Six Degrees

Susan Taylor Colin PowellFive former U.S. Secretaries of State gathered at George Washington University to give advice to the next president of the United States. Nothing profound or unexpected was uttered from a single one. It was more of the same – the same players living their comfortable lives speaking their politically correct language. I was hoping to hear something different considering the many crises we’re confronting as a nation.

At one point, someone in the audience asked if electing an African American president would send a powerful message to the world. Former Secretary James Baker responded that not only would Obama’s election impact us internationally but it would impact us domestically as well. He then went on to say that he was still endorsing McCain. This was a troubling answer but then General Colin Powell added that he had not decided who he would cast his vote for in November. He said he’s waiting until after the debates to decide.

I find it hard to believe that Powell, a man who enjoys close relationships with both candidates, would have to witness a debate before he’s able to decide for whom he’ll cast his vote. Surely, at this point, he’s well aware of each of the candidate’s positions on the issues that matter. My sense is either he doesn’t want his endorsement to impact the way the candidates are polling, or, if I looked at his comment more cynically, he’s waiting to see which of the candidates will fair best in the public eye before he decides which one to back.

Whenever I see Powell I’m reminded of six degrees of separation. Colin Powell was raised in the Bronx and so was I. In fact, Powell went to high school with my father, Martin Williams, and my aunt – Joan Allen. The three of them were in the same graduating class. All three are of West Indian descent. I’d always hoped that Powell’s experiences growing up in the Bronx, the son of West Indian immigrants, would give him insight other leaders lacked – that somehow he’d be less of a politician because he saw first hand the affect public policy has on the ground – I don’t know, with any certainty, that his background hasn’t made him a better leader. I do know that I expected more from him. I expected more when he was Secretary of State. I expected more after he left office. And I expected more watching him on CNN this week. But maybe that’s where I went wrong. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected so much.

This week, I met and was inspired by another person of notoriety who used to live in the Bronx, is Black and is also of West Indian descent – the former Editor-in-Chief of Essence Magazine, Susan L. Taylor.  Ms. Taylor gave a rousing talk at the Urban Issues Breakfast Forum — a talk  that stirred all 100 in attendance to stand and take action.

The driving force behind the success of Essence Magazine, Susan L. Taylor was with Essence for 37 years. When she was first hired, Essence had 50,000 readers, when she left it had 8 million. But after giving 37 years, accomplishing a lot and making a lot of money, Susan Taylor still wasn’t satisfied. This past December she left her cushy job to devote her time to establishing the National Cares Mentoring Movement an organization she founded because she was tired of reading the statistics.

sharon-kyle.gifSaid Taylor, “Failing schools, escalating crime and incarceration are sucking the life out of our communities. Enough is enough! Together, we must do what political will and public policy have not done: Be a lifeline and bring our young who are sinking to safe harbor. We are their only hope.”

I was reminded of Ms. Taylor’s challenge while I sat listening to the five former Secretaries of State. I was reminded that we, the people, have to stand up and say, “Enough is Enough.” I am waiting to see if my country will elect Barack Obama. If he becomes president I’ll celebrate but I won’t place all of my confidence in him or in any other leader to fix the problems that plague this country. We’ve all done this for far too long. We are as much to blame for the state this country is in as any member of the three branches of government — the legislative, executive and the judicial– all of these need the people’s engagement to work properly. When it’s all said and done, we’re all connected by six degrees of separation. There is no “us and them” when we’re experiencing financial meltdown, environmental catastrophes and the like. It’s just we, the people.

And the future of this country is up to us, the people.

by Sharon Kyle

Sharon Kyle is the Publisher of the LA Progressive. With her husband Dick, she publishes several other print and online newsletters on political and social justice issues.

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  1. George says

    Colin Powell lost all credibility with his UN performance to sell the WMD fairy tale. I assumed he was lying, but apparently he was just ignorant of the Pentagon Papers or was the original poodle. At least the Senators and Congresscritters who cynically voted for the war might have imagined their reelection was good for the country despite their treasonous vote, but Powell was personally secure enough to pass on the task. He is just a mouthpiece. Why does anyone care what he says?

  2. Hal Hurst says

    I was disappointed in Colin Powell myself, when it became clear that he was used as a tool by the Bush admin to deliver the lie about Iraq. This cost him his credibility and his career. I don’t know whether you would call me privileged white or not- I’ve never held a white-collar job and I support progressive politics. Now on the cusp of the historic retaking of the white house many are lined up to praise Obama’s vision of a politics of dialogue and cooperation. This looks like a refreshing change from the triumphalism we have seen in recent years.

    But I wonder how long it will take before Barack is being vilified and called a sell-out by those who hold extreme views on the left, when he attempts to walk a more centrist path, and achieve some kind of national consensus on vital issues? I would like to remind folks now that when our guy comes into his own we must be prepared to do all we can to bring in the center in order to form a workable majority.

    When you are on the outside you have the luxury of damning everyone around you. In order to use power you have to make nice, and be realistic, and work toward your goals incrementally.

    • Sharon Kyle says


      I understand that concessions are often necessary if democracy is to work. And you are right, it probably won’t take long before Obama is villified by extremists who will, no doubt, be outraged when he gives and inch in order to gain a yard. But we have to be vigilant in holding his feet to the fire and showing him we back him when he does the right thing.

  3. Dixie Dawg says

    Excellent article, Sharon! You’re absolutely right in that we, the American people, are as much to blame for the mess in this country as any politician. For starters, it is the American people who vote incompetent people into office without thoroughly researching their credentials and experience. Secondly, people become so “enthralled” with the latest political celebrity that they can’t see beyond the lights and cameras.

    How do I know this? ? Try to share an opinion on a particular candidate that doesn’t quite line up with someone else’s opinion, and see where you end up. It’s a shame because it lines up with three thing that has happened in the past few decades:

    1. Freedom of speech is slowly losing ground in this country and the electorate does not realize that when they “go on a rant” against someone’s political bias, that they are actually suppressing the right that the U. S. Constitution gave to us. What we don’t see today is intellectual and thoroughly researched political debate. People are not allowed to share their thought process on an election or on a candidate. Someone who doesn’t agree immediately “shouts them down” like a wild person.

    2. The American population has bought into the “concept of celebrity” forced upon us by the American media. We now see commentators who are angry, loud, rude, obnoxious and just plain egotistical. Most of them will not allow a guest on their show to fully explain their viewpoints or give them time to make a point. The arrogant host or commentator has to “butt in” and make sure his point is well-taken.

    3. The desire for money, power and material things has overruled the good judgement of the American people. Every day, there is a new self-help book about how we can become richer, more powerful and get more stuff. Each new millionaire guru tries to convince us why we don’t have enough and then attempts to place guilt on those who are actually satisfied with their nice, normal family life.

    To reiterate, money, power, greed and celebrity has taken first place over common sense, family values and the willingness to be content with what you have. This one statement explains why Wall Street is in an economic quagmire with the many multi-billion companies teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. People retained mortgages they couldn’t afford, purchased designer cars they didn’t need and bought into the concept that “more is better”. More is not better if you can’t afford it. Today’s population doesn’t believe in buying what you can afford or waiting until you can afford it. It’s a “I’ve gotta have it now” mentality that has permeated the very fabric of the American populace. …….Can’t Wait…….Gotta Be the First One in Line………..The “Me” Generation has systematically destroyed this great country; consequently, many of today’s politicans are a vibrant part of the “Me” Generation. Who cares who it hurts or what it costs? It’s all about “Me”. Who cares that this country will be in debt until the next millenium……….Who cares?

    So, until the population wakes up and smells the coffee, votes these repeat offenders out of office and makes an attempt to adjust their lifestyle to one of common sense and prudent spending, we’ll just continue to see more of the same, over and over again.

    People who are money, power and celebrity-driven do not operate with the same agenda that a person who is prudent in their spending, well-read on political issues and willing to stay out of the spotlight. People who operate on a “common sense” approach to life are just different people and these are the ones who built this great country. They got up every morning, went to do an honest day’s work, came home, had dinner with their family, went to bed and got back up to do it all again.

    They didn’t buy houses they couldn’t afford and people in the family shared a car until they could afford another one. They went to church on Sunday, actually saw the importance of celebrating family events and respected God, the American Flag and the U. S. Constitution. They knew and understood the importance of freedom and helping your neighbor. The Bible wasn’t considered offensive and politicians didn’t try to destroy everything this country was built upon.

    People didn’t go to work with the mentality to “mow down your co-worker” to get to the top of the ladder. They felt successful if they did an honest days work and had money to buy groceries, pay the mortgage and have a little left over to put in the bank.

    Today’s success is defined in a whole new way. “Disrespect your co-workers”, “sleep with your boss”, “spy on your neighbor”, “pad the books” and do whatever it takes to get to that six-figure income and mansion on the hill. Again, who cares who you hurt or knock down along the way. You got what you want and you oughta be proud of yourself.

    Until people have a “change of heart” and define their lives in terms of faith in God, family, hard work, and helping people as opposed to money, power and material possessions, nothing will change and corrupt politicians will stay in office. American life as we long knew it – is gone and I’m afraid this time, it’s gone for good.

    • Sharon Kyle says

      Thank you Dixie Dawg,

      I think history has demonstrated that it takes a lot to kill the human spirit. So although I’m disheartened by what I see on the political horizon and especially when I look at the uneducated disinterested masses, I believe there will be a “change of heart” but unfortunately it is most likely to happen when we are all in real crisis. Although I say there is no “us and they” during crisis, there are those who will suffer more than others. Historically, in this country, the ones that suffer the most are the marginalized groups. I am a member of that class of people.

    • Lois H. says

      Hey Dixie Dawg. My question to you is: why do we need to define our lives in terms of “faith in God” (you named this first) to realize a “change of heart” in the definition of our lives? After watching peoples’ belief in their different “Gods” compel them into holy wars, and our own president define countries as “good” or “evil”, I believe that the founding fathers were most wise to separate religion completely from government. It is becoming more and more apparent to me that this might be a good idea for people, too. I see different interpretations of “faith in God” dividing the world and the people in this country, inciting fundamentalists of all religions to act despicably. I guess what I am saying is that I think man’s “faith in God” is one of the biggest causes of the current bad behavior you describe in your comment. After just seeing David Maher’s movie “Religilous” and reading Sam Harris’s best seller, “Letter to a Christian Nation”, I am more convinced than ever that “faith in god” is not the way to go if we want to see a more loving, tolerant, rational and respectful world community.

  4. says

    Sharon – this is a superb article.

    I tevo’d the program with these 6 Secretaries of State last night and watched them when I got home. I, too, was disappointed in Powell – as I ALWAYS am. For me, Colin Powell is an overrated man – the perfect black “leader” concocted by the white ruling class to do its bidding. He tows the line that’s set for him. He never crosses it, stretches it, or attempts to break it. For me, this son of the Bronx is more a coward than a hero.

    I’ve written harshly of Powell. I’ve written that his mantra of “I serve at the pleasure of the President,” which he used during his tenure as Secretary of State for Bush 43, was more akin to, “I serve at the pleasure of the Massa.” I know that’s a harsh assessment, but Colin Powell for me, was never an independent man. He was purposely overrated by those who created him so they could use him. He’s done an enormous disservice to black leadership by his blind allegiance to those who are ignoble.

    The fact that Powell is too much a coward to publicly endorse Barack Obama, fearing being tagged for black loyalty, is further evidence of his lack of leadership and independence. He states he “loves” John McCain and calls himself “an American first.” If Powell were truly “an American first” he’d be appalled by McCain’s choice of Palin, and by McCain’s lies, distortions and lack of ethics throughout this campaign. Colin Powell continues to be a bitter disappointment and a constant enabler for the white ruling class. My hope is someday his backbone will fuse – but after his egregious performance at the United Nations which laid the path for the Iraq War, Powell can never fully rehabilitate for me.

    Thanks, too, for the revelation about Susan Taylor. Contrasting Taylor with Powell made for a truly brilliant essay.

    • Sharon Kyle says


      You and I are usually on the same page. And this is certainly an area where we have a meeting of the minds. The biggest difference is in the way we deliver a message.

      I have to be honest and admit that I am truly and deeply saddened to have to acknowledge openly that I have no confidence in Colin Powell. We all want heroes. I just have to come to terms with the death of a myth.

      • Linda Maria says

        I agree…it’s the death of a myth. I thought I was just an average American…one who voted from her heart instead of her brain. But for this election, I am researching as much as I can about the presidential candidates, their VP selections and anything else I can focus my eyes/mind on. I am a proud Democrat but also a proud American. I watched/listened to all five of the Secretaries of Defense in hopes they would say something I hadn’t heard before. Hmph…It was the same old stuff from all of them. There was no reason for them to tell me who they were voting for because I could tell from what there were saying. I really needed Powell to step up to the plate and say he was voting for Obama. Hell, I wouldn’t have even thought anything about black loyalty. He would’ve gained some of my respect back for doing the right thing. I did have a laugh when they were speaking about climate change and Albright mentioned, ‘..except in Alaska.’
        One other thing…I went to the doctor the other day. They have a flatscreen TV up in the waiting room which was on one of the cable news channels talking about Obama and McCain. One of the ladies who was waiting got up and asked one of the administrative assistants to change the channel. I turned around and said, ‘Some of us want this channel to learn something from these people before we vote in 6 weeks.’ The channel wasn’t switched but it amazed me how people want to watch crap on TV rather than put some useful information into their minds. No wonder my state (Arizona) is a Red State.

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