The Dignity of Julian Bond Remembered During This Summer of Trump

Julian Bond on Aug. 25, 2011 with past leaders of the Civil Rights Movement during the week of ceremonies for the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Jeff Malet
Julian Bond on Aug. 25, 2011 with past leaders of the Civil Rights Movement during the week of ceremonies for the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Throughout this weekend, it was an American weekend of contrasts,  Saturday and Sunday in sharp relief and outline, both in this city and across the country, the aroma of bacon and pork on a stick mixing with the hurly burly of Trumped-up political showmanship at a classic middle America state fair, the kind that is an August feature of every county in the country that has at least one cow in the field and a chicken in the yard.

This was a weekend of a presidential-wannabe’s rite of political passage as an impossibly awkward  slate of more than a dozen candidates, high and low, Democrats and Republicans,  puzzled partisans and  followers of those beyond category like the leprechaunish Bernie Sanders and the gaudy, wholly self-enamored Donald Trump, descending, like a character out of a Fellini movie unto the farming and fawning earth of Des Moines, Iowa, in a setting that couldn’t have gotten more surreal.

It was a day on which it seemed like the entire West Coast was burning -- so much so that with every fragment of video frame you began to think you could smell burnt brush and branches and homes from Oregon to the drought-stricken expanse of California.   In Washington, D.C., something similar was at work: with the news of a killings and shootings almost every day, each loud noise in a neighborhood, or on your travels through the city or on the beltway, made you blink just a little.

It was the kind of sweaty weekend where solace and respite from frantic politics and natural disaster, could be found in different ways: at a birthday gathering, in an exceptional television show and in sad news.

Julian Bond died on Saturday night, Aug. 15, after a brief illness at the age of 75. 

The news, coming out on Sunday morning and expanded upon throughout the day, came not only on the heels of the political antics of the day but stood in sharp relief to them.    

An iconic and hugely respected civil rights leader, Bond was the former head of the N.A.A.C.P. co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee while still a college student, a pioneering black member of the Georgia state legislature for 20 years. Bond’s life did not lack for drama or charisma—the writer, poet, commentator, lecturer and teacher of the clashed with establishment figures, the white Southern political and segregationist leadership, even with friends and political rivals.  But Bond carried himself in a way that was just a step from aloofness, seemed graceful and dignified, and when he spoke, his voice was resonant with a gift for reasoned and reasonable rhetoric.

When you consider his life, it was a big life, if not as big as some had predicted.  Many thought Bond had the charm, the grace, the intelligence and the personality and appeal to become the first African American black president, which, as we know, did not happen. But he was a gift to civil rights in all of its entirety and did not lack for courage or principles. 

When Bond was first elected to the House of Representatives of Georgia in 1965, white members of that Southern legislative body refused to allow him to be seated, because  of his strong and open opposition to the Vietnam war at a time when such opposition was no small act of political courage. It took a 1966 unanimous Supreme Court decision that ordered the State of Georgia to seat him.

Bond lost a bitter primary race for Congress against his old friend John Lewis who won and has been there ever since. 

He was a strong proponent of marriage equality, linking the issue of gay rights as a civil right, often amidst criticism from his own supporters. 

He was a teacher and professor and was a member of the faculty of American University, where he was scheduled to teach a course on the civil rights movement this fall.

President Barack Obama called him a “hero” and a “friend.” 

He had the kind of life that was marked for permanent memory, the kind of life that you dared not pass instant judgement on. It demanded contemplation for how much it was conducted in the maelstrom of history and justice.

Bond's life stood as an oasis of quiet importance when compared to the circus-life atmosphere among the politicians, now running hard as rabbits in an atmosphere of fried-up selfies and stuff on a stick.

There was Hillary floundering, Trump tasting but not finishing, Bernie sweating up a storm, the latest Bush lashing out.  Trump—no matter what he said or did—remained dervish-like on top of the polls to the consternation (and secret pleasure) of the media.  Only Clinton got additional press, none of it good. Missing from the scene was her husband Bill, while other Demos where urging a grieving Joe Biden to run, even bringing up the long-lost name of Al Gore, the alternative history president of the United States, but for the grace of the Supreme Court and Ralph Nader.

The whole thing—the "Meet the Press" encounter where Trump escaped unscathed, noting that “I’ll bet your ratings go up”—to the sight of so many people at the Iowa State Fair, eating so many things that induce all those fatal medical side effects—seemed like a noisy suburban neighborhood pool party in which everybody sooner or later gets thrown into the pool.

Closer to home, gunshots set the tone for a season that has become increasingly hurtful to body, mind and soul, and frustrating to D.C.’s leaders, especially its police force, who at various times cited an influx of synthetic drugs, guns, the release into the community of violent ex-offenders for the reasons in the upsurge of violence and killings this summer. The latest killing—that of an American University graduate named Matthew Castro Shlonksy—shocked the city. He was the latest in a list of homicide victims that, as of Aug. 16, number 93—20 more than last year at this time.

Times like these of polarizing politics, street violence and increasingly destructive natural disasters, you look for diversions in the arts, in sports, or more simply, the small joys offered by life lived daily.  We went to a birthday party for an Adams Morgan neighbor who held his gathered amid friends, family, and neighbor at his place of work.  Stories were told and swapped and advancing age, and new children were noted, and no one argued  about politics or deplored even the sinking fate of the Washington Nationals.  Trump could not trump the food, heavily spiced, the cake, the dancing, the music provided joyfully by La Unica, a self-described Latin Irish Fusion group, which got folks free-flying on the floor, and somehow got salsa to kiss the Blarney Stone, mixing up “Quantanamera” (“Yo Soy Un Hombre Sincero”), which you could find fittingly in “The Buena Vista Social Club,” with  the very Celtic “The Wild Rover” once sung by the Pogues.

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Mon, 27 Feb 2017 03:54:56 -0500

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