Thursday, January 5, 2012

How much things change!

I got my chuckle on Wednesday from a Chicago Tribune report about how Gov. Pat Quinn has picked an official representative for the state of Illinois to attend a conference to be held in South Africa.

Just envision the scene THIS Jesse Jackson (center) would make in representing Illinois next week in South Africa. Photograph provided by Library of Congress collection.

For the record, Illinois’ official participant in the conference that celebrates that 100th anniversary of the African National Congress will be the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

WHICH TO ME on so many levels is a radical statement of how much our society has changed (and yes, I believe, for the better). For I can recall a time when the idea of a political person who would have said Jesse Jackson would be the official Illinoisan on hand in Johannesburg would have been considered a radical concept.

Any politician who would have even contemplated picking Jesse would have been demonized. Then again, there wouldn’t have been anyone in the Chicago political universe who would have been broad-minded enough to even pick Jackson.

Then again, it also would have been considered radical to do something that would have been seen as supportive of the African National Congress – which now is a fully-legitimate political party.

But I can recall the days when people were quick to demonize it as nothing but a batch of Communist dupes who were willing to use the black majority to create unrest in that nation.

EVEN PEOPLE WHO were willing to publicly state the abhorrence of the apartheid policies of old in South Africa would have been reluctant to do anything supportive of the ANC.
Now, just another political party

Now, times have changed enough that we decide that our state should send someone to South Africa to partake in the festivities – and when one thinks rationally about it, who better than the Rev. Jackson?

During his trip (which is timed to commemorate the Jan. 8, 1912 founding of the ANC as an organization devoted to promoting the interests of the black majority of  South Africa, rather than the minority white Afrikaaners), Jackson will meet with officials of many other countries who will view this celebration as an excuse to “network,” so to speak, to boost economic relationships.

In short, they likely will view it as yet another convention to be attended. Which is a concept that I find radical. The ANC as just another organization.

IT IS BECAUSE I can remember my own college days of the mid-1980s – back when apartheid disgust was at its peak among more progressive elements of our society, but also when the Republican-leaning government that idolized President Ronald Reagan was more than willing to claim that the ANC was little more than a criminal organization.

I still recall one time I was at the University of Illinois-Chicago campus back in those days when I got into a lengthy conversation with a young woman who was handing out the leaflets urging people to support the freeing from prison of Nelson Mandela.

This woman was wearing all kinds of buttons expressing support for “radical” causes, and I believe she also was selling copies of the Workers Vanguard newspaper. Certainly not somebody worried about being part of “the establishment.”

The man who was a wise leader who brought moderation to his country (as portrayed by actor Morgan Freeman in the film “Invictus”) was still regarded as little more than a criminal who deserved his incarceration by many people in this country who want to think they were fully rational and sensible.

THEN AGAIN, THERE also were many of those same people who a couple of decades before were more than willing to believe Martin Luther King, Jr., was a communist sympathizer himself (and something resembling a sexual pervert).

I find it pleasurable to know that all of these ideas are relegated to the past. The fact that we can now laugh at the idiocy that ever led anyone to think such thoughts is a sign that we have moved forward.

As is the fact that we can now have the Rev. Jesse Jackson serve as Illinois’ official representative and seeing it get a mere news brief in the Chicago Tribune (a newspaper that once would have demonized the very thought) and know that no one is about to push for Quinn’s impeachment for doing such a thing.

Times have changed, and for the better. There’s only one thing I wish were possible.

IT’S TOO BAD we couldn’t get the Jesse Jackson of four decades ago to make such an appearance.

The one of the Operation PUSH days with the rhyming rhetoric of passion to go along with the big afro and the wild dashikis.

That would have created an image for Illinois that would be planted permanently in the brains of the world’s leaders. Perhaps that’s what it would take to get people to quit thinking of the “Land of Lincoln” as the place that produced the corrupt governor with the funky, big hair.


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