Sep 2nd 2014

A Lesson to Learn

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

Almost daily, we are faced by difficult choices we are challenged to confront over a range of foreign and domestic policy concerns. We must decide whether to stand firm on principle or negotiate and compromise; whether to push for everything we want or work to achieve what we believe is possible. As these choices play out, I am often guided by an important lesson I learned more than four decades ago from one of my heroes in the U.S. civil rights movement, Julian Bond, a young African American leader of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee.

The story begins at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, IL. In the months preceding the Convention, the country had been shaken by a series of traumatic developments. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April. Three popular anti-war Senators (Eugene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and George McGovern) were running strong campaigns against then-President Lyndon Johnson—opposing his Vietnam war policy. Their combined successes ultimately forced Johnson to announce that he would withdraw from the contest. And then, in early June, Kennedy was assassinated. 

When Democrats gathered in Chicago, in August, they were still reeling from the shock of these events. The Convention itself was a tumultuous affair that brought together all of the conflicting currents of the period. 

Outside of the Convention, there were massive demonstrations against the war in Vietnam coupled with substantial gatherings of "counter-culture" activists. At one point, the demonstrations were confronted by a shameful display of police/military force. A battle ensued.  There were tanks in the streets, beatings and tear gassing of protesters who chanted "the whole world is watching” because, at the time, what was playing out in the streets of Chicago was reminiscent of scenes of repression occurring behind "the Iron Curtain". 

All of these same currents played out inside the Convention, as well. As the proceedings began, there was a battle over which delegation should receive credentials to represent the state of Georgia—an all white group, or a mixed-race delegation that included Julian Bond. There was some drama, but in the end, the integrated slate won the right to be seated. 

Then came a platform fight over a plank to oppose the war in Vietnam. It became as heated as the demonstrations on the outside. The anti-war plank was defeated, but in a last ditch effort to continue their protest, party progressives decided to contest the party regulars' hand-picked choice for Vice-President, Senator Ed Muskie. They put Julian Bond's name in nomination as their candidate to run on the ticket with the party's Presidential nominee, Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey, who, as a Senator had a sterling record in civil rights and labor rights, had served as Johnson's Vice-President and was, therefore, viewed with suspicion by anti-war Democrats. 

The party regulars who supported Muskie were too strong and won the day. Outraged by the way their concerns had been ignored by the party leadership and by the use of brute force against the demonstrators, the anti-war delegates had their say in demonstrations on the floor of the Convention - chanting the name of their candidate "Julian Bond". In a crude attempt to regain control of the convention proceedings, the party's leadership brought in police who used unconscionable force to bring order. 

On the final day of the Convention after Muskie and Humphrey had delivered their acceptance speeches, and stood center-stage, amidst the balloons and confetti and cheers from the party regulars, a remarkable thing occurred. Onto the stage walked Julian Bond. He went over to Humphrey and Muskie and joined hands. Like many young activists, at the time, the scene left me bewildered and devastated. 

A few years later, I had the opportunity to speak with Julian Bond. He had come to lecture at a college where I was teaching. I asked him why he walked out onto the stage that night and told him how let down I had felt. 

In response, he told me that there were two types of people. There were those who looked at the evils of this world like war, racism and oppression and said, 'I'm going to stand on my principles because it’s got to get a lot worse before it gets any better’, and then there were those who would say `I’ve got to get to work to see if I can make it at least better.’ 

“I’m with the second group,” he told me, “because if I took the first view I would be allowing too many people to continue to suffer while I, maintaining my ideological purity, refused to do anything to help them.”

"At that point in the convention it was no longer Julian Bond versus Ed Muskie. It was Hubert Humphrey versus Richard Nixon and I had to make a choice as to who would help make life at least a little bit better.” 

I never forgot that lesson and am challenged daily to apply it. It is the reason why I have so little patience for ideologues from the right or the left. They wear their purity with great pride. They arrogantly dismiss those with whom they disagree and never see the need to engage differing opinions. Because they see themselves as bearers of the only truth, they are quick to denounce others, as they say, "with clarity and conviction."

From high on their pinnacle of purity, they often miss the muck of the reality in which most of us live and the tough and often less than perfect choices with which we are confronted in the never-ending challenge we face to make life a little bit better –whether in the struggle for human rights, improvements in the quality of life, or the provision of security for those who are most vulnerable. 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Jun 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Confronting our complex history and ultimately embracing a more equitable, balanced, and humble culture may be a tall order in these fractious times. But that makes it even more imperative that we fully reckon with who we are and who we are capable of becoming."
Jun 11th 2021
EXTARCT: "A further health benefit of hiking is that it’s classed as “green exercise”. This refers to the added health benefit that doing physical activity in nature has on us. Research shows that not only can green exercise decrease blood pressure, it also benefits mental wellbeing by improving mood and reducing depression to a greater extent than exercising indoors can."
Jun 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If we apply that test to the world as a whole, how much moral progress have we made over the past two millennia? ...... That question is suggested by The Golden Ass, arguably the world’s earliest surviving novel, written around 170 CE, when Emperor Marcus Aurelius ruled the Roman Empire. Apuleius, the author, was an African philosopher and writer, born in what is now the Algerian city of M’Daourouch."
Jun 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "Research we’ve done, which looked at 37 adults with type 2 diabetes, found that over two weeks, prolonged sitting was associated with high blood sugar levels. But we also found that when people stood up or walked around between periods of sitting, they had lower blood sugar levels. Other studies have also had similar results."
May 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Paul Van Doren's legacy lies in a famous company, and in his advice to young entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty, and to know what goes into making what they are selling."
May 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "May 7th marked three hundred and ten years since the philosopher David Hume was born. He is chiefly remembered as the most original and destructive of the early modern empiricists, following John Locke and George Berkeley." .... " Shocking as it may (and should) sound, Hume is implying nothing less than that the next time you turn the key in your car ignition, you are as justified to expect the engine will start as you are in believing it will turn into a pumpkin. For there is a radical contingency that pervades all our experience. We could wake up tomorrow to a world that looks and behaves very differently to the one we are in now. Matters of fact are dependent on experience and can never be known a priori — they are purely contingent, and could always turn out different than what we expect."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: " The sad reality is that the Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent) were discriminated against from the day of Israel’s inception, whose Ashkenazi (European Jewish) leaders viewed them as intellectually inferior, “backward,” and “too Arab,” and treated them as such, largely because the Ashkenazim agenda was to maintain their upper-class status while controlling the levers of power, which remain prevalent to this day." ..... " The greatest heartbreaking outcome is that for yet another generation of Israelis, growing up in these debilitating conditions has a direct effect on their cognitive development. A 2015 study published in Nature Neuroscience found that “family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size…increases in income were associated with the greatest increases in brain surface area among the poorest children.” "
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "We all owe Farah Nabulsi an enormous debt of gratitude. In a short 24-minute film, The Present, she has exposed the oppressive indecency of the Israeli occupation while telling the deeply moving story of a Palestinian family. What is especially exciting is that after winning awards at a number of international film festivals​, Ms. Nabulsi has been nominated for an Academy Award for this remarkable work of art. " 
Apr 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "When I crashed to the floor of my home in Bordeaux recently after two months of Covid-19 dizziness, I was annoyed. The next day I collapsed again. Now I was worried. What I didn’t know was that my brain was sloshing around inside my skull, causing a mild concussion. Nor did I know that I was in for a whole new world of weird and wonderful hallucinations."
Apr 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Overall, our review has found that there isn’t evidence to back up the claims that veganism is good for your heart. But that is partly because there are few studies ....... But veganism may have other health benefits. Vegans have been found to have a healthier weight and lower blood glucose levels than those who consume meat and dairy. They are also less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes. "
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Pollock’s universe, the universe of Mural, cannot be said to be a rational universe. Nor is it simply devoid of all sense. It is not a purely imaginary world, although in it everything is in a constant state of flux. Mural invokes one of the oldest questions of philosophy, a question going back to the Pre-Socratic philosophers Parmenides and Heraclitus – namely, whether the nature of Reality constitutes unchanging permanence or constant movement and flux. For Pollock, the only thing that is truly unchanging is change itself. The only certainty is that all is uncertain."
Apr 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many present day politicians appear to have psychopathic and narcissistic traits too. It’s easy to spot such leaders, because they are always authoritarian, following hardline policies. They try to subvert democracy, to reduce the freedom of the press and clamp down on dissent. They are obsessed with national prestige, and often persecute minority groups. And they are always corrupt and lacking in moral principles."
Apr 6th 2021
EXTRACT: "This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online. There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!"
Mar 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "The Father is an extraordinary film, from Florian Zeller’s 2012 play entitled Le Père and directed by Zeller. I’m here to tell you why it is a ‘must see’." EDITOR'S NOTE: The official trailer is attached to the review.
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Picasso was 26 in 1907, when he completed the Demoiselles; de Kooning was 48 in 1952, when he finished Woman I.  The difference in their ages was not an accident, for studies of hundreds of painters have revealed a striking regularity - the conceptual painters who preconceive their paintings, from Raphael to Warhol, consistently make their greatest contributions earlier in their careers than experimental painters, from Rembrandt to Pollock, who paint directly, without preparatory studies."
Mar 26th 2021
EXTRACT: "Mental toughness levels are influenced by many different factors. While genetics are partly responsible, a person’s environment is also relevant. For example, both positive experiences while you’re young and mental toughness training programmes have been found to make people mentally tougher."
Mar 20th 2021

The city of Homs has been ravaged by war, leaving millions of people homeless an

Mar 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "There are two main rival models of ethics: one is based on rights, the other on duties. The rights-based model, which traces its philosophical origins to the work of John Locke in the 17th century, starts from the assumption that individuals have rights ....... According to this approach, duties are related to rights, but only in a subordinate role. My right to health implies a duty on my country to provide some healthcare services, to the best of its abilities. This is arguably the dominant interpretation when philosophers talk about rights, including human rights." ........ "Your right to get sick, or to risk getting sick, could imply a duty on others to look after you during your illness." ..... "The pre-eminence of rights in our moral compass has vindicated unacceptable levels of selfishness. It is imperative to undertake a fundamental duty not to get sick, and to do everything in our means to avoid causing others to get sick. Morally speaking, duties should come first and should not be subordinated to rights." ..... "Putting duties before rights is not a new, revolutionary idea. In fact it is one of the oldest rules in the book of ethics. Primum non nocere, or first do no harm, is the core principle in the Hippocratic Oath historically taken by doctors, widely attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates. It is also a fundamental principle in the moral philosophy of the Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero, who in De Officiis (On Duties) argues that the first task of justice is to prevent men and women from causing harm to others."
Mar 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Several studies have recently compared the difference between antibodies produced straight after a coronavirus infection and those that can be detected six months later. The findings have been both impressive and reassuring. Although there are fewer coronavirus-specific antibodies detectable in the blood six months after infection, the antibodies that remain have undergone significant changes. …….. the “mature” antibodies were better at recognising the variants."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Like Shakespeare, Goya sees evil as something existing in itself – indeed, the horror of evil arises precisely from its excess. It overflows and refuses to be contained by or integrated into our categories of reason or comprehension. By its very nature, evil refuses to remain within prescribed bounds – to remain fixed, say, within an economy where evil is counterbalanced by good. Evil is always excess of evil." ....... "Nowhere is this more evident than in war. Goya offers us a profound and sustained meditation on the nature of war ........ The image of a Napoleonic soldier gazing indifferently on a man who has been summarily hanged, probably by his own belt, expresses the tragedy of war – its dehumanization of both war’s victims and victors."