PEORIA -- I'm not sure what I expected from the legendary Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a speech Oct. 19 at Bradley University.
Fiery rhetoric? Inside information on the latest hate crimes and threats?
That didn't happen. Instead Dees, a grandfatherly white lawyer, gave an almost hour long talk about his background and his work in filing class action lawsuits against injustice. It wasn't exciting, but it's hard to criticize someone who works for social justice and hits all the right notes, even if he speaks quietly.
Dees told how he and his family were influenced by a spinster teacher from Southern Illinois who somehow ended up in the small, rural southern school he attended. She taught him values such as justice, and to be a good citizen, he said.
He spoke of his "neighbor," Martin Luther King, Jr., and how since King's assassination, race relations have taken "one step forward and two steps back."
Then Obama was elected, he said. "What started out as a love fest has turned into a blood bath."
Dees talked about the radio talk show hosts who have compared Obama to Hitler and criticized Obama's speech to school children as "indoctrination," comments from the likes of "Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh, the new leaders of the Republican party." Leaders some Republicans don't acknowledge, he added.
The comment from the floor of Congress to Obama, "you're a liar," shows "a lack of total civility," he said, something that likely would not have happened to Nixon undergoing impeachment.
"What is going on in this country?" he asked.
America is changing, he said, and by 2040 whites will be a minority, a situation likely upsetting many people. But "America is great because of diversity, not in spite of it."
Nevertheless he mentioned "50 to 75 serious hate crimes" that have taken place recently. There are over 900 hate groups operating, a 50 percent recent increase, he said.
The answer, he said, is to teach tolerance and diversity, and to reach out to neighbors. "We've had dark days before and have overcome."
If Martin Luther King were with us today, Dees said, he would include the homeless, the powerless, the poor, those who lack health care in his efforts. "Unless we share what we have, we won't get to keep what we have."
"People seek human rights close to home," in their communities and work places, he said. "Unless they find fairneses and justice, we will look in vain for progress around the world."
Dees responded to a question about the Nobel Peace Prize award for Obama by saying "I'm sure he would like to have gotten it when he was out of office."
Dees said he couldn't disagree with former President Carter's comment about criticism of Obama stemming from racism. "It's going to be interesting to see how Obama fares. I hope he's not a one term president. The issue of race has been a fundamental problem from day one."
Asked about America's role as a world leader and an "imperial power," Dees said "we made a fatal mistake of going into Iraq," and "I'm not sure we have enought time and money" to resolve the issue. He mentioned torture as another blunder. "We have to set an example," he said.
When someone asked him about Lou Dobbs, and whether writing to CNN about his anti-immigrant comments would do any good, Dees said "Mr. Dobbs is a one man border fence."
"You can write letters, he said, but reaching out to others unlike yourself is also effective. "Think about your own lives and how you can reach out in your own community."
-- Elaine Hopkins
"The positive contributions Dees has made to justice--most undertaken based upon calculations as to their publicity and fund raising potential--are far overshadowed by what Harper's described as his "flagrantly misleading" solicitations for money. He has raised millions upon millions of dollars with various schemes, never mentioning that he does not need the money because he has $175 million and two "poverty palace" buildings in Montgomery. He has taken advantage of naive, well-meaning people--some of moderate or low incomes-- who believe his pitches and give to his $175-million operation. He has spent most of what they have sent him to raise still more millions, pay high salaries, and promote himself. Because he spends so much on fund raising, his operation spends $30 million a year to accomplish less than what many other organizations accomplish on shoestring budgets." ---Stephen B. Bright, Exec Director of Southern Center for Human Rights (and former Dees associate), from a letter to the Dean of the University of Alabama Law School. https://georgiaheritagecouncil.org/site2/commentary/The_Southern_Poverty_Business_Model-By_Ken_Silverstein(Harpers_Magazine).htm "Morris Dees is a con man and fraud." --- Stephen B. Bright, from same letter.
- Commenter name: Steve Scroggins