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Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
One year ago. August 29, 2005.
New Orleans. Katrina.
Whole families wading in chest-high floods.
Bodies floating in toxic water, a dead grandmother left to bake in the sun.
Desperation, hunger and thirst emanating off scorching rooftops.
People, most of them Black, packed into a modern-day stadium slave ship.
Over 100,000 -- abandoned and criminalized.
Soldiers and cops and even Blackwater mercenaries pointing guns at -- and yes, beating, shooting at, and killing -- people trying to survive.
Families separated by heartless evacuation.
Many, many needlessly dead.
And we remember the poor, mainly Black, people in New Orleans – abandoned by the government -- taking matters into their own hands, overwhelmingly in order to support and help each other, especially those in the most desperate need. We remember the youth wading in chest-high water to save those who were trapped, commandeering school and city buses to get people to safety, and sharing food and water taken from deserted stores. We remember people voicing their outrage at a government, a regime, a system that had not only left them to rot, but penned them in by force.
We remember the people all over the country, from many different walks of life, stepping forward in thousands of ways to try to help, only to be thwarted by the government.
And we remember Bush, fiddling like Nero when Rome burned, heartless. We remember learning how first Congress and then Bush had slashed funds for the levees – in the face of warnings that they would blow. We remember his mother saying that things “were working out very well” for the Katrina victims, as families were split apart and people waited for word of their loved ones. We remember the Louisiana Congressman who said they had been trying to get rid of public housing for years, and now “God had done it” through the hurricanes.
We remember. And we must never forget . . . and never forgive.
“We don’t need religion, we need revolution. We don’t need to ‘get right with God,’ we need to get rid of this system.”
Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
In the wake of Katrina, Bush and the Democrats competed with each other in their promises. Now, a year later, the promises have proven to be as worthless as the mud that still clogs the houses of the Lower Ninth Ward. The rulers of society hope that people will neither remember the searing images of, nor draw the lessons from, Katrina.
Katrina shows once again that this system is based on nothing but the expansion of profit and the protection of capitalist property, and that to this system, human lives count for nothing. The vast majority of suffering was not necessary. Humanity has the ability to take care of the environment, to prepare for natural disasters when they do happen, and to do all this in a cooperative way. But the whole way that things are set up under capitalism meant that this didn’t happen. Now, a year later, tens of thousands are still suffering, getting cut off government aid, and are unable to rebuild their homes and move back to New Orleans. They are up against a system that sees devastation and dislocation as an opportunity to get rid of public housing and the “problem” of poor people. The people are there, the desire to rebuild is there, the means to do it are there -- but nothing can happen until it’s figured out how the profit is going to be made and who’s going to make it.
Katrina shows how the institutions of white supremacy and the ideas of racism are woven into the very workings of U.S. capitalism and how all this is consciously reinforced by those who rule it. The fact that the people who were crowded into the worst housing and who could not afford to leave were overwhelmingly Black . . . the ways in which Black people were penned into the Superdome like a modern-day slave ship . . . the way they were demonized with lies in the media and their suffering heartlessly dismissed by people highly connected with the Bush Regime and members of the regime itself . . . the viciousness of the cops who used force against Black people trying to escape New Orleans: what does all this show other than the living legacy of slavery and Jim Crow? And what does it mean when a year later the mostly Black people displaced by Katrina are still scattered to the four winds, still suffering, still kept from rebuilding? Does all this not show how deeply the poison of white supremacy runs in the veins of this society, and how it is buttressed and constantly reinforced by the policies, actions, and decisions of those at the top of it?
Katrina came out of the ocean, with relatively little warning (though there was warning enough to evacuate people). But the ways in which Katrina was dealt with did not come out of nowhere – they came out of a system, one which is long overdue for extinction. For 400 years American capitalism has fed off of and constantly reproduced, in different forms, the oppression of Black people. And this utterly worthless system will continue to do so, in increasingly grotesque and horrific ways, unless and until it is overthrown by the revolutionary action of millions and tens of millions of people.
That is the real message from the rooftops.
As a statement by our Party, shortly after Katrina, put it:
“Not only the need but also the possibility of revolution, and of a radically different society, shows through in these events – once they are understood in their true light. Masses of people, in the areas most immediately affected, were being left by the government to suffer, day after day, in conditions not fit for human beings, yet they showed their humanity in many ways and put the lie to the slanders that portrayed them as criminals and animals.”
The statement pointed to the ways that people demonstrated this, and how in standing up they were supported and assisted by people all over the country. And it went on: “In all this can be seen the potential for masses of people to be mobilized to bring into being a society in which relations among people are radically different than the daily dog-eat-dog that this capitalist system pushes people into. “
This however is still potential – and there is much work to do to realize this. There is the need to help people, as that statement said, become “aware of and organized on the basis of an understanding of how the whole operation of this system is in direct and deep-going conflict with their real and fundamental interests.” There is the need to get to people with the books and talks of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, and to get Revolution newspaper out far and wide, raising people’s sights and understanding, and letting them get to know, engage with, and come closer to the Party and its revolutionary leadership.
To quote a recent article in our paper: “those who see the need for and wish to contribute to a revolution must focus their efforts on raising the political and ideological consciousness of masses of people and building massive political resistance to the main ways in which, at any given time, the exploitative and oppressive nature of this system is concentrated in the policies and actions of the ruling class and its institutions and agencies—striving through all this to enable growing numbers of people to grasp both the need and the possibility for revolution when the necessary conditions have been brought into being, as a result of the unfolding of the contradictions of the system itself as well as the political, and ideological, work of revolutionaries.” (See “Some Crucial Points of Revolutionary Orientation — in Opposition to Infantile Posturing and Distortions of Revolution,” Revolution #55, available at revcom.us)
Through all this – through both the ideological and politicsal struggle and work – a revolutionary people can be brought into being: millions and millions who are conscious of the need for revolutionary change and determined to fight for it.
That of course is the remark that Kanye West caught hell – and applause – for. But it goes way deeper than that. And it points to the most crucial struggle of the day – the need to unite millions to DRIVE OUT THE BUSH REGIME.
Bush is both a continuation of the same capitalist system, but he is also a perverse extension of it. He aims for a very different social order in the U.S. –- a combination of fascist religious dictatorship at home with an even more aggressive imperialist policy against the world. And he is hell-bent to hammer this down.
As part of that, Bush has been destroying the concessions that came out of the huge struggles of the 1960s. He aims to build up a section of preachers within the Black community who tell people that they have only themselves to blame for the suffering brought down by the system, and who are part of a political movement aiming to institute theocracy – a fascist religious dictatorship – over society. He does this by driving down the living standards of the Black masses and then dispensing funds through these preachers to use for people’s basic needs.
Bush piously claims that all this is for the good of Black people. But what’s the real program here? These people are not ordinary Christians – they are Christian fascists, who aim to abolish the separation of church and state and want to force all of society to abide by their version of Biblical law. Pat Robertson, a powerful Christian fascist who is among Bush’s top backers, preaches that the prison system, where a million Black people are locked up, should be replaced with an even more vicious setup. Robertson says that these prisoners put “the stain of sin on the land” and he preaches that society should adopt “the biblical model” where “the hard-core, habitual criminal was permanently removed from society through capital punishment.”
Think about that. A large section of Black people have been pushed into desperate lives, and all the racist hype means that even a Black congresswoman trying to go into the Capitol building, or a Black businessman in a Lexus, is fair game for police brutality. People are sent to jail on the flimsiest of evidence. In this situation, capital punishment for “hard-core criminals” has seriously genocidal overtones. And remember Bush’s order that there be “zero tolerance” for “looters” in New Orleans – that is, people desperately trying to find food, pampers and medicine for themselves and their families. Isn’t this the same logic at heart as Robertson’s? And if that is not enough, what does it mean that Robertson’s so-called charity arm was listed by FEMA as one of the top three places where people were supposed to send donations after Katrina?!
But again all this fits into something bigger – a whole agenda and a whole direction of society. The criminal neglect and brutality in New Orleans comes on top of the Bush Regime’s drive to discredit environmental scientists, tear up what few environmental regulations exist, and expand burning of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming, aggravating future Katrinas. It comes on top of the ongoing, unjust and brutal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On top of the U.S.-sponsored Israeli invasion of Lebanon. On top of efforts to fill the courts with fascist judges, to “legalize” torture and jail people without trials or lawyers. On top of government support for extreme fundamentalist Christianity. On top of the denial of abortion rights and birth control, the demonization of gay people, attacks on evolution and the promotion of ignorance and intolerance more generally. It comes on top of the offensive against immigrants, and the attempt to turn them into outlaws.
And who knows what next, if it isn’t stopped? The invasion or even nuclear bombing of Iran? Some new Katrina-type outrage within the U.S.? Or something else? People cannot afford to sit by and wonder and wait for the next outrage. We must act.
This whole murderous and disastrous course must be reversed, immediately. The people have a verdict to deliver on the crimes that have been and are being carried out by the Bush Regime in New Orleans: guilty of mass murder. And right now, the most powerful way this verdict can be delivered is by going ALL OUT over the next six weeks to build for OCTOBER 5TH as a powerful expression on of the people’s determination to BRING THIS TO A HALT and DRIVE OUT THE BUSH REGIME.
October 5 will be massive political manifestations in the streets. But it won’t be politics as usual. It will be something radically different – “people refusing to work, or walking out from work, taking off school or walking out 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.” (From the statement, “There is a Way! There is a Day!”, from World Can't Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime.)
This is worth throwing everything into. For those who experienced Katrina, and for those who weren’t there but know from their life experience “what it’s all about,” there’s a need to join with others, to bring that experience into the whole mix and set about really changing things. The voices of those whom this society has fed off of and persecuted must sound out powerfully on October 5 and then beyond. And for those who were outraged by Katrina, who learned something new and deeper about this society, you too must take that outrage and those lessons into the struggle to build October 5.
As the Call to Drive Out The Bush Regime concludes: “History is full of examples where people who had right on their side fought against tremendous odds and were victorious. And it is also full of examples of people passively hoping to wait it out, only to get swallowed up by a horror beyond what they ever imagined. The future is unwritten. WHICH ONE WE GET IS UP TO US.”
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
by Li Onesto
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts by Director Spike Lee will be shown on HBO:
Acts I and II premiere Monday, August 21 at 9 pm (ET/PT), followed by Acts III and IV on Tuesday, August 22 at 9 pm.
All four acts will be seen Tuesday, August 29 (8 pm - midnight), the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina
Spike Lee’s new documentary, When the Levees Broke – A Requiem in Four Acts, starts off with a whirl of images that flash between historical shots of Mardi Gras, funeral jazz bands, racists holding the Confederate flag, police brutality, and heart-wrenching footage of the devastation after Hurricane Katrina: completely destroyed homes, a man being pushed through the floods in a wheelchair, people on roofs crying out for help, spray-paint on houses tallying the dead inside. Louis Armstrong is singing, “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans when that’s where you left your heart.”
Then Act I begins right away to put the lie to Bush’s claim that no one had anticipated the break in the levees. In the days leading up to August 29, the day Katrina hit New Orleans, meteorologists as well as others were predicting a very serious Category 5 hurricane and saying that the city, which is six feet below sea level, should be evacuated.
But from the very beginning, the historical and everyday inequalities of life in the USA asserted themselves. While many were able to find ways to get out of the city, thousands of others lined up at the Superdome – which was seen as the place of last resort for those mainly poor, mainly Black residents who didn’t have the means to get out. And many thousands more, especially the elderly, sick, and disabled, were stuck in their homes.
And we learn that FEMA (which emerges as a major target of people’s anger throughout the movie) had already funded a study called PAM, which showed through computer-simulated models what would happen if a Category 5 hurricane hit New Orleans. The study predicted that 127,000 people who didn’t have access to vehicles, and many disabled and homeless, would not be able to get out of the city on their own.
Then we see what happened when Katrina hit on August 29. The footage is horrifically vivid and visceral – but one can only imagine what it was like to be sitting in a dark house, hearing, feeling and fearing the natural fury of such a force. One man describes manhole covers popping off all over as water quickly filled the streets.
Tens of thousands found themselves at the mercy of the storm. At this point there was little they could do except try to stay alive as torrents of rain and monstrous winds wreaked havoc all around them. The crime that would lead to many deaths and widespread suffering had already been committed – the government had failed to maintain the levees and evacuate the city. And this was only the beginning of the system’s criminal acts.
The floods rose above 20 feet in some places. Eighty percent of the city was under water. People were stuck for days on roofs in 100 degree heat with nothing to eat or drink.
Toward the end of Act I, we see Bush. Like the thousands of people who attended the preview in New Orleans on August 16, you feel compelled to BOO, at the very least. W says he understands the anxiety of the people on the ground and with his irrepressible smirk says, “I don’t think anyone anticipated the break in the levees.”
Right after this we hear from Terence Blanchard, who did the score for the movie and is a native of New Orleans. He says: “You have to worry about a country that can look at a vast number of mistakes that this administration has made that has directly affected people’s lives. You have to worry about a country that can look at all of that and still not see this guy for who he is. I know I’m going to get mail, I know I’m going to get ostracized, but you gotta say that because I’m worried about the country. When you look at an organization like FEMA that was passing the buck about how to just bring in normal stuff, water and food. How hard could that be? I still haven’t heard any answers that convinces me that it couldn’t have been done differently.”
In Act II we see the scope of just how widely, cruelly, and consciously the government abandoned people in the aftermath of Katrina.
It was a combination of gun-in-your-face repression and wanton, murderous neglect.
We hear the infamous story of how people were blocked from trying to get to safety by crossing the bridge into Jefferson Parish. How the police lined up with shotguns. The elderly, the injured, those who had been abandoned by authorities on the interstate highway – were threatened at gunpoint and told to turn around.
A man lifts up his shirt. All over his body we see scars from healed holes where a scatter of buckshot had blasted his chest. There is a scar several inches long on his neck where his wound had required surgery. He says he was shot at by a white guy in a white t-shirt.
And then the footage of Governor Kathleen Blanco saying: “We are going to restore law and order... These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary and I expect that they will.”
We hear how the chief of police, Eddie Compass, spread wild rumors about babies being raped, helicopters being shot at. He admits on camera that he said things that weren’t true. He says, “I guess I heightened people’s fears...I erred on the side of caution.” In fact he created a dangerous hysteria by putting out wild lies that painted the masses like animals that needed to be hunted down.
What emerges is the manufacturing of a racist, vigilante atmosphere which gave cops and soldiers carte blanche to shoot on sight “looters” (i.e. people trying to survive) and a green light to white racists who came back to their neighborhoods fully packed because, as one man told Spike, “I wasn’t sure what I was going to find.”
Then comes – from what people have told me who attended the premiere in New Orleans – a part of the movie that got one of the biggest and loudest response, i.e. lots of BOOING. It’s the part where we see, hear, and get enraged at what Bush and Co. were doing in the immediate days after Katrina. It’s the part where we see in a very clear way the connection between the dying and suffering and what the Bush government did and did not do.
There are a series of quick cuts to interview clips. Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge and a professor at Tulane University, talks about the government’s slow response to the hurricane, how Bush went to San Diego to give a speech about Iraq and barely mentioned Katrina. Rev. Al Sharpton tells us that when Bush finally addressed the situation, he initially said he was “not informed.”
Then it cuts to actor Harry Belafonte, who says: “First of all, the government did know, had been amply warned by agencies, by people who are meteorologists, people who study weather patterns, that this catastrophe was headed towards the Gulf region, and that it had capacity to be bigger than anything else the region had ever experienced.” Later Belafonte adds, “There was information. Why the government of the United States, and particularly Bush, decided not to respond and not to pay attention to that, I think was based upon a host of reasons. First of all, the arrogance of power, huge arrogance on the part of the government. It didn't mean that much to other things that were capturing his attention, and that he thought was far more important. And when it finally did happen, he just thought that the people who were caught in this terrible tragedy were first of all socially of no importance, and certainly racially of no importance as well.”
At every point in this story we see how FEMA, headed by Michael Brown, miserably failed to meet even the most basic needs of the people who were fighting to survive.
Spike runs a repeating loop of Bush saying, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”
And then we see Bush in Air Force One, flying over New Orleans. From up on high, he's looking down below. From up on high, he can't smell the stench of death, hear the cries of parents separated from their children, or witness the tragedy of people losing their minds.
Calvin Mackie, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Tulane University, says: “How could it be that in a country that’s supposedly the richest country in the world, where the 82nd Airborne are prepared to be anywhere in the world in a day and a half, where we were in the region of Sri Lanka when the Tsunami hit, in less than two days, and here we are, day four, day five and the federal government had still not made it to New Orleans?”
Douglas Brinkley says: “In the Bush Administration, I mean, if you go through each one of them and say where were you when the Golden Hour came – Dick Cheney, fly fishing, Karl Rove, nowhere around, Chertoff, going to Atlanta on a disease prevention kick, Condoleezza Rice, shopping.”
And Dr. Michael Eric Dyson (author Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster) adds: “What was Dr. Condoleezza Rice doing that looked very poorly? She was at Feragamos buying shoes. I think a white patron came up to her, maybe a white woman and said, 'how dare you?' While people are down there drowning it was like the sandman hook, whoop, she got pulled off, brother. That was a mini-Apollo stage, and she wasn't hitting it, so they pulled her off the stage. Then she goes to Spamalot that night and when the cameras frame her familiar figure, once the lights come on and they see it's Dr. Condoleezza Rice, 'Boo' -- they began to boo her and then the next day she’s hitting tennis balls with Monica Seles at a club. So Blahniks, Broadway and balls are more important than black people.”
When the government finally did something about the tens of thousands who had been abandoned for days at the Superdome, the Convention Center and up on the interstate overpasses, it was done with the heartlessness of a cruel plantation owner.
One resident recalled: “With the evacuation scattering my family all over the United States I felt like it was an ancient memory as if we had been up on an auction block.”
Tens of thousands were scattered all over the country – to 44 different states with one-way tickets. People put on buses didn’t know where they were going. Families were separated. Children ripped away from their parents.
Michael Eric Dyson says, “Some people suggested that this was akin to slavery. ‘Oh no, you’re being hyperbolic. You’re just engaging in all forms of racial inflammatory rhetoric, calm down.' Well, the fact is, they were treating them like slaves in the ship, families were being separated, children were being taken from their mothers and fathers. Those who were more weary and those who were more likely to be vulnerable were separated from those who were stronger. Babies literally ripped out of the arms of their mothers and fathers. The separation of the evacuation where people lost sight and lost sound and lost sense of their loved ones.”
Then Act II ends with what is both the hardest part to watch and the most indicting in terms of just how much what happened in New Orleans was, as Spike put it, “a criminal act.”
For a full 78 seconds, we see photos of bodies – floating in water, lying on sidewalks, underneath debris, decomposing, mangled, left for days, left for months.
In Act III, we see Kanye West making his famous statement that “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” He tells Spike, “When I was up there I wasn’t concerned about record sales, I wasn’t concerned about sponsorships, about losing any sponsorships, which we did. But I was more concerned about if I was in these people’s shoes.”
And the movie reveals several other incidents that show just how angry people were at the government.
Dr. Ben Marble, a white ER physician, recounts how he was walking through his devastated neighborhood in Gulfport, Mississippi, when he came up to a roadblock. Dick Cheney was nearby doing a “I really do care” photo op. Marble says, “We had been hearing reports of what was going on in New Orleans and just how completely incompetent the response was to this disaster. I remember what he had said to Senator Leahy from Vermont on the floor of the Senate when he told him to go fuck himself, so I thought it would be poetic justice if I quoted the dick to the dick.” We see the video his friend took of him going right up to Cheney and yelling, “Go fuck yourself!”
Cheryl Livaudais, a white resident of Yscloskey in the St. Bernard Parish, also shares her sentiments about the Bush Administration. From what I’ve been told, Livaudais was a favorite figure in the movie among many who attended the premiere. People howled with bitter laughter when she said, “President Bush can kiss my ass. The United States government can kiss my ass. St. Bernard Parish can kiss my ass. Even though there’s not much left, but there’s enough to kiss.”
And Spike Lee underscores the outrageousness of what Barbara Bush said when she toured the Houston Astrodome. We see her lips move, hear her voice and read the words across the bottom of the screen: “What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all wanna stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality and so many of the people in the arenas here, you know, were underprivileged anyway. This is working very well for them.”
Once again, you can’t help but be transported back to a scene from America’s ugly history of slavery. An arrogant, condescending, and ignorant plantation wife, talking about how good the slave owners treat their slaves.
After seeing When the Levees Broke, it struck me how the masses of people in New Orleans have gone through an experience very similar to what millions around the world have gone through because of wars perpetrated by the United States. Death, the total destruction of homes, families separated by evacuation and relocation, soldiers and cops with shoot-on-sight orders, and the mental anguish and heartbreak of having your whole life ripped apart and then confronting a government that does everything in its power to prevent you from coming back home.
Spike Lee interviews several people experiencing severe stress because of what they went through after Katrina, and it's a lot like the kind of post traumatic stress syndrome of people who have gone through a war. They can’t sleep, they have anxiety attacks, they find themselves suddenly weeping in the middle of the day.
In April 2006, I went to New Orleans to interview people and photograph the devastation. It was shocking to me just how little had been done to clean up and rebuild the neighborhoods, especially the Ninth Ward, but also throughout much of the city. I interviewed a young Black woman in the Ninth Ward who recounted how she swam for hours in the rising waters to try and find her fiancé. She told me that even now, she has a hard time, every single day, just dealing in any kind of way with water. She even has trouble washing her hands.
As the first anniversary of Katrina approaches, many parts of New Orleans are still uninhabitable ghost towns. A year has gone by and tens of thousands are still scattered all over the country, unable to come home and rebuild. The 2006 hurricane season started with the levees still not fully fixed. Insurance companies are refusing to pay. Government vouchers are being cut. FEMA is, as we hear several people explain, still a disaster, a joke, and a dirty, four letter word. And they are still finding bodies in the rubble.
In Act IV we see how land grabbers and other vultures see the destruction and misery in New Orleans as an opportunity to rip off land, and cash in on what they consider the most valuable resource in New Orleans – not the people, the rich culture or the historical significance – but oil and natural gas. We learn that 25 percent of all the natural gas produced in the U.S. and 20 percent of all the oil used domestically in the U.S. is produced off the shore of Louisiana. Douglas Brinkley points out, “The state of Louisiana has long been used as almost a colony, or as a place to extract resources by the rest of the United States,” and then says, “I’ve never seen such a time when the government turned its back on people in need to this degree. To have a people in such dire need, getting such little help from the federal government. I think it’s unprecedented.”
When the Levees Broke introduces us to close to 100 people in New Orleans, from different nationalities, from diverse backgrounds, and with a range of opinions. It also introduces us to a cast of criminal co-conspirators which includes George Bush and Co. as well as racism, poverty, and police brutality. This important movie provides an important stage for the people of New Orleans to speak bitterness and expose the many crimes that have been perpetrated by the workings of this system. The stories of horror, sorrow, frustration, and anger reveal the scale, depth and ongoing nature of these crimes. And from the most poor and oppressed in the Lower Ninth Ward, to the white working class neighborhood of St. Bernard Parish, to the doctors, engineers, and professors who are also trying to get their lives back together – we see a spirit of resistance and determination to speak out and fight against all the injustices the government has and is bringing down on the people.
And this movie, very importantly, underscores how the tragedy of Katrina was not fundamentally due to the forces of nature, but to the forces of the Bush government and the capitalist system more generally.
Musician Wynton Marsalis, a native of New Orleans, offers this insight: “I think that this is a great moment in American history because I feel that in this moment we see a lot of what’s wrong with us. It’s a signature moment. It’s like sometimes you walk past a mirror and you see yourself in a position you don’t like. Damn, I thought I was ten pounds overweight, I’m 50. But this is like you stayed in front the mirror and you couldn’t turn away from it. You stayed in that pose and everything in that pose shows us what’s wrong with us.”
And in the last few minutes of the movie, Cheryl Livaudais, a St. Bernard Parish resident, declares, “We need a different government. We need somebody in there who actually really and truly cares about the people, about their property, about their homes. Someone who really and truly cares.” Then she asks, “But who is that going to be?”
It was quite a bit after midnight when I arrived in New Orleans, nine months after Hurricane Katrina. I remember driving down N. Claiborne Avenue, heading into the lower Ninth Ward and seeing block after block of broken down, abandoned cars under the interstate 10 highway.” There was a strange emptiness to the city that, at one and the same time, seemed quiet but full of suppressed sounds. Turning off the main street into the neighborhood it was pitch dark, no electricity, no lights, no people to peek out of their front window to see who would be driving down the street at such an hour. At that moment it began to hit me – the immensity of what had happened to the residents of New Orleans and how how little the government had done to make it possible for people to come back and rebuild their homes and lives.
I found When the Levees Broke to be very stirring and powerful, and I appreciated the different insights and perspectives. There is exposure here that has been covered up and denied. There is testimony that indicts the Bush Regime as totally unfit to rule. And it revealed for me, even more, the truth of how the institutions of white supremacy and the ideas of racism are woven into the very workings of this system of U.S. capitalism.
Watching When the Levees Broke brought back a lot of memories from my trip to New Orleans. I too heard heartbreaking stories that made me want to both cry and yell out in anger. An older Black couple in the Ninth Ward, sleeping in their car at night and working on their house during the day. A young white guy in St. Bernard Parish, living in a FEMA trailer who couldn't get his medicine for epilepsy. A whole tent city of people living in the park looking for work. Immigrant laborers getting ripped off by contractors.
I also heard moving stories of how people struggled with all their might to keep their dignity, in the face of all the ways the government tried to steal their very humanity.
And I learned about the many ways people took matters into their own hands. How people came together to support each other. How in particular the youth organized to rescue people and get them food and water. The system demonized these youth and sent its armed enforces out to hunt them down.
The whole way the masses of people came together in the face of horrific devastation, made even worse by murderous government neglect and repression, shows not only the need but also the possibility of revolution. And from a revolutionary perspective, I can really appreciate the anger, defiance and resourcefulness of the youth, and their whole life experience with what this system is really all about. This is a potentially very positive and powerful force.
People all over the United States and the world need to see When the Levees Broke. This movie is an important contribution to getting at the whole truth of what happened after Hurricane Katrina and it should be part of a big conversation that needs to happen all across this country, among all kinds of people -- about what is represented by the events in New Orleans, who and what is responsible, and what the people need to do about it.
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
A year ago, people across the U.S. and even around the world watched in shock and horror as tens of thousands of people were abandoned, shot at, left to drown and die in the streets, dissed, and abused in New Orleans. Now one year later, the eyes of the world will be refocused on New Orleans. What will they see? Will New Orleans be a sea of mass struggle that reflects a determination to never forgive and never forget the crimes this system perpetrated in the wake of the hurricane? Will that struggle be echoed by actions that people mount around the country in solidarity with the people of New Orleans in outrage at those same crimes?
Today, one year after the hurricane, there’s a battle on to shape the summation of Katrina, a battle that has huge implications for the future. Volunteers from around the country have come to New Orleans to spend 2 weeks injecting Revolutionary Communism into this battle. The volunteers have hit the ground running, distributing 2800 copies of Revolution newspaper at the premier of Spike Lee’s HBO documentary on Katrina, When The Levees Broke. They also got out “Wanted” T-shirts and posters and engaged people over the new talks by Bob Avakian. Since that premier, these youth and others have been going throughout New Orleans tapping into the anger that people here feel. They’re going into the projects, onto college campuses and out to the clubs, distributing samplers of Bob Avakian’s historic talk, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible and What It’s All About. They’re distributing black armbands for people to wear to symbolize their rage at the horrors inflicted on tens of thousands of people in the wake of Katrina and the continuing horrors as the Bush Regime and other ruling-class figures enforce a rebuilding plan for New Orleans that will make it smaller, whiter, and more sanitized—a Disneyland with a little bit of Mardi Gras flavor.
Carl Dix, the National Spokesperson of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and one of the featured speakers in the Revolutionary Communist 4 Speaking Tour, is one of these volunteers.. He’s going out to people, struggling with representatives of different organizations, doing media work, and engaging the masses of people broadly—taking out a message that this system is responsible for all the horrors people face in the US and around the world and that it’ll take proletarian revolution and going on to a classless communist world to deal with these problems once and for all. These volunteers are helping raise people’s sights to the system that’s responsible for the outrages of Katrina, the war in Iraq and all the other foul things imperialism is inflicting on the planet. And they’re bringing to people the future that can be brought into being through proletarian revolution and the leader we have in Bob Avakian to lead the masses in doing that. They’re aiming at leaving in their wake seeds of revolutionary organization.
To do all this requires tremendous amounts of money! Already thousands of dollars have been spent for airfare and other travel expenses. Money is needed for living expenses for the volunteers, for materials, and other organizing expenses over this 2-week period. Your assistance is urgently needed to seize on the potential in this situation to make a real leap in transforming the situation in a way more favorable to the prospects for revolution and communism.
Checks can be made out to:
RC 4 Speaking Tour, with a notation that they are for New Orleans volunteers.
For contributions of $100 or more where a tax deduction is desired, make out your check to:
A Gathering of the Tribes d/b/a RC 4 Speaking Tour.
Send your checks to:
RC 4 Speaking Tour,
PO Box 941,
NY, NY 10002-0900.
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
New Revelations from Seymour Hersh
What Do You Call It?
Seymour Hersh's article “Watching Lebanon: Washington's Interests in Israel's War,” includes insider-based accounts of infighting within the U.S. ruling class over the strategy of relying on air power to win a modern war. Without getting into all the ins and outs of that debate, the very terms reveal that the United States, and its Mideast attack dog Israel, consciously, deliberately, and on a mass scale planned and carried out systematic terrorist attacks on the people of Lebanon.
Hersh reports that: “The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, called for a major bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation, according to [a] Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli thinking. Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon’s infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon’s large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah... The airport, highways, and bridges, among other things, have been hit in the bombing campaign. The Israeli Air Force had flown almost nine thousand missions as of last week.”
What do you call someone, or a country, that carries out nine thousand bombing attacks, many of them consciously targeted at civilian infastructure (and of course that means civilian people) in order to “persuade” sections of people to support your cause? If that's not terrorism on a massive scale, what is?
As a tenuous UN ceasefire in Lebanon took effect on Monday, August 14, many Lebanese families took advantage of the break in the Israeli-U.S. war to return to their villages and bury their dead. The relentless Israeli bombardment had forced over 1 million people (a quarter of Lebanon’s total population) to flee their homes, and often made it impossible to recover the bodies of those lying under the rubble.
As Lebanese refugees returned home, the Aug. 21 issue of the New Yorker magazine published a report by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh titled “Watching Lebanon: Washington’s Interests in Israel’s War.” Hersh’s article revealed the role of the Bush administration in the planning and execution of war in Lebanon, and that the war in Lebanon was viewed by the Bush administration as preparation and a trial run for a U.S. attack on Iran.
The ceasefire in the war is not an end of the conflict in the region, but marks a different phase through which the various forces of the region contend, including the U.S. and Israel trying to “finish the job” they began with the attack on Lebanon.
At the same time, the war has set loose forces outside the control of U.S., Israel, or the other reactionary forces involved in the fighting. The war did not go according to the plans of Israel and the U.S. Infighting has broken out in the Israeli ruling class. There is increasing friction between the U.S. and the reactionary pro-U.S. regimes in the region because of the positions the rulers of the Arab states have felt compelled to take in relation to the U.S./Israeli invasion. There is widespread anger at the U.S. throughout the region.
A whole set of contradictions are being pushed on that, left to the current trajectory, are moving rapidly towards a major U.S. war against Iran.
The Real Reasons for the Attack on Lebanon
One thing that emerges out of Seymour Hersh's article is that the whole reason for Israel's massive assault on Lebanon that was run out almost unanimously by the mainstream media was a complete lie. Hersh reports that, “According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah--and shared it with Bush Administration officials--well before the July 12th kidnappings [as Hersh refers to the capture of Israeli military forces—Revolution].”
Hersh says several government officials told him that “Israel viewed the soldiers’ kidnapping [again, Hersh's term for the capture of Israeli troops—Revolution] as the opportune moment to begin its planned military campaign against Hezbollah.”
Hersh reports that while Bush officials denied that they knew in advance of the plan for an attack on Lebanon, there had been substantial, high-level discussions between Israel and U.S. military and White House officials over an attack on Lebanon to be “triggered” by some event. According to Hersh, a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel revealed, “The Israelis told us it would be a cheap war with many benefits. Why oppose it? We'll be able to hunt down and bomb missiles, tunnels, and bunkers from the air. It would be a demo for Iran.” (our emphasis)
Hersh's article describes a tight and complex relationship between Israel and the U.S., one with converging interests and waysof working together that often take the form of a wink, a nod, and an airstrike. While Hersh's reporting is not from a perspective of understanding the greater global agenda of the Bush regime, and the role of Israel within that, he does in the “Watching Lebanon” article make an important case that: Israel's attack on Lebanon was sanctioned in various ways by the U.S., that the story about the war being retaliation for captured soldiers was at best a pretext, and--ominously--that the war was a tune-up and test operation for a war on Iran.
“Washington’s Interest”--Ramping Up to Attack Iran
According to Hersh’s sources, the plan for the war in Lebanon grew out of consultations between U.S. and Israeli military officials over plans for a massive U.S. air strike against Iran.
Hersh writes that the U.S. gave Israel the green light for the war for three reasons. First, it would serve as a test run for a U.S. attack on Iran. According to a former senior intelligence official, the Israeli plan for Lebanon was “the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran.’” According to Hersh this would help both with military planning for a war with Iran as well as in silencing ruling class and military critics.
Hersh writes in his article, “The initial U.S. Air Force proposals for an air attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity, which included the option of intense bombing of civilian infrastructure targets inside Iran, have been resisted by the top leadership of the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, according to current and former officials. They argue that the Air Force plan will not work and will inevitably lead, as in the Israeli war with Hezbollah, to the insertion of troops on the ground.”
A former senior intelligence officer told Hersh that Vice President Cheney’s office pushed Israel to move quickly against Lebanon. “We told Israel, ‘Look, if you guys have to go, we’re behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later—the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office,’” Hersh quotes the official as saying.
The second reason for the U.S. support for the war in Lebanon, according to sources quoted by Hersh, was to eliminate Hezbollah’s ability to attack Israel with rockets in retaliation for U.S. strikes against Iran. “You cannot attack Iran without taking [Hezbollah’s missiles and rockets] out, because obviously that's the deterrent. You hit Iran, Hezbollah then bombs Tel Aviv and Haifa. So that's something you have to clean out first,” Hersh said in an interview on Democracy Now!
The third reason was to strike a blow at Hezbollah--both to establish Lebanon as a stable, U.S.-compliant state in the Middle East, and to constrain Iran's ability to respond to an attack by the U.S. in the form of Hezbollah attacks on Israel. A Pentagon consultant, quoted in Hersh’s article, said that the Bush White House “has been agitating for some time to find a reason for a preemptive blow against Hezbollah.” He added, “It was our intent to have Hezbollah diminished, and now we have someone else doing it.”
Problems for U.S. Imperialism and Dangers for the People of the World
Hersh writes that U.S. war planners were surprised by the strength of Hezbollah’s resistance, and its continuing ability to fire rockets into northern Israel in the face of the constant Israeli bombing. “Nonetheless,” Hersh writes, “some officers serving with the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain deeply concerned that the Administration will have a far more positive assessment of the air campaign than they should, the former senior intelligence official said. ‘There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this,’ he said. ‘When the smoke clears, they’ll say it was a success, and they’ll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran.’”
Fundamentally, this is not because the Bush regime is stupid or blind to the dangers and difficulties posed by an invasion of Iran. As Larry Everest wrote in a recent article (“Global Ambitions, Murderous Logic & the Danger of Regional War,” 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. (Right-wing imperialist George Will recently described the Bush approach as one that ‘makes instability, no matter how pandemic or lethal, necessarily a sign of progress,’ which he warned ‘creates a blind eye.’ Washington Post, 7/18). Instead, 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.”
In fact, the U.S. is already working to lay the basis for an attack on Iran or Syria in the midst of the current fighting, both by blaming Iran and Syria for the fighting and by other means. In an article titled “The Neocons’ Next War,” Sidney Blumenthal writes that President Bush has approved a secret program in which the NSA provides signal intelligence (interception of radio communications and other forms of communication) to Israel to monitor whether Syria and Iran are supplying new armaments to Hezbollah. “Inside the administration, neoconservatives on Vice President Dick Cheney's national security staff and Elliott Abrams, the neoconservative senior director for the Near East on the National Security Council, are prime movers behind sharing NSA intelligence with Israel, and they have discussed Syrian and Iranian supply activities as a potential pretext for Israeli bombing of both countries, the source privy to conversations about the program says,” Blumenthal writes. “The neoconservatives are described as enthusiastic about the possibility of using NSA intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.” (Salon.com 8/3/2006)
For its part, the reactionary Islamic Republic of Iran has its own compulsion to push a confrontation with the U.S. The Iranian rulers, who have been faced with massive protests in recent years and who are widely hated for imposing fundamentalist theocratic rule, see confrontation with the U.S. and Israel as a way to bolster their internal base of support and isolate the opposition within Iran. They have their own aspirations to regional influence and power. And they are looking for a way to create conditions for a less unipolar world, where they can shop around for a better deal on oil exports and imperialist investment. The role of Iran (and Syria) in relation to Hezbollah in Lebanon can only be fully understood in the context of those compulsions.
On the battlefield, Israel was not able to win a decisive victory over Hezbollah. Their air war did not destroy Hezbollah, as the U.S. and Israel had hoped, and on the ground they had difficulty seizing and holding onto Lebanese villages that were right on the border with Israel. The war appears to have dragged on longer than originally planned and has given rise to intense anger throughout the region and caused problems with the reactionary Arab states that the U.S. supports.
"The defeat of Hezbollah would be a huge loss for Iran, both psychologically and strategically. Iran would lose its foothold in Lebanon. It would lose its major means to destabilize and inject itself into the heart of the Middle East. It would be shown to have vastly overreached in trying to establish itself as the regional superpower,” conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote. “The United States has gone far out on a limb to allow Israel to win and for all this to happen. It has counted on Israel's ability to do the job. It has been disappointed." (Washington Post, 8/4/2006)
The problems the U.S. and its attack dog Israel encountered in these conflicts mean increased danger for people of the Middle East. The very dynamics of the capitalist-imperialist system, and the pursuit of the Bush regime’s “grand strategy,” compel the U.S. to continue to pursue its objectives in the Middle East and around the world, and to try to overcome obstacles through military aggression regardless of cost.
In the Washington Post Krauthammer wrote, “By the now-inevitable Round Two, Israel will have rejected the failed Olmert-led exercise in hesitancy and will have new leadership, new tactics and new equipment (for example, expensive new plating for its tanks, which were so vulnerable to advanced Iranian antitank weaponry).” (Washington Post, 8/18/2006)
In the face of these monstrous crimes and the even more monstrous crimes being planned, it is up to the masses of people, who see the horror of what the U.S. and Israel have done in Lebanon, and the further horrors that they are planning, to transform the situation through struggle that breaks through the middle on the terms of “McCrusade vs. Jihad,” and brings forward an opposition that refuses to accept those terms.
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
The UN-sponsored ceasefire went into effect on Monday, August 14. This ceasefire is part of the same process and serves the same imperialist political ends as the U.S./Israeli war. The same day, George Bush called Lebanon one of the “three fronts of the global war on terror” (the other two are Iraq and Afghanistan). In his speech, Bush critiqued the policy of previous U.S. administrations of “promoting stability in the Middle East.” Bush contrasted that to what he called “a forward strategy of freedom.” Bush identified Iran and Syria along with Hezbollah and Hamas as the U.S.’s enemies in the region who must be defeated.
Translation: Like Iraq and Afghanistan, Lebanon will continue to be a front in Bush’s ongoing war to remake the Middle East, to wipe out all opposition, or potential opposition, and to bring the strategic region more directly under U.S. control. The U.S. is not going to be satisfied with a status quo in Lebanon, and will continue to push until its full goals are met.
The next day, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, "The war is not over yet."
In fact, on Saturday, Aug. 19, Israeli commandos carried out a commando raid in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon also said there have been several violations of Lebanese air space by Israeli warplanes since the ceasefire began.
As we wrote last week, the U.N. resolution on Lebanon is unjust and cannot be supported. It does not indict Israel for its blatant war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war; it turns reality on its head by portraying Israel as the victims in the war when it is Israel that invaded Lebanon; it denies the sovereignty of Lebanon; and it does not even compel the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon, as has been demanded by the government of Lebanon.
But now there are demands and threats coming from Israel that distort what the resolution actually says and insists that the Lebanese Army and the United Nations forces carry out what Israel was unable to do militarily in its war. For example Israel is demanding the U.N. forces and the Lebanese government set up a border blockade between Syria and Lebanon. There is nothing in the resolution that mandates any such blockade.
And Israel claims that the resolution says that the U.N. and Lebanese government must immediately disarm Hezbollah. The resolution does call for the “disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon, so that, pursuant to the Lebanese cabinet decision of July 27, 2006, there will be no weapons or authority in Lebanon other than that of the Lebanese state.” But there is nothing in the resolution that says that the government of Lebanon or the U.N. forces must do this on any specific time-table.
Any number of excuses, real or not, could become a pretext for renewed attacks by Israel, if the U.S. and Israel think it is in their strategic interest. And it is possible that Israel and the U.S. could point to “evidence,” real or not, of arms shipments by Syria or Iran to Hezbollah to justify an escalation into a regional war.
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
According to the New York Times (8/16/2006) it is estimated that hundreds of bodies still lie buried beneath the rubble of southern Lebanon and the southern portion of Beirut. In Tyre, the largest city in the area, so many bodies have accumulated at the central morgue that many had to be dumped into mass graves.
Robert Fisk reported from Lebanon in the British newspaper, The Independent (8/17/2006), “In Srifa, south of the Litani river, they found 26 bodies beneath ruins which I myself stood on just three days ago. At Ainata, there were eight more bodies of civilians. A corpse was discovered beneath a collapsed four-storey house north of Tyre and, near by, the remains of a 16-year old girl, along with three children and an adult. In Khiam in eastern Lebanon, besieged by the Israelis for more than a month, the elderly village ‘mukhtar’ was found dead in the ruins of his home.”
According to the Lebanese government the total number of Lebanese people killed has reached 1,300 and may climb higher. The vast majority of the Lebanese dead are civilians. It is estimated that one third of those killed are children.
The full extent of the damage to the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon is not yet known. Many towns and villages lack electricity, water and sewage. Roads and bridges have been destroyed making it difficult to transport supplies. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported that tobacco and grapes, two of the main crops in southern Lebanon, have been lost for this growing season due to the conflict, and olive production may be similarly affected.
According to United Nations over 50% or more of the civilian homes have been destroyed in the villages of Tayyabah, Ghanduriyah, Zibqin, Jabal al Butm, Bayyadah, Markaba, and Qantarah. Many other villages have not yet been assessed. UNICEF reports that there is an urgent need for drinking water, food, medicine, and items such as mattresses for 50,000 people in South Beirut
An additional difficulty that those returning to southern Lebanon face are cluster bombs. These barbaric weapons were dropped by Israel into densely populated areas, many fail to explode and litter the ground, waiting to explode when picked up or moved. Associated Press reports that in the village of Tibin “the main street is covered with bomblets.”
Jawad Najam, a doctor at a private hospital in nearby Tyre, said his staff had treated 25 people for cluster bomb injuries in one 24 hour period. He described the bombs as looking "like toys."
Lebanon also faces a huge environmental disaster. Up to 30,000 tons of oil flooded into the sea after Israeli jets attacked storage tanks at the Jiyyeh power plant south of Beirut on the opening days of the war. Israel’s refusal to allow environmental workers access to the area for the next 30 days greatly increased the magnitude of the disaster. The UN reports that the damage from this spill may even be greater than that caused by the Exxon Valdez, which was up to this point the largest oil spill in history.
This high number of civilian deaths in this war is NOT an accident, and it is NOT because of Hezbollah supposedly using civilians as cover. The fact is that this was a deliberate policy of the U.S. and Israel. And such deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure constitute war crimes.
In his article, “Watching Lebanon, Washington’s Interest in Israel’s War”, Seymour Hersh, reports that according to a U.S. government consultant with close ties to Israel, several Israeli officials traveled to Washington earlier this summer “to get the green light for the bombing operation.” Hersh writes that according to a Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli thinking, the plan outlined by the Israelis and approved by Bush and Cheney, “called for a major bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation....Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon’s infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon’s large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former senior intelligence official. The airport, highways, and bridges, among other things, have been hit in the bombing campaign. The Israeli Air Force had flown almost nine thousand missions as of last week.” (New Yorker, 8/21/2006)
According to sources quoted by Hersh the Israelis told the U.S. that this would be a “cheap war with many benefits.” When they talk about a cheap war they mean that their plan was to use air power to wreak massive destruction on the people of Lebanon with minimal loss of Israeli soldiers. The lives of Lebanese civilians don’t count in this equation.
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
On August 10, the U.S. and British governments announced a new “terror plot,” and immediately instituted new security measures. They also attempted to blast a wave of fear, hysteria and pro-war, pro-repression chauvinism through the media. All this, conveniently enough, while people were raising serious questions about and beginning opposition to the U.S.-sponsored Israeli invasion of Lebanon.But let’s all remember: the people telling us this are proven liars—and not about little things but about the biggest things there are.
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
reprinted from worldcantwait.org
The World Can't Wait! Drive Out the Bush Regime
This piece—“There is a Way! There is a Day!”—was put out by World Can’t Wait. We think this represents an extremely important analysis of the situation, the vision of October 5, and the stakes involved in either success...or failure. With that in mind, we call on our readers to read and take up this statement from World Can’t Wait...to get it out to your friends and relatives...and if you have a site, a blog, a radio show, a newspaper column, a classroom, a pulpit, or any other platform—even a bulletin board—to run it yourselves. And we also call on all readers, in this next urgent juncture, to support and pitch in to World Can’t Wait’s effort to raise half a million dollars by Labor Day, going on to its website (worldcantwait.org) to get the info and hook yourself into their efforts.
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.
There is a way to make this happen. There is a day, coming soon, on which people will be mobilizing to make this a reality. There is a vehicle and a means through which anguish, outrage and frustration can be transformed into truly meaningful, positive and powerful political mobilization.
On October 5, 2006, on the basis of the Call, The World Can’t Wait - Drive Out the Bush Regime!, people throughout the country will be stepping forward in a day of mass resistance. The breadth, the depth, the impact and the power of that day depends not only on those in The World Can’t Wait organization, and others, who are already organizing for this day — it depends on you, on us, on all those who have been hoping and searching for a means to do something that will really make a difference.
If we fail to act to make this a reality, then it will definitely make a difference — in a decidedly negative way. But if we do take up the challenge to build for this, and then do take history into our hands on that day, through political action on the massive scale that is called for — it can make all the difference in the world, in a very positive sense and for the possibility of a better future for humanity.
AS THE CALL, THE WORLD CAN’T WAIT - DRIVE OUT THE BUSH REGIME!, CONCLUDES:
“The point is this: history is full of examples where people who had right on their side fought against tremendous odds and were victorious. And it is also full of examples of people passively hoping to wait it out, only to get swallowed up by a horror beyond what they ever imagined. The future is unwritten. WHICH ONE WE GET IS UP TO US.”
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
by Alice Woodward
This past week, on Tuesday, Aug. 15, Mexican-born immigrant Elvira Arellano was ordered to report to the Department of Homeland Security in Chicago and turn herself in for deportation.
Elvira publicly refused the order. Her church, Adalberto United Methodist Church in the Humboldt Park district of Chicago, opened its doors as a sanctuary. The reverend has called on others across the country to do the same for the masses of immigrants threatened and under attack.
At this moment Elvira remains in the church with her seven-year-old-son Saul. Hundreds of others have come to support her and stand with the struggle she represents. By Friday an anonymous representative from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that they would not enter the church to detain her, stating she is “no more priority than any of the other 500,000 fugitives nationally” and assuring all that they will be apprehending her “at an appropriate time and place.”
Support from California to South Carolina
Tuesday night I saw Elvira's face in a clip on the television, holding her son in her arms. The following afternoon I joined many others at Adalberto United Methodist Church who recognized that this one person's actions were incredibly significant.
Since Elvira entered the church in the heart of Chicago's Puerto Rican neighborhood, the street has come alive with a spirit of defiant resistance. Immigrant families came with their children. Church patrons stayed for hours in support. Students arrived on their own or as part of organizations. Some people settled in to stay for hours, while others were passers-by drawn by the vibrant crowd and a full block of white satellite news vans. A young reporter from the Spanish media rushed from the church to the sidewalks to talk with others and back to her van to view footage. You could see in her face that the infectious inspiration of this story had gotten to her.
People had a sense they were part of something historic which was not just for their own nationality or group. There was a real desire to see this grow and a sense of that possibility.
This stand, and what it represents in the struggle for the rights of millions of immigrants, has resonated throughout the country. Media coverage has extended nationally and internationally as well. Spanish language press is closely following the story. Word spread at a lightening pace among immigrant rights organizers nationally. Associated Press reported that “activists from California to South Carolina” were behind her. In Phoenix, Martín Manteca, for the group Mi Familia Vota (My Family Votes) said that groups of activists have already organized vigils in support of Elvira Arellano. Delores Huerta, a well-known union leader among farmworkers, came to the church to show her support.
The March 10th Movement, a coalition of approximately 100 organizations that helped coordinate the recent mega-marches in Chicago in support of immigration reform, issued a statement saying: "We must not allow Elvira Arellano, the undocumented immigrant and leader of a movement in support of all immigrants, to be deported."
Just Stand Against an Unjust Law
In the midst of an enthusiastic crowd on the sidewalk, a representative for Elvira declared on a bullhorn “She has sparked something that I think is necessary for this whole movement. I think all the churches need to become sanctuaries. We cannot stand aside with our arms closed while they divide mother from son, father from children and wife from husband.” Many are comparing Arellano's actions to Rosa Park's historic stand. People saw this could be something like the Underground Railroad, where churches and supporters of immigrants open their doors.
ICE has said only a request from a Senator can stop the deportation order—and both Illinois Senators, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, have expressed that there is nothing they will do. Obama stated, "What I can't do is to take one person out of the hundreds of thousands who are in exactly the same situation and carve them out for special treatment. That just wouldn't be fair. That's not how we do business here in the United States."
How the U.S. “Does Business”
In 2002 Elvira had been working at O’Hare airport as a cleaning woman when she was arrested for the first time. Her arrest was part of “Operation Chicago Land Skies” which rounded up 53 immigrant employees at the airport. The fate of many of the others detained is still unknown. This was part of round-ups taking place nationally after 9/11 in the name of the “War on Terror.” There were never any official claims that connected these people to terrorists.
Arellano plead guilty to working under a false Social Security number and was given probation. She's been threatened with deportation four times since then, and received one year stays each time, in part because her seven-year-old son is a U.S. citizen with ADHD and other health problems. Since then Arellano has been an activist for immigrant rights, helping to found and becoming president of La Familia Latina Unida (United Latino Family). Thousands face the threat of their families being ripped apart. This horrific reality is reminiscent of slave days when little children were literally ripped from their mother's hands and sold.
In the U.S. today millions of immigrants are forced to live in the shadows, and treated as second-class citizens. Immigrants are rounded up and deported. They're attacked for speaking Spanish at work. They cannot get health care or driver's licenses. They are imprisoned indefinitely and murdered at the border, and those who are able to stake out an existence here are persecuted from day to day.
Outside Adalberto church were many for whom Elvira was their voice. A woman described the ways in which, due to a lack of a driver's license, she is treated as a second-class citizen every day. She cannot even get a video store membership. “It’s a shame to me, it makes me cry. When I go to the store one day, my kids ask me, ‘mommy, can you get me a movie?’ And I say ; ‘no,’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because I can’t.’ How can you explain that to a child. She’s (Elvira) tired of that, and that's why she's doing this. And that's why we are here with her, cause we're tired already.”
Another Latino youth talked about his law suit against the auto parts company he worked for that threatened to fire him, and continues to harass him, for speaking Spanish to help serve Spanish-speaking customers. He said that when Nigerians come in for auto parts, the managers tell them, “We have no auto parts.”
The plans for immigrants under the Bush regime include the National Guard at the border, detention centers across the country, massive deportations and biometric identification cards. Immigrants already face severe repression, day to day discrimination, and death and rape at the border. Already this kind of repression is increasing and on a whole other scale. The New York Times reported that an official from the League of United Latin American Citizens attested, “I have never seen these type of deportations in my life.” The attacks on immigrants must be opposed.
Summer Winds and Autumn Storms
When I think of the world in which this story has come forward, the context in which someone has dared to step out, I feel breathless with anticipation, and urgency. This comes in the wake of a huge upsurge of millions of immigrants throughout the country, as part of a growing movement and at a time when there is tremendous upheaval in Mexico and a mass outpouring in response to fraudulent elections.
This is happening in the context of the whole direction the Bush Regime is taking society. From the war in Iraq and U.S./Israeli attacks on Lebanon, to the handling of hurricane Katrina, government spying, and attacks on gay marriage. People have been outraged—and they have been paralyzed, with no way to act.
The stand Elvira Arellano is taking has come at a time when what the people here and around the world do to oppose the outrages of the Bush Regime really matters. It shows great potential for the continuation and intensification of the immigrant rights movement in the U.S., for its just demands to be met. It represents a call and a challenge to those who increasingly see the injustices brought upon people being forced to “live in the shadows” and also to those who are sickened by the many outrages going on today.
When I think of what I've learned and seen and heard, it amounts to a palpable potential of the real basis for thousands of people to come together and truly build the movement to drive out the Bush Regime. For the “vast reservoir” of millions, as World Can't Wait's recent statement describes, to come together on October 5th. If thousands from the reservoir that was represented in that crowd of people outside Aldaberto church were to act on that day against the direction of things…thousands, moving millions. Imagine what kind of impact that could that have.
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
The following correspondence was received from comrades who attended Susan's memorial
Lives like Susan’s mean a lot to the world. To celebrate this truly precious person, 100 of her family, friends and comrades came together in a decorated room at her work-out gym to celebrate her life. It was evident that those that came in touch with her saw something different in herand they were right.
Susan was a communist, she was an atheist, she was an internationalist. She devoted her entire adult life to bringing into being a better world for all of humanity, and she embodied that better world. She was passionate, curious, and always breaking down barriers. She was interested in people, in how they think, in what their dreams are. She had a contagious sense of humor and a completely down-on-the-ground conviction that a better world is possible. She argued with people and invited people to join her in understanding why the world is this way and that we can do something about it. Even while ill, she viewed her own fight against cancer as a fight for humanity as well—the world, especially today, can ill afford to lose someone like Susan.
From Susan's Journal:
Like so many others I thrive on the idea that life is a process of constant change—and that tomorrow there is the possibility that we can better understand some things that we don't today—herein lies so much hopefulness. Like so many others I continue to be inspired by the struggle of so many others across the globe whether they are living in Pakistan or New Orleans—addressing the aftermath of the earth’s shifts and jolts, or perhaps living under occupation and keeping their heads held high, or dealing with cancer like me.
The celebration of her life wove a tapestry of her life. Her brother spoke of how, after their father died, they didn’t have much but did have "a steady diet of political conversation at the dinner table. Conversations where everyone would try to talk at once, much as you might have seen in an old Woody Allen film." A childhood friend sent a statement that spoke of how in high school in the late 60s Susan became politically active. A film clip of a young Bob Dylan and Joan Baez singing “When the Ship Comes In” at the 1963 March on Washington captured the sounds that influenced a whole generation of revolutionaries and radicals.
Her husband and another long-time friend spoke of how Susan was not deterred in the least after being brutally beaten by police, including receiving a serious skull fracture, at the historic 1979 demonstration, during Deng Xiaoping's visit to the U.S., to protest the reversal of socialism in China by a coup after Mao Tse Tung’s death in 1976.
Several people spoke about her wedding in the late 1970s—with a ceremony delayed several hours because most of the guests were at a demonstration called by Iranian students to protest the brutal dictatorship of the Shah of Iran, just before many of these same revolutionary students were to return to Iran to participate in the Iranian Revolution (before it became dominated, and in the end controlled by, the religious fundamentalists who ultimately won in that revolution). To laughs in the audience, a relative recounted how the house band of the Holiday Inn “played popular favorites, Hawaiian-style, including a rousing ‘Hava Nagila,’ to which the elderly Jewish relatives got down. Then, after the demonstration, of course, a revolutionary folk duo played ‘The Krugerrand’ and ‘Death to the Shah.’”
Peppered throughout the celebration were references to Susan’s love of food and exercise, and as her sister-in-law joked, “We loved to exercise and we loved to eat, and one helped with the other.” A physician’s assistant who helped care for her also joked that after they were going over a potential diet to help battle the cancer, her first question was “Can I still drink coffee?” And another sister-in-law said, "I don't know if people know that coffee was the most important thing in her life [laughter]… She didn't go by clocks or watches but by coffee mugs.”
Anybody that knew Susan was struck by her unique and playful earring collection, and a short remembrance explained how that started as a gift exchange between her and a long-time friend many years back. At the celebration of Susan's life, a beautiful display of dozens of her earrings was unveiled, bringing smiles to everyone’s faces. Her husband invited everyone to take a pair home to keep a part of Susan with them.
A very moving highlight was the reading from of one of Susan’s favorite parts from Bob Avakian’s memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond, the chapter titled “Perseverance and Inspiration.” After the reading from the memoir, an announcement was read conveying Avakian’s personal condolences at the loss of Susan’s life and initiating a roster on that day titled Perseverance and Inspiration, with Susan as the first name entered.
As in Susan's life, art and culture played a big part in the celebration. A comrade sung a beautiful a cappella rendition of “Imagine” by John Lennon and also read a haiku she wrote: The peaks she climbed miss her / soaring, bold laughter, but look! / New lamps salute her! A wild song and dance excerpt was played from the Bollywood film The Legend of Bhagat Singh, where two groups of revolutionaries meet on campus during the British occupation of India. Susan’s sister-in-law created a beautiful wall-art tree and everyone was given a leaf to write a message or a word and then put it on the tree—a very moving way of creating a community out of those attending, as well as a portrait of what Susan’s life meant to everyone.
Susan had a community of friends at the gym she attended, many of whom got to know her only after she was diagnosed with cancer. Remembrances by her friends spoke to the deep bonds they forged with her, how they were profoundly affected by meeting Susan. One friend commented, “She so believed in what she believed in and it was contagious. She was a brave, spunky, fun, kind and loving friend.” This same friend read a touching poem written for the event that talked about their deep friendship, Susan’s spirit, and their political adventures and discussions together. An administrator at the health club who became friends with Susan recounted a conversation they had: “I was telling Susan how sorry I was that she was in pain and she looked me dead in my eyes and asked me why I was sorry. I didn’t know what to say and she said, ‘I am just one small piece of the big picture. There are so many other things happening in this world that are way worse than what I am going through.’” Others spoke of her “gazelle-ish run,” her wild hair, and her determination to beat the cancer.
Raymond Lotta's comments gave a deep sense of Susan's scientific approach, recounting their research together on the demographics in the U.S. that would contribute to a section of the Draft Programme of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. He captured what was both embodied in Susan, as well as what stands as a challenge and inspiration to us all: “…if she saw a wall, that wall had to be scaled. Whether it was a wall of what we didn't understand, whether it was a wall of a fortress of property relations that prevent people from becoming truly human or whether it’s the walls that divide people from each other, she wanted to scale walls and she wanted to break walls down… Her depth of feeling for people was matched only by the depth of her desire to give every ounce of her life to bringing about a world where people can truly and cooperatively flourish.”
Ode to the Plum Blossom
Wind and rain escorted Spring's departure,
Sweet and fair, she craves not Spring for herself alone,
Mao Tsetung, December 1961
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
The following message was read at Susan’s memorial:
The Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Bob Avakian, wishes to convey his sense of great loss at the death of Susan Sheppard, and has asked that his heartfelt condolences be conveyed to Susan’s family, friends, and comrades. He has also requested that Susan be entered in a special roster of remembrance and honor, to be initiated on this occasion, with the designation "Perseverance, and Inspiration," which is the title of the final chapter of Bob Avakian's Memoir, and was one of Susan’s favorite parts of this Memoir.
Along with this message, one of Susan’s favorite excerpts from Bob Avakian’s memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, was read at the memorial:
“When I look at all this, I think again of my friend who decided to dedicate his life to ending cancer—and of the even greater need to put an end to the system of capitalism-imperialism and all the suffering and oppression this system embodies and enforces throughout the world. You see that there isn’t anything more important that your life could be about, and whatever you end up contributing during the course of your lifetime is the most important and the most uplifting thing that you could possibly do. And yes, there are moments of great disappointment, but also moments of great joy as part of this. There is the joy that comes from seeing the ways in which people break free of constraints and rise up and begin to see the world as it really is and take up more consciously the struggle to change it. There is the joy of knowing that you are part of this whole process and contributing what you can to it. There is the joy of the camaraderie of being together with others in this struggle and knowing that it is something worthwhile, that it is not something petty and narrow that you are involved in but something uplifting. There is the joy of looking to the future and envisioning the goal that you are struggling for and seeing people come to even a beginning understanding of what that could mean, not just for themselves but for society, for humanity as a whole.”
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
The following letter, from a long-time comrade and friend of Susan’s, was read at her memorial:
On July 4th this year, Susan lost her battle with cancer. Her death is a great loss to her loved ones and to everyone who had the great privilege of knowing her—she was, to quote Peter Tosh, such “an upfull” person. She had great heart and a tremendous thirst to understand the world around her and to share that understanding to the best of her ability and in every way she could. She always seemed to bring out the best in people, and she genuinely cared how people thought—what was on their minds, their concerns and insights in all different realms from politics to arts and science—and engaged with them deeply and learned a tremendous amount from all her friends and even casual acquaintances she met from various walks of life.
But her death is literally a great loss not only to those of us who knew her, loved her or were directly touched by her, but to millions of people she never met…
I think about Susan and her battle with cancer that she ultimately lost. And the fighting spirit she carried in that battle up until the end and the inspiration she was to us all throughout this. Even seemingly small things, like what she expressed in her log about refusing to let this disease destroy her sense of humor.
I think about how difficult it must have been when, after her initial rounds of Chemo, she never was really able to run again—and she really loved to run. (Which we used to joke about—how that love of running probably had some relationship to how she loved to eat as well, which tragically is also something she lost the ability to do some months ago.) But such setbacks didn't make her bitter or self-centered nor (and most importantly) did she let them derail her quest to finish the "marathon" that she had dedicated her life to. Quite the contrary.
Susan was about 12 or 13 when the Watts Rebellion happened in Los Angeles, and it had a big impact on her. While in college in the San Francisco Bay Area, she couldn't wait to change a society where people's roles in society were determined by the color of their skin or their position in life. Like many others of her generation, she wanted to take this understanding out to working people. She joined in the picket lines with women on strike against Farah Pants. She went to the fields in California’s valleys and talked with agricultural workers. She began working in one of the early Silicon Valley electronic plants, soldering chips with Latino and Asian women, learning about their lives and sharing her developing thinking about revolution, socialism, and communism. At night she would go out to the Latin bars and dance the cumbia and eat papusas.
Susan became even more committed to bringing about a whole new world, a communist world—“a world of freely associating and cooperating human beings, a world in which the great majority of people, and ultimately of all of humanity, would want to live and in which they would thrive, in ways never before possible or even imagined.” This of course is not such a fashionable position these days, but Susan did not go in for what was trendy. She cared about the truth, the actual reasons why the world is the way it is today, not only the absurdity of a handful controlling all the wealth while the vast majority in the world are suffering miserably, but the fact that this actual setup is rife with deep contradictions, holding society back but also propelling forward potentially seismic ruptures that could hold the potential to bring something totally new and liberating onto the stage.
Susan was a passionate admirer of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party. She wrote me that she was introducing many people to his amazing DVD, Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About, his memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond, and other works. She wanted to give everyone a chance to talk about the big things that really matter. When she became ill three years ago, she not only fought her battle with cancer in an uplifting and scientific way, but she said that she wanted to devote the rest of her life to making sure that as many people as possible know that there is a leader in Bob Avakian who can lead us to a future worth living and dying for.
Susan also was keenly aware and very concerned that right now the U.S. was heading toward a high-tech dark ages and with all the strength she could muster she was working to draw everyone she could into the battle to stop that trajectory. Though somewhat hobbled by the fight with cancer, she proudly participated in November 2 (2005) World Can't Wait demonstration in Chicago, which was one of the last political events she was physically able to attend.
But even as her body's physical strength began what turned out to be an irreversible decline, Susan’s mind was still very sharp and her heart was thoroughly with the people of the world. Even a few short weeks before she left us, getting a chance to visit with her in the hospital was a great joy and thoroughly invigorating. She had been following the news of the Haditha massacre on the TV in her hospital room and the other U.S. atrocities in Iraq starting to come to light and was thoroughly outraged. She was eager to get a copy of the DVD of Sir, No Sir, a new documentary on the military resistance of the Vietnam era. As was typical, we delved into culture—reviewing the last season of the Sopranos and the deep philosophical dimensions of the famous episode in the hospital. I could tell that she had actually bonded deeply with every hospital employee who entered the room while we were together. This was the last time we embraced.
We have to continue this great conversation about how to understand reality, what kind of world we can bring into being, and how we could get there—spread it to others—and while we do, act on our understanding to the best of our ability and with all our individual and collective creativity. As she wrote me in August 2005, "From South Central (Los Angeles) to Niger to Peru to the areas hit by the Tsunami, the people of the world are counting on us to answer this great need.” A fitting tribute to her legacy would be for those who share her understanding of the world to redouble their commitment and for those who don't fully agree or even disagree but who share her intense concern for the state of the planet to contribute all they can to act on their convictions to bring about a better world. Susan has passed on the baton to us to complete this marathon for her.
Revolution #58, August 27, 2006
The following is from a statement at Susan's memorial from a nurse who helped care for her during her treatment for cancer:
There were so many reasons to love Susan, but the one that stands out most was her ability to inspire hope in others for a better world. Susan would eventually change my mind about people and my attitude towards them. In nursing, I am allowed to be a heroine everyday, but if you were to have asked me whether a person would be willing to volunteer their time, in today's world, I would have asked, “What's in it for them?”
Needless to say, it was a hopeless way of looking at the world, viewing society as primarily driven by self-interest. It's easy to see how Susan would inspire anyone who met her, but could they envision the world as their community as she would?
Of course, after having met the medical team, I was witness to a kind of generosity, perseverance and love that could only be inspired by someone like Susan.
Susan helped dissolve my feelings of hopelessness for the world we live in. By helping her and meeting the medical team, I saw firsthand what my old self wouldn't have believed…it is possible to give and receive unconditionally.
Helping Susan reminded me of what Albert Einstein wrote:
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
The following is from a statement from a friend of Susan's from her gym. It was submitted for inclusion in this coverage:
When Susan joined the health club there was an uncomfortable silence in the women’s locker room between the Korean immigrant members and the other members. There was a distinct “we’ and ‘them’ attitude on the part of the other members. True to her beliefs and international awareness, Susan began to make a change. First she smiled at the Koreans, then said good morning, and then began conversations. I first became aware of what was going on when I saw one of the Korean women bringing Susan a jar of kimchee, a Korean delicacy, and very difficult to make, I’m told. Soon other members picked up on the new attitude and now everyone smiles, says good morning, or stops to have a conversation and the locker room is a much pleasanter place to be.