Archive for category Say Something Nice

Lyndon Johnson on Voting Rights and the American Promise (1965)

On March 15, 1965, Lyndon Baines Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to push for the Voting Rights Act. In his speech, Johnson not only advocated policy, he borrowed the language of the civil rights movement and tied the movement to American history.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Members of the Congress:
I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.…
At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.
There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many were brutally assaulted. One good man, a man of God, was killed.
There is no cause for pride in what has happened in Selma. There is no cause for self-satisfaction in the long denial of equal rights of millions of Americans. But there is cause for hope and for faith in our democracy in what is happening here tonight.
For the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great Government–the Government of the greatest Nation on earth.
Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man.
In our time we have come to live with moments of great crisis. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues; issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression. But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, our welfare or our security, but rather to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved Nation.
The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation.

This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: “All men are created equal”—“government by consent of the governed”—“give me liberty or give me death.” Well, those are not just clever words, or those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries, and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty, risking their lives.
Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man’s possessions; it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, and provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.
To apply any other test–to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race, his religion or the place of his birth–is not only to do injustice, it is to deny America and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom.

To those who seek to avoid action by their National Government in their own communities; who want to and who seek to maintain purely local control over elections, the answer is simple:
Open your polling places to all your people.
Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin.
Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land.

So I ask you to join me in working long hours–nights and weekends, if necessary–to pass this bill. And I don’t make that request lightly. For from the window where I sit with the problems of our country I recognize that outside this chamber is the outraged conscience of a nation, the grave concern of many nations, and the harsh judgment of history on our acts.
But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.
Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
And we shall overcome.…
My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English, and I couldn’t speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes. I often walked home late in the afternoon, after the classes were finished, wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that it migLyndon Johnson on Voting Rights and the American Promise (1965)
On March 15, 1965, Lyndon Baines Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to push for the Voting Rights Act. In his speech, Johnson not only advocated policy, he borrowed the language of the civil rights movement and tied the movement to American history.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Members of the Congress:
I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.…
At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama.
There, long-suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many were brutally assaulted. One good man, a man of God, was killed.
There is no cause for pride in what has happened in Selma. There is no cause for self-satisfaction in the long denial of equal rights of millions of Americans. But there is cause for hope and for faith in our democracy in what is happening here tonight.
For the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great Government–the Government of the greatest Nation on earth.
Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man.
In our time we have come to live with moments of great crisis. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues; issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression. But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, our welfare or our security, but rather to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved Nation.
The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation.

This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose. The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: “All men are created equal”—“government by consent of the governed”—“give me liberty or give me death.” Well, those are not just clever words, or those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries, and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty, risking their lives.
Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man’s possessions; it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, and provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.
To apply any other test–to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race, his religion or the place of his birth–is not only to do injustice, it is to deny America and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom.

To those who seek to avoid action by their National Government in their own communities; who want to and who seek to maintain purely local control over elections, the answer is simple:
Open your polling places to all your people.
Allow men and women to register and vote whatever the color of their skin.
Extend the rights of citizenship to every citizen of this land.

So I ask you to join me in working long hours–nights and weekends, if necessary–to pass this bill. And I don’t make that request lightly. For from the window where I sit with the problems of our country I recognize that outside this chamber is the outraged conscience of a nation, the grave concern of many nations, and the harsh judgment of history on our acts.
But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.
Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.
And we shall overcome.…
My first job after college was as a teacher in Cotulla, Texas, in a small Mexican-American school. Few of them could speak English, and I couldn’t speak much Spanish. My students were poor and they often came to class without breakfast, hungry. They knew even in their youth the pain of prejudice. They never seemed to know why people disliked them. But they knew it was so, because I saw it in their eyes. I often walked home late in the afternoon, after the classes were finished, wishing there was more that I could do. But all I knew was to teach them the little that I knew, hoping that it might help them against the hardships that lay ahead.
Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.
I never thought then, in 1928, that I would be standing here in 1965. It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country.
But now I do have that chance—and I’ll let you in on a secret—I mean to use it. And I hope that you will use it with me.…
[Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965. Volume I, entry 107 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1966), 281-287. Available online via LBJ Library (http://www.lbjlibrary.org/lyndon-baines-johnson/speeches-films/president-johnsons-special-message-to-the-congress-the-american-promise).]

ht help them against the hardships that lay ahead.
Somehow you never forget what poverty and hatred can do when you see its scars on the hopeful face of a young child.
I never thought then, in 1928, that I would be standing here in 1965. It never even occurred to me in my fondest dreams that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students and to help people like them all over this country.
But now I do have that chance—and I’ll let you in on a secret—I mean to use it. And I hope that you will use it with me.…
[Source: Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965. Volume I, entry 107 (Washington, D. C.: Government Printing Office, 1966), 281-287. Available online via LBJ Library (http://www.lbjlibrary.org/lyndon-baines-johnson/speeches-films/president-johnsons-special-message-to-the-congress-the-american-promise).]

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Voter Suppression Laws Spit on the Grave of John Lewis

John Lewis, the late U.S. Representative from Georgia, once said, “The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.”

For most of his life, Lewis got into “good trouble,” advocating for the voting rights of millions of Americans.

During the height of Jim Crow, Lewis and his fellow Freedom Riders traveled through the south, registering Black voters and pressuring the Johnson Administration to pass a voting rights bill.

Because of their determination and sacrifices, such as being beaten on Bloody Sunday near the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, millions of new voters were able to cast their ballots when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.

Empowering citizens to exercise their voting rights is foundational in maintaining a healthy and vibrant democracy. However, the United States has often struggled with the notion that every citizen should have the right to exercise their vote.

Voting rights have been a contentious battle between freedom and oppression. Here is a brief history:

1789: The U.S. Constitution granted states the power to set voting parameters, most often setting white male property owners as the only citizens allowed to cast a vote.

1820s: Most states dropped the requirement for property ownership but maintained white male tax-paying dominance.

1828: Maryland is the last state to remove religious restrictions for voters, giving voting rights to Jews.

1867: All native-born Americans were granted citizenship but not the right to vote. The exception was Native Americans who were not granted citizenship until 1887.

1867-1870: The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents states from denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Quickly following, however, Southern states passed Jim Crow laws, hindering African Americans and poor white citizens from voting through poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and other restrictions. Under Jim Crow, only 3% of Blacks were registered to vote in the south.

1910-1920: By the incredible advocacy of women and a number of states enacting voting rights for women, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 provided women voting rights. However, Black women remained impeded from voting.

1924: Native Americans were granted voting rights through the Indian Citizenship Act, even though some states kept them from voting until 1948.

1965: For the entire time under Jim Crow, African American advocates fought and sacrificed for voting rights. The Voting Rights of 1965 helped correct discriminating laws and practices.

1965-2020: A number of states have attempted to make it more difficult to vote by implementing voter ID laws, reducing funding for polling places, limiting mail-in and absentee voting, and restricting early voting.

2021: Thirty-three states are actively considering legislation limiting opportunities for citizens to exercise their right to vote. For example, Georgia and Iowa recently passed legislation making it more difficult to vote. These laws will have a direct effect on lower-income citizens and minority communities.

In Iowa, early voting was reduced from 29 days to 20 days. Iowans will also have less time to cast their ballots on election day, as polls will now close an entire hour earlier. This decision could hinder thousands of voters who work overtime or run late from picking children up at daycare or dropping them off at evening activities. Other restrictions make it more difficult to cast an absentee ballot.

In Georgia, the bill will reduce the availability of absentee voting, restricting it to voters who are 65 and older, who have a physical disability or who will be out of town. Voter ID components of the law will make it a requirement to provide a driver’s license number, state ID number or other identification.

Voting rights advocates in Georgia point out how the bill unfairly targets Black communities, especially efforts by Black churches in their “Souls to the Polls” Sundays.  Black churches have been working hard to get their communities to engage and participate in elections. By eliminating Sunday voting, the law will pretty much kill the program as designed and intended.

Proponents of such legislation argue that they are only attempting to keep the integrity of elections intact. These lawmakers continue to express concern about 2020 voting irregularities, even though such allegations have been declared unfounded numerous times by election officials and courts.

Critics point out that the laws unfairly target minority and lower-income communities in an attempt to reduce voter turnout. By limiting access and placing more stringent requirements to vote, many Black leaders fear a return to Jim Crow standards of voting requirements.

Voting laws that target Black communities and discourage Black turnout spit on the grave of John Lewis and many others who spent their lives working to ensure future generations would not fear Jim Crow and voter suppression. They dreamed of the day when every Black citizen could feel their vote was welcomed and respected.

Unfortunately, there are those who still hold to the philosophy of the late political strategist Paul Weyrich who honestly and infamously declared, “They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote.”

“Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now,” he said. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Put simply, those whose goal is only to retain power and control make it harder to vote. Those whose goal is to ensure every citizen can have their voice heard through the ballot box make it easier to vote. The latter can be done securely.

If there were one sign to gauge the health of our democracy, then we need not look any further than voting rights.

The United States has always been at its best when the country provides voting rights to more citizens and empowers them to exercise that right. We are a healthier democracy and a more perfect union when more citizens are involved and engaged.

As people of good faith, we must remember the life, words and legacy of John Lewis. We must get in the way of injustices by stepping up and speaking out.

Lewis reminded us, “Nothing can stop the power of a committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.”

Therefore, let the Beloved Community continue to do the work of the Lord within this world. Let us make certain the most vulnerable, the poor, the sick, the marginalized and the oppressed are represented and heard.

In a democratic republic like the United States, that means advocating for the voting rights of all citizens and giving more citizens the opportunity to vote.

Mitch Randall headshot

CEO of Good Faith Media.

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Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego – Rev. Susan Sparks -Sunnyside Up

Until I entered seminary, I thought that the three Bible characters who were saved from the fiery furnace were named Shadrach, Meshach, and “To bed we go.”

Okay, maybe the seminary timing is an exaggeration. However, it’s true that I believed those were their names. You see, in order to get me to go to sleep when I was a kid, my Dad would read me Bible stories—this one from the book of Daniel being one of my favorites. While he pronounced “Abednego” correctly (albeit with a thick Southern accent), I heard “to bed we go” because I knew that was what was coming.

Sadly, Shadrach, Meshach, and “to bed we go” weren’t the only names I got wrong. In elementary school, there was “Elemeno,” that peculiar letter in the alphabet that came before the letter “P.” As a teenager (and for many years afterward), I sang some embarrassingly incorrect lyrics from Starship’s hit song “We Built This City.” Instead of “We built this city on rock and roll,” I would happily croon, “We built this city on sausage rolls.”

Apparently, I’m not the only one. Recently, I discovered that there’s actually a term for this; “mondegreen” means a word or phrase that results from mishearing or misinterpreting a statement or song lyric. In fact, it’s quite common in human behavior. A study at the Baylor College of Medicine concluded that when our brains attempt to process imprecise information (like a song lyric that we’re not sure about), the blanks are filled in based on our own biases, prior beliefs, or expectations.

If you ask me, there’s a lot of “mondegreening” going on in our world these days. That’s understandable because as a society, we are terrible listeners. We form our answer or opinion before someone else’s sentence is even finished. We make assumptions that aren’t in evidence (as we used to say in the law). We form conclusions about what people are saying, filling in the blanks based on our biases, prior beliefs, and expectations.

In fact, we worship assumptions just as the ancient Babylonians worshipped the golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar from my favorite “to bed you go” story in Daniel. There, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into a fiery furnace because they refuse to worship the golden idol of King Nebuchadnezzar, but an angel joins them in the fire, not only saving them, but transforming the heart of the king.

Sadly, we continue to worship at that golden idol of assumptions. Maybe it’s when our spouse or partner starts to tell us something, and we cut them off because we already “know” what they are going to say. Maybe it’s when we quickly click the remote because we’ve “heard all we need to hear.” Or maybe it’s when we refuse to listen to another side of an argument or story or dismiss an insight from someone with whom we disagree.

However it occurs, this refusal to listen tends to result in incomplete and inaccurate understandings of what is being said. We then fill in the blanks with our assumptions – kind of like when you know that your dad is trying to get you to sleep, so you hear “to bed we go” instead of “Abednego.”

The bottom line is that we repeat what we think we hear. And if we repeat it long enough, it becomes our truth.

Listening is a holy ritual that we should perform with grace and love every day. What if we refuse to worship at the idol of assumptions? What if, instead, we lean on our faith to give us more patience, empathy, and understanding? When we step out in faith, powerful forces will come to our aid—like, perhaps, an angel standing by us whispering, “take a breath; let them talk; hear their story.”

Sure, I’ll continue to belt out incorrect song lyrics that will mortify my family and friends, but I hope the inaccuracies will stop there. Singing a song lyric that the writer never intended is a wrong, but putting words into other people’s mouths is a whole ‘nother kind of wrong.

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Our Words Hold the Power to Bring Life or Death

My friend said to his mother, “Don’t worry about it. They are just words.”

In fact, she was right to worry. She was concerned about the wording changes in her church’s by-laws. Words that reeked of exclusion and fear.

She had prayed fervently that the ugliness that was sweeping through churches nationwide would not touch her church, but it did.

Words are never just words. Our words are sacred. When we were endowed with the power of speech, God gave us the power to bless or to wound others with our words.

The psalmist prayed that not only “the words of my mouth” but also “the meditations of my heart” would be pleasing to God (Psalm 19:14).

Similarly, the Greeks used the word logos to mean words spoken as well as words formed in the brain but not yet spoken.

Words spoken and/or heard become part of our nervous system. They may stimulate an immediate response, or they may lie dormant for years.

Words are never just words. They carry with them the power of life or death.

Rudyard Kipling said, “Words are the most powerful drugs used by man.”

The U.S. has been tragically reminded of how destructive words can be when they are weaponized by someone with evil intent.

Our democracy was threatened when a mob set out to overthrow our government. It seems that some were actively looking for certain officials whom they intended to harm.

Some in the mob shouted, “Hang Mike Prince.” Others cried out ominously, “Naaaaancy. Oh, Naaaaancy.” Thankfully, they did not succeed in finding either.

Many police officers were injured, and one was killed. There was much destruction to our Capitol and the business of the Congress was delayed.

The former president of the United States is a master politician and showman.

He understands the power of words especially when the same inflammatory words are repeated day after day, week after week and month after month. He is skilled at name-calling and character assignation.

With his words, he has been successful in undermining the press, the scientific community, the intelligence service, the FBI and the CDC. He has mastered the art of destructive speech.

Most heinous of all, he succeeded in turning citizen against citizen. This clearly demonstrates why words are never just words.

With his acquittal in the second impeachment hearing, former President Trump was not held accountable for the manner in which he (mis)used his freedom of speech leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

There is something to be learned from all of this: Our words are a sacred trust.

We have the power of creation with our words. We can create a better world one person at a time.

We can speak words of encouragement, hope and caring. We can build each other up and help create a more harmonious environment. We can create community.

We can search for leaders whose speech is more uplifting. So much of political programming on the radio and television is toxic, as are political campaigns.

No, we do not live in a Hallmark world and finding those who model healthy speech is not easy, but it is worth the effort.

As a follower of Christ, even more troubling is the reality that so many Christian leaders sacrificed their ideals in order to be associated with the former president.

They have done great harm to their reputations and to their calling. They have encouraged many of their followers to choose a darker path.

Their actions mocked the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV).

I believe that the attack on our Capitol is the worst calamity of my lifetime because it was not committed by a foreign power. It was committed by my fellow Americans at the urging of the former president.

Our words are important. Our words are powerful.

Let us use them wisely, so that they bring life not death.

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