Abraham Lincoln famously wrote in his concluding remarks to his Annual Message to Congress in December of 1862:
"We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just -- a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless."
This week the world lost one of its "...last best hopes..." with the passing of Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai.
Who was Wangari Maathi? Like many Americans, until just recently I had never heard her name. But after watching the excellent PBS Independent Lens documentary TAKING ROOT: The Vision of Wangari Maathai, I am convinced that Lincoln’s prophetic remarks on freedom nearly 150 years ago are equally prophetic and applicable to the state of political affairs today in America.
When the state of political affairs in her native Kenya devolved into partisan tribal cronyism, homicidal violence and brutal political suppression, Wangari Maathi, a divorced mother of two, in a society which devalued women, stepped forward and led with peaceful nonviolent movements like the Freedom Corner and Greenbelt Movements to change the corrupt, male-dominated political system in her country. In perhaps the documentary’s most desperate and poignant moments, when Wangari and her fellow mothers were descended upon by Kenyan security forces with clubs and batons to disrupt a nonviolent protest seeking the release from jail of their sons and other political prisoners, the women stripped naked and shook their breasts at their attackers who nevertheless beat them unmercifully, leaving Maathi in a coma. Thankfully she recovered and this act of incredible courage and moral force in the face of violent wickedness eventually led to a new consciousness among the general public in Kenya and important reforms.
With the political parties in America behaving like tribes in Kenya, engaging in an endless cycle of payback, revenge and cronyism we could use the likes of a Wingari Maathi and the courageous mothers of Kenya. Perhaps their American counterparts could even strip naked in front of a joint session of Congress and shake their collective breasts to shame Congress into abandoning their childish and destructive partisan ways and act like grown-ups and start doing the people’s business.
Lincoln, Ghandi, King and Mandela will have to move over and share their space in the hall of human greatness because sister Wangari is moving in.