Guide written by Nirmal Trivedi.
This autobiography by Congressman Ronald V. Dellums addresses the
central challenge that faces today's activists and politicians,
namely that of finding a balance between ideals and politics. Dellums
takes us to the heart of progressive politics in Washington while
maintaining a thoughtful and introspective tone about personal growth
in light of a lifelong commitment to public service.
As a man committed to the ideals of social equality, Dellums describes
his efforts to promote peace in terms of his time in Congress, and
the risks he took in holding steadfastly to his convictions. As
an African-American driven to end racist practices domestically
and abroad, Dellums recounts how he had "learned a long time ago
from my parents, particularly my mother, that you define who you
are, you don't let the other guy define who you are." This philosophy,
coupled with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. that "peace is
more than the absence of war, it's the presence of justice" sets
the stage for what Dellums considers his greatest moment in office:
escorting President Mandela to the stage of the House, marking the
end to apartheid in South Africa.
The autobiography is an extension of Dellums' politics through writing: "Maybe I'm wrong, but I believe the world is constantly moving forward,
that the march of life is a progressive march. I call myself a progressive
because it means moving forward, constantly rethinking, and constantly
reassessing. And with a very tightly drawn ideological perspective,
you get caught up in time warps, you get caught up in a narrow focus.
From my perspective there are values that transcend time."
Dellums' philosophical outlook of positive social change through
open communication was tested when in 1977 Dellums and his family
opened their home to an African exchange student. Expecting to meet
a person of color, they were surprised when a white South African
girl stepped off the plane, but no more so than the girl, a product
of the apartheid system who viewed black people as second-class
citizens. This true story, dramatized in the Disney film "The Color
of Friendship" is a testament to the challenges Dellums' faced in
his own life with race and politics, as well as a fresh perspective
to the problem of racism and the will to fight it.
About the Authors
Ronald V. Dellums represented California's Ninth Congressional District
for twenty-seven years. He is now president of Healthcare International
Management Company. He lives in Washington, D.C., and will teach
at Brandeis University's Heller School in Waltham, Massachusetts,
during the spring 2000 semester.
H. Lee Halterman was a member of Dellums's staff and his principal
spokesman, as well as the director of policy for the House Armed
Services Committee during Dellums' s chairmanship. He lives in San
Lying Down with the Lions Discussion Topics for Community Reading
- What are your feelings about the potential of political action
to effect social change? How did this book effect those views?
- Describe the relationship of Dellums to his Uncle C.L. Dellums.
What comments does this relationship make on the idea of role
- Think about the ways in which Dellums depicts himself as an
adolescent (i.e. character strengths/flaws, racial consciousness,
etc.). How does Dellums want the reader to think about him as
a child and later as an adult?
- How did Dellums enter politics, and what sacrifices did he make?
Do you see him as admirable for these actions?
- How did the political and social environment of the 1960s effect
the ideology of Dellums as a young politician? Did these initial
ideals evolve as Dellums became entrenched in more socio-political
- In the chapters "Sit Down Man-- We're Going to Win This One"
and "Revolution Inside the System," Dellums defines a political
strategy that he would use throughout his career. How does this
strategy of coalition-building work and in what ways is it "alternative
- Think about how Dellums describes the creation of the Congressional
Black Caucus (CBC) and his own appointment to the House Armed
Services Committee (HASC). In what ways does Dellums (re)define
the meaning of patriotism and citizenship. In what ways do you
understand being American or being a citizen of a nation?
- Think about the following quote: "like many of those who argue
today that they have achieved everything on their own, I failed
to recognize then that sometimes it takes collective action to
obtain the enforcement of our rights which in turn allows each
individual to achieve to their best ability." (p. 19) Dellums
appears to favor collective action, but in what ways has Dellums
been highly individualistic? What balance do you think is appropriate
for a politician?
- Perhaps a large part of Dellums' success in office has been
a result of his ability to change his way of looking at politics
(i.e. preferring coalition building to the outdated partisan politics).
Have local politicians changed the way in which you see politics,
or do they seem to repeat the same rhetoric?
- What do you know about apartheid in South Africa and what did
you learn after reading about the struggle to end it. Did you
or your community take a position on apartheid? Might you have?
Are there any anti-racism initiatives in your community?
- Think about Dellums' energy towards promoting peace in favor
of arms proliferation. Is this an issue you see as a contemporary
- In one of the final thoughts of the autobiography, Dellums comments
that "the current generation of young people has grown up in a
cynical era in some measure culturally dominated by the proponents
of reaction. They are removed from our victories, of the time
during which we moved history forward. It is my hope that this
book has provided both a measure of inspiration and the evidence
that principle married to determination can lead to success."
(p. 201) Do you consider this book successful in this respect?
Why, or why not?
- What actions do you believe are appropriate interventions, on
a local and national level, for you and your community to take
towards the goal of a more equitable society?
The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks by Randall N. Robinson
The Bridge over the Racial Divide: Rising Inequality and Coalition
Politics by William Julius Wilson
African-American Political Leaders:
Way Out of No Way by Andrew Young
Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis,
with writer Michael D'Orso
On Race in America:
Race Matters by Cornel West
Living With Racism: The Black Middle-Class Experience by
Joe R. Feagin, Melvin P. Sikes
A Conversation with Ronald V. Dellums from World Magazine
An excerpt from the interview with World Magazine. The full interview
is available at: www.uuworld.org
RD: "Peace is more than simply the absence of war; it's the presence
of justice"--a magnificent statement made by Martin Luther King. I
don't think he intended that as an ideological statement; he intended
it as a statement of principle.
World: Religious principle?
RD: Yes. And I thought it was an incredible statement because it helped
me understand my role in a new way. I said, "What this man is saying
is that there's only one movement, and that movement is the movement
for peace. What would America be like today--it is interesting to
ponder--if the anti-Vietnam War movement had really been a peace movement
in Martin Luther King's terms? What if, rather than, with the end
of the war, going home to celebrate victory, the movement had stayed
on the forefront and said, "This is simply ending a war, but this
is not peace. Peace is justice. Let's get on with the civil rights
movement. Let's get on with the liberation of women. Let's get on
with the liberation of gays. Let's get on with the preservation of
the environment. Let's get on with full employment and the livable
wage, let's get on with child care." Suppose that big movement had
stayed out there and said, "Ending the Vietnam War was step one. Now
we're going to get on with the unfinished business of providing justice
to people who desperately need it."