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Reaching for Influence

I was one of two hundred people from around the U.S. invited to the White House this morning for a breakfast meeting and workshop with U.S. President Bill Clinton on the issue of hate crimes. There were both good things and painful things about being there. I'm no great fan of Bill Clinton's policies on many fronts, but I will say that being with him up close I could feel his humanity and compassion and his desire to connect with all of us.

What was moving about the day was that there were Gay, Jewish, black, Latino, Asian, and Arab spokes-people side by side on all the panels. I was most moved by the strong Gay and Lesbian presence and the commitment at the White House to fight Gay oppression, stated openly by President Clinton. I ran into many old civil rights buddies who have been waging the battle for decades, including friends from the Arab-American anti-discrimination group.

What was painful was the total absence of any expressed understanding that there is a strong connection between the growth in hate crimes in the U.S. (and need for prejudice reduction work in schools and communities) and the rise of U.S. imperialism and a "super-power" mentality.

I was in a small break-out session with Janet Reno and the Secretary of Education, where we were supposed to talk about solutions to the rise in school-based hate crimes. Those of us who wanted to could speak a few sentences. I tried to think of what I could say (and had the courage to say) in my few sentences that would be most useful. I got up and said that I thought the missing issue in the discussion was the fact that every society builds schools to train children for the economy of that society. How could we point our fingers at the hate crimes in schools without looking at how U.S. schools train young people to be competitive in order to fuel our U.S. profit-motivated system? We have to be willing to look at the fact that the rise in hate crimes in the U.S. is not an aberration but is directly connected to our competitive school system.

I made friends with a black minister sitting next to me, and with a few quick private notes of encouragement to him on his note pad, he stood up after me and said that if we're going to talk about hate crimes, why aren't we saying that the U.S. was started by a hate crime against Native peoples? Well-a bit of revolutionary fervor at the White House today!

Cherie Brown
Silver Spring, Maryland, USA

(Present Time No. 110, January 1998)

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00