Gandhi and King are Cool and Other Reports

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Oliver-Stegen2New Orleans President Obama has now billed his visit to India and points Asian as a “trade mission,” something usually done by governors, so it’s a head scratcher here and there. He visited Gandhi’s house in Mumbai, which is a nice thing to do, and probably a quiet place for a salesman and his wife to take a break from their street hawking in the Indian marketplaces. But the POTUS now rebranded as a business-walla, when showed the 1959 signature of Rev. Martin Luther King in the guestbook, offered these profound words, according to reports:


Is this now what it’s come down to?

My correspondents do better than the Leader of the Free World in putting some thought and passion into their reports. Here are a couple of recent examples, I offer as insight, example, and, perhaps, inspiration, to the President who was once an articulate and inspirational speaker and author of distinction and note.

Example #1 is a report from Mary Daley, once the director of Bronx Laity and Clergy, an important organization in New York City, and now a staff member with the Washington-based, Center for Community Change. The similarities speak for themselves, and Mary’s description outshines Obama’s by miles:

“I was thinking of you as I recently returned from Tanzania and while I was there I visited Julius Nyerere’s birthplace, grave, museum and library all located on a family compound in his home village of Butiama. Next time you go to East Africa – you must visit there. His son ( age 50 ) – Madaraka operates part of the home as a hotel ( JKN hotel.) This is a very beautiful and large house built by the military where Nyerere’s widow still resides but that Nyerere only lived in for a few weeks before his death. It is next door to another much smaller but also lovely house – also built by the military that he lived in for about 10 years from his retirement to his death. My husband and I were shown into our room and it was explained to us that it is rarely used – apparently when in use it is a sitting room for formal visitors that Maria Nyerere still greets. Madaraka told us that there was a funny reason for a bed being in the room – it seems that Nelson Mandela was coming for a visit and they mistakenly thought he was staying over night. The library is great fun – including looking at the many inscriptions from authors on the inside covers ( Langston Hughes, Jimmy Carter and no doubt many people Nyerere never met – including a handful of US Black nationalists who you may have run into at one point or another.) Madaraka entertained hours of questions about his Dad’s life. I did not meet Maria Nyerere as she was out of town when we were there.”

Example #2 is a report to several of us from Jeff Fox, former organizing director of the British Columbia Government Employees Union (BCGEU) on a breakthrough in winning some labor reforms in Kosovo, where he is a recent “retiree” volunteering to help unions after a lifetime in the field:
“Well for the first time in history this country has labour laws developed by Kosovars for Kosovars. In a somewhat surprising move yesterday, the Assembly passed the labour laws with 46 amendments prior to dissolving the Assembly to begin national elections. Unlike Canada, I cannot yet access the actual provisions adopted [hopefully by week’s end] but I am told that many of the key changes that the BSPK has advocated for were included in the amendments. I am proudest of was getting maternity leave increased from the proposed 3 months to one year with the employer paying the first 6 months, the state the next 3 months and then the option of an unpaid leave for the last 3 months. Big improvement. The other key area was the original draft laws recognized verbal employment contracts as valid in law. I am told that this was also struck down and employment contracts must be in writing. That said there will undoubtedly be some parts of the laws that will be troubling going forward but we will leave that battle for another day. Once I get more info I can provide a fuller update.

The other aspect of this that thrills me is that the BSPK [the national labor federation] got a much needed win and they did so by working with civil society for the first time. Both fundamental changes that they desperately needed if they had any hopes of surviving in this new world.

So it was a good day. I felt like I was part of history here and made a small difference. And to see the faces of the BSPK leadership was worth every minute of the time I have spent with them.”

If the US President is going to leave the Beltway Bunker and venture out around the world, we all need him to bring his “A” game, not just his B-school buddies, and represent the kind of passion, insight, and sensitivities to culture, context, and history that you can read so easily from Mary and Jeff’s brief notes.
That would be cool.