I don’t know much about the politics of Egypt or the Middle East. But I do know about police crack downs and the dangers and legacy of damage from state directed violence. What I see in Egypt weighs in heavily with what I know.
In 1968, I had former high school friends who were shot by state troopers and sheriff deputies who opened fire on students gathered non-violently by on a college campus, at SC State, in Orangeburg. Law enforcement opened fire on campus and three students were killed. Twenty-eight were wounded. Most were shot in the back, which means they were running away, fleeing for safety into nearby dorms. A pregnant woman lost her child after being beaten by the police.
In Egypt, as I write, the report is at least ten dead and more than a thousand wounded.
Back then SC’s governor called for order, much like Egypt’s President Mubarak did in his televised speech. His words echo and ring in my ears along side of the shouts of the Egyptians who are now standing for political and social change. Both leaders, one in America, one in the Middle East, forty-three years apart, speaking in different languages, worshiping different gods, could have been reading from the same script. With stiff resolve, they called for those with urgent grievances to give up their fight, to return to their old places and put the security of the society and the state above the demands for progressive and humane change. They shifted blame and worry to outsiders. (SC’s governor blamed unnamed “black power advocates.”). They cited their job descriptions as the reason for the exercise of power without addressing its excesses.
In Orangeburg, students were protesting segregation in a bowling alley near campus. Can you imagine the year of my high school graduation, African-Americans died in a protest on a state-supported college campus because they wanted to go bowling? Can you imagine that the governor of SC saw this evening rally as a threat to the security of the state?
I learned a life-long lesson, that freedoms are often born from blood spilled on a killing ground. I haven’t been to Cairo, but I have been to Birmingham and walked around the memorial wheel with its symbolic healing waters that honors a few of those who gave their lives for the promise of American civil rights. Beijing, Sharpesville, South Africa; we all have places where the blood of freedom are the silent tears of our memory.
By 1970, students were killed during protests at Jackson State in MS and Kent State in Ohio. By that time, I had an injunction restraining me from meeting with more than two students at Ohio State, which I violated nightly since four of us shared a dorm suite.
I am angered and saddened when I hear reporters asking why the President hasn’t made a phone call. Or whether twitter is on or off. Frederick Douglass was right when he observed on a long forgotten 4th of July, “power concedes nothing without a demand.” A phone call is media theater; press fodder; so is thinking tweets are more important than boots.
So again, repression is framed as a patriotic reaction to “threats” to the “security” of the state. In Egypt, Mubarak said, “I speak as an Egyptian.” But he believes he is a “dutch uncle.” (My apologies to the Dutch; the English started this slag.)
And in Orangeburg? Now that students can go bowling without being a threat to the state, the bowling alley has long since closed.
In Egypt, I hope neither the movement nor the monuments and institutions to new freedoms and better lives are shut down for a long time.