James Blue Alliance Blog

This is blog is periodically updated by Richard Blue, Chairman of the Board and founder of the James Blue Alliance.

A Call to Action

In the last few months a common thread of violence has emerged which has captured the attention of the people of the world especially people in Canada, France, Europe in general, as well as the Middle East, West Africa and the United States. Excessive force has been used in the United States by police to kill young black men and two policeman were shot to death by a young black male in reprisal, three alienated young men attacked in the name of Allah to kill people in offices and stores in Paris, a 10 year old girl with a bomb committed suicide and killed many people in a market in Nigeria, in Canada a terrorist attacked the Canadian parliament, and in Mexico a massacre by local police of student protestors was discovered.

In January 2014, 453 people were killed in 40 separate terrorist attacks by non-state actors. Still more were killed by indiscriminate attacks by police and other authorities.

These events have been watched with horror and a growing solidarity in the west and east that we, as citizens, must respond.

But how?

The short term response includes massive parades, protests, much vitriol in the social media, increased efforts to tighten security with calls for greater vigilance, and threats of cyber-warfare from religious extremists and hackers alike.

But are we addressing the underlying causes of this violence? There are many causal factors contributing to the rise and level of violence so far.

Seeking political power through “independence” from whatever state is oppressive, corrupt, immoral, or secular is a leading contributor and has been since Armenians rose up against the Ottomans, and the Irish against the British.

Striking against and for slavery and other forms of subjugation was a hallmark of American terrorist attacks beginning with John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, or the formation and subsequent oppression of black Americans by the Ku Klux Klan after the American Civil War.

In the 21st century, the rise of information technology and social media, and the increasing diversity of ethnic and religious groups in western states like France are contributing factors. Disaffected, alienated and excluded young minority youth are bombarded with messages promising a life of meaning, inclusion and religious righteousness. “Come join the cause, fight for your beliefs, oppose those who have oppressed you, we will give you weapons, training and belief, you will be a hero or martyr, or both.” At the same time, many feel “stateless”, unable to “fit in,” and either unable or unwilling to adapt to the majority culture around them.

And in this century, areas of the world that might have been unstable and hard to reach in the past are now safe havens for organizations well stocked with funds, weapons, and the ability to elevate their cause to global levels. It is now relatively easy to go from France or North America, to join groups in Yemen or Syria.

The scope is global, the causes deep-rooted in history, and not easily subdued by force alone. Alienation and the seductive power of ideology or appeals to faith is not new. In part, it is the product of poverty, lack of economic opportunity, discrimination, police and economic profiling, and a little understood process by which young people, young men especially, in minority groups become alienated, manipulated and seduced by those seeking the space to create their own, more righteous regimes. Or, wreck unspeakable violence on aid workers, journalists, school children, students, and workplace colleagues as a kind of revenge, and as a way of attracting global social and TV media attention to their cause.

What can we do? What action can be taken by those of us who watch these scenes of horror and are revolted by them? What positive steps can we take in our small corners of the world to deal with this issue?

There is no “global” answer, but we must do what we can, at some level all terrorist attacks are local, and our response must be local as well.

For example, maybe we should take a lesson from the “cells” that have started small and grown to become powerful forces with the ability to act both independently, as in Charlie Hebdo apparently, or as major, disciplined forces such as those taking major territory in Iraq and Syria.

How do we create our own small cells for positive action without defaulting to vigilantism, profiling and other behaviors that are essentially self-defeating? This balance takes a huge amount of commitment and discipline, but begins with a thoughtful awareness of what is going on around us in our own communities and indeed, our own homes.

At its root is a consequence of unrealistic aspiration and consequent disaffection and alienation. For those of us in comfortable positions, we are driven by fear and anxiety about our own place in the social order. Globally it is the rapid pace of cultural and economic/technological change that is creating widespread instability. It is characterized by individuals wanting to belong, and by groups wanting to retain their differentiation. We must address the alienated, particularly the youth, while respecting the diversity of cultures and beliefs.

I write this on January 15, the birthday of the great American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. My brother, James Blue, was a filmmaker who studied his craft in France, made his first films as a professional in Algiers during the war for Algerian independence, winning a Cannes Film Critics Prize for his film, The Olive Trees of Justice. He returned home to make films for the US Information Agency under the leadership of George Stevens Jr. John Kennedy was President, and hopes were high for a rebirth of idealism and commitment to public service.

One of the films he made is called The March. It depicts the preparation for and arrival of some 200,000 Black and White Americans in August, 1963 to sing together, pray together, march together and to listen to speakers including Martin Luther King Jr, whose I Have a Dream speech is highlighted in the film. This very controversial film was shown around the world, but never in America. In 2013 the National Archives re-mastered the film and screened it in August during the 50th Anniversary of the March.

Most people forget that this was a march for jobs and freedom now. King knew there was job discrimination based on race as well as in access to schools and public places. The organizations that helped organize the march were labor unions as well as churches and civil rights organizations. Civil rights were all encompassing, but not a free ticket, according to King. He dreamed of a time when people “will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

I have an original copy of The March, along with many others my brother made: Olive Trees of Justice (Algeria), School at Rincon Santo (Columbia), A Few Notes on Our Food Problem (developing nations-nominated for an Academy Award), Kenya Boran (A Kenyan herding tribe and a boy who wants a different life), Who Killed the Fourth Ward, (video mystery story about the threatened demise of a historic black neighborhood on the edge of Houston, Texas.)

My brother made films in a style which may be called “empowerment cinema.” He dealt with questions of change, desire, aspiration, and getting ahead through education. He sought to understand why people responded to life challenges the way they did, and to show his viewers the common bond of humanity which could, and should unite us, and to see the value of and learn to respect diversity.

My brother died when he was 49 years old. That was in 1980. His life’s worked remained in boxes and crates until recently, when a growing wave of interest, recognition and resurgence began to emerge.

I have established, with help from my family, the James Blue Alliance, for two main purposes: first, to collect, preserve and conserve his entire body of work at the James Blue Archive at the University of Oregon, and second, to use his films and videos as the basis for an educational and outreach program to stimulate debate and dialogue about race, ethnic and religious diversity in a an increasingly interrelated global economy and society, and hopefully develop a deeper understanding of and respect for social, cultural and religious diversity. We believe that without understanding there is no respect, and without respect, there is no equality or inclusiveness in the social and political order. We can be the problem, or the solution.

Many viewers who have seen these films say to me: “you must get these films into our schools.”

I want to do just that.

I have a plan, but I need your help.

Contribute. Join. Make a Difference. Get Involved.

Contact me: Richard@jamesblue.org