Friday, January 16, 2004

Grace Lee BoggsThe best way I could think of to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday was to go hear 88-year-old author and activist Grace Lee Boggs, a marvel of a woman, a sort of reincarnation of Mother Jones. She spoke at UIC last night on King and "global citizenship." Like King, she has tough things to say to both the powerful (clue in) and the powerless (revolution starts with your own soul, not your opponents). I was impressed not only by her intelligence and energy, but mostly by how she has avoided becoming cynical and bitter (though far from naive) over the decades. A brief portion of my interview with her will run next month in the Tribune's Sunday Magazine. Here are a few questions that were cut.

Here, by the way, is what I wrote here two years ago on the rhetorical rhythm of the "I Have A Dream" Speech.

What does King have to do with "global citizenship"?
Boggs: King began to enlarge concept of citizenship beyond the legalistic way we see it, such as whether or not we're allowed to vote. He thought of it not in terms of rights but of responsibility. King thought of fundamental concepts such as love, citizenship and freedom in a very expansive way, as stretching our humanity. The Vietnam War then and the Iraqi war now give us the opportunity to look at citizenship more broadly, at how we extend it to the world. In this country we tend to narrow it rather than stretch it.

King is remembered and celebrated for his role in the civil rights movement, but his opposition to Vietnam and other political stances made him a controversial figure. Does popular remembrance of him gloss over how controversial he was? Do you think he would be controversial today?
Boggs: Absolutely. He was very controversial when he was alive, we tend to forget. Only by being controversial was he able to give leadership to the struggle for civil rights in this country. I think he would be controversial today.

You've spent a lifetime reading. Do you find any fresh ideas in anything you're reading now?
Boggs: I'm reading two books now. One is Race and the Cosmos, which I find very exciting. It asks, how do we get beyond thinking in terms of race, and categories, and instead in terms of the whole human race. ... The other is Against Race. it says race is a box that no longer contains all the multiplicities, given the changes taking place even in biotechnology. We can't look at externals in terms of judging human identity.

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