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Meeting Cornel West






I've met a good amount of famous people of all kinds and who would almsot certainly not like one another - David Sedaris, Al Franken, Paul Ryan, etc. I even worked with Rabbi Michael Lerner. Nevertheless, meeting Cornel West yesterday, in 2017, really lit me up and got me motivated. He was clearly on his way to do something but I made sure to tell him it "was really, really good to see him around" and to keep going. He bowed toward me and said, "Thank you so much, my brother." He talks like that to everyone, I realize, but it was good to see that he appreciated the encouragement. I was busy tutoring while he was clearly on his way toward something, with a young student guiding him around. Nevertheless, seeing him made my day.

West had his first ascent as an intellectual in the 1990s. He wrote books like Race Matters and Blacks and Jews, a favorite, with the aforementioned Rabbi Lerner. He has appeared on rap albums with guys like Brother Ali and The Roots. He stubbornly criticized Barack Obama's foreign policy throughout those years without ceding how historic the election of a first black president truly was. There were some strange criticism of him as a Republican stooge back then but he was really prophetic - back in 2014, when militarized police were stomping through American streets, he warned in a talk with American communist Bob Avakian that America could become "straight fascist." Low and behold, exactly that happened with the election of Donald Trump.

West has been on the liberation theology kick for decades and helped incorporate it in to the broader African American experience. He has been aware of this movement, which started in the wake of fascist movements in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s, since its inception but, through the prosperous Clinton years, the corporate Bush years, the descending Obama years and the hellish Trump year(s), what started as an interesting but still foreign brand of Christianity now seems very attractive.

Many Christian universities have caught up with him - replacing their Creation or sex themed coursework with work offering "service to the poor." West seemed very on point with his article "Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama," which had an unnecessarily harsh title (Obama did attempt peace with Iran and Cuba and most of the bad things in his administration were the result of Hillary Clinton) but which warned people, upon the election of sex abusing con man to president, not to descend in to despair:

"This is a depressing decline in the highest office of the most powerful empire in the history of the world. It could easily produce a pervasive cynicism and poisonous nihilism. Is there really any hope for truth and justice in this decadent time? Does America even have the capacity to be honest about itself and come to terms with its self-destructive addiction to money-worship and cowardly xenophobia?

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Herman Melville – the two great public intellectuals of 19th-century America – wrestled with similar questions and reached the same conclusion as Heraclitus: character is destiny (“sow a character and you reap a destiny”)."

On an appearance with David Letterman, Letterman once said that West is so intelligent that it's hard to really digest and comprehend what he is saying. West's interviews are filled with brilliance and coherence - a clear thought definition of many things so important to our lives. Take his definition of "love," for instance - love is what justice looks like in public.

When you see a couple of whatever background, age or whatever, you know it's love when it's genuine. A couple only seems unjust when there is some sort of deception or exploitation going on - date rape drugs, sex trafficking, pornography, a trophy wife as the result of a man who wants a woman as a pin on his lapel or, on the woman's end, to secure a social or financial status.

Character ultimately is destiny - Trump is now under investigation for obstruction of justice and who knows what the shooting of several Republican staff means. Trump's saga will end, predictably, with shame and stepping away from power (hopefully in a non-destructive manner). Years on, Cornel West might have better things to say about Barack Obama as Obama stands out for ending the Cuban embargo, attempting peace with Iran after decades of non-diplomatic relations and a first step toward universal health coverage (something many parts of America, despite the significant resistance, will have). The interventions in Libya, Syria and the feuding with Russia that gave us Donald Trump in the first place will be associated much more with Hillary Clinton.

While China or Russia build roads and infrastructure, America and the West are on a brutal, bumpy road towards who knows what really. Latin America once made it out of the hell of the 1970s and 1980s to become the most optimistic region of the world - it won't continue like this indefinitely. There is a light at the end of this tunnel, as distant as it may seem. Men like West will get us to our destination.

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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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