Thinking back over the long and extraordinary life of Nelson A. Mandela, I began to feel a twinge of something almost like hope that the United States might one day again be a democracy.
What odds Mandela and his followers had to overcome! Apartheid -- separation of the races, absolute suppression of people of color by a white minority -- was not just a practice, it was the law of South Africa. Whites built enormous fortunes on the backs of slaves or "indentured" workers who were virtual slaves while raping the natural resources of the country.
Mandela himself spent 26 years in prison as a "terrorist." His most loyal followers lived subhuman lives in the bantustans, segregated supposedly "independent" states walled off from the basic government services the ruling white class enjoyed.
Enormous wealth, the force of arms and the law itself were on the side of the ruling class. What possible chance did Mandela and the blacks and the coloreds -- the enslaved, the impoverished, the suffering -- have against such strong and brutal forces?
And yet Mandela emerged to see apartheid stricken from the law in 1990, and, in 1994, to be elected president of a new, multiracial democracy. He would win the Nobel Peace Prize and become arguably the most widely respected national leader of his time.
Surely, if Mandela and his people could win their struggle against such overwhelming odds, there must be hope for the the poor, the oppressed, the sick, the jobless, the growing underclass of the United States, mustn't there?
The gap between rich and poor in the United States is racing to exceed that which existed in South Africa 65 years ago. Racism, if not enshrined in law here, is enshrined in practice and in the political realities of our corrupt system. An enormously wealthy corporate oligarchy manipulates that system to continually engorge its own wealth and power. Citizenship and the vote are next to meaningless. Peacable people are required to pay taxes to support endless war, wars in which their country slaughters innocent civilians by the thousands "to protect us from terrorists." Terrorists like Nelson Mandela?
We are hurtling toward a repressive police state, one in which the kindly cop on the corner is replaced by armour-clad bullies with tasers, lasers, tommy guns, tanks, drones and night-scopes on their grenade launchers. They have the same capacity to slaughter those in insurrection that the authorities of South Africa had.
Our truth-tellers and whistle-blowers are in prison or in exile. If only the truth can keep us free, then we are already enslaved.
Can we rise up and win freedom, equality and justice in the example of Nelson Mandela and his people?
Alas, we don't have a Nelson Mandela. We have Barack Obama and his drones and his Wall Street masters.
Alas, we don't have a people willing to lay down their lives fighting for a dream of peace and freedom. We have the Tea Party.
Alas, we are a nation condemned to not only the poverty of economic inequality, but also a stifling, enfeebling poverty of the spirit.
Mandela once said, "Poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and apartheid, it is man made and can be removed by the actions of human beings."
Such is our flicker of hope.