Colin Powell is coming to Seattle on Wednesday for a conversation around his new book It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership.
City Club (which also supports the Globalist), is organizing the event and has put up billboards around town. In the online advertisement, they urge you to join the conversation with Powell as he “reveals the unique lessons that have shaped his life and legendary career in public service.”
Powell is a unique man who will certainly be a household name for years to come. He was born in Harlem to Jamaican immigrants and rose through the ranks to become a four star general and then Secretary of State. He was encouraged to run for President himself and then famously crossed party lines to endorse Obama in 2008.
He also had the good taste to marry a woman named Alma.
Among Powell’s military achievements are his role as a senior military advisor the 1983 invasion of Grenada in Operation Urgent Fury, which the UN called a “a flagrant violation of international law,” in the 1986 bombing of Libya in Operation El Dorado Canyon. Later, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he oversaw the invasion of Panama in 1989 and the first Gulf War.
And then of course, he gave the fear-filling speech at the UN Security Council in 2003 that instigated the world to go to war against Iraq. He has since reflected on this speech publicly many times, including in this recent NPR interview that is worth a listen.
I want to acknowledge the context of Powell’s life. He is a black second generation immigrant who needed and wanted to make a life for himself, one different than what most black, immigrant children had access to in this country. I get it.
But I find myself taking Powell’s words of wisdom with a smirk. Here is a black man who joined the military (an institution that recruits and jeopardizes the lives of mainly the poor and people of color), while killing in the name of equality and freedom, then joined the Republican Party (built on institutionalized racism and segregation), and now he writes a book, unfortunately titled, It Worked for Me.
What exactly worked for Mr. Powell? Yes, working hard worked for him. But it is still not enough for most US citizens and immigrants, who continue to struggle for basic needs in spite of their hard work. Yes, joining the military worked for him, but at what cost and who footed the bill in the short and long term? Yes, the Republican Party worked for him, but what about women who are endangered by constant cuts in health care that forbid them abortions?
Some of his words of advice in the advertisements for Wednesday’s event are “Get mad, then get over it,” “Share credit,” and “Remain calm. Be kind.”
Get mad and get over it? Getting mad has created the Civil Rights Movement, the women’s liberation movement, the Occupy movement, and the Arab Spring. When should we get over our anger Mr. Powell?
Then there is the “be kind.” I can’t help but wonder when should one show kindness and to whom? The war on Iraq in 2003 came after near-total economic and trade sanctions posed by the UN on Iraq that started in 1990. Leaving Iraqis without wheat and pencils (for fear they would use them in building weapons of mass destruction) for 13 years. Then came the invasion of Iraq. Kindness indeed.
Mr. Powell, I want to believe that your words of wisdom and advice are genuine. Maybe all this terror is not your fault; you were a soldier following orders; you were the messenger of a report you did not write or research. And we are told not to blame the messenger.
I wonder if the Seattlelites who attend Powell’s talk Wednesday will find inspiration in the narratives of what worked for him, if they will find advice relevant to their own lives. Or will they ask him the tough questions about exactly how what worked for Powell is going to work for them?
I am hoping for the latter.
Colin Powell will speak in Seattle at the Westin Seattle (1900 5th Ave, Seattle WA 98101) from 8-9pm. Event prices: one ticket and one book for $35 and two tickets and one book for $50. Tickets here.
Alma Khasawnih was born in Amman to a Jordanian father and a Palestinian-Syrian mother. She immigrated to the US in 1996 and received a passport in 2002. The city she feels most affinity to in the US is Detroit, but she lives in Seattle now and wants to grow old in Barcelona. Alma is a regular columnist for the Globalist and works with CD Forum as the Marketing & Outreach Coordinator.