As long as unresolved historic injustices continue to fester in the world, there will be a demand for truth commissions.
Unfortunately, there is no end to the need.
The goal of a truth commission — in some forms also called a truth and reconciliation commission, as it is in Canada — is to hold public hearings to establish the scale and impact of a past injustice, typically involving wide-scale human rights abuses, and make it part of the permanent, unassailable public record. Truth commissions also officially recognize victims and perpetrators in an effort to move beyond the painful past.
Over the past three decades, more than 40 countries have, like Canada, established truth commissions, including Chile, Ecuador, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Philippines, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa and South Korea. The hope has been that restorative justice would provide greater healing than the retributive justice modelled most memorably by the Nuremberg Trials after the Second World War.
There has been a range in the effectiveness of commissions designed to resolve injustices in African and Latin American countries, typically held as those countries made transitions from civil war, colonialism or authoritarian rule.
Its effectiveness is still being measured, with a list of 94 calls to action waiting to be fully implemented. But Canada’s experience appears to have been at least productive enough to inspire Australia and New Zealand to come to terms with their own treatment of Indigenous peoples by exploring similar processes.
Although both countries have a long history to trying to reconcile with native peoples, recent discussions have leaned toward a Canadian-style TRC model.
But the most recognizable standard became South Africa’s, when President Nelson Mandela mandated a painful and necessary Truth and Reconciliation Commission to resolve the scornful legacy of apartheid, the racist and repressive policy that had driven the African National Congress, including Mandela, to fight for reform. Their efforts resulted in widespread violence and Mandela’s own 27-year imprisonment.
Through South Africa’s publicly televised TRC proceedings, white perpetrators were required to come face-to-face with the Black families they had victimized physically, socially and economically.
There were critics, to be sure, on both sides. Some called it the “Kleenex Commission” for the emotional hearings they saw as going easy on some perpetrators who were granted amnesty after demonstrating public contrition.
Others felt it fell short of its promise — benefiting the new government by legitimizing Mandela’s ANC and letting perpetrators off the hook by allowing so many go without punishment, and failing victims who never saw adequate compensation or true justice.
These criticisms were valid, yet the process did succeed in its most fundamental responsibility — it pulled the country safely into a modern, democratic era.
Similarly, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was not designed to take South Africa to some idyllic utopia. After a century of colonialism and apartheid, that would not have been realistic. It was designed to save South Africa, then a nuclear power, from an implosion — one that many feared would trigger a wider international war.
To the extent that the commission saved South Africa from hell, I think it was successful. Is it a low benchmark? Perhaps, but it did its work.
Since then, other truth commissions, whether they have included reconciliation or reparation mandates, have generated varying results.
Some have been used cynically as tools for governments to legitimize themselves by pretending they have dealt with painful history when they have only kicked the can down the road.
In Liberia, where I worked with a team of researchers last summer, the records of that country’s truth and reconciliation commission are not even readily available to the public. That secrecy robs Liberia of what should be the most essential benefit of confronting past injustices: permanent, public memorialization that inoculates the future against the mistakes of the past.
U.S. needs truth commission
On balance, the truth commission stands as an important tool that can and should be used around the world.
It’s painfully apparent that the United States needs a national truth commission of some kind to address hundreds of years of injustice suffered by Black Americans. There, centuries of enslavement, state-sponsored racism, denial of civil rights and ongoing economic and social disparity have yet to be addressed.
Like many, I don’t hold out hope that a U.S. commission will be established any time soon – especially not under the current administration. But I do think one is inevitable at some point, better sooner than later.
Wherever there is an ugly, unresolved injustice pulling at the fabric of a society, there is an opportunity to haul it out in public and deal with it through a truth commission.
Still, there is not yet any central body or facility that researchers, political leaders or other advocates can turn to for guidance, information, and evidence. Such an entity would help them understand and compare how past commissions have worked — or failed to work — and create better outcomes for future commissions.
As the movement to expose, understand and resolve historical injustices grows, it would seem that Canada, a stable democracy with its own sorrowed history and its interest in global human rights, would make an excellent place to establish such a center.
Jackie Robinson will be remembered for his courage, athleticism, tenacity and sacrifice on Jan. 31, the centennial of his birth. By confronting Jim Crow – both as a baseball player and as a civil rights activist – he changed America.
“Back in the days when integration wasn’t fashionable,” Martin Luther King Jr. said of Robinson, “he underwent … the loneliness which comes with being a pilgrim walking through the lonesome byways toward the high road of freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”
I’ve written three books about Robinson, in addition to dozens of columns and articles. I used to wonder how Robinson persevered in the face of so much hate and ugliness. He was certainly as tough a competitor as any athlete who ever lived, and he had an unwavering religious faith.
But I eventually realized that he couldn’t have achieved what he did without his wife, Rachel, whose spirit was as formidable as his own.
Sure, he had his mother, Mallie; his minister, Karl Downs; Brooklyn Dodgers’ president, Branch Rickey, who signed him; and sportswriter Wendell Smith, who served as his ghostwriter and confidante.
Rachel, however, was the only constant.
“She was not simply the dutiful wife,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Roger Wilkins said about Rachel. “She had to live through the death threats, endure the vile screams of the fans and watch her husband get knocked down by pitch after pitch. … She was beautiful and wise and replenished his strength and courage.”
Rachel Isum met Jackie Robinson at UCLA when she was a freshman and he was a senior. Jackie was a four-letter athlete and “a big man on campus,” as she described him.
They married five years later on Feb. 10, 1946, a few months after Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey signed Jackie to play for the organization’s top minor league team, the Montreal Royals.
Two-and-a-half weeks after the wedding, the Robinsons left the relative comfort of Los Angeles to go to spring training in Florida. Robinson would have to confront both baseball’s color line and the Jim Crow laws of the South, where blacks who challenged segregation risked jail, injury or death.
Rachel knew she and Jackie could not react to every racial epithet hurled their way. But she wasn’t averse to quiet forms of resistance. When their plane stopped in New Orleans on their flight to Florida, Rachel saw something she had never seen before: separate restrooms for “white women” and “colored women.” She defiantly walked into restroom marked “white women.”
During that first spring training, segregation laws prohibited the Robinsons from staying in the same oceanfront hotel in Daytona Beach with his white teammates. Nor could they eat in white restaurants. They stayed with a black family and ate their meals in a black restaurant.
Robinson, feeling the weight of representing millions of black Americans, struggled during the beginning of spring training. He had trouble hitting, and he hurt his throwing arm so badly that he could barely lift it.
Rachel calmed Jackie every night in their small room, massaging his sore arm as he raged against the indignities he faced on and off the field. She also learned she was pregnant while they were in Daytona Beach, but decided not to tell him.
“There was such an incredible amount of pressure, it might have driven two people apart,” she told Sports Illustrated in 2013. “But it had the opposite effect on us, it pushed us together.”
At some point, as Rachel later told Robinson biographer Arnold Rampersad, Jackie began to refer to himself not as “I” but as “we.” Jackie and Rachel were united as civil rights activists; they knew, as Rachel put it, “that the issue wasn’t simply baseball but life and death, freedom and bondage, for a lot of people.”
As the spring progressed, Jackie’s arm improved and so did his confidence. He played the 1946 season with the Montreal Royals before being promoted to the Dodgers the next spring. He established himself as one of the best players in the National League. But the racist epithets continued to rain down on him from the stands and the dugouts of opposing teams.
Rachel was determined to make their home a refuge from that malevolence, whether the Robinsons were living in Montreal, New York City, or later, in Stamford, Connecticut.
“We had a pledge to each other that we were going to try to keep the house a haven,” she said. “Someplace safe. Someplace we didn’t have to replay the mess outside.”
Rachel raised their three children while her husband was playing baseball and crusading for civil rights. After earning her master’s degree, she worked as a nurse-therapist and researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. She then taught nursing at Yale University while she served as director of the Connecticut mental health center.
After Jackie died, Rachel created the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which has provided scholarships for 1,400 college students.
When the Jackie Robinson biopic “42” was released in 2013, Brian Helgeland, the film’s writer and director, asked Rachel what she thought of the film.
“I loved how much we kissed,” Helgeland recalled Rachel telling him. “And then she got emotional,” he continued. “It was the only thing she ever said to me about the finished film. And it hit me: Her take-away from the whole thing was that she got to see her husband one more time.”
President Trump greets people as he arrives to speak during a dinner for evangelical leaders in the State Dining Room of the White House on Aug. 27, 2018, in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Earlier this month, two important conservative writers explained why honorable Republicans are strongly considering a challenge to Donald Trump for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
Writing in The Bulwark, an online publication that took on former staff from the recently shuttered Trump-skeptical conservative journal The Weekly Standard, Jonathan V. Last persuasively argues that a primary challenge to Trump should be expected. Of the last nine incumbent presidents who stood for re-election, five were contested for re-nomination. Trump is almost sure to be one of them; Last has already previewed five potential challengers.
A few days later, in a powerful Washington Post op-ed, Stephen F. Hayes framed the primary challenge as a necessity for the well being of the country and something all people of goodwill should expect and support.
But the coming primary challenge has zero chance of success unless a significant number of white evangelicals, who gave the race-baiting billionaire 81 percent of their votes in 2016, get off of Trump’s Road to Reelection before 2020.
Neither of the two conservative writers above discusses the possibility of evangelicals parting ways with Trumpism. Political observers seem to assume that Trump’s conservative Christian base will follow him no matter what.
And why not? Some of his evangelical disciples have explicitly said there is nothing he could do to lose their support.
Yet a divorce is not impossible, and it won’t require white conservatives to suddenly back a Democrat. Trump’s white evangelical support has already fallen in the wake of chaos in the administration and the longest government shutdown in history. If the walls continue to close in around the president, he may yet lose even more support.
That may come as a surprise to those who think that Trump has brainwashed evangelicals somehow into believing he will restore a Christian America. Though many commentators, including me, have often questioned how the unchristian Trump could mesmerize professed believers, the truth is that the brainwashing began with the rise of the religious right in the 1980s. If you tell people for 35 years that they must vote for one party as a matter of religious devotion because the other party is so god-awful, they do it.
But what politics grants, politics can take away. The white Christians, Protestant and Catholic, who embraced Donald Trump made a fairly ordinary bargain in our transactional, interest-group-oriented politics, even if it looks strange for people whose Savior preached and practiced holiness: they gave their votes in exchange for a promise to enact their agenda.
That’s why they could be taken back by a candidate who makes a serious effort to offer them a decent Republican alternative, a person who does not destroy their integrity or make a mockery of their supposed values. And for the sake of the country and the Party of Lincoln, every patriot must hope it succeeds.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan departs after his inauguration ceremony on Jan. 16, 2019, in Annapolis, Md. Hogan is the first Republican governor to be re-elected in the state since the 1950s. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Republican leaders have already begun encouraging potential candidates. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who is reportedly considering a primary challenge to Trump, contrasts with the president in ways that should matter. He is a decent and competent man of quiet strength and dignity. Hogan would give social conservatives almost everything Trump has offered but will not demand they squander their integrity as a down payment.
A cancer survivor who leaned on his faith during that battle, he has a story that resonates, and, perhaps more importantly, is a proven fighter — anyone facing off against Trump will have to prove his willingness to stand up to the president’s excesses in ways that will invite and inspire conservative evangelicals and Catholics.
The most obvious group of defectors are those who will jump at any other candidate with conservative policy views. For these people, the 2016 nominating contest led them to Trump by default. In that crowded primary season, a majority of voters preferred a candidate other than Donald Trump, but studies show that some subset of voters simply wants to “back a winner.”
If 2019 unfolds badly for Trump and he looks weak in 2020, many voters, even evangelicals, will flock to a superior candidate, especially if she or he looks, talks and acts like a winner.
President Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally at Bojangles’ Coliseum on Oct. 26, 2018, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Others agreed to vote for Trump because they expected that he would rise to the stature of the office. They may now accept that he won’t. Even those who expected a certain amount of incompetence, corruption, and lies may be persuaded to think that a line has been crossed.
My conversations with Washington insiders have convinced me that the primary challenge will happen. If it does, Trump-skeptical evangelical leaders who are despondent about the past three years need to do everything they can to support the effort, even if behind the scenes.
I have opposed evangelical Trumpism from the beginning. Some of those supporters are members of my own family. As long as there is a chance for decency and honor to prevail, I will make the case to them. I will not give up on my family, just as I will not give up on my country.
I will work alongside evangelical friends who stand on the biblical promise, “Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle” (Psalm 18:39). The 2020 GOP primary is a fight for the soul of conservatism. Evangelicals should not sit it out, and it cannot be won without them.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.
We don’t mean to lie, but when someone asks us how we’re doing, it is much easier to say that we are “fine” or “blessed” than to tell the whole truth. The reality is that we are not always fine. There are times when we are going through hell. We face personal hell—conflict in close relationships, failing health, toxic work environments, financial struggle, church hurt, and other distress. If that wasn’t enough, in the age of moral decline, we are also going through hell in the social and political landscape of our lives with political maneuvering, state-sanctioned violence against Black people at the hands of police, pervasive patriarchy and gender inequality, and racial disparities in education, employment, healthcare, and housing. Even if you are not distressed personally, with increased access to information, we are constantly bombarded with bad news, which can wear on our hearts and minds. Whatever hell you are going through, we offer these eight suggestions to pull yourself up:
Breathe: In times of stress and hardship, notice your breathing. Often when we are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, our breathing tends to be shallow. Research has shown that deep breathing lowers stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. A simple breathing technique to try is to sit upright, shoulders relaxed, arms resting by your sides, with your eyes closed. Inhale through your nose for five counts, then exhale through your mouth for five counts, repeating this process 3-10 times. If you find yourself in a persistent state of hell, make time daily for deep breathing to help release tension and stress. Deep breathing won’t make the issues go away, but it will calm you and clear your mind to face the issues.
Pray: In moments of trial, prayer is beneficial for many reasons. First, it invites us to pause and connect with God—to be reminded that we are deeply loved and are not alone. Second, prayer gives us an opportunity to release our burdens to the One who is able to bear the weight of all that we carry. Lastly, prayer reminds us that the hell we experience on earth is no comparison to the joy we will experience in the eternal presence of God, filling us with hope and power to forge ahead despite what we are facing.
Phone a Friend:In addition to divine connection, human connection is vital to our well-being. In particularly burdensome times, talking with a friend—whether via text, telephone, or in person—has a way of lifting your spirits. Be sure to connect with friends who will listen deeply and empathize with you; I am reminded of the story of Job in the Bible when he was going through hell and his friends showed up. They cried with him and sat with him in his pain. Their presence comforted him greatly and did not become a nuisance until later in the story when they began to insert their thoughts and opinions about what he was going through instead of simply being with him.
Play:In our culture and society, play is viewed as children’s business or trivial, but I would argue that play and movement are necessary for well-being, especially when in the midst of hardship. Think about it: In elementary school, even the most stressful days and bickering amongst friends was cured by a game of kickball, double-dutch, or running around on the jungle gym. Recreation has a way of creating us again and invigorating us for life. My preferred play is running. Join a pick-up game of basketball, head to the bowling alley with friends, or dance with reckless abandon with your children. Whatever you do, allow yourself to engage in an activity that brings you joy and gets you moving!
Count Your Blessings:There is something about a posture of gratitude that helps to encourage us. When going through hell and everything seems to be going wrong, recounting the aspects of life that are going well and the people and things we are grateful for is an instant mood lifter. There is a saying, “I have more to be thankful for than to complain about” and when we think about and name our blessings, the pressure of our problems is allayed.
Repeat a Mantra: Mantras are typically not associated with Christianity; however the word mantra simply means to think. It is a thought, word or phrase repeated to inspire, motivate, ground, or calm an individual. A mantra can be a quotation from Scripture that encourages you to persevere through tough times or a phrase that cultivates and strengthens your faith and resolve in times of suffering. I have a friend who when faced with obstacles that appear insurmountable repeats the mantra, “God is bigger!” It’s has helped her get through many distressing situations.
Extend Yourself Grace:Sometimes we can be especially hard on ourselves, even when we are going through difficult times. The reality is that the expectations we have of ourselves we would never have of others if they found themselves in situations that mirror our own. When I am going through hell, trying to keep things together, I find it helpful to treat myself the way I would treat a friend. This means reminding myself that I’m doing the best I can or permitting myself to rest. It also means speaking kindly to myself when I fall short.
Recognize that this is temporary:In the moment, it often feels like the hellish experiences that we are having will last forever, but the operative word in the phrase going through hell is “Going.” When facing various trials and tribulations, it is important to remember that where we are is not where we’ll always be; There will come a day when this hell will be a distant memory, and a testament to your grace, strength, resilience, and resolve.
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, standing outside of Oakland’s city hall, formally kicked off her campaign for the White House on Sunday, presenting herself as the leader who can best unite an America that is at an “inflection point” and facing a critical question.
“We are here because the American Dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before,” Harris said. “And we are here at this moment in time because we must answer a fundamental question: Who are we? Who are we as Americans? So, let’s answer that question to the world and each other right here and right now. America, we are better than this.”
Harris, a first-term U.S. senator from California who announced her candidacy last Monday, rallied thousands of supporters at the Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, her hometown and where she served as a prosecutor before becoming the state attorney general.
Harris invoked the speech that Robert F. Kennedy gave in 1968 when he announced that he would challenge President Lyndon B. Johnson, noting that Kennedy said “at stake is not simply the leadership of our party and even our country, it is our right to moral leadership of this planet.”
Harris added, “So today I say to you, my friends: These are not ordinary times, and this will not be an ordinary election, but this is our America.”
Harris’ campaign is filled with historic possibility. If she ultimately wins the White House she would be the first African-American woman and first person of Asian descent to be president.
Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, said that as she and her sister, Maya Harris, grew up in the East Bay they were “raised by a community with a deep belief in the promise of our country, and a deep understanding of the parts of that promise that still remain unfulfilled.”
She has attributed her decision to become a lawyer and a prosecutor to her upbringing, and said Sunday that she and her sister were “raised to believe that public service is a noble cause and the fight for justice is everyone’s responsibility.”
She said she is running “with faith in God, with fidelity to country, and with the fighting spirit I got from my mother.”
Harris’s launch has drawn heavily on symbolism. She officially entered the race on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Campaign aides say she has drawn inspiration from Shirley Chisholm, a New York congresswoman who in 1972 became the first black woman to run for president from a major party.
Harris’ first news conference as a candidate was on the campus of Howard University, the historically black college in the nation’s capital that she attended as an undergraduate. On Friday, she was in South Carolina to speak to members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, of which she is a member. Other members of the group, wearing traditional pink and green, were on hand at Sunday’s rally.
Her choice of Oakland for her campaign launch was both biographical and symbolic. The state of California has played a leading role in resistance to the presidency of Donald Trump. And Oakland itself, where she was born and spent her formative years, has a history of activism. The plaza outside City Hall where Harris spoke once housed Occupy Oakland’s encampment. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he picked the site for his first Bay Area campaign event.
Michael Ahrens, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, called it “fitting” that Harris chose “the most liberal district in deep-blue California to launch her campaign.”
Harris’ campaign is expected to highlight her career as a prosecutor as part of her rationale for seeking the presidency. Harris was the first black woman elected district attorney in California, as well as the first woman, first African-American and first Asian-American to hold that job.
On Sunday, she said she has long known the criminal justice system to be “deeply flawed” but that she also knew the “profound impact law enforcement has on people’s lives and its responsibility to give them safety and dignity.”
Harris said throughout her life she has “only had one client: the people,” echoing the words she has used in courtrooms and has adopted as her campaign’s slogan.
Harris also did not shy away from taking on Trump directly, saying the U.S. welcomes refugees and calling the wall that Trump wants to build at the southern border a “medieval vanity project” that would not actually stop transnational gangs, which she noted she battled as state attorney general. She also said that, as president, she would “always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect. I will lead with integrity. And I will tell the truth.”
Harris is among the first major Democrats to jump into what is expected to be a crowded 2020 presidential contest.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York have announced exploratory committees. Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Julian Castro, federal housing chief under President Barack Obama and a former San Antonio mayor, already are in the race.
Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont may also run.
After the rally, Harris planned to her first trip to Iowa as a presidential candidate. In the weeks before last November’s elections, she traveled to the leadoff caucus state to campaign on behalf of Democrats, and also visited other early-voting states.
Harris’s campaign will be based in Baltimore and led by Juan Rodriguez, who managed her 2016 Senate campaign. Aides say the campaign will have a second office in Oakland.