Dreaming in the Rain

A “carter” selling potable water in a Kinshasa neighborhood. Radio Okapi/Ph. John Bompengo

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Mt 5:43-45 (NRSV translation)

It rained all night. Sheets of rain coming down at 3 in the morning. In the morning, the rain gauge registered 5 inches at our place. Cars were submerged at the Toyota dealer where we take our cars for servicing. The normally peaceful, lovely Indian Creek where the mill stood for one hundred years burst its banks.

Like a magic carpet, the downpour transported me to the tropical rain forest and through the night I dreamed of Congo. One story after another. The one that stayed with me concerned a missionary who during the unrest following independence had told his family’s “houseboy” he had started a fund for educating the man’s children. Soon after the conversation, the missionary returned to the U.S. and lost contact with the family’s cook and housekeeper. Two or three decades later, he learned that leaders of the Church in Congo wanted to connect with him. What had happened to the fund he had created for his “houseboy” they wanted to know?

The former employee, now at the advanced age for Congo of 60, had been asking for a way to contact the missionary. Every morning he appeared at the entrance to the Church headquarters wanting to know if they had heard from him yet. It was urgent because the man’s wife needed to have an operation and their only hope to pay for it was the fund the missionary had talked about creating.

Whether going to a poor nation as an aid worker, a “missionary” or a tourist, we travelers from the north are advised these days not to make promises we cannot or do not intend to keep. On recalling the story, after the rain, that counsel came to mind and so did my learning from experience and from study of colonial and post colonial African history that our promises in Africa often do not coincide with what the African people need or want. Although the man’s children likely did not advance beyond the six grades of primary school, there was no call on the missionary to help pay for further schooling. Not surprisingly, the missionary’s help was called on when death threatened the household.

It also occurred to me on awakening after the rain that the story of the missionary speaks to the failure of the U.S. and Congolese governments to serve the Congolese people. Neither State’s investments in Congolese economic development reflect respect for the people’s vision for the country’s future. Massive foreign-financed projects like the Inga Dam stir hopes and make for good media stories, but in what way do they represent progress in realizing the people’s vision?

The speeches of the first and only fairly elected President of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, articulate that vision clearly and powerfully. “We are going to see to it that the soil of our country really benefits its children” Lumumba declared on June 30, 1960, Congo’s independence day. Despite the Congolese State’s intense, continual repression of dissenting voices, politics in Congo have time and again given voice to this vision of the people sharing in the wealth of the country’s natural resources.

U.S. government aid for Congo has seldom supported the people’s vision. In the first years following Belgian colonial rule, when Congolese saw the U.S. as their best friend, it was the threat of Communist rule and more recently it seems to be unimpeded extraction of Congo’s vast resources that makes the Congolese State’s stability and security the priorities of U.S. Congo policy. It now seems possible that U.S. government aid will never reflect recognition and respect for the enduring vision of the Congolese people.

During the same speech on the day Congo’s independence was celebrated, the now venerated Congolese leader added to his written text this commentary: “The independence of the Congo represents a decisive step toward the liberation of the entire African continent.” Today, with Congo being the most blatant and distressing example, the “soil” primarily benefits a very small elite of many African nations. When will Congo, when will Africa, become truly free and independent? When will justice “roll down like the waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” on Congo and on all of Africa? When will the abundance of the creation uniquely on display in Congo lead to improved health and well being of the Congolese people? The rain assures us that some day it will be so.

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Experience the force and the message of the rain in the Congo rainforest by clicking below (and turn up your volume if you dare!):

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Joseph Conrad’s Congo Journey

Belgium’s King Leopold II by an unknown artist in Mark Twain’s satire King Leopold’s Soliloquoy: A Defense of His Congo Rule

Joseph Conrad began his journey up the Congo River that would inspire the writing of his Heart of Darkness only five years after Belgium’s King Leopold II took possession of the Congo as his personal estate at the Berlin Conference of 1885. The six months Conrad spent in Congo dramatically changed his life and led the sea captain to reflect until his death on “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration”.

Eight years later, when in his new career as writer Conrad recreated his Congo experiences, King Leopold’s agents had almost stopped demanding tax payments of ivory in favor of the forced harvesting of natural rubber from the country’s vast rain forests. Leopold’s grand design, which first took shape on reading Henry Morton Stanley’s descriptions of a country of “unspeakable riches” waiting for “an

The “Roi des Belges” (King of the Belgians) “sardine can” that Conrad was trained to pilot on the Congo River in 1890.

enterprising capitalist” to “take the matter in hand”, was becoming a reality at the cost of unspeakable suffering of the Congolese people. By the time Conrad put his pen to paper, the country “had become a place of darkness” he wrote in A Personal Record .

It became a “place of darkness” not due to behaviors of the African population but due to, in the words of one literary critic, “the savage degradation of the white man in Africa” that Conrad witnessed. In setting out to describe the atrocities wrought by Leopold II’s grand design, Conrad was driven by “that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask”.

The writer’s discovery of the “truth” of Congo under Leopold’s rule was greatly aided by his brief contact with the Irishman Roger Casement soon after arrival in the country. Casement’s 1903 report for the British Foreign Service sparked worldwide condemnation of the “Congo Free State” and helped force Leopold’s eventual abdication of rule over the country. Among the many personal accounts of brutality included in Casement’s report was one from a Disciples of Christ missionary. A founder of the Disciples’ first mission station at Bolenge, Ellsworth Faris, recounted in his diary an 1899 meeting with “Free State” agent Simon Roi:

“Each time the corporal goes out to get rubber, cartridges are given to him. He must bring back all not used; and for every one used he must bring back a right hand! As to the extent to which this is crried on, (Roi) informed me that in six months they, the State, on the Momboyo River had used 6000 cartridges, which means that 6000 people are killed or mutilated. It means more than 6000, for the people have told me repeatedly that the soldiers kill children with the butt of their guns.”

Basankusu appears just above “Equateur” on this map of Congo. Click to enlarge.

The Bolenge mission Faris established was a long day’s boat ride from the Lulonga River’s flow into the mighty Congo. The village of Lulonga, at the confluence, was the last place name mentioned in Conrad’s Congo diary. “Lulonga passage….N by E to NNE. On the Port Side: Snags.” Not long after Conrad’s visit, the Anglo Belgian India Rubber Company, the first and largest company in the Free State’s grisly history, was established at Basankusu where the Lulonga River begins in today’s Equateur Province. Leopold’s own commission of inquiry into the human rights abuses in Congo singled out the ABIR Company’s tactics of rubber exploitation in the Basankusu Region as “the black spot on the history of Central African settlement”.

The Basankusu “micro credit” group was the first organized by the Disciples Church development office outside Mbandaka

The impact of Conrad’s imaginative tale of the rapacious exploitation of Congo’s resources has had more of an impact on Western culture than on the West’s political and commercial presence in Congo. In his post WW I poem “The Wasteland” TS Eliot’s original epigraph for the poem quoted Kurtz’s “cry that was no more than a breath – ‘The horror! the horror!’”. Although scrapped due to WW II concerns, a screen adaptation of Heart of Darkness was to be Orson Welles’ first film for RKO Pictures. And when Francis Ford Coppola sought to depict the madness and brutality of the U.S. War in Vietnam, “the greatest portrait in fiction of Europeans in the Scramble for Africa” (in Adam Hochschild’s words) was again adapted for the movie screen as “Apocalypse Now”. An outstanding example of the impact on the West’s intellectual dialog is the novella’s influence in the eminent Palestinian critic Edward Said’s thought. One of his biographers wrote that Heart of Darkness was “foundational to Said’s entire career and project”.

For Conrad himself, the six months in Congo resulted in a political awakening that shaped the rest of his life and his writing career. When he left for Africa he was persuaded that although Leopold’s enterprise aimed to make a profit it was a noble and ‘civilising’ mission. Years after his Congo journey, Conrad declared to the literary critic Edward Garnett that at the time he had had “not a thought in his head”.

Since Conrad’s day, Congo has experienced political change but the basic pattern of the exploitation of the nation’s vast resources primarily for the benefit of foreigners has not changed. This spring’s kidnapping and murder of a U.S. and Swedish UN investigator

Rudyard Kipling said of Conrad, “with a pen in his hand he was first amongst us”.

inquiring about the recent outbreaks of violence in the Kasai constitutes recent evidence that rule of the Congo is still marked by brutality and impunity. The primary difference in Congo’s politics of our time is that “the vilest scramble for loot that ever disfigured the history of human conscience” has coopted and now enriches a tiny elite of Congolese nationals “to tear treasure out of the bowels of the earth…..with no more moral purpose in back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe” (Heart of Darkness).

Bob Dole and the Congo Cover-Up

Sen. Bob Dole endorsed Trump prior to the Republican Convention and was seated to the left of Donald Trump Jr. in Cleveland. After the election, Sen. Dole’s lobbying led to the new President’s controversial phone call with Taiwan’s President.

Have you no shame Robert Dole? The former Senator from Kansas and ex contender for the U.S. Presidency Bob Dole has exposed himself as one of those mired in the swamp that Donald Trump pledged to drain in his campaign for President. As Trump himself reaches out to autocratic rulers in the Philippines, Turkey and Russia, Bob Dole just signed on to the budding campaign to improve the ties and the image of the Congo’s Kabila government in Washington, D.C.

When his law and lobbying firm office in D.C. contracted with Mer Security and Communications of Israel to further the foreign policy aims of Mobutu’s successor, it was Sen. Dole who signed the $500 k deal. Why the Congolese sought out an Israeli international security corporate power to gain influence and support in the U.S. is likely due to the moves under the Obama administration to penalize and pressure Congo’s elite to hold presidential elections as called for by the country’s constitution.

In a stunning reversal of the former administration’s policies vis a vis the Congo, less than two weeks after his inauguration, Trump’s administration had succeeded in getting both House and Senate to repeal the “Anti-Corruption” ruling of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as called for by the Cardin-Lugar Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank legislation . Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md) lamented the repeal vote in a statement noting that Section 1504 required “domestic and foreign oil, gas and mineral companies traded on U.S. stock exchanges to publish the payments they make to foreign governments”. He went on to state, “Big Oil might have won the battle today, but I’m not done fighting the war against entrenched corruption that harms the American people’s interests and leaves the world’s poor trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty while their leaders prosper.”

Congo’s day laborers make a few dollars a day while Congo’s elite reap payments from foreign mining corporations

The corruption in Congo and the “vicious cycle of poverty” there was specifically mentioned as the target in the discussions before passage of Section 1504. EXXON’s then CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were among the leading opponents of that congressional action back in 2010. With the quick repeal of the Cardin-Lugar “anti-corruption” measure, Congo’s current leaders could expect further support of the status quo by the Trump administration. The threats by Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley to curtail U.S. funding for the UN Congo peacekeeping mission can now more clearly be seen as a pretext for realizing the neoconservative desire to weaken the UN and jeopardize U.S. funding of the international body and not in any way intended to undermine Kabila’s government. Haley’s chief adviser at the UN, former Heritage Foundation staff member Stephen Groves, assisted the most extensive congressional investigation ever of the UN in what became known as the Iraq “oil for food scandal” in the late 1990’s.

It is increasingly accepted that one of the UN’s principal aims in Congo, the facilitating of a free and fair presidential election, is now being countered on multiple fronts by the country’s ruling elite. In a blatant violation of the December 2016 agreement between the Kabila government and the opposition leadership, the current administration named a new Prime Minister on its own in April and thereby succeeded in further dividing the opposition’s coalition. Weakening the resistance to Kabila’s rule through naming of opponents to more than 50 cabinet level posts in the governing bureaucracy, violent repression of anti government demonstrations and the closing of non partisan and opposition media outlets outline the government’s plan to prolong indefinitely preparations for the elections in what is widely referred to as the “glissement” (slipping away) strategy.

Following the 2017 death of leading opposition figure Etienne Tshisekedi and Kabila’s naming of other opponents to government posts a la Mobutu, the President’s maneuvers to delay elections has met with little parliamentary resistance.

With the signing of the huge $5.6 million contract with a term of December 8, 2016 to December 31, 2017, the ruling elite’s campaign to gain international acceptance is seriously under way. In the contract, Mer Security pledges to “represent” Congo’s government and advise on “U.S. policy and political concerns regarding African security issues”. Replying to an inquiry from the U.S. Center for Public Integrity, Mer Security’s CEO said in an email the firm was hired “to explore opportunities through which the U.S. government can support the DRC government in its efforts to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the Congolese people.”

Sen. Dole, and his Alston & Bird firm, will not be alone in his work on behalf of close relations for Congo’s elite with the current U.S. administration. Adnan Jalil who served as the Trump campaign’s liaison with the House of Representatives in 2016 has already received $45,000 from Mer Security for his Congo lobbying. Other than his work for Trump and as staffer for Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-North Carolina), Jalil has no experience in Congo and no background with political issues there. He stated, “the Congolese people, their safety and human rights can only improve if the United States takes an active and engaging role in the largest country in Africa”. In a deal that may be separate from the Mer Security agreement, the Kabila administration has also contracted with Cindy Courville, an Africa analyst for the Bush 2 administration, to “develop branding and public relations strategy” in the U.S. Her consulting firm will be paid $8000 per month under the contract terms.

Churches Commit to Congolese Development Process

Back yard processing of palm oil in village of Ikengo. Until gifting of Congo’s palm oil plantations to administration cronies in the 70’s, the country was one of the world’s leading producers.

Where is a church digging wells for clean water, organizing microcredit loan programs, educating the community in AIDS prevention, and training women and youth in productive, profitable agriculture? Why in the Congo of course where the role of the State in the economic and social development process has been limited to non existent in the fifty seven years since it became a new nation in 1960. Those who are disturbed about government involvement in the economy and even basic services in the U.S. might consider the effects of a “hands off”/”laissez faire” approach to governance in the Congo. One of the richest countries on earth in terms of natural resources ranks 176 out of 185 nations in the world in the most recent UN Human Development Index. The UN development study further figures that 77 per cent of the Congolese population live on the equivalent of less than $1.90 a day.
As a newly “autonomous”, self governing and self sustaining church body in 1965, the Disciples of Christ of the Congo included in its mission the economic and social development of its primarily rural membership in the poorest province of the country. Cattle raising in the fields of the Church’s first mission station, a youth agricultural training farm in the village of Ikengo, a cement block and sand dredging small business, training in sewing and tailoring had all been started and were managed by church staff and volunteers by the late 1960’s. In the early 70’s the Disciples churches had changed the landscape of the provincial capital Mbandaka with the house building program in the Bokatola quarter of the city. With the assistance of missionary couple Millard and Linda Fuller, over one hundred new houses were built using the “sweat equity” approach that became Habitat for Humanity in the U.S. and world wide.
A recent article by the Disciples Church’s Director of Communications updates us on more recent development projects and emphases of the Church’s Development Department. (read the article and others in French at http://natana.tumblr.com/ ) M. Nathan Weteto reports that the former Director of the Ikengo Agricultural Training Center M. Celestin Engelemba now serves as Director of the Department. Assisted by advisors M. Desiré Safari and Disciples missionary Paul Turner, M. Engelemba’s success in restoring and growing the training at Ikengo in the early 2000’s is likely to be duplicated across the vast reach of the Disciples’ churches.
What follows is a photo display depicting some of the current development programs of the Disciples of Christ in Congo. It should also be noted that the Disciples’ contributions to economic advance in the communities they serve has been supported by the Development Department of the Church of Christ of Congo. The Disciples are one of over 60 Protestant church bodies or “Communautés” (Communities) making up the union of Protestant churches in the country.

Lights in the Heart of Darkness

The Equateur and Tshuapa Provinces on the map are the heart of Congo's Equatorial Rainforest
The Equateur and Tshuapa Provinces on the map are the heart of Congo’s Equatorial Rainforest

At the end of 2016 two separate investigations revealed the extent to which Congo’s President Joseph Kabila and family have profited from business dealings and bribes during the Kabila administration. In a country where the average daily income was figured to be $1.90 last year, its President has wielded his authority to build a lucrative business empire managed by his wife, his children and siblings. Recently released reports confirm that the “kleptocracy” under Mobutu’s 32 years as the executive head of Congo’s government has been preserved by his young successor.

The first source of evidence of massive corruption focuses on bribes paid out to officials of the Kabila administration. In an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice signed the end of September 2016, the Och-Ziff Capital Management Group corroborated the payment of over $100 million in bribes between 2008 and 2012 to Congolese officials and the U.S. based hedge fund accepted a fine of $413 million for violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Further, the legal document detailing the agreement reports on $10.75 million paid out to a “DRC official 1” who NYU’s Congo Research Group reports is “most likely Joseph Kabila”.

The second source results from extensive research by staff of the Bloomberg News on the Kabila family business holdings in Congo. In the December 2016 article titled “With His Family’s Fortune at Stake, President Kabila Digs In”, three Bloomberg reporters write, “Joseph Kabila and his relatives have built a network of businesses that reaches into every corner of Congo’s economy”. Based on review of court filings, company documents and interviews with Congolese business persons, the Kabila family now own at least 70 companies in Congo.

One of the first actions of the new U.S. Congress was to help hide future deal making by the Congo President and the rest of the Kabila family. Less than two weeks after the Trump inauguration, the House struck down the Cardin Lugar Section 1504 “Transparency Amendment” of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. This means the payments by U.S. companies, such as those made by the hedge fund Och-Ziff, to foreign officials would no longer have to be disclosed. Should the Senate approve repeal of the Cardin Lugar measure aimed at helping protect countries burdened by the “resource curse”, bribery by U.S. multinationals of Congolese officials would remain business as usual.

While doubt rises regarding the Kabila administration’s commitment to the President election agreement of December 31, 2016, we take a tour of one of Congo’s poorest and most remote regions with Théodore Trefon. The tropical rainforest, our earth’s second largest, in Tshuapa and Equateur Provinces is where schools and health clinics maintained and supervised by staff of the Disciples of Christ Community of the Church of Christ of Congo offer the only social services.

With the photos below, we are again led to marvel at the resourcefulness, resilience, strength and beauty of the Congolese people. In spite of mounting evidence of Congo’s rule by a government dedicated to the most abject greed and self dealing, the people carry on their lives in what is one of the richest, most awe inspiring environments on the planet. For 25 years, Trefon has focused his research on Congo and now this U.S. born political scientist works at the Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, Belgium. The photo gallery below is from pictures displayed at
http://congomasquerade.blogspot.com/
which is also the name of his latest book.

For a larger view of the photos in a slideshow format click on the first picture and scroll horizontally

“Give Us the Ballot”

Lines of voters waiting to cast ballots in  the DRC's 2011 Presidential election
Lines of voters waiting to cast ballots in 2011 Presidential election


Paul Turner, the author of the following article, serves in Congo as a Consultant in the development projects of the Church of Christ of Congo’s Disciples of Christ Community. His latest message reports on progress in preparations for a presidential election in Congo before the end of this year. His title “Give Us the Ballot” refers to the 1957 speech by Rev. Martin Luther King at the Lincoln Memorial which focused on voting rights for all citizens of the United States.

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On December 19th, DR Congo witnessed large protests in several major cities such as Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma, in response to the opposition’s call for demonstrations against President Kabila’s refusal to relinquish power. Police and military personnel were well-organized and out in force. The government went so far as to shut down social media throughout the country to slow the opposition’s ability to organize and share information concerning the number of arrests and detainees.

Riot police march on protestors of the 2011 Presidential election results
Riot police march on protestors of the 2011 Presidential election results

In the midst of this tense situation Catholic Church Bishops began facilitating negotiations between the government and opposition groups. An agreement was reached whereby President Kabila would leave office at the end of 2017 following elections, and there would be no attempt to change the constitution to allow for a third term. This agreement was a welcomed development because it kept the peace and solidified the importance of holding elections in 2017.

There is another piece of the story that has not been widely reported. At the same time protests were happening throughout the country, Congolese were also signing up to register to vote and receive their voter identification cards. Perhaps this was another form of protest expressing the people’s eagerness for democracy and elections. It was an encouraging sight to see men and women lining up to receive new voter ID cards at Nouvelle Cite Parish. In fact, five churches affiliated with the Community of Disciples of Christ in Congo (CDCC) are hosting National Independent Electoral Commission (CENI) Enrollment Centers. Rev. Eliki Bonanga, President of CDCC, was asked why the CDCC partnered with CENI to help boost enrollments, he said, “it is our will and hope that people will register and participate in elections so that government will one day respond to the people’s needs.” He also mentioned that the church is a member of civil society and must do its part to secure a hopeful future in DR Congo.

The CENI Enrollment Centers are not operated by the government. As the name implies, it is an independent institution designed to be an objective agent in the electoral process. A recent visit to one CENI Center in Mbandaka revealed that this particular enrollment center had distributed 200 new voter ID cards in the first two weeks. Half of the folks coming through were issued voter ID cards for the first time, suggesting these would be new voters who didn’t participate in the last election in 2011. The other half were older people seeking to replace their old and worn voter ID cards because they are used for identification in the same way a driver’s license is used in the US. The enrollments will continue through March and end around the second week of April. This time frame suggests that elections could take place by the end of the year.

A voter searches her name on the voter registry during election day 2011.
A voter searches her name on the voter registry on election day 2011.

Pro-democracy advocacy is a key strategy for establishing the long-term benefits of good governance, anti-corruption and full citizen participation. In the past few weeks Congolese were making sure their voices were being heard in the streets and at the enrollment centers as they walked away with new voter identification cards. When Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “Give Us the Ballot” speech, he was addressing voting rights and the suppression of the vote in the American South. Yet, the same sentiment of empowerment that comes from exercising the franchise of voting ring true in DR Congo.

A Malnourished Democracy ??

During the decades of segregated baseball in the U.S., many African American teams competed in Mexico in the winter offseason.
During the decades of segregated baseball in the U.S., many African American teams competed in Mexico in the winter offseason.

Dear Friends,

In the United States, we are all trying to decipher the messages sent us by the resounding election victories of Donald Trump and the Republican Party. While the election’s handwriting on the wall will continue to be interpreted in different ways as in Daniel chapter 5, one area of the message is certain. As much as we try to ignore or put it behind us, mistrust, fear and abuse of the Other (persons of other races and nationalities) continue to threaten the rule of democracy in the United States.

Here in Kansas City, the Negro Leagues Baseball Hall of Fame celebrates the African American baseball players who never made it to the major leagues of the “great American past time” not because they didn’t have the talent but because of their exclusion from U.S. professional teams until the year 1947. The Kansas City museum also honors the memory of those white players who in the winter off season during the years of segregated baseball played on teams outside the country with black players.

Surprisingly, some of those white players, like the brothers Paul and Dizzy Dean, had grown up in the fiercely segregationist southern states which enforced separation of the races in their territory. For some of the whites like the Dean brothers, the wintertime move to Mexico, Cuba and other nations of the Caribbean was motivated by the desire to play baseball against and with the best U.S. players, whether black or white.

For the African American players, leaving their home country to play baseball brought benefits the whites took for granted in the U.S. As the black player Willie Wells said of playing ball in Mexico, “We live in the best hotels, go to the best restaurants, and can go anywhere we care to. We don’t enjoy such privileges in the United States.” In short, Wells and the other African Americans found “respect, freedom and democracy. In Mexico.”

Today of course, professional sports teams in the United States are fully integrated and black players excel. But the recent election provides additional evidence of a strategy to restrict if not suppress the rights and the impact of African American and other voters in U.S. elections. Anti- democratic voiding of the ballots of several thousand black voters in Florida in the 2000 presidential election put us on notice. Since then we have learned of defective voting machines, closing of polling places, new voter identification requirements, redrawing of voting districts in the states, and new voter registration procedures all implemented within states, in the south and the north, controlled by Republican legislatures intent on limiting the impact of the increased numbers of persons of color in American elections.

One of the most troubling aspects of the past election is summed up by the observation made by one U.S. political scientist who said, “this is the first election held in this country without the full protections of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965”. One way to better understand the importance of this statement is offered by viewing the 2014 film “Selma”.

This film recounts the history of the struggle for African Americans’ right to vote in southern states. For decades since the Civil War southern politicians had devised various ways to deny African Americans the right to vote. Now in our day, the 1965 Act that prohibited such practices has been weakened through devious legislative maneuvers in many states of the U.S.

What might the long term effects on American democracy be if such practices continue and a wall is built between persons of color and the U.S. polling place? Let me share a story, a kind of parable, that suggests what we might be in for.

In the mid 1970’s a friend here in Kansas City played basketball for one of Kansas’ community colleges. The team had black and white players on it and had a couple of games against teams in the southern State of Texas. When they got to the small town’s biggest restaurant the black players were told, and this only forty years ago, that they would be served in the room behind the kitchen.
My friend and the other black players went to the back room and enjoyed meeting the entirely black kitchen staff and eating what they cooked for them. Their portions were more than ample and the kitchen help offered to make the leftovers into sandwiches for the team’s trip north. That night some of the white players got to sample what their black teammates had eaten. When they returned to the same restaurant after the next day’s game all the white players told the coach they wanted to eat the better food and bigger portions provided in the back room too.

The story suggests what this country will lose if the campaign continues to limit or exclude the human rights of segments of the population. Not only will citizens of the nation, of all ethnic backgrounds, be deprived of the best a democracy offers. The image of the U.S. as a bastion of democracy world wide will be malnourished. And this means we all will suffer the consequences.