. Consequently, Crested Butte Town Council members wanted to make sure the town was aware of some of the top issues being discussed around policing and the Black Lives Matter movement.
I also tell of my amazement that the psychedelic drugs so common, but illegal, during my time there, were now accessible and very well marketed (including “Cheeba Chews” and “Scooby Snax”). But my parting thought was a hope that the protesters had taken the time, as I had, all those years ago, from protesting to also trek around to appreciate the history and spectacular scenery in “Gunnison Country.”
The lockdown caused by COVID-19 has laid bare the growing inequalities and injustices in our social and economic systems today, and yet offered a good opportunity to understand its foundations, as well as why so many white Americans seem willing to ignore the needs of their fellow citizens in order to maintain a system which benefits them so mightily, while ignoring and explaining away the suffering of others.
The public, excruciating murder of George Floyd sparked an awakening among many white people and our nation’s systemic racism, and offered an opportunity to better appreciate its power and longevity of over 400 years on this continent. This Pulitzer Prize bestselling author of Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, examines the often unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives are still impacted by a hierarchy of human divisions, which damage not only the Blacks at the bottom, but also dominate the white population at the top of society today. And by understanding this insidious system, I fully agree with Albert Einstein, “If the majority knew of the root of this evil, then the road to its cure would not be long.”
The next book helps us understand how the white community should deal with systemic racism in this country. Given the numbers and diversity of people participating in the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, this seemed a good time to reflect on my own upbringing, and what we can do to take advantage of a pivotal point in our history, especially with elections on the horizon.
So, this New York Times bestselling book attracted me because the author is a recognized trainer and educator on racial and social justice issues. She deals head-on with white people who ignore race and are dealing with emotions like anger, fear and guilt, which often leads to argumentation and silence. More importantly, the author not only explains the phenomenon, but also explains how it protects racial inequality and what we, as a society, can do to engage more constructively.
The author provides some clear instructions on how to personally become an anti-racist, “We can follow the leadership on anti-racism from people of color, and work to build authentic cross-racial relationships. We can get involved in organizations working for racial justice. And most importantly, we must break the silence about race and racism with other white people.” Well, I have my marching orders!
Other resources to better understand what’s under the Black Lives Matter movement include the 1619 project. Here’s the Award winning article by Nicole Hanna Jones—Our democracy’s founding Ideals were false ; Black Americans have fought to make them true: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html
And another article on the racial wealth gap https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/racial-wealth-gap.html
Voices of the Day
Freedom is not a state; it is an act. It is not some enchanted garden perched high on a distant plateau where we can finally sit down and rest. Freedom is the continuous action we all must take, and each generation must do its part to create an even more fair, more just society.
– John Lewis
You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time.
– Angela Davis
Special Projects Although the filming for our documentary, “Guatemala: Trouble in the Highlands” is on hold, we’ve been identifying and getting to know important Mayan intellectuals and activists to help develop our story about the impact of migration on the Mayan community in Guatemala. Victor Montejo is one of those amazing people I’ve gotten to know, and his profile will be highlighted in next month’s edition of Revue Magazine, “Victor Montejo’s Dream for a Secure Maya Community.”
Partnering for Peace member Andy Lenec and I made a Zoom presentation to the Lakewood Ranch Rotary Club in Sarasota, Florida–hosted by fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer/Liberia, Vana Prewitt. Andy talked about the RYLA program he helped develop in the Ukraine to benefit young people through Rotary and I introduced the book distribution initiative in the Dominican Republic. I also sent both Andy and Vana our prestigious logo pin for their service.
Please check out my new Million Mile Walker website, which includes all my articles and book reviews under “Books Articles” and “Library”, as well as a “Special Message” video, https://millionmilewalker.com. The Guatemala documentary website is: https://www.guatemalastory.net/
“Follow” me on the Million Mile Walker Facebook page for the latest on international affairs and literature.
And, as always, if you’ve read “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond,” by all means, rate it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and GoodReads, or if you don’t have it, please consider purchasing it.
Mark D. Walker