Sunday, February 13, 2005

Ossie Davis -- A Life Lived for the People

Updated: February 13, 2005

I imagine a deep rich voice commenting on the life of Ossie Davis, speaking to the majesty of his presence and the depth of his commitment to the struggle for justice. This voice asks me, "Did you ever meet Ossie? Did you ever see him on stage or screen, I mean really see him? Did you ever talk with him? Did he ever smile at you?"

I've heard this voice before. It was the voice of Da Mayor in Do The Right Thing. Of Elder Johnson in Let's Do It Again. Of Reverend Purify in Jungle Fever. I heard recordings of this voice delivering the eulogy for Malcolm X. I heard it deliver a challenge to the young generation in the mid 1990's to find its mission, to take up the fight to stop the execution of Mumia Abu Jamal and free him from prison. The voice was Ossie Davis himself, and I was only hearing it in my head. Because Ossie Davis passed away earlier this month.

Speaking of Paul Robeson, Ossie once said: "What was the assignment of the black actors who came along when he did? We had to present a face of our people in an effort to reinstate our dignity and to establish an identity that said to the world, we are human beings." Ossie took up this assignment with an unmatchable determination. This accounted for the dignity you recognized in characters he portrayed that you didn't even like. He created great beauty as an actor, a playwright and a director. And his eloquence in addressing the injustices of today and challenging people to join in resisting it was inspiring.

In displaying this eloquence, he had to withstand tremendous pressure and vicious attacks. During the 1950's he and Ruby Dee (his wife for more than half a century) stood firm in defense of people like Paul Robeson when the McCarthyite which hunts for communists and their sympathizers among artists and thruout society. In describing this period, Ruby Dee said they didn't work for long periods, but you couldn't tell if it was because they were blacklisted or because they were Black, since there was so little work for Black actors and actresses at that time.

Ossie continued that kind of stand down to today, in the face of the great and rising pressure on artists to avoid enlisting in the fight against injustice. He no doubt played the role of walking point for many in the arts, creating space for others to themselves stand up for what's right.

The great revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung once said a life lived for the people is weightier than Mount Tai. Ossie Davis' life was quite heavy indeed. He will be missed by all who stand against injustice and strive to bring a better world into being.

Carl Dix on the Conviction of Attorney Lynne Stewart

February 12, 2005

Lynne Stewart's actual crime was aggressively defending a client who was on the wrong side of the US' "war on terrorism." Her conviction underlines the ugly reality the rulers are determined to
create--one where any opposition to their aims has been criminalized. This represents a dangerous legal precedent that must be opposed.