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Revolution #57, August 20, 2006
US and Israeli Atrocities in Lebanon Continue:
The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy, but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism.
As this article is being written there have been rapid developments in the U.S./Israeli war war on Lebanon. The United Nations Security Council has passed a ceasefire resolution (#1701). Despite the vote in the Security Council, the Israeli military launched a major escalation of the war. Forty thousand Israeli troops and tanks have crossed into Lebanon and are facing resistance from Hezbollah. Israel’s top general, Dan Halutz, told reporters that Israel “will continue to operate until we achieve our aims.”
Israeli combat jets attacked across all of Lebanon, bombing northern roads leading to Syria, destroying a power plant in the major southern city of Sidon, which will likely be without power for 10 days. Fifteen Lebanese civilians were killed or injured when fighter-bombers hit a village near the southern port city of Tyre.
Aljazeera reported that one person had been killed and 12 others injured in 10 Israeli air raids in Baalbek (in northern Lebanon near the Syrian border) and surrounding villages on Saturday, Oct. 12. The strikes targeted residential areas and had hit a building containing clinics, shops and houses.
“I think if you think of what’s happening in Lebanon and Israel right now, you see the face of the beginning of the 21st century.”
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
in a radio interview on August 2
“[W]e have been given an extraordinary opportunity by our enemies…It was never possible to ‘win in Iraq’ so long as we insisted on fighting in Iraq alone. You can not win a regional war by playing defense in one country. It was, and remains, a sucker’s game.”
Neoconservative strategist Michael Ledeen,
who has been described as
Karl Rove’s main foreign policy advisor
National Review, July 31, 2006
As the bloody U.S/Israeli war against the people of Lebanon enters its second month, the estimated death toll stands at over 1,000 Lebanese dead, the vast majority civilians; the exact number cannot be determined because many bodies cannot be retrieved due to Israeli bombardment in the south. In the deadliest single incident in the war so far, Israeli air strikes on August 1 took more than 40 lives, including many children, in the bombing of an apartment building in the Chiya district of Beirut.
All of the major highways into Lebanon have now been cut and there is a naval blockade off the coast. Gasoline and fuel for generating electricity are running short. A Lebanese government official estimated that supplies could run out by August 13. The World Health Organization warned that if fuel is not delivered soon, 60 percent of the hospitals in Lebanon, overcrowded with the injured from the war, will “simply cease to function.”
Many of the towns in southern Lebanon have been reduced to rubble. The situation for the estimated 100,000 people remaining in the southern region is extremely difficult. Khaled Mansour, the chief United Nations spokesman in Lebanon, said that U.N. aid convoys had been halted because Israel had destroyed the last bridge over the Litani River and has refused to let international aid workers repair it.
The group Doctors Without Borders is courageously continuing to help those in southern Lebanon despite the difficulties in reaching the area and Israeli warnings that all vehicular traffic south of the Litani could be fired upon. The group’s president, Rowan Gillies, said in Beirut: “To forbid all forms of movement, without distinction, will lead to even more civilian deaths and suffering.”
An estimated one million people, over a quarter of the entire population of Lebanon, have been forced to flee their towns and villages. The World Food Program warned of an impending food crisis because of population displacement and a disrupted harvest.
But now the U.S. and Israel have determined that all this is not enough, that more suffering is required to bring about U.S. and Israeli strategic objectives. The Israeli War Cabinet on Wednesday, Oct. 9, approved a major escalation of the war, a full invasion by Israeli troops into Lebanon.
In an indication of how integrally involved the U.S. is with every decision made about the war, Haaretz newspaper revealed that during a break in the cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert telephoned U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, talking to her for 30 minutes giving her the latest details on the cabinet’s deliberations.
Israel is fighting with armaments and funds supplied by the U.S., with U.S. approval and in the service of U.S. political and strategic goals. The methods employed in this U.S./ Israeli war—wreaking the maximum destruction and death on the country’s infrastructure and civilian population—are a naked expression of its political aims.
The targets and methods of the war show that Israel is not focusing on engaging Hezbollah to protect itself as it claims but to serve the U.S./Israeli aim of transforming Lebanon into a state subservient to U.S. and Israeli interests. This not only entails destroying Hezbollah but, as an article from A World to Win News Service points out, the aim is “to decimate and demoralize Lebanon’s Shia while presenting the upper classes of other ethnic communities with a choice between cooperating with Israel or dying, either immediately under Israeli bombs or strangled by the lack of fuel and even food supplies.” (“UN Security Council brings Lebanon into its gun sights,” August 7, 2006)
Another article from AWTW News Service points out the big lie behind Israel claims of “self defense.” “Israeli blamed Hezbollah for the Qana massacre, supposedly for using the population as ‘human shields,’” writes AWTW News Service. “But afterwards, survivors invited visiting journalists to search the town and see if they could find any evidence that it was being used for military purposes. The American CNN news team, for instance, could not. Even if they had, the Israeli army has extensive bases and other military facilities in its cities, the kibbutzim and other settlements in northern Israel are military installations in themselves and every able Israeli adult is an active duty or reserve soldier.”(“Qana: targeted killing,” July 31, 2006)
Hezbollah does not represent a progressive force, but the Islamic fundamentalist trend, of which Hezbollah is a part, is an obstacle to unfettered U.S. regional hegemony over the Middle East.
While the prospect of wider war in the Middle East is a horrible outrage, the forces at the core of the U.S. ruling class see this as an opportunity. They see the need not only to defend the current imperialist dominated set-up in the Middle East, but to transform it, in order to deepen the U.S.’s grip on the region and its strategic oil reserves as part of a broader agenda to create an imperialist empire that is both unchallenged and unchallengeable across the entire globe for decades to come.
Neoconservative strategist Michael Ledeen, who has been described as Karl Rove’s main foreign policy advisor, wrote: “We have been given an extraordinary opportunity by our enemies… It was never possible to ‘win in Iraq’ so long as we insisted on fighting in Iraq alone. You can not win a regional war by playing defense in one country. It was, and remains, a sucker’s game.” Ledeen also aruges that “Any logical person has to conclude that you cannot win this war without defeating Syran [Ledeen’s term for Syria and Iran].” (National Review, July 31, 2006)
|In his July 29 radio address, Bush said, “We have launched a forward strategy for freedom in the broader Middle East, and that strategy has set in motion a transformation that is changing millions of lives for the better.”|
The Christian Science Monitor reported that “The White House, and in particular White House advisors who belong to the neoconservative movement, allegedly encouraged Israel to attack Syria as an expansion of its action against Hezbollah, in Lebanon.” (CSM, August 9, 2006). In a July 30 article in the Jerusalem Post, cited by the Monitor, Israeli Defense officials said they were receiving messages from the U.S. encouraging Israel to attack Syria.
In his July 29 radio address, Bush said, “We have launched a forward strategy for freedom in the broader Middle East, and that strategy has set in motion a transformation that is changing millions of lives for the better.”
What is being shown in Lebanon is, instead, the blood-spattered basis on which the U.S. plans to build its new Middle East. What we are witnessing is a continuation of over a century of crimes of imperialist domination over the region, especially its oil resources and the strategic advantage that affords. But beyond this, the U.S. is now unleashing Israel in a qualitatively greater way in order to more thoroughly open up the region to U.S. capital and more completely integrate it into the U.S. empire.
It appears that so far the war has not gone as Israel and the U.S. expected. As A World To Win News Service wrote: “The invasion has not gone as Israel expected. Instead of fighting to the death to defend territory, as Israel hoped, the Hezbollah fighters have sought to inflict as much damage as possible on the invaders, using tunnels and other means to neutralize some of the impact of Israeli air power, while avoiding decisive engagements… They say their aim is to draw Israel deeper into Lebanese territory, so that its supply lines are stretched thin and its soldiers have to fight on exterior lines. Israel, for its part, seems to fear nothing more. Its army has hugged the border, so that its armored columns can get the constant replenishment on which they depend. Its main attempts to strike deeper into Lebanon through helicopter-transported commando raids, in Tyre and especially Baalbek, have resulted in heavy civilian casualties but no notable military successes.”
When Israel began the war it announced that its objectives were to destroy Hezbollah, and change the “rules of the game” in the Middle East. It now appears that despite all the terror and destruction Israel has inflicted it may have to settle for more limited goals.
This has sparked fighting within Israel’s ruling elite. A front-page editorial in the liberal Zionist newspaper Haaretz called on Prime Minister Olmert to resign, saying, “You cannot lead an entire nation to war promising victory, produce humiliating defeat and remain in power.” Another editorial was titled: “Failure to defeat Hezbollah diminishes Israel’s value to U.S.”
Further escalation of the war carries big risks for Israel and the U.S. There is a likelihood of much more extensive casualties to the Israeli military. It was reported that shouting broke out over this at the Israeli Cabinet meeting that approved the escalation.
Israeli-U.S. atrocities are fueling an outpouring of anger in the Arab world, destabilizing the region and making it more difficult for reactionary Arab rulers to side with the U.S. However, despite the difficulties and dangers, the U.S. and Israel may feel compelled to stay on the offensive to realize their full objectives.
Despite the Security Council resolution, there is the possibility that events in the region could spin wildly out of control in unpredictable ways. “A chain reaction could spread quickly almost anywhere between Cairo and Bombay,” Richard Holbrooke, former Ambassador to the United Nations and Assistant Secretary of State, warned that the situation “poses the greatest threat to global stability since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, history’s only nuclear superpower confrontation.”
All those who see the horror of what is going on in Lebanon, and who do not want to see this become “the face of the 21st century,” have a responsibility to act. As we wrote in last week’s editorial:
“There has to be a serious effort to mobilize massive political resistance to STOP this. To STOP this whole invasion and to reverse the whole course that this is part of. To take a leap out of the confines of “protest as usual”—which does not seriously challenge the way things are and the way they are heading—and to bring in a whole different political dynamic.”
Revolution #57, August 20, 2006
U.S. Expected to Expedite Cluster Bombs to Israel
On July 11, the New York Times reported that the U.S. is expected to grant Israel’s request to speed up a shipment of M-26 artillery rockets packed with cluster munitions. Cluster weapons are one of the most vicious anti-personnel weapons in the U.S. arsenal, combining high-tech design with medieval barbarism. They feature a large number of soda-can-size bombs that scatter and explode, spreading metal fragments over a very large area. They deliver extensive damage to civilian populations. They are especially dangerous because a significant percentage of the “soda cans” fail to explode and can later detonate when a child picks one up.
The U.S. stopped selling cluster bombs to Israel in the 1980s after Israel was exposed for using the weapons against civilians in its 1982 invasion of Lebanon. The U.S. resumed selling the weapons to Israel in the 1990s. A recent report by Human Rights Watch uncovered evidence that Israel had fired cluster munitions in the current war, including in an attack on the Lebanese village of Bilda, which killed one civilian and wounded at least 12 others, including seven children.
U.N. Security Council resolution #1701, drafted by the U.S. and France, in close consultation with Israel, is part of the same process and serves the same imperialist political ends as the U.S./Israeli war. Announcing the decision of the Israeli cabinet to escalate the war, Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said on Israeli radio, “We are doing everything to allow these two efforts [military and diplomatic] to complement each other. We’ll see the military operation as having created the diplomatic climate and a new situation.” If diplomacy fails, Peretz said, Israel will “use all of the tools” to win the war.
This resolution is unjust and cannot be supported by the people.
First, the UN resolution legitimizes the Israeli aggression against Lebanon. The resolution reads: “Expressing its utmost concern at the continuing escalation of hostilities in Lebanon and in Israel since Hezbollah’s attack on Israel on 12 July 2006, which has already caused hundreds of deaths and injuries on both sides, extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons.”
This paragraph portrays the bombing and destruction of an entire country as a “conflict between Hezbollah and Israel.” It blames Hezbollah for starting the war, covering up the truth that an all-out war against Lebanon was in the planning stages well before July 12.
The resolution denies the history of the region, from the establishment of the state of Israel on land stolen from the Palestinian people to the genocidal actions by Israel in Gaza and the West Bank today. It ignores the illegal occupation by Israel of southern Lebanon for 18 years, and the many crimes committed by Israel against Lebanon, including assassinations, refusing to reveal the location of land mines, theft of land and water, illegal flyovers of the country and more. Instead, the capture of the two Israeli soldiers on July 12 is presented as a just cause for Israeli retaliation.
Second, the resolution is a threat to the political sovereignty of the country of Lebanon. While the resolution acknowledges the “request” by the Lebanese government “for an immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces from southern Lebanon,” Israeli forces are allowed to continue to occupy Lebanon until they can be replaced with U.N. forces.
Third, the resolution justifies further attacks by Israel. The resolution calls “for a full cessation of hostilities based upon, in particular, the immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations.” In other words, Hezbollah, which has fought against an unjust invasion of Lebanon, is prevented from firing a shot, while Israel will be able to justify pretty much any military action they take as “defensive.”
For Israel, and the U.S., any action by Israel is by definition defensive and justified. Israel was established on land stolen from the Palestinian people; it has brutally occupied the West Bank and Gaza for nearly 40 years; it has provided nuclear weapons to the government of South Africa. In the current war Israel has bombed civilians and destroyed power plants, factories, hospitals, and killed children. All of this has been justified by Israel as defensive. Israel is a theocracy justified on the basis that the land was given to the Jewish people by God. This ideological framework is used, even by Israel’s secular leaders who refer to Israel in biblical terms, to justify almost any action they take.
Fourth, there is no mention of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity in the resolution. Israel has deliberately targeted civilian populations and destroyed the civilian infrastructure of a country—all of which are war crimes under the Nuremberg Charter.
Finally, the resolution gives to Israel an occupation of southern Lebanon that they were not able to achieve militarily. Israel, at the moment, says that it plans to stop fighting at 7 a.m. on Monday, August 14, after its military objective of occupying Lebanon up to the Litani River (about 15 miles north of Israel’s border with Lebanon) is completed. During the war, Israel has had difficulty holding onto territory in Lebanon that it has tried to occupy right on the Israeli border. So what the resolution does, in fact, is allow Israel to seize territory that it has been unable to hold militarily and then declare a ceasefire so that the Israeli troops or their supply lines cannot be attacked.
The government of Lebanon had previously objected to a similar U.N. resolution drafted last week. Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora objected that “Israel says this war is against Hezbollah, not Lebanon. But the Israeli terror is inflicted on all Lebanese.” He wrote that the resolution “failed to address the key points of our plan, and was rejected by all Lebanese. The idea of an international force being sent to Lebanon directly challenges our sovereignty, and we can never accept that.”
While the new resolution has some diplomatic niceties, like saying in words that it respects Lebanese sovereignty, the essential features of the plan have not changed. Israel clearly is holding a gun to Lebanon’s head with the threat of a large-scale invasion, including massive bombing of all parts of Beirut. The last invasion of Lebanon on a similar scale cost the lives of over 20,000 Palestinians and Lebanese. Hezbollah has said that it will comply with the resolution but that it has the right to attack Israeli troops in Lebanon.
There has been complex negotiation among various imperialist powers over the resolution. This is a reflection of different imperialist interests in the region. France and Russia, who get a significant part of their oil from Iran, have different strategic interests in the region than the U.S. imperialists. And France has major investments in Lebanon that is maneuvering to protect. However, it seems that the European imperialist powers see their interests in colluding with the U.S. and Israel in Lebanon at this point.
While it is not even certain that the resolution will stop the war in Lebanon, it does serve the world powers by making it look to the people of the world that they care about the devastation in Lebanon.
Revolution #57, August 20, 2006
From A World to Win News Service
Demonstrations against the U.S./Israeli war war have taken place around the world in the weeks since Israel began attacking Lebanon in July. The weekend of August 5-6, protests were held in Montreal and Windsor, Toronto, Canada; Durban and Cape Town, South Africa; Vienna, Austria, Brussels, Belgium; Tel Aviv, Israel; Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; and across Indonesia.The weekend of August 12-13, protests were held in many cities in the U.S., including marches and rallies of thousands in San Francisco and in Washington, D.C..
The following excerpt from an article from A World to Win News Service reports on one of the largest demonstrations of the Aug. 5-6 weekend, in London.
In London 5 August, the large numbers of people who turned out for the march to protest the war against Lebanon caught everyone, organisers and government alike, by surprise. The general expectation had been that there would be 10 or 20,000 people, like at the first emergency demonstration held two weeks earlier. Instead at least 50 or 60,000 people marched through London’s streets. Journalists said it was the largest demonstration in British history during the summer holiday month of August. The numbers were fuelled by a deep swell of dismay and outrage at the nightly news of the slaughter of Lebanon’s people, in particular the atrocity committed at Qana, when over 50 Lebanese civilians, many of them children, were slaughtered by an Israeli bomb.
Numerous handmade signs angrily accosted British PM Tony Blair: How many more children have to die? One middle-aged psychiatric nurse said she had attended a couple of the demonstrations against the Iraq war, but had felt optimistic then, like “maybe we could have stopped it.” This time she felt differently, she came with a heavy heart; but, after reading a report from the Save the Children charity that the majority of civilian dead in Lebanon were women and children she felt she had no choice but to attend with her husband and young child. Demonstrators deposited hundreds of pairs of children’s shoes at the foot of the Centopath, the Tomb of the unknown soldier, near Downing Street, to bring home to the people of Britain what the government’s support for Israel actually means.
You could almost see Britain’s colonial history in the faces of those who attended: large numbers from countries stretching from the Middle East right through to South Asia reflected London’s diverse character, a legacy of Britain’s former vast empire—countries that it now dominates through a neo-colonial system as the US’s junior partner.
People with very different backgrounds and beliefs were brought together by a deep sense of purpose, of the need to unite large numbers to deliver a powerful indictment of the war crimes being committed by the US, UK and Israeli governments.
Many of the speakers were disaffected members of the country’s political elite, including a number of backbench MPs from the ruling Labour Party, who one after another declared their “shame at being in the Labour Party today.” One of the greatest ovations was reserved for a former British diplomat, Craig Murray, who’d been fired as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan when he refused to turn a blind eye to the support that the US and Britain were giving the vicious regime ruling there in return for allowing them to use Uzbek territory for military operations. A number of earlier speakers had called for Blair to cancel his summer holiday to pay attention to the crisis in Lebanon. Murray pointed out sharply that there should be no illusions about Blair’s role, and that the only reason Blair was staying at his post was not to stop the Israeli invasion, but to ensure that things went the way the US-UK-Israeli axis wanted them to. He then declared to a roar of approval that if Blair wanted to go ahead and stay around and carry on, there was a “comfortable room waiting for him in the basement of the court on international war crimes in The Hague.”
The deep-felt anger at the government’s backing of the Israeli attack sparked intense discussion over what lay behind it and what to do next. The central slogan of the demonstration was “Unconditional ceasefire now!” Everyone wanted to see an immediate halt to the Israeli bombardments, but there was unease at the prospect that soon the Israelis might want a ceasefire themselves—only in order to advance their own interests by inserting a Western-led multinational force into southern Lebanon. There was also a great deal of uncertainty about the role of the United Nations, with some calling for “Britain to join the world community in the UN” (or “the European Union”), while others denounced the UN roundly as nothing but an “instrument of imperialist domination.” In any case, feelings were widespread that the war on Lebanon was linked to Iraq and to the mounting US-British threats against Iran, and many people sported Don’t Attack Iran T-shirts and badges. Numerous smaller actions at the Israeli Embassy and other places were announced as the demonstration concluded.
(We encourage readers to send us similar news reports.)
Revolution #57, August 20, 2006
Bush Regime’s Crimes in New Orleans:
It has been almost one year since Hurricane Katrina roared across the Gulf of Mexico and into Louisiana and Mississippi. Lives were lost, and buildings and terrain in the hurricane’s path were lashed by its winds and rain.
New Orleans was damaged but not devastated by the initial barrage of Katrina. But in the storm’s aftermath, flooding swept through the city as levees along Lake Pontchartrain and several canals burst, and a toxic stew of contaminated water that rose up to two-stories high suddenly poured through the streets and into people’s homes. The world watched in anger and outrage as tens of thousands of people—largely Black, and largely poor—struggled to survive in horrific conditions.
For decades, even centuries, New Orleans has given rise to rich cultural expressions that have touched the hearts of people throughout the world. It is an historic city where a legacy of deep oppression of first African and then African American people—and the resistance to that oppression, dating back to the days of enslavement, have been a big part of shaping the consciousness and culture of the people who lived there. Ties of community, neighborhood, and history run deep in New Orleans.
Now the people of those neighborhoods—Treme, Gentilly, New Orleans East, Uptown, 7th Ward, the world famous Lower 9th Ward, and many others—have been scattered throughout the country. Most continue to battle desperately to rebuild their lives. Less than half of the pre-Katrina population lives in New Orleans now. Over 200,000 former New Orleans residents live in Texas alone.
Since the anxious moments when Katrina tracked its course across the Gulf and drew a bead on New Orleans, government agencies, starting at the top of the Bush administration, have worked NOT to do everything they could to muster every resource available to help the city and its people.
Rather, they have worked to control, suppress, and degrade the masses of people, especially Black people, in New Orleans.
Two days after Katrina, in the most desperate hours and days of the flooding and the Bush administration’s heartless and contemptuous refusal to do anything to alleviate people’s suffering, a weeping man who didn’t know whether his family was dead or alive told a correspondent for Revolution he met in a Lafayette parking lot that what was happening right then in Louisiana was “genocide.” He said, “Don’t tell me they don’t have a plan. This is their plan.”
That plan has continued and even intensified since. The Bush administration’s actions in the months following Katrina have been a trail of deceit, repression, and broken promises. Much of the city is as devastated today as it was 10 months ago. The mayor and governor have called in the National Guard to patrol what they call “wild zones” where youth whom this system has written off as having no future are trying to return to their neighborhoods and homes. Heavy police presence in the tourist areas is aimed at keeping visitors “safe” from the people who actually live in the city. Public housing projects are shut down, fenced in and boarded up. Public health care is virtually non existent. Housing and rental prices have gone through the roof, and the city is unaffordable to many of the people who had lived there before.
Promises to rebuild and restore the city have turned into vicious attempts to transform it, and in particular to create conditions where much of the Black population that had long lived in New Orleans and gave the city its distinct character and flavor are no longer wanted or welcome.
THE PROMISE: As Katrina passed over Louisiana and Mississippi, Bush was in Arizona and California. He said: “There will be extensive federal help to get your lives back in order. We’re in place, we’ve got equipment in place, supplies in place, and once we’re able to assess the damage we’ll be able to move in and help those good folks in affected areas.”
THE REALITY: Ten months after Katrina hit, Loyola University of New Orleans School of Law Professor Bill Quigley wrote: “We are still finding dead bodies. Ten days ago, workers cleaning a house in New Orleans found a body of a man who died in the flood. He is the 23rd person found dead from the storm since March. Over 200,000 people have not yet made it back to New Orleans. Vacant houses stretch mile after mile, neighborhood after neighborhood. Thousands of buildings remain marked with brown ribbons where floodwaters settled. Of the thousands of homes and businesses in eastern New Orleans, 13 percent have been re-connected to electricity.
“The mass displacement of people has left New Orleans older, whiter, and more affluent. African Americans, children and the poor have not made it back—primarily because of severe shortages of affordable housing. Thousands of homes remain just as they were when the floodwaters receded—ghostlike houses with open doors, upturned furniture, and walls covered with growing mold. Not a single dollar of federal housing repair or home reconstruction money has made it to New Orleans yet.”
THE PROMISE: George W. Bush, in September 2005 said: “We will do whatever it takes to rebuild New Orleans… We will help you get your lives back in order.”
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Alphonse Jackson said: “Any New Orleans voucher recipient or public housing resident will be welcomed back home.”
THE REALITY: In June this year, HUD announced that they plan to demolish over 5,000 public housing apartments in New Orleans. Alphonse Jackson said the demolitions would begin within a few months of his announcement.
Just prior to Katrina, in August 2005, HUD had reported that there were 7,381 public housing apartments in New Orleans. Less than a year later, HUD said there were 1,000 public housing apartments open, and they “promised” to repair and reopen another 1,000. Most of these will be in what HUD calls “mixed income” projects, meaning many low income people who had worked at or near minimum wage, people with disabilities, and elderly people who depended on public housing will no longer be able to live in them even if this number does reopen. The remaining apartments will be demolished, and city officials say they want to build “green spaces” where the people had lived. In other words, they are proposing to raze peoples’ homes and convert the land to parks. In 1996, New Orleans had 13,694 units of public housing. Less than half of those remained by the time Katrina hit. If Jackson’s promised demolition takes place, public housing in New Orleans will have been reduced by 85% in a decade.
This process of destroying public housing, which is occurring in cities throughout the country, was well underway before Katrina. But key political figures in and around the Bush administration seized on the tragedy of Katrina to accelerate it. After Katrina, Congressman Richard Baker, a Republican from Baton Rouge said, “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did.”
THE PROMISE: President Bush said that his administration’s goal was that by mid-October 2005 everyone driven from their home by Katrina would have a place to live. A big part of the stated plan of his administration was that tens of thousands of temporary trailers would be placed in locations in Louisiana and throughout the Gulf Coast. In late September 2005, CNN reported that FEMA announced that it was “ready to deliver 125,000 trailers.”
THE REALITY: FEMA estimated that the homes of 300,000 families were destroyed by Katrina. The people forced into locations such as the Houston Astrodome and the Baton Rouge River Center, Bush said, would be housed by mid-October. It immediately became apparent that no serious attempt was being made to meet these goals. In October 2005, the Houston Chronicle reported, “Housing options promised by the federal government a month ago have largely failed to materialize.”
Tens of thousands of trailers have sat unused in lots in Arkansas and other states. Thousands of trailers in New Orleans and adjacent towns and parishes remain unused, often because racist officials say they don’t want concentrations of homeless New Orleans people in their midst.
Of those trailers which have been set up, toxic fumes from the trailers’ construction have contributed to respiratory and other illness among countless people. A July 2006 report on MSNBC told how residents of FEMA trailers are exposed to “toxic fumes.” The report said that the fumes are from “formaldehyde, the air-borne form of a chemical used in a wide variety of products, including composite wood and plywood panels in the thousands of travel trailers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency purchased after Katrina to house hurricane victims. It also is considered a human carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance.” Dr. Scott Needle of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, said, even before the possibility of toxic fumes in the trailers was discovered in a Sierra Club investigation, “I was seeing kids coming in with respiratory complaints—colds and sinus infections—and they were getting them over and over again… Almost invariably, these families were staying in the FEMA trailers.”
* * * * *
People hit by Katrina have seen their homes and neighborhoods destroyed and family members and friends die needlessly. Many suffer from ongoing illnesses brought on by wading through the filthy water that filled New Orleans. They were shot at by police and the military, and the government failed to assist them with food, water, or medical support for days. They were callously relocated, often far from their families, and packed into conditions reminiscent of the slave ships that once crossed the Atlantic. And then in the year since Katrina, as they have struggled to get their lives back together, they have been hit over and over again, with the system’s false promises, lies, deception and suppression.
Revolution #57, August 20, 2006
New Orleans 2005:
away and the industrial districts and wealthy neighborhoods would survive. The way the levees were built made this all but inevitable. But Congress slashed funds for the levees and Bush cut them even more. It was known for days that Hurricane Katrina was coming, but authorities failed to evacuate the city. Then after the storm hit on August 29, they abandoned the poorest sections of New Orleans, with the highest populations of Black people. They left those most vulnerable to face the storms and flooding with no help of any kind. Bush refused to interrupt his vacation and allowed people to suffer and die for days. Over 1,000 died and hundreds of thousands suffered and are still suffering--unneccesarily.
Whether by negligence or design or both, this was MASS MURDER carried out by the authorities, beginning with Bush.
THE AUTHORITIES AIM THEIR GUNS AT THE PEOPLE: The government and its armed forces treated tens of thousands of desperate, hungry, and sick people like an enemy. The media, politicians, and officials created an ugly, racist atmosphere--spreading the lie that there was widespread looting and savage atrocities being carried out by Black people. Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, said, "This place is going to look like Little Somalia. This will be a combat operation to get this city under control." Bush said there would be "zero tolerance" for looters and Louisiana's governor said National Guard troops would "shoot and kill" people taking things from stores. Blackwater, the company hired by the U.S. for death-squad activities in Iraq, deployed 200 men to the city, authorized to use lethal force. When hundreds of people tried to escape the floods at the Crescent City Connection Bridge, the police fired warning shots at them and blocked them from crossing. Set loose by the tone set from on high, the New Orleans and other police departments in the area beat and even killed many people, for which there has never been an accounting!
THE PEOPLE TAKE COLLECTIVE ACTION: The disaster showed the people's potential to organize themselves and courageously take matters into their own hands. One 20-year-old man commandeered a school bus to bring people from New Orleans to the Houston Astrodome. A group of mostly teenagers and young adults pooled what money they had for gas and necessities like diapers. Some young men broke into the kitchen of the Marriott Hotel, fixed a batch of scrambled eggs, grits and bacon, and served it to other victims. A retired teacher at the Convention Center praised these youth as "Robin Hoods"--bringing food to the people. Another elderly woman said, "Those ‘looters’ are the only ones keeping us alive." A young man put 18 babies and children from apartments near his in a rowboat and rowed them to safety and continued to care for them. Others went through apartments in the projects or houses in their neighborhoods searching for people they knew wouldn’t be able to move out on their own, and helping get them to safety. People with boats from the surrounding area and bus drivers in Houston, Dallas, and Lafayette, Louisiana, tried to rescue people in New Orleans but were stopped by FEMA. This showed the potential strength that the people "on the bottom" have when they join together--the strength to resist and, ultimately, to make revolution and build a new society.
TURNING DISASTER INTO PROFIT, ETHNIC CLEANSING AND BUILDING UP THE CHRISTIAN FASCISTS: Bush announced plans for "enterprise zones" in New Orleans, where the big capitalists could turn disaster into big profit with billion dollar construction contracts, new zoning laws, no environmental protections, tax breaks, and even lower wages.
Before the hurricane, Black people made up about 70% of the population of New Orleans. After Katrina, Bush’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson said: "New Orleans is not going to be as Black as it was for a long time, if ever again." Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker said: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn’t do it, but God did."
Katrina was a natural disaster, easily explained by science. But reactionary preachers blamed the masses for the hurricane, saying, "God did this to punish the people of New Orleans" for gambling, abortions, drugs, Mardi Gras, gay pride days, or even voodoo. And the disaster was used to support and promote Christian fascist churches and funnel money into their "charities."
CRUEL EVACUATION: The authorities subjected tens of thousands of people to slaveship conditions at the Superdome and Convention Center. There was no food or electricity, and the toilets backed up. People suffered from dehydration and were surrounded by disease-ridden water. Dead bodies were left out in the open. Thousands were herded into shelters and dispersed all over the country. Echoing slavery days, many were separated from their loved ones. People were treated like criminals or potential criminals. Background checks were done when people checked into shelters. Some were jailed on old warrants, some immigrants were deported. People were housed in heavily guarded centers, with metal detectors, surrounded by police cars, armed soldiers, and FEMA agents and federal, state, and local officials.
KATRINA WAS PART OF THE WHOLE CRIMINAL HISTORY OF CAPITALISM: The neglect, abandonment, abuse, and brutality of Black people after Hurricane Katrina is a crime of the capitalist system, connected to a whole legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws. This system has always treated Black people as exploitable, expendable, and undesirable.
IN 1850 NEW ORLEANS WAS THE SOUTH'S LARGEST SLAVE-TRADING CENTER. There were 25 major slave depots within a half mile from the St. Charles Hotel where African-American slaves were bought and sold. The sight of thousands of Black victims of Katrina packed into sports arenas brought back haunting visions of the holds of the slave ships.
IN THE GREAT MISSISSIPPI FLOOD OF 1927, the authorities rounded up Black people at gunpoint and threw them into concentration camps. They were worked day and night to reinforce and rebuild the levees and were forcibly prevented from leaving the flood area. The wealthy white plantation owners were determined that their labor force would not escape to the north.
PEOPLE ARE STILL SUFFERING: Hurricane Katrina destroyed or badly damaged 130,000 out of 200,000 homes in New Orleans. The Bush administration’s actions in the months following Katrina have been a trail of deceit, repression, and broken promises. People from New Orleans have been scattered throughout the country. Most continue to battle desperately to rebuild their lives. Less than half of the pre-Katrina population lives in New Orleans now, and much of the city is still devastated. The mayor and governor have called in the National Guard to patrol what they call “wild zones” where youth whom this system has written off as having no future are trying to return to their neighborhoods and homes. Out of 128 public schools in New Orleans, only 56 will be open in the fall. Public housing projects are shut down, fenced in and boarded up. Housing and rental prices have gone through the roof, and the city is unaffordable to many of the people who had lived there before. It has come to light that it will be official policy to withhold rebuilding funds from the Black 9th Ward.
THOSE WHO ARE RESISTING MUST BE SUPPORTED. THE GOVERNMENT MUST PROVIDE DECENT HOUSING IN NEW ORLEANS FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO RETURN. JUSTICE MUST BE DONE FOR THOSE MURDERED BY THE AUTHORITIES.
Revolution #57, August 20, 2006
Katrina Survivors Testify:
The following are excerpts from interviews done in Houston, Austin, and Baton Rouge by a Revolution correspondent in Fall 2005. They were submitted to the Bush Crimes Commission hearings in New York City in October. (The names of people have been changed.)
No Room on the Helicopter
Ronald, interviewed in Austin, Texas:
“The storm, it was rough. I stayed on top of the overpass for a whole week. We had to break into stores for food and water, but the government and the mayor just let everybody down. Like we had to wait until three days later to be rescued. And then when we finally did get rescued, my wife, unfortunately she fell from the helicopter, about 60, 80 feet and landed on the bridge and it took 30 minutes for the Coast Guard to come in and pick her up, and the guy wouldn’t ask her name or wouldn’t take identification for her. They told me they didn’t have any more room on the helicopter so I could go with her. And they just took off and I haven’t seen or heard from my wife ever since September the 1st.
“I talked to the Red Cross. The Red Cross told me they didn’t have no information, but they still looking. I talk to her family just about every day and they hoping and praying that we find her. I don’t know if she’s alive or dead. Nobody’s not saying nothing if they know.”
Drowning in Prison
Lester (who was in Orleans Parish Prison when Katrina hit), interviewed in Houston:
“Some deputies cursed the inmates out, saying ‘I’m gonna save myself.’ The water was damn near taller than me. When we got out, we’d see dead bodies floating. People were shot, deputies were shooting people. I don’t know what was going on. I guess they tried to escape or something. I don’t really know. But I know I saw a couple of people shot. And I walked across a couple of dead bodies.
“I saw six bodies. Can’t nobody tell me nothing, I know what I saw, I saw six bodies floating up and I stepped on one. I didn’t know what it was. I put my hand down and was like, ‘Aw, Man’. They came and got our dorm and let everybody out. They just said don’t bring anything. Soon as we went downstairs, the water was high, high, high! We can’t see nothing. It’s dark. The water smelled like gasoline, diesel, whatever it was.
“The prisoners who couldn’t swim, I’ll be honest with you, they was drowning. I done saw the people [gesturing with his arms, like someone trying to stay afloat]. And the deputies, some of the deputies helped them but the rest of the deputies was looking at them like, ‘ehh’ [gesturing as if to say, ‘to hell with them’]. They were like, ‘I got a family, let ‘em drown, probably be his time.’
“Yeah, they left people in the cell, they left people in the holding tank. People drowned in there. And then they try to get ya at the last minute. They drowned. Didn’t make sense. If you got the water up to here [puts his hand over his head] you gotta try to and get the people. They drowned. But you know… There be a lot of lies. I know what I saw.
“And we didn’t eat in three days. When Katrina hit, we didn’t eat… All they was bringing us was, like for 40 people, all they bring us is three loaves of bread. And expect us to get 40 people fed. They filled our garbage cans with water, so we’d have something to drink. Walking through that water, now they say fungus growing out of my skin. It itches and when it itches it turns into scabs. It’s just all over my legs. Everywhere. And all on the back of my legs. That’s how they treated us. All we wanted was just to be safe. They knew Hurricane Katrina was coming. They could have evacuated us a little quicker probably. And actually I wouldn’t even have all this on my legs, going through all I’m going through right now. What I went through it could leave you physically, mentally, emotionally, scarred, you know?”
“We had to Come Together”
Roberta, 3rd ward New Orleans resident, interviewed in Houston:
“They didn’t warm us about going, no they did not. They was making us—’if you’re not getting on the bus we’re taking you to jail.’ TO JAIL, lord, here’s my hand to God, I’m not lyin’ to you. We either had to get on the bus or go to jail. Yes, that’s what they told us.
“It was just the Black people had to help the Black people. We had to come together. You know whereas we used to beef with each other, everybody just had to come together to help each other… I was sitting on the curb wondering about what I’m gonna do, how I’m gonna do things. We had to get away from there. They kept on asking us in 7th ward to get on the bus, or they was gonna take us to jail. Now in the 3rd ward the water was high as the devil and they didn’t have any Coast Guards over there. But in 7th ward they did. So this guy, Brian, I asked him, ‘do you wanna help?’ And he said, ‘I come all the way from Oklahoma.’ So we went to Kenner where people still had electricity. And we went over there to get ice to bring to Orleans Parish to the folks that hadn’t left yet, to get them ice, it was so hot. And they didn’t have food, no water, nothing. Senior citizens like me, you know, were just stuck—old people sitting on the porch wondering what they goin’ to do, where they goin’ to go.
“So Brian and I went to Kenner and we must have made at least about maybe 30 trips, backwards and forwards, bringing people ice, and water, and food. But why should we have to go to Kenner? To get ice and water—and that was the only thing they was letting us in Kenner to get, ice and water. If the Coast Guard felt you was going over there to stay in anybody’s house they was turning you around. And how I come to get over there with Brian was cuz Brian was a white man and I’m Black. He did ask me to get in front of the truck but I felt like I could do the work cuz he had the gas in the truck, so I stayed in the back. That’s the reason I was able to go so many times back and forth to Jefferson Parish. But if you just wanted to take your vehicle and just go to Jefferson Parish, no, you couldn’t…
“The police, nobody, nobody came. New Orleans police cars: you see them every now and then. And when you see them you know how you see them? Harassing you: ‘Where do you live? Where you supposed to be?’ As I was walking back to the 7th ward from 3rd ward, I was seeing all these dead bodies—people that was trying to make it from the water, trying to get away from the water… They had so many dead bodies on Claiborne, you know, folks was laying down and it looked like these people was just resting. And one lady, I was running to help her and a friend of mine was like, ‘she’s dead,’ and I couldn’t believe the lady was dead. I had never seen this many dead people laying in the street. They was just laying there.”
Homeless in the Blink of an Eye
Marlene, who lives in Houston and took 48 people into her home:
“Many family members, friends, even some that I personally do not know ended up at my doorstep. To see the hurt, stress, and depression on their faces is heartbreaking. It became impossible for me to turn them away. My partially paralyzed sister, scared, crying, and children, mother, father, unable to make things right for their families. In the blink of an eye they all had become homeless. Knowing this could easily have been me and my family, I did for them what I would have wanted done for me. It is hard to understand what losing everything does to a person. Not to mention losing a loved one…
“I called FEMA and I was telling them that I was housing (48 people), and they told me to put them out. Just told me to kick em out. I said, ‘ma’am can I get your name and speak to your supervisor?’ and she hung up on me. She told me to put them out… The mosque across the street has been assisting me, and some of my neighbors and friends been bringing food by helping me to feed some of them. Because when they first came here they had nothing, no money, no anything, not nothing. They just came with the clothes on their back.”
Bush the Liar
Annette, from New Orleans East, interviewed in Houston. (Annette testified in the first hearing of the Bush Crimes Commission):
“Me and my sister had met an old lady, she looked to be about 80 something years old. Sitting in a wheelchair under an abandoned gas station. Her aunt sitting on the side of her on one of them fold out chairs and her son… She didn’t want them to be separated from each other. The people said they had slept out there all night. Fire department right across the street!! You think they would have helped them. New Orleans police riding up and down the street. Think they would have helped them. No they did not.
“But when me and my sister passed by they asked if we had anything to eat. Okay, we had some canned goods in the back of the car… We opened the canned goods and gave them to the people, they were so thankful, so grateful. The lady started crying. They were white. And the lady started crying. They was trying to get help, and the people that was supposed to help wouldn’t help. She said god bless us, for just coming by and giving them something to eat.
“The police, well they don’t want to help us. But the ones that was going in the stores to get something to eat to survive, they’d hold them down with a gun and beat them or whatever, saying they will take them to jail!! Okay, but I believe that some of these people never took nothing in all their lives. But they was there trying to survive…
“I was there, I saw it, I went through all of that. And I saw a lot of things. The babies dying, young people dying. You know what they do when they die. All they do is take a little sheet or a jacket some people had and just put it over their face. So many died. People just floating in water, just dead. Bush claims he sent army trucks and other people to help us but I was there! Through everything. And I saw everything, the majority of everything and Bush is a liar!! They did not help us. I believe they came down to destroy us. Because the Army peoples drove straight on past us. Just drove on past us…
“Bush didn’t send no one down there to help us. Bush is a liar. Bush is a liar. See, Bush was somewhere safe so he really wasn’t worried about us. See, him and his family was safe. They was alright. See, we was the ones down there hurting, floating in all that polluted water, and getting sick with all these diseases and everything. He didn’t send nobody down there to help us. Bush wanted us to hurt and suffer. That’s what I believe he did.”
Revolution #57, August 20, 2006
Interview with Debra Sweet, National Coordinator of World Can't Wait
Revolution interviewed Debra Sweet, National Coordinator of World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime.
Revolution: Tell us about the ad World Can’t Wait placed in the New York Times on August 3, and the response you have gotten.
Debra Sweet: The ad was designed by George Lois, who is really well known in the design world for having come up with “I want my MTV.” He created a new logo for us—of the globe bursting into flame that he has given us We’ve just made a color poster of it. It really symbolizes very powerfully that the world can’t wait.
Some people have looked at it and said that’s the world on fire—the wars going on in the world. Other people are looking at it from the perspective of global warming, or just the world coming apart in various ways. But one thing that comes through is the urgency of driving out the Bush regime. And so we have adopted it as our new logo and we hope to be making it visible everywhere in the country as we head in the next eight weeks into October 5.
The ad appeared a week ago yesterday. We have done two full-page ads in December and January, eight months ago. We have found the response to this ad is about four times the response to those ads in terms of both money and response from people who want to drive out the Bush regime and be involved in October 5. And it’s really heartening. I’m sure it has to do with what is going on in the world and particularly in the Middle East right now – and that the graphic and the call itself really struck home with people.
This time, when people go to worldcantwait.org, we designed a way that people could sign the Call and give comments about why they were signing it.
We are looking at all the people who responded to this ad as the basis for having very powerful actions on October 5. Not the only basis but a really important basis, a broad spectrum across this country. We have a lot of academics and students, business people. A very high percentage of older and retired people who, I think, really have a sense of the sweep of history—and how much the Bush regime is actually at odds with and standing out from the rest of what people have come to expect from this country.
In the past when we printed the same Call in our ad, we had many people say, “We agreed with everything in your ad but that ‘fascist’ part—that the Bush regime is ‘remaking the country in a fascist direction and for generations to come.’” This time about 20 percent of the people who responded have mentioned that they do believe the country is being made in a fascist direction. Or they say, “I’m signing this because I don’t want to live in a fascist country” or “I don’t want my children to grow up in a fascist country.”
Quite a number of people are saying things like:
“I have been waiting for this movement for six years.”
“I have been wondering when someone would do this.”
“I’ve not known what to do.”
“What do I do on October 5? I’ve marked it on my calendar.”
So clearly people are taking it seriously and connecting with this message of bringing it to a halt. In the comments and when we are calling them, people are talking about theocracy—much more than they did eight months ago. That we don’t want a government that’s forcing its religion down our throats.
People are talking about the environment, having seen the movie An Inconvenient Truth, fearing for the whole planet and every person that lives on it. More and more people are talking about Iraq, mentioning the danger to Iran. Talking about the attacks on abortion and birth control.
This response shows, as the new statement on our website says, that there truly is a large reservoir of people across this country who are having all these feelings.
We learned there are a lot of people who want to see more ads like this, who want October 5 to happen, and (most of all) who feel the Bush regime is illegitimate and it must be driven out.
Revolution: What do you tell people when they ask what they should be doing now and on the day of October 5 itself?
Debra Sweet: We are concentrating over the next eight weeks on pulling out really massive mobilizations of people on Thursday, October 5. As the new statement at worldcantwait.org says, "It would go from something only vaguely hoped for, by millions of isolated individuals, and acted on by thousands so far, to something that had undeniable moral force and unprecedented political impact." And particularly at this moment, it is absolutely essential that people come out on the streets, make their sentiments visible, and manifest this in ways that have happened in other parts of the world (and are actually happening in Mexico, for instance, where there are 47 encampments tying up the center core of Mexico City right now).
On Thursday, October 5, people should take off work or leave work, take off school or march out of school, and come to the federal buildings in the center of their towns and cities. Hold rallies. Speak the truth. Find creative and imaginative ways of representing the seven “your government” statements from our Call that so powerfully evoke what this regime is doing to this country and the world.
Bring This to a Halt! October 5 can change the political atmosphere in this country so that those in power will be forced to take into their political calculations a movement that isn’t depending on them to set the terms. Some of these mobilizations can evolve into encampments and all-night street parties, drawing out even more people who hear about this on the news. Many peoples’ hearts will jump at the extraordinary sight of a very broad, diverse crowd, large enough that it can’t be ignored, breaking out of “protest as usual”. Everyone — youth; people who have never protested before; those who hope voting in the mid-term elections will change something; political candidates and office-holders already calling us to ask to speak — should join in this great wave of people on October 5, determined to drive out the Bush regime.
Revolution: And what should people do between now and October 5?
Debra Sweet: They can go to worldcantwait.org or call us at 866-973-4463—in either of those places they can connect with this movement.
Right now, this weekend, the second weekend in August, and moving through the month, World Can’t Wait is doing a mass fund drive where we are going out to broaden the base of this organization – with buckets (“Donate Da Bucks to Drive Out the Bush Regime”) and with beautiful new color copies of our New York Times ad to distribute to people, along with buttons and stickers and t-shirts and so forth that put out the call: “Bring This to a Halt on October 5.”
And we are asking people to go out and talk to everyone they know and start organizing right now. Eight weeks from yesterday, we’re going to be mobilizing in the streets.
What World Can’t Wait is doing is also mass fundraising on many different levels. We are out to raise half a million dollars by Labor Day, in order to do really large national advertising on a scale that will reach way beyond the usual hand-to-hand flyers, getting into more major publications, on the radio, internet advertising, and TV spots. Because we really want to reach the people out there wondering what they can possibly do, with the message that you can have a tremendous positive political effect, by exerting the moral authority of people in this country who are opposed to everything the Bush regime stands for, by being out in the streets on October 5.
I want to make a special call-out to the people right now who are horrified at the bloody destruction of Lebanon. To the people who are seeing the Bush regime with its nuclear trigger finger pointed at Iran. To all the people who have seen An Inconvenient Truth, andwho are truly and justifiably alarmed atwhat this regime has in store for the planet. To all the people who are looking at the anniversary coming up of Katrina when the Bush regime callously left thousands and thousands of poor and Black people in that city to die, went in with troops and shot them, and put them under repression. To all the people looking at this very urgent moment and seeing that this regime is illegitimate and everything they are doing is intolerable. To all those people, I say, it’s time to act.
We are giving people a way to act on October 5—in concert, across the country—a chance to come out from everywhere together, to do something incredibly important, possibly turning things around in this country onto a much more favorable direction that is going to take on this whole program, repudiate it, and set much better terms for the future.
Revolution #57, August 20, 2006
Many people see Ned Lamont’s victory in the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary as a statement of massive disgust at Bush, and at the Democrats for kissing his ass. It is. But Lamont’s victory over Joe Lieberman in the primary is not something that will impact the current intolerable direction things are heading. Instead, there is a whole other way to go that has the potential to really put a halt to the crimes of the Bush regime. And the system— the media and the people who really run things—are telling you this themselves if you listen to them.
MSNBC put out the following analysis and spin right after the election result was announced: “Though polls show U.S. opinion has turned against the Iraq war, Ned Lamont’s victory will heighten Democrats’ vulnerability to charges of unreliability in the war on terror.”
Stop and think about that: polls show opinion has turned against the war, but being against the war heightens the Democrats’ vulnerability! How can this be? Wouldn’t the “logic of democracy” dictate that adopting a popular position would be a plus instead of a “vulnerability”?
No. It has already been decided that the terms of things are going to be over who can most aggressively prosecute the so-called “war on terror.” Of course, nobody asked you if those should be the terms – you just got told that. But if you don’t like those terms, self-delusion won’t help. You need to put your energies and resources into something else!
In line with what MSNBC told you was going to happen, the right-wing noise machine flooded the airwaves with messages from the most powerful people in the country practically accusing Lamont of aiding al-Qaeda. Am I exaggerating? Vice President Cheney said that the election of Lamont could encourage “the al-Qaeda types” who want to “break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task.”
And then there is the fact that defeating Lieberman in the primary didn’t even push him out of the race—he just registered as an independent and already garnered support from many around Bush. Rather than repent his support for the war, and his slavish association with Bush, Lieberman went on the offensive, saying Lamont’s position on the war “will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England.”
As a backdrop to all this, the Bush regime—with the unanimous, and one might say rabid, support of the leaders of the Democratic Party—was continuing to green-light Israel’s demolition of Lebanon; to press ahead in their bloody occupation of Iraq that is spiraling into civil war; and to jockey and position for an even wider war against Iran and possibly Syria.
Across the blogosphere, liberal radio, and progressive people were abuzz with self-delusional boasts that the Lamont victory is the opening salvo of a “takeover” of the Democratic Party and a sign that the country is finally bending to the will of the majority who oppose George Bush and his wars.
First, Ned Lamont is not that antiwar. His web site features his position on the war, starting with a statement from him that: “Our troops are making their country proud with their service.”
No, they are not. Those troops were ordered to invade Iraq in the service of empire. Abu Ghraib…Haditha…the emerging exposures of rapes and massacres that may well be revealed to have been ordered or at least encouraged by commanding officers… This war is not something to be proud of. This war on the world, and the occupation of Iraq (and Afghanistan) are not wrong because they are “not working.” They are wrong because they are illegitimate, unjust, and immoral.
Lamont does have differences with Bush. He says that “[T]his war is not making us any safer. It’s time for U.S. troops to move to the background and let the Iraqi people step forward and take responsibility for their own destiny.” But Lamont’s starting point is wrong. Bush launched this war to expand the U.S. empire, not to make “us safer.” And Lamont’s position on withdrawal is awfully vague. Recent news accounts report that he favors a one-year withdrawal timeline for U.S. troops.
Time again for a reality check. What do you think things will be like if the Bush juggernaut is not halted a year from now? As Larry Everest wrote in Revolution #56:
“There is a murderous and potentially explosive logic at work here. On one hand, the Bush regime is compelled to stay on the offensive to realize its goals: any slowing down could stall and/or derail the whole juggernaut. What they’re doing on a world scale requires an unrelenting offensive, a dynamic in which any hesitation or retreat works against their aims and could potentially unravel the whole thing. This means that they are not going to easily pull back in the face of obstacles and difficulties, for example in Iraq, but instead envision battling through years of turmoil and upheaval to create their new world order… They are driven to push on through—even “escape forward” from the contradictions they face and create by widening the war, to both maintain its momentum and because they feel they can only deal with the difficulties they are facing on a larger stage.”
Shortly after the primary results, Lamont appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show. There, Lamont said that in a “worst case scenario,” which was defined as a wider regional war, the U.S. could not withdraw from Iraq.
What if Lamont defies the odds, sucks up the energy and resources of people who are outraged about the Bush regime, and gets elected to the U.S. Senate? Maybe he wages a lonely fight for a pullout of US troops from Iraq, sometime, maybe. Meantime, Bush and the crew of Christian fascist crusaders and neo-con McWorld-by-force fanatics push on and on, and the situation becomes more horrific, and more dangerous. And most tragic, as I’ll come back to, is the part about sucking up all the energy and resources of people who want to put a halt to the crimes of the Bush regime.
As much as there are Democrats who at times criticize how the war on Iraq was initiated, or even how it is being handled today, now that the U.S. has invaded they are concerned first and foremost with preserving the strength, unchallenged power, and overall interests of the U.S. as an imperialist empire, including in Iraq and the wider Middle East. If you listen, it is from this perspective of preserving America’s strength that Lamont criticizes aspects of how the war has been waged: “We are a much stronger country…when it comes to the war on terror when we’re true to what we stand for, and we’ve compromised a lot of that over the last few years… That weakens our country.” It’s not that the Democrats haven’t noticed how many people in “their base” hate this war, it is that the particular role the Democratic Party plays is to pursue imperialist interests while at the same time leading “their base” to believe that it is their will that is being expressed.
In a recent article in Rolling Stone, Al Gore was quoted as saying, “We’re all, in some ways, lashed to the mast of our ship of state here. Because the little group at the helm should resign. You know, Rumsfeld and that whole gang have made horrible mistake after horrible mistake…”
This metaphor, of madmen at the helm (steering a boat), and the Democrats lashed to the mast of the ship, is revealing about the role the Democrats play. They may not like the crew at the helm, but they are “on board” for the bigger agenda of imperialist world domination, and from that perspective, getting out of Iraq would endanger the whole ship.
You do not take over the Democratic Party; it takes over you. And the more you try to take it over, the deeper you are inserted into its pocket. The effort you put into it is like thrashing about in quicksand—the harder you thrash, the more immobilized you become until finally you are suffocated to death. Lamont is a perfect example—happy to take your money and your energies into channels that will just piss them away, while the Democrats on top continue to pursue what they perceive to be in the overall interests of the SYSTEM they serve.
Recall what happened several months ago, when the progressive world was abuzz with confidence about impeaching the President. At that time a poll executive admitted that among the population the most requested poll was one about impeachment, but stated that his firm wouldn’t conduct it because it was not being discussed by leading Democrats and therefore wasn’t legitimate. Then, recall how when Wisconsin Democrat Russ Fiengold made a motion for censuring the President and, despite overwhelming support from the people, was only supported by two of his fellow Democrats.
If you feel like you have to vote, that’s one thing. But if you are giving your time, energy or resources to Lamont or the Democrats, that is not just a waste, it is counter-productive. Instead, you have to be part of rupturing out of the whole set of terms shaping the elections and be part of setting new terms through political struggle independent of those official channels.
The buzz among progressive people needs to very quickly change from false hopes of “retaking” the Democratic Party, to an active debate over the fact that relying on the Democrats and the midterm elections can only lead to disaster. October 5th, day of nationwide protests called by The World Can’t Wait and others, not November 7th, must increasingly been seen by millions for what it is: the only way that the crimes of the Bush regime can be brought to a halt.
Let me quote from an important statement issued recently by World Can’t Wait, “October 5: There is a Way! There is a Day!”:
Think of all the people who are deeply distressed over the direction in which the Bush regime is dragging the country—and the world… All the people who are outraged over the way in which this regime is arrogantly seeking to bludgeon into submission people in the Middle East, and throughout the world, while trampling on the rights of the people in the U.S. itself… All the people who care about the future of humanity and the planet we live on, and who recognize the many ways in which the Bush regime is increasingly posing a dire threat to this… All the people who are stirred with a profound restlessness by these feelings but are held back by the fear that they are alone and powerless; or who say that they wish something could be done to stop and reverse this whole disastrous course, but nothing will make a difference; or who hope that somehow the Democrats will do something to change this, when everyday it becomes more clear that they will not… All these people, who make up a very large part of the population of this country and whose basic sentiments are shared by the majority of people throughout the world…
Imagine if, from out of this huge reservoir of people, a great wave were unleashed, moving together on the same occasion, making, through their firm stand and their massive numbers, a powerful political statement that could not be ignored: refusing that day to work, or walking out from work, taking off from school or walking out of school—joining together, rallying and marching, drawing forward many more with them, and in many and varied forms of creative and meaningful political protest throughout the day, letting it be known that they are determined to bring this whole disastrous course to a halt by driving out the Bush Regime through the mobilization of massive political opposition.
If that were done, then the possibility of turning things around and onto a much more favorable direction would take on a whole new dimension of reality.
It would go from something only vaguely hoped for, by millions of isolated individuals, and acted on by thousands so far, to something that had undeniable moral force and unprecedented political impact.
That is the vision that can set new terms for all of society and can send a shock of reality-based hope across the world!
Revolution #57, August 20, 2006
Bill T. Jones’ Blind Date opens with an inaudible bang. People were still finding their seats at the Lincoln Center theater when words began scrolling down the translucent screens hanging on stage.
“The greatest human crimes have been perpetrated in the name of religion and the name of God.
The clean white letters kept coming. I scrambled for a pen.
“…The knowledge of the natural world and the human world has nothing to do whatsoever with religion and should be approached completely free from religious ideas or convictions.”
Blind Date. Dancers (l-r) - Stuart Singer, Wen-Chung Lin, Shayla-Vie Jenkins, Donald Shorter, Erick Montes, Premiere performance at Montclair State University, New Jersey, September 2005
Blind Date. Dancers (l-r) - Shayla-Vie Jenkins, Bill T. Jones, Premiere performance at Montclair State University, New Jersey, September 2005
Blind Date. Dancer - Leah Co, Preview performance at Aaron Davis Hall in New York City, June 2005
Photos all by Paul B. Goode
This was bracing. On one of New York City’s pre-eminent stages, a dance performance opens up with plain-spoken secular truths. In the Christian-fundamentalist-soaked climate of 2006 America, they came off like fighting words. In fact, these statements are the views of the Enlightenment philosophers of the 18th century, people like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, and Denis Diderot. Ideas that are 250 years old.
Such are the matters on the mind of one of the foremost modern dancers and choreographers in the U.S. today.
Blind Date, a work of beauty and complexity, ranges widely through an American landscape pockmarked by war, military martinets, and religious haranguers. The texts (there were several, not all in English) reappear repeatedly, sometimes projected, sometimes spoken or sung. They’re mixed in with a torrent of high-speed movement, video, and weird spectacle that challenge the audience to think and rethink about patriotism, war, religion, and the dire circumstances of NOW. How can still-thinking people confront all this?
Bill T. Jones, who has been breaking icons and raising the bar in the New York City dance scene for 30 years, has a riveting power and grace on the stage. He leads a troupe of ten younger dancers from the U.S., Mexico, Turkey and Taiwan. They are dazzlingly athletic and of no single pre-set shape or sensibility. (His troupes have been known for being unconventional—having dancers of all different shapes and sizes.)
The stories in Blind Date are told in fragments. Funny and horrifying—these are lives in a blender. A 16-year-old Black youth takes a job luring customers into a Harlem hamburger joint called Quack a Dack. His father says it will give him a sense of purpose. He has to wear a giant round yellow duck head. Military recruiters show up to vie for him. Who says Black kids in Harlem don’t have career choices? A relentless duck theme illustrates the grand variety of ways to get fucked. A row of carnival sitting-duck silhouettes light up overhead… a video screen flashes blood-red ketchup poured over the Quack a Dack burger-meat… the duck head appears on the floor minus its owner… huge dead-duck cut-outs in bloody shrouds are wheeled in for the evening’s climax.
We are also reminded about what is happening to people around the world as someone intones the numbers:
Rwanda—1 million slaughtered in 90 days
9000 dead Hondurans in hurricane
10,000 killed in East Timor civil war
Somebody praise the Lord…
In New York City, September 11, 2900
In Bam, Iran earthquake, 40,000
Somebody praise the Lord…
Then Jones, in a business suit, moves to the front of the stage. He has been asking for cigarettes all night and confides to the audience: “I know what you’re thinking, but I swear I’m going to cut down.” Words of a rapacious vampire or just a chain smoker? You decide.
At one point, company member Shaneeka Harrell belts out a soulful version of Otis Redding’s “Security.”
I want security, yeah
Without it I had a great loss, oh now
And I want it at any cost, oh now
Don’t want no money, right muh now
I don’t want no fame
But security I have all of these things, yeah…
The stage erupts in a Saturday night bash (to me circa 1969), dancers ricocheting off one another with joyous abandon. The next thing you know, a horror descends as one after the other a dancer shouts “ME!”—then tips over like a felled beanstalk. Others rush to catch them—an exercise in trust that is tender but harrowing. As the pace quickens, heads just miss the floor. My stomach is in knots.
Lone souls declaring their personhood as they fall almost-faster than the collective can rescue them. Isn’t this how it feels to so many people these days? Individuals trying to rely on each other and a badly-fraying social web. Sometimes it works, often you’re just stuck out on your own in a world that’s going nuts, and closing in: You want Security? I’m reminded of the new “post-911 norms” of red alert instructions from your president, your sergeant, your cop, your preacher, and Fox News.
On his web site, Bill T. Jones talks about what provoked Blind Date, which was first staged in September 2005:
“…I was a bit incensed because I thought that certain notions that had been the foundation of American society were being, if not completely eroded, were in fact being discounted. I thought there was a certain intolerance that was creeping into our rabid and confrontational discourse around personal freedom, around ideas of patriotism. I felt threatened as someone who was shaped by notions of the 18th century Enlightenment philosophers. Progress, tolerance, and deism—these ideas are at the basis of our notions of what it means to be a free person. These ideas have shaped me. I am a product of the civil rights struggle and many social struggles…”
The extreme situation Jones alludes to is real, unprecedented. And I would go further: American society is being rapidly remade in a fascist direction by a regime that is going for unchallenged, and unchallenge-able, world hegemony and is answering to religious fanatics who are determined to reverse not just the verdicts of the ‘60s and Roe v. Wade, not just what happened through the Civil War, but to go all the way back to the founding of the country. They want to replace a secular government with biblically-literal theocratic rule. We’re talking no divorce, and the death penalty for straying wives, rebellious children, and those who “leave a stain on society.”
In his program notes, Jones writes: “Like so many others, I see a confrontation between the venerable values we, the modern world’s first democracy, have inherited from the Enlightenment and the anti-intellectual, consumerist, and fundamentalist trends that threaten to highjack our social/political discourse.”
Like millions, Jones feels the gravity of this moment—when so much seems at stake, when the whole future and direction of society seems to hang in the balance. And he feels compelled to sound the alarm, which is the power of Blind Date—refusing to look away. The dangers of the times are—and should—make every thinking and caring person ponder, debate, rethink and struggle over what kind of society we need to truly emancipate humanity.
Still, the “values of the Enlightenment” do divide into two. On the one hand, things like rational thought, science, and secularism did (and do) represent real progress up against religious obscurantism and theocracy. But the Enlightenment, which went along with the birth of “the world’s first modern democracy,” was a part of the growth and consolidation of capitalism as an exploitative system that continues to chew up and destroy the planet and humanity. And in this light it’s worth pondering the fact that the slave-holding founding fathers of America also could enthusiastically embrace 18th century notions of progress, tolerance, and deism.
Interestingly, there are powerful scenes in Blind Date that open up these very contradictions.
Jones at one point duels with his alter-ego, Andrea Smith, dressed in U.S. military fatigues:
A: The first ideal was about honor, valor and courage.
B: Words, Andrea, nothing more than words.
A: More than words!
B: In other words, patriot—that was the idea, right?
A: I have no idea.
B: It was my idea there was a confession behind this idea.
A: Aren’t you a good person?
B: I didn’t say good person, I said patriot.
“I didn’t say good person, I said patriot.”
Now there’s an excellent concept for people to be mulling over upon leaving a theater in the US of A. “Honor, valor and courage” ARE more than words. Their meaning lies in what kind of society you are fighting for, and in Blind Date, I think Jones is asking people to ponder the “confession behind” American patriotism.
This leads me to another question Jones poses to his audience in the program notes: “How does one take a principled stand on a host of issues and not be infected with our era’s great plague ‘toxic certainty’?”
Okay, here’s my answer. There is indeed a kind of “toxic certainty” running through the absolutist mega-churches and spewed from the White House (like “You’re either with us or against us”) that is extremely dangerous and tied to the political program of an empire out to dominate the world. The Bush regime wants to mold an ignorant and compliant populace who are literally afraid of thinking.
But there is a real world that we can learn and know about. And as the words up on the stage of Blind Date put it: “The knowledge of the natural world and the human world has nothing to do whatsoever with religion and should be approached completely free from religious ideas or convictions.” Human beings and society as a whole can’t know everything about the world—which is infinitely complex and constantly changing. But there are real things we can know—with relative certainty. And if we’re going to change the world—and we must—then we need to understand the world and act on certainty, not a rigid, dogmatic certainty, but one based, at each point, on humanity’s best understanding of the truth.
* * * * *
On the night I saw it, at the end of Blind Date after numerous curtain calls, Jones returned to the stage with what seemed like an impromptu afterthought—an angular little solo, punching the air with fierce jabs, like a man determined to escape the confines of his corporate suit and pre-destiny, to go out fighting. A friend who saw the show earlier told me he’d come back onstage that night too and stood for a long moment in a ‘68-Olympics Black power salute.
Jones’ final note in the program: “A basic truth is at work here: just as in life, each participant and observer must make choices.”
Revolution #57, August 20, 2006
Correspondence from a Reader
Editor’s note: We received the following correspondence from a reader who has been waging a long battle with cancer.
My name is Joanne Rojas and I have some things I want to say about my life. About how my life intersected with the world and what difference the RCP and Bob Avakian have made in my life.
I grew up in Oakland, California. All my childhood and teen years, in the 1940s, ‘50s and early ‘60s in Oakland. I grew up in East Oakland when it was all white and West Oakland was all Black and it was all very segregated. When I read Bob Avakian’s Memoir I felt many similarities to my own experiences, growing up in a very segregated atmosphere, with only one Black kid in my school. And how when I invited that friend to my sixth grade party it was very unusual and I had to be worried about what my father was going to say.
I remember going to high school football games and schools like McClymonds would be 95% Black and Fremont High would be 95% white and there would be fights afterwards.
And all the challenges of being able to cross over the separation between people of different races – and there was a big difference between interracial dating in 1963 and in 1968.
I did not conform well. By the time I was thirteen in the early ‘50s, I began bouncing in and out of the California Youth Authority (CYA). I loved the whole game of being a juvenile delinquent because I had a lot of anger against all that I saw and that was my way of rebelling. I got out of CYA and started doing drugs. I started smoking weed and before long, maybe when I was 16, I started using heroin. I started thieving and going back into CYA for another year and then I kept going in and out of jail. I got headed down that path. And when you first start out you say, “Oh well, I may be a hype but I ain’t a wino. I may be a thief but I ain’t a ho,” and before you know it you’ve done all those things until there is not too many “nevers” left in you. But I always hated the way society was, you know the prejudices and poverty and suffering for so many peoples. But at the time, either there wasn’t nothing happening, or I sure wasn’t aware of it.
Finally, when I was about 27 or 28 it was in the late ‘60s it was when everything in this society started opening up. And I stopped using drugs. I was going to a program called NA and I will give them a lot of credit for my recovery. I was working at Catholic Charities and one day these hippie-looking people walked in with no shoes on and all raggedy and I said, “What’s up with this?” And they were using our mimeograph and putting out a bunch of flyers so I went over there out of curiosity to find out what’s up. And this girl started running down to me all about the farmworkers union, all about their plight and everything. Whew, she was good! And I told her well, anytime you have anything you need run off you let me know and I’ll run it off during my lunch or after work. So that was my first little step and then the next thing I knew I was going to picket lines and I just got more and more involved until I was doing organizing for the farmworkers fulltime. And this was during the time of the McGovern campaign and the Brown Berets and what have you.
But also during this time I had my four children and I really wasn’t very political because I was a single parent, four kids, low income, no education. So I had to try and get some education and scuffle out a living. But I would come out once in a while when there was something big that I found out about, for example I went to jail one time for a couple weeks for protesting the Livermore Lab and nuclear weapons.
Then my kids grew up and I couldn’t wait to get involved politically. And I made some little attempts and was still trying to get situated with a place to live and work. But when 9-11 happened, things changed for everyone, including me. And I was ready to get politically active. Three days after 9-11 Michael Franti put on a concert in the Park in San Francisco and he announced that after the concert there was going to be a work party over at New College. And that was when I started working with Not In Our Name and I got involved with them.
But also during that time I met a guy in the RCP and we were driving out to Santa Rosa and on the way there he asked me, “Well, what do you think about communism?” And I said, “Well, I’m not down for communism.” And he said, “Well, what do you know about it?” And as soon as he said that a kind of light bulb went on in my head and I realized instantly the only thing I really knew about communism was what the system had programmed me to know about it. I kind of had this vision of communism to be a police state authoritarian place where they make you do whatever job they tell you to do, very strict, no freedom of choice, nothing appealing to me. And that’s all I knew about it.
But I was open to thinking about communism, just realizing that anything I learned from this system has definitely got to be questionable. And because I know the system we live under here is screwed up—I have known that for years. So I thought maybe I should open my ears a little bit.
So I started attending some meetings about revolution and communism. I saw some films about the revolution in Nepal. And I have had wonderful revolutionary friends who started having conversations with me, reading this book or article together and I have to say that I have never met any better people in the world than the people that are down with this Party. And then I saw the DVD with Bob Avakian. That was very very impressive to me. The man has a whole lot of smarts, insight, soul, compassion and anger! He is really right on!
And though I cannot be a communist because I do believe in God—and believe me we have had lots of debates about God vs atheism—I am still like a communist at heart, a Catholic communist if there has ever been such a thing.
I am very appreciative that the RCP is for revolution and the whole system being uprooted versus some kind of reformist approach. Because voting, I really believe is a joke. A dirty joke actually and I do believe the system has to be uprooted and changed.
They always say we gotta vote for the lesser of two evils. There is no lesser of the evil. Way back to the days of the Indians and pioneers, it’s always been a capitalistic and racist society. If it really was a good society like they say with “Equality, justice and liberty” there would have been no slaves or genocide of the Indians, women would not have had to fight for their rights, homosexuals would not have to fight for their rights. It just never has been a just system.
There are so many good causes that people get involved in; labor, housing, feeding the people, ecology, it is just unlimited. But putting our time into all these things under this system is spinning our wheels. We’ve got to get this whole system uprooted and changed.
And we can make a revolution. There are way more common people and proletarians in the world. And we need to stand up and we can. People are not down for being walked on anymore. But it is going to take millions of people to do this. One of the things I like about the RCP is that they look at the accomplishments of revolutions but they also look at and study how those revolutions were defeated and they really want the people’s input about how society should be run. They don’t want it to be top down.
A different world is possible. And I think we need Bob Avakian out there much more explaining to people what that different world, a communist world, could be. And I think this all needs to happen pretty fast because the Bush regime are trying to sew things up. And they are going to try and shut Bob Avakian up, so more people need to have his back and defend him.
A couple months back, there was the whole debate around the Sensenbrenner Bill that attacks immigrants and the whole upsurge of protest against these attacks, and there is the war in Iraq and now the government is talking about going after Iran. Like we say, “The World Can’t Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime!"
But now, especially, I really believe we need Bob Avakian’s leadership. The masses need him and his ability to take really complex ideas about revolution and communism and “break it down” to people—like he says, “Revolution: Why it’s necessary, why it’s possible, and what it’s all about.”
In 2004 I volunteered and went to New York to organize and protest at the Republican National Convention. I was there and my daughter and granddaughter came to protest also. We had three generations of revolutionary women there protesting the Bush regime and everything cruel and rotten he stands for.
But while I was there I saw Sunsara Taylor giving a news conference and I was so proud of her because there were quite a few different branches of the news media there and the youth were behind her with their red flags up in the air, real proud like, and she gave a dynamo speech, and at the end they all put their fists up in the air, and I was like, “WOW!” Because before that I had always had a little knot in my stomach about saying “communism” in public because I thought it would scare them away but after that I felt like we needed to be out front in every way possible. We need to find the ways to educate people about what communism is instead of the way they have been misinformed by the system.
This experience stayed with me. And when I got back to the Bay Area, and when all the protests happened against these fascist attacks on immigrants, and May 1st , the revolutionary holiday of the International Proletariat came around with a protest of tens of thousands in the streets of San Francisco, I told my friends and comrades in the RCP that I really love communism and I wanted to carry the red flag of communism on May First because I may not have a chance to do it again. You see, for some time now I have been battling cancer. But still, while individually my battle has been with cancer, the overall battle is to free humanity which can and will be possible through revolution.
To all of you out there who are hesitant about revolution and communism I really encourage you to look into it deeply. And think about humanity as a whole and where we are going and how are we going to get there. And get with the revolution. Because I can honestly say, the happiest years of my life have been the last few. I have met the best people and I thank all of them. And I want to say especially to all the youth today going through the same things I went through in my life, don’t wait, get at the revolution with all your heart and life now.
Revolution #57, August 30, 2006
"Living in an atmosphere of fear and recrimination"
The Revolution Interview is a special feature to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music, literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own, and they are not responsible for the views expressed elsewhere in Revolution and on our website.
In July during the Gay Games in Chicago, Revolution interviewed Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the country’s leading advocacy organizations for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. He is part of the legal team representing Jennifer Harris in the Penn State case (see Revolution’s article “Jennifer Harris: Standing up to Persecution at Penn State.”
Revolution: Could you talk to us about what has been happening to gay and lesbian people in sports, and how it relates to the larger things going on in society.
Shannon Minter: The world of sports has been one of the last areas in which lesbian and gay people have been able to come out and be open. It has really been, to an astonishing degree, a bastion of homophobia where it is accepted and taken for granted that it is permissible to be homophobic and to kick athletes off a team, if you find out they are lesbian or gay.
I think we are in the middle — maybe more in the beginning in some ways — of seeing challenges to that. I think things will move very quickly now that the flood gates have been opened and you are starting to see some openly gay and lesbian athletes come out.
I think the pace of progress now is going to get speeded up intensely. At the same time, creating change on this issue will require a big struggle, and it is likely to be ugly. A lot of coaches and coaching staff have been allowed to operate with complete autonomy and in complete disregard of the law. Especially at schools where the athletic program brings in money and prestige to the school , the athletic departments have operated like their own little kingdoms, outside of any meaningful oversight or control, so there is lots of blatantly illegal homophobic discrimination going on.
Revolution: Can you talk about the case your group has brought against Penn State and the treatment of Jennifer.
Shannon Minter: Pennsylvania does not have a statewide law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination, but Penn State is a public university so they are certainly subject to the equal protection clause and to the constitutionally protected right to privacy.
One of our legal claims is that the coach, Coach Rene Portland, relentlessly probed into our client Jennifer Harris’ private life, constantly asking our client and other players whether or not our client was gay, and trying to find out details about who she was dating and so forth. So, in addition to alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation, Jennifer is also bringing an invasion of privacy claim.
Revolution: How common is this? How many athletes a year are targeted, and harassed, and get kicked out of programs?
Shannon Minter: I haven’t seen any kind of data, surveys, or studies on that. But it is pervasive. Many lesbian and gay people participate in athletics. And based on the experience we have, in terms of getting calls from student athletes, it is very common. Many coaches and administrators still have very homophobic attitudes. The environment at most schools is such that any student athlete who is lesbian or gay is just living in fear of being discovered — and we are talking about young people, eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old. These players are very young. It is very difficult for them to negotiate the pressures of coming to terms with their identities in such a hostile environment.
Revolution: Some athletes at the Gay Games have been describing the impact of suddenly losing the support of their teammates — ostracized in an environment that is built around teamwork.
Shannon Minter: What we often see is that student athletes who are themselves lesbian or gay, but who are highly secretive and closeted about it, will sometimes turn on another teammate who is known to be or suspected of being gay. This is such a sad statement.
The homophobia in these settings is just toxic. It creates an atmosphere of mistrust and leads to witchhunts, where students are pitted against one another. They are living in an atmosphere of fear and recrimination. It is enormously destructive.
Revolution: How is this fight over whether athletes are allowed to be openly gay connected to a larger fight over whether sex roles for men and women, even heterosexual men and women, will be tightened?
Shannon Minter: Athletes are heroes in our society. They are our modern day gladiators. Athletes are highly respected and well known. They are cultural icons and role models. Because of the unique role athletes play in our culture, for openly lesbian and gay athletes to be accepted would be a tremendous step forward.
If we can get to the point where an athlete can come out as lesbian and gay, and still be revered and respected and supported by the public — i think that will be a very clear sign that lesbian and gay people are fully accepted as equals. That is part of why we at he National Center for Lesbian Rights have a Sports Project: because the cultural stakes are so high.
I do believe that the root cause of homophobia in sports is gender stereotyping. Women participating in athletics and sports has always been caught up in all kinds of gender stereotyping.
This goes way back to when women first wanted to ride bicycles, back at the turn of the century — and people were upset that it was going to “masculinize” women and that women weren’t physically able to engage in this kind of vigorous activity and that it would prevent them from being able to have children. There was a firestorm of public controversy, based on sexist opinions that we now view as crazy, but that had very strong traction at the time. We’re still living with this legacy of cultural fear — that women being strong and athletic and participating in contact sports is somehow contrary to stereotypes that women should be mothers, and homemakers, and feminine, that they should different than men, and opposite than men – women are supposed to be the opposite sex.
To the extent that those stereotypes still are operative (which they are, much less than they used to be, but we still are not beyond them entirely), women in sports, and athletic programs for women, still feel a tremendous amount of pressure to dispel these stereotypes. One of the biggest stereotypes is that allowing women to play sports will turn them all into lesbians. Far too often, women who are athletic are automatically assumed to be lesbians.
I believe this legacy of sexism is the root of most of the homophobia in women’s sports. Many coaches and administrators are so paranoid about people viewing women’s sports negatively and viewing female athletes as lesbians — that they are determined to keep people who actually are lesbians off their teams. A lot of them, I think, don’t actually care if players are lesbians but they want them to hide it. As long as they keep it completely closeted and secretive, and don’t tell anyone, that’s "ok." But if a player is openly lesbian or gay, they are worried it will affect public support for their programs.
With men the stereotypes are just the opposite of course. The idea of men playings sports fits perfectly with conventional gender stereotypes — and the idea that a male athlete could be gay undercuts that.
Revolution: Penn State let this policy of overt discrimination go on for over twenty years. Last October, four Big Ten coaches were quoted in the press expressing personal support for Portland. What is your sense of the larger support structure for those on the other side of this battle?
Shannon Minter: I think that increasingly the public does not support people being penalized for the sexual orientation, we are right in the middle of a big societal shift on this. We have been really encouraged by how many mainstream sports writers and commentators have come out condemning Rene Portland’s policies and calling for her resignation. USA Today had an editorial calling for her resignation, the student newspaper at the college called for her resignation, a commentator for ESPN called for her resignation.
Things are changing. The public is not comfortable any more with the idea of a player being kicked off a team for being lesbian or gay. I think what we have as well though is an information gap on that point: Most people don’t realize how homophobic sports are. They are surprised when they hear about it. For example, when Penn State conducted its investigation of Coach Portland and confirmed Jennifer’s allegations, many people were shocked and upset and thought Portland should be removed from her position. I’m very encouraged by that.
Revolution: On the other hand Coach Portland got a slap on the wrist from Penn State.
Shannon Minter: We were not happy at all with Penn State’s response. I thought it was very odd that they did an extensive investigation, and confirmed that she had discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and then failed to take any meaningful action. They fined her $10,000, which at her salary is minimal. It was concerning. I’m not sure what message Penn State intended to send or thought they were sending, that’s still a question for me, but objectively speaking, I fear that the message they sent is that they don’t care. Whether they intended that, I’m not sure. But I do think it gave her the impression she had a green light to carry on. We are still in the middle of litigating that case.
Revolution: And this is not an atypical story.
Shannon Minter: No it isn’t! The one and only thing atypical about the story is that someone was willing to fight back. Jennifer was willing to take action and file a lawsuit. And it is very scary for her — to be twenty years old and take on a coach with tremendous power to destroy Jennifer’s career is daunting. It’s a lot of pressure to put on a twenty-year-old.