Tuesday, October 18, 2005

All Power to the Imagination

The student protests in France in May of 1968 produced the graffiti that I have used to title this story. But what happened in 18 October of that year best illustrates the possibility of protest taking forms unimaginable. Robert Beamon ran down a track in Azteca Stadium in Mexico City and landed in a sand pit exactly 8.9 meters from the point he left the earth. It was a gold medal and world record performance that rocked the Olympics just as profoundly as the protests that followed. Avery Brundage, the personification of the old guard power structure wasn’t pleased when Bob followed that up by taking the podium wearing black socks and no shoes as a symbol of solidarity with the victims of poverty throughout America and the world. This was the year of protest and violence that had claimed the lives of King and another Kennedy and the national political conventions, In the year that gave the world Richard Nixon as the law and order president meant to restore civilization through the continued killing of peasants halfway around the world and in the ghettoes at home. Tommy Smith was listening for the click of a gun as he stood on the podium with his fist raised in the air in Mexico City. As Apollo 11 orbited overhead and Hurricane Gladys spun its way through the Caribbean towards Florida. Thirty-seven years later another hurricane is in the same spot headed in the same direction. Beamon’s unbreakable record jump has been broken for 14 years. It lasted not quite 23 years, even less than the record jump of Jesse Owens which lasted a full 25 years. Jess Owens was there in Mexico City telling the young and angry athletes to wait…these things take time. But the power of protest and the imagination remain undiminished. Even if the dreams remain unrealized for so long. To quote Malcolm X…’time is on the side of the oppressed today and against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed and against the oppressor. You don’t need anything else.”

Thirty-seven years is a long, long time.

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