Voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
Behind the Federal Court Ruling:
On July 28, federal judge Susan Bolton issued a ruling that "enjoined"—temporarily prevented—Arizona from enacting four major sections of a vicious anti-immigrant law SB 1070. Nine other provisions became state law on July 29.
After Bolton's decision was announced, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer immediately declared that she "will not back down" and said the court's injunction was merely a "bump in the road." She ordered the state to file an appeal in federal court. A hearing on the appeal is expected in the fall in federal court in San Francisco, and lawyers for both sides have said they expect this case to go to the Supreme Court.
The federal court ruling put some of the most notorious provisions of SB 1070 on hold. These provisions include the requirement that police question everyone they stop, arrest, or detain, if they have a "reasonable suspicion" about their immigration status. Other provisions that Bolton enjoined include those that make it a state crime for immigrants not to apply for "registration papers," to "look for, or solicit work," and to allow the police to make warrantless arrests if they had "probable cause" that the person was "removable from the U.S."
Bolton's ruling upheld very repressive portions of 1070 (officially called the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act"). It allowed to go into effect portions of the law that make it a criminal act to "harbor and transport illegal immigrants." For instance, if someone were to pick up an immigrant crossing the desert and dying of thirst and provided them with transportation to get water, she could be prosecuted under this provision. Bolton's ruling also upheld portions of the law that allow residents of Arizona to sue any state official, agency or political subdivision for adopting a policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration law to less than the full extent permitted by federal law. This provision was aimed, among other things, at preventing municipalities from becoming "sanctuary cities." Arizona cities—including Phoenix, Mesa, Chandler, and Tucson—are considered sanctuary cities because they have laws limiting or prohibiting the cooperation between their local police departments and immigration officials.
Also in effect: provisions of the law that make it illegal for an individual who is "in violation of a criminal offense" to knowingly (1) transport or move or attempt to transport or move an alien in a means of transportation in furtherance of the alien's unlawful presence in the United States; (2) conceal, harbor or shield or attempt to conceal, harbor or shield an alien in the state; and (3) encourage or induce an alien to come to or live in Arizona.
In striking down some of the most egregious provisions of the law, particularly those that essentially converted Arizona police into federal immigration agents, the court's reasoning was not that those provisions were inhumane. The court did not rule that these provisions in the law constitute fascist, police-state terror against anyone who supposedly looks like an undocumented immigrant. The federal court ruling was made on the basis that the enjoined provisions interfered with, or stepped on the federal government's role, including in setting foreign policy.
There have been significant and important protests in Arizona, and protests against SB 1070 around the U.S. and in Mexico as well. Courageous youth and others, mainly Chicano and Mexican, braved phalanxes of police and took to the streets. Some chained themselves to state buildings. Dozens were arrested. (See "Resistance in Phoenix.")
Around the country, artists, athletes, and even many local governments spoke out against the law, and declared boycotts of the state. By early May, the Arizona Hotel and Lodging Association announced that 19 conventions, and numerous concerts, had been cancelled by organizations and people opposed to the law.
The Border Governors Conference, an annual meeting of the governors of Mexican and U.S. states along the border that had been scheduled to be held in Phoenix, was cancelled by Arizona Governor Brewer after the leaders of six Mexican states said they would not attend a meeting in Arizona.
And yet, the attacks on immigrants have escalated.
The stated overall purpose of 1070 was to drive immigrants—people who have worked the most back-breaking, low-paying jobs in the rapidly growing state for years—out of Arizona. As Section I of the law states, "The intent of SB 1070 is to make attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona... and the provisions of this act are intended to work to discourage and deter the unlawful entry and presence of aliens and economic activity by persons unlawfully present in the United States."
From April 24, when Governor Brewer signed this bill into law, through the recent federal court ruling, the system's fascist attack on immigrants has gained deadly ground. Nine of 13 parts of the draconian, extremely repressive Arizona law were upheld—that is NOT good. And already, SB 1070 has ratcheted up the level of terror facing immigrants in Arizona. Many have been driven from the state. For those who remain, conditions evoke those described in the Diary of Anne Frank—a young Jewish girl who hid in an attic in the Netherlands for years in an attempt to avoid being rounded up by the Nazis in World War 2.
And the terms of "debate" over immigration have been further driven to the right. So-called moderate Senator Lindsey Graham is proposing to overturn the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that gave citizenship to former slaves and others born in this country. Barack Obama—the so-called defender of immigrants—followed up his major speech on immigration by saying he is sending more troops to the border, which is bound to result in even greater numbers of people dying attempting to cross. ("Needed: Mass Opposition to Attacks on Immigrants," Revolution #207, July 18, 2010)
These developments call for a clear-eyed and sober assessment of the situation, and even more determined struggle. And beyond that, there is a need to confront, and act on, what is required to fundamentally change this whole situation.
On July 6, the Obama administration filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against SB 1070. The essence of their suit was not that the Arizona law mandated profiling of people because their skin is brown, or because of their accent or the language they speak, or the clothes they wear, or any other reason the police claim to be "reasonably suspicious." The Obama administration objected to the law on the basis that enforcement of immigration law is a federal, not state, mandate or responsibility.
The lawsuit filed by Obama's Department of Justice focused not on the obvious "ethnic profiling" that is part and parcel of 1070, but instead solely on the question of who is responsible—the federal or state and local governments—for repressing and controlling immigrants.
The contending arguments to the federal court from backers of SB 1070 and the Obama Justice Department reveal real divisions among the ruling class. But those divisions are over how to handle what "both sides" see as a so-called "immigration problem." But both sides in this dispute are in agreement on some basic and fundamental things.
The entire U.S. ruling class sees the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants as a source of highly exploitable labor. In 2009, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan testified before the Senate that "illegal immigration makes a significant contribution to U.S. economic growth by providing a flexible workforce," and provides a "safety valve" as demand for workers rises and falls. "There is little doubt that unauthorized, that is, illegal, immigration has made a significant contribution to the growth of our economy," Greenspan concluded.
Further, there are significant international implications at stake; in particular, it is vitally important to the international dominance of the U.S. ruling class to maintain a semblance of stability in Mexico. Remittances from Mexicans in the U.S. to their families in Mexico accounted for $21.5 billion in 2009. As the column "Spotlight" in the journal Southwest Economy points out, "The money from abroad is important for many families in poorer regions of Mexico, such as the south and west."
The entire U.S. ruling class ALSO sees immigrants as a potential political force strongly opposed to the government. They demand that immigrants be forced "out of the shadows," identified, and tightly controlled. "Liberal" Congressman and supposed champion of immigrants rights, Luis Gutierrez, told CNN's Anderson Cooper, "Let's register them with the government, so we know who the good and the bad ones are, and we can keep the good ones and get rid of the bad ones." The Democrats hope to corral "the good ones" (in the words of Gutierrez) into the suffocating confines of the two-party electoral system, and this leads them to adopt less openly repressive and anti-immigrant tactics.
Yet, even within these fundamental areas of agreement within the ruling class, there are very intense disagreements. The forces that backed SB 1070, and the whole fascist network of Tea Partiers, Minutemen, and neo-Nazis... and their sponsors in high places, see this situation as a way to further whip up and enflame a fascist base united around this being a "white man's country." While a few Republicans still hope to win Latino votes, the bulk of the party has shifted to this view.
As a recent article in Revolution said: "The heart of the program of these fascists is to restore or return to that original social contract—with its male supremacy and white supremacy—which they associate with a time when the U.S. was 'riding high.' In fact, many even wax nostalgic about the Confederacy when the only reason for its existence was to defend slavery. In their view, if it takes establishing a fascist regime to do it, so be it."
The "brains" behind this movement, the more sophisticated reactionary political operatives, almost certainly want to retain at least some of this highly exploitable section of workers in some form. But these sections of the ruling class have incited and inflamed a rabid, nativist movement with something of a life of its own. They have been taken off their leashes. What that will mean is not fully predictable, but it is very alarming and ominous.
Obama, and the forces within the ruling class he represents, have approached what they call the "immigration problem" with similar goals, but different methods. And, they argue, they have produced "results." Obama's "stealth raids" on workplaces have taken the form of letters to companies demanding mass firings, not highly visible workplace raids characteristic of the Bush years, but have resulted in more people losing their jobs. Far more people have been deported in the first years of Obama's administration than during any year of Bush's presidency—287,868 in 2009 alone.
And the Obama administration has continued and intensified a deadly military build-up along the U.S.-Mexico border. In July, Secretary of Homeland Security (and former Arizona governor) Janet Napolitano announced that the government was sending "mobile surveillance systems, thermal imaging binocular units, and trucks equipped with detection scopes, as well as observation and utility aircraft" to the Tucson sector of the U.S.-Mexico border. (Arizona Republic, August 7, 2010) This year alone there have been two outright murders by U.S. police or border agents along the border. And countless people have died trying to cross harsh mountainous desert of the Arizona-Mexico border region.
The importance of maintaining a unified national policy on immigration was in fact a theme running through much of Judge Bolton's ruling on 1070. Bolton's ruling expressed concern about "intrusive police practices that might affect international relations and generate disloyalty."
Key figures behind or promoting 1070 see Bolton's injunction on 1070 as a gauntlet thrown down before them. In an email to supporters, Arizona state senator Russell Pearce, one of 1070's sponsors, wrote that "Judge Bolton's temporary injunction against parts of the law is a minor setback, but Arizona will fight this in court until we prevail ... SB 1070 is the law of the State of Arizona ... By siding with lawbreakers and undermining the Democratic will of the American people, I'm tempted to call Obama and his lackeys domestic enemies. At the very least he is more concerned about what America's enemies think about SB 1070 than the American people." (Border Issues: Mexico, Aug. 3, 2010, www.borderissues.us)
The fact that a rising star in the Republican Party can call Obama a "domestic enemy" speaks volumes. Such talk is part of a whole strategy to de-legitimize Obama and the Democrats—to call into serious question their "right to rule"—and this kind of move both reflects the sharpness of contradictions among the rulers over how to rule, and carries with it the risk for the ruling class that at some point the legitimacy of the ruling class as a whole can be called into question... by the further unfolding and development of the situation (in connection with other things going on in society) and the political work of revolutionaries.
Meanwhile, the infamous and sadistic Joe Arpaio, sheriff of Maricopa County (Phoenix and its surroundings), made it clear that he intends to continue raids and sweeps of immigrant communities despite the injunction, announcing that "not much is really going to change, other than the fact that if we come across an illegal alien that doesn't have a state charge, now we can arrest them and book them into the jail or turn them over to ICE; so that's the only little extra hook, but we're going to continue to do our job." (ABC News interview, July 28, 2010)
The conflict between different groupings in the ruling class over the best ways to control, exploit and terrorize immigrants cannot be the only struggle on the map! Here it must be said that the revolutionary communists, for our part, recognize in immigrants one potential base for revolution. Many bring with them a first-hand knowledge of, and hatred for, how imperialism has plundered and dominated their home countries. Many also bring the bitter experience of grinding exploitation within the imperialist countries themselves. The revolution seeks to unleash this potential as part of a movement for revolution—not to suppress it, whether by brutal pogroms like those of the Republicans or the silent raids and militarized border of Obama and the Democrats. In opposition to the open wolf-like fascism of the Republicans and the more fox-like repression of the Democrats, we further seek to rally all people to support the basic and fundamental rights of immigrants to live free of brutalization, repression and discrimination. The movement for revolution is an internationalist movement—one that stands for, and lives out, the principle of equality of all nations. This is in sharp contrast and diametrical opposition to both the Republicans and Democrats.
In regard to the crisis around Arizona, the whole terms of things have to change. Something unapologetically representing the interests of the masses must come to the fore. The presence of the movement for revolution must be stepped up, and there must in general be much more resistance, from immigrants and non-immigrants alike. This resistance must involve a whole host of political views, and there must be struggle within it over the real source of the problem and the real pathways to solution. To this point, thousands have courageously opposed demonization and terror inflicted upon immigrants, and the revolutionary stand has begun to get out there. But much more is needed.
At stake here is what kind of world we want, and are willing to fight for, and to live in. Will it be a world where people are hunted down and persecuted, separated from their families and loved ones, driven from place to place, penned up and displayed for public humiliation, forced to trek across burning deserts without food or water in a desperate struggle to find a menial job? The intense conflicts between different sets of oppressors can contribute to bringing about rare opportunities for revolution. But the terms of the divide within the U.S. ruling class cannot set the limits of how all this will be resolved.
Banners with the slogan, "We Don't Have an Immigration Problem, We Have a Capitalism Problem" were taken out everywhere the volunteers with Arizona Freedom Summer went─and everywhere they went, the slogan challenged, startled, amazed, or angered people. On July 27, this went to another level. A billboard with that slogan, with the address revolutiontalk.net, went up on Interstate 17 in central Phoenix. The billboard attracted a lot of attention, and generated widespread controversy. The website of the fascist vigilante group "Well Regulated Militias" posted the billboard and their site now opens with the headline "We Don't Have a Capitalism Problem, We Have a Socialism Problem." The billboard was also attacked by prominent right-wing radio talk show host Michael Broomhead. On the other hand, pictures of the billboard were published in numerous articles in Spanish language media, including La Prensa Hispana, the largest Spanish language newspaper in Arizona, which called it a "spectacular announcement."
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
Leading up to July 29, the day when SB 1070 was set to become law, the eyes of the country, and even many around the world, were on Arizona.
A Phoenix group called Puente said they were asking "the city of Phoenix ... not to comply with this law. This law is a racist law, an apartheid law." Local clergy prepared vigils and services in support of the federal lawsuit. Alto Arizona, which formed in response to 1070, had begun "organizing and preparing to mount the political, legal, and economic pressure needed to restore constitutional protections to the state." Busloads of people from Los Angeles, and groups and individuals from throughout the country, prepared to come to Arizona to protest 1070, and calls for non-compliance with the law were issued.
Artists stepped into the fray. Rage Against the Machine, Black Eyed Peas, Conor Oberst, and others announced a boycott of Arizona and organized a concert in Los Angeles to raise money for "Arizona Organizations Fighting 1070." On the other side, Elton John—fresh from being the troubadour at Rush Limbaugh's wedding—announced at a Tucson concert that artists against 1070 are "fucking twits."
Joe Arpaio, infamous sheriff of Maricopa County, held a "grand opening" for a new section of his notorious "Tent City" prison, and called it "Section 1070." "I am ready," Arpaio announced. "Section 1070 is ready. There will never be the excuse that this jail hasn't enough room for violators of SB 1070." Arpaio also said that a "crime suppression sweep" was scheduled for July 29.
Meanwhile, the sun-baked streets of Phoenix were unusually empty in many parts of town. The L.A. Times reported on July 26 that in the once bustling neighborhood of west Phoenix "the vast shopping center ... is almost empty. The Food City supermarket closed this spring. Then the furniture shop. Then the pizzeria. The giant apartment complex across the street, once brimming with tenants, is two-thirds vacant. David Castillo, co-founder of the Latin Association of Arizona, said 'Brewer signed the law, and everything fell apart.'"
Wednesday morning, July 28, Judge Susan Bolton announced her ruling. People soon began gathering at the Federal Courthouse and the State Capitol in downtown Phoenix. Initially the mood was mainly celebratory and festive. For many, that began to change as people looked closer at what Bolton had actually ruled, and as Arpaio continued his bluster and his attacks on the people.
On the night of July 28, about 70 people in Guadalupe—an unincorporated area of Maricopa County that has been particularly hard hit by Arpaio's raids—held an impromptu celebration. Avenida del Yaqui was barricaded and all traffic kept out for two hours. One woman said, "We do understand that not all of SB 1070 was passed. But that doesn't mean it's all right. Regardless of what the law says, we're all human beings. We shouldn't be treated as something else."
On Thursday, July 29, hundreds of people marched and rallied against the implementation of Arizona's fascist repression of immigrants embodied in SB 1070, and against its chief enforcer, Joe Arpaio. Some sought ways to resist the raids, going into areas targeted for sweeps to stand with immigrants and stand up against the raids being carried out.
A young woman who had traveled from Oregon stated why she came: "I think this is one of the defining struggles of our generation, so we have to stand up, fight for what is right, for basic truths."
Dozens of people, including religious activists who are appalled by the dehumanization of immigrants in Arizona and throughout America, were arrested. Several members of Puente were also arrested Friday at a protest outside the main county prison complex in southwest Phoenix.
People came to these protests from diverse backgrounds. One young white man, a former marine, said: " is going to sweep up everybody, even if all it did was sweep up 100 percent undocumented immigrants it's disgusting and wrong. So I think part of the way forward, is we have to continue to build, we have to make connections with different movements."
A Chicano youth who has relatives and friends from Mexico and feels an obligation to stand up for them told Revolution, "I do know that we will not leave. We will be here forever. And there should be no borders anywhere. Especially the kinds of borders that people are putting upon our people, our society, our communities. And that should not be even existing. So all I know is that we will be continuing to fight for our rights."
Protests also took place in Tucson, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Mexico City, and other cities in the U.S. and Latin America.
Arizona Freedom Summer (AFS) was in the middle of this mix, taking out Revolution newspaper, the Message and Call from the RCP, "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," and with a plan for people to resist.
The plan AFS brought to people included a call to: Stop Sweeps and Deportations!; No Deportation Zone. On July 29, in one neighborhood where many immigrants live, a vision was put forward of numbers of people putting up "No Deportation Zone" signs in their windows and people actively finding the ways to make this a reality. The message of Arizona Freedom Summer and Revolution newspaper was brought to people throughout the city; and a call went out to people to start their own No Deportation Zone.
On Monday, July 26, over 40 people, mainly Mexican immigrants, gathered in Phoenix for the first of two speakouts called by AFS against SB 1070 and its fascist assault on immigrants. The next night, over 20 came to a library in the university town of Tucson. The two crowds were different, but they shared a similarity of purpose─stopping 1070 and putting an end to deportations.
Squads from Arizona Freedom Summer went throughout the city: to barrios of Mexican and Chicano proletarians; to a pro baseball game; to a nightlife area in Tempe. Some people were enthusiastic about the message, even though many immigrants are fearful of the shit coming down. Contempt for Arpaio is palpable. Some people, like at the baseball game and in Tempe, shouted insults and told AFS volunteers to "go back to where you came from." Some youth even thrust Nazi salutes when they realized what AFS was about. Maybe most surprising was the number of people in Tempe who claimed not to know much about the issue.
To many people against 1070, the AFS was like "a wind at their backs." A youth on the AFS squad described how he encountered various youths who were frustrated with the level and type of protest against such a vicious assault as 1070. "What you're talking about, about the need for revolution and the need to even start thinking about revolution, is something I've been thinking about and talking about to my friends. I told my friends there's a need to do more than the kind of protest we've been doing. This is what I've been looking for."
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
At every point, we must be searching out the key concentrations of social contradictions and the methods and forms which can strengthen the political consciousness of the masses, as well as their fighting capacity and organization in carrying out political resistance against the crimes of this system; which can increasingly bring the necessity, and the possibility, of a radically different world to life for growing numbers of people; and which can strengthen the understanding and determination of the advanced, revolutionary-minded masses in particular to take up our strategic objectives not merely as far-off and essentially abstract goals (or ideals) but as things to be actively striven for and built toward.
The objective and orientation must be to carry out work which, together with the development of the objective situation, can transform the political terrain, so that the legitimacy of the established order, and the right and ability of the ruling class to rule, is called into question, in an acute and active sense, throughout society; so that resistance to this system becomes increasingly broad, deep and determined; so that the "pole" and the organized vanguard force of revolutionary communism is greatly strengthened; and so that, at the decisive time, this advanced force is able to lead the struggle of millions, and tens of millions, to make revolution.
Fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution.
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
On August 6, 1945, the U.S. unleashed the atomic bomb on humanity. The world's first use of nuclear weapons, against the Japanese city of Hiroshima, was followed on August 9 by the bombing of Nagasaki.
The two atomic bombs dropped at the end of World War 2 were deliberately set to explode high in the air. The point was to maximize the killing, not the destruction of buildings. More than 110,000 people died immediately in the two bombings and the radiation eventually killed hundreds of thousands more. Many years of painful death by cancer and later birth defects lay ahead for the survivors and their descendants.
If terrorism is defined as the killing of innocent civilians for a political purpose, then the world has seldom seen such terrorism. Think of September 11, 2001 in New York multiplied by 40 times and you will only imagine the first few seconds.
Shortly after, Japan surrendered. But its economy and capital city, Tokyo, had been destroyed even before the atomic bombs reduced two militarily unimportant cities to towns of the dead. Many historians believe that the country was on the verge of surrender before those terrible days in August 1945. The main reason the U.S. wanted to use atomic weapons was to demonstrate its strength to threaten the USSR. The Soviet Union was then a socialist country. It had been allied with the U.S. against Germany and Japan during the war, but even before that war was over, the U.S. was baring its teeth to the USSR and setting out to dominate the world.
Before World War 2, bombing civilians was considered a barbaric and illegal act. The U.S. was not the only nation to commit that crime in WW2, but along with the British it did so on an enormous scale. Since then the U.S. has threatened to use nuclear weapons on dozens of occasions, not only against the USSR when that country later became an imperialist rival to the U.S., but also against Vietnam and China. That the U.S. would make first use of nuclear weapons whenever it felt its interests sufficiently threatened has been official U.S. doctrine, and the cornerstone of American military policy, from the 1950s through today.
In other words, massive death and unbelievable suffering rained down on men, women and children—even nuclear holocaust and, yes, quite possibly the end of human civilization—all this is justified to defend "the American way of life." And, as we wrote recently while talking of nuclear disarmament, Obama has made clear that in practice the U.S. still follows this doctrine, especially today in regard to Iran.1
This system—this way of life—has been a horror for humanity. The Revolutionary Communist Party's Message and Call puts it clearly: "This system needs to be swept aside...its crimes against humanity stopped cold...its institutions dismantled, and replaced by ones that empower people to build a new society free of exploitation and oppression." ("The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," available at revcom.us)
Editor's note: Much of the content here on the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is drawn from the article, "The Nuclear Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: Not Just History," distributed by A World To Win News Service, Aug. 2, 2010.
STOP THINKING LIKE AMERICANS!
1. See "Obama Speeches at West Point and Oslo: More Troops in Afghanistan and Preserving U.S. Nuclear Dominance... Is This the Path to Ending the Horrors of War?" by Larry Everest, Jan, 17, 2010, available at revcom.us. [back]
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
from Chapter 2: One Nation Under God – A '50s Boyhood
We got a television when I was fairly young. Saturday mornings I used to like to watch "The Andy Devine Show, brought to you by Buster Brown Shoes." Andy Devine was this old, somewhat over-the-hill actor, and he had this kids' show; they used to advertise Buster Brown Shoes and some other things. But the main thing I remember about it was a puppet named Froggy the Gremlin. The highlight of that show was when Andy Devine would say to the audience, "Okay, kids, it's time now." And all the kids would get excited and start cheering, because they knew what was coming. Then he'd say, "Okay, pluck your magic twanger, Froggy," and there'd be this little puff of smoke and then this little miniature puppet of a frog would appear: "boing, boing, boing." He had this low-pitched sort of frog voice and he'd go, "Hiya kids, hiya, hiya hiya," and the kids would come back, in their high-pitched voices, "Hi Froggy." Froggy was an imp and they'd bring on guests who were shills for him. There would be Mrs. Pillsbury, say, who'd give a lecture about how to bake cookies. She'd go "Now, kids, you take the flour and you put it in a bowl, and then you put in some eggs and milk, and you stir it up and . . ." Then Froggy the Gremlin would say, in this low, insinuating, mischievous voice, "And you pour it on your head." Then Mrs. Pillsbury would say, "That's right, you pour it on your head"—and she'd pour it all over her head. Then, when she realized what she'd done, she'd yell, "Oh Froggy!" and he'd go "Haw, haw, haw." You had to be there as a nine-year-old kid at the time, I guess, but to me it was hilarious. I looked forward to that every Saturday morning. Every kid—at least the ones I knew—wanted to be like Froggy the Gremlin. But I think I actually carried that more into practice than some other kids.
When I got into junior high school, I developed this unique voice of my own, which was kind of like the Froggy the Gremlin voice but a little different, and I would cut up in class and disrupt the class in this voice whenever the teacher would turn his or her back. Then I taught a friend of mine to do the voice. At one point we were taking a test, and he did that voice. He was sitting two seats behind me in the same row and ironically the teacher made me stay after school in detention, because she was convinced that only I could do this, and no one else. I tried to just tell her I didn't do it—I wasn't going to rat out my friend, but I kept insisting, "I didn't do it, I didn't do it, somebody else did it." She wouldn't believe me, of course. But I got a lot of inspiration from Froggy the Gremlin.
... When I was 13 or 14, my father took me on a trip to L.A. One day he had to go off to a meeting or something, so I went downtown to an area modeled after Hyde Park in London—I think they even called it Hyde Park. People gathered around giving talks, up on little soap boxes. Anybody could get up and talk, and some people were giving talks refuting the existence of god and putting forward atheism. I think that's the first time I heard somebody put forward a coherent atheist position publicly like that, and even though the people were adults, I got up and argued in refutation, or attempted refutation, of their atheism. That's one of the first public speeches I remember giving. I wasn't one of these religious fundamentalist reactionaries, but I was raised to be fairly strongly and fervently religious. And while it wasn't a big deal to me on a day-to-day basis, when it was hit at, I would hit back, because the things I'd been raised to believe deeply were being hit at, and this was like hitting me.
One time, when I was about 12, I met a Jewish kid while I was taking swimming classes. This was the first time I talked with a Jewish person about what we believed and didn't believe. And I remember saying very ingenuously—naively, and not with any malice, but just being shocked—when it finally dawned on me as he was telling me what he believed, "You mean you don't believe in Jesus Christ?" He very calmly and patiently explained to me that he didn't, and why. That was a shock to me. That was the first time that I'd heard someone put forward, face to face, in a personal conversation, that they didn't believe in the Christian religion that I'd been raised with. I wasn't outraged, I was just taken aback, I just sort of didn't believe it.
In elementary school we used to say the pledge of allegiance, and I didn't question it. I actually remember, when I was something like nine or ten years old, literally thinking to myself—I didn't physically do it, but I thought it—that I should get down on my knees and thank god for living in this great country that we live in, and I should be grateful that I don't live in one of those awful countries that so many people seem to have had the misfortune to be born in. This is literally what I was saying to myself. And talk about being religious, I remember I used to tempt god—I would say things like "fuck" to myself to see what god would do, then I'd pray for forgiveness because I'd said something awful. But I couldn't resist doing it again. A few minutes later, or the next day, I'd say "shit," because I'd already heard all these words from the older kids I was playing sports with. So, yes, it was very patriotic, very strait-laced—it was middle class America in the '50s.
To be continued
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
In our previous issue, Revolution began a series of excerpts from Bob Avakian's memoir, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey from Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist. We continue the series this week.
From the description of the book: "Bob Avakian has written a memoir containing three unique but interwoven stories. The first tells of a white middle-class kid growing up in '50s America who goes to an integrated high school and has his world turned around; the second of a young man who overcomes a near-fatal disease and jumps with both feet into the heady swirl of Berkeley in the '60s; and the third of a radical activist who matures into a tempered revolutionary communist leader. If you think about the past or if you urgently care about the future ... if you want to hear a unique voice of utter realism and deep humanity ... and if you dare to have your assumptions challenged and your stereotypes overturned ... then you won't want to miss this book."
We're running these excerpts to encourage everybody to take the memoir out broadly, as part of what they do all the time, and to introduce many more people to Bob Avakian. The memoir gives a real sense of why the Message and Call of the campaign "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" says of Avakian: "He is a great champion and a great resource for people here, and indeed people all over the world."
Some ways to get the memoir out:
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
"Damage Control" and the Real Damage Done
The Gulf of Mexico oil disaster is now officially the largest marine oil spill in world history. The damage that has been done is incalculable, and damage is still going on. But the government, which has lied about this crisis all along, is trying to tell people, "Move along, it's all over here."
A huge pool of oil and dispersants has covered large swaths of the Gulf, most under the water's surface. For more than 100 days, this toxic mess has been the environment in which thousands of marine species have had to try to survive. Six hundred miles of Gulf coastline have been hit, the grasses that hold the wetlands together have been bathed in oil and oil has been buried in sediments (materials found at the bottom of a body of water). Oil has spread across estuaries—the nurseries of life in the Gulf. Thousands of people have been poisoned, children sickened with burning eyes, rashes, nausea, and headaches.
BP, the government, and the mainstream media are saying that BP's cap on the well will hold and that the oil gusher may finally be stopped. Should we believe them? All of them have consistently lied about, minimized, and covered up this catastrophe at every stage. They have prevented independent observers from access to data and prevented independent investigations to verifying BP claims. But even if the well turns out to be finally capped, what has already unfolded is the largest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history. Waters rich with life are now polluted by at least 172 million gallons of oil and 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants.
Yet now, we are told by the federal government and the mainstream media that magically this immense toxic mass of oil has largely disappeared, and what's left poses little ongoing threat. That case is made in an August 4 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). A New York Times headline read, "U.S. Finds Most Oil From Spill Poses Little Additional Risk."
White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs claimed, "I think it's fairly safe to say that because of the environmental effects of Mother Nature, the warm waters of the Gulf and the federal response, that many of the doomsday scenarios that were talked about and repeated a lot have not and will not come to fruition."
BP has already scaled back clean-up efforts, even as on August 1 Louisiana authorities cited dozens of reports of oil as sheen, tar balls, and thick goo spread across five parishes (counties) in the Mississippi Delta region.
The truth is that the gush of oil may be stopped, but this catastrophe is far from over. The line that there is little threat is an outrageous lie. Disastrous consequences—to people's health, to their livelihood and ability to even continue to live in the places they love, to the beautiful and rich ecosystems of the Gulf—are only beginning to be felt and will continue for years to come.
Those claiming we can now "put all this behind us" are representatives of the same government and the same capitalist system that allowed BP to drill 5,000 feet deep in the ocean without any plan for how to stop a gusher like this at this depth. They signed off on drilling without environmental review. They are the same ones that lied about the amount of oil pouring out. They attacked scientists who revealed huge plumes of oil in the Gulf. They speak for a government, and a whole system, that failed to respond in the way needed to this catastrophe.
Now they want everyone to "just move on" from a catastrophe which revealed the capitalist system's utter inability to protect the people and the ecosystems. Now they are attempting to walk away and cover up their crime. People must insist that the full scope of the damage be uncovered. This must be fought for, and people must demand that the needs of people in the Gulf and the ecosystems be met, that this disaster be addressed and stopped. (See box on "100 Days of Outrage")
NOAA's report says 74% of the oil that poured from the gusher has been captured, burned, dispersed, evaporated, or "dissolved," and 26% is left in the Gulf.
Even if NOAA's figures were to be accepted, over 100 million gallons (of a total of 206 million) remains in the Gulf in one form or another. This is no case for "the threat is behind us." About half of this 100 million gallons is oil dispersed in the water, which NOAA claims is essentially no threat. This is untrue. A body of scientific evidence shows chemically dispersed oil is actually more toxic than oil alone (see below). And the toxic components of "naturally dispersed oil" are still present, just mixed into the water.
Scientist Samantha Joye, who first reported the underwater plumes of oil, has said that "the fact that this oil is 'invisible' makes it no less of a danger to the Gulf's fragile ecosystems. Quite the contrary, the danger is real and ... is much more difficult to quantify, track, and assess."
Many scientists have criticized the report for shaky methodology. Others said it was just putting a spin on things to make the Gulf and federal clean-up look as good as possible.
NOAA's report is being used to say there is little remaining threat, but the report says nothing about the effect of all this oil over months and months on all the life present in the Gulf! In fact, no government agency has yet to really study this. What is known is that this mix of oil with dispersants is very toxic, especially to the larvae and young life forms present in Gulf waters this spring and summer. This is an indictment of the total failure by this government, which concentrates the power of this capitalist system, to safeguard the environment.
BP and the government sprayed unprecedented amounts of Corexit dispersants to break up the oil on the surface and at the wellhead. Claiming dispersants were "less toxic than oil," they used the chemical to push the oil under the surface where the political cost of contamination would be less than oil hitting large portions of the coastline. What the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called a "trade-off" has meant sacrificing marine life.
A Scientist Consensus Statement on dispersants (available online at http://meriresrach.org) shows that Corexit dispersants mixed with oil "pose grave health risks to marine life and human health, and threaten critical niches in the Gulf food web that may never recover." Dispersants allow the toxic compounds of oil to pass more easily into the cells and tissues of organisms. Dispersed oil can damage "every system in the body," according to the statement. Human health effects include burning skin, difficulty breathing, headaches, heart palpitations, dizziness, confusion, and nausea. Chemically dispersed oil can cause serious and long-term impacts—lung, liver, and kidney damage; immune system suppression; and neurological damage in children and developing fetuses.
The EPA, the government agency charged with protecting health, has instead assisted BP in poisoning the Gulf and its people.
Even some scientists within EPA raised questions to supervisors about dispersants, but their concerns were disregarded. Despite saying BP should restrict dispersant use to "rare cases" a Congressional committee revealed that the Coast Guard approved requests from BP to spray dispersants 74 times in 54 days.
Another danger present in the Gulf is the potential for creating larger areas of dead zones, areas where marine life is killed off from lack of oxygen in the water. Joye's team, and other scientific teams, discovered oxygen levels within the oil plumes were 30-50% below normal. Microbes in the water feed on oil and methane gas (which also poured from the well), and use up oxygen as they feed on the oil. If oxygen drops too far, dead zones can be created. Dead zones already appear every summer in the Gulf and the oil disaster could make this worse.
Gulf food webs face real danger. Thousands of animals have been found dead—likely only a portion of those that died. Die-offs of fish and pyrosomes—a food organism that endangered sea turtles and others feed on—have been discovered. Scientists have found that droplets of oil have been incorporated into the shells of young crabs, a food mainstay for many organisms.
The 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, which poured 16 times less oil into the water than the Gulf spill, caused severe long-term damage to the ecosystems, much of which showed up years later. The spill had multi-leveled impacts. Toxic components entered the food web. Species like sea ducks and marine mammals suffered high mortality for years because they ate creatures contaminated by hidden oil and brought up buried oil when they dug for prey.
The government claim that similar or worse impacts won't happen in the Gulf is a cover-up. The Gulf catastrophe has devastated people's livelihoods—thousands of fishermen out of work, businesses shut down. Many fishermen involved in cleaning the oil face being thrown out of work again as BP scales back the clean-up. Whole communities of many diverse cultures have lived in the bayous of south Louisiana for generations or more. Now many are confronting whether they will be forced to leave, even if their communities will continue to exist, because the rich life in the marshes they depend on is being poisoned.
Many workers on the spill have gotten sick. Susan Shaw, a toxicologist with the Marine Environmental Research Institute, told CNN that shrimpers exposed to dispersed oil have reported heart palpitations, muscle spasms, and rectal bleeding. In a survey of 1,200 Gulf residents living near the coastline by a public health group from Columbia University, more than one-third said their children had problems with rashes and breathing, or are more nervous, fearful, or sad since the catastrophe.
* * *
Oil is an essential factor in the global capitalist economy, and control over that oil is critical to the dominant position of the U.S. empire. That—not the needs of humanity or the planet—has framed everything about this system's response to the Gulf oil catastrophe. Limited studies are done that blandly report results without any conclusions as to what real threats are or in a way that people can understand them. They downplay impacts on ecosystems and human health. They spin numbers to make things look good. Many things are simply not studied at all. The logic here is not to get at the truth, but to cover it up, and to get back to business as usual. Again, capitalist logic: the logic of the "bottom line."
This capitalist system has turned the Gulf into a laboratory filled with thousands of oil rigs. This is the Gulf's fundamental "worth" and "meaning" to this system. The environment is seen as simply a means to an end, its resources to be plundered and poured into production for profit. There is no long-term planning about the future dangers to the ecosystems. Everything is sacrificed to the need to get back to business as usual, especially to drilling for oil—which is a lifeblood of this system. This is, indeed, a system utterly unfit to be the planet's caretaker.
Now the skids are being greased to quickly overturn Obama's short-term and partial moratorium on deep water drilling and to "drill baby drill." Obama's "truth" commission is not even expected to wait until the moratorium ends in November to allow drilling to resume. Obama has made clear offshore drilling remains central to U.S. energy policy. Obama claims "the best science and the needs of people of the Gulf" is guiding the government response, but this is a hollow lie.
This is a huge crime in active motion. It must be opposed and resisted. Studies need to be done, people's health monitored and protected, people's livelihoods and communities need to be saved, and the damage to ecosystems addressed.
From the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster:
"100 Days of Outrage" Protests
July 30 marked the 100th day of the Gulf oil catastrophe. The Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster had issued a call for nationwide protest actions for July 30, "100 Days of Outrage Demand 100 Actions." Actions were organized on an emergency basis in just over a week. What follows is the beginning of the Committee's report on those actions. (The full report, and other news and information, can be found at www.stopgulfoildisaster.org)
On July 30, in the face of the headlines blaring across the country, "The well is capped and the crisis is over!," about 500 people, in some 21 different cities and towns across the U.S. (as well as Venezuela and Costa Rica), and from different walks of life and ages, took part in the Emergency Committee to Stop the Gulf Oil Disaster's "100 Days of Outrage Demand 100 Actions."
Some highlights: a UC Berkeley protest against BP's role in the Gulf and its partnership with the University, which got wide local coverage and broke into the national media; a half-dozen actions or contributions from Louisiana—ground zero in the crisis; a 265-stanza 100 Days of Outrage collective poem; letters from children to those affected; bike rides dedicated to the 100 days; photos and quotes from people sent to the Committee's website for posting; an hour-long radio program in Hawaii dedicated to the catastrophe...
A variety of people quickly stepped up to organize protests, events, or contributions across the country, sometimes creating new and unorthodox ways for people who don't usually "protest" to contribute. Reports from the day give a sense of how widespread is the deeply felt anger and heartbreak over the devastation to the environment, which we have just began to tap into, and the disgust people feel—principally at BP, but also at the government.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
On August 4, a federal judge overturned California's notorious Proposition 8—a reactionary ballot initiative passed in 2008 which declared same-sex marriage unconstitutional. The decision declared that all of the arguments against gay marriage were "irrational" and based on prejudice, and that it was Prop. 8 that was unconstitutional. This important victory was the first major legal decision upholding gay marriage in federal courts in the U.S. Crowds celebrated that night in San Francisco's Castro District streets.
Gay people have a fundamental right to marry: denying this not only strips their relationships of legitimacy in the eyes of the law, but also means that people will be blocked from access to financial, legal, and social rights that go with being married. Many have searing stories of the consequences of being denied marriage. One woman told Revolution during protests against Prop. 8: "I know what can happen if you really don't have marriage equality under the law and a lot of the rights that are bestowed on heterosexuals just for being married are just not granted. I know what can happen to you in a hospital, like my partner's dying and I can't come in the room, or my second cousin, who I haven't seen in 20 years, can come and take the house we built with our bare hands. It's not OK, it's not fair, it's not right and I would even say it's amoral." The battle for gay marriage has become a major focus of the battle against formal and informal discrimination, social rejection, and even murder that gay people in this country continue to face.
The new federal court decision comes after a years long battle in which LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) people have fought discrimination and oppression, have spoken out and come out, and have continued to do so in the face of a powerful assault by right-wing fundamentalists. Last October 11, hundreds of thousands of people marched in Washington, D.C. at the National Equality March. While five states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, others have passed laws banning it. In California, there has been a see-saw battle. In the November 2008 election, Proposition 8 passed after a huge effort spearheaded by right-wing Christian organizations. The Mormon church alone sent 25,000 organizers to California. Mormons, Catholics, and Protestant evangelicals threw in millions of dollars. The cost of the Prop. 8 campaign was second only to the national presidential campaign in that election. In the days following the passage of Proposition 8, tens of thousands marched in protest in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Proposition 8 itself came only six months after gay marriage had been ruled legal by the California Supreme Court in June 2008. In the months gay marriage was legal in California, 18,000 same-sex couples were married, including couples who had been together for 30 or more years, who had faced the constant threat of violence or even jail for just showing affection in public. When gay marriage was legalized in the state for the first time, there were big celebrations at city halls all over California; friends and strangers brought flowers and celebrated the breakthrough.
When word got out that Judge Vaughn Walker in the U.S. District Court for Northern California had overturned Prop. 8, one couple in San Francisco rushed to City Hall to get married right away, and many people gathered to support them. They were cruelly denied—for now, gay marriage in California is still on hold. This is completely unacceptable. It continues an intolerable situation.
The attack on same-sex marriage is driven by powerful ruling class forces who fear that granting legal and social recognition to gay marriage will deal this country a "terrible blow," as one spokesperson for Prop. 8 put it. They see a country in crisis, pulled by many seemingly intractable social and political problems, its cohesion fraying ideologically, and are convinced of a need to forcefully assert a solid, reactionary ideological core—anchored in a forceful reassertion of traditional patriarchal family values. The reactionary Concerned Women for America put it this way after Judge Walker's decision: "Marriage between one man and one woman undergirds a stable society and cannot be replaced by any other living arrangement." To which it must be posed: What KIND of stability is it that rests on ignorance, oppression, and discrimination?
As this ruling is appealed to higher courts, it is important to recognize the important role of LGBT people and their supporters who have dared to come out of the closet, refused to stay in the shadows, and taken to the streets to demand that same-sex love is completely valid and gay marriage should be fully recognized. The next steps in this battle are yet to be written, and more of this is needed, and with greater determination, from everyone who supports the basic and just demand for same-sex marriage.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
WikiLeaks has posted over 90,000 pages of U.S. classified material chronicling incidents in the war in Afghanistan from 2004 through 2009.
These reports are written by U.S. military personnel—which means facts and descriptions of what happened may be skewed, things may be left out, censored, covered up, etc. But this material clearly indicates the depth and extent of war crimes being committed by the U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Julian Assange, editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, told the BBC, "20,000 lives that have been lost in Afghanistan [are] documented and exposed by our material."
WikiLeaks—an international organization that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of otherwise unavailable documents while preserving the anonymity of sources—first released these documents to the Guardian in the U.K., Der Spiegel magazine in Germany, and The New York Times. These war logs are now available at wikileaks.org and there are more than 15,000 documents WikiLeaks has that have not yet been made public.
There is a lot of material in these documents covering different aspects of the war in Afghanistan that requires analysis. But one thing is clear. These war logs record details of many hundreds of civilian deaths that went unreported or were unaccounted for or consciously covered up.
The power of the material, Assange said, lies in its accumulation of small, previously unknown details rather than any disclosure of one large event. He said, "The real story of this material is that it is war, it is one damn thing after another. It is the continuous small events, the continuous deaths of children."
A U.S. General's View of Fun
General James Mattis is set to replace Petraeus as head of CENTCOM, with overall responsibility for the U.S. military in the Middle East and Afghanistan. At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Arizona Republican John McCain asked Mattis what effect the WikiLeaks documents will have on the "degree of candor" among military officers and senior NCOs in the field. Mattis replied:
"Sir, I would speculate that due to the urgency of the operations in a combat zone, it probably won't have much, because at the moment they're actually reporting, they're probably more eager to get the truth up the chain of command. That said, I just thought it was a—just an appallingly irresponsible act to release this information. It didn't tell us anything, that I've seen so far, that we weren't already aware of. I've seen no big revelations. One of the newspaper headlines was that it's a—the war is a tense and dangerous thing. Well, if that is news, I don't know who it's news to that's on this planet."
Note: This is the same General James Mattis who said in 2005: "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway, so it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them." (cited in New York Times, July 19, 2010)
The WikiLeaks documents include accounts of what, in military jargon, are called "blue on white" incidents—in which soldiers wound or kill civilians. For example:
And these are only a few examples of what is in the thousands of pages of documents.
These war logs also document how these war crimes are being covered up:
Again, these are only a few examples of what is in the thousands of pages of documents.
The accounts of civilian casualties in the WikiLeaks documents underscores a basic fact about the nature of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. This is a war to further and protect the interests of U.S. imperialism—not to liberate the Afghan people. This is a war for empire in which the U.S. has set out to dominate this strategically crucial region of the world with unchallenged military and political power. And with strategic goals in mind, U.S. occupation and intervention is digging in deep, pushing out and continuing to hold and expand military operations in countries throughout the region. A central goal in this war is subduing, by any means necessary, a population in which most don't want to be under foreign domination. The mission of the U.S. occupation by definition is brutal and murderous – no matter how much it tries to justify the war as "bringing democracy" or "freeing Afghan women" or other lies.
So what did Barack Obama, commander-in-chief over these war crimes, have to say about this damning evidence?
At his press conference about the WikiLeaks documents Obama said, "The fact is these documents don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan. Indeed, they point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall. So let me underscore what I've said many times: for seven years, we failed to implement a strategy adequate to the challenge in this region, the region from which the 9/11 attacks were waged and other attacks against the United States and our friends and allies have been planned. That's why we've substantially increased our commitment there, insisted upon greater accountability from our partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan, developed a new strategy that can work, and put in place a team, including one of our finest generals, to execute that plan. Now we have to see that strategy through."
So first, Obama is trying to downplay the significance of these documents. And at the same time, there are many things in these leaked documents that point to real problems the U.S. is having in Afghanistan, such as the reliability of government forces in Pakistan and the growing strength of the Taliban. And so Obama is saying that to the extent that there is relevant information here, it only justifies the continuation of more of the same and underscores the need to escalate troops and persevere in the current U.S. counterinsurgency strategy. The White House is also trying to dismiss the documents saying they only go through December 2009—the month when Obama ordered his "surge." But can anyone seriously argue that the kind of crimes revealed in the leaked documents have stopped? What about the fact that on Monday, July 26—the very day news of the WikiLeaks documents hit the headlines—it was reported that the week before at least 45 civilians, including many women and children, had been killed in a rocket attack by NATO-led forces in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province. And civilian casualties in Afghanistan due to U.S.-led troops have been at an all-time high in recent months.
Meanwhile the U.S. government is focusing—not on investigating the war crimes revealed in these documents—but on finding and prosecuting those responsible for telling the world about these crimes.
Rep. Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee called the release of these documents "disgraceful" and called for the prosecution of whoever is responsible, saying the leak amounts to a treasonous act. From the "other side of the aisle" Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that whoever leaked the documents "is a traitor and should be tried for treason."
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attacked Assange at a news conference saying that he and his sources "might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family."
Reminder: Mullen, who has been chairman of the Joint Chiefs since October 2007, was in charge in July 2008, when a U.S. air strike attacked an Afghan bridal party of 70 to 90 people, mostly women. The bride and at least 27 others, including children, were killed. Mullen was also in charge in August 2008 when a memorial service for a tribal leader in the village of Azizabad in Afghanistan's Herat Province was hit by repeated U.S. air strikes that killed at least 90 civilians, including women and children. And the list goes on. (See: "Whose Hands? Whose Blood? Killing Civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq," by Tom Engelhardt, August 5, 2010)
Clearly it is the U.S.—and not those exposing such war crimes—who have blood on their hands. And those responsible for such crimes keep trying to cover up their bloody tracks. Obama is not only continuing, but in fact intensifying efforts that went on under Bush to go after people responsible for government leaks.
The Department of Justice recently obtained an indictment against an NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake, who exposed serious waste, abuse and possible illegality. The DOJ also re-issued a Bush era subpoena to Jim Risen of The New York Times, demanding the identity of his source who revealed an extremely inept and damaging CIA effort to infiltrate the Iranian nuclear program. And an FBI linguist who leaked what he believed to be evidence of lawbreaking is set to go to prison for a term that could become the longest ever served by a government employee accused of passing national security secrets to a member of the media. Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, who is a critic of government classification policy, said, "They're going after this at every opportunity and with unmatched vigor." (see: Glenn Greenwald, "War on Whistleblowers Intensifies," May 25, 2010)
In the name of "state security" and the "safety of U.S. personnel" the Obama administration is trying to intimidate, muzzle and criminalize those who would expose, criticize, and indict U.S. policy and military operations. At the same time, the Obama administration opposes shield laws that are meant to protect reporters from being imprisoned if they refuse to disclose confidential sources who leak material about national security.
When Obama says there is nothing "new" in the WikiLeak documents, nothing that hasn't already been informing U.S. policy in Afghanistan—he is speaking some truth. He and his government have known about these war crimes, and more than that—the very nature of this war dictates that such crimes will continue as long as U.S. soldiers are in Afghanistan.
All of the people involved in releasing these WikiLeak documents are taking heroic actions to tell the world about the crimes U.S. imperialism is committing in Afghanistan. They are literally risking their lives. And it is up to anyone with a sense of moral responsibility to humanity—to not turn their eyes, to not change the channel—but instead to act with real resolve to put an end to such crimes.
Send us your comments.
Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
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.
Robert Perkinson is a professor of American Studies at University of Hawaii and the author of Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2008), a sweeping history of the U.S. prison system from slavery time to the present, with a particular focus on Texas. Revolution talked with Perkinson after a recent New York City book release event at Revolution Books.
Part 1: The Long Shadow of Slavery
Revolution: Your book goes deeply into the history and the current reality of the vengeful model of prisons in Texas. Can you give our readers some context and overview of what you lay out in your work?
Robert Perkinson: Texas is the most locked-down state in the most incarcerated country in the world. There has never been a nominally democratic country that has incarcerated such a great portion of its citizenry. And Texas has really been at the epicenter of that counterrevolutionary change that has swept American society over the last 40 years. We now have 2.4 million people in prison; 170,000 of them are in Texas, more than any other state. The promise, however fleeting, of rehabilitation has largely collapsed in our prisons and jails; they really are warehouses for the poor and the mentally ill and those addicted to drugs—those on the margins of society. My book looks at the whole sweep of American history, and the whole sweep of the prison and its entwinement both with politics and economy. It argues that the traditional history of the prison that typically tells a story rooted in the Northeast, a story of "good intentions gone awry," is really less important than the Southern story—which is not a story of good intentions gone awry but of bad intentions gone worse. Whereas in the North penitentiaries were built ostensibly to rehabilitate, in the South they were built to punish, to exploit labor, and to further solidify the racial divide. It is that model of imprisonment that has really come to the fore in our time.
Revolution: You write in the book that "in the realm of punishment, all roads lead to Texas." Your work is an in-depth examination of why that is, starting from the slave state days of Texas, and even before, and this is well worth studying. But can you draw out in broad strokes what you mean by "all roads lead to Texas"?
Robert Perkinson: There are two reasons why I think Texas provides the most illuminating case study of mass imprisonment. One is that it is the biggest, baddest system in the country. There are more people being executed, more people behind bars generally, more people in supermax isolation, more people in for-profit facilities than in any other state. It is also very much an embodiment of the Southern model of incarceration, so that most of its prison infrastructure is built on former slave plantations, precisely in the counties that had the greatest portion of slaves before emancipation. So the prison infrastructure very much grew out of the ruins of slavery, kind of phoenix-like.
But there is another reason too. You can find equal harshness and as prominent, if not more prominent, ties to the history of slavery in Louisiana or Mississippi, but the difference with Texas is that it has really had national political influence in a way that more backwater states, like Mississippi and Louisiana, never have had. By the latter half of the 20th century, Texas had perfected the plantation model of punishment, such that it became a conservative counterpart to the liberal, supposedly beneficent California regime. And as the country swung to the right politically, after the collapse of the Great Society, and after the war, and after the urban rebellions of the '60s, that Texas model became a template for the nation. So whereas policy makers and penologists had previously looked to Texas as kind of an anachronistic, throwback to the old South, it started to become not a backwater, but a beacon. And other states started following and copying Texas' focus on labor, cost-cutting, and exacting military-style discipline. All prisons are authoritarian, but really Texas was more totalitarian. So I argue that it really led the way in this punitive counterrevolution in American politics and penology.
Revolution: Can you get more into what you're raising about a link to slavery? In a section subtitled "The Long Shadow of Slavery," you note that while there are clear differences between literal enslavement and prisons, that "Texas prisons carried forth many of slavery's core practices and cultural traditions."
Robert Perkinson: Well, there are two ways that the ghosts of slavery live on in Texas politics and prisons. Most concretely you see it in the rhythms of daily life and the disciplinary practices of the institutions themselves. The form of labor organization under slavery was the gang-task system: there would be a white driver, sometimes even a slave driver, and then there would be a gang of workers that would go out to the fields to fill a certain quota over the course of the day. That style of labor fell apart and was replaced by sharecropping and tenancy in the South after the emancipation, and it survived only in Southern prisons—that's the only place that you still see that form of labor organization. (To a certain extent you still see gang-task labor management in some proletarianized, really harsh corporate farms in California, and some other places with disenfranchised immigrant field workers, but it has its purest forms in these prisons). So you still see long lines of, mostly African American, convicts being led out of the cotton fields by an armed white man on horseback, every morning before dawn; and they work essentially from dawn to dusk. The labor is less exhausting than it was before federal courts began intervening in the 1970s, but that is still very much a facet of the whole ethos of the prison. These prisons are all built on slavery blueprints.
We see traces of slavery in the rhythms of daily life and in prison culture as well: the time that meals are served (in accord with field conditions), the deferential and demeaning nomenclature, the insular rural white guard culture—passed down from father to son, and over the generations, from slave driver to corrections officer. So in a sense these prisons are cultural preserves, almost living museums in a perverse sense.
But the other way is in politics. First, it's important to dispel a common misperception: To a surprising extent there is very little correlation between how we deal with criminal punishment and prisons, and crime on the streets. There is very little correlation between rising crime rates and rising imprisonment rates. Sometimes they correlate, other times they don't at all. What really governs how we manage our prisons is politics, and in particular, racial politics (and to a somewhat lesser degree, class politics). What I found is that Texas' racialized prison politics took shape during slavery and has never escaped its shadow.
Finally, there's another way that history stretching back to slavery helps us understand the U.S. prison state. In the book, I argue that mass imprisonment represents an echo of what happened after Reconstruction. After emancipation, during the period of Reconstruction, there was this moment of flourishing Black freedom in American life—building churches, building schools, getting elected to office, integrating public facilities. And that was smashed by both a federal withdrawal of troops and protection and the formation of a terrorist militia, led by the Ku Klux Klan, that established Jim Crow segregation and lynching and convict leasing that endured for another century.
So there was this expansion and then a constriction of freedom, and what I argue is that we see the same thing happened after the Civil Rights movement. There is this flourishing of liberty with the Black Civil Rights freedom movement, so we see the whole infrastructure of Jim Crow segregation collapse, which was an astonishing accomplishment. But out of the rubble of that collapse, a new white conservatism emerged that turned not to segregation, but to the politics of law and order to govern this new integrated social order that conservatives had feared and fought against. And so you see the same jurisdictions that fought against integration most avidly have become our most avid jailers. In the same period that segregation statutes were swept from the books in Texas, for instance, you see drug penalties being ramped up, more resources being given to law enforcement, new prisons being constructed. It became the way the new conservative movement coped with integration, by this massive, police response. And we see obvious manifestations of that in the drug war, in the crack cocaine disparities, and the way politicians, like in the Willy Horton ads, were so effective against Mike Dukakis. But it's that politics of fear led by the right with the collusion of the Democrats, that has created a prison nation.
Revolution: In relation to the point about the prison boom as a response to the upsurges of the '60s, you cite a 1968 quote from H.R. Haldeman, Richard Nixon's top aide: "[the president said] that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognized this while not appearing to."
Robert Perkinson: I argue that the law-and-order response to desegregation really began with conservative Southern Democrats—the Strom Thurmonds of the world. They warned—if you go back and look at their quotes in the 1950s—that integration was going to unleash a terrifying crime wave, and they demanded a tough police response. So the reactionary Southern Democrats are the ones that really began this.
But then, pretty quickly the smartest strategists in the Republican Party realized that the Democratic Party was vulnerable. The Dems had this rock-solid hold on the South with an unwieldy coalition that included everyone from Black sharecroppers to white supremacists plantation owners. These folks were all voting in the same party (to the extent that Blacks were allowed to vote), and the GOP realized that as the Democrats were embracing the cause of civil rights, they could lose the support of angry anxious white voters, especially if Republicans made appeals in the idiom of law and order. Barry Goldwater was really the pioneer in that regard, copying the strategy first laid out by George Wallace.
Richard Nixon, then, was the first person that rode this "Southern Strategy" to power. He is the first person that really broke apart the Democratic coalition in the South, and began turning white southerners to the Republican Party, and that is now where they almost all reside. So that is in some ways what Nixon was talking about—he realized that a critical part of his electoral appeal was to harvest angry, often racist, conscious or unconscious, white voters; but in the post-Civil Rights era, you could no longer do that with crass racist demagoguery, you had to come up with a new way of appealing to that electorate.
Revolution: Aside from electoral strategies, there was a felt need at the top of the power structure to reverse what came out of the '60s.
Robert Perkinson: Yes, so it was real too. Crime rates were going up in the 1960s—even more than they were going up, the report of them were going up, because the government was keeping closer track. So it seemed that crime was going up even faster than it actually was. Like you say, the civil rights movement had achieved its immediate legal goals and...
Revolution: ...was growing into the Black liberation movement.
Robert Perkinson: Right, so there was a sort of radical wing of the Civil Rights movement, and people also started to talk about economic and social justice, not just civil rights. All of which was very threatening to those with economic and social power. So there was also this desire to ramp up law enforcement in response to the Black Panthers in particular, as a kind of domestic counterinsurgency. And this is really the era of global revolution too, so in their minds the Black Panthers, and the Viet Cong, and the Mau Mau, and all these radical organizations around the world, were swept into this—what they imagined to be this kind of communist boogie-man that they needed to repress by any means necessary.
Revolution: And this has had devastating consequences, especially in the oppressed communities and in particular Black and Latino youth.
Robert Perkinson: Well, the other thing that happens at the same time during this period is that as the right comes to power, the right slowly begins chipping away at the already anemic social welfare state, and that has had a particularly injurious effect on those at the bottom, and particularly Black Americans. We saw all of these tax policy changes during the Reagan administration that favored the wealthy and ultimately favored whites over Blacks, so at the same time that African Americans are being targeted by the drug war, intentionally or not, and being incarcerated in higher numbers, they are also being harmed as a general group by the whole gamut of economic policies. So we've gone from a helping hand style government to a closed fist—from carrots to sticks, from the Great Society to the Mean Society. There is a whole transformation, and that has had huge effects, even though by many measures the U.S. is so much less racist and much more tolerant now, than it was in say 1950. I mean, attitudes about interracial marriage and dating, and some of our superstars in sports and even our president have backgrounds that would have been unfathomable a century ago. Yet in some ways, especially by economic measures and most starkly of all by criminal justice measures, racism is alive and well. Racial division in some ways is as bad, almost, as it had ever been in the 20th century, certainly as bad as it has been anytime since the 1920s. There is a new study just out that the disparity in family wealth between Blacks and whites has quadrupled in the last 20 years. The racial disparities in criminal justice have almost doubled over the last 40 years. In some ways America is dispensing less equal rights now than before the civil rights movement, which is a pretty astonishing development.
Part 2: Warehousing of Prisoners and Dreams of Freedom
Revolution: What is the current situation with prison labor?
Robert Perkinson: If you go read prisoner memoirs from Northern prisons all through the 19th and 20th centuries, idleness is one of their central complaints. It's rarely a complaint that Texan or other Southern prisoners made, because they were worked to the bone, in very much the same style and with the same work quotas as had slaves. First, after the Civil War, they were worked for about half a century for private profit—almost all prisoners in the system, white and Black, were worked by private contractors, often to death, with African American prisoners being worked much harder and having higher work quotas than whites and sent to harsher work sites. And then when the states took over the system, around the turn of the century, that focus on labor exploitation as a way to cut costs and make the prison system almost—"self-sustaining" is the catch word that politicians used—continued all the way through the 20th century. And it only began to fall with the tremendous expansion of the system and federal court intervention in the late 20th century.
Now in the 21st century, they have had to build so many prisons—it went from like 20 prisons to 112 that they have in Texas now—a lot of them are just kind of concrete warehouses set up anywhere where the land is cheap. So the tradition of labor exploitation has finally begun to collapse into a warehousing regime, just within the last few years.
Revolution: While there is academic rigor in your research, you're also clearly passionate about this subject matter. How did you get into this area of study?
Robert Perkinson: I started working as an activist in college, working on all sorts of different causes in the '80s against the U.S. wars in Central America, against apartheid, against nuclear weapons. But I started noticing that every few weeks a new prison was opening, and the prison budget in some states was surpassing the higher education budget. More and more people were getting arrested for low-level drug possession, and more were going to prison for it. I started getting interested in that as a symptom of what was going wrong with the U.S. generally. So I started working as an activist—I did a conference on the drug war, and worked on the Mumia Abu-Jamal case for a while. And then in grad school I decided to take this on as a serious area of study.
I thought I would work on private prisons at first, but then finally when I started really reading, I decided what we really needed is to have a broad historical understanding of where this monster came from, in order hopefully to slay it. And so my hope is that, by illuminating the racial and fear-laden politics of prison politics, organizational strategies to try to change it will become more clear. My sense is that it is going to take not just tinkering around the edges, and technocratic fixes, or new studies showing we can save monies by this or that—rather, in the same way that this is a big change in American history, it is a big obstacle and it is going to take a lot to change it. In some ways I feel like it took a Civil War to end slavery, it took the Civil Rights movement to end Jim Crow segregation, and it will probably require another Civil Rights movement in order to transform the U.S. prison system.
Revolution: What is your view of the concept of the "prison-industrial complex," which is widely put forward?
Robert Perkinson: Yes, I used that term a lot as an activist. And it has been something that is kind of a very short phrase that encapsulates a critique of the criminal justice system. But the more that I started research and formulation of my own critique, I realized that it might encapsulate a critique in a slightly deceiving way. The suggestion with that term and its allusion to the military industrial complex—which itself was a term to try to explain the oversized influence of defense contractors on U.S. foreign policy and military spending—the presumption is that the profit motive and corporate greed, and for-profit prisons companies in particular, and to a lesser extent contractors and banks issuing prison bonds and so on, that they are really a driving force in the rise of mass imprisonment in the United States. I think all of that is a contributing force, but I don't find it credible that it is a driving force, because most of the economic forces in play are present in other countries of similar economies to the U.S., and there has been no comparable prison build-up elsewhere. We also see tremendous growth rates of imprisonment even in states where there is no private imprisonment, California notably.
So what I think we really have is more of a prison racist complex. And the suggestion in that term is that what we need to change is the poisonous racial politics in the United States. That is what needs to change for imprisonment politics to change. Whereas in the prison industrial complex, there is this supposition that if you could take the profit motive out of incarceration that somehow this system would teeter and collapse, and I don't think that is quite right.
Revolution: Increasingly in the prisons, as in society generally, fundamentalist Christianity is put forward as a so-called "alternative" to the dog-eat-dog mentality that's fostered by the prison system itself. What have you learned through your studies about this phenomenon in the prisons?
Robert Perkinson: Christianity has played a conflicted role in the history of prisons. On the one hand a lot of the prison reform movements, especially in the North but also in the South, have been led by Christian organizations preaching the ethic of mercy and forgiveness and helping those who are less fortunate. On the other hand, the Southern model of conservative Christianity that developed hand-in-hand with slave-owning emphasized deferring worldly pleasure for the afterlife, as well as submitting to god in the spiritual world and to your master or boss or husband in your daily life. It is that strain of Christianity based on submission and deferred rewards for those on the bottom, that is ultimately comforting to those in power and that has really started to gain a lot of official sanction in a number of prison systems. In fact there are all these evangelical right-leaning prisons that are being set up across the country, amazingly with tax dollars—in effect, they are forced Christian indoctrination camps for unfree people, where you will be rewarded if you adopt this strict fundamentalist theology. I visited one of these in Texas, and it is actually quite a nice prison compared to some other prisons, because there are more resources and there are free people coming in, women as well as men, and there are singing groups. But the theology that is imposed is very rigid, very Talibanesque (the Christian version). It is not quite big enough to have had a huge impact, so it is still early to know what the legacy of that will be.
Revolution: Your book is among books and other publications that have been banned from Texas prisons. Why did they ban it?
Robert Perkinson: It is quite sad because a lot of the book is based on extensive interviews that I did with prisoners who very generously shared their time with me. I worked with my publisher to set aside copies for these prisoners, and now they can't read it. The stated reason for the ban is quite twisted. There is a section towards the beginning of the book where I talk about the high rates of previous sexual victimization among female inmates. I tell this story of one prisoner who was raped as a child, and in a sentence in her words, she describes what happened to her. So the box that they checked in their censorship form is that the book depicts indecency with a child, so they lumped it into the same category as child pornography, even though this was a critique of abuse of children.
Revolution: You dedicate your book to "My friends in prison and their dreams of freedom." How have your interactions with prisoners affected you?
Robert Perkinson: It has probably changed my ideas so much that I can't even identify it all. I was very lucky; to their credit Texas prison authorities gave me quite generous access—so I was able to talk to hundreds of people, sometimes in snippets of conversations and other times really in depth. Some of the prisoners I interviewed for extended periods have really become intellectuals, and I shared with them some of my writing or at least my ideas, and they would present their critique. I would say "this is how I think the system works," and they would write back and say "no, I think it works this way." So there was a lot of back and forth in the same way that I have with other university professors and criminal justice professionals. So a lot of the prisoners became not just research subjects, but intellectual collaborators in the project.
I have gotten a chance to meet some in the free world after their release, and I hope to see many more.
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
A high-stakes trial is approaching in Chicago, August 24. The prosecution, with the active collaboration of some "ethical humanists," wants to put a volunteer videographer in jail for videotaping a statement by Sunsara Taylor at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC) objecting to her being "disinvited" to speak at ESHC on Nov. 1 ("EHSC Calls Police Against Videographer," Revolution #182, Nov. 8, 2009). The videographer faces a maximum sentence of almost three years in jail.
This story began when Sunsara was approached to speak at the EHSC by one of its board members after he saw her on a panel at Columbia College in Chicago in April 2009. The EHSC Program Committee approved and scheduled Sunsara's talk on "Morality without Gods" for Nov. 1 (as well as for a separate workshop the day before).
However, as the Nov. 1 date of Sunsara's long-scheduled talk approached, a small group within the EHSC spearheaded an underhanded campaign to subvert the Society's stated principles and have her talk cancelled.
Sunsara did speak at the EHSC on Oct. 31, at a well-attended workshop on Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity. The audience included the president and several board members of EHSC. At the beginning of her presentation, Sunsara made a statement condemning her disinvitation and calling out the silent acquiescence of too many EHSC members. She also clearly said she would return the next day, "prepared to give my talk and giving the EHSC the chance, up until the last minute, to do the right thing." The entire workshop was recorded by a volunteer videographer.
The next morning, Nov. 1, Sunsara and her videographer did return to the EHSC before the scheduled program billed as "free and open to the public" and were welcomed at the door like everyone else. A few minutes later, Sunsara stood by her chair to make a statement challenging her unethical disinvitation and inviting everyone interested in the truth about her views and this outrageous disinvitation to come hear her talk in exile. She was never told to leave. The videographer silently stood near her, documenting her on his iPhone.
As Sunsara was finishing and saying she was leaving, an undercover cop and a uniformed cop rushed into the room with other plans. They grabbed the videographer and roughly dragged him away, ripping his shirt to shreds. When a crowd of people called for the police to stop the brutality and let him go, one of the cops even threatened to spray everyone there with mace. The videographer was pushed to the ground face-first, handcuffed and maced directly in his eyes, and multiple cops piled on top of him. He now faces charges of criminal trespass, resisting arrest, and simple battery, for allegedly "striking" the undercover cop in the chest as he was being dragged, beaten and maced. As is typical in cases of police brutality and unjust arrest, the false charges are piled on as "cover charges."
In the face of growing opposition, the EHSC has continued to press charges against the videographer, and its leadership has spread more lies and distortions about both the circumstances of Sunsara's disinvitation and the events on Nov. 1. It has continued its quest to suppress discussion and debate about its unethical actions, working with the State's Attorney to file contempt charges against the videographer in an attempt to shut down his defense committee's website, www.dropthecharges.net.
A strong legal argument was made against the contempt petition and supporters filled the courtroom. The judge could not rule in favor of the contempt charges without exposing that he was violating the legal system's own supposed rules and rights. Still, he said, "This is not a time for drama. This is a simple misdemeanor case. That's all that this is..." Quite a statement to make while hearing a contempt petition for a political website! The judge threatened to hold the defense committee's efforts against the defendant, saying "He [the defendant] can ask [the committee] to cease and desist until this trial is over...[because] this is not helping his case." Despite this, the contempt petition was defeated and the committee continues to build opposition to this outrageous prosecution.
Much has been done to mobilize people to oppose this attack and turn it around. Some members of EHSC have spoken out and even quit in protest against this outrageous arrest and prosecution. Big debate about it broke out in the blogosphere, including on P.Z. Myers' top-rated science blog Pharyngula, where Myers strongly condemned the actions of the EHSC for violating the most fundamental principles of humanist ethics.
Support is greatly needed to defeat these outrageous charges. Visit the defense committee's website at www.dropthecharges.net to learn more and see what you can do to turn this attack around. In the Chicago area, attend the trial on Aug. 24 at 9:30 a.m. at the Cook County Courthouse, 5600 W. Old Orchard Road, Skokie, IL.
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
"We must spread the word to every corner of this country...giving people the means to become part of this revolutionary movement, and organizing into this movement everyone who wants to make a contribution to it, who wants to work and fight, to struggle and sacrifice, not to keep this nightmare of a world going as it is but to bring a better world into being." ("The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," A Message, and A Call, from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA)
Every week this newspaper lets people know about many activities to plug into to help build the revolutionary movement. But some people face a lot of obstacles, of one kind or another, in getting with some of the kinds of things we talk about doing. Some can begin to think that there is no room for them in this movement unless they are able to stand on a corner where they live or work or go to school and get out flyers, or otherwise publicly represent for the movement. But we can't let that be true!
Broadly building this movement for revolution will not be a straight line forward and cannot be done without incorporating the creative efforts of all. This movement has room and space for everyone who wants to contribute...on whatever level and in the ways they want to...inside and outside where people live, work, or go to school.
If we talk with people, together we can come up with creative ideas. Stacks of flyers may suddenly appear in a laundromat or on a bus seat─and the person who put them there may sit quietly, just observing how people react and learning from what they say. A poster may be taped up in a housing project hall or a school wall and give people a sense that the "revolution is real." Someone can turn up where they live─or in another part of town─wearing a revolutionary T-shirt. Some hand cards of the image of BA can turn up in coffee shops, bodegas, or barbershops. A person can very quietly have the backs of the "out there" revolutionaries when they rally in the streets or carry out other kinds of public activity. Someone else can have a few people over, show the Bob Avakian talk "Revolution" and raise money with a fish fry. And everyone can read Revolution newspaper regularly, donate to it, and let the RCP and its supporters know what they think of it.
All these taken together give people a sense of ferment and lend them heart. All these taken together can draw people into finding out about this growing movement. But that's not all—these forms of today could be the embryos of days in the future, when, in a different situation, hundreds of thousands are organized to act through networks of revolution.
Of course, these are not the only ways to act. Getting out there with the revolutionary literature, boldly wearing the BA and Revolution newspaper T-shirts, fighting the power in different ways, shaking cans on street corners to raise money, boldly struggling with people at work or school or in the street to change their thinking and get with the revolution—this is part of it too.
None of these things taken separately or by themselves will reach our goals. But incorporated into and as part of a larger movement, they could be very powerful and could enable us to meet our goals. Those at the core of the movement for revolution must be good at taking in and knitting together this whole ensemble into one powerful campaign: one that really does put revolution on the map, makes Bob Avakian a household word, and brings forward new cores of revolutionary communists.
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
We received the following correspondence from someone working on the BAsics project.
On Saturday July 10, Revolution Books in New York hosted an open mic night to promote BAsics, a book of about 100 quotes from Bob Avakian to be published later this year. Twenty-three women and men of diverse backgrounds, ages and levels of unity and experience with the movement for revolution each read their favorite Avakian quote.
It was truly exhilarating to hear Avakian's words taken up by all different kinds of people, and to hear his quotes read out loud with heart, conviction, and poignancy. People talked about why they chose each particular quote, and in their comments you saw what it means to have a leader who is able to speak scientifically and comprehensively not only to the many horrors the world faces today, but also to the real hope of bringing into being a world liberated from those horrors, and what it will take to get from here to there.
When BAsics is published later this year, it will greatly enhance the ability of revolutionaries, and of masses of all strata, to grasp, wield, and discuss with one another Avakian's understanding and development of the strategy for making revolution, his path-breaking re-envisioning of socialism and communism, and his unparalleled ability to speak to key questions facing society and the revolution with depth, nuance, insight, integrity and humor.
Simply put, BAsics will be a key part of repolarization for revolution. Imagine what it would mean for people in the neighborhoods struggling with questions of "how do we change all this?" to turn to Avakian's words about the potential to transform the youth into the backbone of a future revolutionary state—or a college student sitting in a dorm room employing Avakian's insights on democracy while talking with friends late into the night. The form of this book will make Avakian's leadership accessible in a powerful new way and has the potential to really break through in all levels of society. It will represent a major leap toward accomplishing all three goals of the campaign "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," especially the second objective, to make Avakian "someone known throughout society, with growing numbers checking out, getting into and supporting his work, his thinking and his leadership."
We have a very rare and precious leader, one who has done the hard scientific and theoretical work—and made the breakthroughs necessary to forge a path to revolution and communism. We also have a tremendous responsibility to make this leader broadly known and really make his name a "household word." During the open mic night, it was evident how powerful the impact of this project can become.
People read quotes that dealt with subjects as diverse as the oppression and liberation of women and all oppressed nationalities; the need for awe and wonder; the need for communists to act as a team of scientists; the importance of a vanguard party; the future struggle for state power; and Avakian's new synthesis of communism.
Some were inspired to choose quotes on the spot and participate in the event. One poet who attended said that he didn't understand before why "such a big deal" was made about Avakian, but that after hearing the quotes he was starting to get it.
Just as the societal reach and impact of BAsics should be very broad and diverse, so too should the process of producing it. The open mic night showed the beginnings of what can be unleashed as more and more people get involved in this process, but it also showed the urgent need for this to be unleashed on a much higher level, and everyone who appreciates the leadership of Avakian has a responsibility to make that happen.
We need to do more of these BAsics Open Mic nights all across the country, so that many more people can start to know even more about BAsics and understand for themselves why this project is so important. We also need more people (including YOU) to get involved in other aspects of this project, such as: promotion, including on the Web and through social media; fundraising; design and layout; translation; and proofreading.
For BAsics to accomplish all that it has the potential to do, it is up to everyone who has the impatient desire for a new and far better world to contribute to this project.
If you would like to hold a BAsics Open Mic night in your city or get involved in another aspect of BAsics, please contact the BAsics team to get more information about how to plan these events—contact email@example.com.
In order to further bring alive the flavor and spirit of the July 10 open mic night, here are a couple of samples of the quotes that people read aloud, prefaced with their comments about why they chose the particular quote:
Reader: "I appreciate this quote because in the beginning part of the quote he's thinking and writing and doing all these intellectual, complex things and he still knows what 'get low' is. He's paying attention to popular culture and always able to bring those things into everything that he's talking about: on making revolution, making a whole new society, and he can still bring in what everybody in the world is experiencing on a day-to-day basis."
Avakian quote: "Imagine if we had a whole different art and culture. Come on, enough of this 'bitches and ho's' and SWAT teams kicking down doors. Enough of this 'get low' bullshit. And how come it's always the women that have to get low? We already have a situation where the masses of women and the masses of people are pushed down and held down low enough already. It's time for us to get up and get on up.
"Imagine if we had a society where there was culture, yes it was lively and full of creativity and energy and yes rhythm and excitement, but at the same time, instead of degrading people, lifted us up. Imagine if it gave us a vision and a reality of what it means to make a whole different society and a whole different kind of world. Imagine if it laid out the problems for people in making this kind of world and challenged them to take up these problems. Imagine if art and culture too, movies, songs, television—everything—challenged people to think critically, to look at things differently, to see things in a different light, but all pointing toward how can we make a better world."—From the filmed talk Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About
Reader: "Just in terms of Avakian's method and approach and in terms of what's he's brought forward, what he's leading us to do—method and approach to everything from the type of world that we're fighting to bring into being and being consistent with that at all times, our means flowing from our ends—this is just extremely inspiring in terms of training us in his approach."
Avakian Quote: "One of the significant if perhaps subtle and often little-noticed ways in which the enemy, even in defeat, seeks to exact revenge on the revolution and sow the seed of its future undoing is in what he would force the revolutionaries to become in order to defeat him. It will come to this: we will have to face him in the trenches and defeat him amidst terrible destruction but we must not in the process annihilate the fundamental difference between the enemy and ourselves. Here the example of Marx is illuminating: he repeatedly fought at close quarters with the ideologists and apologists of the bourgeoisie but he never fought them on their terms or with their outlook; with Marx his method is as exhilarating as his goal is inspiring. We must be able to maintain our firmness of principles but at the same time our flexibility, our materialism and our dialectics, our realism and our romanticism, our solemn sense of purpose and our sense of humor."—From For a Harvest of Dragons
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
We have a strategy—and our newspaper is, as "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" statement says, "the foundation, guideline, and organizational scaffolding for [the] whole process" of carrying out that strategy. This is the paper that cuts to the bone to tell you WHY things are happening... to show you HOW it doesn't have to be this way... and to give you the ways to ACT to change it. It is a call to action and a means of struggle. It is, and has to be much more, the scaffolding on which this movement is built, where those who are getting into it and following it can wrangle in its pages and on its website with how we can better build this movement. It is a guideline where today thousands, but soon tens of thousands and eventually millions, all over the place, stay connected and learn to act in a powerful and united way. It is the foundation where those who read it learn about the larger goals of revolution and communism and come to see the ways in which the struggles of today are connected to those larger goals... where they come to grasp the scientific communist outlook through its application to all the many particular events and outrages and developments in society... and where they get organizationally linked up to this revolution.
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
Revolution newspaper is the foundation, guideline, and organizational scaffolding for the movement we are building for revolution. Stop and think about it—how essential is that?! But the reality is that this newspaper will not fill this need without more people becoming regular monthly sustainers. Sign up yourself to contribute regularly. And then, wherever you are—at a protest, a concert, selling Revolution, at FaceBook... or just hanging out—struggle with people, including people you just met, to sustain Revolution regularly. Once a week, check yourself: How is this going? How many new sustainers did you sign up?
To sustain Revolution: click the "Sustain/Donate" link at revcom.us or send a regular amount at the beginning of each month to RCP Publications, P.O. Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654.
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
High Stakes Trial August 24
From a statement received by Revolution:
A young man is facing 3 years in jail. His crime? Videotaping. Yes, videotaping a very brief but newsworthy statement by Sunsara Taylor in November 2009 at the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago (EHSC), in Skokie, IL.
The day before he was arrested this videographer had filmed a two hour workshop by Taylor in the exact same venue with no objections. The next day he accompanied Taylor when she returned to make a short statement objecting to the EHSC's abrupt cancellation of her long-scheduled speech and inviting anyone who wanted to hear the presentation to the home of an EHSC member who opened her doors when the society shut theirs. When told to stop filming before Sunsara made her statement, he put down the video camera as requested. His only device to capture Sunsara's short statement was an iPhone. He was doing nothing wrong or illegal at the time he was rushed by the police in the lecture hall right after Sunsara announced that she was leaving.
The videographer was maced and brutalized during his arrest—eyewitnesses and photos taken at the hospital document this, yet he was the one charged with trespassing, resisting arrest and battery on a police officer which he did not do. This is a police practice so common it has a name—"cover charges," charges that police press when they need legal justification to "cover" their brutality toward a defendant. (See American Constitutional Society Issue Brief "Disorderly (mis)Conduct: The Problem with 'Contempt of Cop' Arrests" by Cynthia Lopez, June 2010. Available at www.acslaw.org/node/16288)
For over 9 months, there has been a vengeful and unrelenting pursuit of a conviction for a situation that an impartial observer would expect to be easily resolved within a couple of weeks. In fact, unsolicited efforts by third parties to mediate an equitable solution have been stonewalled by those bringing the charges.
Support is greatly needed to defeat these outrageous charges.
What you can do:
Post this statement on list serves, e-lists, Facebook. Send to your email list.
If you are in the Chicago area: Attend the trial at Cook County Courthouse, 5600 W. Old Orchard Rd., Skokie, IL at 9:30 AM, Tuesday, August 24, 2010.
The prosecution even mounted an unsuccessful effort to find the defendant in contempt of court because of a defense committee website that publicizes and gathers support for him against this unjust prosecution! Reasonable people would certainly be justified in wondering whether there are some larger forces or agenda driving the State's determination to get a conviction. Whatever the full story is, we cannot let them convict this videographer for any of these unjust and ridiculous charges.
The defendant in this case had very difficult circumstances as a youth, yet he has transformed himself into a political activist, leading a very ethical life. The irony of this has been noted by more than one humanist; the EHSC should be giving him a platform to speak, not trying to throw him in jail!
This videographer has done very constructive things, dedicating his life to ending oppression. He came alive in the struggle to protect women's reproductive rights in the wake of the murder of abortion provider Dr. Tiller. He donned an orange jumpsuit to draw attention to torture of prisoners at Guantánamo. He marched against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq . He went to the Southside of Chicago to speak out against police shootings of young Black men. He has helped to provide revolutionary literature, like Revolution newspaper, to prisoners, and he has spoken to young people in Chicago classrooms as he sought to reach out to youth and others trapped in the bottom of society. And as part of his activism, he videotapes events, like he was doing that day.
Is this someone who should be thrown in jail for almost 3 years for literally holding up an iPhone?? Shame on those who seek to ruin a man's life to pursue their objectives.
We will not be silent. We will let others know about this injustice. It is really very simple: It is way past time to drop the charges.
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
It is this system that has got us in the situation we're in today, and keeps us there. And it is through revolution to get rid of this system that we ourselves can bring a much better system into being. The ultimate goal of this revolution is communism: A world where people work and struggle together for the common good...Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings...Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world.
This revolution is both necessary and possible.
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Revolution #209, August 15, 2010
In Bob Avakian, the Chairman of our Party, we have the kind of rare and precious leader who does not come along very often. A leader who has given his heart, and all his knowledge, skills and abilities to serving the cause of revolution and the emancipation of humanity. Bob Avakian came alive as a revolutionary in the 1960s—taking part in the great movements of those days, and especially working and struggling closely with the most advanced revolutionary force in the U.S. at that time, the Black Panther Party. Since then, and while many others have given up, Bob Avakian has worked and struggled tirelessly to find the way to go forward, having learned crucial lessons and built lasting organization that could continue the struggle, and aim to take it higher, while uniting with the same struggle throughout the world. He has kept on developing the theory and strategy for making revolution. He played the key role in founding our Party in 1975, and since then he has continued the battle to keep the Party on the revolutionary road, to carry out work with a strong revolutionary orientation. He has deeply studied the experience of revolution—the shortcomings as well as the great achievements—and many different fields of human endeavor, through history and throughout the world—and he has brought the science and method of revolution to a whole new level, so that we can not only fight but really fight to win. Bob Avakian has developed the scientific theory and strategic orientation for how to actually make the kind of revolution we need, and he is leading our Party as an advanced force of this revolution. He is a great champion and a great resource for people here, and indeed people all over the world. The possibility for revolution, right here, and for the advance of the revolution everywhere, is greatly heightened because of Bob Avakian and the leadership he is providing. And it is up to us to get with this leadership...to find out more about Bob Avakian and the Party he heads...to learn from his scientific method and approach to changing the world...to build this revolutionary movement with our Party at the core...to defend this leadership as the precious thing it is...and, at the same time, to bring our own experience and understanding to help strengthen the process of revolution and enable the leadership we have to keep on learning more and leading even better.
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