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Shahid Mahmood

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The Total Sum of Tiny Pushes

Posted: 10/25/11 06:46 PM ET

Caroline Kennedy recently released an audio interview of her mother, Jacqueline Kennedy, conducted soon after President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Radio channels have been repeatedly playing snippets of her conversations. It is intriguing to hear Jacqueline Kennedy speak, providing as her daughter says, "snapshots of a world we barely recognize." Despite her personal differences with Martin Luther King, voiced in this recent recording, Ms. Kennedy was very supportive of ending racial apartheid in the American south. She was a great champion of the civil rights movement. At a time when many refused to stand beside a black person, Ms. Kennedy was more than happy to shake the "negro" hand. Because of her unwavering support, many black households in the 1960s hung the famous photograph of Dr. King standing beside the two Kennedy brothers on their living room mantles.

The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson believed citizens should "strive to be the opener of doors for others, and not try to make the universe a blind alley." Ms. Kennedy was an opener of doors, and I would like to believe that she passed this belief on to her children. Her son, John F. Kennedy Jr. was known for his egalitarian spirit. He understood that at some point in time, everyone needed a helping hand. John initiated social programs such as "Reaching Up" and participated in the "Robin Hood Foundation" that helped impoverished children. And he did so very quietly -- without calling attention to himself or his famous family name. I spoke to John, on two occasions and met him once in his office at Hachette Filipacchi Media in downtown Manhattan. As an editorial cartoonist exploring the U.S. market for the first time in 1996 I had mailed countless portfolios to many leading American publications. The new, upstart magazine George magazine was high on my list for editorial commissions. George was a monthly magazine centered on the theme of "politics-as-lifestyle" was co-founded by John in September 1995. From all the various editors I approached, John was the only one who personally telephoned me, discussed my work, and offered to meet me at his office. His individual endorsement of my work advanced my career as an editorial cartoonist, helping me break into a very competitive North American market and ultimately become syndicated with the New York Times Press Syndicate.

John's small gesture, miniscule in the grand scheme of things, tremendously helped me. An egalitarian view maintains all humans are equal in worth and social status. All people are treated as equals having the same political, economic, social, and civic worth. Egalitarians believe that equality reflects our shared humanity. It is no mistake that throughout American history many of the social gains and much of the country's advancement toward democracy was made possible by an active involvement of the federal government. It has become much harder for active government intervention these days. Occupy Wall Street protesters have been picketing against the top one-percent earners -- attempting to raise an awareness of the economic discrepancies that exist between the rich and everyone else. The middle-class continues to flounder under the weight of years of Republican policies -- policies that consigned wealth from ninety-nine percent of the American population, to the one-percent of wealthiest Americans.

It was hoped that Democrats under President Barak Obama would reverse some of these Republican policies -- making government more egalitarian and socially responsible. But there are many Democrat colleagues who warn the President to veer away from outwardly supporting the Wall Street protesters as a group that could dissolve just as quickly as they materialized -- leaving the President politically vulnerable. It is ironic that President Obama, when asked in 2008, if Martin Luther King would endorse his presidential campaign answered: "Well, I don't think Dr. King would endorse any of us. I think what he would call upon the American people to do is to hold us all accountable...I believe change does not happen from the top down; it happens from the bottom up."

Dr. King was prescient. Many Americans feel trapped and are increasingly angry. Many recent polls find that 54% of the public approve of the Wall Street protests. President Obama should not ignore addressing these questions of financial inequalities. Democrats must unanimously start believing that change emanates not from winning ballot boxes but from egalitarian policies that truly help individuals. Citizens, otherwise, will trade the hope of Obama for the promise of Dr. King, who said decades ago, "One day we must ask the question, why are there forty-million poor people in America?"

The world is not moved by the strength of the wealthy few but by the total sum of tiny pushes of hundreds of millions of people.

 

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