Friday, March 11, 2005
Back to a Feudal Future
So many hate lawyers; left, right and center. Attorneys are easy targets to use as examples of everything that is wrong with society. Trial lawyers, corporate lawyers and ambulance chasers, helping cheats and scoundrels get away with their crimes, all in search of a buck.
Lawyers, and the law, embody for many people the basest elements of human society and our conflicts with one another. As conduits for our darkest and most elemental disputes, perhaps some of that black energy rubs of on the practitioners of the law. Perhaps they even encourage it, appeal to our laziness, our greed and weakness.
Maybe it would be a good idea to get rid of them, of all of the hearings and paperwork. Perhaps people would become more virtuous if they couldnâ€™t find an easy out through bankruptcy, or hit the big payday through a civil suit against some deep pockets responsible for some â€œwrongâ€? they suffered.
It sounds so seductive, except that it is so wrong, and so dangerous to a modern society. Kill all the lawyers, and youâ€™re back to a land of lords and serfs. Trials by Ordeal, and Trials by Combat â€¦ just the sort of trials that already exist for the poor, minorities, the addicts and mentally ill. We are already on the cusp of returning to a feudal society, and recent moves by politicians by both parties to limit civil suits, bankruptcy and access to legal council for those accused of terrorism or drug trafficking are returning us to the dungeon, the debtors prison and the rack.
The whole system of filing suit, of jury trial and the rule of law serves to help diffuse differences that in earlier times ended in conflict and bloodshed. They are like valves on a pressurized chamber. All of that anger, hatred and indignation has to go somewhere, and the whole process serves to slow down adversaries from escalating conflict.
Perhaps more importantly, they also act as a bulwark against those with wealth, power and official office from acting with impunity. The system has never been perfect, and those with built in advantages will often use those advantages to bend the system to their will. However, the court system has served as the venue of last resort for those who would have no other recourse for their grievances. A venue that was already eroding, as funds were cut for public defenders. When Johnson launched the War on Poverty, paralegals became empowered to represent the poor in administrative hearings before government agencies. Today, many Americans donâ€™t realize that they can have a paralegal act as an advocate in administrative hearings, and funding for the poor to have access to such representation is lacking. More and more companies, and government agencies, are requiring forced arbitration on many contracts, restricting citizens who feel they were wronged from access to the courts to address grievances.
The underclass has already fallen to the new feudalism, but the Lords of the Boardroom and Inherited Wealth are stepping up the erosion of a system of common law built up over centuries. It is the vast middle class that will be put to indentured contract, while the poor languish in prison and redlined abandoned neighborhoods.
I fear that this road will lead to social instability and bloodshed. The peasants can only toil so long before the keep is stormed by pitchfork wielding mobs bearing torches, only now the pitchforks are semiautomatic weapons. The system of law that built up over the centuries grew because all the classes realized that it was to everyoneâ€™s benefit for there to be non-violent venues for conflicts to be resolved.
I donâ€™t want to see my country to fall victim to Guardsmen facing off against workers. I donâ€™t want to see new riots spill into our streets as one more police beating of a suspect finally drives communities over the edge.
The Bush Administration demonstrates their contempt for the Rule of Law nearly every day. They reject not only the World Court, but also our own courts. They lie and betray the highest standards of this country’s legal traditions as they arrest people with secret evidence based on secret regulations. They belie the idea that we as a people think everyone deserves a second chance, that mistakes and misfortune donâ€™t condemn our neighbors to a life of increasing desperation as they seek to restrict access to bankrupcy and civil suits to recoup damages.
We may not like lawyers, or the messy administration of the law, but doing away with them is far worse. Look back a few hundred years to see why. If Bush and his Neo-Confederate and corporate supporters have their way, you may not even have to look back.
Youâ€™re dangerously close to living in our new Feudal Future.
Friday, March 04, 2005
Imagine Thereâ€™s No Heaven
I always found John Lennonâ€™s suggestion to be kind of funny, since we have to imagine Heaven in the first place. No pictures are possible, or videotapes or carefully collected bundles of data collected with a NASA-launched satellite packed full of scientific instruments. â€œEyewitnessâ€? reports are subjective, and are the result of experiences grounded in altered states of consciousness or through oft-translated texts.
“Not fair,” some would say—“this is a spiritual question, and not about physical proof.” This assertion goes to prove my point: religion has no place in our system of government. It was genius for the founders to agree to leave something so subjective out of a Constitution that was predicated on the idea that human beings can reach consensus through debate and reason.
Iâ€™m not pointing this out to say that religion and faith arenâ€™t important parts of peopleâ€™s lives. For many people, throughout human history, they have been very important. When people lived in more homogenous, smaller communities, a shared faith was often the glue that held a people together, as well as helping to define who wasnâ€™t part of the community.
Why do we need faith and religion? For many people, the question â€œwhy are we here?â€? is a very important issue, as well as the question; â€œwere do we go when we die?â€? For others, religion promises an external and higher verification of their values, an unimpeachable foundation for morality. Some believe that human beings are so flawed, so imperfect, that only a higher power can lend order to human life. Finding answers, however unverifiable, for some of these questions provides great comfort for many people.
All of these foundations for faith are incompatible with the system of government our founders based in the principles of the Enlightenment. While individual citizens may find guidance and political direction from the answers their faith provides them, to bring those beliefs into the public square, and especially to attempt to impose them on others, serves only to break down the social order, and to make political compromise all but impossible. Religion becomes a cudgel that serves to silence opponents.
If faith provides citizens with comfort or a strong foundation for their moral choices in life, then I can only encourage them to continue to gather strength and inspiration from their faith. For too many Americans, however, their church and faith serve only as a shield and a club to impose their personal beliefs on their fellow citizens. For every Freedom Rider who crossed racial and social boundaries to fight for integration buoyed by an abiding faith, there have been menacing Night Riders who sought to impose their view of â€œproperâ€? Christian society through terror.
Thanks to persistent efforts by parties who insist that the United States is a Christian Nation, and the recent Supreme Court hearings regarding the Ten Commandments, once again the debate over religion is dividing Americans. In short, in the new millennium, as it has so many times before, religion no longer acts as a social glue, but rather an acid, corroding the bonds that enable us, despite the diversity of this country, to all act together as Americans.
Faith may serve very well to knit together small social units, but religion in the public square in a multicultural, multiethnic, multifaceted country like ours serves only to divide and destroy.
Civil Rights • Family Values • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Wednesday, March 02, 2005
"Entirely Appropriate" My Fat White Blasphemous Ass!
So I was driving home listening to “All Things Considered” when they ran Nina Totenberg’s story on the Ten Commandments SCOTUS case. As is her wont, she read excerpts of the transcript, so that we little people can get a feel for the back and forth of the oral arguments. One particular exchange set me off pretty good:
Totenberg read Antonin “Fat Tony” Scalia questioning the anti-Commandmenters. “[The Ten Commandments] are a symbol that the government derives its authority from God, and that seems to me entirely appropriate.” WTF?
Has that man read a history book? How in the hell can he be fit to serve as an arbiter of what the Constitution says when he doesn’t have the first clue where that document and our government draws its moral and legal authority from?
The Constitution is a wholly secular document, based on natural and civil rights of humankind. It owes far more to humanist philosophy than scripture; Madison and Hamilton and Jay and the others who formed the framework of our government and penned the Bill of Rights spent their time at the Constitutional Convention discussing the ancient Greeks and the contemporary French, not the Biblical Hebrews.
Hell, if the Ten Commandments truly were the basis of our system of laws, every teenager in America would be in jail for not honoring their fathers and mothers. I myself would be in the stocks because damned if I remember the last time I honored the Sabbath and kept it holy. How many Republican Congressmen are known adulterers?
Seriously, how in the hell can we allow Constitutional questions to be decided by someone who doesn’t know the first thing about the Constitution?
Tuesday, March 01, 2005
Talkin' Organizing, Vol IX: Ends and Beginnings
The end for Massachusetts Fair Share came suddenly and unexpectedly, going from 135,000 member households to bankrupt and out of existance in less than a year. That collapse illustrated the result of the failure of a key organizer, in this case Fair Share’s executive director, to live by a few of the key premises laid out by Alinsky:
The ego of the organizer is stronger and more monumental than the ego of the leader. The leader is driven by the desire for power, while the organizer is driven by the desire to create. Rules for Radicals, 61
If you respect the dignity of the person you are working with, then his desires, not yours; his ways of working and fighting, not yours; his choice of leadership, not yours; his programs, not yours, are important and must be followed, except if his programs violate the high values of a free and open society. Rules for Radicals, 122
MORE for more…
As Fair Share grew by leaps and bounds in the late 70s and early 80s, real power began to be created, campaigns at the local, regional and state level were increasingly successful, the growing membership through its dues and grassroots fundraising provided Fair Share with an income stream well into the millions of dollars annually.
Those of us in the Lowell chapter had long been skeptical of the ED, we’d seen too many cases where there had clearly been backstairs manipulations that led to his agenda being imposed on the organization, rather than the more difficult and time-consuming job of the members and leaders having full control of our direction. But the momentum of our successes had been such that to most of the organization’s leadership, things seemed fine. We were, after all, winning fights and gaining strength. It was a fool’s paradise, with we the leaders playing the fools.
In the spring of 1982, the fatal course was taken. An agenda called the “statewide mobilization” was rammed through the executive board, calling on all the local chapters to put their central emphasis on a statewide legislative agenda, and to relegate neighborhood organizing to a minimum. Many new staff were added in order to carry out the tasks of the “statewide mobilization”. Serving in many leadership capacities on both the local and state level, I had heard no call for such a redirection of energies from any member on either level. Nonetheless, the central staff agenda soon became our agenda. As the strategy and tactics of the statewide mobilization unfolded, it became clear that the whole point was to establish Fair Share as a “player”; we found ourselves mainly concerned with legislative coalition work, all the stops were pulled out to impress the state AFL-CIO and the Senior Action Council with our numbers, savvy, and clout. The entire resources of the organization for a year were thrown into the effort. Of the four legislative rpiorities of the statewide mobilization, one was passed, a state Superfund bill. Given the toxic waste problems that emerged during that time period, such a bill could easily have been adopted without any unusual outside pressure.
In the meantime, basic neighborhood organizing shriveled across the state as organizer time both in the central staff and the local chapters was consumed with the agenda of the statewide mobilization. And then the bomb dropped; the IRS asked, “Where is the payroll tax money?” and froze the assets of Fair Share. And it got worse, not only had the central office failed to pay the payroll taxes on staff salaries, but unbeknonwnst to the members, even concealed from the finance committee, was the fact taht the Executive Director had financed the entire statewide mobilization with loans, which the organization had no means whatsoever of repaying. A desperate effort to stay afloat by closing offices and cutting 3/4 of the staff was mere anticlimax, as the flagship of the nation’s community organizing movement sunk. That sinking was the direct result of the failure of the executive director to abide by the most fundamental rules laid down by Alinsky, but rather imposed his own agenda on the organization, and behaved not like an organizer but like a leader in seeking power for himself as a recognized “player” in state politics. The accuracy of Alinsky’s principles was proven--in the most negative of possible ways.
The Friends and Famly Plan: For those of us who had invested so much time, effort and more than all, passion, in the cause of grassroots empowerment the collapse of Fair Share was a bitter pill to swallow. I was no exception, and that was every bit as true for me as for any other. While I remained involved politically in various activities for the next decade, through the long years of Reagan and Bush I, no longer was I able to commit myself unreservedly, until I attended my first Dean Meetup. Suddenly I once again saw average citizens finding their own power, taking back their rightful role as citizens. I followed the “Dean School” methods, so similar to the grassroots techniques I’d learned in Fair Share, to reach out to my personal network of friends, family and co-workers, and signed up dozens of them. I don’t need to discuss here how that played out.
I found myself politically reengaged, but once again left with a final sense of disempowerment, once again my efforts and commitment all for naught, my hopes once more rendered useless by forces far beyond my control. What to do? It took quite a while after the collapse of the Dean campaign for me to regroup, I was utterly useless beyond being a wallet, throughout the hectic political year of 2004.
Oddly enough, messages started coming back to me after November 2, 2004. People in that personal network, people that had never before expressed any interest in politics, never mind active, started sending messages back to me: what do we do now? And the kernel of what I call the Friends and Family Plan took shape. To organize within that network of friends and family, to create a purely independent grassroots political structure, built on circles of trust in one another, circles that are not open to the vicissitudes of players in the power game. Through discussions, it became clear that those asking what to do were ready for the long haul, and the idea of the totally independent political network became more plausible. On Saturday, my best friend’s sister hosted a house party, of seven; we had dinner, watched a DVD of “Outfoxed”, and all agreed that the time when we could leave politics to the professionals was over. I am following up with two more people that have indicated an interest in also holding a house party. An email list is being created, by which all involved can participate in “rapid reaction” type work
Do you have progressive friends, neighbors, family, co-workers? Have you ever been organized in any meaningful fashion? If not, why not give the Friends and Family Plan a whirl? You might just be able to play a part in the process of creating a culture of political involvement and activism.
The Community Netroots Alliance: My other key interest at this point in time, as witnessed by this series, is to create a connection between the netroots and the community activists on the front line of the struggle for economic justice and community self-determination. All too often we hear people in the blogosphere wondering how we can bridge the digital divide, and cross the boundaries of race and class that so successfully divide us.
I believe I’ve found a way to play some small part in that process. Often obscured by the great issues, the war in Iraq, Social Security piratization, is the attack on the Community Reinvestment Act being carried out by this most ideological of administrations, at the behest of their friends in the banking industry. What those who have never been involved in community organizing may not understand is the significance of the CRA as a tool for community activists to advance an agenda of empowerment and economic justice. The attack on the CRA seeks quite deliberately to strip poor and working-class communities of this one small source of leverage they have over the financial powers that be. However, in a scattered and uncoordinated effort, pro-CRA activists have been able to throw a monkey-wrench into the plan to eviscerate the CRA. The main tool of pressuring the regulators is to submit “comments” to proposed rule changes. This is precisely the sort of action that is the forte of the netroots.
Wold you like to be part of this effort? To the end of creating an organized netroots force to stop the gutting of the CRA, along with a few others I have created a yahoo group, the Community Netroots Alliance. If you wish to begin the process of building progressive bridges across divides of race and class; if you want to help those poor, minority and working class communities struggling for economic justice anc community self-determination; if you want to jump into a fight where Bushco and their banker friends ahve already found a surprising level of resistance, then this is your invitation to join the Community Netroots Alliance.
Civil Rights • Grassroots/Organizing • Political Marketing • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Thursday, February 03, 2005
HUD: Too Many African Americans
In the early 1950s, a young Bobby Seale watched as his neighbors at the Codornices Village housing project in Berkeley rallied against the officials who had come to discuss the proposed eviction of its mostly African American residents. The scene left quite an impression on the young Seale, who went on to co-found the Black Panther Party in Oakland in 1966.
50 years later, another attack on African American access to public housing is gathering steam in Berkeley, this time led by HUD.
Quite a way to open Black History Month. More below.
During World War II, at least 50,000 African Americans migrated from the South to the San Francisco Bay Area, seeking well-paying work in the factories that supplied the war effort. They ran into entrenched housing segregation, which exacerbated the already cramped conditions in the region. The federal government scrambled to build housing for the war workers, and generally built along the bayshore, west of San Pablo Avenue (East Bay residents were adamant about not placing housing projects among their existing neighborhoods). After a struggle, African Americans were allowed to live in these complexes alongside white workers.
After the war ended, the cities of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond all tried to get the feds to demolish these projects. Instead the feds opened the remainder of the units to African Americans, who wanted to remain in the Bay Area and yet couldn’t find housing anywhere else. This battle dragged on into the ‘50s, when Bobby Seale remembered the residents of Codornices Village getting shotguns and baseball bats to meet the city officials who came to talk.
The image of a community standing up to defend its claims to be able to some of the resources of the community they helped create, to have a basic standard of living, was powerful to Seale, who carried it with him into the back office of the North Oakland Office of Economic Opportunity where, in October 1966, he and Huey Newton wrote the Ten Point Platform & Program that was the Black Panthers’ founding document.
Many of us remember the Sixties as an era of the Civil Rights movement, with someone like Martin Luther King at its head. Especially for those of us who were born later, though, that’s all we remember of the Black Freedom Movement. Liberation groups like the Panthers don’t survive well in our historical memories, and when they do, they usually stand in as an example of the “bad sixties”, the decline of the idealistic Civil Rights movement into an aesthetic of armed revolution that alienated moderate whites (as if the Civil Rights movement itself hadn’t already done that).
One of the central elements of the Panther agenda, and what helped make them so popular, was the demand for governments to direct real economic power to these communities, to allow African Americans to control their own neighborhoods. Getting and keeping access to public housing was but one of the specific goals they espoused, but it was an important goal.
Well, now that is under attack by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, which recently notified the city of Berkeley that they have too many African Americans in their public housing projects:
In its letter to the city, Hauptman’s [HUD Regional] office pointed out that while the 2000 census showed 15.7 percent of Berkeley’s low-income population was African American, 74.2 percent of the people getting Section 8 rent vouchers and 87 percent of tenants in city-owned rental units were African American.
By comparison, Asians were 30.5 percent of the city’s low-income population but 3 percent of the Section 8 recipients, and whites were 41.5 percent of the city’s poor but 22 percent of the voucher recipients.
Apparently it didn’t cross Hauptman’s mind that perhaps this is because the Panther effort to secure economic power for African Americans was blocked and failed, that African Americans have persistently fared among the worst of those impacted by the neo-liberal economic policies of the last 30 years. No, he and HUD prefer to complain that blacks are overrepresented - and instead, UC Berkeley students should be housed in some of these projects.
The city of Berkeley is trying to fight this, complaining that following the HUD recommendations would hurt all groups of color:
Barton [of the Berkeley city gov’t] argued that eliminating the preference would not decrease the number of African Americans, but it would reduce the number of Latinos and people with disabilities, while increasing the number of Asians.
If HUD rejects the city’s arguments, it will have to buckle under, Barton said.
He said that in the past HUD has criticized residency preferences used by predominantly white suburban jurisdictions trying to exclude blacks.
“To have HUD come to us and say, ‘You’re serving too many African Americans’ is exactly the opposite of the historical purpose of the equal opportunity review,” Barton said.
Now, as someone with personal experience, I agree that UC students face a housing crisis. And I also agree that HUD could help with this.
In fact, HUD has often done so. When I was a student at Berkeley in the late 1990s, I spent the Best Years Of My Life living in the student housing co-operatives run by an independent body. Several of the co-ops’ houses and apartments were constructed using low-interest HUD loans, in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. The last number I heard, from when I was on the co-op Board in 2000, was that they housed over 1,200 UC students. We had plans to expand one of the apartment projects into an adjacent lot, and were on the lookout for other multi-unit buildings near campus to purchase and turn into student-run, student-owned quasi-socialist paradises. But we needed HUD funds to do this. And with the Bush victory in 2000, we knew that such funds would not be forthcoming.
So, instead of helping expand the housing supply, HUD uses the plight of students to further their anti-African American goals. This is how we understand neo-liberalism: the decision to gut the public sector to benefit the private and assigning the costs to those who lack the political and economic power to resist.
If HUD’s recommendations stand, Berkeley might have to throw hundreds of African Americans out of public housing. It’s unclear where they’d go, given the fundamental unaffordability of the Bay Area housing market. In a real sense, we’d be right back to where we started on San Pablo in the 1950s.
How’s that for honoring Black History month?!
Civil Rights • Econ, Biz, Devel • Minorities Focus • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
VOTE NO! on Gonzales
Contact the Senate now.
ACTION ALERT: Contact Ken Salazar’s office NOW! He’s planning to vote “yes” on Gonzales.
Washington Office: 202-224-5852. Denver, CO Office: 303-455-7600. If you’re not a Colorado resident, call his contributors (listed in the comments).
3 FEB UPDATE: More commentary on today’s floor speeches. Keep an eye on The Rice 32 and how they are using their time on the soapbox.
UPDATE: The Gonzales Six—Lieberman-CT (term expried 2007), Landreau-LA (term expires 2009), Bill Nelson-FL (term expires 2007), Ben Nelson-NE (term expires 2007), Pryor-AR (term expires 2009) and Salazar-CO (term expires 2011).
ACTION ALERT • Civil Rights • Elections 2004-08 • Political Marketing • War on Terra • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Monday, January 31, 2005
First Amendment No Big Deal, Students Say
Courtesy of my buddy, MrJPH, who spent a couple days in jail in NYC during the RNC, and recently received his badge (of courage), ChÃ© tee-shirt, black bandana and Todd Gitlin Decoder Ring from the “I’m a Badass Protestor Club.”
WASHINGTON (AP)â€”The way many high school students see it, government censorship of newspapers may not be a bad thing, and flag burning is hardly protected free speech.
It turns out the First Amendment is a second-rate issue to many of those nearing their own adult independence, according to a study of high school attitudes released Monday.
The original amendment to the Constitution is the cornerstone of the way of life in the United States, promising citizens the freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly.
Yet, when told of the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes â€œtoo farâ€? in the rights it guarantees. Only half of the students said newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.
“Maw, the Neocons are breedin’ again!”
I hear that BushCo wants a single line of text stamped across the cover of all American History Books. "DEMOCRACY IS ONLY A THEORY"
More after the crease…
â€œThese results are not only disturbing; they are dangerous,â€? said Hodding Carter III, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which sponsored the $1 million study. â€œIgnorance about the basics of this free society is a danger to our nationâ€™s future.â€?
The students are even more restrictive in their views than their elders, the study says.
When asked whether people should be allowed to express unpopular views, 97 percent of teachers and 99 percent of school principals said yes. Only 83 percent of students did.
The results reflected indifference, with almost three in four students saying they took the First Amendment for granted or didnâ€™t know how they felt about it. It was also clear that many students do not understand what is protected by the bedrock of the Bill of Rights.
Three in four students said flag burning is illegal. Itâ€™s not. About half the students said the government can restrict any indecent material on the Internet. It canâ€™t.
â€œSchools donâ€™t do enough to teach the First Amendment. Students often donâ€™t know the rights it protects,â€? Linda Puntney, executive director of the Journalism Education Association, said in the report. â€œThis all comes at a time when there is decreasing passion for much of anything. And, you have to be passionate about the First Amendment.â€?
The partners in the project, including organizations of newspaper editors and radio and television news directors, share a clear advocacy for First Amendment issues.
Federal and state officials, meanwhile, have bemoaned a lack of knowledge of U.S. civics and history among young people. Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., has even pushed through a mandate that schools must teach about the Constitution on Sept. 17, the date it was signed in 1787.
The survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut, is billed as the largest of its kind. More than 100,000 students, nearly 8,000 teachers and more than 500 administrators at 544 public and private high schools took part in early 2004.
The study suggests that students embrace First Amendment freedoms if they are taught about them and given a chance to practice them, but schools donâ€™t make the matter a priority.
Students who take part in school media activities, such as a student newspapers or TV production, are much more likely to support expression of unpopular views, for example.
About nine in 10 principals said it is important for all students to learn some journalism skills, but most administrators say a lack of money limits their media offerings.
More than one in five schools offer no student media opportunities; of the high schools that do not offer student newspapers, 40 percent have eliminated them in the last five years.
â€œThe last 15 years have not been a golden era for student media,â€? said Warren Watson, director of the J-Ideas project at Ball State University in Indiana. â€œPrograms are under siege or dying from neglect. Many students do not get the opportunity to practice our basic freedoms."
Damned liberal universities. It’s about time we stamped out propaganda like the First Amendment. What the hell were the founding fathers thinking?
Saturday, January 29, 2005
Mr. Orwell, Your Table Is Ready
I haven’t cross posted before but THIS just made my jaw drop. Notice it is about the US but like so many important things recently, isn’t from the US media.
Four workers in the United States have been sacked after refusing to take a test to determine if they were smokers.
They were employees of Michigan-based healthcare firm Weyco, which introduced a policy banning its staff from smoking - even away from the workplace.
The firm says it is to keep health costs down and has helped 14 staff to stop smoking, but opponents say the move is a violation of workers’ rights. If the firm survives a potential legal challenge, it could set a precedent. Weyco gave its staff a stark ultimatum at the end of last year - either stop smoking completely on 1 January or leave their jobs.
If this holds up in court where will this lead, to what one eats (which is next on their agenda according to the article) or how one has sex? If you eat too much at home after work then that will raise the insurance rates as well. If one is gay one might have a higher percentage of HIV but what does that have to do with job performance?
Corporations are getting away with murder accross the board in the Bush Administration and if companies are allowed to fire people for what they do off the job we are all in a heap of trouble.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
The Counterrevolution Ascendant
As we sat and watched (or, like me, deliberately ignored) the crowning of an emperor today, a la Charlemagne in 800 or Napoleon in 1804, some of us probably wondered how it was that such a sorry scene came to pass. From red state/blue state to Kerry’s inherent weakness to Diebold to gay marriage, everyone has an answer, an explanation, a theory.
But I think those are all proximate causes. After the passing of 2.5 months’ time, I think we are at the point where we need to discuss the ultimate causes.
As such, we need to pay a little more attention to the conditions that created our present crisis. If we look at the mid-20th century as a period where Americans revolted against their system of government and its various oppressions, we might then be able to see more clearly how the coronation of Emperor C+ Augusts is the point of ascendancy of a true counterrevolution.
My argument is that the years 1930 to 1980, roughly, represented a period where Americans insisted on real democracy in an egalitarian society. These desires were not new to this period. But they took a powerful form, and led to some significant changes.
Prompted by the Depression, Americans generally agreed that the economic power of the wealthy elite had to be curbed. Their support of FDR and the Democrats was based on the voters’ desire for a just distribution of resources in order to solve the great inequalities that the Depression had exposed. FDR responded, though not with the same zeal that many had desired. And despite some very radical calls for democracy and racial equality, FDR was able to deflect much of the more revolutionary demands. He was first helped by the nature of the crisis, and by 1940 when his economic reforms had all but failed, his political program at a standstill, he was then assisted by the Second World War.
But the war did not end the calls for fundamental change. GIs were radicalized by their military experience. They took from it a further distrust of authority - the bitter conflict between GI and officer is something that every vet understood, but has been excised from our historical memory. The vets came home and demanded not monuments and parades, but access to the American Dream. FDR and the Democrats responded with the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, aka the GI Bill, sending millions of working-class vets to college and helping them buy homes at cheap prices and rates.
Like the New Deal programs, these vets’ programs were limited mostly to white men. Women and people of color made many demands during the war, some of which were met, most of which fell to the first, smaller reaction, that of Joe McCarthy. Anti-Communism was not really about Communism, per se, but was actually about trying to defeat the revolutionary impulse of the American people and re-establish the old, pro-business order.
This effort was at the time a failure. It stopped the New Deal and liberal reform in its tracks, but did not reverse it, and more importantly, did not eliminate the desire among most Americans for real democracy and an egalitarian society.
As prosperity came to America, people began to think again about implementing their radical goals. Although many Americans still clung to racist and sexist ideas, clear majorities supported Civil Rights as it got going full-steam in the late ‘50s, as well as much of the moderate feminist movement during the 1960s. By the 1960s, Americans of all kinds had begun to demand democracy and equality, and many were willing to see this happen.
But two things happened on the road to utopia. The first was that Americans turned on the Democratic Party as being insufficiently democratic. The second was that Americans began to become skittish about the limits of freedom.
By the ‘60s Democrats were linked to big labor and big business in support of big wars. When activists demanding social democracy and equal rights went to the Democrats in search of these things, they were turned away. First by Johnson at Atlantic City in 1964, and then by Johnson and Humphrey and Richard J. Daley at Chicago in 1968. Similarly, many large unions tried to quell rising protests among their rank-and-file over working conditions, shop-floor democracy, and such. And the widespread distaste at the Vietnam War was only belatedly addressed by Democrats, after many had become convinced that the party would never listen to their concerns.
Alongside the dislike of the Democrats’ bureaucratic, top-down ways came growing unease at the lack of social peace. As Democrats proved unable or unwilling to provide the change that people were clamoring for, discontent turned to violence. Riots, assassinations, bombings, and protests came to characterize the Sixties - along with massive social and cultural change. By decade’s end, many white Americans had become convinced that calls for democracy and equality had gone too far.
Importantly, they did NOT believe these calls had gone too far when they concerned whites, and well into the 1970s white Americans continued to insist on populist democracy and economic equality. But they had become unmoored from their allegiance to the Democrats, and were flirting with Republicans like Nixon or apostate Democrats like Agnew and Reagan.
The counterrevolutionaries would step into this breach. Conservatives had long hated the popular clamor for democracy and equality. They had never reconciled themselves to the limits on wealth and power that the 1930s had introduced, had never quite been happy giving up their racial privilege, their male chauvinism. Yet so long as voters felt the Democrats were following through on their democratic promise, they were happy to tell Conservatives to fuck off.
What happened in the 1970s is that conservatives learned how to pursue counterrevolutionary goals via democratic, egalitarian rhetoric - and many white Americans learned to buy this. Many white voters did not necessarily see any opposition between conservatism and their own dreams of democratic equality. And those who understood its counterrevolutionary nature assumed that it was directed against the uppity folks who carried freedom too far - not against themselves.
The stage was set, then, for a great con job being pulled on the American people. The economic crisis of the late 1970s sealed the fate - Democrats, unable to respond to that crisis since they had since 1968 been unable to unite on a positive agenda, unable to recapture the loyalty of votees, could not solve the country’s problems. And so Reagan won.
Yet Democrats remained a political power, and so the counterrevolutionaries set to work denouncing their enemies as, essentially, traitors to the revolution and all it stood for - perhaps as the Directory had done to Robespierre. The Liberals who had led the revolution from the ‘30s to the ‘60s were now cast as a self-serving elite - not without some truth, it must be admitted - that a simple and decent people should oppose. As the conservative state rewarded its fellow counterrevolutionaries with wealth and gave small but significant plums to its voters, others came to buy into the counterrevolutionary movement.
In contrast, Democrats repeatedly failed to understand their predicament - believing, quite incorrectly, that just a little adjustment here or there would restore their fortunes. Between 1968 and 2004, only two Democrats were elected president. One was a narrow victory over an opponent linked to a political crisis (1976); the other was a narrow victory over an opponent linked to an economic crisis (1992). Both Carter and Clinton were uniquely charismatic figures, and importantly, they both won by convincing voters that they too were democratic and egalitarian at heart.
But this didn’t last, nor did it solve the Democrats’ underlying problems, and the party steadily lost its grip on the Congress and on the states. By 2004, they had been reduced to a minority party in most of the country.
Worse, by 2000, many of the white voters who had followed the counterrevolution had begun to buy into its undemocratic and unequal tenets. They began to espouse more open racist and sexist ideas. They began to support the theologization of social life. They supported the loss of basic rights for those who they deemed as a threat, and supported the outright murder of foreigners they disliked.
And in 2004, they decided to silently nod when the counterrevolution asked if they could put a crown on its leader - Dubya.
So we can talk about gay marriage and Diebold all we like, but it doesn’t change the underlying fact that the counterrevolution has finally won. This doesn’t mean their victory can’t be made extremely short, that their tide can’t be reversed. In fact, since they can no longer claim to be a counterrevolution but are now in fact the clear power elite, room has just been made for a true revolutionary movement to again flower and claim the mantle of democracy and equality.
What this also means is that we cannot expect to just fine-tune a couple things here and there and expect victories and Democratic fortunes to be reversed. We need a thoroughgoing reform not just of the party itself, but of its message. We need the party to once again take seriously its commitment to the popular will - which is now what it always has been, the extension of democracy and the attainment of equality.
It is no accident that on the 40th anniversary of the Democratic Party telling Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to accept a junior status while also demanding their votes, the Democratic Party told Howard Dean and the Democracy for America movement to accept a junior status and yet demanded their votes. Howard Dean is most certainly not Fannie Lou Hamer, but the parallel is there - grassroots movements have 40 years of being deflected or denied by the party leaders. And the results speak for themselves.
If we want to undo this counterrevolution - and I certainly think we can - we must not feel ourselves bound to a party leadership that has proven itself unable to prevent the success of that counterrevolution. And I hope I have demonstrated that we must again speak a revolutionary language, a language of democracy and equality that addresses people’s real problems, provides them with real solutions, as well as a sense of real citizenship and involvement.
Unless we do this, the counterrevolution will remain ascendant, and our democracy will indeed be dead.
adapted and updated from something I wrote in 1999
Civil Rights • Culture + Arts • Econ, Biz, Devel • Elections 2004-08 • Political Marketing • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Talkin' Organizing, Vol V: Rosa Parks, Community Organizer
We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight. ~Dr. Martin Luther King
(Thanks to Soj for the powerful excerpts from Dr. King.)
Rosa Parks didn’t really like to ride the bus, for good reasons.
Parks recognized the driver as one who had evicted her from a bus 12 years before when she refused to reenter through the back door after paying her fare.
"I didn’t want to pay my fare and then go around the back door, because many times, even if you did that, you might not get on the bus at all. They’d probably shut the door, drive off, and leave you standing there."
The bus driver threatened to have her arrested but she remained where she was. He then stopped the bus, brought in some policemen, and had Parks taken to police headquarters.
But there was MORE to her story than is generally told.
Now, as the fairy tale version goes, Rosa Parks was just a seamstress, tired from a long day at work, simply wanting to ride the bus home in peace. I’m sure that’s all true as far as it goes.
Paul Loeb in an article originally written for Znet, looks first at the myth:
In the prevailing myth, Parks decides to act almost on a whim, in isolation. She’s a virgin to politics, a holy innocent. The lesson seems to be that if any of us suddenly got the urge to do something equally heroic, that would be great. Of course most of us don’t, so we wait our entire lives to find the ideal moment.
In the immortal words of Ron Popeil, “But wait, there’s more!” Left out of the myth are some critical facts. Rosa Parks was secretary of the Montgomery NAACP, having been first elected to that position in 1943. (I notice that the first incident with the bus driver would also have been in 1943. Coincidence? You decide.) She was active in the Montgomery Voters League, an attempt to prepare black residents to take the voting “tests” which were one of the barriers erected to maintain Jim Crow. I have no doubt she was tired after work that December day, but she was well aware of the rising sentiment in the black community in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, and also that leaders of the black community in Montgomery had already been discussing a bus boycott. Rosa Parks was herself part of that rising tide of sentiment.
Before refusing to give up her bus seat, Parks had spent twelve years helping lead the local NAACP chapter, along with union activist E.D. Nixon, from the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, teachers from the local Negro college, and a variety of ordinary members of Montgomery’s African American community. The summer before, Parks had attended a ten - day training session at Tennessee’s labor and civil rights organizing school, the Highlander Center, where she’d met an older generation of civil rights activists and discussed the recent Supreme Court decision banning “separate - but - equal” schools. During this period of involvement and education, Parks had become familiar with previous challenges to segregation: Another Montgomery bus boycott, fifty years earlier, successfully eased some restrictions; a bus boycott in Baton Rouge won limited gains two years before Parks was arrested; and the previous spring, a young Montgomery woman had also refused to move to the back of the bus, causing the NAACP to consider a legal challenge until it turned out that she was unmarried and pregnant, and therefore a poor symbol for a campaign. In short, Parks didn’t make a spur - of - the - moment decision ... This in no way diminishes the power and historical importance of her refusal to give up her seat. But it does remind us that this tremendously consequential act might never have taken place without all the humble and frustrating work that she and others did earlier on. And that her initial step of getting involved was just as courageous and critical as her choice on the bus that all of us have heard about.
Rosa Parks was a prepared and experienced activist and leader. She had received the state-of-the-art organizer training of the time through Highlander, long since a place that had made its mark on American history. She was probably well aware that, unlike the young woman the previous spring, the black leadership of Montgomery would find her a very good symbol for a campaign.
Parks’s real story conveys a far more empowering moral. She begins with seemingly modest steps. She goes to a meeting, and then another. Hesitant at first, she gains confidence as she speaks out. She keeps on despite a profoundly uncertain context, as she and others act as best they can to challenge deeply entrenched injustices, with little certainty of results. Had she and others given up after her tenth or eleventh year of commitment, we might never have heard of Montgomery.
Parks’s journey suggests that change is the product of deliberate, incremental action, whereby we join together to try to shape a better world. Sometimes our struggles will fail, as did many earlier efforts of Parks, her peers, and her predecessors. Other times they may bear modest fruits. And at times they will trigger a miraculous outpouring of courage and heart—as happened with her arrest and all that followed. For only when we act despite all our uncertainties and doubts do we have the chance to shape history.
MadmanintheMarketplace asked last week (to oversimplify) how do we make the little big, how do we connect our local activism to the large issues of the day. That’s always the toughest question advocates of the community organizing movement must confront. The story of Rosa Parks tells of how the involvement and perseverance of one ordinary citizen in organizing within her local community set her on a track to play a key role in changing our nation.
Civil Rights • Minorities Focus • Political Marketing • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Talkin' Organizing, Vol IV: Ego! Power! Leaders & Organizers
Welcome back to Talkin’ Organizing. I needed a couple weeks off--it’s hard work!
One of the distinctions I’ve seen drawn very clearly in community organizing, but I rarely see in other issue organizing and in partisan politics, is that between the leader and the organizer. Perhaps that is due to the fact that community organizing is so centrally focused on enabling the disempowered, the disenchanted, and the dispossessed to empower themselves. Leadership development is essential to the empowerment of the community, and the organizer is essential to leadership development. A community organization lives or dies depending on whether the organizer can bring forth the leadership potential within the marginalized and the outcast. To do so, the organizer must be of a character that doesn’t seek personal power or control, but rather stands ready at all times to cede any real or perceived power, in the interests of strengthening the organization by developing leaders.
So what makes a leader, what makes an organizer? Alinsky sees an innate differentiation of ego, of desire, of what drives a person into activism:
The ego of the organizer is stronger and more monumental than the ego of the leader. The leader is driven by the desire for power, while the organizer is driven by the desire to create. Rules for Radicals, 61
This is the basic difference between the leader and the organizer. The leader goes on to build power to fulfill his desires, to hold and wield the power for purposes both social and personal. He wants power himself. The organizer finds his goal in creation of power for others to use. Rules for Radicals, 80
MORE for more…
"The organizer finds his goal in creation of power for others to use.” But when you are organizing among the Have-Nots and the Have-Littles, the only power available to be created is among people themselves, through the organization and education that allows people to grasp and wield power for themselves.
Leadership development begins with the first contact between the organizer and a prospective new member. The organizer needs to find out what issues might motivate this person, and get a sense of why. Personal details always matter. First and foremost, the organizer must listen:
If you respect the dignity of the person you are working with, then his desires, not yours; his ways of working and fighting, not yours; his choice of leadership, not yours; his programs, not yours, are important and must be followed, except if his programs violate the high values of a free and open society. Rules for Radicals, 122
Further, we never know who the next leader to step forward will be, and what might emerge out of a person once they begin to taste empowerment.
People hunger for drama and adventure, for a breath of life in a dreary, drab existence…
But it’s more than that. It is a desperate search for personal identity--to let other people know that at least you are alive...A man is living in a slum tenement. He doesn’t know anybody, and nobody knows him. He doesn’t care for anyone because no one cares for him. On the corner newsstand are newspapers with pictureds of people like Mayor Daley [plus ca change!] and other people from a different world--a world that he doesn’t know, a world that doesn’t even know that he is even alive.
When the organizer approaches him part of what begins to be communicated is that through the organization and its power he will get his birth certificate for life, that he will become known, that things will change from the drabness of a life where all that changes is the calendar. This same man, at a demonstration at City Hall, might find himself confronting the mayor and saying “Mr. Mayor, we have had it up to here and we are not going to take it any more.” Television cameramen put their microphones in front of him and ask, “What is your name, sir?” “John Smith.” Nobody ever asked him what his name was before. And then, “What do you think about this, Mr. Smith?” Nobody ever asked him what he thought about anything before. Suddenly he’s alive! This is part of the adventure, what is so important to people in getting involved in organizational activities and what the organizer has to communicate to him. Not that every member will be giving his name on television--that’s a bonus--but for once, because he is working together with a group, what he works for will mean something. Rules for Radicals, 121-122
It is the obligation of the organizer to provide context for the nascent leader, to put the accumulating experiences the organization provides into a larger context, how the individual relates to the organization, how the individual and the organization relate to the larger community, and to the larger world of politics and economics. This educational process is frequently socratic, one-on-one, the organizer pumping the developing leader with questions, helping the leader to make their own connections, gain their own understanding. As always, the best teacher is experience, and it is up to the organizer to provide the members of the organization with the widest possible array of experiences.
The organization has to be used in every possible sense as an educational mechanism, but education is not propaganda. Real education is the means by which the membership will begin to make sense out of their relationship as individuals to the organization and to the world they live in, so they can make informed and intelligent judgements. The stream of activities and programs of the organization provides a never ending series of specific issues and situations that create a rich field for the learning process.
The concern and conflict about each specific issue leads to a speedily enlarging area of interest. Competent organizers should be sensitive to these opportunities. Rules for Radicals, 124-125
This has always been my favorite part of organizing, seeing a person simply blossom as empowerment broadens their vision and their horizons. This is summed up in my personal memory by an incident involving Phyllis R., one of the leaders in the fight to clean up the Silresim hazardous waste dump in Lowell. It was at the height of both the Silresim fight and the EPA/Chemical Manufacturers Association scandal in the early Reagan Administration; it was just Phyllis, our organizer Adam P. and myself in the Fair Share office. In the middle of the strategy session, Phyllis started laughing convulsively, and finally managed to gasp out, “My biggest decision used to be ‘what’s for dinner’, now I have to figure out how to overthrow the EPA!”
Of course getting to that point is a matter of stages, and the organizer not only presents the member with opportunites for participation, but with challenges as well, actions involving individual responsibility. At the beginning, these are often in the simple form of something like gathering signatures. I know that was the first task I was assigned, my baby steps as a community activist. My first organizer, Mary O., had been through the neighborhood, including knocking on my door. I’d told her at that time about my gripes with the Lowell Gas Company. About a month later, Lowell Gas filed a rate hike request, and Mary got back in touch with me, asking if I would get some people to fill out cards opposing the hike, to deliver to the Department of Public Utilities. I was still new to Lowell at the time, and didn’t really know too many people, but I said yes, just went around the neighborhood, knocking on doors, getting people to sign. When Mary called back in a week, I had 36 cards filled out--hell, yah, I remember the exact number! She immediately informed me that an “Energy Committee” was being formed, and did I want to be on it?
And so the process of leadership development for me began.
The call to building power for the disempowered requires the fullest democratic principles and actions in the internal affairs of the organization. If our aim is to help people empower themselves in the general society, then it is absolutely crucial that they be full participants in their own organization.
We learn, when we respect the dignity of the people, that they cannot be denied the elementary right to participate fully in the solutions to their own problems. Self-respect arises only out of people who play an active role in solving their own crises and who are not helpless, passive, puppet-like recipients of private or public services. To give people help, while denying them a significant part in the action, contributes nothing to the development of the individual. In the deepest sense it is not giving but taking--taking their dignity. Denial of the opportunity for participation is the denial of human dignity and democracy. It will not work. Rules for Radicals, 123
Full participation means just that. Everything from choosing the next issues, planning campaigns, developing tactics, executing plans, to organizational decision-making, fundraising and financial management, all must be continuously inclusive. Dynamically so, a constant flow of new people is important, as over time, earlier members and leaders will leave for a variety of reasons, everything from seeing their desired ends met to life changes to burnout. But an open, participatory, democratic structure of the organization, facilitated by the constant outreach and leadership development by the organizer, constantly renews and reenergizes the organiztion. It has the additional benefit that self-sustaining exclusionary power cliques can’t be maintained when there is a constant flow of new energy from newly empowered people.
The experience of empowerment, of leadership, changes the lives of those that become involved. There was a reason I was well-prepared to serve as a Meetup host in the Dean campaign, and it had everything to do with having been so heavily involved in community organization years before. The empowerment gained in that process is life-long, and allows a person to develop themselves in ways outside of the political arena as well, as becoming empowered is something that embraces the whole person.
It is clear to me that a nation where the vast majority of citizens are increasingly disempowered and disengaged serves reactionary politics well. If we wish to turn back reaction, to chart a new political course for the country, the culture of disempowerment must be broken. And that begins with the empowerment of each individual
While Googling for materials for this column, I didn’t find much useful, but I did come across a link to the oldest community organizer training center, the Midwest Academy, and aha! material for many a future installment of Talkin’ Organizing, they sell their training manual, and I have ordered a copy.
Books, Books! • Civil Rights • Political Marketing • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Sunday, January 09, 2005
Well I sure never hid it. Right up front in the first piece I lodged here (thanks to theoria and to em dash for the timely invitation) I made it clear: free speech matters. What is more, all manner of free speech matters but most particularly, most absolutely, political free speech matters. Whether one chooses or not to use it, it must be available. When the rather too suspicious conversation turns to “tone” and little quibbles that daily are as silly putty to the weather, censorship raises it’s head.
Reading during the night with thoughts of free speech in mind I landed on a column by the Guardian/Observer commentator, David Aaronovitch, referencing the recent televised showing by the BBC2 of the opera (!?! yes!) Jerry Springer The Opera ... Aaronovitch makes several points quite nicely:
(flip, you can skip the flop, we are quite dizzy, still, from the recent election)
On Friday evening a noisy group of Christian protesters, estimated by the Daily Telegraph as of ‘over 120 people’, stood outside the BBC and shouted that they wanted ‘No more blasphemy’. Earlier in the week the decision they were complaining about - to screen Jerry Springer, the Opera on BBC2 - was also criticised by a Whitehousean remnant organisation. ‘Why can’t they show Mama Mia instead,’ complained its spokesperson self-parodically. ‘That’s a show that many people like.’
Oh yes yes, the old saw, gather in the many for the mild. No thank you… if only for sheer novelty we shall embrace the perverse. Leave the many and the mild to their fitful diversions.
Remember: Not speaking of votes here but free speech.
Anyway, blasphemy running wild on a fully contained channel that one may turn off (clue) gives the (questionably) good church goers something to pray about. They should thank us (the libertines). From their knees, hands in prayerful pose....
And the language. When the fictional Springer is required by Satan to take his show to Hell he is told that non-compliance will lead to him being ‘tortured and toasted, barbecued and roasted. And fucked up the ass with barbed wire’. [oh ouch]
So funny are some of these lyrics that when a Church figure wrote that showing Jerry was ‘a major departure from the current high expectations of viewers regarding offensive material on a publicly-funded public service channel’, I found myself wondering whether the truth wasn’t the exact opposite. This is exactly the kind of offensive material that I want to see on TV - albeit when the seven year-old is in bed.
Well Aaronovitch is an adult. There you go. He likes free speech.
BTW, he sadly (and with some remains of anger) pegged Mr Kerry a loser in the late summer, right along about the time I wrote to Pelosi and explained why I would not vote for the nominee (if you don’t like reading that slap your own wrist, my vote is my vote). She had held a luncheon on the Hill in spring to express dissatisfaction to the useless and clueless Shaheen about the hapless campaign and was soundly excoriated on the net(s). Gee. One thing Nancy got right, complain early. Be clear and up front. Of course that was before Nov 2, she ain’t battin’ too fine lately. Oops Nancy: Do better.
Now that right there is some very (as in very) mild free speech. If it hurts, do do look away. But it will not be stopped.
Back to David Aaronovitch:
The director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson illustrated that point last week when he told critics that as a ‘practising Christian ... there is nothing in this which I believe to be blasphemous’, as if that somehow settled it. Blasphemy, however, is defined as ‘impious or profane talk’ and the word ‘profane’ is defined as ‘treating a sacred thing with irreverence or disregard’. I think we can say that Jerry treats its Jesus with irreverence; Thompson’s Christianity is just his own.
Quite right. There you go: don’t explain it away, or try to make it mild by insisting it is. It may indeed be blasphemy. It is still free speech. The many might care to realise that without the profane we cannot have the sacred. I am no christian (thanks be to somebody’s god) but this is undeniably true. And I do believe in both the sacred and the profane, having sensed both at work on the earth. A pagan can get it. Many christians get it. And muslims and so on.
Aaronovitch makes a few tart comments wrt religious institutions (which may of course live with many prohibitions, their choice) that also apply in different ways to many secular institutions, self-selecting groups and private clubs (who also may make their own rules, tho their ear drums may pop from the pressure, LOL)
That’s why it is so inappropriate that the cudgels were taken up by Christians specifically. It is true that religious institutions, with their emphasis on cohesion and denial [there you go!, cohesion and denial, core goals and core states of being for many institutions and private clubs], are often sensitive, but Jerry is simply not about religion. And those reporters who have described the show as featuring ‘Jesus in a nappy’ have misunderstood. This is not Jesus in a nappy, it is a Jesus in a nappy - in this case the Jerry. Jesus. You cannot - as the Church has - give kids Jesus at school, Jesus in carols, Jesus in hymns, give adults God in various guises in Thought for the [bloody] Day and the Lord knows what besides, and then not expect us all to have our own Jesuses. We do, millions of them and - frankly - they don’t belong to the Church.
Yes, Jeeeeesus! is out and free, the churches talked about him so much people did hear about him! And people will kick the baby Jeeeeeeesus! thru the goal posts of life. It will happen: irreverence will counter reverence. Be thankful (rejoice, whatever) or prepare for the ear drums to pop from the pressure!
What we are offended by depends mostly on us, not on the person doing the offending. Some Christians decided to be offended, but Jerry also features tap-dancing klansmen and The Producers, famously, features balletic storm-troopers. Blacks and Jews could easily decide that such levity was appalling. Instead they’ve decided that it’s not just tolerable, but wonderful.
I was still a child, holding my mother’s hand (pretty sure mother was smoking) as we walked to Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park. An elderly white haired gentleman, dressed in black, stood on a small box and my mother explained that any one could get up and say whatever. I vaguely remember some feverish tract that day, on what, well, gone with the afternoon wind, but he spoke freely.
One thing I note, partly, but only partly, due to safeguards taken in good time (such as the trust from 1932 that protects The Guardian), to my eye Rupert Murdoch obtains less purchase in the UK than he does here.
The great pity of America is that repeatedly she bows to self-censorship.
Susan Sontag, with whom I often disagreed, after 9/11 did what other Americans have done in the past, the farther past: Satchmo, to avoid the mob who wanted to get their hooks into him, lean on his contracts, etc. and the nearer past: Altman decamped post ‘00 selection, he calls America, BushLand. Sontag went to Paris for a while, to get away from America and it’s harrassment of her. I feel certain she received death threats (I can no longer remember precisely). Why oh why is that the ‘’early and often’’ response in America. We tolerate that speech (very hard to prosecute a threat). But not political free speech.
Liberte Egalite Fraternite. If those are in place, no matter where, and active inside our lives, we will have free speech.
Sorry this is delayed, the Guardian site was down for several hours
Civil Rights • Culture + Arts • Elections 2004-08 • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Thursday, January 06, 2005
Are You READY?
According to new findings by FEMA, it is better to run away from a nuclear blast than directly into it. I know that my personal plan was to charge past my melting neighbors and into the blinding light and screams. We need to get this info out to as many people as possible.
Are the phone lines down? Are your children missing? Is there a mushroom cloud on the horizon? Has the president been whisked away to an undisclosed classroom in Florida? Donâ€™t be scared, Felicity, be READY!
In scene #1, Bob is being sprayed with a biochemical that turns your lungs inside out. As you can see in scene #2, Bob is ready. Bob gets the fuck out. Scene #3 takes place after he gets home and his vital organs explode, contaminating the rest of his family.
Now, you HAVE to go and check out these videos. Discuss below, and remember… don’t be afraid!
Civil Rights • Pure Snark • War on Terra • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
21st Century Slavery: The Rising Tide
On 29 November 2004, the Governments of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Burma, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, which are the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), signed a declaration against trafficking in persons, especially women and children.
Less than two months later, that commitment is being put to the test.
“Dec. 26, 2004, is a day that will be remembered for broken homes, shattered lives and a generation haunted, and when we think of children, we think particularly of what the trauma will mean in the coming years,” said Wivina Belmonte, a UNICEF spokeswoman in Geneva.
For many children, the trauma that began with the tsunami, the loss of home and family, will become a lifetime of tragedy as they are tossed by the tempest into the hidden world of modern slavery.
U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) officers were alarmed when a colleague in Kuala Lumpur received an unsolicited mobile phone text message offering children to order, UNICEF spokesman John Budd said by telephone from Jakarta.
“Three hundred orphans aged 3-10 years from Aceh for adoption. All paperwork will be taken care of. No fee. Please state age and sex of child required,” the message read.
Although the message mentioned no fee, Budd said: “If you read that text message, and if it is true, then either they have 300 orphans for sale or they have the capacity to seize children according to orders received.”
As Americans, our consciousness of slavery has to do with the history of the transatlantic African slave trade that fed the plantations of the antebellum south. Our grade school history texts reassure us that “Lincoln freed the slaves”, and for most of us, slavery is a matter of the 19th century, when considered at all, it is in the context of the long-term social and economic consequences for African-Americans. But slavery, and particularly child slavery, are alive and well in the world today, to a degree that astonishes not just disconnected Americans, but some of the worlds most notable human rights activists:
"Slavery...I didn’t know about all these forms that existed. I think it’s largely because we
aren’t expecting it. It is hidden.
Generally people would not believe that it is possible under modern conditions. They would say ‘No, I think you
are making it all up’, because it’s just too incredible...”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
Hull, UK, 1999
As the ILO reports:
The International Labour Organization estimates there are 8.4 million children are in slavery, trafficking, debt bondage and other forms of forced labour, forced recruitment for armed conflict, prostitution, pornography and other illicit activities.
And now the children of the tsunami are being put on the auction block, in the most quintessentially 21st century manner: by text-message spam.
Generations ago, my New England Yankee forebears took up the cause of abolitionism. For much of my life, I have simply taken a quiet pride in that heritage. But I now know that their work remains unfinished, and so today, I became an abolitionist to help fight the rising tide of 21st century slavery.
Civil Rights • Econ, Biz, Devel • International Focus • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink
Thursday, December 30, 2004
Does Affirmative Action Still Matter?
One of the real hot-button issues of the 1990s - especially here on the West Coast - was affirmative action. Conservatives stoked a white backlash to the policy, resulting in ballot initiatives that limited or eliminated racial preferences. California and Washington were among the leaders of this movement, which resulted in court cases and anguished political discussions across the nation.
But it’s been a few years since the first wave broke. And, in fact, there have been efforts, some of them successful, to move back towards an embrace of affirmative action as a policy. At the same time, courts have been willing to uphold the policies of affirmative action, if not completely.
What is the status of the issue now? How has affirmative action repeal impacted education on impacted campuses? What, if any, are the prospects for a renewed commitment to affirmative action? I hope to answer these questions and more in this post.
During the mid-90s, there was a lot of abstract discussion about discrimination and unqualified applicants and such. You all know the drill - whites were being denied spaces in schools so that ‘some unqualified black woman’ or whatever could go. And, to hear the conservatives tell it, that person would simply flunk out due to their inherent incompetence.
Other, more ‘compassionate’ conservatives would claim that America should be some sort of meritocracy (which is fine by me - reinstate the inheritance tax and eliminate legacy admissions) and that any form of racial discrimination was wrong. They argued that in a pure meritocracy, skin color wouldn’t matter and everyone could have an equal chance of success and achievement. Thus, affirmative action was cast as discrimination, and the language of civil rights was employed to attack it. You saw Prop 209, the California anti-affirmative action ballot measure of 1996, cast as the “California Civil Rights Initiative” and Martin Luther King’s voice used in the TV ads supporters of 209 aired. Similar things happened in Washington State when I-200 passed in 1998.
Such thinking is patently ridiculous, but it was also quite effective, as voters repeatedly backed anti-affirmative action efforts.
In recent years, momentum against affirmative action and related outreach efforts has slowed significantly. In 2003, California voters rejected a “Racial Privacy Initiative" that would have barred the state from collecting ANY racial statistics, effectively gutting the remaining civil rights efforts in the state. What was significant about that defeat was that it was on the same ballot that saw Gov. Gray Davis recalled and Arnold Schwarzenegger elected in his place. Clearly, Californians were unwilling to turn the anti-affirmative action thing into a full-scale assault on civil rights.
The defeat of Prop 54 was not an isolated incident. Two years earlier the University of California - which had initiated the recent movement against affirmative action by discontinuing that police in 1995 - repealed that ‘95 act and instead directed admissions officers at its nine undergraduate campuses to implement a “comprehensive review” of applicants - which could include, though not be limited to, ethnoracial or socio-economic factors. As a result, the initial decline in numbers of students of color that had occurred in the late ‘90s was slowly reversed, at least systemwide. There remains a problem at the elite UC schools - Berkeley and UCLA’s numbers haven’t risen along with the rest, and much of the UC’s diversity has been directed to schools like Davis and Riverside - good UCs, but neither are they Berkeley (Go Bears!)
This sort of halfway covenant - where some efforts at diversity are accepted, but full acceptance of affirmative action remains distant - typifies the situation across the nation. Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger that the University of Michigan Law School’s ‘narrowly tailored’ affirmative action policy was constitutional. However, the UM’s more rigid undergraduate points system was thrown out in a sister case, Gratz v. Bollinger.
The case reveals that an essential part of the current halfway covenant on affirmative action is the notion that race not be the basis of admissions - and that the entire thing is a temporary effort. When looked at this way, the status quo that allows some affirmative action in education is a holding pattern at best.
So where do we go from here? There are voices - some of them surprising - that are calling for a reversal of the 1990s anti-affirmative action efforts. The Seattle Times, a moderate Republican rag that endorsed John Kerry for president and Shithead for governor, recently called for the repeal of Washington’s I-200 in response to a 9th Circuit Court decision in favor of the UW Law School’s affirmative action program:
If the three have been victims in any regard, it is of a political campaign to undo racial progress in Washington state. They were used to drive forward the dishonest Initiative 200, which outlawed state preferences for women and minorities in education, hiring and contracting.
Virtually every court has now spoken. Affirmative action can be used to craft thoughtful policies of inclusion and equal opportunity. Everywhere, that is, except this state. I-200 remains the mean-spirited law in Washington.
With significant court rulings on their side, it is time for the state Legislature to dismantle the law.
I-200 is a barrier blocking women and minorities from the aspirations most of us take for granted. Two years after the initiative became law, minority attendance at schools across the state was down. Most significant was the reduced presence of people of color at certain professional schools, including the UW’s School of Law.
The same trend holds in state construction contracts.
The courts have spoken. What says the Legislature?
[every once in a while, the Seattle Times gets it right, bizarrely enough]
The key here is that affirmative action can craft “thoughtful policies”. The devil may be in the details, but this seems to go along the lines of the halfway covenant I mentioned. Of course, the Times thinks we have a chance to go further and more completely embrace affirmative action as a policy.
But is this possible? My feeling has always been that affirmative action can be a crutch for a civil rights movement that lacks a bigger, broader strategy. This isn’t to criticize either affirmative action or the civil rights movement - I support both - but I don’t think affirmative action can be defended without rebuilding a stronger framework of civil rights language and action.
In the end, affirmative action won’t succeed in its mission - which is to improve the educational and economic fortunes of groups of color in this country - unless it is part of a bigger effort to revive the civil rights movement, especially K-12 education. Of course, education can’t be fixed on its own - one would also have to improve the lives of the parents, get them better jobs, etc.
I guess I’m more of a system-focused person. Without broader change, affirmative action will remain a contested issue. So long as the white middle-class feels squeezed, they will take it out on people of color in pursuit of cheap, immediate gains. Either we can work to redirect that desire - to get the white middle class to again see their problems as the result of business exploitation and governmental inaction - or we can work to change the system and revive our cities, reinvest in everyone’s education, and attack wealth-based privilege - privileges that hurt everyone, but especially people of color.
I don’t know which is the right approach, and it may well be that the two can be combined. But I do know this - simply defending affirmative action without contextualizing it in a renewed language of civil rights or populist, racially progressive economics will not provide any positive change.
Civil Rights • Education • Minorities Focus • Political Marketing • (0) Trackbacks • Permalink