By Jesse Civello
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
“Let America be America Again”
Though known for his work during the Harlem Renaissance and rightfully lauded for his voice during the Civil Rights movement, and though he denied it personally, Langston Hughes was a Communist. Hughes traveled on a few occasions to the USSR, supported Joseph Stalin’s murderous purge of Communist Party detractors, and lent his celebrity and personality to groups like the Scotssboro Boys, the John Reed Clubs, and the League of Struggle for Negro Rights here at home. Hughes was like a great number of politically-active African Americans back then, looking to the socioeconomic politics of the Soviet Union at that time as an alternative to a segregated America.
[It kind of makes you wonder about the underpinnings of the current administration and those who shaped it, but that's an argument for another time and place. --Jeff]
Hughes’ poem, Let America Be America Again, in which he wrote about the dreams, struggles and realities of black America, was embraced by socialist and communist groups like the International Workers Order, and even by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s doomed presidential campaign in 2004. Undoubtedly, such an adoption and embrace stemmed from passages like this one, which appear a little later than the selection which began this post:
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek — And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
Understanding the connotations of the rest of Hughes’ poems–and poetry–I prefer to look at the first of the two selections, the one with which I began. I prefer to reinvent Hughes’ reality, if I may dare to do so.
Hughes says “[l]et America be the dream the dreamers dreamed.” For so long, it is the American political left which contends that we have only allowed America to be the dream of the few and of the powerful, that it is the very ideology embraced by people like Langston Hughes which would provide respite for the downtrodden and average American alike. Now, however, with the manifestation of that ideology on the horizon, we have cast aside the dreams of the average American to pave way for a “bigger” picture. A picture that is only “big” when it comes to government, and quite narrow when it comes to the American people.
We see the American people rising up and telling their government “NO!” again and again only to be served with the burden of more government in their lives. Today, a revolution is brewing in America, where the voice of the people will surely conquer the conquest of the few and a new vision is bound to unfold.
Tomorrow, we will not see world peace. Tomorrow, we will neither see the end of natural disasters nor those unnatural disasters brought on by the bloody implementation of fanaticism. Tomorrow, however, we do have opportunity. We have the opportunity to have government work responsibly for the people and not against us. We have the opportunity to give the American people a voice, but the path to this is surely less traveled.
In order to have a voice in the government, we must do what our forefathers did and raise our own. We must tell our elected officials that we do not want a government intervention in our lives. Not when it comes to health care, not when it comes to personal spending, and certainly not when it comes to family.
And we’re doing it. President Barack Obama’s health care fiasco has begun to hit a number of potholes en route to an unprecedented government expansion, potholes caused by the American people rising up and explaining to their elected officials that the American people will remain silent no more. At the health care town hall meetings, the American people caused both members of Congress and Senate to reconsider President Obama’s health care agenda and, with the same veracity and an even brighter fate, we must find the resolve to not only cause our elected officials to rethink their relationship with the people in this democratic republic, but surely to reinvent it altogether. The concept of representation, it seems, does not come easily to these people. And that’s not all they need to reinvent.
We must push our elected officials to reinvent more than a national deficit, and indeed reinvent their national vision. Langston Hughes and so many like him sought the respite of communism because he felt that true representation could not be had in his America. And while the stain of communism has certainly left its mark upon the world, Hughes’ feeling that “[w]here never kings connive nor tyrants scheme/that any man be crushed by one above” could be seen not only in the light of class warfare, but in the light of the struggle in which ordinary America–not black America, not white America–is currently entrenched against the ruling class in Washington, D.C.
That American vision, inspired by a people aware of its history and inclemently fighting for its future, is what Ronald Reagan rose to champion, and what Barack Obama has continued to fight against.
Once we have seized the opportunity and have made our voice, vision and values clear, the path does not end there. We must pursue our politicians keeping them accountable to the new American Vision, and furthermore the American people. Recreating the successes of 1994 and 2000 is one thing, but maintaining the message by which we achieved such victory is another. We must remove the façade our politicians have facilitated to keep us out, and make it perfectly, unabiguously clear that We The People are here to stay. It’s time to take back American politics by getting rid of career politicians and electing the common American to serve their country.
For that, I propose a three-step process. It’s as simple as one-two-three or, better yet, U-S-A:
- Us: We need to raise our voices and make our new American Vision clear. In reality, it’s not so much a new American Vision, either, but rather an old one, the same one on which this nation was founded. Representation. Freedom. Liberty. E Pluribus Unum.
- Standard: We need to pursue our politicians, deny them the status quo, and perpetuate the new standard of People Above Politics.
- Act: It’s also time that we elect the average American to office, put the “service” part back into “public service,” and allow true public service to re-enter politics.
Langston Hughes was thought by many to be a racial chauvinist, and as America moved closer and closer to a truly integrated society, his writings were perceived by many to carry less and less weight. Yet those few lines of Let America Be America Again stick out in my mind, highlighted from the rest. As unconventional as his worldview may have been, and as different as his course may have been in getting there, it was nonetheless an American dream that Hughes sought for African Americans.
Like Hughes, Martin Luther King, Jr.–a Republican, by the way–also had a dream. And it was his dream that changed the American attitude toward race, that let us pursue a future for America where the stroke of justice was written with the understanding of our past, where our foundation is our future and the American people are the dreamers who reinvent tomorrow. In order for ordinary, average Americans to prevail in this current quest for freedom, we must not only look to our past but we must understand it. We must understand the principles which made America what it is, and strive to continue rather than transform them.
16-year-old Jesse Civello is currently entering his junior year at Cheltenham High School outside of Philadelphia. An avowed conservative and constitutionalist, Jesse has spoken at numerous Republican Party events and meetings. His dream is to one day become a United States Senator. Jesse began writing for America’s Right in June 2009.