By Danny Schechter
Ithaca, New York: How can you be in the past and present at the same time?
Go to your college reunion.
I did, this past weekend, up on the forever beautiful and very green Cornell campus in Ithaca, New York. About 350 members of a class of 2400 trekked back to remember how we were, and to see how the ravages of age and affluence have affected us. I probably hadn't bonded with as many fellow students because I was an independent, and not in a fraternity or athletic team. I was an early responder to activism.
We also had a moving memorial for more than a hundred, of the fallen, including my late friends Bernie Moss, Daniel Patrick Cassidy and Robin Williams. My co-editor Kenneth Barry Rubin of Dialogue Magazine was not on the list because he had dropped out earlier.
There were many people there I didn't know then, and perhaps didn't want to know, but I did run into some old friends and was thrust back into discussions of the racial /civil rights issues that mobilized us to care in our college years, and still top the list of the University's and the country's unfinished business.
Somehow, there was a convergence of concerns raised about the color line, the crisis that the black scholar, W.E.B Dubois, saw as the THE issue of the 20th Century. It is not surprising that it continues to dominate what should top our agenda in this century even as Cornell turns 150 this year.
It was also the weekend of the memorial service for the great Maya Angelou, (who once, believe it or not, gave me an award), and the weekend that our ever so funny hip black comedian, Tracey Morgan, (whose career started in my Bronx high school) was nearly killed in a brutal highway accident caused by a Walmart truck. He is fighting for life.
Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich noted this weekend that the past we fought over then has an insidious way of not dying:
"Mississippi used its new voter-identification law for the first time Tuesday -- requiring voters to show a driver's license or other government-issued photo ID at the polls. The official reason given for the new law is alleged voter fraud, although the state hasn't been able to provide any evidence that voter fraud is a problem.
The real reason for the law is to suppress the votes of the poor, especially African-Americans, some of whom won't be able to afford the cost of a photo ID.
It's a tragic irony that this law became effective almost exactly fifty years after three young civil rights workers -- Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman -- were tortured and murdered in Mississippi for trying to register African-Americans to vote."
Reich was a friend of Mickey Schwerner. Schwerner and I worked with CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, and after he died, I took over his job as a dishwasher at the AE Pi fraternity house.
Schwerner and his compatriots were remembered in President David Skorton's, "State of the University speech. (Skorton is leaving to take over the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.)
After he was done, I was outside the hall, handing out leaflets the way I used to but a rarity in our digital age, communicating the proposal of today's students, organizations, faculty members and alums to build a prominent memorial on campus to honor the civil rights movement.