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Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
Protesters Pepper Sprayed, Tasered, Arrested
On Thursday, December 20, the New Orleans City Council was scheduled to vote on whether to demolish public housing in New Orleans. The city’s plan is to destroy more than 4,600 units of low-cost housing. This is happening in a city where homelessness is growing. A city where tens of thousands have not been able to return since Katrina. A city where people are being evicted from FEMA trailers, where homeless encampments are being forcibly removed. And this plan has been met with resistance by people determined to be heard and determined to stop the demolitions.
Even before the City Council voted, the system delivered its answer in brutality:
The police attacked people and arrested them inside the City Council meeting. BILLY CLUBS, PEPPER SPRAY, AND TASERS were also used outside against people protesting the demolitions.
A protester who was at the City Council meeting told Revolution: “We were denied our human rights. HANO [Housing Authority of New Orleans] brought a lot of people in there, in favor of demolition. All of those people were able to get their people seated fairly quickly without any problems. And we was asking why weren’t you letting more of our people in and also the people opposed to demolition, they were screening the guys. As we made the request, because we saw a number of seats available, maybe even 20 seats available for people to come in, but they had them close off the access to council chambers... We got up in protest, screaming, ‘Let the people in! Let the people in!’ And the officers decided to silence us, so one of the officers grabbed me, put his hands on me. I told him don’t put his hands on me, and the crowd was still chanting, ‘Let the people in!’ because they was illegally starting the process. Then another officer passed me up, so I started chanting again ‘Let the people in.’ So another officer took it upon himself to use physical enforcement to silence me. A number of police officers then jumped me, physically hitting me, striking me. Knocked me on the ground, then one SWAT team officer tasered me. So while I was being tasered, another officer asked me to put my hands behind my back, but I was paralyzed from the taser, by the volts. I was tasered again. So when I have two tasers in me I was tasered again. So I was tasered three times after being beaten and attacked by the police officers. They handcuffed me and dragged me out of the room. I was put in a paddy wagon and brought to jail.”
Then the city council took their vote: seven votes to ZERO in favor of demolishing four large public housing developments.
A graphic display of bourgeois democracy in action.
Outrage On Top of All the Other Outrages
The night before the vote, TV news already announced that most of the city council was going to vote for demolition. It was also announced that cops would be out in large numbers to enforce order during the meeting. The Message: forget about protesting this blatant injustice, the powers-that-be have already decided to go ahead and demolish more than 4,600 units of public housing—homes that could be fixed up for people who desperately need a place to live. The city’s plan is to destroy more than 4,600 units and replace them with “mixed income housing” which will have less than 800 affordable units.
On the day of the meeting, HUD and the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) packed the council chambers with supporters of demolition. Several hundred people also came to the council meeting to voice their opposition to the demolitions. But the police closed and chained the gates to the City Council chambers before the meeting began. They claimed there was no more room—even though there were dozens of empty seats and lots of standing room.
More than 100 people demonstrated outside, chanting “Stop the Demolitions.” New Orleans residents who had been exiled after Katrina came from places like Houston and New York to oppose the demolitions, and they were enraged at being locked out of the council. Inside the chambers, people refused to let the meeting begin, demanding those locked out be allowed in. Cops grabbed several young men by their dreads. Mothers and grandmothers from the projects joined youth and others to condemn this repression while it was going on and throughout the session. To enforce “order,” the cops beat, tased and arrested people.
The crowd outside became enraged at the sight of people being dragged out in handcuffs. People surged against the chained gate forcing it to pop open. When some tried to get into the chambers the cops arrested several people, indiscriminately shot pepper spray into the crowd and started tasing people. Three women were tased, one of them in the back, sending her into convulsions. At least 15 people were arrested.
It was AFTER all this—after opponents of the demolition had been beaten, tased and arrested—that the City Council went through the formality of hearing public comment for and against demolition. And then voted unanimously to demolish the homes and communities of thousands of poor Black families.
Were any of the council members bothered by any of this repression? Not a bit. The Los Angeles Times reported: “City Council members—some sipping water, others leafing through file folders —looked on impassively as a man was tasered, handcuffed and dragged from the council chambers.”
Since Katrina, outrage after outrage has been perpetrated against the people of New Orleans. Tens of thousands left to die as Katrina’s flood waters surged. People denied evacuation or rescue and food and water. People vilified and dissed as looters and thugs for taking what they needed to survive.
And now THIS—in a city where there is such a crying need for low-cost housing, the authorities are moving ahead with plans to demolish public housing. More than 200,000 New Orleans residents still live outside the city, 150,000 of them Black, unable to come back, in large part, because there’s nowhere they can afford to live. Thousands are being evicted from FEMA trailers, and more than 12,000 people, more than double the number of homeless before Katrina, are living on the streets.
But the logic of capitalism sees no profit in providing low-cost housing for people. And plans to rebuild New Orleans have clearly been aimed at making it a city less Black, less poor, and more geared toward profitable enterprises like tourism.
Resistance Builds, Much More Needed
Resistance to the demolitions had been growing in the days leading up to the City Council meeting. At the BW Cooper development, where demolitions began, several people occupied apartments the day before the council vote. Two people chained themselves to the buildings, shutting down demolition efforts for much of the day. The authorities responded by declaring the whole housing development a crime scene and threatening residents with arrest if they left their homes. One of these residents called in to a press conference held to support the occupations and spoke by phone on a TV newscast, letting people know she was “being held hostage” by the police. People involved in the occupations were given felony charges of terrorizing and “using a simulated explosive device.”
Headlines and photographs were seen around the world—showing the resistance of the people to this latest attack. And much more resistance is needed to take on and beat back these demolitions. For the authorities, the only thing left to work out is the details of how people’s homes will be demolished. But for many people, this battle is far from over. It has already been very important and very significant that this outrage has not been allowed to go down quietly, that it has been met with determined resistance from the people. And it is an outrageous exposure that in order to have their vote to carry through with this plan they had to lock people out of the meeting, beat, tase, pepper spray and arrest people.
The stakes in this battle are very high. People across the country, and around the world, witnessed the criminal way the system treated people after Katrina. And people have seen how the system has continued to mistreat and abandon the people of New Orleans—making it impossible for most to come back and rebuild their homes and lives. Politicians and the media continue to vilify Black people in New Orleans, calling them thugs and criminals and blaming them for the desperate conditions the system has put them in. It is right to rebel against all this! And it is heartening and inspiring to see people resisting in New Orleans.
New Orleans represents something special to people. Before Katrina it was seen as a vibrant city with a distinctive culture. Since Katrina, it has come to symbolize a blatant concentration of the whole history and the continuing reality of how this system oppresses Black people. There has been widespread sentiment among millions of people of wanting to stand with the people in New Orleans, to do something to help. And in spite of government neglect and roadblocks, tens of thousands of volunteers of many different nationalities and walks of life have come to New Orleans to gut houses, clean up schools, and help the rebuilding effort in other ways. In such a situation, RESISTANCE in New Orleans resonates with many people who could be allies in this struggle, who feel that this resistance has RIGHT ON ITS SIDE, who could “have the people’s back.”
Resistance to the demolitions has already struck a chord with and impacted many different kinds of people. In mid-December, dozens of mostly youthful volunteers responded to a call to come down to help stop the demolitions. Right after the City Council vote, a crew of people, including some youth from Jena, came to New Orleans to distribute Revolution newspaper.
On December 5, Brad Pitt was on the Larry King show talking about his project to rebuild eco-friendly housing in the Ninth Ward (a poor Black neighborhood devastated by floods). He expressed real concern about the situation people are in. Speaking about the scene at the City Council meeting, he said: “What yesterday certainly reflects is the frustration and the helplessness that families are facing here. And, again, you know, it’s been two-and-a-half years now. And, again, I don’t know the details. I know there was some arguments that these places created crime. I didn’t hear the argument that answers that for me, is that you’ve got to address education, you’ve got to address health, you’ve got to address opportunities. And until you address that, what do you expect is going to be there? So I don’t know that the issue is just about the housing itself. But, again, I don’t know enough. What I do know is that this tells you what an open nerve this place still is. And as hopeful and as great spirit as the people maintain here, you know, they need some help.”
There is much need, and great possibility, for the resistance to these demolitions to grow broader and become more determined. The powers-that-be are serious about rebuilding a smaller, whiter New Orleans, with much of its Black population driven out. In a real way, this concentrates the killing program this system has for Black people nationwide.
As the resistance grows and becomes more determined, it can attract people who hate the outrages this system continues to inflict on the people and want to see a different and better way for people to live. It can bring many more forward to join the struggle, and through the course of resisting, people can learn what they’re up against and what it’ll take to win. It can win allies from amongst people from many different backgrounds. And all this can and must be part of building a broad revolutionary movement.
Revolution is calling on its readers to send messages of support to the people in New Orleans, which we will forward.
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
To the editors of Revolution:
Thursday night, after the New Orleans City Council voted to demolish the houses of thousands of poor, mainly Black people—at a time when people from New Orleans remain scattered and dispersed and threatened with homelessness—I watched over and over on YouTube the footage of police pepper-spraying and beating and arresting people whose only crime was wanting to observe and speak out against their so-called representatives voting on the future of this housing.
Bill Quigley—a professor from Loyola in New Orleans, who sides with the people and is now being threatened—asked the television crew “is this what democracy looks like?” Quigley’s question posed something that needs to be answered: this IS democracy, capitalist style—and when the interests of the capitalists are at stake (and you can read Carl Dix’s recent articles from New Orleans to see how this is so) and your right to protest gets in the way of what the political representatives of capital want to do, they will beat you, spray you, jail you...and then vote your ass down anyway.
The next morning, I happened to be reviewing Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, Bob Avakian’s new talk, and came across the following:
When a monopoly of political power—and, in a concentrated way, the monopoly of “legitimate” armed force—is in the hands of one group in society, and that group excludes others from that monopoly of power and force, then that is a dictatorship of the ruling group—or class—regardless of whether or not that ruling group allows those it excludes from power, and over whom it rules in fact, to take part in elections to vote for different representatives of the ruling class, as happens in the U.S. and a number of other countries.
I have to say that this struck me with special force in the wake of those YouTube videos. The “deal had gone down.” The big powers-that-be had made sure that the City Council would vote “the right way”—the way that would clear out the projects, further disperse the Black people of New Orleans, and open the way for developing the city in a way that much more suited the economic and political interests of capital. In that situation, the council had at its disposal the armed force of the state to stop any protest that they felt even embarrassed them, and perhaps even more important to send a message as well that if you oppose this you will be dealt with...harshly.
They had a MONOPOLY of that force. Think about it. There is no way—and there never has been a way and never will be a way under this system—that people in the projects can call out the police to protect themselves from the HUD officials who ordered the bulldozing of their houses. This is a dictatorship—a dictatorship of the capitalist class over the masses. And the fact that the masses got to vote for their dictators doesn’t change a thing.
The passage I quoted above is a fact; it truly describes reality. And I could cite literally thousands and thousands of other examples that further prove that U.S. democracy is in its essence a class dictatorship, from the use of troops and militia to put down the slave revolts to the police murder of Fred Hampton, the Black Panther leader, as he lay sleeping in his bed to what happened yesterday at the gates of the New Orleans City Council meeting or on May 1 in Los Angeles to the protesting immigrants.
A challenge: Can anyone come up with a single fact that disproves this?
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
What if you saw this on the news: Serbian authorities, backed by armed enforcers, moved to bulldoze 5,000 housing units in Kosovo, housing that had been inhabited by ethnic Albanians driven from their homes. If you saw that on TV, you’d say that was ethnic cleansing. And if the Serb authorities claimed this was because the housing was unsafe, you’d still say this is ethnic cleansing. And if the Serb authorities got a few ethnic Albanians on the city council to vote for demolishing the housing, you’d still say this is ethnic cleansing. Now look at New Orleans. Can you recognize ethnic cleansing in your own back yard?
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
Cheers to Nicolai Ouroussoff, New York Times Architecture Critic, speaking out strongly against the government’s move to destroy public housing in New Orleans. Ouroussof wrote that tearing down the public housing project in New Orleans “evokes the most brutal postwar urban-renewal strategies. Neighborhood history is deemed irrelevant; the vague notion of a ‘fresh start’ is invoked to justify erasing entire communities.” (“High Noon in New Orleans: The Bulldozers Are Ready,” New York Times, December 19, 2007)
From an architectural perspective, Ouroussoff observed that the projects in New Orleans “rank among the best early examples of public housing built in the United States, both in design and in quality of construction.” Of the Lafitte housing complex, he wrote: “Low-rise apartments and narrow front porches, set around what were once beautifully landscaped gardens, are intended to encourage a spirit of community.” The deterioration of this housing, Ouroussoff says, is due to “the government’s decision decades ago to gut most of the public services that supported them.” And Ouroussoff wrote, that, “Cast as the city’s saviors, architects are being used to compound one of the greatest crimes in American urban planning.”
Ouroussoff also spoke out against these planned demolitions a year ago in a November 2006 article when he wrote “it’s not surprising that many of [New Orleans’] residents suspect a sinister agenda is at work here. Locked out of the planning process, they fear the planned demolitions are part of a broad effort to prevent displaced poor people from returning to New Orleans.” (“All Fall Down,” New York Times, November 19, 2006)
Revolution #113, December 23, 2007
Six years ago, on January 11, 2002, the U.S. opened its torture camp at Guantánamo. Amnesty International, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, World Can’t Wait, and others are calling for an International Day of Action to Shut Down Guantánamo for Friday, January 11, 2008. There will be a protest at the White House followed by a “Guantánamo Prisoner Procession” to the Supreme Court. Solidarity protests are being called for cities around the U.S. and internationally. The ACLU is distributing orange armbands for the day saying “close down Guantánamo.” The call for the Day of Action says: “Wherever you are on January 11, we encourage you to wear orange to raise public awareness and strengthen the movement to demand an end to torture and indefinite detention.” Info about the Day of Action is online at WitnessTorture.org.
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
MAKING REVOLUTION AND EMANCIPATING HUMANITY
PART 2: EVERYTHING WE’RE DOING IS ABOUT REVOLUTION (CONTINUED)
Boldly spreading revolution and communism
Editors’ Note: The following is the second in Part 2 of a series of excerpts from a talk by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, earlier this year (2007). This has been edited for publication and footnotes have been added. These excerpts are being published in two parts. Part 1 is available in its entirety, as one document, online at revcom.us, and has been serialized in (the print version of) Revolution (see issues #105, Oct. 21; #106, Oct. 28; #107, Nov. 4; #108, Nov. 11; #109, Nov. 18; #110, Nov. 25; #111, Dec. 9; and #112, Dec. 16, 2007). Part 2 is also available, as one document, at revcom.us.
Meaningful Revolutionary Work
Boldly spreading revolution and communism
Building on what has been said so far, I want to turn to the question: what is meaningful revolutionary work—especially, but not only, for basic masses who became part of the revolutionary movement in this period when there is not yet a revolutionary situation? As can be seen in other talks and writings of mine over a number of years, I have repeatedly come back to and wrangled with this question—it is a very crucial and very vexing problem. How do you actually find the means for masses to engage in meaningful revolutionary work—with particular but not exclusive focus on the youth among the basic masses, but others as well—how can this be done without getting pulled onto the wrong road? How do you give the correct expression, in today’s circumstances, to the desire of youth for radical change, and to their militancy?
In this connection, I want to recount a story I read in a report about work with a guy who teaches special education. He was talking about how some of these youth don’t have any sense of the possibility of anything bigger than what they are caught up in every day. Well, one day he walked into a classroom and there was this girl who is in one of his classes—she had her headphones on and she was listening to some “gangster rap,” with all of its misogyny and everything, and he went up to her and asked, basically: “Why do you listen to that crap?” And she replied: “Well, they don’t give a fuck—I like their anger.” In response to this, he posed the question to her: “If you could direct that anger that you feel and that you identify with into something more useful, something for more positive change, would you do that?” And her answer was very clear: “In a minute. But that’s not ever gonna happen.” And she put the headphones back on.
This is the challenge we’re faced with. A lot of people can’t even recognize the positive aspect in this alienation and anger because its expression—the form it is taking—is so often negative in its immediate terms. There is a reservoir of outrage there which we see come out repeatedly and take very diverse and, yes, often very dead-end and even harmful forms. But how do we give expression to this in a revolutionary way, yet maintain the tenseness not to get pulled onto the wrong road and not to give in to, or give vent to, the wrong impulses and not try to do things prematurely, before there is the development of a revolutionary situation and a revolutionary people can be and is brought forward in masses, in millions? This is a problem we need to continue to wrestle with. This is one of our major responsibilities—to break through on this—not simply to shake our heads and groan over the difficulty of dealing with this contradiction but, through back and forth with the masses, to actually realize and not abdicate our responsibility to be the ones who are applying the science to solving this problem.
I want to speak to this here—and what I have said so far regarding the pivotal role of the newspaper is a central and decisive element in this—but we need to continue to wrestle with it, in an ongoing way, because we have to make further breakthroughs on this. We are not going to have the kind of revolutionary movement that is needed—and ultimately we’re not going to have a revolution—unless, among the youth in particular but also more broadly, we break through and bring forward an increasing number of the masses to undertake meaningful revolutionary work in this period, when there is not yet a revolutionary situation in which there is the possibility, and the basis, to wage the all-out struggle for power.
Now, in this connection, there is importance to the relation between ideological factors—broadly defined, to include not only exposure of the crimes and nature of this system but, as Lenin put it, setting before all our communist convictions and objectives, and engaging the masses of all strata, including the basic masses, in grappling with questions of science, philosophy, culture, and so on, as well as major political and social events—the relation between all that, on the one hand, and political factors, including the desire and ability of the masses to resist oppression and injustice, and to do so in a way that contributes to building a revolutionary and communist movement, and not in a way that is aimless and/or once again goes under the wing of a section of the bourgeoisie.
One key aspect of providing a means and a vehicle for increasing numbers of masses—particularly youth and the basic masses generally but people from other strata as well—to be engaging in meaningful revolutionary work, is the orientation of spreading revolution everywhere—boldly and, in the correct sense, very aggressively. In the correct sense, right up in the face of all this reformism and all this dismissal of revolution and attacks on revolution and communism. We need to be unleashing this and guiding and leading this everywhere, boldly and with a conquering spirit. Once again, our newspaper, Revolution, is crucial and pivotal in this. But more needs to be done, on the foundation of this crucial and pivotal role.
I was talking with some people about this recently: Every day, if you are paying attention to what is going on in the world, and you are looking at things with a scientific, communist viewpoint, you find that life continually cries out for revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. In watching the reporting of various events and discussion of various questions in the mainstream, bourgeois media, you find yourself constantly in the position of wanting to call out: D-O-P. You read articles, or watch the television news, about Jena, Louisiana—the outrages there, with the persecution of Black youth, the Jena 6, and the contradictions that are boiling up—and the thing that comes to mind, if you’re approaching this as a communist, is D-O-P: this is what we need to deal with this, to get rid of profound injustices like this, and everything they represent. With the dictatorship of the proletariat, with a revolution leading to rule by the proletariat and aiming for communism, it will become possible to deal with these things in a way that they can never be dealt with by the present system and its ruling class of capitalists. This system and its ruling class can never deal with all this—except in ways that are harmful to the masses.
Or look at the whole controversy and upheaval around immigration, with all the talk about “securing the borders” and the different programs that are being brought forward by different sections of the bourgeoisie, and the reactionary contention this gives rise to. And, along with this, there are the Black/Latino contradictions that are being fanned and intensified, with the phenomenon on the part of many of the immigrants that they don’t understand the whole history of Black people and they are inclined to accept the bourgeois line, with its lies and distortions about what Black people are all about, while at the same time many Black people are feeling resentful toward the immigrants, pulled by the notion that these immigrants are “taking our jobs, we’re being pushed to the margins and somehow it’s the immigrants’ fault.” If you are approaching this as a communist, immediately what comes to mind is: D-O-P. With the dictatorship of the proletariat, we could resolve these contradictions—not with a snap of the fingers, but through struggle in a way that would be in the interests of all these different sections of the masses. Yes, it would involve contradiction and complexity—but it would not be that hard. But it is impossible under this system, and within the confines of this system, to resolve these contradictions in the interests of the masses of people—which is yet another thing that points to the fundamental need to sweep away this system through revolution.
Or when you see how conflicts arise between safeguarding the environment, on the one hand, and on the other hand the need for developing the economy—and, yes, people’s concerns about their jobs and livelihoods—when you see how these things sharply clash under this system and there’s no good resolution…D-O-P.
Or to take another key dimension of this: Recently, there was an article in Revolution exposing the repression of the youth in the schools—this was in New York City, but this is a phenomenon across the country.1 And there was a response to this Revolution article, from one of these disillusioned and disgruntled teachers, who said, in effect: “You try to teach these youth; you have all these romanticized ideas about these youth, but you have no idea how unruly they are.” Well, what is the answer to that—not only to this person’s distorted view but also to the real contradictions they are pointing to—how can this be addressed and resolved in a good way? D-O-P. This is what we need to deal with all these kinds of contradictions. The positive aspects that are there—not only among the youth, but even the desire of people like that teacher to do something good, which is being smothered and corrupted by the dominant relations and the corresponding ideas that prevail under this system—this could be recast and resynthesized in a positive way with the rule of the proletariat.
Or look at the contradictions bound up with the differences between intellectual and physical work, and between the different strata who, in this society, carry out the one and the other kind of work (what we call the mental/manual contradiction, for short): In fundamental terms, it is impossible to deal with this contradiction positively in this society. This contradiction can be resolved, and can only be resolved, in a positive way with the dictatorship of the proletariat and the advance to communism. Connected to this, there is the example I cited in a talk a few years ago on the dictatorship of the proletariat (Dictatorship and Democracy, and the Socialist Transition to Communism) in regard to religion, referencing the movie Contact, where here you have this glaring contradiction that the masses of people, who have the greatest interest in communist revolution, are to a very large degree caught up in religion and other mental chains that are binding them, while there is a relatively small section of people in the world at this time which understands questions of this kind (concerning religion and—the non-existence of—god) much more clearly but is, to a large degree, alienated from and has no real understanding of the basic masses. What is the answer? D-O-P. Revolution.
And the need for this is pointed to even by certain contradictions that arise in the course of building struggle. For example, in the battle to defend dissent and critical thinking in academia (and ultimately in society as a whole), we see how some individuals who are the target of attack by reactionary forces, and the state, can have a “stand-offish” attitude toward other people in academia who are in essentially the same position. In immediate terms, this emphasizes the need to bring out, and struggle with people to grasp, the larger picture into which this all fits, and to recognize the importance of uniting in struggle against all these attempts to suppress dissent and critical thinking; and at the same time, and most fundamentally, it points to the reality that to resolve the contradictions bound up with all this, we really need revolution—we need the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Yes, it is true—and it is a very important and profound truth—that the larger goal, and the aim of the dictatorship of the proletariat itself, is to finally reach communism, throughout the world, where the need, and the basis, for any form in which one part of society rules over others—any form of class dictatorship—will have been eliminated and surpassed. But the reality is that, without the dictatorship of the proletariat, without communist revolution, we will never be able to advance toward, and finally reach, that larger goal.
All this is another way of expressing Lenin’s point that communism springs from every pore of society. The need for communist revolution really does spring continuously from every event in society and the world. Once one has taken up the scientific outlook and method of dialectical materialism, one can see this very clearly. And on this basis we should be leading and bringing forward growing numbers of masses to be very boldly—with a conquering spirit and, in the right sense, very aggressively—taking this out everywhere, among all sections of the people. As we have emphasized a number of times, there is nothing more unrealistic than the idea of reforming this system into something that would come anywhere near being in the interests of the great majority of people and ultimately of humanity as a whole. On the basis of our scientific understanding and method, we have to have—and we have to inspire other people to have—a conquering spirit about this. This is extremely important: to be going out very broadly and very boldly and, in the right sense, aggressively with revolution.
Let’s get down to basics: We need a revolution. Anything else, in the final analysis, is bullshit. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t unite with people in all sorts of struggles short of revolution. We definitely need to do that. But the proffering of any other solution to these monumental and monstrous problems and outrages is ridiculous, frankly. And we need to be taking the offensive and mobilizing increasing numbers of masses to cut through this shit and bring to the fore what really is the solution to this, and to answer the questions and, yes, the accusations that come forth in response to this, while deepening our scientific basis for being able to do this. And the point is: not only do we need to be doing this, but we need to be bringing forward, unleashing and leading, and enabling increasing numbers of the masses to do this. They need to be inspired, not just with a general idea of revolution, but with a deepening understanding, a scientific grounding, as to why and how revolution really is the answer to all this.
This series will continue in the next issue of Revolution.
1. This article, “NYC Public Schools and Criminalization of the Students: What Kind of System Does This to Its Youth?” appeared in Revolution #93, June 24, 2007.[back]
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
Needed January 11: A Sea of Orange
Just when it seemed like the scandal around the shredded CIA torture tapes was being stuffed back into the bottle, new exposures and controversies have begun to erupt daily. This reflects the fact that some very profound things that were supposed to be “accepted norms” in this society are being torn up with the legitimization of torture. The possibility that ripping up such norms could unravel society in unpredictable ways lies behind the differences and disputes at the top—among the rulers of this system—over abandoning even the pretense that “America doesn’t torture.” And these differences are behind some of the leaks and scandals coming out about torture and cover-ups now.
At this moment, there is momentum building for protests on January 11 against the U.S. torture camp at Guantanamo. This situation presents potential openings for leaps in mass independent political resistance—if the moment is seized and acted on by those outraged by torture and other crimes of the rulers.
On December 7, the New York Times revealed that the CIA had destroyed videotapes showing torturing of detainees in secret prisons. The CIA videotapes were reportedly hundreds of hours long and were destroyed in 2005. The House Intelligence Committee has demanded that the Bush administration hand over information about the CIA tapes. Bush’s Attorney General Michael Mukasey has been refusing to hand over any information. His justification is that doing so would interfere with the supposed investigation being carried out by the Justice Department and the CIA.
In a new twist, the CIA has reportedly asked the Justice Department to investigate whether ex-CIA agent John Kiriakou disclosed “classified information” when he went on TV news shows to talk about the CIA tapes. Kiriakou had revealed various details about what was probably on the tapes, including the use of waterboarding—a form of torture where a prisoner is brought to the brink of drowning, and at times actually killed.
And, in another new revelation, on December 19, the New York Times ran a story saying that at least four top White House lawyers—including the lawyers for Bush and Cheney—discussed what to do with the CIA torture tapes between 2003 and 2005. The Times wrote, “[S]ome lawmakers have suggested that [the tapes’] destruction may have amounted to obstruction of justice.” The implication that could be drawn from this is that high-level Bush officials were involved in an impeachable offense. The heads of the 9/11 Commission are now saying in a memo to federal prosecutors and Congressional investigators that the CIA lied to them about the tapes.
The Bush regime demanded that the Times retract the article’s subhead which said “White House Role Was Wider Than It Said.” The Times did retract the subhead, but did not refute the substance of the story.
Fascistic “New Norms”
As we wrote in last week’s issue (“Torture…Shredded Tapes…The New Normalcy? TIME TO ACT!” online at revcom.us), what’s being revealed through the CIA tape scandal points to further strides in the whole fascist direction that this country is being propelled toward. They have decreed that what they say and do trumps whatever laws Congress may pass and decisions the courts may make—that the law is what they say it is. Previous “norms” and “core principles” that “held America together” are being ripped up, and new “legitimating norms” are being laid down in line with this whole fascistic trajectory.
The previous “norms” of America have always meant horrors for people around the world and many here in the U.S.—including torture. To name just a few examples: U.S. troops invading the Philippines in 1898 used water torture against rebel forces. The CIA and U.S. military widely used torture during the Vietnam War. The Chicago police tortured innocent people into “confessing” crimes, including death-penalty crimes. But it is something new, extreme, and very dangerous when things that were once formal violations of law—like torture, warrantless wiretapping, and detention without charges or trial—are being legitimized and routinized.
All this is being driven by the needs and compulsions of the whole capitalist-imperialist system and the ambitions of the rulers to forge a global empire that is unchallenged, and even unchallengeable, by any rival. The fundamental point of departure for the Democrats, no less than the Republicans, is the interests of the U.S. ruling class, and they are all basically on board with the need for the “war on terror,” which is really a war for greater empire. The top Democrats, for example, have had their hands deep in the torture policies of the U.S. government—Nancy Pelosi, the current House Speaker, was among those involved in CIA briefings in 2002 about torture under secret detention.
At the same time, the extremely heavy and radical moves of those at the core of power to change some foundational things about this society—along with the debacle that the U.S. is facing in the Iraq war and the ripples from that—are also sparking various tensions and disputes within the power structure. Much remains to be learned about what lies behind the recent events around the CIA torture tapes. But the erupting scandal may relate to such tensions and disputes at the top—around Iraq, potential attack on Iran, and other issues.
Such ruling class infighting, by itself, will NOT stop the whole trajectory toward fascism that this country is on. As World Can’t Wait says, there will be no “saviors” from the Democratic Party. The Democrats fear the possibility of millions of politically aroused people taking to the streets much more than anything Bush does. The “pendulum” is not going to swing back. The present situation is very bad for the people, and it is quickly getting much, much worse.
There is a deep and broad current of anger out there in society at all the crimes and outrages of the Bush regime. But this whole reactionary direction won’t be stopped unless this deep reservoir of anger becomes manifest in a massive resistance from below.
January 11 Protests—A Crucial Moment
All this makes the protests called for January 11 extremely crucial. These protests are demanding the shutting down of the U.S. torture camp at Guantánamo. Six years ago on that day, the first shackled and hooded prisoners in orange prison jumpsuits were brought to this camp, and hundreds have been held—and tortured—there without any charges or trials. Amnesty International and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, joined by World Can’t Wait–Drive Out the Bush Regime and others, have called for a protest at the White House and the Supreme Court. The American Civil Liberties Union is calling on people to wear orange armbands saying “close down Guantánamo.” (For more information on the protests, go online to worldcantwait.org)
This is a decisive and pivotal juncture. The question of torture is in the public eye, at least for the moment. And there is a real breadth to the forces who are calling for and joining in the January 11 protests. This situation is creating new opportunities to mobilize many thousands and to reach millions of people. And this could draw in new forces and bring new momentum into the movement to drive out the Bush regime and bring this whole program of the U.S. rulers to a halt.
If this moment is not seized and acted on—if there is not protest in significant numbers in January—the anger among people broadly will again be stifled and could even rot in the deadly chokehold of official politics. The outrage that millions feel will be overtaken by cynicism and even greater political paralysis.
But what if those who are angered and outraged seize the moment? What if the gathering momentum toward January 11 is built on and takes shape in a protest that makes a real and significant impact nationally and internationally? The very heaviness of the times, with all the dangers it contains, also means that large numbers of people stepping out now in political resistance that breaks out of the grip of official politics can have a huge and multiplying effect.
Such protest can serve as an inspiring and eye-opening example for even broader numbers of people to shake off their fears and paralysis and to stir into political action. Think what impact this can have, for example, on the campuses as students return from their winter break. Or think about the effect on the growing movement of anti-war resistance among vets and within the military itself.
And think about how the call from World Can’t Wait to “Wear Orange” can spread far and wide. A number of organizers for the January 11 protests have called for people to wear orange that day. The ACLU has an orange-themed page for January 11 on its website. Amnesty International published an orange-colored full-page ad in the New York Times on December 5 as the Supreme Court heard cases involving Guantanamo detainees. January 11 could actually be a way to jump-start the mass wearing of orange throughout society as a very visible and broad social wave of opposition that could be taken up by all kinds of people, and which could be coupled with, and help spark and reinforce, growing outbreaks of political resistance.
A heightening political resistance can also interact in unpredictable ways with various things going on in society overall. Such resistance, and the prospect of it getting even more “out of control” for the rulers, could intensify the disputes at the top of the power structure and lead to more fissures and infighting. And that in turn could create openings for even greater mass resistance from below to burst through. Through all this, broad numbers of people could come to question not only the legitimacy of Bush and Co., but the legitimacy of the whole system that produced such a monstrous regime. And millions could come to grapple with big questions about the future: about the need for a whole new world, what kind of a world that should be, and how to get there.
All this is possible…if the moment we face now is seized and acted on with determination, courage, and initiative toward powerful January 11 protests.
Stop Torture! Wear Orange and Demonstrate January 11! Drive Out the Bush Regime!
That which you do not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn—or be forced—to accept.
—from the Call of
World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
The Dangers of the “Thought Crimes” Bill
A special feature of Revolution to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our paper.
On October 23, with very little notice in the media, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill called the “Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007” (HR 1955). This bill is an amendment to the 2002 Homeland Security Act which authorized the most massive re-organization of the federal government since World War 2 and dramatically increased its repressive powers. The bill is now in the Senate. Revolution recently interviewed Peter Erlinder, law professor at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota and past president of the National Lawyers Guild, about this bill and its implications.
Revolution: You and others have been sounding the alarm about the “Violent Radicalism and Homegrown Terrorism” bill. Tell us what is so dangerous about this bill.
Peter Erlinder: A Congressperson named Harman, who is a conservative Democrat from California, promoted her draft of the bill, and it was taken up by the House leadership as something non-controversial. So the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress passed it 404 to 6 without much discussion and debate. It’s understandable why that would be, because it is called the “Prevention of Violent Radicalism and Homegrown Terrorism” bill, and it does two things. One is that it funds the Department of Homeland Security to carry out sort of academic research into “violent radicalism and homegrown terrorism.” And perhaps that is something that is within the ambit of government.
But the problem is that the way that it defines “violent radicalism and homegrown terrorism” is so broad that it subjects nearly any political activist or group of political activists to investigation by a legislative commission that is also established by the bill. Now the problem with the legislative commission, at least as it’s described in the bill, is that the face of the bill does not make clear what the inherent powers of this legislative commission are. And without that, the real danger in the bill is not apparent to someone who would read it for the first time and who doesn’t remember history.
The bill defines “homegrown terrorist” as anyone who “intimidate(s) or coerce(s) the United States government, the civilian population…or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social belief.” This would, or could very well, include Americans who organize mass marches on Washington for the purpose of coercing changes in government policy. It defines “violent radicals” as Americans—and this applies to citizens as well as non-citizens who are in U.S. territory—as those who “promot(e) extremist belief system(s) for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious or social change.” In other words, this applies to Americans who haven’t done anything illegal, but who the commissioners believe have thoughts that might lead to violence. The bill doesn’t target all thoughts or all belief systems that might result in violence, but only those in which force or violence might be used to promote political or religious or social beliefs. And that’s exactly the kind of violence that might result whenever people gather to demonstrate for or against important issues. For example, the World Trade Organization demonstrations in Seattle would fit under this definition.
The commission that is set up is supposed to last for 18 months and have hearings around the country, and then report every six months as to what they’re finding about these “dangerous” people in our midst. What that means is that virtually any politically, socially, or religiously active person or group can be targeted by this commission to find out who is and who is not the “hidden enemy.” The problem is that witnesses who refuse to testify can be held in contempt of Congress, as former members of the Bush Administration, Harriet Miers and others, are finding out now. And if witnesses do testify and say things that the commissioners and the staff think are not true, they can be charged with perjury or lying to a federal official, like Scooter Libby was. In either case, it requires people to talk about their political associations and their beliefs on pain of jail if they don’t comply.
Revolution: You’ve compared these commission hearings to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Peter Erlinder: The HUAC, yeah. It’s very much the same thing, because when HUAC was set up in 1938, it was originally supposed to investigate who the “dangerous” Americans were at that time. The Ku Klux Klan was mentioned as one, but once HUAC got rolling, it began to call before it people who the House Un-American Activities Committee thought knew something about communists or communism. And for 40 years, HUAC investigated all sorts of groups and individuals, and jailed people like the Hollywood 10 when they refused to talk, blacklisted other people like Arthur Miller, Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger, Richard Wright. And it required people to either inform on those they knew, or face ostracism, which is precisely what this commission has the power to do. George Santayana, the 20th-century American philosopher, said, “Those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It seems like the members of Congress who voted for this thing have forgotten history. Another great American philosopher, Yogi Berra, put it best when he said, “It seems like déjà vu all over again.” And of course, it is.
Revolution: Can you speak more to what the powers of this commission would be?
Peter Erlinder: The powers that are inherent in any legislative investigative body. Which means—and these are inherent in any committee investigations undertaken by Congress—they have the power to subpoena people to come to testify, and if they don’t come to testify they can be jailed for contempt of Congress, which is what is facing Harriet Miers now and the other members of the Bush administration who refuse to appear before Congressional committee. In addition to that, if someone swears to tells the truth and doesn’t, they can be charged with perjury. And even if they aren’t sworn to tell the truth, there’s a statute that has actually been enforced after HUAC was disbanded in 1975 that makes it a crime to lie to a federal official—or to say anything that a federal official thinks is a lie. So the general structure that exists inherently in this commission is the ability to compel attendance and testimony on pain of contempt—and if one does testify, facing prosecution for either perjury or lying to a federal official if the commissioners or their staff think the person is not telling the truth. But in any case, if the commission follows through on the mandate given it by the Congress, it will of necessity have to call people before it people who might have information about Americans who the commissioners think have these “extremist belief systems” or who might be connected with people or organizations that might have folks with “violent thoughts” in their circle. So for example, anyone in a mosque could be called to testify about what they know about everybody else in the mosque—or a church, or a social activist group, or a political group.
Revolution: This bill doesn’t specifically change existing laws or set up new punishment. But could this be a basis for repressive new laws?
Peter Erlinder: What it does is it creates a target for investigation. And the target it creates is so broadly defined that any person on American territory who does more than watch TV and go into the ballot box is subject to being investigated.
Revolution: You mentioned at the beginning the role of the Democrats and in particular Jane Harman, who has been in the news recently because it turns out she knew about the CIA torture tapes back in 2003. Can you talk a little about the role of the Democrats in this?
Peter Erlinder: The reason that the vote was so lopsided, according to a couple of Congresspeople from Minnesota that I’ve talked to, is that this was promoted by the House leadership as something that didn’t require much attention because it wasn’t controversial. And for people who have not studied HUAC, which was disbanded only in 1975, but still that’s 30-odd years ago, for people who aren’t familiar with what HUAC did and the damage it caused, and because the bill itself doesn’t mention the inherent powers of this commission, people who should have been concerned about this allowed it to slide through, apparently. But this is plainly a Democrat-sponsored bill pushed by the House leadership, Nancy Pelosi and Company.
Revolution: How do you see this bill in the context of the overall repressive climate in this country, the laws and actions of Bush like Patriot Act, wiretapping, legitimizing torture, and so forth?
Peter Erlinder: Well, I think a lot of people are familiar with the famous quote from Pastor Niemoller: “First they came for the Communists, and I wasn’t a Communist so I didn’t speak up…” And then they came for the labor organizers, and then they came for the Jews. And then they came for me and there was no one left to speak up. That is a description of a political reality that’s playing itself out, and we can see it happening. And it occurs whenever one group is targeted as being the “enemy.” Inevitably the boundary of that stain begins to blur. And we’ve seen it time and again in our history that once the process gets started, it requires conscious political opposition to turn it back.
Revolution #112, December 16, 2007
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
People who made a positive mark on the world, and who died this year, include:
St. Clair Bourne, 64, documentary filmmaker and revolutionary Pan Africanist whose subjects included Paul Robeson, historian/educator/writer John Henrik Clarke, photographer Gordon Parks, poet Langston Hughes as well as the critically acclaimed documentary Making “Do the Right Thing.” Of his work Bourne said, “all my themes are always about people who are outside the system and they are trying to right the wrongs…” (Interview on KPFK)
Alice Coltrane, 69, jazz pianist who brought the harp into the jazz scene, and who carried on the legacy of her late husband John Coltrane, one of the most towering innovators in the history of jazz.
Molly Ivins, 62, mainstream political commentator, writer and Texan who dubbed George W. Bush “Shrub”, wrote books and columns skewering the Bush Administration and who lived by the motto, “Raise More Hell.” She began one of her last columns with “Some country is about to have a Senate debate on a bill to legalize torture. How weird is that?” She called on readers to protest, “Now, right away,” and challenged people: “How will you feel if you didn’t do something? ‘Well, honey, when the United States decided to adopt torture as an official policy, I was dipping the dog for ticks.’” (“A Tortured Debate,” 9/20/06)
Norman Mailer, 84, author, wrote his debut (anti)war novel The Naked and the Dead in 1948. His book Armies of the Night chronicled and supported the movement against the Vietnam War, including his stint in jail for protesting the war. On the war on Iraq, he said: “War with Iraq, as they originally conceived it, would be a quick, dramatic step that would enable them to control the Near East as a powerful base—not least because of the oil there, as well as the water supplies from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers—to build a world empire.” Mailer was a very contradictory person, including being an unapologetic male chauvinist (in one notorious incident, which Mailer himself called the low point of his life, he stabbed his wife). He came under fierce fire for campaigning for the release of Jack Henry Abbott, author of the acclaimed prison memoir In the Belly of the Beast.
Stanley Miller, 77, scientist who, as a graduate student in 1953, pioneered the study of the origins of life on earth through an experiment inspired by, and developed with, scientist Harold Urey. Urey had suggested that scientists could create life by combining organic compounds that were present on the primitive Earth. In an experiment that chemically simulated the earth’s atmosphere and the ocean, they introduced lightning. The effect of the lightning created amino acids, one of the building blocks of life.
Herbert Muschamp, 59, New York Times architecture critic for many years. In 2003 he wrote caustically about Daniel Libeskind’s architectural plan for Ground Zero saying, “Even in peacetime that design would appear demagogic. As this nation prepares to send troops into battle, the design’s message seems even more loaded. Unintentionally, the plan embodies the Orwellian condition America’s detractors accuse us of embracing: perpetual war for perpetual peace.”
Ousmane Sembène, 84, Senegalese film director and writer known as the “father of African cinema.” After World War 2, and before becoming a major force in literature and film, Sembène worked in factories in France where he participated in a strike against the shipment of weapons to French colonial troops fighting the Vietnamese people, and became a student of Marxism. In his art, he used satire to skewer imperialism, neo-colonialism and its influence among the upper classes in Africa and worked to depict the heroism of ordinary people. Returning to Senegal in 1960, Sembène produced his first film, La Noire De..., in 1966, a beautifully made and moving story of the life of an African maid in France. His 2004 film Moolaadé depicts the clash between traditional patriarchy and women over female genital mutilation in an African village in Burkina Faso. Several of Sembène’s films are available on DVD.
Grace Paley, 84, prominent writer and activist wrote collections of stories about the lives of women. She was a life-long activist who was jailed for protesting the Vietnam War. Her poem, “Responsibility,” read after the start of the Iraq War, begins: It is the responsibility of society to let the poet be a poet | It is the responsibility of the poet to be a woman | It is the responsibility of the poet to stand on street corners giving out poems and beautifully written leaflets also leaflets they can hardly bear to look at because of the screaming rhetoric
Francine Parker, 81, director of the documentary FTA (Fuck the Army ) which followed an anti-war USO style tour to military bases around the world by Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and others during the U.S. war against Vietnam. Scenes from FTA are shown in Dave Zeiger’s film, Sir! No Sir!
Max Roach, 83, musician who changed the role of the drummer in jazz, exploring the musical possibilities and bringing them center stage. In 1960 Roach recorded the stunning and politically militant We Insist—The Freedom Now Suite, a blistering condemnation of racism, an act of political and musical defiance which featured an extended and searing exchange between Roach and vocalist Abbey Lincoln. Roach continued to surprise and delight many, and continued to shock others, always trying the new. He recorded two collaborations with Archie Shepp that link the themes of hope: then-revolutionary China and the struggle of people in South Africa, The Long March (part 1 and part 2) and Force: Sweet Mao—Suid Africa ’76 (the album cover has the Black fist rising out of the churning green sea and Mao Tsetung swimming in the background). While Roach, under the influence of bourgeois summations, later wavered on Mao, his record remains a powerful artistic statement. He wrote music for Alvin Ailey’s ballet company and for plays and in 1983 embraced rap, and appeared onstage with rappers and break dancers, saying that it had a place on music’s “boundless palette.”
Tom Snyder, 71, hosted the late night TV interview show Tomorrow in the 70s and 80s. Snyder took some chances in his choices of guests, including an interview with Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
Sekou Sundiata, 58, poet who was part of the Black liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s and who survived heroin addiction, a car crash and kidney transplant and reflected on all this in his work. A long time activist against U.S. wars of aggression, he explored musical theater and dance as well as poetry. Sundiata’s play The Circle Unbroken is a Hard Bop was a powerful rendering of the effect of the defeat of the Black Panther Party on a generation of activists.
Kurt Vonnegut, 84, novelist and science fiction author who wrote humorous, outraged and outrageous stories lampooning the U.S. government and the overall state of the world. His most famous book, Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade, is about the bombing of Dresden during WW2 by the U.S. and Britain. Published during the time of the Vietnam War, the book highlighted the crimes against humanity committed in imperialist wars. “The system promotes to the top those who don’t care about the planet,’’ Vonnegut once said, and his crazy story plots teetering just one step from reality, showed us how intolerable things really are. Vonnegut loved science, and played with the possibilities in his fiction. He created characters, whole cultures and even worlds which would pop up again, here and there in novels spanning his lifetime. Vonnegut was a founding signatory of Refuse & Resist! And signed the 2002 “A Statement of Conscience: NOT IN OUR NAME” that concluded “Let us not allow the watching world today to despair of our silence and our failure to act. Instead, let the world hear our pledge: we will resist the machinery of war and repression and rally others to do everything possible to stop it.”
Floyd Red Crow Westerman, 71, musician, actor, and Native-American (Dakota) activist. His first album, released in 1969, was Custer Died for Your Sins. He worked with the American Indian Movement in the 1970s and acted in many films including Dances with Wolves. Westerman founded his own production company in the 1990s and recently hosted the pilot for a series Exterminate Them: America’s War on Indian Nations.
Ernest C. Withers, 85, documentary photographer of the civil rights movement in the South, the Memphis blues scene, and the Negro Baseball Leagues. He was the only photographer who covered the entire trial of those charged with killing Emmett Till, a Black teenager murdered for having whistled at a white woman. His most famous, a black and white photo taken during a 1968 sanitation workers strike, depicted dozens of Black men standing together holding identical placards reading I AM A MAN.
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
The following statement was written by a white resident of Jena, Louisiana and sent to Revolution for publication:
The Case: Six Black youth face decades in jail for standing up against racism—the nooses, the six white on one Black youth at the fair barn, the gun pulled by white youth at GottaGo and the result is a theft charge on the Black victim, and the racist slurs faced every day at Jena High School.
The Cause: Men, women, and children lynched throughout our nation, this is our history, this is our present struggle. In Jena, LA: Bobby Ray Smith, Billy Ray Hunter. Money, MS: Emmett Till. Texas: John Byrd, and in the north even. When I think of how this goes on, I am angry. I am eager for change. A system unchanged in its racism and oppression of Black people, today has prisons and police to carry out this terror and discrimination; prison facilities, low wage dead-end jobs, or unemployment, even very real police brutality and harassment of minorities to Black youth to “keep them in place.”
Black men and women are working hard at low wage jobs to feed their families while their children attend internally segregated schools and the whole family lives in the “Black” section of town. The low wage housing, the projects, or as it’s called in Jena, the quarters. Repression of our youth is especially prominent every day.
This case is representative of so much more of our society, and of this community. This cause including but not only is the Big Picture! Now I see why this case is such a huge part of this even larger cause. Now that I’m looking at our society and not just the Jena 6. And when you look at that, the big picture is worth making sacrifices and taking risks to take a stand around both the case and the cause of the Jena 6. The Big Picture, the struggle to free Black youth and other minorities from the oppression faced every day in every place, is worth the time, the effort, the strength of a united movement to free our youth and society from oppression.
As a white member of the small town of Jena I am calling on the “majority”—those who oppose the oppression of society, the racism, white supremacists are trying to justify—to stand up to protect the future of our youth.
One young man, 16 years old, convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy of this charge. Both convictions overturned and then retried for the same crime as a juvenile. He spent a year in custody, 10 months mostly in adult prison sentenced to eighteen months in a juvenile facility for supposed probation violation. Then given two bad options and forced to take a plea bargain and given 18 additional months, when he should not have been tried, re-tried, held in PRISON, or charged in the first place. This young man could be anyone, your son, your neighbor, your brother, uncle or grandson, But he’s not. He’s Mychal Bell. Son of Melissa Bell, brother, cousin, grandson, neighbor to an entire community of Black youth, sentenced to a life of discrimination. Would you allow our youth, your son, your brother, to go unspoken for? To spend years in prison for standing up for his rights, for protecting himself from the oppression of Black people? I will not and I’m calling on you, every mother and father, to stand up. Do whatever it takes and encourage others to do the same.
I will be there for the ongoing trials, for any protests, supporting the Jena 6 and demanding they be free. Where will you be? What will you do?
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
Fifteen lawmakers from the Congressional Black Caucus have asked Louisiana Governor Blanco for clemency on behalf of Mychal Bell and the other five youth of the Jena 6. Blanco has in effect denied this request. Her spokeswoman told the press that she could not grant pardons without a recommendation from the Louisiana Pardon Board. Their next meeting is January 17 and Blanco is leaving office on January 14.
White separatists still plan to march in Jena on January 21, Martin Luther King Day. And now they are suing the city of Jena, claiming their constitutional rights are being violated—because the city has asked them not to bring firearms and is requiring them to post a bond. These white racists have already called on people to bring NOOSES to the march and now they are fighting for the right to march through the city with guns! IT IS WAY PAST TIME WHEN THE PEOPLE CAN TOLERATE VIGILANTE RACISTS RUNNING AMOK AND TERRORIZING BLACK PEOPLE!
Read Revolution coverage of the Jena 6 case
at revcom.us, including the article:
“Kluckers Threaten Jena March—Opposing White Supremacy... and Getting To a Far Better World.”
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
Correspondence from Los Angeles
The twenty-something guy from Riverside settled in his seat next to Revolution journalist and radio personality Michael Slate. To his right was the woman he met at the fund-raising meeting the week before, and as the discussion was about to start two high school students slid into the front row seats. Libros Revolución was filled with people—young, old, men, women, Black, Latino, white, Iranian, Asian…mothers from Watts, Spanish-speaking immigrants, long-time activists, young revolutionaries. Clyde Young from the Revolutionary Communist Party and Revolution correspondent Reggie Dylan called the meeting to attention. Everyone was there to discuss: Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity, a talk by Bob Avakian currently being serialized in Revolution (and available in its entirety online at revcom.us). A short excerpt from the talk was read, and discussion began.
People started to talk about the theme of what it means to “want to get more” and to actually “get more” if you invent something. Someone brought up how the creation of music becomes a commodity under capitalism and wanted to know what others thought about that. Someone else was grappling with the mental/manual contradiction—the gulf in society between people who mostly work with their minds, and people who mostly work with their hands. They thought the main problem with wanting to get more for an invention is that it gives added value to intellectual work. In response, someone else said that commodities hide profound inequality and this has to do with the fundamental way society is set up. A young guy all the way in the back said he thinks that in a different society, fame and appreciation would be enough reward for creating music. Then he thought for a minute and asked if in communism people would still become famous for the music they create. A teacher responded that it is this society that bombards people with the idea that they need to be recognized for what they do and this goes along with the idea that anything you do, you have to get paid for. Someone else added that the problem is the values we live by which go along with capitalist society, like getting self-worth from the shoes you have. Then another person said she thought the problem with wanting to get more is not just what people think, but that getting more means there has to be exploitation and all the horrors that means.
Several people wanted to talk about how to change how people think, how to bring forward the masses to change things. One person said the problem is that people don’t think, and wanted to know how to deal with that. Someone said the answer is fear—that if people understand for example that the planet is going to die, that fear will cause them to want to change things. Someone else said people need education to understand the impact of what’s happening. In the midst of this, an older man asked what the new system would be like “when I get old and can’t work anymore.” A young proletarian answered him that communism is about “working for one’s ability.” He said, “In this society there’s no hope for you, but like in Bob Avakian’s ‘Imagine,’ in a new society there’s something for everybody. With age comes wisdom which can add to society.”
Back on the question of how to change how people are thinking, someone said the problem is there’s a lack of awareness because capitalism is a system that is deceiving people. He said, “We have to start questioning everything.” He talked about how people are deceived into buying things they don’t need and aren’t going to learn anything different in school or from their parents, so “it starts within yourself, becoming more aware.” A woman returned to the earlier comment about fear. She said we should be putting forward a vision of another world instead. She said, “I don’t think it’s fear. Fear shuts people down. I like the idea of hope and not fear.”
Clyde Young posed the question, why if you get more for what you invent will it drag society backwards?
A woman said she thinks people need to get beyond thinking they have to compete with one another and understand there’s enough for everybody. But she had some reservations about revolutionary power being a good thing, saying, “Power is tricky. How do we prevent the abuse of power?” Others also commented about how people think: that if people think in the framework of buying and selling then their sights don’t get beyond the framework of capitalism; that the problem is children are trained to think about getting more for themselves as adults. Someone responded to the comment about competition saying people feel the need to compete in this society because “if you don’t work, you starve.” He went on to say that “I want to get more,” will take you to where China is now, where some people got rich and others are impoverished.
Reggie Dylan said the communist revolution is about “changing circumstances and changing people,” and talked about the process of transforming society, continuing to revolutionize it through socialism so that people are finally able to transcend the narrow horizon of “getting more.” Someone else grabbed onto that point and talked about how there are still commodity relations in socialism and if you don’t constantly push the envelope in restricting these, it will take you back to capitalism.
In coming back to the question of how to change minds and bring forward the masses, some people talked about Revolution newspaper. A student from Locke High School said the newspaper needs to be in the schools. She said, “There are things they’re not teaching us and the newspaper brings us these truths and plays an important role.” She said at Locke the newspaper led the walkout that happened there for the Jena 6. She went on to say, “High school and college students need to be able to read what Bob Avakian is writing, this is science and it breaks the borders the government is putting in the schools.” Another student from Locke spoke next, telling about how she got Revolution newspaper to one of her teachers and not long afterwards he started teaching about what socialism and capitalism is. She said, “People were interested. They were saying the U.S. does need revolution. People stepped out of the box.”
The collective wrangling with Bob Avakian’s talk continued—with insights about science and how to understand reality. But something the high school student said when she ended her comments, was a common sentiment shared afterwards. She said the talk that everyone was sitting there having needs to spread. She said she was going to go have this kind of talk with her friends and they would talk to more people. She said this is how to “get more people involved—rather than the whole movement go down.”
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
Correspondence on the Fund Drive
I work at a blue collar job. The majority of people work part time and get paid very little, and then there’s other people who work full time, more like upper strata workers. There are a lot of immigrants from all over the world, and mixed nationalities.
There’s a few Black people that are getting the subscription and quite a few in the past. Things that have struck them, past or present, have been Katrina, the Jena 6, the nooses, the police brutality, racism. Among white working class people, especially ones that are less caught up in Democratic Party politics, but are more progressive minded, there’s a searching for solutions, searching for a different alternative. There’s fascism in the air, war, people are just sick of all that stuff.
A lot of the foreign born people have gotten the paper because of what they see the U.S. doing in the world. People from Eastern Africa who see what is going on in Somalia, what’s happened with Eritrea in the past, the role the U.S is playing in encouraging and using Ethiopia as a regional power to push out its influence—those are examples of people from other countries getting.
Among some white workers who are more liberal or go more toward establishment politics a little, there’s been more hunkering down and less hope and less reaching out on other issues also; kind of a narrowing of interests on their part. But for some, it’s opened people even more to how fucked up the system is and how there has to be something really hard core that has to come along that has to really change things in a fundamental way.
Last week’s article on the back—“Attention White People! What Is Your Problem?!?” really posed a lot of things, where you have liberal people being anti-immigration, kind of buying into this stuff that they’re going to get something out of it [see issue #111, December 9, 2007 at revcom.us]. Or that somehow the immigration population is degrading their lifestyle or whatever, but it’s also an indication that their situation is eroding too, they feel like they’re under pressure. But they think that somehow if they line up around this issue in a certain way, that they’re going to get more. So there’s some of that whole thing where white supremacy is the norm. So if you bring up anything and say it’s race, well then, “you’re bringing race into it,” so you’re the racist. OJ is still talked about once in a while at work, it’s just ridiculous.
In terms of the Jena 6 thing, there’s a whites-only tree sitting in front of the school and it’s been there for years. What can people really say about that? I think the paper plays an important role and that has to be struggled out more. Because then they try to do a counter thing, “those people are still hoodlums cause they beat up a kid.” I think the way the paper put it was really good—“these people are fighting against open segregation in the year 2007 and they’re being attacked for it.” It goes up against all the spin.
I was surprised when someone suggested I correspond about selling 16 subs to Revolution at work, cause it should be happening a lot more. I’m not happy that there’s not more subs and someone hasn’t done 50 or more. But I think it does show potential. Cause 16 people getting subs here, it’s approaching 10% of the total workforce, and I haven’t even talked to everybody.
I inserted the fund drive broadsheet into all the last papers I gave people and told them I was going to get back to them about it and see where they’re coming from, what level they would like to participate and if they would like to get into it deeper. I’m looking forward to finding out how that comes out.
People really need the paper. To some degree—not a small degree—they want it. People don’t have an understanding that it’s a system, that there’s class and people have different class outlooks and that the media, the government, the Democratic Party—they all represent the system. This is something that can actually liberate people’s minds to do things in a different way, which is what they want, but they need someone to lead them to thinking in a different way.
People need to get Revolution out more and get people to do more subs. The world is battering people’s consciousness at this time, things are always changing, so you have to keep throwing them this lifeline.
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
“This is what will be…”
I was driving with a few friends and we were pretty much done bullshitting and singing and I, viejo that I am, was starting to doze off when one of my friends asked if we wanted to hear the new Springsteen. I’d listened to “Long Walk Home” on YouTube. I sort of had the take of “big news, Springsteen wants America to live up to ‘its promise,’ pictures at 11," but hey, why not give it another try?
And I was hooked from the desperate raging “is there anybody alive out there” chant-groove of the first song. As I listened to the rest of the album, it wasn’t so much the strong and varied melodies and the good poetry alone that grabbed me, it was the way a deep sense of betrayal and, yeah, rage played against them. (Reading up on this later, I found that this was Springsteen’s explicit intention.) I had really liked Ghost of Tom Joad, but I hadn’t heard something with quite this kind of edge from Springsteen since Darkness On the Edge Of Town or some of the songs on The River—two records made nearly 30 years ago. “The smashing in the guts” from Darkness was back but the anger and sorrow on Magic is in many ways deeper, or maybe more pointed, and in any case way more political.
Anyway, Magic is a work of art of today. Song after song uses this tension to open up the veins of America and look at some of the poisons coursing through them, now. I’m not going to break them down—just listen to the album, straight through. Then listen again, with the lyric sheet. There are a lot of dimensions here, but a main theme focuses on how the criminal years of Bush play out in the hearts of the silent millions. Romantic relationships intertwine with the horror of these times in some of these songs in ways that seem to me both allegorical but also literal—speaking to (among other things) the way what people do, and don’t do, politically leeches into and corrupts their most intimate selves, when simple kisses on election day leave “the taste of blood on [your] tongue.” Listen to “Last To Die,” in which a drifting relationship and the wars waged by the U.S. in the Middle East intertwine with each other:
We don’t measure the blood we’ve drawn anymore
We just stack the bodies outside the door
Then, deep into the album—and both playing off of and playing against the E Street Band’s rock that’s gone before—you get the ominous savage quiet of the title song “Magic” itself. Narrated by a huckster character who goes pretty far back and deeply into the American psyche but seems as current as the last presidential press conference, the song takes you to the crossroads where, as Bob Avakian once put it, “epistemology meets morality”—where “willing volunteers” allow themselves to be tricked and narcotized into believing—to quote another song on the album—that “none of this has happened yet.” This song is very powerful. It reaches into many depths and resonates in many dimensions with, as a friend pointed out to me, its very last lines echoing back in image and theme to Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”:
On the road the sun is sinkin’ low
There’s bodies hangin’ in the trees
This is what will be, this is what will be.
This time around when I got to “Long Walk Home”—second to the last cut on the album—there seemed to be more to it. The anguish felt a little more “earned,” and the long walk seemed less about consoling yourself with some kind of “pendulum swing long view” and more about beginning to come to grips with just how far things had gone into something so openly and unapologetically vicious and ugly, and maybe even questioning—or beginning to question—to whether that “home” even existed anymore.
Here’s a paradox: Springsteen’s deep belief in what he calls the “American idea” may be part of what makes him angrier than people who may have a little more radical critique of the society. I was talking with a young friend who’s been pumping her guts out in World Can’t Wait, and we both strongly felt that the album says something about some of the deep reservoir of potential support for this movement.
Springsteen and the millions he sings for and to are part of the people who need to be and could be and should be wearing orange, going out in the streets, taking meaningful action around all the bad shit going down; people who need to be challenged to not just “stand back and let it all be” (to quote the Springsteen of “Jungleland”). No, we haven’t yet figured out how to unlock the gates and let the reservoir pour out and wash over this bloody land, but damn it this CD is one more thing showing the basis to do that and reminding us very clearly not to aim for anything less.
But on the other hand, this: Magic contains some powerful songs evoking the loss experienced by American veterans of the Iraq war. But, beyond the “bodies stacked outside the door,” there are no Iraqi or Afghani characters who appear on this album. We listen to and hear about shattered and dead American soldiers and their wounded lovers and friends, and this is very moving. But where are the voices and portraits of the prisoners of Abu Ghraib, of the victims—or survivors—of Haditha or Falluja or Guantánamo? Yeah, I know, Springsteen writes what he knows. But he cold-called survivors of 9/11 on the phone as part of writing The Rising and Bruce Springsteen has the means to learn about, and make art for millions about, the biggest victims of America. This album is brave—but it really could have been, and needed to be, much braver.
This kind of limitation “comes with the territory” of the highly idealized—and, at this point, brutally ridiculous—“American idea” that keeps Bruce Springsteen and so many others locked in its grip. This hope against all evidence in the so-called promise of America inevitably leads to a narrowness that all too often cannot get beyond the horizon of thinking that American lives are more important and American suffering more meaningful than the lives of those outside America and the suffering visited upon them by America. It leads to refusing to challenge others to imagine themselves in anything but “an American skin.” There won’t be an unleashing of that reservoir against the criminal “new norms” of the Bush regime on nearly the scale that is necessary—and there surely won’t be any more fundamental change—without seriously challenging the deep beliefs and whole mindset that both impel a Springsteen to make an album like Magic and that keep him, and those who sway to its grooves, locked in the deadly mental straitjacket of “getting our country back to what it was.”
The “American idea”? I can’t help but think of a question posed in “The River”: “is a dream a lie if it don’t come true…or is it something worse?” The really profound alienation on some of the songs on Magic—and listen again to “Long Walk Home” and hear how the narrator can’t even recognize the people he grew up with, how he mourns the loss of the idea that “there’s some things we won’t do,” and how he even seems to question whether that “home” even still exists (“the diner was shuttered and boarded/with a sign that just said ‘gone’”)—that alienation can either slide into the world-weary, cynical retreat of the despairing (and ultimately self-satisfied)…or it can begin working its way toward an opposition and understanding that is much, much deeper, and founded on looking at the full reality of this society. That question from “The River” has hung suspended for Springsteen and his audience for almost 30 years now, but it can’t stay that way forever. And a lot depends on how millions come to answer it.
Listen to Magic. Then reach out to and challenge those to whom and for whom it speaks.
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
The following is from the A World to Win News Service
December 17, 2007. A World to Win News Service. On December 5, police carried out raids against homes and offices in cities in northern, southern and western Germany. According to the Associated Press, their goal was to obtain “evidence of the personnel and organizational structure of the TKP/ML foreign terrorist organization and its terrorist activity, federal prosecutors said in a statement.” Following is the full text of a press release by the European Coordination of the International League for People’s Struggle.
With the advancement of imperialist aggression the attacks towards those forces that actively participate in the national and social liberation struggle and anti-imperialist struggle have accelerated. Under the so-called “anti-terror” concept or “internal security precaution” many homes, offices and associations are being raided, without any plausible explanation, activists are being arrested and in some countries even threatened, killed and tortured. This wave of repression has also developed in Europe.
A new example for this is the 5th of December 2007; in the early morning hours in about eight cities in Germany a broad operation was held. The operation was carried out by about 145 policemen. The decision of the operation was given by the Highest Court in Karlsruhe. The raid was done against two associations and 10 apartments. Some of these persons are well known left-democrat members of the ATIF association (of Turkish workers abroad).
The accusation against all of them is that they are members of the Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist Leninist (TKP/ML). It is mentioned in the search warrant that the TKP/ML is not prohibited in Germany. The houses were searched for hours to find “suspicious” objects and “relevant” documents, after taking all the activists to the police station for taking fingerprints they were released.
The media stream has also written about this and did their contribution in concern of misinformation. They wrote “operation against TKP/ML militants,” or “operation in terrorist cell,” etc., in the news, the activists were shown as terrorists and members of the organization. This shows that the bourgeois media is doing nothing else than serving the purpose of the ruling classes. In Germany progressive and left wing organizations and their activists and also migrant associations who are struggling internationally against worldwide repression or that stand against all kinds of human rights violations are being considered as “very dangerous.”
We are calling upon the progressive and democratic public and also intellectuals to take a stand against this injustice and illegitimate measure of the German state against the democratic, progressive movement. This attack against progressive persons is a violation of the principal constitutional right of freedom of speech and the right of organizing.
Revolution #114, December 30, 2007
Check it Out
The Golden Compass is a thrilling and imaginative adventure story that champions those who fight obedience to authority and the church. The movie, playing now, is based on the first of a trilogy of books called His Dark Materials, by author Philip Pullman. The Golden Compass is a story of parallel worlds, featuring a rough, resourceful and brave child heroine named Lyra who defies a repressive religious authority bent on producing a docile and obedient populace. In our own world, the Catholic Church has not been happy with these books, and is not happy with the movie. The Catholic League published a booklet attacking The Golden Compass, and says of the author: “It is his objective to bash Christianity and promote atheism.” A Catholic school district in the Toronto area has just officially banned the books from its library. And it has just been announced that the Vatican has denounced the film and is pressuring New Line Cinema to cancel planned movies based on the other two books.
Philip Pullman, interviewed on Canadian TV, said “The thing they should do if they don’t want people to read the book is to say nothing about it.... If you want people to read a book, then make a fuss about it, make it controversial. Tell your children they are not to read this book under any circumstances. What is more likely to make them go to the shelf and take it down and read it from there?” Go see The Golden Compass and judge for yourself, and bring your friends.