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Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
Revolution Interview with Attorney Michael Ratner on the Case vs Rumsfeld
On November 14, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the International Federation for Human Rights, Germany's Republican Attorneys' Association, and other groups and individuals filed a formal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor to open an investigation and, ultimately, a criminal prosecution of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other major U.S. officials. The complaint argues that Rumsfeld and other high-ranking civilian and military officials named as defendants in the case have committed war crimes, and in particular torture, against prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo Bay. Following is an interview Revolution did with Michael Ratner, president of the CCR, who was among those in Germany on November 14 to file the complaint.
Revolution: Let's begin with the nature of this complaint and what it's designed to accomplish. Rumsfeld is a major focus, but the lawsuit seems to go well beyond him in its scope and intentions.
Michael Ratner: Well, European countries have a way of going after people in criminal cases that we're not familiar with in the U.S. They have a procedure where human rights groups and others, as well as the victims themselves, can go and ask a prosecutor to investigate someone for criminal liability. In the U.S., of course, you can knock on a prosecutor's door but then he shuts it in your face and it's all over. In Germany and other European countries, if the prosecutor shuts the door in your face you can go to court and the prosecutor must have a valid reason for not investigating. So that's a big difference. Germany also has a law, like some other European countries are beginning to have, that says certain crimes are subject to prosecution no matter where in the world they're committed, and even if there's no connection between that particular country and the alleged crime. And certain crimes are considered so serious and so heinous that every country is considered to have an interest in prosecuting them. One of those crimes involves violation of the Geneva Conventions. And these countries have universal jurisdiction, which means they can prosecute the person no matter where he or she committed the war crimes. Germany has very good law on that, and that's why we decided to go there to try to get an investigation of the key U.S. government officials who were involved in setting up and implementing what I call the torture program in the U.S. post-9/11.
Normally, you would stay in the U.S. to do that if you could, but of course there's now a complete block here. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is on one side as the person who would have to prosecute people criminally, but he's deeply involved himself in the torture program. And on the other side there's Rumsfeld, who has resigned but is still in office at this time and is also deeply involved in the torture program. And Congress has done nothing, with neither Republicans nor Democrats issuing a complaint about this. There's also Bush, who's insisting he wants to continue to have the right to use torture. And my view, and the view of the others who have filed this complaint, is that you must have accountability on the part of those in this country who have supported torture. We still have a torture program in place and we have to do something about it.
Revolution: Who, exactly, are the plaintiffs and defendants in this case?
Michael Ratner: We decided to go after people high up in the chain of command, led by Donald Rumsfeld. In regard to Rumsfeld himself, we're alleging that he committed war crimes by approving various interrogation techniques. That's what he and the others call them, interrogation techniques, but they're really torture techniques--everything from stress positions, stripping, sexual humiliation, dogs, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, etc. And we have Rumsfeld approving, essentially, using these techniques, in his own handwriting. Rumsfeld has been involved, clearly, with Guantánamo and Iraq, as well as Baghram prison in Afghanistan.
And among the other named defendants we also have General Ricardo Sanchez, who was in charge of the Iraq war at the outset and authorized these torture techniques. There's also George Tenet, who was head of the CIA, and that of course involves the CIA's secret detention sites around the world, where waterboarding and other kinds of torture went on. Those are three of the people at the top who we've named as defendants. Then we have the lawyers, former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo in particular, who basically set up the legal framework. There was a case during the Nuremburg trials in Germany after World War 2 in which German lawyers were gone after because they implemented the Nazi program of murder. People like Bybee and Yoo argue they're just lawyers giving their legal opinions, but when you look at the context that's not what happened. What happened is that some people resisted using torture, both in the CIA and the military. They said we're not going to do this because we might get prosecuted, and therefore we want legal protection, so write us something that allows us to do this. So that's where the lawyers like Bybee and Yoo come in.
Those are the main defendants, plus a few others further down the chain who were in Iraq and responsible for carrying out the orders, like Colonel Thomas Pappas. And we have a couple of people from Rumsfeld's office, like Stephen Cambone, the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, and a couple of Cheney people. There are 12 defendants in all. As plaintiffs, we have 11 Iraqi prisoners and one from Guantánamo. The Iraqis were in Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons, and they tell devastating stories. For example, there was an insurgency in one village and the U.S. troops came in and targeted this particular guy's house and bombed it and went in and killed his 80-year-old father and tortured him for a week and then let him go and basically said they had the wrong guy. They never said they were sorry, just that they had the wrong guy.
With the Guantánamo prisoner, we have the most direct link to Rumsfeld, although all of the plaintiffs and what happened to them represent pretty direct links to him. But for the Guantánamo prisoner, Mohammed al-Qahtani, we have an interrogation log which, while it reads with a certain banality, describes a two-month period of 48 days in which he endured sleep deprivation, was chained to a chair, had intravenous water retention so that he was forced to urinate on himself, and was stripped and had a female straddle him and abuse him sexually. And there were things done to him that are probably even much worse that we don't yet know about for sure. For example, a fake rendition, we think, where he was put on a plane and flown around and taken back to Guantánamo, but he didn't know that and thought he was in some other country, like Egypt, where he would be tortured even further. And with this Al-Qahtani interrogation, we actually have Rumsfeld essentially approving and/or supervising it in some way. And that came out not from our papers, but from the government's own report, saying that Rumsfeld was involved in that interrogation. So Rumsfeld had very, very direct links with these people in the torture program. People in Germany, when we filed our complaint on November 14, and including the press, were no longer even disputing that the U.S. has been involved in war crimes, including torture.
The plaintiffs also include various human rights groups, and other organizations like the CCR (Center for Constitutional Rights), as well as a couple of Nobel Prize winners. And the other important factor is that we had Janis Karpinski as a witness on November 14. [Karpinski was commander of all U.S. military prisons in Iraq at the point that the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was revealed.] The first time we brought the case, in 2004, we had Janis as a defendant. But this time, she actually came to Germany and spoke about the need for people to go up the chain of command, and she said she actually saw a set of interrogation procedures taped up in Abu Ghraib, and Rumsfeld had signed off on this. She said she had her responsibility at Abu Ghraib taken out from under her at that time and no longer had any jurisdiction there, but that she did see these interrogation techniques posted that had unquestionably been authorized by Rumsfeld. And while she was the highest-level person demoted for what happened at Abu Ghraib, it's clear it didn't stop with her. It went all the way up. It's not that we're guessing about what these highest-level guys did--much of it is in writing, all this stuff.
So that's the context in which we decided to bring this case in Germany, feeling that we were totally blocked from doing it in the U.S., from a legal point of view. Among other things, there's no International Criminal Court jurisdiction in this country--the U.S. government won't recognize such jurisdiction--so you have to go to Germany and you really push hard on a prosecutor to begin an investigation.
Revolution: In regard to being blocked from filing suit in the U.S. and having to go to Germany instead, the recent passage of the pro-torture, anti-habeas corpus Military Commissions Act (MCA) also seems to be a critical factor.
Michael Ratner: Right, that was key. The MCA, signed on October 17, does many different things. But one of them is to redefine war crimes, and it redefines those in a way that gives amnesty or a pardon to all of these people who committed war crimes post-9/11, through these coercive, inhumane torture interrogation techniques. What happened is that in early 2002, Attorney General Gonzales and others wrote memos saying, look, if we interrogate these people very roughly we could be subject to war crimes prosecution and we don't want to risk that. So, since war crimes are defined in the U.S. as violations of the Geneva Conventions, the best way we can avoid prosecution is to say that the conventions don't apply to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. From that point on, they went merrily along. But then, all of a sudden, in June 2006 the Supreme Court's Hamden decision comes down, which says that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, in particular its humanitarian provisions, applies to everybody who is detained. So now you're sitting there, not only Rumsfeld or Gonzales but also the people who actually implemented the torture, and you say, well, we may be prosecuted in the future after all, because now Geneva does apply and we've been violating it for five years.
But then the Bush administration runs to Congress and asks them to redefine the war crimes statute so that it no longer includes violations of Common Article 3--and not only going forward, so that they can continue to torture people, but going backward to 9/11. So what they've done, really, is what every abusive dictatorship has always done--they've given themselves amnesty. And that's illegal, of course--you can't be given amnesty for war crimes. Who knows, maybe the amnesty they gave themselves will be upheld in the U.S. courts, but in Europe it not only will not be upheld, it actually puts pressure on the German prosecutor to take this case seriously. Because the last time we filed this kind of war crimes complaint, in 2004, it was dismissed on the grounds that the U.S. still had an open investigation going on, and it was still possible for that investigation to move up the chain of command. But now that's over, because the U.S. government has basically said we're giving amnesty to our war criminals. This, of course, is obvious evidence of guilt, and no matter what happens in Germany--because, among other things, there are political issues involved and we can't be sure what will happen there--I think we're at the beginning of a legal process of getting fully at these war crimes, in Europe in particular. And if necessary, we can go to a country like Spain after Germany…
Revolution: You're saying that a major reason why the German prosecutor dismissed the complaint filed in 2004 was because there were political issues involved? If so, it certainly wouldn't be a surprise.
Michael Ratner: Right. Like Rumsfeld saying he wouldn't go to a Munich security conference as long as the complaint was pending. But what's interesting is that, now, they don't have that excuse anymore. In addition, one of our goals now, with this new complaint we just filed, is to get more street opposition going in Germany, so that we can continue to pressure the German prosecutor to do something.
Revolution: It sounds like the case this time is even stronger than in 2004, given what has been revealed in the last two years.
Michael Ratner: Definitely. And the reception this time around really shocked me, compared to 2004. We had, for example, one phone call that involved 40 press representatives. And they were asking serious questions about the legal procedures and what would happen if Rumsfeld tries to travel, etc. Yeah, a few people over there were dismissive, saying we were simply grandstanding and all that sort of thing. My answer to them is, okay, from a legal point of view and obviously from a protest point of view, if you can come up with something better please let me know. I mean, people should not be sitting still now. Debate shouldn't be around what I'm doing with this complaint, but what you are NOT doing. And that to me is the absolutely crucial point here. You have to try everything right now--from a lawyer's point of view, all of these kinds of things like the November 14 filing. But, of course, I know from being a political lawyer that it also takes a certain big push from a much wider force.
Revolution: That brings me to my next question, which is how do you see this complaint that CCR and others just filed in Germany in relation to other efforts that are going on, like the Bush Crimes Commission?
Michael Ratner: Right, the Bush Crimes Commission is quite important and is similar to what we're doing in Germany, and that's why I'm quite supportive of the commission's work. Because the legal pathways in this country are now closed, and will remain closed, without people's activity, without people making demands. It's critical that at a minimum, we create a record at this time of what this administration has done, the horrible war crimes it has committed. And the Bush Crimes Commission, the lawsuit we've filed in Germany, these things help to move the people's agenda forward. I mean, two years ago, even just one year ago, most people in the U.S. didn't think of Rumsfeld as a war criminal. But now I think many do think of him as a war criminal, based in large part on the work of the Bush Commission and the kind of case we're pursuing in Germany. It's not like we have state power right now, so this is what people can do, and it's crucial.
Revolution: And this also ties in with the kind of massive resistance that is needed.
Michael Ratner: I agree. You need massive resistance to this government and its crimes. There's no question about that.
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
As the world exists today and as people seek to change it, and particularly in terms of the socialist transformation of society, as I see it there are basically three alternatives that are possible. One is the world as it is. Enough said about that. [Laughter.]
The second one is in a certain sense, almost literally and mechanically, turning the world upside down. In other words, people who are now exploited will no longer be exploited in the same way, people who now rule this society will be prevented from ruling or influencing society in a significant way. The basic economic structure of society will change, some of the social relations will change, and some of the forms of political rule will change, and some of the forms of culture and ideology will change, but fundamentally the masses of people will not be increasingly and in one leap after another drawn into the process of really transforming society. This is really a vision of a revisionist society. If you think back to the days of the Soviet Union, when it had become a revisionist society, capitalist and imperialist in essence, but still socialist in name, when they would be chided for their alleged or real violations of people’s rights, they would often answer “Who are you in the West to be talking about the violation of human rights—look at all the people in your society who are unemployed, what more basic human right is there than to have a job?”
Well, did they have a point? Yes, up to a point. But fundamentally what they were putting forward, the vision of society that they were projecting, was a social welfare kind of society in which fundamentally the role of the masses of people is no different than it is under the classical form of capitalism. The answer about the rights of the people cannot be reduced to the right to have a job and earn an income, as basic as that is. There is the question of are we really going to transform society so that in every respect, not only economically but socially, politically, ideologically, and culturally, it really is superior to capitalist society. A society that not only meets the needs of the masses of people, but really is characterized increasingly by the conscious expression and initiative of the masses of people.
This is a more fundamental transformation than simply a kind of social welfare, socialist in name but really capitalist in essence society, where the role of the masses of people is still largely reduced to being producers of wealth, but not people who thrash out all the larger questions of affairs of state, the direction of society, culture, philosophy, science, the arts, and so on. The revisionist model is a narrow, economist view of socialism. It reduces the people, in their activity, to simply the economic sphere of society, and in a limited way at that—simply their social welfare with regard to the economy. It doesn’t even think about transforming the world outlook of the people as they in turn change the world around them.
And you cannot have a new society and a new world with the same outlook that people are indoctrinated and inculcated with in this society. You cannot have a real revolutionary transformation of society and abolition of unequal social as well as economic relations and political relations if people still approach the world in the way in which they’re conditioned and limited and constrained to approach it now. How can the masses of people really take up the task of consciously changing the world if their outlook and their approach to the world remains what it is under this system? It’s impossible, and this situation will simply reproduce the great inequalities in every sphere of society that I’ve been talking about.
The third alternative is a real radical rupture. Marx and Engels said in the Communist Manifesto that the communist revolution represents a radical rupture with traditional property relations and with traditional ideas. And the one is not possible without the other. They are mutually reinforcing, one way or the other.
If you have a society in which the fundamental role of women is to be breeders of children, how can you have a society in which there is equality between men and women? You cannot. And if you don’t attack and uproot the traditions, the morals, and so on, that reinforce that role, how can you transform the relations between men and women and abolish the deep-seated inequalities that are bound up with the whole division of society into oppressors and oppressed, exploiters and exploited? You cannot.
So the third alternative is a real radical rupture in every sphere, a radically different synthesis, to put it that way. Or to put it another way, it’s a society and a world that the great majority of people would actually want to live in. One in which not only do they not have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, or if they get sick whether they’re going to be told that they can’t have health care because they can’t pay for it, as important as that is; but one in which they are actually taking up, wrangling with, and increasingly making their own province all the different spheres of society.
Achieving that kind of a society, and that kind of a world, is a very profound challenge. It’s much more profound than simply changing a few forms of ownership of the economy and making sure that, on that basis, people’s social welfare is taken care of, but you still have people who are taking care of that for the masses of people; and all the spheres of science, the arts, philosophy, and all the rest are basically the province of a few. And the political decision-making process remains the province of a few.
To really leap beyond that is a tremendous and world-historic struggle that we’ve been embarked on since the Russian revolution (not counting the very short-lived and limited experience of the Paris Commune)—and in which we reached the high point with the Chinese revolution and in particular the Cultural Revolution—but from which we’ve been thrown back temporarily.
So we need to make a further leap on the basis of summing up very deeply all that experience. There are some very real and vexing problems that we have to confront and advance through in order to draw from the best of the past, but go further and do even better in the future.
Now I want to say a few things in this context about totalitarianism. Just as an aside here, I find it very interesting that you can read innumerable books delving deeply into the psyche of Stalin or Lenin or Mao—“What went on in the deranged minds of these people [laughter] that led them to think they could remake the world in their maddened image [laughter] and led them, in the name of some greater moral good, to bring great catastrophe on the humanity that they were affecting?” I don’t know how many books I’ve seen like that. I have never yet seen—maybe there are some, but I have never seen—a study of the deranged psyche of Thomas Jefferson [laughter] or George Washington: “How is it that a person could come to believe in their own mind [laughter] that they were benefiting not only humanity in general, but other human beings whom they owned? [laughter] What depth of psychological derangement must be involved in that? [laughter] What is more totalitarian than actually owning other human beings?”
Or what about the study of the depths of the depraved minds of Lyndon Johnson or Ronald Reagan [laughter], who murdered millions of people, including vast numbers of children? “What must have gone wrong, somewhere in their childhood or somewhere else in their lives? [laughter] What demented ideas must they somehow have internalized that led them to believe that in the name of the shining city on the hill, or whatever [laughter], they had the right and the obligation to slaughter thousands and millions of innocent people?”
I have never seen those studies. Certainly I haven’t read about them in the New York Times Book Review section. [laughter]
Still, there are some real questions that are raised about totalitarianism by the ideologues and the “intellectual camp followers” of the imperialists that do need to be taken on. In particular, they make the charge that in a society which they call totalitarian, but which is in reality the dictatorship of the proletariat, there is first of all an official ideology that everyone has to profess belief in, in order to get along in that society. And there is an official politics that everyone has to be involved in, in order to get along in that society and not get in trouble. Well, what about this?
Fundamentally, this is a distortion of what has gone on in socialist societies: why these revolutions were necessary in the first place and what they were seeking to accomplish and to overcome, and how they were going about doing that. The reality is that, for the great masses of people in capitalist (and certainly in feudal) society, they are barred from really being involved in any significant way in official politics and the politics that actually affect the affairs of state and the direction of society. And they are indoctrinated with an outlook and methodology and ideology that prevents them—discourages them and actively obstructs them—from really understanding the world as it is and changing it consciously. And that is what socialist revolutions seek to change, as well as bringing about fundamental changes in the economy and the social relations.
But what about this question of official ideology that everyone has to profess? Well, I think we have more to sum up about that from the history of socialist society and the dictatorship of the proletariat so far.
With regard to the question of the party, I think two things are definitely true. One, you need a vanguard party to lead this revolution and to lead the new state. Two, that party has to have an ideology that unifies it, an ideology that correctly reflects and enables people to consciously change reality, which is communist ideology.
But, more broadly, should everyone in society have to profess this ideology in order to get along? No. Those who are won over to this ideology should proclaim it and struggle for it. Those who are not convinced of it should say so. Those who disagree with it should say that. And there should be struggle. Something has to lead—the correct ideology that really enables people to get at the truth, and to do something with it in their interests, has to lead; but that doesn’t mean everyone should have to profess it, in my opinion. And this is just my opinion. But it’s worth digging into this a bit, it’s worth exploring and wrangling with the question.
1. This selection is excerpted from the talk Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism, the edited text of which is available online at revcom.us. This particular selection was published in Revolutionary Worker [now Revolution] #1257 (October 31, 2004). [back]
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
At Smithfield's Tar Heel Slaughterhouse
Smithfield's Tar Heel plant is the largest slaughterhouse in the world, sprawling over 830 acres in southeastern North Carolina.
On November 16 this plant flared into national headlines, as a thousand workers walked out on strike against the company's firing of immigrant workers who, Smithfield claimed, were working with false papers.
Hell in the Hog Belt
This Tar Heel plant was built close to hog farms, but far from almost everything else. The nearest town is 20 miles away--but most workers have had to travel much farther than that to get there. Over 60 percent of the 5,000 workers here are originally from Latin America--most from Mexico, but also from Honduras and Guatemala. About 30 percent of the workers are African American workers, many drawn from the surrounding rural areas where other jobs are hard to find. Plantation-style, the foremen like to call each other “boss man” and talk to the workers like they are dirt.
This factory kills and processes 32,000 hogs a day-- sending one every 3.5 seconds down each of the lines. “The line speed is just blazingly fast,” one worker told Revolution. “People are shoulder-to-shoulder on the line that runs hours nonstop--so close that people get accidentally stabbed by their co-workers. It's repetitive motion. Workers have been killed in the plant. A worker who hadn't been trained in the dangers went down into a tanker filled with hog blood, chemicals and stuff and was overcome by the fumes. And the only fine for this 26-year-old man's life was $4,323.”
One Black worker described to Revolution how insult is piled on top of the danger. He works running the 250-pound hogs up the concrete lane to the kill floor. “Here we are,” he said, “splashed with hog urine and feces because the drains don't work. And they want to harass you if you go to the bathroom just to wipe it off your face.”
Another worker told Revolution , “I've seen hogs fall off the shackles, knock a worker down and the foreman is hollering 'Grab that hog and fill that gap in the line!' all while that worker is still lying there unconscious!”
Smithfield Foods, a global corporation with sales over $11 billion, was just declared one of "America’s Most Admired Companies of 2006" by Fortune magazine.
After years of hiring and exploiting immigrant workers, Smithfield turned over their hiring records to the federal government--saying that they were being pressured by the Department of Homeland Security. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that 600 social security numbers from the Tar Heel plant did not to match the employee names. In October, Smithfield told workers they had two weeks to provide explanations. One Smithfield representative told workers at the Tar Heel plant that the ICE had threatened to raid the factory if Smithfield had not gone ahead with these firings. (They have already been carrying out raids against immigrants in other factories in North Carolina.)
People wondered what would happen to their jobs, their families and their very lives. And the answer came quickly: company guards and officials suddenly took over 50 workers off the line and fired them.
There was sharp controversy among the workers over what to do. Quite a few workers have been influenced by the company's argument that they were just obeying the law. And many workers were afraid to take action: over the last 14 years there had been repeated attempts to organize a union among the workers, and the company had responded harshly by firing active workers and by threatening to call the immigration police on immigrant workers. In addition, there are real divisions between Black and Latino workers, including a view among a section of workers that immigrants are ''taking jobs'' that should ''belong'' to workers born in the U.S.
Eduardo Pena is one of the organizers for the United Food and Commercial Workers union, who have been waging an intensified campaign over the last four years to unionize this plant. He told Revolution that divisions among the workers are actively encouraged by Smithfield and its hiring practices--that first seemingly “favored” African Americans, then switched to mainly hiring Latino immigrants, and recently leaned back toward hiring African American workers. This promoted an atmosphere where different nationalities feel they are competing against each other for available jobs. And then on the plant floor, the workers are often segregated into crews by language.
Pena told Revolution, “A big part of what the union has been doing has been dealing with the way the company has been pitching Black against Latino.” In the organized core of about fifty or sixty that have been attending union meetings, the workers share their stories and experiences with each other through translators.“A lot of Latinos,” Pena said, “don't understand how African Americans were brought into this country. They see that Black people are part of this country, and they don't realize the tremendous struggle they have gone through just to gain the most basic rights. Also many Latinos have come to share stories of their home countries, and what it is like to go through the desert, how it was a major decision to come all this way. That they didn't just wake up one day and decide, 'Gee, I'm going to go get a meatpacking job in North Carolina.'”
A sharp sign of this continuing division is that when company officials came to fire the targeted workers, some workers on the line openly supported the firing, shouting “You are illegal, get out of here!”
At the same time, many of the workers felt very differently.
One white worker, a Gulf war vet and an active supporter of the union drive, told Revolution : “Latinos are experiencing the the same thing that used to happen to the Irish and Chinese. I have total respect for people, whose country is so devastated, who are willing to leave their home to make a living. … People have to have compassion for other people. I've always felt that way.”
Another worker said, “Being an African American--I know the struggles I had in life. It's not like the Latino-Americans who came over are not trying to get a job; these people have put their heart and soul into it, hoping to live like decent human beings. When we are cut, we all bleed the same blood… If you know how it feels to be kicked when you are down, why would you turn against others who face the same thing?”
After days of mounting tension, workers pulled key switches that shut down the production line early in the morning of November 16. Hundreds of pig carcasses were just hanging there, swinging, as workers poured out the doors into the parking lot. They chanted “Queremos justicia!” (We want justice!) and “Sí se puede!” (We can do it!).
The word of the wildcat strike swept through the plant: “The Latinos have walked out!”
There was real excitement in that parking lot as more followed, including several dozen Black and white workers who walked out, sometimes in ones and twos, sometimes in small groups, to stand against the injustice.
Company officials ran around frantically, ordering people back on the line. One worker laughed as he told Revolution how supervisors tried to shut him up as he yelled to his crew, “Come on and join us! This is a way to make a difference!”
Six or seven hundred workers walked out, and at the next shift change, hundreds more from second shift stayed out. The mass picket swelled to a thousand at the front gate. Right there in the parking lot, the workers elected a multinational leadership committee to formulate demands.
Most workers stayed on the job--either scared to strike or unwilling to support the undocumented workers. But enough walked out that day that production stopped. And the arrogant company heads were totally stunned.
That night the strike made the national news. CNN's frothing-at-the-mouth anti-immigrant reactionary Lou Dobbs was sputtering that workers had dared to strike in support of the undocumented. Meanwhile there were expressions of support for the strikers from churches, artists, and civil rights organizations.
The strikers had risked losing their jobs--and perhaps being singled out for arrest and deportation--and they had won a important victory when Smithfield agreed to important concessions. The company agreed to rehire the fired workers and meet for the first time with an elected committee of the plant workers.
Then, after the strike ended and all the workers returned to work, Smithfield announced that it was giving workers at all its plants nationwide 60 days to clear up any problems with their social security numbers. The company clearly intends to press ahead to fire any workers who do not provide satisfactory proof of legal status.
The powerful action of the striking workers puts the spotlight on the horrific conditions faced by workers at plants like Tar Heel, and on the unjust attacks aimed at immigrant workers.
A thousand workers of Tar Heel dared to demand justice--in the face of intense anti-immigrant hysteria in North Carolina, in the face of federal threats of firing and deportation, and in the face of sharp divisions among the workers themselves. They deserve active support in their ongoing fight to make Smithfield back off completely from firing the immigrant workers they so ruthlessly exploited.
At the same time, this struggle has a potential importance far beyond one plant or one region. These workers are an inspiring example of resistance to an increasingly repressive political climate. Their struggle places a challenge before everyone across the U.S.--to take a clear stand in defense of undocumented immigrants and against the criminal injustices carried out by this system.
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
Cops Fire Over 50 Shots, Protests Planned
23-year-old Sean Bell was supposed to get married on Saturday, November 25. But in the early morning hours of that day, he was murdered by the NYPD.
Undercover cops fired at least 50 rounds of bullets into a car carrying Sean Bell and two of his friends as they left Bell's bachelor party in the Jamaica section of Queens. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly reported that one of his men fired his weapon 31 times, emptying two full magazines. News reports said Bell was shot in the neck, shoulder and right arm and died at the hospital. Two of Bell's friends who were in the car, 21-year-old Joseph Guzman and 23-year-old Trent Benefield, were hospitalized with multiple gun shot wounds.
The club where the bachelor party was held was under police surveillance, inside and outside the building. When Bell's car left the club, it ran into an unmarked van carrying some of the cops involved in the surveillance. And the cops responded with a barrage of deadly gunfire.
People visiting Guzman and Benefield at the hospital on Saturday found them handcuffed to their hospital beds. The two men had not been charged with any crime but the cops said they handcuffed the wounded men because they were unclear if the men were armed. This is an insulting justification from the cops who are acting as if they couldn't have frisked the men after they shot them down! Family members of the two victims said there had been no guns in their car that night. And an employee of the club said the men "weren't rowdy or nothing like that" at the club prior to the shooting.
NY Mayor Bloomberg called for calm and said it was too early to draw any conclusions about the incident. But many people remember how in 1999 NYPD cops killed Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African immigrant, shooting him 19 times. And many people are responding to this killing with grief and outrage.
On Sunday, November 26, more than 500 people gathered outside the hospital where Sean Bell's friends are recovering. They marched through the neighborhood to the police station and back to the hospital demanding justice. Calls have been issued for the police to explain what happened and why. A rally is planned for December 6 that will focus on this murder.
Commenting on this whole incident, Carl Dix, National Spokesperson of the RCP, said: "This is another in a long line of murders committed by the NYPD. We've seen NY cops brutalize, torture and murder people time after time, and they almost never get punished for any of these foul crimes. This is part of the continuing nationwide epidemic of police brutality and police murder. It must be met with continued mass resistance. And it is important to uncover the truth about this kind of official brutality. This state-sanctioned brutality is built into the framework of this rotten system we're living under, and it will take proletarian revolution to end this and everything else foul this system forces people to endure once and for all."
Revolution (revcom.us) will be following the developments in this case as they unfold.
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
Sharp Contention at the Top and Deep Discontent from Below
The inauguration of Felipe Calderon as president of Mexico is set to take place on December 1. Forces grouped around the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and its candidate in the last election, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), have declared that they intend to prevent this inauguration through actions of peaceful resistance inside and outside the Chamber of Deputies. December 1 has become a focus of struggle throughout Mexico with the APPO (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca) in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca calling for national protests against Calderon.
Millions of people in Mexico regard Calderon as an illegitimate usurper of the presidency. They believe that his victory occured through fraud and manipulations by powerful forces at the top including the U.S. The imposition of Calderon’s program is looked at as a wholesale selling off of Mexico to the U.S., and bowing down before the U.S. masters. And while AMLO, and the forces in the Mexican ruling circles he represents, do not stand for any basic break with imperialist domination, oppression, and exploitation, millions in Mexico sense that Calderon's inauguration will lead to intensified oppression and increased, dangerous repression—which it will.
The struggle among Mexico's rulers that is playing out through the post-election turmoil, has drawn millions of people in Mexico into political life and into the streets to debate and struggle over the direction that society should take. The result is a complex mix of two fundamentally different, but interpenetrating conflicts: infighting at the top of Mexican society, and widespread protest and rebellion from below. What will happen on December 1 and beyond is not clear, but there has not been such infighting in the ruling circles of Mexico focused on allowing a president to take power since the time of the 1910 revolution.
Weeks before his inauguration, Calderon set up a militarized zone around the area of the Chamber of Deputies, due to what he called the threat from the PRD. There are 1,200 Federal Preventive Police in riot gear and Police of the Presidential Guard manning checkpoints to demand identification from residents and passersby in the surrounding streets and from the legislators. Three-meter-high metal fences have been erected around the Chamber of Deputies building. An exposition of historic photographs donated by the family of Pancho Villa, scheduled to open on the Nov. 20 anniversary of the 1910 revolution was canceled on orders of the federal government.
These measures are not just defensive maneuvers due to the threat of mass mobilization. They are to set a tone and deliver an ominous message about the power of the state. Calderon made this clear when he spoke to some legislators on Nov. 20 (the same day AMLO declared himself the president—see below): “My government will make use of all of the force of the Mexican state, with the laws at hand and the power of the institutions. This is a war that we are going to win, with the backing of the Congress we will have to successfully wage the first battles.”
Calderon stated that in spite of the announced plans to prevent him from being sworn in, he will take hold of his presidency promptly at the proper time and in the proper place. The PAN senators were gathered and given instruction that while Calderon is being sworn in, the PAN senators cannot allow the PRD to take over the legislative chamber like they did when outgoing President Fox (of PAN) was about to give the State of the Union address in early September. The PAN declared plans to stand by Calderon “whatever it costs and whoever falls,” and they pledged to defend their president. The PRI also plans to stand by Calderon.
Calderon's First Decisions—Serving U.S. Interests
Calderon was the preferred presidential candidate of U.S. imperialism. He is praised and admired by the foreign investment community, the Christian right, George Bush, and Democratic Party luminaries such as Bill Clinton (who offered himself to Calderon as an economic adviser). He has met with Bill Richardson, the Democratic governor of New Mexico, and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. He promises to carry through with economic and political “reforms” that will make Mexico more exploitable--taking away all trade barriers to more intensified U.S. investment and exploitation of Mexico; continuing to get rid of labor unions; imposing taxes on food and medicine; and pushing other measures that will hurt the poor.
The Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported that, despite the battle shaping up and the political instability, Wall Street financial analysts think “social and economic stability are guaranteed in Mexico” due to Calderon's choices for his cabinet. Calderon's choices for top cabinet positions do reveal a lot about where he is headed: Mexico's incoming Secretary of State Agustin Carstens is the former deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the institution that has dictated the measures to restructure governments to facilitate the interests of international capital. The incoming Secretary of Transportation is one of the orchestrators of the rewriting of Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, which brought certain changes to the rural land ownership system, forcing more peasants off the land, and which was one of the grievances that led to the Zapatista (EZLN) rebellion in 1994. The incoming Secretary of Economy has stated that his goal is to make Mexico the country with the best conditions for foreign investment, which means the best conditions for exploiting the masses of people. The incoming Secretary of Energy is one of the ideologues of Plan-Puebla-Panama, the giant infrastructure project focused on opening up the resources of southern Mexico and Central America to international capital.
The post of Secretary of the Interior will go to Sergio Ramirez Acuña, governor of Jalisco, who in 2004 became internationally notorious for the mass arrests of anti-globalization protesters and their torture at the hands of the police. The arrest came soon after the release of the photos from Abu Ghraib, and the similarities were chilling. Prisoners recounted having plastic bags placed over their faces and being electro-shocked; there was also mass sexual humiliation of women. As the protesters were being tortured in police dungeons, the governor held a meeting with PAN members to ask Felipe Calderon to run for president. When the news of the torture came out there was great international outrage, and in the face of this the governor held a ceremony for the torturers and presented them with medals of gratitude for their service.
Calderon and Acuña are also reported to be members of the Catholic fascist organization El Yunque. Articles in Proceso and other Mexican papers have reported that El Yunque gave significant funds to Calderon and his presidential campaign.
The staggering injustice of the U.S. construction of a wall on the border with Mexico has brought into stark relief the unequal relationship between the two countries and the interests that Calderon serves. Calderon has denounced the wall in the press, but when he met with Bush recently he never even brought the subject up.
Sharp Conflict Among the Rulers, Openings for the People
On the other side of the conflict at the top are the forces grouped around AMLO and the PRD, and they have called millions of people into the streets in protest against the election result. On November 20, AMLO conducted a ceremony to be sworn in as the “legitimate president” in the main plaza in Mexico City, the Zocalo, in front of 300,000 people. They stood in the bitter cold, many having brought with them tattered photographs and taped together banners, relics from the 48-day occupation of the government center of Mexico City that AMLO carried out when he was demanding a vote recount in July and August and in which participated millions of people. Once again busloads of supporters came from all over the country. When interviewed, several commented that they had come to find out what to do next. A representative of AMLO’s cabinet stood before them and asked for a show of hands of those who would pledge to come back at 7 a.m. on December 1 to prevent Calderon from assuming power. AMLO said to the thousands who attended his “symbolic swearing in” as the “legitimate president” of Mexico: “You are now the representatives of the government.” And he laid out 20 measures which he described as key programmatic differences with Calderon, such as preventing the privatization of the energy sector.
On the day of AMLO’s ceremony many forces among the Mexican rulers and internationally attacked AMLO for his actions. The Wall Street Journal in particular blamed Fox for letting things get to this point, accused AMLO of “emboldening the extremists” in Oaxaca, and exhorted Calderon to “draw his line in the sand.”
At stake for U.S. imperialism is the stability of their “backyard” and fighting through on the economic course they need to forge to restructure Latin America in their interests. Mexico is a cornerstone of their empire, and it must play the role of “an important stabilizing element in its effort to continue and remake its domination of Latin America. One element of this is the U.S. attempt to integrate the Western Hemisphere into one trade zone, the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). But the FTAA has been the object of ferocious protest and even many governments in Latin America are opposed to it.” [see “Mexico: The Political Volcano Rumbles,” Revolution #60] There is another pole, another agenda, in operation in South America grouped around ruling class forces like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that—while not fundamentally rupturing with imperialist global relations—are seeking to gain more autonomy within that setup and cut different deals with outside powers, including with powers other than the U.S. Calderon sees the ruling class interests of Mexico as tightly allied with the larger imperialist interests of the U.S. This is what makes Calderon the preferred candidate of U.S. imperialism.
But while AMLO publicly calls Calderon a “neofascist” and a “puppet” of the U.S., his program, like Calderon’s, is based on attracting foreign investment and increasing the exploitation of people. At bottom all he is really seeking is for the same master to cut a better deal. One sharp example of these differences, in the sphere of economic relations, is their different plans for Mexico's state-run oil industry, PEMEX. PEMEX supplies 60% of the revenues for the Mexican state. In addition, there are differences between PAN and PRD over the role of religion and education and traditional morality, the role of the unions and social welfare measures, and other questions concerning the character of the institutions and broader social relations of society. And there is the question of what posture the Mexican government will take in relation to the international panorama, and in particular how this will impact the U.S. agenda. All of these are involved in a complex multifaceted way in the current crisis that has emerged in relation to and in the wake of the Presidential elections. Even with the current high oil prices, it is heavily in debt and badly in need of a huge influx of capitalist investment. Production at the main oil field has begun to drop, and without massive new investments to develop other wells, PEMEX's oil production will drop. Calderon’s plan will ultimately give control over this development to foreign investors. In contrast, AMLO wants foreign investment to continue to go through the Mexican state. Through his mobilization of the people, he seeks to fight for his program while keeping the struggle within the bounds of these kinds of terms, despite his rhetoric.
Contradictions among the rulers in Mexico have given openings to the discontent of the people boiling over from below. In the poor southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, what started out as a teachers' strike developed into a people’s rebellion—by one of the poorest sections of people in Mexico—focused on driving out the state governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, from power. Not confined to the margins of acceptable protest within the accepted political framework, the protests in Oaxaca have inspired people throughout Mexico and the world.
The clash of social forces reaches deep into the foundations of Mexican society and interpenetrates with Mexico's profound connection with the U.S. In one way or another such shifting of tectonic plates in this strategic area of the world is bound to have big implications for both imperialism, and for the people. It remains extremely important to continue to push forward in this current, politically volatile situation: to find the ways to politically support the masses' struggle and help it to break out of the bounds of one ruling class faction against another and, as this is going on, to expose the oppressive economic, political, and social relations at the root of Mexican society and its problems, and to call them into fundamental question.
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
As we go to press, the situation in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca is very tense. On Friday, November 24, following a week of intensified police repression, torture, and disappearances, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) called for a 7th Mega March to the zócalo (central city square) in Oaxaca City to surround the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) for 48 hours, and press their demands for the PFP to withdraw and for the governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, to resign.
The PFP have been in Oaxaca since October 29, sent by the federal government to protect the governor and its institutions, and to defeat the struggle of the people which has been challenging the governments authority for six months. While the PFP was able to displace the people from many of their encampments and recaptured radio and TV stations, the people have not stopped struggling. On November 20, the PFP attacked a march of 1500 supporters of APPO who were commemorating the 96th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. They also beat reporters and photographers from national and international press and made several arrests.
On Friday, the eve of the Mega March, the PFP began to move some of its troops out of the zócalo, and stationed water cannons and barbed wire around the perimeter of the zócalo.
In the face of all this, the Mexican newspaper La Jornada is reporting that tens of thousands marched in Oaxaca City on Saturday. More than 160 were arrested. APPO is saying that the PFP attacked the protest with gunfire and so much tear gas that covered the entire zócalo. La Jornada is reporting that APPO says that five people were killed, and 25 people have been “disappeared.”
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
While U.S. Talks of “New Direction” in Iraq:
Some politicians and media now portray Iraq as a civil war in which U.S. soldiers are “well meaning peacekeepers caught in the middle.” But what happened on November 13 in the city of Ramadi, in the western part of Iraq, tells a different story.
On that night, U.S. tanks opened fire on homes in the Al-Dhubat area of Ramadi killing at least 35 people. A 60-year-old man, Haji Jassim, told Inter Press Service (IPS), "We heard the bombing and we thought it was the usual fighting between resistance fighters and the Americans, but we soon realized it was bombing by large cannons. We weren't allowed by the Americans to reach the destroyed houses to try to rescue those who were buried, so certainly many of them bled to death… There was a big American force that stopped us and told us the usual ugly phrases we hear from them every day."
According to the IPS article by journalists Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily, “Jassim, speaking with IPS while several other witnesses listened while nodding their heads, said that ambulances did not appear on the scene for hours because ‘we realized that the Americans did not allow them to move,’ and that as a result, ‘there were people buried under the rubble who were bleeding to death while there was still a chance to rescue them.’”
Iraqi doctors and witnesses at the scene of the attack said that the people killed were civilians. The doctors who spoke with IPS didn’t want to talk about too many details of the attack because they fear U.S. military reprisals, but did confirm that many of the people who died had bled to death. According to IPS, “tempers run high in Ramadi because the city has often been the scene of large-scale U.S. military operations and their inherent forms of collective punishment.”
A report on Al Jazeera’s English website quoted Rabah al-Alwan, the head of the Union of Lawyers in Al-Anbar, who said the U.S. Army had seized the whole neighborhood of al-Soufiya in Ramadi’s center in January. Al-Alwan said the army had thrown 211 families out of their homes. U.S. snipers have fired at and killed people who approach the area to get their belongings.
It is true that civil war between different factions is clearly a huge part of the picture in Iraq right now. And that poses a big obstacle to U.S. plans in Iraq and in the region more generally. And, there is a tragic element to it, in the sense that masses have been pitted against each other and that reactionary Islamic fundamentalist trends and forces have been strengthened through the course of that. But a) this civil war is itself a byproduct of the U.S. invasion and occupation, and b) U.S. troops continue to play a very aggressive and vicious role in attempting to bludgeon all the different forces into some kind of setup agreeable to the U.S.'s imperialist interests in Iraq and the region.
Necessities of An Unjust War
Ramadi is just 60 miles from the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, and 30 miles from Fallujah. Both Ramadi and Fallujah are in the heart of what the U.S. calls the “Sunni Triangle”—a region of sharp resistance to the U.S. occupation led by various Sunni Muslim forces, including many reactionary forces closely aligned with the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein. These forces are just one faction of the resistance to U.S. occupation of Iraq, but if the U.S. is to be in a position to pursue any options favorable to its objectives, and in particular to bring various Sunni forces in line as it searches for a “new direction” to carry out its objectives in the region, it needs to crush resistance in this part of Iraq. Or, at least, to “teach a lesson” to opposition forces there.
The most concentrated example of this occurred with the massive, deadly attack on Fallujah in 2004. The British newspaper The Guardian reported, "By the end of operations, the city lay in ruins. Fallujah's compensation commissioner has reported that 36,000 of the city's 50,000 homes were destroyed, along with 60 schools and 65 mosques and shrines. The US claims that 2,000 died, most of them fighters. Other sources disagree. … Iraqi NGOs and medical workers estimate between 4,000 and 6,000 dead, mostly civilians—a proportionately higher death rate than in Coventry and London during the [Nazi German] blitz."
In the assault on Fallujah, the U.S. targeted medical clinics and personnel for the first wave of bombings. A Pentagon “information warfare” specialist said these clinics could be "propaganda centers." And the U.S. committed horrible war crimes in Fallujah by using chemical weapons—burning people alive and suffocating them by dropping white phosphorus gas on the city.
While the extent of the death in Fallujah was largely censored out of U.S. news coverage, the rest of the world, and in particular people in the Middle East, watched hourly updates on Al-Jazeera (prompting recently dumped Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to call Al-Jazeera "vicious" and "disgraceful"). In Fallujah, the U.S. proved it could, with a massive concentration of overwhelming force, obliterate what was once a large, lively city. But Fallujah became a curse and a battle cry to oppose the U.S. occupation.
Stuck in a Mess and Carrying Out Massacres
So far, the U.S. attack on Ramadi which began (in its current phase) in June of 2006, is not the same kind of massive, world-attention-grabbing, concentration of force used in the rape of Fallujah. But there are ominous parallels. As with Fallujah, the occupation forces seized control of all major entrances into the city of 400,000, trying to choke it off. Many residents expected the city to be leveled and people slaughtered as the U.S. did in Fallujah, and 10,000 people fled. Maurizio Mascia of the Italian Consortium of Solidarity, a group that aids Iraqi refugees, told IPS, “The Americans, instead of attacking the city all at once like they’ve done in their previous operations in cities like Fallujah and Al Qa’im [another city in the Sunni triangle the U.S. laid siege to last year], are using helicopters and ground troops to attack one district at a time in Ramadi.”
As we head into a period when Iraq will very likely be the subject of sharp debate among the rulers and hence in society more broadly, and when many calls to “maintain the U.S. presence” (or even increase it) will be cloaked in the name of “protecting Iraqis,” it is very important to understand and bring to others the lesson of Ramadi: U.S. military forces are not in Iraq to do anything but bludgeon people into submission to U.S. dictates.
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
In the U.S. military's torture camp at Guantanamo, prisoners are shackled, locked in cages, forced to wear orange jumpsuits, and sometimes hooded. These brutal practices—and other torture carried out by the U.S. around the world—were legalized with the Military Commission Act of 2006, passed by Congress and signed into law by Bush this fall.
The organization World Can't Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime is calling on people to take a stand against the legalization of torture on December 10th and 11th, in honor of International Human Rights Day.
World Can't Wait is also encouraging people to participate in town hall meetings on impeachment on Dec. 10 across the country. A coalition of organizations have declared Dec. 10 “Human Rights and Impeachment Day.”
Revolution newspaper gathered the following from the website of the World Can't Wait organization (worldcantwait.org):
“Spend the whole day wearing what Guantanamo detainees have to wear everyday. Dress in the orange jumpsuit, hood, shackles, etc. Wear it to school. Wear it to work. Wear it to church or religious services…
“On Dec. 10th and 11th, make the torture that is being carried out by our government in our names a reality that people have to confront in their daily lives. Distribute the World Can’t Wait Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime and 'Silence + Torture = Complicity' statement. Challenge people to join you by putting on an orange armband and collect their email address for the movement to drive out the Bush regime.
“Already 14,000 people are being detained by the U.S. without charges. In September, Congress approved Bush’s Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) that:
“This is part of a package coming from the Bush regime that includes an atrocious, nightmarish occupation of Iraq, the threat of war against Iran, an assault on critical thinking and serious motion toward a theocracy. It includes the criminal response to Hurricane Katrina, a systematic attack on women’s reproductive rights, and the demonization of gay people. It includes the scape-goating of immigrants and severely repressive new legislation aimed at them. And it gets worse with every passing week. As the call for The World Can’t Wait–Drive Out the Bush Regime states: 'The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come.' ”
Further information on the Dec. 10-11 actions and to order orange jumpsuits and to download flyers and other organizing material, go to the World Can't Wait website at worldcantwait.org.
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
New Film Shut Up & Sing
“Just so you know, we’re ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.”
This was the famous comment dropped between songs by Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, at a concert in Britain right before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck’s stirring documentary Shut Up & Sing tells the story of what happened next. Within days, this immensely popular country music singing trio--the largest selling female music group in history--was banned from country radio stations throughout the South. DJs broadcast uncensored threats calling for Natalie to be “strapped to a missile and sent to Iraq.” Thuggish reactionaries picketed concerts with signs like “Deport the Dixie Twits” and “Try the Chicks 4 treason.” Mothers dragged kids to staged-for-TV “CD-crushings” where farmers on tractors rolled over Dixie Chicks discs. Record sales plummeted, and the band had to perform arena shows under death threat.
Filmmaker Barbara Kopple has won two Academy Awards for documentaries that explore moments in recent U.S. history when the social patina gets cracked. Her many films include Winter Soldier (1972) which documents the first GI hearing on atrocities committed in Vietnam, Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976) about a unionization strike of coal miners, and My Generation (2000), the story of all three Woodstock festivals. Kopple is known for letting her subjects speak for themselves, a method that works well with the women in the Dixie Chicks. Along with lead singer and guitarist Natalie Maines, the band includes sisters Emily Robison (banjo, dobro and lap steel guitar) and Martie Maguire (fiddle and mandolin).The film is crammed with great concert footage, and these fine musicians play their hearts out.
As the film opens, we see the Dixie Chicks, a couple months before Natalie's Bush comment, singing the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl.
How did all this happen? Shut Up & Sing takes you on the journey. Expect to be surprised.
The film shows footage from a Congressional hearing where the president of Cumulus Broadcasting testifies to ordering 250 subsidiary stations to stop playing the Dixie Chicks’ songs. The “grassroots” radio call-in campaign against the band is revealed to be organized by powerful extreme-right websites grouped around freerepublic.com. The fascist-bully country star, Toby Keith, volunteers as point man for anti-Dixie Chick attacks and receives ceaseless airplay and “human interest” coverage for adding a topical ditty about “putting his boot up [Natalie’s] ass” to his women-hating, war-mongering repertoire.
The film offers an exposing picture of the high-level attention paid to try to take down this band. Even Bush weighed in, telling Tom Brokaw: “The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind…They shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because people don't want to buy their records when they want to speak out…”
The stakes were clearly high. Could a regime that was launching an immoral war based on deception simply allow one of the most popular singing groups ever to poke them in the eye? And a female country band to boot? One can only imagine the executive freak-out: right at the moment when a compliant populace is most needed, these voices of dissent (widely respected virtuoso musicians who can get a real hearing) start rising from within the patriotic home base.
There is a telling scene in a high-rise boardroom with the Dixie Chicks' corporate tour sponsor, Lipton Tea, who have hired a consultant to try and talk the band into toning things down. A rare moment to capture on film, the camera moves around the room from face to face as we watch the larger political objectives of the regime in power intersect with the narrow commercial interests of Lipton. In a calculating and smooth delivery, the operative tells the band: “At the end of the day--it is true you are great musicians--but essentially you are a brand.”
But the authorities find themselves head to head with a group they cannot simply roll over. This is the pulsing heart of the film, leavened by the band’s non-stop wit and irreverence that has you alternately clapping and laughing out loud. Natalie at a band meeting: “Now that we’ve fucked ourselves, I think we have a responsibility to . . . continue fucking ourselves.”
How did the Dixie Chicks respond when besieged for political insubordination by the music industry, the government, and reactionary pundits all over the country? Strip naked and defiantly cover their bodies with the very epithets being flung in their face—“Big Mouth,” “Slut,” “Saddam’s Angels.” Voila: the famous Entertainment Weekly cover which must have really irritated Bible-belters.
There is a history here. Even before Natalie's public dis of Bush it was hard for true-believing Christian fundamentalists to get behind the Dixie Chicks. Certainly not after they hit the charts with “Goodbye Earl”—a song about the permanent removal of an unrepentant wife-beater. Then there was that whole “Earl's in the Trunk” bumper sticker movement—not exactly in line with the Ten Commandments.
After Natalie's Bush comment, country radio never relented on the Dixie Chicks and the episode did not blow over. They were faced with either going along with a stay-safe logic that says they should shut up, or standing up for principle and risk losing it all. The band thought people should have the right to free speech. And faced with all the reactionary attempts to censor them, the Dixie Chicks had to decide whether to submit and go along with the dictates, or insist on their right to exercise free speech. The band decided to fight, with gusto--which is quite a good thing.
Band member Martie Maguire said in a recent interview: “Before [Natalie] said what she said, I don’t ever think I took a stand about anything. Then the bottom fell out, and I found myself at age 34. I knew what I believed in, but I always saw both sides…In the past I tried to micro manage everything to ensure that this career would last forever . . . [Then] the light just went on. I went, okay, now I know who I am and what I stand for and it doesn’t matter what we lose along the way.”
The Dixie Chicks are sustained by their fans, some old and some new, who are thrilled to see these artists take on the colossus--something that’s still far too rare in our culture. Homemade signs (“Thank you, Dixie Chicks!”) held by cheering young women show up at every concert.
As Barbara Kopple lets the tape roll, we watch how the band comes to grips with the fact that country radio is not allowing them back in. They look at who they are as artists in a different light. During the past year, the band released an exciting new album, “Taking the Long Way,” which branches out musically and is the first album they wrote in its entirety. Emily Robison: “I feel that fire you get when you’ve been knocked down. … it’s like being given a second life.” They are now adding a whole new set of listeners, drawn by the new music, and for many, the band’s passionate defiance.
“Lubbock or Leave It,” one of the new songs, takes a scorching look at the Bible Belt, returning to Texas and specifically Lubbock, Natalie’s hometown, a city that also drove out rebel rocker Buddy Holly for not following the buttoned-down Christian path. (At a recent concert, Natalie is quoted saying, "I heard we've been nominated to be nominated for an Academy Award, but I just saw Jesus Camp [a film exposing Christian-fascist indoctrination camps for children], and I think I'd vote for it instead. It was very eye-opening.")
* * *
At one point early in the film, the Dixie Chicks are counseled: “Try not to be judgmental of the president. I’ll tell you why, he’s got sky-high approval. The war couldn’t be going better.” Watching Shut Up & Sing today, with Bush’s poll ratings tanking and the Republicans losing Congress as the U.S. imperial quagmire deepens in Iraq, it’s heavy to note how much the national mood has shifted since 2003. Makes you think about the potential for even more profound ruptures in the future.
The Dixie Chicks are still not played on most country radio, and this past October as the film was about to be released, NBC refused to broadcast TV commercials for Shut Up & Sing , stating that the “ads are disparaging to President Bush.”
NBC eventually relented under pressure. Which is one lesson of the film and the whole Dixie Chicks story. When you know you’re right, go find your allies, fight the odds, and don’t reconcile with the enemy. This is a work in progress. Natalie on Larry King last May: “I don't have any respect for the decisions [Bush has] made and where he has led our country. And Katrina was more bizarre than watching everyone agree to go to a war that we didn't really know the reasons for. You definitely didn't know what country you were living in, watching those images.”
At a concert last week a reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle remarked that “the night's high point came with Maines' raging delivery of the single "Not Ready to Make Nice," during which the audience roared non-stop…”
… I've paid a price, and I’ll keep paying.
I’m not ready to make nice,
I’m not ready to back down,
I'm still mad as hell
And I don’t have time
To go round and round and round.…
(To watch the video: http://www.cmt.com/artists/az/dixie_chicks/videos.jhtml)
Towards the end of Shut Up & Sing, a member of the Dixie Chicks back-up band proposes a song on the unity theme--being “undivided” as a band and as a society. Natalie: “Does that mean we would have to forgive all those people that did that to us?” He says, “Well, for the sake of the song, maybe it would.” Natalie, flinging a dismissive hand in the air, says, “Nope.”
For upcoming tour dates:
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
On November 16, George W. Bush announced that the next Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs will be Dr. Eric Keroack. The U.S. Office of Population Affairs advises the Secretary and the Assistant Secretary for Health on reproductive health issues, including adolescent pregnancy, family planning, and sterilization, as well as other population issues.
Keroack, an anti-abortion, anti-birth control obstetrician/gynecologist, is the medical director of A Woman's Concern, a Christian Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) in Massachusetts. In 2005, this CPC got $1.5 million in state funds to teach abstinence-only education in schools.
What are the results of such abstinence-only programs?
Proponents of abstinence-only programs like Keroack argue that this is the only proven and effective safeguard against unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). But in fact, there is evidence that such programs not only do not address problems of family planning and STDs – but actually make such problems worse.
In a recent teach-in sponsored by the Bush Crimes Commission and World Can't Wait, Cristina Page, author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, said: “Let’s just look at the results of when Bush was Governor and invested unprecedented sums in abstinence-only in Texas. The result? Texas scored dead last in the nation, 50th out of 50, in the decline in teen births. In fact, while the rest of the nation enjoyed dramatic declines in teen pregnancy, by the end of Bush’s term as Governor, Texas had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country exceeded by only four other states, including Florida, which his brother governed using the same approach.”
And Page also exposes how abstinence-only programs do not result in lower rates of sexually transmitted diseases.
“[W]hen Columbia and Yale researchers studied kids in these virginity pledge programs and compared them to kids not in virginity pledge programs…the virgin pledgers had the same rate of STDs as non-pledgers. The only difference being that virgin pledgers were six times more likely to have oral sex, male virginity pledgers were four times more likely to have anal sex, the virgin pledgers were also less likely to use a condom, more likely to spread the STDs they have because they don’t get treated for them.”
Page points out: “One in four federal dollars for abstinence-only money goes to pro-life groups. And probably the reason these programs fail is because those designing them are not interested in reducing teen pregnancy, they're interested in proselytizing to children about their God. Take the virginity pledge programs, one called the Silver Ring Thing, got over a million dollars in federal funding. Its executive director explained, 'we’re not really putting our energy into abstinence as much as we’re putting it into faith—abstinence is the tool that we’re using to reach children.'”
These studies and these results are not a secret. It is an established fact that abstinence-only programs do not prevent STDs or unintended pregnancies. What then, is the real underlying agenda of abstinence-only advocates like Keroack, who argue dishonestly that abstinence is a valid form of birth control and prevention of STDs?
Keroack and his CPC are not only against abortion, but all forms of birth control.
A major part of Keroack’s new job will be to oversee federal funding for Title X, which provides funding for over 4,000 family planning clinics, mostly serving low-income women. In other words, Bush is putting an anti-birth control, anti-condom activist in charge of providing—actually denying—birth control to women.
Keroack promotes absurd anti-scientific arguments. For example, in 2003 he gave a talk to the National Abstinence Clearinghouse where he said that women who have too much premarital sex with multiple partners will end up causing a vicious hormonal cycle that destroys their brain's ability to use oxytocin, a hormone that he says is responsible for all bonding in human relationships—so they will be unable to bond with future partners or children and could even turn into sex addicts."
Keroack bases much of this argument on a handful of studies of prairie voles (a species of rodent).
Rebecca Turner, a professor at Alliant International University, told the Boston Globe that Keroack had misrepresented her studies to back up his “oxytocin” claim, and that “This is complete pseudoscience.” Karen Bales, a researcher at UC Davis who studies prairie voles, said there is “absolutely no evidence” for Keroack's claims. And even the co-author of Keroack's paper, Dr. John Diggs, admitted that "Without a doubt the conclusions we came to were inferences that scientists would never come to.” Nonetheless, Keroack’s complete nonsense is being offered as “scientific evidence” to support the abstinence-only movement.
But the effect of his crusade as part of the whole Christian fascist movement to ban abortion and all forms of birth control, is deadly serious and dangerous.
Keroack's nomination is not subject to Congressional approval—he's in. For all those who hoped that the recent elections meant that Bush would have to pause on implementing his whole reactionary social program, including the determined effort to outlaw abortion, this nomination should serve as a wake-up call.
Keroack's Real Agenda
Keroack has spoken at conferences of the National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion, anti-contraception organization. And he was the one who came up with the requirement that federally funded abstinence-only education programs can only talk about birth control to say that it doesn't work. (One refutation of this blatant lie: the birth control pill is 99% effective against pregnancy.)
Abstinence-only education programs are mainly aimed at teenagers. And Christian conservatives and fundamentalists who run these programs preach in these programs that the main purpose of sex is for procreation and that it wrong to engage in sex outside of marriage and the traditional family.
The website of Keroack's Crisis Pregnancy Center (http://partners.awomansconcern.org/about/mission_values.jsp) explains: "A Woman's Concern is a Christian mission to women in pregnancy distress, especially those considering abortion due to lack of information and support. We provide competent and caring services that include free pregnancy tests, sonograms, peer counseling and intervention, prenatal support, material aids for mother and baby, employment referral, housing assistance and opportunities to learn about healthy sexual values, mature relationships, dating guidelines, and how to establish a vital relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church."
And then, under the subhead “The Dignity of Women,” is what Keroack's CPC sees as women's role in society: “We believe that the role of women as child bearers is ordained of God and worthy of the special support needed in overcoming the fears caused by an unplanned pregnancy, all the more important since abortion is inherently destructive and demeaning to women."
This is an example of reactionary religious doctrine in the service of a morality that wants to take society backwards. First of all, the role of women in society is not ordained by some “God.” There is no god. And there is no god or any other supernatural force, or any kind of “natural” force that has mandated various roles in society. Historically, with the development of class society and the patriarchy, the actual people who did mandate the role of women in society were men who wanted to ensure control of their property and enforce property relations in general. This development of the family – and the role of women within it -- was connected to changes in the whole way that people in society related to each other in producing the necessities of life, or the production relations. It is in this context that the main role of women was “ordained to be” to bear and raise children. And this whole set-up was sanctified by religious doctrine and ideology. These production relations have continued to change through the ages, but the oppression of women and the ideology that justifies it have up until now been maintained. The basis has now been laid to do away with these oppressive institutions and ideas – but this will ultimately require further transformation of production relations and, to do that, a political revolution leading ultimately to communism. For a fuller communist analysis of this question, see: “On the Position on Homosexuality in the New Draft Programme” by the RCP and “Why George Bush defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman…or Why the family hasn’t always been like this…and why the future holds something far better,” by Li Onesto, both available at revcom.us.
Secondly, the sexual morality that people and society need is not something “ordained” by religion but is a question of what corresponds to the struggle to bring about a better society, to the emancipation of humanity. And a liberating sexual morality that corresponds to where society is today and needs to go must put first and foremost, the emancipation of women and the struggle to bring about non-exploitative relations between men and women. On that basis, we should uphold women's right to choose if and when they are going to have children. Women (and men) should have the right to engage in sexual relations that are NOT aimed at creating children. And society should have an obligation to assist in the care and raising of children.
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
On November 14 Glenn Beck interviewed newly elected Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) on CNN's Headline News. Beck opened the interview by asking Ellison for "five minutes here where we're just politically incorrect and I play the cards face up on the table." Unafraid, Ellison smiled and said "go there." Beck proceeded to ask Ellison, "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies… I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way."
A native of Detroit, Michigan, Ellison is the first Muslim to be elected in the House of Representatives. He represents the 5th Congressional District in Minnesota that includes Minneapolis, a city that is home to over 40,000 Somalian immigrants. On his website Ellison states that he is the only candidate calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and he cites the "shooting of civilians at Haditha, the rape and murder of a fourteen year old girl in Mahmoudiya, and the hideousness of Abu Ghraib" as having a "devastating effect…on our humanity."
Beck took Ellison's views on an immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the fact that he is Muslim and then demanded Ellison prove he is not a terrorist on national TV days after the election. Beck's words are loaded with the practices of detention and brutality against Muslims perpetrated by the U.S. government in the last five years, where thousands of Muslim men have been detained, deported, and assumed guilty because of their religion or nationality. All of this occurring as the U.S. led a crusade-like war for empire in Afghanistan and then Iraq.
Media Matters for America reports that Beck has previously stated that Muslims and Arabs who don't cooperate with the U.S. war on terror "will be looking through a razor wire fence at the West" and he has consistently called Muslims to "shoot bad Muslims in the head." Beck's views are not just his own. He is forecasting plans that seem like a right-wing fringe idea now, but could very well be made into law in the near future. Muslims in prisons in Iraq and Guantanamo are already looking through razor wire fence.
[Editor's Note from Revolution: The fact that Glenn Beck is aired nightly on CNN – the supposed “mainstream” alternative to FOX News – makes what our reader writes all the more ominous.]
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006
On November 19, more than 22,000 people held a protest vigil outside Fort Benning, Georgia, to demand the shutdown of the School of the Americas (SOA). The SOA is a U.S. Army combat training school for troops and officers from pro-U.S. countries in Latin America in subjects like torture, political assassinations, counter-insurgency, and covert operations against anti-government movements. According to the School of the Americas Watch, the Nov. 19 vigil (part of a weekend of protests at Ft. Benning) was the largest protest yet in the 17-year history of opposition to the school. Sixteen people were arrested over the weekend and charged with trespassing onto SOA property; they face up to six months in federal prison.
Since it was first set up in Panama in 1946, the SOA (known to many as the “School of Assassins”) has trained over 60,000 military personnel from repressive Latin American regimes. The School of the Americas Watch notes that “These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people… Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, 'disappeared,' massacred, and forced into refuge by those trained at the School of Assassins.” (In 2001 the U.S. renamed SOA the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.)
One protester, Rev. John Dear, told the Toledo Blade : “We are living in a terrible, terrible moment in history...with the United States government waging war around the world, brutally killing children in Iraq and Afghanistan… Christians have to speak out against this. These wars have to end. We have to dismantle our terrorist weapons of mass destruction.”
The weekend of vigils and rallies at Ft. Benning coincided with protests in ten other countries around the world demanding that the SOA be shut down.
Revolution #71, December 3, 2006