Patrick Henry​/​Make It Beautiful

by Micah Bournes

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What up ya’ll!

I got something new for ya. Here’s a free download of my new double-single poem/chant/song/thingy called “Patrick Henry/Make It Beautiful”. You can also purchase it on iTunes.

Below, I’ve written an essay that elaborates a bit more on some of the ideas present in “Patrick Henry.”

You Ain’t Down Wit’ Dr. King

IT’S THE 4th OF JULY! Today in America, many celebrate the birth of a nation, but more importantly, Americans celebrate the idea of freedom or liberty as a right worth fighting for. I find the fourth of July an appropriate occasion to reflect on the current state of America, and share with you a few thoughts which have been heavy on my heart over the past year. I want to begin with an excerpt from an often-quoted speech by a revered American patriot:

“I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves...? There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free ...we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! They tell us, sir, that we are weak… But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” - Patrick Henry

This excerpt is from a speech in which Patrick Henry justified and encouraged a violent rebellion against the British Empire. Patriotic Americans often look back at this time in U.S. history with a sense of awe, admiring the courage of America’s founding fathers. If we think about this in the historical context though, according to the law of the land, Henry and his fellow revolutionaries were committing the utmost dishonorable crime: treason. As long as the colonists were citizens of the British Empire, it didn’t matter if they felt they were being treated unjustly, any act of force or violent retaliation toward the governing authorities was illegal. Yet many Americans feel comfortable celebrating this rebellion. Why? Because, despite the fact that the founding fathers were not slaves or even servants, we are told the injustices they faced were severe, and it was, therefore, right and just for them to violently rebel. I find it problematic and inconsistent to celebrate violence of this nature in the past, yet despise and condemn it in the present.

In today’s America there is a certain restlessness brewing, and regularly over the past few years, it seems to boil over more frequently than we expect it to. These boil-overs have disturbed every American, but it is communities of color who have felt the pain most pointedly. Black Americans particularly, much like early American colonists, feel unsafe due to abuse received from governing bodies that are theoretically suppose to protect them. This tense relationship has lead to brutal and sometimes fatal violence in both directions. The problem though, is America’s problem, not just Black America’s problem, so voices of every color have chimed in with differing diagnoses and oversimplified solutions.

Over the past year, I’ve seen dozens of people who know very little about black history, black present, or black people, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King. More often than not, it was the same quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” This was usually paired with a note about the evils of violence, and how rioting is wrong, and if black people really want to see change, they should all calm down, be peaceful, and love the oppression away. I wonder, would Dr. King approve of this message? Would Patrick Henry approve of this message?

After hearing this message over and over, I began to be annoyed for several reasons. First, Dr. King is usually the only black leader that non-blacks are even vaguely familiar with, and secondly, they quote him with divine authority as if his words were scripture and it is sin to disagree with him. It is important to remember that Dr. King’s philosophies are not the only way to combat injustice, and they were never universally accepted in the black community, past or present. There are scores of black intellectuals who love justice and equality, yet see things quite differently. I also find it ignorant and hypocritical to selectively adhere to Dr. King’s philosophy when it is most convenient. When violence seeps beyond the borders of poor black neighborhoods, and breaks out in places a little too close to home, like the main streets of Baltimore, Maryland, suddenly white people love to remind black people what Dr. King preached. However, Dr. King was consistently nonviolent, both domestic and internationally. During a speech opposing the Vietnam War, King exposes the hypocrisy of those who selectively adhere to his teachings:

“They applauded our total movement; they've applauded me. America and most of its newspapers applauded me in Montgomery. They applauded us in the sit-in movement; we non-violently decided to sit in at (racially segregated) lunch counters. They applauded us on the Freedom Rides when we accepted blows without retaliation. Oh, the press was so noble in its applause, and so noble in its praise when I was saying, ‘Be non-violent toward Bull Connor’, when I was saying, ‘Be non-violent toward [Selma, Alabama segregationist sheriff] Jim Clark’. There's something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, ‘Be non-violent toward Jim Clark’, but will curse and damn you when you say, ‘Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children’. There's something wrong with that press!”

This prophetic word from King is eerily relevant today. Many voices preached domestic non-violence concerning the recent riots that took place in Baltimore (and others like it), yet those same voices have little to no concern, or even celebrate U.S. military efforts abroad, many of which kill civilians and destroy residential communities in other countries. But the threat of terror is real! In King’s day, so was the threat of racist authorities and America’s homegrown terrorists: the KKK. I thought you were disciples of King? What happened to darkness cannot drive out darkness? Should not we be loving our foreign enemies instead of dropping bombs? If you actually did your research on the man, many of y’all who quote him would soon realize, you ain’t down wit’ Dr. King. I am sure, from his views on the military, to poverty and welfare, most people who quote his teachings don’t have a thorough understanding of his teachings.

It is also important to note, violence was actually an important part of Dr. King’s civil rights strategy. He did not encourage blacks to be violent, however he purposefully organized (sometimes illegal) protests and demonstrations, intentionally provoking racist authorities to lash out in violence. As romantic as the civil rights movement was at times, it was not the singing and marching and dreaming that caught the eye of America; it was the chaotic and violent images of police beating people with clubs, spraying them with hoses, and unleashing sharp-teethed K9s on the crowds. Yes, it was the violence (not the peace) that caught the attention of the country and made people of all colors realize, something must be done.

I believe Dr. King’s nonviolent resistance to injustice and oppression is a beautiful philosophy, and coming from a Christian ethic, possibly the most moral or spiritually pure, however it is by no means the only effective way to combat injustice. Spiritually speaking, I agree with the statement that hate cannot drive out hate and darkness cannot drive out darkness, but within the realm of the physical socio-political facts of history, it is completely incorrect to say that violent rebellion can never bring an end to certain expressions of violent oppression. It can, it has, many times. The very existence of America is case in point.

Again, white male American revolutionaries were never slaves, or even servants, however they were not equal! The liberty they desired… no, the liberty they believed they had a God-given right to… was something far greater than simple non-slavery. The colonists believed they were being oppressed in many ways. One way in particular, noted Henry, was the British police and military’s display of excessive force. If their aim was actually to keep the peace, Henry wondered, why were they so heavily armed?

“Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask, gentlemen, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other.”

After many petitions and efforts at reform, the forefathers finally decided that violence was the only way they would gain liberty and equality. They drew up the Declaration of Independence, and prepared for war. How did the British media report these developments? According to publications loyal to the crown, the American colonists were violent rebels, thugs, and agitators who were committing treason. But their rebellion escalated into a revolution, and they won, so they write their own history, and instead of violent rebels, America calls them revolutionaries, patriots, heroes.

And now, America has become much of what it rebelled against, and black people are America’s most oppressed natural born citizens, so if the black community gives this country anything less than all out war, we are more gracious than your fathers. Though I choose not to participate in, or encourage violence being committed by members of the black community, I also refuse to denounce it. It only makes sense that violent rage is the reaction to relentless oppression. It is, in fact, the same way that white male colonists responded to it.

I do not hope for a black revolution, but I hope recent unrest will be a catalyst for reform. I do not pray with you for peace, if by peace you simply mean an America that stays calm, and silently tisks as authorities commit and ignore all sorts of injustice. Even apart from police brutality, there are many other reasons why Black Americans might want to start a riot. Dr. King may or may not agree with me, but I believe it is a very good thing that protests and riots concerning issues within the black community, and America in general, are starting to become more regular. These riots are not causing problems, they are exposing them. America can no longer pretend that things are just, and equal and peaceful. And if it tries to, the most oppressed among you just might set your streets on fire, again. Give us liberty, we’re tired of death.

–Micah Bournes

lyrics

PATRICK HENRY

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves...? There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free...we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight!

Set your streets on fire
burn your palace down
topple your empire
we want freedom now

Fathers of this nation
were not fearful men
give me liberty
or give me death they cried as they

Set your streets on fire
burn your palace down
topple your empire
we want freedom now

They were not servants
they were not slaves
but they were not equal
and that was enough for them to

set your streets on fire
burn your palace down
topple your empire
we want freedom now

the powers that be called them rebels,
violent agitators, terrorists
but they called themselves
revolutionaries as they

set your streets on fire
burn your palace down
topple your empire
we want freedom now

children of these patriots
honor them as heroes
but disdain the courage
of another people, when we

set your streets on fire
burn your palace down
topple your empire
we want freedom now

they call us violent agitators
they say "you're not servants,
you're not slaves,
aren't you free enough?"
And our answer...

set your streets on fire
burn your palace down
topple your empire
we want freedom now

and we'll press on for ages
but do not mistake endurance for patience
freedom cannot wait
and so we


set your streets on fire
burn your palace down
topple your empire
we want freedom now

Why are you surprised?
Did you expect us to be better men than you?
We are not, we are the same,
that's why we

set your streets on fire
burn your palace down
topple your empire
we want freedom now (2X)

Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? It is in vain sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, "Peace, Peace", but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! ...Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

///

MAKE IT BEAUTIFUL

Oh it’s murder and it’s foul
yes it’s ugly and it’s vile
but this town the only home I’ve ever known
Born a child of the exile
just might be here for a while
So I seek the peace, the peace of Babylon
yeah I seek the peace, the peace of Babylon

Old preacher always talkin' bout some place I never seen
promised land with milky streams and honey gold
old preacher always talkin' how it was and gonna be
but right now I’m only tryin' to make the most,
said right now I'm only tryin' to make the most

‘Cause it’s murder and it’s foul
yes it’s ugly and it’s vile
but this town the only home I’ve ever known
Born a child of the exile
just might be here for a while
So I seek the peace, the peace of Babylon
yeah I seek the peace, the peace of Babylon

The white lies of the rulers got us bleeding scarlet red
and all the bluesy people feelin blue
but if we burn the city
aint no place to lay our head
so we gone try to make it beautiful
yeah we gone try to make it beautiful

Oh beautiful
for spacious skies
for amber waves of grain
for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plains
Oh Babylon
Oh Babylon
Good God have mercy on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea

'Cause it’s murder and it’s foul
yes it’s ugly and it’s vile
but this town the only home I’ve ever known
Born a child of the exile
just might be here for a while
So I seek the peace, the peace of Babylon

credits

released July 3, 2015
Artwork by Lindsey Taylor lindseydi.com

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Micah Bournes Long Beach, California

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