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Dear Obama, Learn From Shirley Sherrod and Stop Letting the Right-Wing Propaganda Machine Win

Strike one was Van Jones. Strike two was ACORN. Now Shirley Sherrod had become strike three. When will the administration stop cowering before right-wing propaganda?

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I grew up listening to both my parents — my mother and my late father — tell stories of those days. And I’m willing to bet that if I picked up the phone and called my mom right now, she’d have the same insight that Sherrod offered — that poor whites and poor blacks have been living cheek by jowl in the South long enough for some of them to figure out that there’s only about a dime's worth of difference between them and it’s far outweighed by what they have in common — not having, as I heard my mom say often, “a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.”

Sherrod is unsure whether she'll return to USDA. I can’t say I blame her. Your administration, and in fact your party, has amply demonstrated that when good people who are “reviled and persecuted,” and  “all manner of evil” is said against them falsely, will be left to twist in the wind:

Be abandoned to a bad situation, especially be left to incur blame, as in "The governor denied knowing it was illegal and left his aide to twist in the wind." It is also put as leave twisting in the wind, meaning “abandon or strand in a difficult situation,” as in "Sensing a public relations disaster, the President left the Vice-President twisting in the wind." This expression, at first applied to a President’s nominees who faced opposition and were abandoned by the President, alludes to the corpse of a hanged man left dangling and twisting in the open air. [Slang; early 1970s]

Being a black male from the South, the phrase holds special meaning for me, and it’s an apt description of what has happened to Shirley Sherrod while your administration saw fit to stand aside, and seek as much distance as possible.

What’s perhaps most disappointing is that you — a president cited as an example of the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream — and your administration abandoned to the mercies of right-wing media a woman whose work exemplifies the work King himself turned to near the end of his life. His work on race and discrimination led him to address the very issue Sherrod cited in her speech: “It’s not just about black people — it’s about poor people." King’s eyes had been similarly opened.

In his book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, King argued that the United States must change its attitude and approach toward the treatment of its poor citizens. He reasoned that since poverty knew no racial boundaries, he couldn’t limit his call for congressional action to assist only black Americans.

“In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out,” King wrote in 1967. “There are twice as many white poor as [black] poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects white and [black] alike.”

This was a radical—and unpopular—change for the preacher who is best-known for pushing voting, employment, housing and other civil rights for black Americans. At this point in his career, during what would become the final months of his life, he was widening his field of vision to seek an end to poverty among all Americans.

What Sherrod spoke of was truly a road to Damascus moment when the scales fell from her eyes and she saw that person in front of her was not a “white farmer” but a human being needing help in the midst of a struggle.

 
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