Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
Please note: this page is intended for quick printing of the entire issue. Some of the links may not work when clicked, and some images may be missing. Please go to the article's permalink if you require working links and images.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
A Vicious Attack On Women's Rights
As the House version of the "Affordable Health Care for America Act" drew to conclusion, a fateful Friday night vote took place. Suddenly a debate over health care turned into a last minute up or down "compromise" vote about the future of abortion. The so-called compromise titled the "Stupak Pitts Amendment," backed by anti-abortion Democrats, has done more to set back and effectively wipe out the right to abortion than anything the religious right was able to accomplish during 8 years of the Bush regime.
The amendment, which will be carried over to Senate versions of the bill, delivers under the guise of health care a monumental assault on the right of women to determine whether and when they wish to have children. Obama's promise of health care reform, when all was said and done, has come to be the vehicle through which ideologically driven attacks on women and immigrants are dispensed. The deal has been struck: "For Cultural Liberals, it was ugly. They had better get used to it" is the way one pundit speaking for the Democratic leadership put it.
This devastating development has shocked and angered many who put their hopes in the Obama presidency to bring change from years of war, repression and Christian fundamentalist onslaught and who now feel thrown under the bus instead.
This is a moment that carries a heavy challenge to anyone who values the lives of women and believes that they should have the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy—to fight for it NOW! People who are outraged by this need to decide that it's time to stop surrendering the interests of women to a political process that requires the enforcement of traditional values and patriarchal oppression for its continued existence. Anyone with a conscience needs to vigorously reject the twisted rationale that throwing women back to the days where they are forced to have babies whether they want them or not is somehow incremental progress! (See the accompanying box for what you can do right now to fight this.)
It's important that people understand the breadth and depth of the attack embodied in this amendment. The Stupak-Pitts Amendment mandates that no federal funds can be used to pay for an abortion or "cover any part of any health plan" that includes coverage of an abortion, except in cases where the mother's life is in danger or the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest.
The first part of the amendment isn't new. The 1976 Hyde Amendment already prevents the use of federal dollars to pay for most abortions. But the second part would significantly limit the availability of private insurance plans that cover the procedure. The amendment designates two areas where abortion coverage could not be offered—the public option, and on any plan receiving subsidies in the exchange. Because insurance companies would have to take all comers and not deny anyone coverage under the new bill, they would not be able to restrict customers who receive subsidies. So effectively, every plan in the exchange would not allow abortion coverage.
So the Stupak Amendment doesn't just apply to the public option—the lower-cost plan to be offered by the government. The House health care bill will also provide subsidies to help people and small businesses purchase plans on an exchange. This represents a lucrative new market for insurers: anyone earning less than $88,000 for a family of four qualifies for assistance, as well as certain small companies. But to gain access to these new customers, insurers will have to drop abortion coverage from their plans.
About 87% of insurance plans cover abortion (though not all employers choose to actually include it). But under the House bill, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 21 million people will participate in the exchanges by 2019 and that 18 million of them will do so via government subsidies. Over time, the goal is for many more people to join the exchanges—the bigger they are, the more effective they'll be. Not only will this put greater numbers of women in the same bind, it could affect abortion coverage in private plans outside the exchanges too. "How big will exchanges have to be in an insurer's business model before they decide it's easier to standardize their coverage?" asked Adam Sonfield, senior public policy associate of the Guttmacher Institute, a policy and research organization that focuses on reproductive health.
The Stupak Amendment says that women are free to buy an optional rider to their plans that would cover abortion, as long as no money appropriated by the bill is used to pay for it. But critics of the amendment have pointed out that this is unreasonable. People don't think they'll need coverage for most medical procedures until the day they actually need it; as critics of the amendment have pointed out, no one plans for an unplanned pregnancy. Imagine if all insurance plans worked like a smorgasbord, in which you tried to guess the operations and medicines you might require sometime in the future. How many procedures would you actually pay for in advance? Many women who do get abortions may think that they even oppose the procedure, at least for themselves, until they are faced with the prospect of being forced to bear a child that they don't want.
And why should this medical procedure needed by many women at some point in their lives, be singled out and prohibited? How is it that in the 21st century superstition and unscientific notions of fetal development and religious institutions can dictate that one of the more common minor surgical procedures in modern medicine cannot be practiced or provided to half the population?
And it's not just those with unintended pregnancies who will be stripped of coverage. The Stupak Amendment includes exemptions for rape, incest, and threats to the life of the mother but not threats to her health or cases of severe fetal abnormality. Women with pregnancies that go horribly wrong will either have to pay for expensive, late-term terminations out of pocket or carry them to term against their will. This means that many women would be forced to continue a doomed pregnancy even if the fetus has no chance of survival and even if it endangers her ability to have children in the future.
By making abortion even more difficult to get than it is now (which is already very difficult), by virtue of legislation that is based on and enforces religious doctrine, it will add to the whole social momentum where fewer doctors are willing to risk their lives to perform this essential service. A procedure that is already not taught in most medical schools will become not just rare but practically unavailable.
(We note in passing that the amendment will also deny coverage to undocumented immigrants even if they use their own money to buy coverage for themselves and their families' insurance coverage—as well as preventing them from receiving subsidies, or Medicaid assistance. Plus legal immigrants and residents are banned from accessing public health benefits for the first 5 years they are in the country—even though they are paying taxes and working. We will cover this in more depth in future issues.)
One significant element of this entire attack is its author, Bart Stupak. Stupak is a former state trooper who was elected to Congress in Michigan. He co-chairs the "pro-life" caucus in Congress, and calls himself a "pro-life Democrat."
Stupak has also resided since 2002 at the C Street facility for the "Family"—an influential and secret association of powerful theocrats who organize "prayer cells." These Christian Fascists are striving, as author Jeff Sharlet described it in a Rolling Stone article, for "a government led by Christ's will alone." Senators and Congressmen currently living at the C Street headquarters of the "Family" include both Democrats and Republicans. This Washington insiders "skull and bones" type organization's motto is "Jesus plus nothing," and it has had a long list of influential members—from Sam Brownback and John Ashcroft, to Strom Thurmond (an infamous racist senator) and Chuck Colson who played a key role in Nixon's repressive regime. The "Family" hosts an annual prayer breakfast which last year featured Joe Pitts, co-author of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, calling for a "God-Led Government." Pitts is an evangelical and a 20-year veteran of the Christian Fascist movement against abortion.
Stupak's amendment picked up momentum after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced that they would fight the bill unless restrictions on abortion were added. The USCCB distributed flyers to every parish across the U.S. and instructed priests to address the legislation at Sunday Mass, organizing parishioners to contact their congressman to support the Stupak Amendment. And Stupak advised Nancy Pelosi that if she wanted a health care bill, then she had better take a late Friday night meeting with the Bishops—which she did before allowing a vote on the amendment.
The USCCB has funded anti-gay marriage initiatives in California and Maine and pushed abstinence in Global HIV policy, opposing the distribution of condoms, despite the fact that this means certain infection and likely death for millions of people. In recent years the Catholic Church has worked to install the social teachings of the Catholic Church in government—an example being Nicaragua and El Salvador which have in a period of counterrevolution in Central America put into place especially medieval laws on abortion that criminalize abortion even when the life of the mother is in danger—resulting in the deaths of at least 82 women in Nicaragua. Conservative Catholic colleges in the U.S., for instance, have removed coverage of birth control from employee health care plans, and criminalizing birth control is part of the political agenda of both evangelicals and theocrats in the Catholic Church.
(Sources: "The Democrats' new "Family" values," Jeff Sharlet, salon.com, November 10, 2009; "When Congress Sells Out Women," Francis Kissling, salon.com, November 9, 2009; "Do Catholic Bishops Run the United States Government?" Jodi Jacobson, RHRealityCheck.org, November 7, 2009)
So one year into Obama's "new day" the Democratic Congress has delivered a more decisive setback to abortion rights than anything the Republican party or the Roberts Supreme Court has yet accomplished. And what has effectively confused and immobilized the opposition to this has been the rhetoric and method of "seeking common ground." Just listen to Nancy Pelosi herself on why she let this amendment into the bill:
SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: We have sought, in the course of the development of this bill, common ground in many areas, this being one of those. We did not reach the common ground yet that we hope to achieve; therefore, we had an amendment on the floor. We will continue to seek common ground." (From transcript of Democracy Now!, November 9, 2009)
Common ground with those who would condemn women to forced childbirth has been the mantra of the Obama White House. He has preached this on the campaign trail and at a critical speech at Notre Dame University on abortion [see "The Deadly Illusion of 'Common Ground' on Abortion: Response to Obama's speech at Notre Dame on common ground and abortion," by Sunsara Taylor, Revolution issue #166, online at revcom.us, on this]. But as Revolution pointed out at the time, when Obama speaks of common ground he is not standing on some neutral ground. Obama has gone further in legitimizing the terms of the Christian Fascist movement as "points for discussion" and in hammering those terms into the Democratic Party's political framework. (In this, Obama continues and carries further the ugly tradition of the Clintons and Al Gore.)
This has the appearance of reasonableness while adopting and legitimizing an archaic biblical and patriarchal view of women. This has served to push the political and moral goal posts in this society even further to the right. And it has served to bring the morality and political program of the Christian Fascists more securely into the mainstream of American political, ideological and moral life—and now to write it into an extremely far-reaching law.
This common ground ends up not being open-minded or tolerant but enforcing the utterly depraved "morality" of those who would force women to bear children against their will and who are increasingly bringing the power and policy of the state to bear in this compulsion, as they have done with this health bill.
The intervention by Catholic Bishops in how this "compromise" was crafted is very important. They actively lobbied and brought significant pressure, including advocating that Democrats who are not opposing abortion be refused Mass and purged from the church. (A serious question: why is the tax-exempt status of this church not being investigated?!)
This is part of a larger offensive. This November the Catholic Bishops are producing a new pastoral letter on marriage—one that puts as a priority addressing what they see as the four main challenges against marriage: contraception, same-sex unions, divorce, and cohabitation. The draft pastoral letter quotes the late Pope John Paul II in the introduction—today "the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it." This revanchist form of traditional morality sees any assertion of independence by a woman against her husband and the church as an existential threat. The pastoral letter, for instance, cites contraception as "an intrinsically evil action." Think about that for a minute! And this is the kind of counterrevolution in the realm of social issues and morality that the political forces arrayed around this health care bill intend to impose on society as a whole.
This is actually the essence of an outmoded Dark Ages morality that is being upheld and enforced: one that sees birth control, abortion and marriage that is not between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation as a threat to the traditional family. The traditional family and the institution of marriage emerged first not as romantic partnering but as economic and social units—basic cells of social organization that cemented relations of wealth and power within society where lines of inheritance that maintained property and power from one generation to the next ran through male lineage. It has been a very short period of human time where women and children were not legally the property of their husbands, and the customs and ideas that sprang from this basic legal and economic arrangement and that served to reproduce these social relations are not only still present but still dominant.
The decision when and if to have children, to see love and sexuality as an expression of affection and a bond among equals, to have the freedom to leave or break off marriage especially by the woman, to partner with someone of the same sex—these are all social relations among people that are relatively new. While emerging out of traditional social relations, these new ways go against and beyond them.
Since the '60s, millions of women have assumed that equality would gradually become more the norm—and millions of youth today see the fight for gay marriage as part of that natural progression. But this is colliding with something very different that is being imposed from the top of society. Religious institutions are carrying out an active "counterrevolution" under the aegis of the ruling class in this country and—as is clear from these developments around the health care bill—are aggressively and brutally reimposing traditional forms of morality and doing so by actively mobilizing and unleashing backward, racist and reactionary sections of the masses who have themselves been thrown into an uncertain future as a result of major changes in the world economy and deepening economic crisis.
During the Bush years the religious right increasingly took hold of the Republican Party. The Bush administration itself was a contentious alliance of neo-cons and religious fundamentalists with theocratic ambitions. But it has not just been the Republicans who have adopted and given support and haven to conservative and fascist forms of Christian fundamentalism. There are now 20 anti-abortion Democrats in Congress, most of whom are Catholic and participants in Democrats for Life, and who have pushed for this stealth attack on abortion in the battle around health care. Howard Dean, when he was Party chair, initiated outreach to integrate anti-abortion Democrats into the Party. Over the next period the Democratic leadership adopted the language of anti-abortion Democrats calling them "pro-life."
In 2008 Democratic Party operatives told pro-choice activists, "If we can get a Democratic majority we can save choice," while Rahm Emanuel actively courted anti-abortion Catholics to run for office. Now these same activists are being told that they should stop complaining and work for passage of the health care bill. They are being told that they are "narrow" and "selfish"—for daring to uphold basic and fundamental rights of over one-half of humanity!
Bob Avakian sums up the reasons for this in Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones: We Need Morality But Not Traditional Morality (1999, Banner Press), which we will briefly quote here but which merits fuller reading and study. Avakian points out:
At the same time, many of these same factors, together with the struggle waged by the women's movement, have resulted in a situation where large numbers of women have not only the necessity but also the possibility of working outside the home. All this has been accompanied by a great deal of turmoil and upheaval, and one of its most important consequences has been that, from a number of angles and among various sectors of the population in the U.S., the basis of the traditional patriarchal family and the "traditional family values" associated with it has been significantly eroded. And yet all these changes are taking place within the confines of the same system—on the same foundation of capitalist economic relations.
This is potentially a very explosive contradiction, and in many aspects this explosiveness is already erupting. On the one hand, it is vitally important for those who preside over this system to "contain" this contradiction and not to allow it to produce a polarization that could threaten to tear society apart. In particular, they must try to avoid fundamentally alienating great numbers of women and driving them into radical opposition to the status quo—including many professional and other middle class women. At the same time, it is crucial for the guardians of the status quo to fortify patriarchal relations, while adjusting them to the realities of the present situation.
The polarization and bitter struggle around the right to abortion has been a concentrated expression of this. Clearly, the essence of the anti-abortion "movement"—which from its inception has been led and orchestrated from "on high" (I am referring to the role of powerful ruling class figures, not the alleged inspiration from god)—has been to assert patriarchal control over women, including to insist on the defining role of women as breeders of children. The fundamentalist foot-soldiers of this "movement" make this very clear.
The following prayer offered at an "Operation Rescue" rally, cited in Life magazine (July 1992) typifies this: "Oh please, Lord, break the curse on women's hearts that says we don't need our men. Break that independence."...
If the Senate passes a health care bill that effectively prohibits abortion, women will be cast back to the days when only the very rich could determine the course of the rest of their lives. While birth control and abortion by themselves have not liberated women, they have made possible enormous change in the participation of women in many aspects and realms of society previously closed to them. It has changed modern life to the point that now the majority of those employed are women. That in turn has also brought with it tumultuous change in families, in women's view of themselves and their relative independence from men. That simple measure of control—for millions and millions of women to delay motherhood and get an education, or start a career, or to just discover and experience life before having to subordinate their whole being to the needs of a husband and children—just that has been a seismic change for much of humanity. And this has undermined the ground that thousands of years of tradition have rested on.
It has not changed the fact that women have the primary responsibilities for domestic life and it has certainly not changed the reality that women are still judged and evaluated by their benefit to men, as mothers and wives and objects of sexual gratification. But it has sprung centuries of tradition into the air. If you watch the TV show Mad Men you are reminded that until a few decades ago a woman who wanted to leave a marriage in "enlightened New York" did not have the right to divorce unless she could prove adultery—and if she left her husband most state laws threatened that she would lose her children.
A few short years later, the women's movement led millions to repudiate obedience to one's husband, docile domestic servitude and unplanned pregnancies. The social fabric that depends upon "a woman's place is in the home" has been drawn taut and is shearing apart. The question is, to paraphrase Avakian, will all this result in a radical reactionary resolution of this where women are forcibly put back in their place, or will there be a radical revolutionary resolution that finally can liberate women?
For anyone who values women, not just as mothers but as full human beings, there is really one overarching moral question. Women must be free to determine their lives, including whether and when, if at all, they will have children. For women to be liberated this is a foundational and fundamental right. No woman should have to live in fear of a period missed. No woman should have to go through what women in 87% of the counties in the U.S. go through now—where abortion is not available. No woman should have to travel hundreds of miles and then have to endure waiting periods, which sometimes include scripted vicious mandatory lectures designed to make her feel guilty. No woman should be denied an abortion—by religious scripture, or the needs of the capitalist marketplace or by state institutions. And no woman should have to feel any form of remorse or guilt because she chooses to make conscious decisions about the rest of her life.
Enforced motherhood is not "moral," it is an outrage—and it should be a bygone barbarity. There is no longer any need for a woman's role in society to be dictated by her biological role in childbearing. And there is no need for humanity to be retarded and hemmed in by patriarchal traditions and oppressive religious morality. Today this is as cruel as it is unnecessary. For the first time in human history it is possible not just to theorize and dream about getting beyond centuries of women being subjugated—it's actually possible to break these chains and to overcome the oppressive division of labor that squanders the abilities and aspirations of half of humanity to participate in society as full human beings. It's actually possible to move toward a future of generations of men and women being raised equally, and with society as a whole increasingly taking on much of the enslaving domestic duties that have been the exclusive domain of women for thousands of years.
This is a future that is not possible under the property-defined social relations of a capitalist system. This future takes making revolution and setting up a new state power that consciously undertakes the transformation of society towards getting beyond oppression and inequality and age-old division of labor—that backs up women to take part in every aspect of society as full human beings. A society guided by communist morality. As the Revolutionary Communist Party's "A Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity" states:
Women are not breeders. Women are not lesser beings. Women are not objects created for the sexual pleasure of men. Women are human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor. When women are held down, all of humanity is held back. Women must win liberation, and they can only be liberated through the revolutionary transformation of the world and the emancipation of all of humanity, and through being a powerful motive force in that revolution...
Today there is an important fight to wage. In the name of common ground the health care bill is becoming the burial ground for the lives and rights and aspirations of women to be treated as full human beings.
Here we are on the brink of legislation that would for all practical purposes be an overturning of what was won by Roe v. Wade, and the most infuriating thing is that only the fascists and reactionaries are full of passion and energetic mobilization. For months now a few thousand racist tea baggers have been allowed to frame the terms of political discussion and debate. Meanwhile, despite facing a real attack, not a single pro-choice leader with resources and means is willing to call the millions of people outraged and in anguish about the future of abortion into the streets. Instead we get the same old "make them pay at the polls – elect more women—be realistic and don't make too much noise—don't get hysterical, just be patient and wait for another day when we can...what? Oh yes...elect even more Democrats." Some even say that maybe in Obama's second term he'll get in touch with his inner progressive....
We'd say keep dreaming if doing so was not so harmful to people for generations to come. But this is no time for cynical realpolitik, for shrugging your shoulders and retreating further into passivity. There is still time to mobilize people, to mount a groundswell to expose, oppose and defeat this law and in so doing to fight for the initiative in re-framing the terms of debate—in putting the liberation of women at the center of all this, and making that the standard of judgment and the focus of discussion.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
From World Can't Wait:
Why should anti-abortion fanatics in Congress be allowed to set the terms for women's lives?
One house of Congress passed health care "reform" including the Stupak-Pitts Amendment which extends the federal ban on abortion to millions more women. Even women paying for private insurance plans with their own money will not be able to buy abortion coverage.
Theocrats who believe they are on a mission from God, advocate the subjugation of women, and think gay people should burn in hell, don't back down without a fight. Now the Senate is debating health care reform. This abortion ban cannot stand!
We need to set our own terms with widespread resistance and visible protest.
Join the National Organization for Women and The World Can't Wait in protests:
Schedule a protest or find one at worldcantwait.net
Worldcantwait.net 866 973 4463
Watch a discussion filmed November 21, "Abortion, Women's Lives and the Democrats' Women Killing Abortion Ban" featuring Fran Luck, WBAI Radio producer; Erin Matson, Action Vice President for the National Organization for Women; Jill McLaughlin from World Can't Wait; and Sunsara Taylor, writer for Revolution. ustream.tv/recorded/2610042
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF A TALK BY BOB AVAKIAN, CHAIRMAN OF THE REVOLUTIONARY COMMUNIST PARTY, USA, FALL 2009
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Opening... Points of Orientation
I. Once More on the Coming Civil War... and Repolarization for Revolution
Breaking Out of a Deadly Dynamic
The Continuing Relevance and Importance of the "Pyramid Analysis"
Once again on the democratic intellectual and the shopkeeper
The appeal of the Christian Fascists in the moral and cultural sphere—and the need to sharply contend in this sphere
Racism and white supremacy, ruling class divisions and repolarization for revolution
Fascist lunacy—and "legitimate politics"
Obama as a major focus
The "best" need "passionate intensity"
Resistance and Building a Movement for Revolution
"The Transfer of Allegiance" of a Section of the Intelligentsia
It Is What It Is—And It Can Be Transformed
II. (Some Observations on) The International Movement
Repolarization Through Struggle
In this dimension too—the "shifting of allegiance" of a section of the intelligentsia
The New Synthesis as the Basis, with the Manifesto Pivotal
Solid Core and Elasticity
Vanguards and individual leaders: real contradictions, and the decisive importance of line
Ideology and Organization, Centralization and Decentralization
III. The New Synthesis and the Woman Question: The Emancipation of Women and the Communist Revolution—Further Leaps and Radical Ruptures
The Oppression of Women and the "Two Outmodeds"
The burkha and the thong—hideous embodiments of the degradation of women
Crucial Experience of the 1960s and '70s
The Visceral and the Theoretical
More "postcards of the hanging"
Phony science and bankrupt theories rationalizing oppression
It would have been far better then... and doing even better now
Challenging Traditional Gender Roles and Sexuality
The Communist Movement, Socialist Society and Women's Emancipation—A Critical Overview
The Need and the Basis for a Further Leap and Radical Rupture
In the following, I'm going to touch on some important points concerning not only the present situation and its developing features, but also certain deeply entrenched relations in society and the world and the prospects and challenges all this poses in relation to the strategic and fundamental goals of our party (and others who share our revolutionary communist outlook and orientation) and how to rise to these challenges. Much of this I am still working and grappling with myself, and much of what follows therefore will be more in the nature of a scaffolding than a fully elaborated discussion. So while this talk will include points of basic orientation and of analysis which I feel are important to be firmly taking hold of and acting on, to a significant degree the purpose and aim here is also to offer some food for thought and some sense of direction in regard to key aspects of what will be spoken to, while at the same time promoting and provoking further wrangling with these questions among party members and others more broadly who are at least beginning to seriously confront the reality of what is going on in the world, and whether and how there could actually be a radically different and much better world.
I want to begin by briefly speaking to the continuing relevance and importance of the "two historically outmodeds" analysis in today's world—that is, historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system, with a particular focus on U.S. imperialism. As we have, for good reason, repeatedly emphasized, the greater harm done and the greater danger to humanity is by far embodied in the imperialist "outmoded," and in particular U.S. imperialism. And because of this, it is criminal to (at least objectively) support U.S. imperialism and its many monstrous crimes in the name of opposing the other "outmoded." Even with the very real horrors committed by Islamic fundamentalists—against women in particular, but against the masses of people more generally—it must never be forgotten, or covered up, that these very forces and the crimes they commit have, in a fundamental sense, been fostered by the imperialist system itself, directly and indirectly, through conscious efforts to support and build them up in certain circumstances (for example, U.S. support for and massive aid to such fundamentalists in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation of that country) and through the overall functioning of the imperialist system with the massive dislocation and upheaval and brutal oppression and suffering it causes for masses of people in the countries of the Third World under imperialist domination.
It is also very important to emphasize yet again that these "two outmodeds" do, in fact, reinforce each other even while opposing each other; and that therefore supporting either of these "outmodeds" leads to the strengthening of both and the continuation of this deadly dynamic and a disastrous dead-end for humanity. This is something which many people have difficulty, for various reasons, grasping or coming to terms with. To put this another way, many people have a hard time understanding how it is we got to where we are today.
There is, ironically on the Fox channel, an interesting TV program called Lie to Me, whose main character (played by Tim Roth) is Dr. Cal Lightman, a scientist who is supposed to be the world's leading deception expert. As presented in this program, Lightman is able to study people's body language and facial expressions, etc., and tell much more accurately than a lie detector when they are lying or covering something up, or what emotions they are feeling, even when this may be manifested in ways that are difficult to discern by the ordinary person without the necessary training. Well, whether it is really possible, scientifically, to determine things like this in this way—or to what degree that might be possible—may be of interest, but it is of secondary interest in regard to the point I am emphasizing here. More interesting, in this regard, is an exchange that took place in one of the episodes of this program (Lie to Me) where the FBI had gone in and bugged some Islamic mosques, and at one point, as a result of doing this, they were supposedly able to prevent a crime from having been committed—another "terrorist act," although on a lesser scale than September 11, 2001. And then in the aftermath of this, at the end of this episode, there is an exchange between Lightman and an FBI agent (played by Mekhi Phifer), where Lightman says: Well, you may have prevented a specific act, but you've created a lot more Islamic fundamentalists by the way you did it—because you went in and committed this outrage against a sacrosanct mosque, you invaded this holy place in this way by bugging it. And the FBI agent comes back with: Yes, but we prevented this horrible act from taking place. In response to this, Lightman insists that you have to think about the longer term effects—to which the FBI agent replies: that's a problem for tomorrow. And then Lightman comes back with the punch line, which "caps" the exchange: How do you think you got to today?
This, in its own way, captures what a lot of people don't understand. You keep this dynamic going—whether it's Israel or the U.S.—you go and you obliterate whole sections of a country, as was done in Lebanon and then in Gaza by Israel with the full backing of the U.S. (including Obama, by the way, in the middle of his campaign in 2008) and, with every bomb that falls, with every small child that's buried in the rubble, you are creating a new generation of thousands and thousands of Islamic fundamentalists. Now, of course, there is a role—a very important role—for people who are genuinely, and from a much better place, against the imperialist system and opposed to what Israel represents in the overall framework of the imperialist system and as an occupying colonial settler state in Palestine; it's the responsibility of such people to actively resist this, and it's our responsibility to unite with people in opposing this and work to win them to our revolutionary viewpoint. But when people, especially those in the imperialist countries themselves, support, or passively acquiesce in and do nothing to oppose, the acts of war and wanton slaughter, torture and so on, carried out by their governments, which today are aimed largely against people in the Middle East and other countries where Islam is the dominant religion—and whether this support or acquiescence is justified in the name of "modernity," in the name of ending horrible oppression of women, or is rationalized in some other way—this only serves to reinforce the dynamic where the imperialists have a freer hand to carry out these acts, and as a consequence new legions of Islamic fundamentalists are being created. So that tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow there are more and more people willing and determined to engage in acts of "terrorism against the West"—while, in the name of opposing these acts, and the forces who commit them, you are supporting imperialism or Israel or other reactionary forces in the world—while the dynamic goes on, and on, and the terms become increasingly worse.
People need to be confronted with that question: How do you think we got to today—and what do you think is going to be the dynamic if we don't actually stand up and oppose the crimes committed by U.S. imperialism, by our own government, in our name—or, even worse, if we actually support these crimes in the name of the horrors committed by the other "outmoded," by Islamic fundamentalists and other similar reactionary forces?
All this emphasizes, once again, the need to break out of, and fully rupture with, this whole framework and dynamic. Unless and until this is done, the people whose actual interests don't lie with either one of these reactionary forces, either one of these "historically outmodeds," will have no initiative, no way in which their real interests can actually be expressed in the powerful way they need to be.
So, it is crucial that revolutionaries and communists—but others as well who genuinely abhor these crimes committed by the one outmoded and the other, and who want to see a different kind of world where these crimes are not endlessly perpetrated and perpetuated—step forward and resist this. And this is all the more so, in recognition of two things, if you're in the imperialist countries and in particular the U.S. First, it is in reality the imperialist "outmoded," and in particular U.S. imperialism, which by far has done the greatest harm and poses the greatest danger to humanity. That's an objective fact. I challenge anyone to look into the facts objectively, and if you do so you cannot but come to the conclusion that this is true.
And secondly, in recognition of the fact that you live in this country, that this government acts in your name and justifies its acts on the basis of "protecting" you and acting in your interests. This only gives a further dimension to the need to step forward and oppose this imperialist "outmoded" in particular while, at the same time, working to break things out of this whole framework—opposing both "outmodeds" and the ways in which this deadly dynamic goes on where they mutually reinforce each other even while opposing each other.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
The week of November 30 through December 7, 2009 should be marked by a qualitative leap in saturating key neighborhoods, campuses and schools, and "scenes" with the Message and Call from the Revolutionary Communist Party: "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have." The more concise version of this statement needs to get out far and wide. (A new version is posted at revcom.us in PDF form, which includes a call to watch Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, a film of a talk by Bob Avakian, on the Internet.)
Walk through any hood in this country—from Harlem to East Oakland—or onto any college or high school campus. Think about what difference it would make if this revolution, this party and its leadership, Bob Avakian, were part of the life of a neighborhood, a campus or at high schools, or in youth and cultural scenes in major cities. What if many people on the streets nodded in recognition when the revolutionaries came upon the scene—or awaited their arrival to confront them with questions? What if people broadly knew there was a force in this society which has not given up on radical change and is preparing for revolution—and led by a person who greatly heightens the actual possibility of making that revolution? What difference would it make if among the people streaming by as classes break or who are huddled in coffee shops or gathered at day-labor corners waiting for work or hanging out in the hood many were debating "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have"?
Saturating key areas with this message and call is indispensable to making these changes in society. It can begin with a few people in an area or school taking thousands and, like dynamos, getting them into the hands of everyone they can reach. Not stopping to have long—or even short—debates with those who are getting the statement, but making plans to come back later when people all over have gotten the message and call and had an opportunity to read it.
Successfully saturating key areas makes the revolution and its leadership known to thousands. Everybody needs to get this statement—and to talk about it with each other. Such saturation impacts on and changes the climate and the terrain... opening up breathing room and provoking thinking and wrangling about the nature of the society we live in. Is this a system we live under—and what are the workings of that system? Saturation can break through the daily grind—and raise people's sights. It unleashes broad discussion about the future and the need and possibility of achieving a better world. What is the revolution we are talking about? Is a better world possible—and what would that world look like? And it connects them with the leadership that can actually lead us to make that revolution. It begins to make that leadership, Bob Avakian, a household word. As we have written earlier, in a world which is intolerable to millions: "Really getting people acquainted with Bob Avakian's leadership, in its different dimensions, really focusing on this, is a powerful way to cut through the fog and defeatism and give people hope... on a solid, scientific foundation."
But... saturation is not only blanketing whole areas with thousands of the more concise version of the statement—though it definitely includes that. Saturation is not only finding creative ways to post the message and call—though it definitely includes that. Saturation is not just playing the audio version everywhere you go—though it definitely includes that. Or printing the message in campus and alternative papers. Or finding the ways for the statement to circulate broadly on the Internet. It is doing all of these things—in a concentrated and coordinated effort. So that encountering this message is inescapable; everywhere people turn they are getting this statement... seeing it on the walls... hearing it playing from loudspeakers.
Saturation does not happen spontaneously. Really saturating an area depends on our determined and concerted efforts. It depends on making concrete and creative plans. And, it depends on mobilizing the masses to take up this effort and unleashing their creativity.
Those who now grasp the stakes and importance of this campaign, who are determined to break through the suffocating atmosphere and initiate a new stage of revolution and communism, must lead, all the way through. This core of revolutionaries needs to step to people with a boldness and certitude founded in the substance of this message and call. And with the flexibility to involve people in a multitude of ways in these efforts. On this foundation, the means must be found to draw people in... to take stacks of a thousand to pass out in a hood, a school or a dorm... to win store owners to post it... or to put it out on the Internet. Many people have been touched by this message over the past months—and many more will be during this concentrated effort. They are not sure they agree. And definitely are not now ready to commit to the revolution 24/7. But they are inclined to see that the discourse in society needs to change and that this "alternative" should not be ruled out of order, but be part of the debate. And many others do want to see "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" become a big question in society. Such people should be involved in saturation.
Thousands of the more concise version of the statement need to be distributed in key neighborhoods, campuses and dorms, etc., and funds to print these leaflets and publicize this message and call need to be raised! Saturation teams of three or more should be organized, so that two people can be getting out the statement while the third is agitating, including for funds. Bold and vigorous fundraising done in this way—and combined with reaching out to those who can donate even more—can literally bring in thousands of dollars! The audio version of the message needs to be played on the radio and blasted from sound trucks and loudspeakers. Creative displays which draw on the special issue of Revolution with the full message and call (Revolution #170, July 19, 2009) should be developed and whole walls posted with the statement and the pictures from this issue. People should be encouraged to email this statement as broadly as possible, and to post it on their Facebook pages with a call to all their friends to post it and send it out. And others should take initiative to post it all over the net on relevant blogs and sites.
Every Revolution Books/Libros Revolucion across the country should have maps of the city with different color pins representing how many leaflets have gotten out into different areas. And every night, people involved in this concentrated effort (from all different strata) should go to these stores. If you are involved in this concentrated effort—on whatever level—then you need to be part of summing up what has been done and learned—and strategizing about how to reach our concrete goals and maximize the impact of this "saturation."
A pressing need: for many thousands of people to have an up close and personal experience with—and get to know—Bob Avakian. And there is an extraordinary opportunity for people to do just that. Clips from the talk, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About are on YouTube—and the entire talk is up online at revolutiontalk.net. Seeing, hearing and engaging with this person opens up new ways to understand the world—and new possibilities for radically changing it and bringing a new world into being. Full use should be made of the Revolution talk promotional materials (online at revcom.us). Including new stickers which say "WHAT???!!! You still haven't seen the speech on Revolution??" And "WHAT?!?!!? You still haven't heard Bob Avakian?" (in English and Spanish) These should go up and out all over the place.
Broadly spreading the word of this talk by Bob Avakian—and enlisting many thousands to watch the clips—all this too is not only part of saturating key areas, but plays a dynamic role in its own right in changing the terrain and accomplishing the goals of this campaign. What spreading this Revolution talk can achieve in connecting this leader with people from all strata should not be underestimated; and we need to fully grasp and act upon this understanding.
We urge everyone to correspond with Revolution as this revolutionary movement spreads across the country. All our readers need to read about and get a living sense of how this message and call is being spread—and how this movement they are a part of is taking root and growing. And all the ways in which people from all corners of society can join and contribute.
A Story of Saturation
Raymond Lotta to Revolution: "I asked a grad student who attended my talk in Chicago why he thought the turnout was as big as it was. He said, 'Evidently you weren't on campus just before you gave your speech because the announcements and advertising were everywhere.'"
Download the more concise version of
"The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have"
(two sides, 8 1/2" x 11")
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
As the postscript to Precious states, this film was made "for precious girls everywhere." The unseen, unheard, spat upon and detested girls who suffer every conceivable abuse the world over. And this film not only splits you open with that abuse, but makes your heart sing and ache for the potential of those girls—for what is snuffed out, what endures and what can flourish.
Spoiler warning: The following article reveals crucial plot points about the movie Precious
Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire tells the story of 16-year-old Claireece Precious Jones growing up in Harlem in 1987. She is pregnant for the second time and HIV positive, having been raped by her father her whole life and abused by her mother. She is locked into the brutality of her family. An uncaring school system gives her passing grades despite her almost complete illiteracy. She acts as invisible as she is to the world. She is mocked by classmates. And on the street, boys greet her with sexual taunts which quickly turn into physical violence when she ignores their jeers.
The film traces through a transformation for Precious. She is helped, nurtured and challenged by Blue Rain, a literacy teacher in a pre-GED program. And she is surrounded by young women like herself—some who are poor, formerly strung out young mothers, others who are beaten and cast out but all of them caring for each other in what is otherwise a largely uncaring world. These are people that rarely fill the movie screen, people living in the bottommost part of our society—"fat Black girls" and "welfare mothers" who are usually only ever blamed, hated or looked down on, if looked at at all—but they are full humans, and here, portrayed as such.
Mary, Precious's mom, stays holed up in the house, smoking alone with her cats and brutalizing her daughter—with cold insults and vicious beatings. Surrounded by boredom and bitterness, Mary is broken; and she is working at breaking Precious. Describing home, Precious says she could just "eat, watch tv, eat, watch tv, eat, watch tv" with the shades drawn, aging to die in darkness.
Precious is a work of courage and the performances are raw and as complex as the characters they portray. Mo'Nique, who gives a stunning performance as Mary Jones, said when the director, Lee Daniels, called her to ask her to take the role, he said "this could fuck up your career." But she, and the entire cast (including first-time actress Gabourey Sidibe as Precious), plunged in with brutal honesty.
The film is beautifully made—Harlem a shining sight, light within the grime. Precious is often clothed in bright beads and an ever present bright orange scarf that she finds on the street; a piece of light also discarded. Though illiterate when the film begins, her mind is ever active and the bleakest moments are interlaced with colorful dream sequences. She escapes into vibrancy and dazzle, becoming a shimmering and smiling, adored beauty.
She fantasizes about her white math teacher whisking her off to Westchester, of signing autographs in front of the paparazzi with a lightskin boyfriend by her side. Precious aspires to dance in BET videos, and pictures herself white and blond. Highlighting in particular the way dark skinned Black women are viewed and the way they view themselves. The unattainable and unhealthy beauty standards for women have a double cruelty for dark skinned Black women that impacts how millions of them go through the world hating even the skin they're in.
But in these imaginings, there is also humor and depth. She goes on, she dreams, she wants to be heard. In showing the reality, the humanity—and the great and painfully suppressed potential—of one of society's oppressed and demonized... and in doing this with power and artistry, this movie makes a real contribution. But it does more, as well.
What does it mean to have this whole section of society treated and feeling invisible? What does it mean that there are, indeed, "precious girls everywhere"—tens of millions of girls and women in our society who see their lives reflected in this story? After taking a test in a new alternative school where she can only write her name, Precious describes the feeling that, "these tests paint a picture of me and my mom as ugly black grease to be wiped away."
A young Black woman I saw this with talked afterwards about feeling like she is never shown on film, her stories never told. And this is what Precious is able to achieve—by finally becoming present, she makes the lives of millions of women in our society present.
After speaking in class for the first time in her life, Ms. Rain asks her how that feels.
"It makes me feel here," Precious replies.
The film has tapped into something very deep and otherwise mostly hidden. Lee Daniels said what has surprised him the most is the story's universality and its broad resonance. On opening night at the Sundance Film Festival, Mo'Nique spoke publicly about being abused by her older brother. Lee Daniels talks about being beaten by his father for being gay. By the hundreds women are speaking out—in theatre lobbies and on online forums where I've seen a few use the tagname, "I am also precious."
Recently, Revolution went to Harlem and Times Square, where many screenings of Precious were sold out. One distributor wrote, "several Black women testified that 'it was real'—all the abuse in the movie is real and widespread and no one wants to talk about it." Another Revolution distributor talked about conversations he overheard between perfect strangers—women telling each other the most deeply personal, hurtful stories.
This defies the criticism from some that what is portrayed in Precious is overstated, or casts Black people in a negative light. While it's true that mainstream culture promotes minstrel-like, belittling and degrading stereotypes of Black people at every turn—this film is nothing of the sort. It exposes a hidden reality for millions of women in our society, and the acute ways this takes expression among Black women. And it poses the question of why this is so.
After the film and on the net, the testimonials are pouring out, "I was raped by my cousin." "My dad's brother touched me repeatedly and I've never told anyone. When he died, I spit on his grave." "I am a counselor that works with survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse on a daily basis. It is disturbing how Precious is a reality for so many. The story needs to be told because too many have been silenced for too long." "i was a child... touched by my stepfather, which i was told [was] something you do not talk about." "I too have been molested by a family member and it's a secret that no one knows about, not even my parents." "My daughter has been raped by my mother's son." "I was physically, mentally and verbally abused by my dad; molested by my grandpa and a neighbor and 'hit on' by an uncle and one of my father's friends, becoming promiscuous and having my soul broken, wounded and battered because I was looking for someone to love and accept me. I was tossed like a piece of garbage; used and kicked to the curb to be dumped with the rest of the raw sewage." "There are so many secrets in the family! It's time to EXPOSE!!! Too many people are in bondage!"
Outside the film, a woman listens to someone selling Revolution, and just shakes her head, repeating: "This has to stop. This has to stop. This has to stop."
After witnessing the film—and even more so, the visceral reactions to it expressed by so many, and in particular (though by no means only) women of color—you have to ask: why is this experience so universal? Why are there girls like Precious everywhere? The crushed and broken in their millions, harboring secrets and pain, stories they keep to themselves—of brothers, cousins, uncles, fathers, husbands and boyfriends molesting them as children, young girls and women.
And what creates a woman like Precious's mother, Mary?
When Precious finally stands up to her mother, Mary's violence reaches a crescendo and she is ready to kill her daughter. As Precious is thrown down the stairs, the film cuts between near death brutality and smiling snapshots of Mary and her happy chubby cheeked baby, Mary is joyful and beaming and you know there was a time she thought her daughter was precious. This climax poses it sharply—Mary wasn't always the way we've seen her in the movie—how did Mary become this monster?
In a pivotal scene in the film, this question is answered. Mary is meeting with Precious and the social worker, Ms. Weiss. Mary describes the calculation she made when her boyfriend and Precious's father, Carl, reached for her baby daughter during sex. There are many details Mary forgets, including when Precious was born. But she remembers with crystal clarity when this began. Precious was 3 years old, Mary protested but gave in to hold on to her man.
She knew it was wrong, she says, but what would happen to her if she lost Carl? Who would love her, who would care for her, who would touch her? She thinks all she has in the world is this man and all she can do with her being, her heart and her mind is to please him. Her entire sense of self-worth—of even being someone—is bound up with having a man—no matter how abusive that man may be. "You don't know what real women do," she says to Precious in a fit of abuse, "real women sacrifice." So Mary calculates, she exchanges and sacrifices: take my daughter, but keep me. And both are Carl's to discard.
Mary begins the monologue in Ms. Weiss' office with a telling line, "you godamn right I wanna see Precious and my grandson, because they belong to me." Think about it: "they belong to me." And at this, we do not flinch. In the brutal confines of the family, children and women are property, possessions to be owned and exchanged.
We are told and taught that the family is a divinely inspired eternal institution, forged out of love and caring. In fact, the form of the family has changed over the centuries.
Our ancestors traced the lineage through the mother and lived in kinship units that did not involve relations of domination, ownership or suppression. Only with the development of society's ability to produce a surplus over what was necessary for mere survival, and the rise of private property and the division into classes on that basis, did the modern family arise. Once that had happened, it began to matter which child belonged to which father so the surplus wealth, or lack thereof, could be passed down. The family enforced a division of labor where the woman was responsible for providing the man with children and the raising of children, and the women and children were the property of the man. Look at the ten commandments for an example, where god instructs: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house, wife, male or female slave, or ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor." (Along with upholding slavery, this makes clear all this "belonged" to the man.)1 And look at how the patriarchs in the Old Testament held scores, and even hundreds, of wives at one time—which shows how saturated this institution is in male supremacy and how it has, in fact, changed over time.
Even the word family is extremely telling—it comes from the Latin word "familia" (meaning "a household of slaves") and was used in ancient Rome to refer to the male-headed household in which not only slaves and servants but also wives and children were counted as the man's property, over which he held the power of life and death. Down through today, virtually all men are conditioned from the time they are born to think women are there to serve them, and that even the most oppressed man can still be a master in his own home and deserves a woman to subordinate her life to his.
The family is a killing confine—for the body and spirit. And the pain is dual—while the family is the place that one is supposed to find the most solace, warmth and heart, it is in reality the most dangerous place for women and girls. Within the U.S., a woman is beaten by her partner every 15 seconds, 3 women are killed every day by lovers and husbands, and almost 220 children are sexually abused every day—most of them by a relative or family friend.2
The story of Precious is not an anomaly but a distillation. While not every woman suffers incest, and not every woman is battered... within the confines of the family in today's society, every woman is told, in thousands of ways, that she must subordinate herself—her life, her dreams, her opinions, and in the most extreme but all too common cases her physical safety and sexual autonomy—to the man. Within these confines, women are (as our Party's Declaration states), "evaluated essentially in terms of their usefulness to men, as mothers and wives and objects of sexual gratification."3
It is in another direction where Precious contains glimmers of genuine hope. Ms. Rain says to Precious that she's having a hard time with her own mom, who won't talk with her, won't accept her because she's gay (a discovery Precious herself has to work through). In talking about having to deal with hardship, Precious says she thinks there are people who go into a tunnel so dark, they have to light their own way, but when they come out, they're still shining and not just for themselves but for those around them. "Ms. Rain and me are some of those people."
When Precious says she wants to keep her kids, wants to look there for her solace, Ms. Rain struggles with her, she's too young and needs to strike out on her own. This is not a struggle Ms. Rain wins, but a different framework is being posed. What people are constantly told to seek to find in family, Precious finds only outside of the family—in Ms. Rain's challenge that she write her heartache out and in the laughter and respect of her peers. Love is not what rapes you, love is not what beats you and makes you sick. Love is in the struggling together and relying on each other. It's in the light of the orange scarf which Precious shares with the little girl with the black eye being insulted and demeaned, helping someone else to make it through.
For Black women, the extremity of this is intensified and doubly bound. 1987 in the Harlem projects, it's the crack epidemic, Precious's welfare may be cut off as part of the large-scale transfer of women from welfare to working at below welfare wages. She's not just a poor woman; she's a poor, Black woman—up against it at every turn. The different ropes of oppression get bound up so tight, wound around each other, grinding everything down and tying a knot so densely packed and tangled together it is potentially all-consuming with its density and pressure.
Lee Daniels talks about his own father who beat him for years. It began when a 7-year-old Daniels put on his mom's red patent leather pumps and sashayed down the stairs with his hands on his hips. He said he thought they were sexy. His father found this intolerable, Daniels said his father did what he was taught to do.
In talking about where this abuse comes, Daniels told this painful story, "I remember someone calling him the n word in front of me, one of his bosses or something. And we got in the car, and I said, why did you let him do that to you. I was 11... and he slapped me... hard... because I was talking back to him. That was his way of dealing with the frustration and the pain that he felt, and the embarassment he felt and the castration he felt."4
Another example that is all too real—a grown Black man treated as a child and worse. The rage at that festers and boils and is channeled in the most harmful of ways.
As should be clear from the universality, this situation is not a product of one individual's poor choices or irresponsible behavior. People do not choose the society into which they are born. They do not choose the structure of that society's traditional relations between different groups of people—relations in which people of one gender, or one race or nationality, possess privileges, and lord it over the others. They encounter these relations from even before they begin to speak, so that it can seem as natural as the air they breathe—but they do not choose them. They do not choose to be in a situation where everything—and everyone—is seen as a means to profit and more profit by those who have power, and where this outlook saturates and permeates everyone else. All this is thrust upon them, and they must find their position within it. The only real choice we have is whether to resist this, to make our peace with it, or to respond to being demeaned by reaching back, demeaning and brutalizing others. To either fight against being made meaningless as "black grease," or to try to get your own piece of that domination.
These conditions, these relations are born of a system—a capitalist system based on profit and exploitation, rooted in patriarchy and the oppression of Black people.
What we need is a new system—new ways of relating, new ways of organizing society. This requires a revolution.
In a revolutionary society, no person—young or old, man or woman—will be the property of any other person. Children will not be contorted and misshapen by the brutal and restrictive notions of gender—of what it means to be a man, or a woman—which turns young dreams into dust. In a revolutionary society, people will be able to come together to forge new, collective forms for bringing up new generations. Men, women, boys and girls will be able to express their feelings and desires loud and unabashed without fear of ridicule or repercussion, knowing they'll be heard and respected. Homes won't be something you get into if you're lucky having to game a system set against you in every way just to get by. People won't silently suffer bruised beatings thinking that's all they deserve, thinking domination is a natural part of love. With no one owned or owner, brutalized or brutalizer. And in a revolutionary society, being dark and large will just be another, beautiful way to be.
None of this is possible under this system, but all of it is possible through communist revolution, through people coming together, struggling to change the world, changing themselves and the larger social relations in that process. Struggling to get rid of the dog-eat-dog economic relations at the foundation of how we live now and the horrible relations of domination that grow up on top of that... struggling to instead bring in a whole new way—a revolution.
Many people have told us that the movie shows how making good choices can help you get out of a bad situation, how you just need to find people who will help you. But let's think ahead to a "reality" sequel, ten years later. As long as the current system stands, what happens to the Ms. Rains and Ms. Weisses? And what happens to the Preciouses? Ms. Weiss is forced to kick Precious off welfare, even perhaps despite her desire to keep helping Precious. Ms. Rain's funding gets cut. Precious can't afford the life-saving medicine she needs, she can't find work or can't afford childcare. Abdul (Precious's baby boy) grows and is profiled or maybe even murdered by the police because his mom taught him to hold his head high.
The fact is, this system and its institutions are set against the people, they are not set up to assist people in need if they somehow make the right choice and simply ask for that assistance. This system and its institutions are about exploitation where that is profitable or casting them out where that is not. Even when people give their all to forge new relations—in their homes or in their classrooms—it is not sustainable within this society. Larger forces are at work. All too often this system grinds them down, chews them up and burns them out. What is needed—what is desperately needed—is a society in which the Preciouses, the Abduls and the Ms. Rains can flourish.
What is precious about Precious is her potential. And it is to this we should lift our eyes. To a society where that potential—for not just one, but for the many—can be realized. And where the resonance of precious girls everywhere is not in the horrors they face, but in the reality that could be—where the millions of little girls born into our planet are viewed and treated not as discardable, as property or as playthings but as precious—to be loved and cherished as such in their wonderful diversity.
1 Exodus 20. [back]
3 "A Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity," Revolution #158, March 8, 2009. [back]
4 Interview on NPR's Fresh Air, November 5, 2009. [back]
Griselda, 60-year-old Black woman:
"It went against what I thought it was going to be about. I thought it was going to be...just stereotypes and the typical Harlem experience that we're used to seeing. It was a little bit of that, but it was done so well that I have to say...I hope that they recognize them when it comes to the Academy Awards 'cause there was some good acting in that...It took me a long time to come to see it, 'cause I'm thinking I'm just going to see more of the same. And...it won me over just by the acting and how the subject was sensitively portrayed. Mariah Carey is very good in that, and she has a bit part. Lenny Kravitz is very good in that. All the actors are good. And I ended up walking away feeling like it's a story about starting over, not letting life knock you down. I think those are universal themes, ultimately. So I loved it. I really did. And it made me cry a lot. You cry a lot in that film, 'cause there's so much that's touching and warm and she wins you over. She wins you over. The whole film wins you over."
Leonora, 47-year-old Black woman:
"It was really emotional for me, because I lost my baby sister to domestic violence, and she never got a chance to make it out and I did. So I think about that a lot. I think about her a lot. I think about where she would be now, what she would do now."
Sky, 32-year-old "mixed Latino" man:
"As a social worker, I see it a lot. It seemed very real...There are not too many films that cover the topic... It's almost like seeing a client up on screen when I was watching it. So it was very vivid."
Lauren, 27-year-old white woman:
"It was really hard to watch. And it's really real. Really emotional. And definitely made me appreciate my life and what I have... the whole thing was just so real, and that actually happens. So it was just kind of like awakening."
Philip, 52 years old, Puerto Rican/Italian
"It was an excellent movie. I thought Mo'Nique's acting was extraordinary. And actually the movie has a powerful impact. I mean, I saw a lot of people leaving the movie theater just physically impacted. Like they had never seen anything like it."
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
December 4 marks the 46th anniversary of the assasination of Fred Hampton, orchestrated by the FBI and carried out by the Chicago Police. We are reposting here for our readers an article originally posted in 2009.
December 1969: The FBI Assassination of Fred Hampton
|Photo: Paul Sequeira|
December 4, 1969—40 years ago this week: Chicago police led by Cook County prosecutor Edward Hanrahan as part of an FBI Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) operation stormed into Illinois Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton's apartment. Armed with shotguns, handguns, and a .45 caliber machine gun, and guided by a floor plan of the apartment provided by an informant, the police killed Mark Clark and critically injured four other Panthers. They gunned their way through the apartment into Fred Hampton's bedroom. There he lay sleeping, having been drugged earlier by an FBI informant. As he lay there, the cops stood over him and put two bullets in his brain, at close range. Following this murderous attack—where the police fired nearly 100 rounds in the house and were completely uninjured themselves—Hanrahan brazenly lied that the police were under heavy fire from the Panthers.
|The cops stood over Fred Hampton as he lay sleeping and put two
bullets in his brain at close range. Above, Fred Hampton's bed after his
Photo: Paul Sequeira
Among all the many thousands and thousands of actions that show why the Black Panther Party correctly dubbed the police "pigs," few compare to the viciousness and lies surrounding the assassination of Fred Hampton.
The media took up and spread these lies from the authorities as if they were the whole truth and nothing but the truth. But the Panthers in Chicago—still shocked and grieving from the terrible loss of their key leader, and with many of their core members now in jail—refused to give up. Instead, they turned to the people and mounted a defiant political counter-offensive. The Panthers organized "people's tours" of the apartment. Thousands came, first from the ghettos and then more broadly. Film crews and reporters were brought in. People saw with their own eyes. And the evidence was clear: All the bullet holes were coming in. The famous picture supplied by the authorities and run in the Chicago Tribune at the time, of a door supposedly riddled with bullets coming from the Panthers, was shown to be a door with nail holes.
Even mainstream commentators felt compelled to speak out. Hanrahan had claimed that it was only through the "grace of God" that his men escaped with scratches. Mike Royko, then a columnist at the Chicago Daily News—and no Panther supporter—wrote in response, "Indeed it does appear that miracles occurred. The Panthers' bullets must have dissolved into the air before they hit anybody or anything. Either that or the Panthers were shooting in the wrong direction—namely, at themselves." (Cited in The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther, page 102, by Jeffrey Haas, Lawrence Hill Books)
|The Panthers' "people's tours" of Fred Hampton's apartment. Thousands came from the
ghettos and beyond, film crews and reporters were brought in.
Fred Hampton was a 21-year-old leader of the Panthers who inspired all kinds of people to take up revolution. As Bob Avakian says in his memoir, "many people throughout the country had been moved by Fred Hampton and had made a leap in their revolutionary commitment because of his influence—the whole way in which, before he was killed, he boldly put forward: 'You can kill a revolutionary, but you can't kill the revolution.'" (From Ike to Mao... and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist, Insight Press).
In one short year from the founding of the Black Panther Party in Illinois to the time of Fred's murder, there was a transformation in the culture of society in Chicago. Based on the teachings of Mao Testung, the leader of the Chinese revolution, there was a "serve the people" ethos and culture the likes of which Chicago had not seen before. The Panthers set up free clinics in neighborhoods of the oppressed, where before health care had been virtually unavailable. The Black Panther newspaper was sold everywhere. Posters from the paper were used for political education sessions in the communities and on campuses. Former gangbangers and student intellectuals became revolutionaries. The culture was so widespread in Chicago that conductors on the el and subway trains would announce "All power to the people" when calling out the stops where revolutionaries were getting off the train.
Hampton's assassination was part of a broad campaign to smash the Black Panther Party and the burgeoning revolutionary movement that burst onto the scene in the 1960s. In September 1968, notorious FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country," and by 1969 the Panthers were the number one target of the FBI's COINTELPRO operations, which included 233 different documented operations from assassinations like those of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, to attempts to turn street gangs against the Panthers, efforts to create divisions within the BPP, and setting up Panthers on false criminal charges. Hoover specifically aimed to prevent the rise of what he called "a Black messiah"—that is, he focused on taking out leaders and potential leaders of the masses. Revolutionaries like Malcolm X, George Jackson, Bunchy Carter and John Huggins in LA, and Fred Hampton were either directly murdered by the government, or set up. These were counter-revolutionary criminal acts—not only were innocent people murdered by the U.S. government, but the ability of the masses of people to raise their heads and liberate themselves was grievously set back.
|People lined up for blocks outside funeral home to honor Fred Hampton.
Photo: Paul Sequeira
Fred Hampton drew forward the best from among all these sections of the people, inspiring them with a revolutionary vision and calling on them to rise to being revolutionaries. And many thousands heeded the call. His famous chant "I am...a revolutionary" was transformative, as people would take it up, thinking seriously as they did so about what they were committing their lives to when they said it.
Leadership is critical to making revolution. Although revolutionary leaders like Fred Hampton were taken from the people, and others capitulated to capitalism and gave up on revolution, the spirit of devoting your life to making revolution and doing all you can to hasten the day when revolution can be made still lives—most of all in the leadership being given today by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP, who worked and struggled closely with the Black Panther Party when it was the most advanced revolutionary force in the U.S. The possibility for revolution, right here in the belly of the beast of U.S. imperialism as well as around the world, is greatly heightened because of the leadership of Bob Avakian and the RCP.
Humanity still cries out for the revolution that Fred Hampton devoted his life to. As the Constitution of the RCP says: "The emancipation of all humanity: this, and nothing less than this, is our goal. There is no greater cause, no greater purpose to which to dedicate our lives."
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
Several thousand University of California students, from most of the UC campuses, held three days of militant protests this past week [week of November 16, 2009] at UCLA, where the UC Board of Regents passed a 32% tuition increase for UC students. Protests and building takeovers have spread across the UC system. Two buildings were taken over by students at UC Santa Cruz. At UC Davis, 52 students were arrested for taking over the administration building. And at UC Berkeley, police arrested 41 people who occupied a campus building.
The cost of a UC education has tripled over the past 10 years, and many protesters have said that the new increases—$3,000 a year—will drive them out of school. Demonstrators include undergraduate students, graduate students, teaching assistants, professors, and workers. Black and Latino students, those who are going to be most adversely affected by the tuition increase, make up a large percentage of those demonstrating.
At UCLA, students broke through campus police barricades in Covel Commons and were met with police tasers, batons, and riot guns as they tried to enter Covel Hall where the Board of Regents was meeting. Some students made it into the meeting room, where they shouted down the Regents before being removed. Several students were tasered and beaten, and 12 were arrested as they tried to get into Covel Hall.
In a blog in the Daily Bruin, where students were debating the use of tasers and batons, a UCLA student commented, "I don't think you understand the validity and depth of anger towards the police. It doesn't just stem from today's actions but this for many students, especially minority students, is an on-going situation. I don't think you understand the ways the UCPD treats students of color in certain situations, areas whether it be profiling or blatant disrespect for who they are as individuals."
On Thursday, students took over Campbell Hall on the UCLA campus and chained the doors. They renamed the building Carter-Huggins Hall after Bunchy Carter and John Huggins, two members of the Black Panther Party who were murdered in Campbell Hall at a Black Student Union meeting in 1969. A student who was occupying the building stated, "Campbell Hall is closed indefinitely, but Carter-Huggins Hall is open to students today." The building takeover lasted for 12 hours, as the students decided to leave before being arrested.
Several busloads of people from Watts were going to attend the Board of Regents meeting to speak out on whether or not UC would reopen King-Drew Medical Center in Watts. The university decided not to allow those from Watts on the campus, fearing that a mix of those from the most oppressed section of Los Angeles along with angry, protesting students would create conditions that could intensify the protests against the university.
Some of the demands of the students, besides opposing the tuition increase, included:
At UC Santa Cruz, the main road into the campus had to be shut down as students took to the streets in an attempt to shut down the university. Students later occupied the administration building there.
At UC Berkeley, demonstrators occupied Wheeler Hall and hung a sign out of a window that read "32 Percent Hike, 900 layoffs" with the word "Class" crossed out in red. They were demanding that student fees not be increased and that the university rehire the 38 custodians who had lost their jobs due to the budget cuts. Late Friday afternoon, after occupying the building for 11 hours, 41 people (39 students) were arrested. Over 2,000 students were outside the building supporting those inside. As one student was being taken from the building, she stated, "I feel like we mobilized people," and despite the fact the students' demands were not met, she said, "Not all gains are material." A UC Berkeley graduate student, who occupied the building, commented that the occupation "...is not a slumber party. We are looking at finals and an increased workload. But this seems like the honorable thing to do for future students."
Reporters from Revolution newspaper were in the midst of the protests. Stay tuned to revcom.us and future issues for more reporting and analysis, along with interviews from protesting students.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
We received the following correspondence from Berkeley:
Rage broke out on Nov. 20 at UC Berkeley against the UC Regents' decision to approve a 32% fee hike for undergrad students and other huge budget cuts and layoffs. Students boldly took over Wheeler Hall at 6 a.m. Wheeler Hall is one of Cal's largest buildings and it is centrally located near Sproul Plaza, so when the takeover happened, thousands quickly knew about it. Hundreds flocked in support, growing to thousands throughout the day.
This defiant occupation electrified UC. All classes were cancelled at Wheeler, affecting almost 4,000 students. This drastic fee hike will add $2,500 to undergrad fees by next fall, making student fees over $10,000/year for the first time. Adding room, board and books costing about $16,000/year, these hikes will force many students out of the university.
The students demanded a repeal of the 32% hike, the reinstatement of 38 fired custodians, the firing of UC President Mark Yudof and that there be no legal punishment when the occupation ended.
A spirit of resistance and upheaval was in the air. Wheeler is a huge building with seven different entrances. The doors to Wheeler were bolted shut, with the occupying students on the first floor. But when the authorities forced their way through the doors, the students fled upstairs to a 2nd floor classroom where they addressed the crowds outside.
Students inside spoke out the window with a bullhorn and accused the police of "coming in swinging" and using pepper spray. Hundreds of students outside pressed up against metal barricades erected by the police to keep people away from the building. Skirmishes and clashes with the police broke out during the day as the police viciously beat people with their batons, often charging at people who stood in front of the barricades.
Many students accused the police of using unnecessary force. UC police and Berkeley police wore riot gear, carried batons and rubber bullet rifles. One woman said the police broke her hand as she was holding onto a barricade and the police struck her with a baton. A young woman was hit in the face between her eyebrows by a baton. The TV news interviewed a student who had a large red welt on his stomach where he had been shot by a rubber bullet after being punched by a baton. One student described seeing a woman get hit on the head causing a big gash, and another got trampled by police pushing the metal barricades onto students.
During the day, thousands of people came out in the often cold and heavy rain to join the protest and to support the occupation. People were angry at the police beatings and their intimidating show of force. For many students this was their first demonstration. Some said it looked like a police state. There was shock at seeing the police deliberately hurt students who were protesting peacefully. Fire alarms were pulled at four different buildings, emptying classrooms. This was a day of no business as usual.
The students occupying Wheeler spoke to the crowds outside from a 2nd floor window throughout the day. A banner hung from the window saying, "32 Percent Hike, 900 layoffs," with the word "Class" crossed out in red. People threw food and water to those inside.
At a rally outside the building, students denounced the fee hikes. Native Americans who were commemorating the 40th anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz came and spoke, drawing the links between the UC occupation and the resistance of Native Americans. A Revolution Club youth addressed the crowd.
The 12-hour occupation ended when the Alameda County Sheriff's SWAT team took the locked doors off their hinges and started arresting the 41 occupiers for misdemeanor trespassing. The students were cited and released, and were greeted by wild cheers and chants from the crowd of 2,000 outside. Three others were arrested for felony burglary, allegedly for moving furniture inside the hall to use for the barricade. The protesters have to appear in court to face their charges on Monday, Nov. 23. After the occupation ended, the SWAT team stood guard in front of Wheeler Hall in a show of force meant to intimidate people.
UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff have been protesting the fee hikes and budget cuts for months. The Friday occupation was planned to escalate protests if the Regents approved the fee hikes. It was part of a three-day strike that included rallies, marches, and a garbage dump-in at California Hall, the administration's main building. Some students left UC Berkeley on Thursday, November 19 to join the protests at UCLA at the Regents Meeting where 14 students were arrested and two tasered.
The university claims these hikes are necessary because of a $535 million budget gap due to reduced state funding.
UC students at other campuses also protested: 30-50 students at UCLA took over Campbell Hall on Thursday and more than 50 were arrested at UC Davis. UC Santa Cruz students occupied Kerr Hall, the home of the administration.
In the midst of the struggle, there were many animated discussions and debates with students as readers of Revolution distributed a flyer from the editorial in issue #170, "The Revolution We Need...and the Leadership We Have."
There was a strong sense among many students that the struggle around education is connected to much deeper issues. Several students saw the similarities between the violence of the baton-wielding cops at Cal and the photos in the special issue of Revolution of police beating up a Black man and the victims of American warplanes in Iraq. "Yeah, for a long time I really didn't think democracy was real in this country but I never really considered it a dictatorship based on rule by force. But when you really think about it, it is a dictatorship."
One woman said, "It's so weird how you see thousands of students, workers, and faculty demonstrating against the cuts and fee increases while a tiny handful of guys protected by hundreds of cops have the power to make the decisions that count." Another agreed that the fee increases were directly connected to much bigger issues -- people losing their homes and jobs from the economic meltdown and even the war, "Obama is talking about sending in thousands of troops to kill more people in Afghanistan. He's not talking about cuts. It's fucked."
The anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz was announced by Native Americans which also highlighted some of these connections for students. One student said that it was so refreshing to hear someone call the U.S. "monstrous." While there was an openness in the charged atmosphere and a sense among many that it would take some kind of revolution to really change things, a number of people said that it was hard to imagine that it was possible. Several said that communism had been tried and failed, though a number of students pointed out that they definitely thought it would be a good idea if people could live cooperatively in a society that took care of people's needs. One student took a small bundle of flyers and a paper to show some of his friends and said he wanted to discuss it further. "I'm so glad you're raising this. I never thought people were talking seriously about this in this country. We do need a revolution."
Questions came up about whether revolution is possible since this system has existed for many years and it seems too difficult to change it. Others had questions about the socialist experience and whether some group would come to power and then rule in the same way as the system that was overthrown. Others were for revolution, but had never heard of the newspaper or our leader, Bob Avakian.
One student said, "Yes, I do agree that the media lies about almost everything, but then why did communism fail where it was tried?" He said he had heard an announcement in his class about the symposium on the Cultural Revolution, but he didn't make it and said that he had never before heard that socialist revolution was truly liberating. He was intrigued that Bob Avakian, a former student at Cal himself, had gone deeply into the achievements, but also the shortcomings of socialism and how much this had to do with both making and continuing the revolution to communism. He gave his name, got the paper, and said that he would come to the bookstore and get into it further.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
Outrageous Action Against a Dedicated People's Lawyer
On November 17, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the conviction of defense attorney Lynne Stewart. Her bail was revoked, and as we go to press, Lynne Stewart has been locked up. In addition, the Appeals Court ordered the judge in Lynne Stewart's original trial to consider increasing her 28-month sentence, based on Stewart's testimony in her own defense at her trial. All this is an outrageous attack on a courageous attorney, and a chilling attack on the supposed basic legal right of every defendant, including those demonized by the powers-that-be, to have a vigorous legal defense.
At a press conference held immediately after the ruling, Lynne Stewart said, "The timing of this particular opinion, coming as it does on the eve of the arrival of the tortured men from the off-shore prison in Guantánamo, at a time when lawyers I think will be appointed for these men, [reaffirms] our original assessment of my case, which was that this was a warning to lawyers to do it the government's way, to pay attention to what the government rules are, not to even stray up to the line, otherwise you will end up like Lynne Stewart."
The government set its sights on Stewart right after 9/11 because of her determined work as a defense attorney for her client, fundamentalist Islamic cleric Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted and sentenced to life in 1996 for seditious conspiracy related to alleged plots to attack New York landmarks. Her actual "crime" was doing what a defense attorney is supposed to do, aggressively defending her client.
The "evidence" the prosecution presented during Stewart's trial consisted largely of extensive secret government surveillance of communications by a co-defendant, nearly 75,000 pages in all and including his phone calls, Internet usage and e-mails, and his fax machine. This was then used to extend the secret surveillance to Stewart's meetings with her client Rahman, which were recorded and videotaped. Stewart's conviction was the first major case under the authority given by Congress to secretly record conversations between a lawyer and client. Attorney-client confidentiality has supposedly been a bedrock principle of law in this country. Now, clients and their lawyers can never know when the government might be sitting in on their conversations.
At her trial, the government alleged that Stewart helped to communicate a message from Rahman to his organization in Egypt, the Islamic Group—by passing to the media a press release expressing his opposition to a ceasefire with the Egyptian regime. The government claims that this violated the "Special Administrative Measures" (SAMs) against Rahman. SAMs severely limit the ability of certain federal prisoners to communicate with the outside world. The New York Times noted, "The government never showed that any violence resulted from the defendants' actions. The Islamic Group never canceled the ceasefire. The defendants were not accused of terrorism in the United States." The judge himself told the jury that bin Laden and al-Qaida were not at issue. But the prosecution blatantly tried to pin a "terrorist" label on Stewart—for example, by showing videotapes of Osama bin Laden in the courtroom.
At a press conference following release of the Appeals Court decision, Lynne Stewart told the media and a crowd of supporters: "We are not sure yet what our next move is. But one thing I can promise you: I will go on fighting. This is a case that is bigger than just me personally. I am no criminal. And I will fight it for all the lawyers, some of whom are here, and the Lawyers Guild, which has supported me from day one. All of us know that when you become a criminal lawyer, you sign on to represent your client with zeal. That's all I was doing. I was never doing anything else."
Lynne Stewart is 70 years old, and in recent years has been treated for breast cancer. She was scheduled for minor surgery on December 7, and her request to have the surgery done before reporting for jail was denied. She has called on people around the country to demonstrate at local federal courthouses.
Revolution will have ongoing coverage of the jailing of Lynne Stewart at revcom.us. For background on the Lynne Stewart case, see "Radical Civil Rights Lawyer Lynne Stewart Sentenced to Prison," Revolution #67, October 29, 2006.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
A Roundtable with Revolution newspaper about the new film, William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, with Sarah Kunstler and Emily Kunstler (filmmakers and two youngest daughters of Bill Kunstler); Margaret Ratner Kunstler, progressive lawyer and Sarah and Emily's mom; Michael Ratner, president of Center for Constitutional Rights, an important legal advocacy organization cofounded by Bill Kunstler; and Yusef Salaam, exonerated in a rape case known as "the Central Park jogger case1"—Yusef spent years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Bill Kunstler was his lawyer.
The Revolution Interview is 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.
Revolution newspaper had the opportunity to sit down with the filmmakers of and key participants in an important and moving new documentary about William Kunstler, a radical lawyer who stood out for his courage and daring, and whose legacy people need to learn from and carry forward. It opens in select theatres across the country Friday, November 20. This film needs to be seen and supported.
Here's the synopsis: "In William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe filmmakers Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler explore the life of their father, the late radical civil rights lawyer. In the 1960s and 70s, Kunstler fought for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and represented the famed 'Chicago 8' activists who protested the Vietnam War. When the inmates took over Attica prison, or when the American Indian Movement stood up to the federal government at Wounded Knee, they asked Kunstler to be their lawyer.
"To his daughters, it seemed that he was at the center of everything important that had happened. But when they were growing up, Kunstler represented some of the most reviled members of society, including rapists and assassins. This powerful film not only recounts the historic causes that Kunstler fought for; it also reveals a man that even his own daughters did not always understand, a man who risked public outrage and the safety of his family so that justice could serve all."
Revolution: Could you begin with what made you want to make this film?
Emily Kunstler: Sarah and I were having a lot of conversations around the 10th anniversary of our father's death. We had been making advocacy films for people in prison for about 7 years. And we were seeing some impact. But, we came into filmmaking through our activism. So we were thinking about our role, and whether that was the place for us to make the greatest impact. Thinking about our influences. We were thinking about history, and the way people learn from history. And the way that, as a culture, we don't seem to be learning from history today. So we began for the first time really, in our lives, to think about the work we were doing in respect to the work that our father had done. We thought about recording the voices of people that he worked with, of sharing these stories, and talking about issues we felt were so important to us today and were being ignored. The civil rights movement at that time, and currently, is being looked on as sort of a bygone chapter. And we reward ourselves as a culture for accomplishing things without thinking about the work that is still left to be done. And our father would always talk about all these monuments erected and these streets being named after people that used to be on the FBI's most wanted list, and it frustrated him to no end, because at the same time, all of the rights that he and so many other people worked for, were being taken away. So we really wanted to make a movie that would remind people of their personal responsibility in maintaining those rights, and trying to get more civil rights and a more balanced society.
Sarah Kunstler: When we were making this film, we didn't know what the political climate would be when we finished the film. And, for a while, that was a source of anxiety for us because we worried: will this film still be relevant in a post-Bush world? If there is a Democratic president, are we still going to have the same concerns? And when Obama was elected, a lot of the rhetoric we started hearing is that we have now moved post-race. And that having a Black president means, in a kind of coded way, that we don't have to talk about race anymore, that Black people in America have reached the ultimate pinnacle so there is no more racism. And what we realized was that this notion that there aren't still these unhealed wounds and inequalities in this country, just because there is a Black man in the White House, and we don't have to talk about race anymore, was so potentially dangerous and that making a film that dealt with race and racism in the criminal justice system, was all the more important.
Revolution: When you, Yusef, Michael, or Margie, heard that they were going to do this film, and what the initial conception was, how did you guys see what impact it could have? What did you all think of that?
Michael Ratner: I was very excited. Partly, having lost my father when I was young, I was glad to see Sarah and Emily dealing with the loss of their dad when they were young also.
But Bill was, for young lawyers growing up in the sixties, the most important lawyer in the United States. And the most influential. The one that made a whole generation of lawyers think it might be worthwhile engaging in social struggles in the courts and outside of the courts. One lesson was that you had to be outside the courts as well as inside the courts. And that is certainly a critical lesson that has been taken forward, still with great struggle, with many lawyers who say, "Well we don't want to offend the court, we want to agree to this and that," and the lesson for me and other lawyers is that's not what you do. You take your struggles outside the courts. I remember one of the things is you don't call the judge "Your Honor," so even today, I would never call a judge "Your Honor," I would say "judge." And when I hear people say "Your Honor," it just makes my skin crawl.
The other part of the film that I thought was going to be important... Bill to the last day of his life, felt that the racial divide in this country was the critical divide... And he lived that through his life. And I think that is a lesson that just because we have a Black president doesn't mean that it's over.
And I guess, the third is, to be incredibly bold in what you do. To take on the hardest issues. To use the press. To take on social movement issues. If you look at the Attica prison struggle, at Wounded Knee, Chicago, each of those are really people's struggles, and Bill wound up defending people that were really trying to change things. And that is, unfortunately, a lesson that is lost on most of us today, on most lawyers. That is really the role of a political lawyer, a radical lawyer, to defend movements that are trying to make social change. So that is what I was hopeful this film would bring out.
Yusef Salaam: In being a part of [this film], it caused me to gain a deeper understanding of where I fit in, in the whole scheme of things. I wasn't just some type of strange occurrence. My case was part of a larger dynamic going on, and, when I look back now, I'm actually happy. One, to be able to have been a part of this, and two, and this is going to sound probably strange, but I don't think I would give my experience back, you know. That experience made me who I am, and it also made me think differently about everything.
Revolution: What do you want people to get out of it? The film works on different levels, and you were talking about your personal journeys, but also there is a challenge that you are posing through it, can you talk about that some?
Emily Kunstler: I think that in large part it is a film about transformation. It's about our father's transformation, it's about our transformation, it's about Yusef's transformation. It is about Jean Fritz,2 you know, this juror in Chicago's transformation. It's about Michael Smith's transformation, the prison guard at Attica.3 And everybody, and that we are all capable of changing our perspective. Exposed to the right set of circumstances, and to the right information, we can go into something feeling one way, and come out a different way. And for my father that is sort of the fundamental theory of the jury system. That you can bring that kind of information to 12 people in a room, and they can come out of it feeling differently, or put their feelings aside, and actually make a choice based on what they are hearing. So that's humanity for you. We hoped for people to see this film and realize they can make changes in their own lives, and that they can effect change in the world. Our father was fifty years old when he had his second transformation, and so, we can all live a thousand lives, and should strive to, and should have the courage to be open to change everyday.
Sarah Kunstler: He was an interesting person, because he was the principal architect and embellisher of his own myth. He had his own creation myth of how he came to be, and how he became a fighter for justice, and a fighter against racism, and he told the story to everyone who would listen. So when you go around making a film about him, you end up hearing the same story from 50 or 100 different mouths. Which is the story of a man who lived in Mamaroneck, NY, and commuted to the city, who had a fairly ordinary law practice with his brother, who one day, out of the blue, received this phone call that transformed his life. It was a call from the director of the ACLU, asking him to go South to tell a lawyer who was representing the Freedom Riders in Jackson, Mississippi that the ACLU stood behind him. And that going there, seeing the struggle first hand, and watching as five determined young people got off a bus and walked into an onslaught of police, watching that kind of passion, that dedication, and that courage was what utterly changed him. That is the first of several transformations he goes through in our film. And the first of several mythologies he shared with Emily and I, and anyone that got within two feet of him.
It is an interesting thing making a film about a person who has such an established mythology. It's a little bit intimidating, 'cause what do you do with a myth? And what are you looking for? Are you trying to preserve the myth? Are you trying to attack the myth? What happens when you meet the real people? Do you lose the myth? That is part of the interesting thing for Emily and I in telling our own story and making this film our story. And it is ultimately our story about our father's life.
Revolution: This brings me to the question of the big contradiction you are wrangling with in the film. I'm wondering if you guys could talk more about the transformation you all went through, and how Yusef's story impacted you guys in particular.
Emily Kunstler: What is the basic question of the film? What is the exploration? We're at a very different place today, than we were when we started. The film doesn't start at our perspective today. It starts at our perspective when we were teenagers, when he was still alive at the end of his life. It never represented our adult perspective and that doesn't represent our perspective at the end of the film.
Sarah Kunstler: It is interesting 'cause a film captures a certain point of your life, and a certain place in your thinking. These are conversations about legacy, and about how to lead your life, and about personal responsibility, and what choices to make. These are conversations you have every single day, and that you are constantly evolving with. So it's an interesting thing, to make a film, or I guess write a book, or to do anything where you explore those notions, because it becomes this fixed sense of what you were thinking at that moment.
Michael Ratner: When Bill takes Yusef's case, right, I think you have a reaction in the film, right? Where you say, "What is our daddy doing? What is Bill doing?" And then after Bill dies, Yusef is exonerated. So I would ask you – what does that make you think, not only about the legacy of your dad, and what you think about your dad today, now that you know that; what does it make you think of what kind of cases people ought to take, or what does it make you think of the state, or any of that.
Emily Kunstler: Well, I think it is an important life lesson. I think it is one a lot of people can learn from. There is this rush to judgment. And we oversimplify things. We see things from a child's perspective. In black and white, right and wrong, good and evil. This is the way the criminal justice system is digested for public consumption. People are kept very removed from that part of society. We don't have cameras in most courtrooms, eyes inside the prison, people are very removed from that part of society. And the small bits that come out are through this media filter, that tells you Yusef is terrible. Him and his friends are a wolf pack wilding in the park—and you have no other information. And what's there left to think? The media hype around that case was so intense, during the trial and the conviction. And there are people today that still don't know that he was exonerated. Because the media attention around his release and his exoneration was so minimal.
So that's the information that you have to go on. In a sense we are all guilty of that, and we should all be very conscious of that, and make sure we question the information we are getting. And you know, try to find the best source, because it is too easy to make those snap judgments. And anything that is that easy is never right.
Yusef Salaam: I was thinking about the media filter... If people watch TV, some part of their day is watching the news. And the news is telling people—probably 75% of these terrible things that have happened in the world, since this morning or since this evening or something like that. And... some of it is very biased. And some of it is given to you, in such a way, where they are making you have their opinion. You know, you're not coming into it with a level head saying well, is this, "is this real?" Like "are they telling me the truth?" Or you know, you're looking at it as this is a real story, this is the reality of what happened. What really goes on!
Revolution: At a certain point in the film, you said Bill's struggles became your struggles. Can you talk about that in relation to what impact you want the film to have?
Yusef Salaam: The part in the film, where I say his struggles became my struggles was talking about being an activist. Being a part of the solution, as opposed to part of the problem. And being part of the problem could just be, "I don't wanna do anything, I don't want to, you know, leave me alone," it could be something very, very subtle... but trying to actually effectuate change, trying to be out there, wanting to be in a better world, and unfortunately, a lot of times it's revolutionary acts that cause that. "Power concedes nothing without a demand." You have to at some point in life make a choice as to where you want to be in life. What role you wanna play. When I think about Bill Kunstler, the role that he played was such an important role, because he could have just sat back and lived a normal life, but that wasn't him. He had a burning, a desire... something in him that made him be a freedom fighter, be a revolutionary person, be an activist, be a person who is active in the struggle.
And that part caused me to look at my whole case from a different perspective, and then realize that I have a role to play now. I can't just sit back and do nothing.
Sarah Kunstler: We have to talk about the David story here... One of the stories that Bill told that was most important to Emily and I was the story of when he first saw Michelangelo's statue of David. He was a teenager traveling in Italy. And he was standing there looking at it. And an old man comes up to him... and he says, "Do you know why this statue of David is important?" It's a statue of David with the rock in one hand, and the sling over his shoulder; and, according to this man, it is the only depiction of David before he throws the stone at the giant Goliath. So he is standing there in this moment where he is deciding whether or not to stand up and take action, or to quietly walk away. And it's the idea of the insurgent, the disempowered who is about to decide whether or not to challenge the big power. And to Bill that story was really resonant cause it was this moment that he felt everybody faced. This moment of choice, whether or not to stand up and take action or to quietly blend into the crowd and do nothing.
Particularly when he spoke to young people, he would talk about this moment. Because he wanted young people to be ready for those moments in their life that were going to demand that kind of courage, and for them to be able to summon the courage to do what was needed when the time came. That story is one of the main reasons why Emily and I made this film, because to us it was so powerful and so empowering that we could have these moments and that anyone could have these moments, and that all of us had this agency to stand up and do something important. We wanted to make a film that would make people feel that way, and make people feel like they wanted to do something. And, you don't have to be Bill Kunstler to have that kind of moment.
These moments don't always come when people are looking, sometimes they come when nobody's looking. And it's about having that strength of character, and strength of belief, in small moments in your life—and in big moments of your life. And to always be realizing that you are making that choice, and that you are choosing to stand up or not to stand up.
Emily Kunstler: I think we started this film feeling like when Dad told us the story of David, he was talking about himself. That he was David, and that he had those moments of choice in his life. But through the process of making this film, I don't think that he necessarily saw himself as David. I think he found Davids in the world to associate himself with. And it was the Davids that he found, like Yusef, and others that gave him strength to continue the work that he did. Towards the end of the film he became our David, but it really wasn't about him. It was about protecting those Davids, and allowing those Davids to continue to struggle. And to be empowered and to be out of prison.
Revolution: Michael, you talked about learning from Bill's taking a stand, and then actually going out and fighting using his example, particularly at CCR.
Emily Kunstler: This brings us to Michael's transformation.
Michael Ratner: Not just mine... I get comments about what I said in the film when Bill took [El Sayyid] Nosair's case,4 or the '93 World Trade Center cases, or some of those cases involving, you know, alleged terrorist acts, and they were no longer in the tradition of Center for Constitutional Rights, of which Bill was a founder, or in the tradition of what we thought was the political kind of law that we were doing, whether it was representing Attica, or the civil rights movement, or indigenous Indian movements. We wondered about it. And we were critical. Why is Bill putting his talents to that?
But in that perspective, myself and scores of other attorneys in the Center, Bill's institution, are representing a tremendous number of Guantánamo detainees, alleged terrorists post-9/11. And so, it gave me a different perspective on what Bill was doing then. It really helped me to understand Bill's incredible, more than skepticism about the state. And what the state represented, and what it represented particularly against people... who the state put up as pariahs, and everybody tried to get the state to focus on those people, and their anger on those people.
We've certainly seen that post-9/11 completely. Almost every one of our clients has turned out to be a "pariah" client, that is completely innocent of anything. If Bill were around today, he would be taking those cases, he would be in the forefront. He would be representing probably the heaviest guys in Guantánamo, right now.
In relation to Yusef's case, Bill brought Yusef's case to the Center. Bill wasn't Yusef's trial lawyer, but he came in at the sentencing for Yusef, and he said to the Center, I want the Center to come in here and represent Yusef. And the Center turned it down. Partly the film explains a little bit, the atmosphere in the city, which is always the atmosphere that you're going to get in these cases. Full-page ads asking for death penalty for the Central Park people. Assuming they're dead guilty. From the mayor to everyone else. And I think part of that infiltrated into the Center. And it didn't have Bill's sense of the injustice of the state at that point. Part of it had to do with the feminist movement at that point, about representing people accused of rape, although considering that Bill came out of a Southern experience, where a rape charge was the classic thing you did against a Black man, that is pretty shocking when I go back and think about that. And it led directly to turning down Yusef's case, and Bill even got held in contempt in those cases, and even then the Center didn't take the contempt cases. Morty Stavis, the cofounder with Bill, took that. But he took them just separately and eventually went to the court of appeals on Bill's contempt. I forgot, what the language he used in the courtroom was a disgrace to the bench. Bill was making some argument about Yusef's sentence, and the judge tried to shut him up. And Bill just says "You're a disgrace to the bench!" And the judge held him in contempt when Bill said that.
...When the post-9/11 cases, and Rumsfeld said "we're going to pick up the worst of the worst, and we're not going to give them any rights, and we're going to take them to an offshore penal colony." We're sitting at the Center, well, I saw that and I said I think we're going to represent the first people that go, that are picked up. Because this is just beyond anything that is acceptable in any society that calls itself, at all civilized. And there was some debate in the Center. And at that point, I took the pages out of Bill's biography, and he has two or three pages about when the Center turned down Yusef's case, and I circulated them to everybody, and I said, this was our founder, this is what we have to learn... as Bill said, on more than one occasion, "All states are bad, some are worse than others." And I think we were, for Bill, we were living in the "worse than others." ...That is the lesson, and we still get that throughout. I think it is a lesson that is particularly post-9/11, but it was certainly, in the South, you knew all the time. But since 9/11 that is everywhere. It is everywhere around us.
Revolution: This brings me to a question, for you guys as lawyers. Part of what Bill talks about at different parts of the film, and it goes on all the way through, actually from the civil rights, to what he learned from Daniel Berrigan, and came all the way through, was the lawyering and the fight in the court, as well as, how it relates to the fight in the streets. In the section on the civil rights movement, you make the point that he respected people who were breaking the law to change the law. And then in the Catonsville 9 section, he talks about the moral fight in the courtroom and then in Chicago, bringing the sixties into the courtroom.5 This was part of a larger movement in society, but Michael made the point earlier, Bill was at the forefront of that. Could you guys talk about, as lawyers, how that changed, your overall perspective?
Margaret Ratner: We were very lucky, when there was a domestic movement in this country. I mean, as lawyers, and as activists, and as human beings. When that was happening, whether it was the civil rights movement, or the multiple movements going on in this country, we were really lucky to be able to represent people participating in those movements. And it changed and maybe we got older, but the whole protest movement changed, and there wasn't enough room for the kind of social protest that there was, earlier on. Now it's much more complicated, and much more difficult. The students who participate now in the protest movements, I have the utmost respect for because it seems to me it's much more difficult because the alliances are much more difficult, the issues are not as clear, and the whole situation is more complicated. It's not as easy as it was in the '80s and the '90s. It's much more difficult because you have this whole kind of assertion of post-racial society, which is so ridiculous, so it's just much more complicated and much more difficult to draw the lines and to participate directly. I just think we were really lucky as attorneys and as activists. Luckier than people are now, cause it's harder, it's really harder. And that is why I think this film is important because, given how hard it is now, people have to be encouraged in a different way to participate, and they have to be reminded of our history and how we were able to do things, and how we were able to organize, and encouraged to do their own thing in a new way.
Sarah Kunstler: If what happens inside the courtroom is allowed to stay inside the confines of the courtroom wall, then it will never be justice. And if court decisions are allowed to happen in a vacuum, we will almost always certainly have the wrong result. And that at any moment in time it's important to have a street movement. It's important to have press. It's important for these issues to feel like issues that matter to all of us. For us to feel like the rights of the accused, the rights of people on trial and how they're diminished impacts all of our rights. If we lose that perspective and we say there is an us and a them and we don't care about the criminal defendants because these are the other, then we all are losing something and we're getting to a very dangerous place.
Yes, these are different times, but I think that whatever time we're in, the link between the street and the courtroom is crucial. And that the link between the courtroom and our everyday lives is crucial. And if we stop caring and feeling like these things are connected, then we're going down a very dangerous road.
Michael Ratner: When Marge and I were young lawyers, it was just everywhere in the streets, and the idea that someone would sit in their office and think the courtroom was the place you could make social change... it would be laughable for most progressive lawyers. Today, what I think has changed is there's a lot of lawyers who don't go to the G20, or the RNC, or the Democratic Convention and represent people and do that work, and they think they can be in a courtroom or in an office and actually make change, and I think that's not the case. What this film really is good at saying is you have to be out in the streets with your clients and representing people making social change. And that's a lesson that every law student and every person ought to hear. It's really critical.
Revolution: Emily and Sarah, you talk about growing up with the fear of repression from very early on. And it's something Margie talks about in the film. As kids, you experienced it on a very visceral level. As you grew up to understand more what that's a part of and you take a stand at a certain point later in the film and you talk about how it's not just about us.
Emily Kunstler: It's a hard question because for kids, the most important thing is to create a safe space. And it was impossible for my father to do that. Were it not for our mother and the role that she played in our lives, we wouldn't be the people we are today. She really made it her mission to keep us out of the public eye, to make sure we had a normal childhood and a protected childhood, and always felt loved and safe, in an environment where it was almost impossible to do that. But through the process of making this film and meeting Yusef and seeing the commitment that our father had and the choices that he made and the lives that he impacted, it makes mine and Sarah's sacrifice seem really inconsequential in terms of the sacrifice that our father's clients made, that Yusef made, and the work that he did to help other people's children that we really feel today was definitely worthwhile. I also have to add that I think that a healthy degree of fear and distress of the government is not a bad thing, and I'm actually grateful for that education that I had. You know, maybe it was something I couldn't understand when I was 8, but I'm glad I'm still a person that asks those questions today.
WILLIAM KUNSTLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE was released in theaters on November 13 at Cinema Village in New York City and is opening on November 20 in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Berkeley, D.C. and Seattle with more cities to follow. The film will be broadcast on PBS on the award-winning documentary series P.O.V. in the Spring/Summer of 2010.
For more information on the film, including screenings and show times in your area, please visit www.disturbingtheuniverse.com
1. The "Central Park Jogger Case" arose from an incident in 1989 when a 28-year-old white woman, an investment banker, was raped and beaten while jogging in Central Park in New York. Five Black and Latino youth were arrested, charged, and wrongfully convicted of the crime, serving between 7 and 13 years in jail before they were exonerated in 2002. [back]
2. Jean Fritz was a Republican juror in the Chicago Conspiracy trial, one of four who held out for acquittal on all charges. She is interviewed in the film. [back]
3. Michael Smith, 21 years old at the time of the 1971 Attica prison rebellion, was on of the guards held hostage by the prisoners. He was shot five times by the state police when they stormed the prison and massacred and brutalized the prisoners. He is interviewed in the film. [back]
4. El Sayyid Nosair is an Egyptian-born American citizen, convicted of involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990. [back]
5. Daniel Berrigan is a Jesuit priest who was active in protests against the Vietnam war and with 7 others started the Plowshares Movement, an anti-nuclear weapons movement that became well known during the 1980s for militant actions in which they were accused of damaging government property (nuclear weapons). Berrigan was one of the Catonsville Nine, Catholic activists who went to the Draft Board in Catonsville, Maryland, in May 1968, took 378 files of people drafted into the U.S. military, poured homemade napalm over them, and set them on fire. Kunstler was the lead defense lawyer in their trial. [back]
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
Check It Out:
From a reader:
William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe is a damn good documentary about a legendary people's lawyer and great defender of the oppressed, civil rights activists, radicals and revolutionaries.
Kunstler's daughters, Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler, have made this biographical film about their father's life, told through the lens of their own struggles to appreciate his life's work. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, has received much critical acclaim, and is now hitting theaters across the U.S. this month.
The film very powerfully captures on screen some of the historic moments the revolutionary upsurge of the 1960's, when millions in the U.S. yearned to change the world in fundamental and revolutionary ways. It brings to life through Kunstler's story and through the voices of many participants in those movements and battles a lot of what is now really "stolen history"—events the rulers of this country would prefer be forgotten. We see the protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention Chicago—the government's murder of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton—the Attica prison uprising—Wounded Knee. These are all "inconvenient history" for the American ruling class.
Bill Kunstler too comes to life, as someone who was both impacted by the revolutionary currents then sweeping through society in the U.S. and the world—and was deeply influenced and transformed by the defendants he represented. We see how his understanding of U.S. society, the law and the courts, and of the meaning of justice was transformed and radicalized.
In the early 1960's, Bill Kunstler was an ordinary "armchair liberal" attorney in private practice. But he was searching for more—and more certainly came when he answered a call to assist with legal support for the Freedom Riders, Black and white civil rights protesters daring to challenge racial segregation in the South. Kunstler was moved by the courage of the Freedom Riders, "breaking the law, to change the law" and risking arrest and brutality at the hands of police and white mobs.
By the late 1960's Kunstler was representing activists protesting the war in Vietnam. This included the Jesuit priests Philip and Daniel Berrigan who, along with 7 others, had broken into a government office in Maryland. The Catonsville Nine dragged the draft board files outside the building and publicly burned them. They knew they would be charged with destroying government property, but they saw their criminal trial as an opportunity to explain their beliefs about the war to the jury and the world. From this trial, Kunstler learned that the courtroom could be used as an arena to expose the immorality and injustices of the system.
But this film isn't just about the past. It raises deep questions and challenges for people today. This society is full of notions that people can't change and won't do anything except out of narrow self interest—for example, the idea that people are just the way they are, so middle class and more privileged people will not risk anything to fight the system because they are too bribed by their privilege. But here was William Kunstler—who saw other people putting themselves on the line, and stepped forward to join them.
In 1968 millions of Americans saw live TV coverage from Chicago, when thousands of anti-Vietnam War protestors outside the Democratic National Convention were attacked by police and National Guard troops. Eight activists including Abbie Hoffman and Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale were charged with conspiracy to riot and Bill Kunstler became their lead counsel. The trial of the Chicago Eight galvanized even more of the determined protest and resistance of that generation than it was intended to suppress. When Bobby Seale protested in court being denied legal representation, the judge ordered him to be chained and gagged—for many people then and now, that image of a Black revolutionary bound and gagged in an American courtroom, is one of the most enduring and iconic images of the 60's.
For their relentless defense during this historic trial, Kunstler and his co-counsel Leonard Weinglass were found guilty of contempt of court. Kunstler's sentence of forty months was the longest contempt sentence ever received by an attorney in U.S. history. Kunstler's defiant response: "I am in a way proud to be convicted because I think too long lawyers have been immune to the slings and arrows that oppress their clients, and I think it important that at least some lawyers now feel the oppression that their clients feel."
Unforgettable footage—some of it never before publicly seen—floods the screen. We see a dynamic 21 year old Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton speaking at a rally—shortly before he was murdered by Chicago police and the FBI, who shot him to death as he lay asleep in his bed.
We go inside the 1971 Attica prison uprising in upstate New York where thousands of prisoners rose up and took over the entire prison. The prisoners in America were becoming influenced by the revolutionary currents pulsing through U.S. society. The Attica prisoners were especially outraged by the murder of Black revolutionary prisoner George Jackson three weeks prior and by racist and degrading conditions at Attica. And they revolted!
Kunstler was called to the prison as a negotiator for the inmates. Bill told his daughters later about having to confront his own middle class prejudice and fears about these prisoners—but when he came to see theirs as a courageous and organized stand for their rights, and stood with them, those sentiments were transformed into respect and love. After three days of negotiations Governor Nelson Rockefeller sent armed troops, police and guards to drown the Attica rebellion in blood. Thirty-two prisoners and nine hostages and were killed.
The legacy of the Attica uprising is of tremendous importance. Asking why don't more people know about the history of the Attica prison uprising is like asking why do people know so much about the crucifixion of Jesus and not about the crucifixion of Spartacus, the rebel slave leader in ancient Rome. You watch this film, and are struck by how conscious and organized the Attica prisoners were. And it makes you think about the more than two million in U.S. prisons today and the importance of prisoners in any movement about fundamental societal change.
In 1973 Kunstler was called into action again, this time to defend leaders and activists with the American Indian Movement for their heroic takeover of Wounded Knee to protest the treatment and oppression of indigenous people by the U.S. government. Kunstler assisted in the negotiations on behalf of the Native Americans and was the attorney for AIM leaders during their criminal trial after the siege. Again, Kunstler's legal strategy was to put the government on trial for what it had done to Native Americans. The defendants and Bill won the trial, exposing the governmental misconduct and oppression of the Native Americans.
Through these fiery years, Kunstler is shown growing, changing, learning more and more and giving his heart to the struggles of the times—especially where the outrage of national oppression was at the fore. He carried on with many criminal defense cases including the defense of Larry Davis, a Black man accused of shooting six police in the Bronx. And again, when Kunstler represented Yusef Salaam, one of five Black teenagers who, in an atmosphere of racist mob hysteria, were railroaded on false charges in the so-called "Central Park jogger" rape case. Yusef Salaam and all the other defendants in the case were eventually exonerated.
In 1989 Kunstler again took a case that caught his eye because it concentrated political speech and protest against the government. Kunstler represented revolutionary Gregory "Joey" Johnson, arrested for burning the American flag at the Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas. Kunstler argued the flagburning case before the U.S. Supreme Court. But he also leapt into the controversy over this case by speaking publicly everywhere he could at law schools, protests, and in the media.
Joey Johnson has said about the film, "I think this film is very good. Especially for its ideological challenge that people make their lives be about living for something larger than themselves and making whatever sacrifices it takes for that. And through the example of Bill's life there is a call for people to take a stand in the face of real odds and to stand with those under attack from the system. I was proud to be part of the film. I definitely felt a real affinity with other activists and criminal defendants that Bill represented. When you are a political defendant, you want an attorney that has your back politically. And who respects you politically, even if they do not agree with everything you say or do.
"Bill saw a lot of the hypocrisy that the America flag flies over in the U.S., and for that matter the farflung American empire. And he hated the hypocrisy, all the 'liberty and justice for all' talk when he knew otherwise: his experiences in the South with segregation and civil rights, knowing that this same flag was carried by the Seventh Calvary when they massacred the Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee. And the same flag that was stenciled on the planes that bombed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
"So I could say these things when I spoke out about the case, and with Bill Kunstler I had an attorney who empathized with my views and respected defiance against the government."
The film brings complexity, questions about sticking to one's principles, and also a lot of humor to this telling of a lawyer who found his life's mission in "disturbing the universe." The New York Times once named William Kunstler "the most loved and hated lawyer in America." The people did love this rambunctious, courageous fighter for justice—as much as the powers that be did hate him. This is a movie not to be missed.
Check it out.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
Raymond Lotta Campus Tour at University of Chicago:
From a reader:
On Wednesday, November 11, the University of Chicago stop of the Raymond Lotta campus tour, "Everything You've Been Told about Communism is Wrong! Capitalism is a Failure, Revolution is the Solution," was about to begin. The 290 seat lecture hall was filled, with an additional 30 to 40 students on the floor and in the aisles. Seats of anyone who left early were quickly filled. The audience was overwhelmingly students from the University of Chicago, joined by a smattering of alumni, Hyde Park residents and those on Revolution Books email lists. It was even reported that students from a college campus in downtown had taken a cab to be there.
This was really a fantastic and sharply joined event. This gave a glimmer of what it looks like when we begin to crack open the atmosphere on the universities ... when the debate starts to rip around "you have been lied to about the real history of revolution and actual promise of communism...and we can prove it." One goal of this whole Tour has been to issue a provocative challenge—and at the University of Chicago a large number of students seemed both provoked and challenged!
A front page story in the campus newspaper, the Maroon, was headlined, "Lotta asks students to reconsider communism," and captured themes of the presentation: "Lotta said he wanted to 'clear away confusion' about socialism and communism. It's amazing what passes for intellectual rigor on communism." The article quoted moderator Sunsara Taylor that the tour is meant to "challenge the conventional wisdom that communism is a failed project" and quoted from Lotta's presentation, "We need a different system—a total revolution. Exactly at a time when capitalism is in crisis, at this moment we are told we can't go beyond capitalism but can only tinker around the edges. It's as if there is a warning label affixed to the discourse on human possibility."
People got a substantive, hard to dismiss, and stirring-to-their-best-aspirations talk.
The Q&A was substantive, lively and at times heated. There was contesting of Lotta's presentation from students who strongly disagreed with the summation that the socialist experience thus far was mainly positive. One questioner alleged that Mao was responsible for the deaths of 30 million during the Great Leap Forward. At least one audience member held up a sign "citations" addressed to Lotta, while other students expressed their dismay at the failure of student questioners to back up their claims with citations. There were students arguing for a theoretical model of "pure capitalism" (i.e. one that has not been put in practice) while others were much more critical of capitalism but could not envision how socialist planning could possibly be responsive in a timely way to the constant changes and demands of complicated, modern societies.
Lotta lived up to the billing of taking on all comers. He worked out of the framework of the new synthesis of Bob Avakian and used that to frame the discussion of big questions like overcoming the historical division between mental and manual labor while fostering the role of intellectuals in socialist society; solid core with a lot of elasticity; the role of dissent and critical thinking; etc. He took the student's questions at their best, addressed not only the questions, but a lot of the premises and material reality underlying them. He left people with a lot they couldn't dismiss and will likely be buzzing about, investigating, and trying to either shore up or open up in their thinking.
At the Revolution Books table afterwards, a student came up and his first question was, "If I am going to read one thing by Bob Avakian so I can learn more about his new synthesis, what would it be?" Since he didn't have any money, he took down the title of the Manifesto from the RCP,USA—Communism: The Beginning of A New Stage—to read online.
On the way out of Lotta's speech, those who stopped to talk expressed appreciation for the presentation and conveyed in different ways that they were intrigued/provoked but still not convinced—not surprisingly. One Chinese student who said he grew up mainly in the U.S., explained that he visited China a couple of years ago and there was a lot of nostalgia for Mao, but he couldn't figure out why ... until he heard this presentation. A student from China noted the irony that she had to come to a lecture in the U.S. to learn about the Cultural Revolution.
The University of Chicago is an elite institution which gives weight to the transformative power of ideas. Students are trained to value theory, critical thinking, and the role of intellectual challenges and rigor. The campus has a 2 to 1 ratio of grad students to undergrads and academic life is all consuming, especially for the undergrads. This posed some short term obstacles in getting to know students, but overall the intellectual rigor was and is a strategic strength for the Communist project.
This IS a campus that takes ideas very seriously. When we told these students that they have been lied to, they both genuinely cared if that was indeed the case and they were indignant at the suggestion that they could be being had intellectually. What do you mean? All undergraduate students at the university study Marx and Engels as part of the core curriculum, so how could anyone say that what they knew about communism was wrong?
University of Chicago is also the home of the infamous Chicago School of economics, now institutionalized in the Milton Friedman Institute—so the macro questions of capitalism are very much in the air here and in conflict with a growing crisis of confidence in capitalism even among a few of its intellectual adherents. A professor said a year ago that students were not anxious to study Marx but now they are eager.
There are also a large number of Chinese students—from the U.S. as well as abroad, including from China—who are attending the university and who made up an important section of the audience. Judging from some of the discussions and their responses to Lotta's speech, the event tapped into some openness. The University of Chicago is opening a branch in Beijing in 2010.
The campus was saturated (flyering at class change, large classes) and with the new materials that were developed throughout the tour, itself an application of theory/practice/theory. The new leaflet developed after the NYU stop outlined the four points of the speech and the questions asked at NYU and was widely used. The students recognized the need to hear the best proponent for this position. Thousands of copies of Lotta's open letter to Tony Judt and Sunsara Taylor's letter to students ("The Furthest Thing From Your Minds") were distributed. Students read these and periodically commented on what it provoked in their thinking to event organizers.
When students were asked "how did you hear about it?" more than a few replied "how could I NOT have heard about it?" There were secondary forms utilized in the run up to the event—like short pithy quotes posted up all over (including inside bathroom doors). There were full color posters lining the walks from the dorms and "table tents" on all the dining and study tables throughout the campus advertising the event, etc. One short quote with particular resonance came from the message and call of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have":
And, despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some "elite" schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in "non-conformist" ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful. And despite the creative impulses and efforts of many, the dominant culture too is corrupted and molded to lower, not raise, people's sights, to extol and promote the ways of thinking, and of acting, that keep this system going and keep people believing that nothing better is possible.
There were a number of people who told organizers that they watched Lotta on youtube, including some workers who were unloading trucks on campus said they had been discussing it too.
Revolution #177, September 27, 2009, "The Raymond Lotta Campus Tour: A Very Big Deal Indeed!" put it this way: "If on this foundation we can open up debate, if we can open up ferment, if we can spark thinking on those terms—and the sharper the debate, the better—then we can begin to fight for this. If we can engage students in really thinking about all this, then—but only then—we have a fighting chance."
This fighting chance was brought to life and must now be further seized.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
Symposium at UC Berkeley:
A rich and extraordinary picture of China's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) emerged November 6-8 at UC Berkeley. Through a beautiful poster art show, presentations and panel discussions, the symposium brought to life revolutionary socialism when the dominant ethos was "serve the people," when people worked together to help each other and change the world. This came through vivid recounting of panelists' own youthful experience, and from angles of art, history, gender and cultural studies, political economy, and revolutionary practice. The dominant narrative that the Cultural Revolution was a disaster was powerfully challenged, and critical space for rediscovery and reexamination opened. The audience of professors, scholars (including some from China), students (some of whose parents were involved in the Cultural Revolution), activists, revolutionaries, and others discussed, debated, and shared experience inside and outside the formal sessions. Many came away with new perspectives on the Cultural Revolution—and on human possibilities. And the impact of the symposium will spread beyond the weekend—among other things, a riveting book discussion with Dongping Han, author of The Unknown Cultural Revolution, was filmed by Book TV, and promises to air in coming weeks, and organizers plan to make available a video recording of the sessions.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
Vicious Murder of Black Women in Cleveland
Mt. Pleasant—Sounds like an inviting neighborhood community here in Cleveland. The image of tree-lined streets of two story houses surrounding Luke Easter Park comes to mind. But now we are face-to-face with brutal reality and the media headlines all over the country: Mass murder in Mt. Pleasant. The irony of those words is shattering—the horror of 11 plus women strangled and buried in shallow graves in a Black neighborhood while the truth of what happened was buried in its own shallow grave.
For years people sensed something wrong, and raised questions: about the pervasive rotten smell, about the drugs in the area, about one missing woman after another. And now that the sickening reality has surfaced, what we hear from officials basically comes down to: "We did all we could. Let's unite and move on. Let's thank the lord and bless the dead and leave it to those in charge; after all those women were drug addicts, alcoholics, possibly prostitutes... it's a tragedy sure but you all just put it behind you and put it to rest." Right. Keep the peace in Mt. Pleasant, they say—pretend everything will be fine and it's all under control.
Two, three weeks after the initial news surfaced, people are not putting this to rest. At the corner of 123rd and Imperial, where the house, the killing grounds, of Anthony Sowell stands surrounded by yellow police tape, a continual stream of people come by, walking, riding their bikes, cars slowly driving by. Relatives, concerned people, neighbors, youth—many who knew one or many of the women, come together to draw strength from each other and try to come to grips with the meaning of this nightmare.
A Black woman minister stands on the street. A young woman is with her. This minister is not one of the peacekeepers. "No woman should deserve this kind of thing, no matter what lifestyle or faults, they didn't deserve their lives to be taken. They just didn't. Apparently the cops ignored it because come to find out there was more than one call that was made...."
She continues, "The few women who survived, who actually got away, were ashamed to speak up because of their past and that shouldn't have never been an issue. If those women had not been afraid to say something because of their past because, come on, the first thing you hear is 'oh she a crackhead' or whatever, then it's like, well, 'I'm not taking that seriously.' But no matter how much someone chooses to value their own life, every life is valuable ... they did it to all women, all women got disrespected. I gotta keep making noise—it's just bringing tears to my eyes cause it's just been horrific. I haven't been able to sleep....
"...Everybody in the city, in the state, should be out here, all women, everyone should be out here. We are doing this all weekend long, to get this word out for the cause of all women. They could have developed the goddess within but they never had a chance. It's injustice. We need to stick together, to work together...."
Across the street from the house, loved ones have put up a wall where photos, at least 15 names of the missing and murdered women are posted, comments are written, teddy bears and flowers are piled. This is a memorial with an urgent purpose. People, sometimes total strangers, share memories and thoughts and closely study the photos and news articles to see who they might know, which bodies were identified, and who is still missing. Some of the women have been missing for years. Some were from across town. It doesn't matter. People want to know the big picture.
Among the "We Love You" and "God Bless" comments on the wall, one especially sends shivers up the spine: "Die young, cause we living fast! R.I.P. ladies." In the midst, something different than that, a quote is posted from Revolution, issue 158, the "Declaration: For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity":
Women are not breeders. Women are not lesser beings. Women are not objects created for the sexual pleasure of men. Women are human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor. When women are held down, all of humanity is held back. Women must win liberation, and they can only be liberated through the revolutionary transformation of the world and the emancipation of all of humanity, and through being a powerful motive force in that revolution....
When so few will dare, this declaration is calling for something unseen in generations: an uncompromising outpouring of women and men the world over who refuse to see women oppressed, beaten, imprisoned, insulted, raped, abused, harassed, exploited, murdered, spat upon, thrown acid at, groped, shamed and systematically diminished.
Copies of this quote are being read word for word with tearful eyes all that evening by scores of people; copies of it are folded up into pockets, followed by conversation and a look into the Declaration issue of Revolution and the current issue of Revolution. This has helped to focus people's anger and agony into a search for understanding and solutions.
As cars drive by, people call out to each other, the outrage and sorrow mingle, and someone gives a horn to one of the comrades, who cries out:
"And what do the authorities say we are supposed to do? Pray, unite and move past—move past what? Move past the murder of 11 plus Black women?? We are not moving past it. NO! Forget this sadistic hatred of women? NO! For the system it meant nothing; they said they aren't going to look for no 'crack bitches,'... that's exactly what the authorities said after the mass murder for the discovery, the police chief said they don't know how these women lived, he and others ran the cold racist shit that these women had it coming to them because they had drug problems, were in prison and some of them might have even been prostitutes. As relatives of the victims have said, 'My daughter might have had problems but she was a good human being.'"
People respond, "Tell it, that's right. Talk it. No, we are not moving past!!"
"...People are heartbroken over what has happened, are outraged at the no concern by the authorities here. No, we are not past it and will not be. As far as uniting, we need to sharpen up the disunity with the city officials. We are not uniting with the city officials and we are not uniting with the police ... we need to point the finger of blame not just at the authorities here but at the whole setup, the whole system that degrades women every day...."
More cries go out, "The whole system is guilty for it!"
It is a fact: the police can never be part of the solution–they were "doing their job" when they allowed this serial rapist to kill, just as they are "doing their job" when they shoot and kill young Black men for walking down the street. Their job is to enforce a world of oppression and injustice.
Our speaker continues:
"...It's a multibillion dollar pornographic industry that shows cruelty over women, the degradation—that seems to be alright to them. That's the connection where one out of three women in the armed services are assaulted, and rape and murder continues every day—600 rapes and assaults every day—that's what is at stake and that's why revolution is the only solution. We need a society where women have dignity. That's what happened in China when it was a revolutionary society and the Soviet Union. They had equality. It wasn't men protect women. It wasn't men over women. I call on everyone to join the revolutionary movement, come on over, sign up and talk to me!"
A collective sentiment is expressed that moment from people on the corner: "You are very right; that is the solution!" "You're right, we do have to have a revolution, and if we don't do it, it won't never get done."
People are now talking about society. In the daily routine, you get a sense of isolated suffering and desperation going on—a woman who is raped and too shamed to tell; a family whose daughter disappears and tries among themselves to decide what to do; children going out for days in search of their mother. But as this tragedy and horror unfolds, a larger problem does surface, and an awareness of the connections is getting pieced together. One man spoke his outrage at the authorities: "They know. They were missing. Who they called 'transients,' these people are mothers, sisters. I don't care what they have done. That was an animal they created. When they put a man in jail for years... and he was in the Marines, they create monsters, they teach them how to kill and bury. They know what they do."
A wrenching effort is being made to face these awful realities. The Declaration calls out: imagine a world free from all this. And it's like a bolt of thunder to hear that another world is not just a dream, it's possible. To get beyond the paralysis of grief and fear and despair and resignation, to grasp the full meaning of these words, and bring that to life—it's like the first breath of air after getting the wind knocked out of your lungs.
Struggle and conversation continues; plans are made. Some youthful males stand by the wall, silently taking all this in. A comrade asks, "What do you think all this says about how women are viewed in this society?" One answers, "That they will fall for anything." He smiles and elbows his friend to share the "joke." But his friend does not go for this. He wants to see more of what is in the paper, the centerfold pictures about the conditions of women. We talk about the upcoming prison issue. He says, "I got no money but I will take that paper and read it"
A young Black woman who has an independent video documenting project shares her thoughts: "I have to say that it's shocking because it's in my own city, but as someone who's traveled, you go everywhere in the world, you hear of these massive horrendous violent acts against women. Like there's women in Juarez, Mexico, who are dying every day and nobody's finding it out. There's women being killed every single day just from violent acts and it's not justified. We go from places where civilizations and religions are built around women and respect is understood and built into the fabric of those societies. But now we live in a time where it's just about how can we tear down women and nature and everything that's beautiful. So I think it's a sign of the society that we are living in; it's not just one man, you know, he's the product of this environment that we are all victims of being bred out of."
We tell people to come with us to Chicago to hear Raymond Lotta, whose tour is all about exposing the truth about the failure of capitalism, and how lies have been told that communism is bad, about the truth of the real revolutionary societies that have been buried. This takes on important meaning in the context of what is going down here.
A few decide to join the revolutionaries at the rally happening later that evening, to help get out THIS message, and to come to another corner the next day to spread the word and get out Revolution.
The rally, called by city officials and church prominents, surrounded by major media, began and ended with appeals to go down on your knees and stay there with your head bowed low while the authorities handle the situation. Not everyone is going for this.
An older Black activist, who has had an independent cable news show for years, was disgusted and familiar with what was coming out from the official mouthpieces. "We were out here saying that [women have gone missing] 20 years ago just like y'all are and they were calling us a loose cannon, and these preachers and others out here they ought to be ashamed of theyselves because they are out here trying to keep the lid on."
And even during the praying, and at the end of the rally, people were taking in the agitation, the words from the Declaration and getting copies of Revolution.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
From A World to Win News Service
November 16, 2009. A World to Win News Service. The Indian government is preparing "Operation Green Hunt," a counter-insurgency operation on an unprecedented scale. As many as a hundred thousand soldiers and other security forces are to be sent into the forested hills of eastern and central India to crush the rebellion of adivasi (tribal peoples) led by the Communist Party of India (Maoist). This is no short-term incursion: the authorities have announced that they plan to station massive numbers of troops in the tribal areas for years to come.
Several commentators have warned of the danger that the Indian government plans to seek a "Sri Lanka solution," modeled on the recent protracted government offensive there. Massive ground forces and air assaults were used to defeat the Tamil Tigers, and then hundreds of thousands of the region's civilian population were imprisoned in detention camps, where most still languish. Now what may be permanent military bases are being built in the Tamil heartland. The Indian government no doubt noted the implicit U.S. approval for that operation. At the U.S.'s behest, the International Monetary Fund [IMF] granted the Sri Lankan government a huge financial package almost immediately after the massacre.
Following are excerpts from an article by Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy that appeared in the October 31 issue of the Sri Lanka Guardian (srilankaguardian.org). The full article online gives much more detail for her arguments and a more all-around representation of her views. The November 2009 issue of People's March (peoplesmarch.googlepages.com or bannedthought.net) has two recent statements by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and other material on this offensive. A statement by the Revolutionary Democratic Front is also included in the AWTWNS packet dated November 16, 2009.
The low, flat-topped hills of south Orissa have been home to the Dongria Kondh [one of several tribal peoples in the region] long before there was a country called India or a state called Orissa. The hills watched over the Kondh. The Kondh watched over the hills and worshipped them as living deities. Now these hills have been sold for the bauxite they contain...
Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to their Niyam Raja, God of Universal Law, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge). It's one of the biggest mining corporations in the world and is owned by Anil Aggarwal, the Indian billionaire who lives in London in a mansion that once belonged to the Shah of Iran. Vedanta is only one of the many multinational corporations closing in on Orissa.
If the flat-topped hills are destroyed, the forests that clothe them will be destroyed too. So will the rivers and streams that flow out of them and irrigate the plains below. So will the Dongria Kondh. So will the hundreds of thousands of tribal people who live in the forested heart of India, and whose homeland is similarly under attack...
The government has announced Operation Green Hunt, a war purportedly against the "Maoist" rebels headquartered in the jungles of central India. Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country where people are engaged in rebellion—the landless, the Dalits [so-called "untouchables"], the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers. They're pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people's land and resources. However, it is the Maoists who the government has singled out as being the biggest threat.
Two years ago, when things were nowhere near as bad as they are now, the prime minister described the Maoists as the "single-largest internal security threat" to the country. He revealed his government's real concern on 18 June 2009, when he told Parliament: "If left-wing extremism continues to flourish in parts which have natural resources of minerals, the climate for investment would certainly be affected."...
Right now in central India, the Maoists' guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa. They are people who, even after 60 years of India's so-called Independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress. They are people who have been mercilessly exploited for decades, consistently cheated by small businessmen and moneylenders, the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel. Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades.
It's not enough that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the notorious Naga Battalion have already wreaked havoc and committed unconscionable atrocities in remote forest villages. It's not enough that the government supports and arms the Salwa Judum, the "people's militia" that has killed and raped and burned its way through the forests of Dantewada leaving three hundred thousand people homeless, or on the run. Now the government is going to deploy the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and tens of thousands of paramilitary troops. It plans to set up a brigade headquarters in Bilaspur (which will displace nine villages) and an air base in Rajnandgaon (which will displace seven). Obviously, these decisions were taken a while ago. War has been in the offing for a while. And now the helicopters of the Indian air force have been given the right to fire in "self-defence", the very right that the government denies its poorest citizens...
What kind of war is Operation Green Hunt going to be? Not much news comes out of the forests. Lalgarh in West Bengal has been cordoned off. Those who try to go in are being beaten and arrested. And called Maoists of course. In Dantewada, the Vanvasi Chetana Ashram, a Gandhian ashram run by Himanshu Kumar, was bulldozed in a few hours. It was the last neutral outpost before the war zone begins, a place where journalists, activists, researchers and fact-finding teams could stay while they worked in the area...
The "Sri Lanka Solution" could very well be on the cards. It's not for nothing that the Indian government blocked a European move in the UN asking for an international probe into war crimes committed by the government of Sri Lanka in its recent offensive against the Tamil Tigers...
Last week, civil liberties groups from all over the country organised a series of meetings in Delhi to discuss what could be done to turn the tide and stop the war.
These are the people who the Union [All-India] home minister recently accused of creating an "intellectual climate" that was conducive to "terrorism". If that charge was meant to frighten people, to cow them down, it had the opposite effect. The speakers represented a range of opinion from the liberal to the radical Left. Though none of those who spoke would describe themselves as Maoist, few were opposed in principle to the idea that people have a right to defend themselves against State violence. Many were uncomfortable about Maoist violence, about the "people's courts" that delivered summary justice, about the authoritarianism that was bound to permeate an armed struggle and marginalise those who did not have arms. But even as they expressed their discomfort, they knew that people's courts only existed because India's courts are out of the reach of ordinary people and that the armed struggle that has broken out in the heartland is not the first, but the very last option of a desperate people pushed to the very brink of existence. The speakers were aware of the dangers of trying to extract a simple morality out of individual incidents of heinous violence, in a situation that had already begun to look very much like war.
People who had come from the war zones, from Lalgarh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, described the police repression, the arrests, the torture, the killing, the corruption, and the fact that in places like Orissa, they seemed to take orders directly from the officials who worked for the mining companies. People described the dubious, malign role being played by certain NGOs funded by aid agencies wholly devoted to furthering corporate prospects. Again and again they spoke of how in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh activists as well as ordinary people—anyone who was seen to be a dissenter—were being branded Maoists and imprisoned. They said that this, more than anything else, was pushing people to take up arms and join the Maoists. They asked how a government that professed its inability to resettle even a fraction of the fifty million people who had been displaced by "development" projects was suddenly able to identify 140,000 hectares of prime land to give to industrialists for more than 300 Special Economic Zones, India's onshore tax havens for the rich. They asked what brand of justice the Supreme Court was practising when it refused to review the meaning of "public purpose" in the Land Acquisition Act even when it knew that the government was forcibly acquiring land in the name of "public purpose" to give to private corporations. They asked why when the government says that "the Writ of the State must run", it seems to only mean that police stations must be put in place. Not schools or clinics or housing, or clean water, or a fair price for forest produce, or even being left alone and free from the fear of the police—anything that would make people's lives a little easier. They asked why the "Writ of the State" could never be taken to mean justice...
The forest once known as the Dandakaranya, which stretches from West Bengal through Jharkhand, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, is home to millions of India's tribal people. The media has taken to calling it the Red corridor or the Maoist corridor. It could just as accurately be called the MoUist corridor. Scores of corporations, from relatively unknown ones to the biggest mining companies and steel manufacturers in the world, are in the fray to appropriate adivasi homelands—the Mittals, Jindals, Tata, Essar, Posco, Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and, of course, Vedanta.
There's an MoU [Memorandum of Understanding—an agreement between government and corporate investors] on every mountain, river and forest glade: social and environmental engineering on an unimaginable scale. And most of this is secret. Somehow I don't think that the plans that are afoot to destroy one of the world's most pristine forests and ecosystems, as well as the people who live in it, will be discussed at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen...
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (aworldtowin.org), a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
Petition by the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality
To add your name to this, email email@example.com.
Juanita Young's son, Malcolm Ferguson, was killed by a New York City policeman on March 1, 2000. Since then Juanita has been deeply involved in the struggle for justice and to stop police brutality.
She and her family have come under repeated assault from members of the NYPD, increasing over this past summer, including a series of illegal raids on her home.
This is outrageous and intolerable.
We the undersigned DEMAND THIS IMMEDIATELY STOP!
All these attacks are outrageous, illegitimate and illegal. We say:
HANDS OFF JUANITA YOUNG! The NYDP must stop this intimidation and harassment of Juanita and her family. Speaking out against police brutality is no crime. But targeting someone in retaliation for speaking out is illegal.
From a statement from Juanita Young to supporters:
"Not only have my rights been violated in the most blatant ways, but I feel physically and psychologically terrorized. I fear for my safety, my very life, and the lives of my children and grandchildren."
(October 29, 2009)
We refuse to allow Juanita Young, this fighter against police brutality and injustice, to stand alone against this onslaught.
I add my name to this:
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
We received the following correspondence from a teacher in Texas who has worked for many years in inner city schools. This was inspired by what is said about the educational system in "The Revolution We Need...The Leadership We Have"
"And, despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall. While, particularly in some 'elite' schools there is some encouragement for students to think in 'non-conformist' ways – so long as in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system – on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful..."
I can confirm with concrete examples ad nauseum, until the cows come home, until Gabriel blows his horn, about how true that quote really is, concerning big lies told to youth.
They tell them, "you can work hard, keep your nose to the grind stone, get a good education, and you'll get a good job." In practice, the reality doesn't come anywhere near what they espouse. Administrators talk about "no student left behind," but when it comes down to it, the education system under capitalism-imperialism doesn't provide the means for each student not to fall behind.
For example, overcrowded classrooms are a concrete barrier to people learning. It's been shown that small classes are more effective, yet administrators insist on cutting teachers positions and maximizing profits by filling up fewer classes with more students. The bottom line is that schools get more tax money.
They don't spend money on things to meet the needs of the students. For instance, in my school air conditioning is something that you would take for granted. This summer was record breaking heat in Texas, but when school started, only about half the classes in my school actually had decent air conditioning, The rest need repair, but they hate to spend money on it. I worked for 3 weeks without air conditioning, with up to thirty students in miserable study conditions, where the temperature was probably around 85 degrees. They said the air conditioner had been checked and that it didn't need repair since it was blowing at 56 degrees. They finally fixed the air conditioning, but the assistant principal assured me that it would probably break down again sooner or later, implying that they fixed a broken leg with a band-aid.
They won't let you open the doors or windows to cool it off "for security reasons." They expect you to suffer in there in these inhumane conditions. It's not a surprise that kids can't concentrate, want to get up, go to the bathroom, get some water, wash their face, whatever. It causes disruptions that they say they want to avoid. Students have to deal with this on top of all the other problems they have before they even get to school.
And when they do get to school, as soon as they get off the bus, the first thing they have to do is line up single file and subject themselves to a thorough search, including their backpacks and book bags. Students have to go through a metal detector in search of not only weapons, but also cell phones, iPods or any electronic devices that aren't computer calculators for math class. Can you think of anything any more dehumanizing than being told you have get a shave before you can go to class? At first you think the big lie, that metal detectors can make the school a safer environment, so students can feel safe and secure in their classrooms, but really its just a form of crowd control and strips students of their humanity and self-esteem. The metal detectors are situated strategically around 5-6 major entrances, and every teacher is coerced at some point during the week to fulfill this duty. Teachers are forced into the position of playing policemen, making sure that every male student has his shirt tucked in, not wearing earrings, no gang related bandanas, and they got to be clean shaven. Literally thousands of students are herded like cattle through these metal detectors in a short period of time – about 15 minutes! – before moving on to their first classes. The metal detectors are just another example of the dehumanization they face every day. Many students accept these conditions as the way things are and unchangeable. Others put up some resistance, breaking rules and rebelling against the system. This leads a lot of kids to drop out of school.
Military presence at my school is overwhelming. Not only in the sense that there's always police present on campus, the schools even dedicate classroom space to police offices. The ROTC program is super strong. Recruiting agents are very active recruiting students to the army, navy, or marines way of life, painting beautiful futures, including full college scholarships and promising careers. School programs and campus presentations always include impressive ROTC drills and demonstrations. Recruiters have regularly scheduled visits to high school campuses. We know what the military really has to offer youth – death at an early age and imperialist destruction all over the world. It prepares you for imperialist war and expansion, not for any kind of future that you would want for even your worst students.
Textbooks and textbook distribution are still another example of how the educational system under capitalism robs students of a real education. First of all, textbook companies and testing agencies are multimillion-dollar corporations. The textbooks are written from a bourgeois perspective that supports the system, with the intent of indoctrinating students to accept the system as unchangeable. Ideally, students would get a textbook to take home, and then have access to a class set at school in their classes. In my school, after the first six weeks, only about 50-60% of the students have received their books, while the rest are still waiting. I can't check out a class set of books, because the textbook czar, a secretary/clerk who runs the bookroom, said someone decided that if my students can check out books, then I can't get a class set. So half the students have textbooks, half of them leave the book at home, so I'm basically teaching the class without a textbook.
Then they blame the teacher. It's a bitter insult for teachers as well as students. The educational system is a sham. It's built on lies, designed to fool people, not to bring about any changes. The only way is to overthrow the system, and fight for revolution.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #184, November 29, 2009
Inaugural issue now online! demarcations-journal.org
Demarcations: A Journal of Communist Theory and Polemic seeks to set forth, defend, and further advance the theoretical framework for the beginning of a new stage of communist revolution in the contemporary world. This journal will promote the perspectives of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.
Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement. Without drawing sharp dividing lines between communism as a living, critical, and developing science serving the emancipation of humanity, on the one hand, and other perspectives, paths, and programs that cannot lead to emancipation, on the other—whether openly reformist or claiming the mantle or moniker of "communism"—without making such demarcations, it will not be possible to achieve the requisite understanding and clarity to radically change the world. Demarcations will contribute to achieving that clarity.
In the wrangling spirit of Marxism, Demarcations will also delve into questions and challenges posed by major changes in the world today. The last quarter-century has seen intensified globalization, growing urbanization and shantytown-ization in the Third World, the rise of religious fundamentalism, shifting alignments in the world imperialist system, and the acceleration of environmental degradation. Demarcations will examine such changes, the discourses that have grown up in connection with them, and the ideological, political, and strategic implications of such developments for communist revolution. Demarcations will also undertake theoretical explorations of issues of art, science, and culture.
The inaugural issue of Demarcations opens with an extensive original polemic against the political philosophy and thought of Alain Badiou.
Send us your comments.