Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Morris Dees--A Real Patriot

"There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover's quarrel with their country, a reflection of God's lover's quarrel with all the world."
     --William Sloane Coffin

Want to read a great book? Morris Dees’ book, A Lawyer’s Journey is worth reading .He heads up the Southern Poverty Law Center. The book came out in 2001—but I’d never read it. Morris quotes Clarence Darrow in the front of the book. “I have lived my life and I have fought my battles, not against the weak and poor—but against power, injustice, against oppression.”  This sums up the circuitous life of Morris Dees. Like most of us who have had our eyes open to injustice—it came slowly. The difference from most of us is that Morris laid his life on the line.

The book sketches how the Southern Poverty Law Center came into being. This is a man that started out with his side-kick Millard Fuller and they made a lot of money selling Birthday cakes to student’s parents—the parents ordered the cakes by the zillions. But Millard and Morris amicably parted ways—Millard to found Habit for Humanity and Morris to found the Southern Poverty Law Center. Both men believed deeply in peace and justice. They just worked at it from two different sides.

Morris slowly began to see the injustice all around him in his hometown of Montgomery, Alabama. But he also realized that the hatred and racism ripe in Alabama really encompassed the whole nation.

And so he began to take on the giants. The KKK, Militia groups, and all sorts of hate groups. I thought that most of this had subsided until I read his book. Morris’ organization sends out a Hate Watch list once a month. It is scary and incredible the groups in this country that are trying to turn back the clock. 

Morris has bodyguards. The office of his organization has been burned out. His life has been threatened numerous times. But he just keeps going. Kurt Vonnegut has written: “Morris Dees has put his life on the line again and again to win for strangers in courts of law constitutional rights...No soldier has ever been braver, more honorable and more patriotic than Morris Dees.”

The battle against injustice is not over. If Mr. Timmerman had not been carrying a gun Trayvon Martin might still be alive. With the tightening of our belts economically—the safety net has larger and larger holes. So many people are falling through the cracks. We are told that after President Obama’s first inauguration that death threats against the President just kept increasing at an alarming rate. 320,000 citizens in South Carolina do not have health insurance. The Supreme Court threw out most of the rules and regulations of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Right-wingers are working overtime to make sure they can pass rules and regulations in state after state to make voting more and more difficult. It looks like the Immigration battle is far from over—while good, decent folk and their children languish in no-man’s land.

So we need Morris Dees’ voice and organization today more than ever. Read his book—support his organization. He has always fought an uphill battle. And yet—here and there—he has helped so many and done so much to make us live up to the ideals of America. Morris Dees is a real  patriot in my book-- not the flag-waving kind--but the justice-doing kind.


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