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Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
February 15, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The case of Michael Dunn, the white man who murdered 17-year-old Jordan Davis after arguing with him over the loud music Davis and his friends were playing in a gas station parking lot, shows once more why we need to make revolution to get rid of the capitalist system that has subjected Black people to brutal oppression since the first Africans were dragged to these shores in slave chains. Sixty years ago it was Emmett Till. Two years ago it was Trayvon Martin. Now it's Jordan Davis, another Black youth murdered by a white man out to put Black people "back in their places."
While the jury convicted Dunn of secondary counts, THEY DID NOT REACH A DECISION ON THE MURDER OF JORDAN DAVIS!!! ONCE AGAIN THE MESSAGE IS CLEAR: BLACK YOUTH—ALL BLACK YOUTH—HAVE TARGETS ON THEIR BACK. Dunn's defense came down to saying any white person has the right to kill any Black person he or she feels is a threat to them. And the jury did not contradict that!
By not convicting Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis, Amerikkka is declaring, once again, that Black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect. How long are we going to put up with Black people being gunned down, or lynched, by racists and by the police? Nothing short of revolution is needed to uproot the white supremacist capitalist system that is responsible for these racist murders. And as part of getting to the point when it's time to make revolution, we have to powerfully come together against these outrageous injustices. Get with the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and the movement for revolution it is building and get into the works of Bob Avakian, the leader of the RCP. These murders have been going down too damned long. They must be stopped, once and for all.
Let's look at what really happened. After picking a fight with the youth over their music, Dunn fired 10 shots at their vehicle while the youth sat in their car, killing Jordan Davis. Dunn even continued firing after the youth were driving away from the gas station, fleeing for their lives! The youth called the police right away, but Dunn drove back to his motel with his fiancé, took his dog out to "go potty" and ordered pizza for dinner. He got in the car the next day and drove almost 200 miles to go back home.
Again, everybody—Black people, white people, people of all races and backgrounds, everybody who has an ounce of justice in their hearts—needs to take to the streets in outrage over the failure to render justice for the murder of Jordan Davis. Our cry must be JUSTICE FOR JORDAN DAVIS! And this cry must be continued into the Day of Outrage and Remembrance for Trayvon Martin on February 26. And carried on till we end these outrageous murders, the white supremacy out of which they spring and the whole goddamned capitalist system that is responsible for this and many other horrors inflicted on the people.
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
February 17, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
There were many important and significant films in 2013, both fiction and documentaries. Fiction films like Fruitvale Station, The Company You Keep, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Dallas Buyers Club, Don Jon, Lovelace, Mother of George, and others were both artistically well done and shed important light on different dimensions of life. Documentaries like Dirty Wars, The Act of Killing, The Central Park Five, and others exposed, sometimes in vivid and powerful ways, parts of reality that are normally suppressed.
At the same time, one film deserves particular mention: 12 Years a Slave. This film tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free Black man living in New York State in the 1840s—a time when slavery remained at the heart of the U.S. economy. Northup was kidnapped and enslaved, ripped from his family and forced to endure 12 years in the network of concentration camps that was life for African-American people in the U.S. South. The director makes you look at life for the slaves and the whole network of social relations involved in slavery; it is unflinching, austere, and magnetic. The cast portrayals are powerful, with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o in particular bringing to life unforgettable characters; you feel their characters as if from the inside.
Revolution urges our readers who have not seen this movie to see it; and if you have seen it, see it again while it's still in the theaters and on the big screen, and then discuss it. Now's the time!
In that spirit, Revolution got together with Carl Dix to talk about this film. What follows is an edited transcript of some of the remarks from the interview/discussion that was conducted. (If you have not yet seen the film, you should know that the interview reveals many plot points.)
Revolution: Could you talk a bit about the significance of this film, being out there broadly in society, and up for major awards?
Carl Dix: It's very important and very fine that millions of people are seeing this story about slavery, seeing this story about the history of this country, the real history of this country, and a movie that is very well done, is based in the reality of slavery with a cast... and basically people behind the picture who really felt like this story needed to get out. I mean everybody from the director to the screenwriter to the people in it felt like we need to have this story out and watched by millions of people in this country. And then the way that they did it and brought to life the brutality, the dehumanization that characterized slavery I thought was—it was just astounding. Here's a free man getting kidnapped into slavery, waking up in chains and then finding himself with others, some of whom are in a similar situation, and others of whom were enslaved already and were being sold down the river, down to Louisiana where it's kind of like there is no way out of this. And then there's the things that he's going through, and then there's the things that all of the people who are enslaved are going through—like the ripping apart of the family right at the beginning and the cavalier way in which it's done and related to by the people involved in the slave trade on different ends from that initial buyer, and the seller. The woman lands at the plantation and is sobbing about her kids and the mistress says, "You'll get over it. It'll go away in a short while." Like it doesn't really matter to you, you're not really human so it won't bother you that long that your kids were ripped away from you and you have no idea where they ended up and what fate awaits them.
And then even some of the things that might in one sense seem smaller but actually have their own significance... like when the family was being ripped apart actually the guy who was buying the mother was trying to persuade him to cut him a deal and he'd take the kids. And the guy was kind of like... I forget the exact term he used, but his humanity extended to the edge of a coin. In other words, "oh yeah, I've got humanity but that's trumped by the fact that this is property and I'm out to get the best return on that property and if you can't match it then, yes, I will take these children, I will send them to who the hell knows where because that's what this is about. That's what this is based on and it trumps any other considerations." And then the way that people were forced not only to endure brutality, but even if it wasn't like you were directly experiencing it you did experience it because you had to watch as this stuff goes down, you had to live your life and know that there is nothing you could do about it. And this comes out in several scenes: the scene where Solomon is forced to whip Patsey and he doesn't want to do it but then it's like we'll both get whipped if I don't and she's saying I'd prefer you to do it to him doing it, so then he does it but he's kind of not really unleashing it and then it's like "I'll kill you and every other Black person, every other person I own, every other slave of mine, if you don't do it." So it's like you've got no choice. And then other people have to watch that.
Revolution: Could we go back for a little to the beginning of the film? From the very beginning he's a slave and you see what's going on. And then they pull back to how he got there. There's been a lot of movies where slaves are kind of in it or part of it, or it's even about slavery but the main characters were not the slaves actually. The main characters were other people and then this question of slavery came up. This one was his story and you start out by being where he is as a slave.
CD: Yeah, that is actually very important because I guess there's an argument in the film industry that you can't do that. You can't center a film on the experience of those who are enslaved. Or in other situations, too, the same thing is brought up: well, we can't center it on the experience of those being oppressed and brutalized, we have to figure another way to do the story and come at it from the eyes of maybe someone sympathetic to that. And while there are things that can be accomplished in that framework—it's not like it's always bad to do that—in this film you were right there with Solomon. He wakes up in chains and you're feeling that.
It was kind of like... it actually reminded me of a Richard Pryor skit about where Black humor came from. I think it's in his Bicentennial album and he says: "You all know where Black humor started, don't you? It started in the slave ships. There's two guys in there rowing and one of them starts laughing and the other one says: what's funny? And the other guy says: Yesterday I was a king." And it's not the same thing, but it's like yesterday he was a free man playing the fiddle, enjoying life with his family, a respected member of the community, and then he wakes up in chains. And then he starts to protest and they're going to beat into him that this is now your station and whatever you were yesterday, right now you're our property. You maybe used to be Solomon, but you ain't no more, you're no longer Solomon Northup, we're going to give you a name and you have a new station and there is nothing you can do about it.
And then you're there right next to the brutality, and you can't do anything about it. Like in the scene where one of the whites, Tibeats, gets into it with Solomon over Solomon not following his instructions to the letter—he had had it in for him for a while because he felt like "this is a slave who does not know his place, he does not recognize my superiority"—even over the thing about where they are going to take the produce, the wood, by water. And it's like: "Oh you can't do that. And here is this enslaved person challenging my authority—and then even worse, proving me wrong." And that's an affront to slavery—a Black man, property, standing up to a white man—Tibeats is the part owner of Solomon; the other guy, Ford, holds a mortgage on Solomon. So when Solomon refuses to be beaten and fights back, that's a potential killing offense, and he comes with his people to take Solomon's life for this affront, and the only thing that saved Solomon's life at that point was that he was valuable property to Ford.
So they're not allowed to kill him. But he does get strung up and is... it's just torture. Because he basically had to be on his tiptoes to keep from being strangled, hog-tied, and he's left there for what seemed like a prolonged period. I don't know how much was the elapsed time but it seemed like a prolonged period of time. Then everybody else, all the other people who were enslaved, had to go about their life around that. Everyone knew that they couldn't go in and cut him down. I mean, one woman comes and gives him water, and she even does it kind of on the sly, looking out to see if she's being watched because even this, even giving water to a person in that situation, could be seen as an affront.
So this is the deal: whether he lives or dies depends on him being property, and in this case he only lives because one of his owners doesn't want him killed. And it even came down to who had the right to rape enslaved women. In the plantation that Solomon was at, Patsey belonged to the owner. If another white man wanted to rape one of the slave women he would have known... if he was tied to the plantation, he would have known to steer clear of Patsey, but not because maybe Patsey is reluctant, doesn't return your advances so you can't force her. Stay away from Patsey because she belongs to Epps, but everyone else is fair game and can be raped by anyone associated with the plantation. A white man not associated with the plantation... if he's caught forcing himself on enslaved women, then that's a violation. But not a violation of the woman that he forces himself on, it's a violation of the property rights of whatever white man owned her. And this is something... that's just really on display in the movie.
Revolution: One of the things when you're talking about the scene where Solomon is hanging there and everybody's going on about their business—on the one hand it's clear that if they intervene they're going to get in trouble. But it does pose the question, I think for everybody watching it, of how can you stand by and see this going on? That's the example you're forced to look at, but how many times where things like that happened—it's clear that this was a regular occurrence, this was the way things were done, and that people were put in such a situation that they felt they could not and did not—or rarely did they—stand up. And of course the price of standing up against it was often death or extreme punishment. But it poses the question, I thought, when you're watching this, of how can you just stand by when such horrors are going on And what would it take to break that? I don't know, I thought there were some questions there that are posed not just historically, but...
CD: I think that's real because you look at that scene with today's eyes, and the illegitimacy of the authority that was enforcing that barbarity, that brutality, that barbarity, is real clear. And sometimes today for a lot of people the brutality that is being enforced throughout society isn't as clearly illegitimate. And so many people are standing aside as unspeakable brutality and illegitimate force is being used against people. And we have to... it needs to be transformed from: well, that's just the way it is, or even those are things done for a reason—to, well, wait a minute: why is this happening, why are more than two million people in prison? Why are hundreds of thousands of people in prison for simple drug possession? Why are the people who get sentenced and put away for that disproportionately Black and Latino? These are things that people have to start looking at with eyes as clear as the ones you apply to: it's clearly bad to hang a guy up because he basically responded to the way you were messing with him by saying some truth—which was Solomon's "affront." But a Black person, an enslaved Black person, in fact any Black person actually in the South in that time, had no right to stand up to a white person. Which is even brought out at the end of the movie—that in legal proceedings around the people who kidnapped Solomon, one or two of them got tried in Washington, DC, and Solomon was not allowed to testify against them because he was Black.
Revolution: One important thing about this movie is that people today don't have a real sense, a living sense, of what this meant, what all this wealth and power is actually founded on. And people should really read the book as well as see the movie to get a really living sense of it.
CD: Just one thing on the book—it actually was widely read back in the early 1850s, like 30,000 copies of it. And it contributed to the challenging of the legitimacy of slavery and the creation of a mood among sections of people that found slavery illegitimate and worked to do what they could to oppose it and to stop it, including things like the forming of the Underground Railroad—people who worked to help people who had escaped slavery to get to the North, sometimes get to Canada, to not only escape slavery but stay free from it, and who even fought slave chasers who went after people who had escaped slavery. Because that became, actually, a business—pursuing runaway slaves was an actual business pursuit. People engaged in it, but it also became a point of contention because there would be times when slave catchers would catch someone and claim that they were an escaped slave, and maybe they even were an escaped slave, but then the abolitionists, or at least a section of them, would gather crowds and fight pitched battles to keep them from taking the person back to slavery. And this book in that period contributed to it, but the story has been covered up or put aside... like you say: "That was then, it was very bad, but it's over, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and today we have a Black president so why do you want to keep bringing this up?" And people need to go back to it because, one, they don't understand the reality—they don't understand the reality, and a big part of that reality is the first quote from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian: "There would be no United States as we know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth." It's just extremely true. The foundation for the wealth and power of America rests on the enslavement of African people and the dispossession of the land from the Native inhabitants. So people do need to be brought back to that and brought back to it on the real, not some prettified, covered over version, but just starkly: "You're right there. Deal with this."
I was thinking too that a part of this thing of it being the way things were had to do with ideological justification and religion in particular. And I thought that the movie brought that out well in terms of... you know you had your different slave masters who went to the Good Book to show you that: "Hey, this was ordained, it's right here in the Bible." Including, "As I whip you, it's ordained that I should do this in the Bible, and that if you're being whipped you really brought it on yourself through your disobedience and not just disobedience to me the individual that owns you but to the order that has been ordained by the most high."
Revolution: Yeah, well, there's two scenes like that. The first one is all the slaves are on their Sunday off and they're there sitting there being lectured by the slave owner about why it's right and just not only that they be owned, that that's part of the natural order, but then if they don't heed the master, then, like you said, they get whipped. And it is excruciating, I think, to see that when you see what's put upon them to justify their condition and for them to then accept it.
CD: I mean, it does come down to where did you get that religion in the first place? And it was brought to you, and even enforced on people, by the slave master. And it was clearly in relation to giving ideological justification to the situation that people were being forced into. And people who came with different religions were forced to stop practicing that and take this up. And it does show you the thing of being forced even to take up a world view that has you at the bottom and being subjected to horrific brutality. I mean, even down to when Patsey was struggling with Solomon to kill her, she even got into some Biblical justification for why it wasn't something he shouldn't do. Because he was like: how can you ask me to do such a hellish thing, and she was explaining to him that no damnation will come from it because it was an act of mercy. Even that was being posed in religious terms and it just kind of showed you just how much that had pervaded people's consciousness.
Revolution: I was watching it and thinking about gospel music today, where some of the voices are beautiful but the words that are coming out are all tied in with the same religion that was part of enslaving people back then and with the same outlook we're talking about and the same way that it affects people of: "it's all in God's plan, we're going to get salvation later"—all of that that people are still being entrapped in.
CD: Still caught up in, and it's still standing in the way of getting at the roots of the oppression and acting to uproot that oppression. And it did... it hit pretty hard, both the historical role that religion played but also the continuation of that kind of role today.
Revolution: There is that scene that goes on after the old slave dies, and it's after Solomon has been betrayed by the white guy who's also laboring there—they're all singing the song and Solomon's not singing, he's not singing, he's not singing. And then at a certain point he starts singing. And I was wondering what you thought of what was going on in that scene.
CD: It struck me that in a certain sense in that scene both his alienation at first from the other enslaved people because he still had hopes of, "Maybe if I could figure out a way to connect with the people I knew in my life before I was kidnapped, they could come down and get me out." But then as the song goes on, I had the sense of him stacking up how long it's been, how he had even been betrayed in his attempt to get word to his family and kind of taking up some of what was clearly part of the way that people—even... I'm kind of grasping for the correct word... how you fit into and went along with stuff. And part of it was the "salvation" in the life beyond. So to me it was like that thing of "salvation in another world" that people were united with except Solomon, but then as the song goes on you could see maybe his hopes were waning and it was kind of a concentration of all the years having to put up with this, even having your hopes lifted at one point and then dashed by the betrayal by the guy he had asked to send the letter. And it was like... and he was in Louisiana. Like you said, there was the Underground Railroad, but it did not reach that far. And it isn't like there was any way out for the several million people who were enslaved—I think it was about four million at that point in the 1850s. So that's what I saw going on in that scene. And like I said, I knew from having known enough about the story that he was going to end up getting out, but at that point in that scene I got the sense of a man who didn't see the way out for himself and was adapting to the way that things were.
Revolution: What did you think about Bass, the guy from Canada who does finally help Solomon escape?
CD: He was from Canada, so he wasn't indoctrinated in the same way that most white people were in the United States in terms of how they should fit into the whole structure. Because there was a whole structure to force you to go along with the rules—even if you were white there was a structure that if you weren't at the top, you had to figure out how you fit in. So you see through the movie there are white people in different positions here. You've got the slave owner, you've got his overseer, you've got his drivers. But you also have other white people who come into the picture and that's actually a realistic portrayal because if you were in the South at that point unless you... and even if you lived in an urban area, even if you lived in a city, you could end up in relation to this in a similar way—you could end up working on the plantation next to some of the slaves, sometimes even doing the same thing. But there were social relations involved. There were people who were like: "OK, I'm in a low station right now but I am white so I'm not property. And there are ways to climb back up." And that's the socialization that people from that area go to.
But then in Bass you have someone who is there for some reason—physically he's there but he was not socialized into that. He came from somewhere where this was not what went on. I think slavery had been abolished in Canada some years before 1850, and I didn't know exactly where his outlook on the question came from. Because that's one thing I was wondering about, like: it's probably more than just he's from Canada that he's not into this thing. Because he was actually opposed to it and thought that it was wrong, and when asked by the master, he had no problem telling the master he thought it was wrong. Now, that's something Bass could do that someone owned by the master could not do without encountering a harsh penalty. And there's even been controversy amongst some forces of like: "Well, even in this movie where the story is about a Black man the agent of his emancipation is from this white guy that comes from outside."
Revolution: What's the controversy?
CD: The controversy is... it's kind of like: "Why couldn't the brother have gotten free on his own?" And the thing about it is... and you can see it in the situation of all the other enslaved people. Because even at the end there is... OK, Solomon gets out of slavery. But then there are all these other people. And if Solomon had said, "I'm going to take Patsey with me"... no, you're not going to take Patsey with you, and if you try then you're committing a crime because you're stealing legitimate property. And while you, Solomon, were illegitimate property because you were kidnapped into this as a free man, the kidnapping of Patsey's ancestors from Africa—"oh, that was legitimate, that was international commerce." But kidnapping Solomon was a crime within the laws of that time and that's why he could get out after those 12 horrific years. So it is kind of like people complaining about a true story.
And when I pointed it out to people, they're like: "But it still has Black people having to rely on someone else for their freedom." I'm like: "Come on, man, you've got a movie that puts slavery front and center, shows people exactly how it was, the brutality, the inhumanity of it, the illegitimacy of it, and is forcing that on to the front burner in the society whose roots and foundation are in that. And then you want to criticize the thing for depicting the actual way that this person kidnapped into slavery gets out?" Because it was... he was illegitimate property, but also, without a way to get that communicated to people who would come and act on it, he would have remained illegitimate property. Illegitimate, but property nonetheless. And that was the avenue through which his plight got back to people who then set in motion what ended up freeing him.
It was almost like for the people arguing this that it would have been better had he just stayed on the plantation in Louisiana because then this white man wouldn't have been the agent of his emancipation. Would you have preferred that he stay there?
Revolution: But that is also arguing, "why don't all white people remain enemies and nobody step outside of that role and do something to go up against it?"—that that's a bad thing when they do. Instead of when confronted with a situation like this where there was something he could do, the guy took the risk to do it.
CD: And it was a risk. It wasn't like... no problem, I'll go do it. I mean, you're in the South where this is the law and this is the system and you're stirring that up. If they find out that you're doing it you could end up dead.
But if people see the injustice in the situation and then decide they can't stand aside and let it go down, they have to stand with the people who are suffering this injustice—that's a good thing. This is a fine example. Put aside your post-modernism of "agent of emancipation" and whatever. This is a fine example. Wouldn't it be a good thing if more people who doubt they're the brunt of mass incarceration looked at it for the injustice that it was and said: "I cannot stand aside and let this continue to go down. I have to find a way to act." Wouldn't that be a much better situation than saying: "That's unjust but those people have to be the agents of their own liberation so I hope they pull something off," and standing aside and letting it go down?
And when you look at the actual forces that led to the end of slavery, they actually did involve more than the resistance of the enslaved people to that, and that was actually a necessary part of the process. I mean, people did rise up, there were slave uprisings, people did escape, but the overturning of the entire system of chattel slavery did require a war—one where the former slaves fought with heroism and died way out of proportion to their numbers.
Because the South was on some levels an armed camp... and it's in there in the film when Tibeats assembles the people and makes them clap and he sings that song about the paddyrollers. Well, the "paddyrollers" were the patrollers, whites who were formed into a militia that patrolled the areas around the plantations, and that poses to you how difficult it is to escape. Because it wasn't just that once you escape they would get a posse up and chase you—they would do that, but there also were armed white men in the area whose job it was to be on the lookout for slaves who were not where they were supposed to be. And in the scene where he encounters the two men about to be lynched, the guy looks at the tag around Solomon's neck—that was the permission from his owner to be off the plantation.
And that was a very real part of chattel slavery, you were really in an armed camp. There were these people who had that power to patrol and if they found you, you had to prove you were legitimately there or they could capture you and take you back or capture you and kill you.
And it does bring to mind the police departments all across the country today, because it is still the case that for Black and Latino youth there is a bull's-eye on your back. And you might end up being used for target practice or you might not, but that potential is always there, that's something that people are looking at and dealing with throughout their lives. And that's part of what we have to get people to look at with different eyes in terms of the way that people can look back at chattel slavery and say: "Oh that's illegitimate, that use of force is no good, I'm glad we no longer do that"—but then not see that while it's not the same form, it actually does come down to... you know the Dred Scott decision—Black people having no rights that... and it's not just "no rights that the system is bound to respect," but when you look at Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, a message is being delivered that there's no rights that Black people have that any white people are bound to respect in this society, which is really the Dred Scott decision all over again. And that's something that people need to look at with the same eyes and understand the illegitimacy of the criminalization of Black and Latino people and decide that they cannot stand aside and let that go down.
Revolution: I notice that Steve McQueen, who directed this film, explicitly in some different interviews said that part of why he wanted to make this film was to draw the links between that history and the present day reality. He wanted to tell a story about slavery but he was linking it to, not just this is important history, but it's linked to stop-and-frisk, it's linked to all of the things that you were just talking about and wanting people to understand what's the roots of these things.
CD: Yeah, and that's an important part of doing this movie—the team that was involved in it. Because not only did the director say that, but the screenwriter did similar interviews where he talked about this story needing to get out. And McQueen was saying he wants to see it in the curriculum. People need to be studying this and understanding what it meant and what it means that this is the actual history of America.
Revolution: And there was that metaphor that the lead actress, Lupita Nyong'o, said when she accepted the Golden Globe—she said it's a look beneath the floorboards of American society.
CD: I think that's important to go at because this movie gets made and gets out there and is watched by all kinds of people. There is promotion of it for awards, including for several of the actors, best picture, all of this. And it does reflect that I think it is tapping into something, that some things are being revealed, and I think a lot about Bob Avakian's Three Strikes quote: This history of this country, first slavery, then Jim Crow segregation, lynch mob terror, and today a New Jim Crow—and, as BA says, "That's it for this system: Three strikes and you're out!" And linking them all and that they were forms of social control that served the ways in which profit was being extracted by those who ran the society, run this country. That that's been the history of this country—not one of continually expanding freedom and opportunity for all—and we need a revolution to get rid of it. It has been based upon ruthless exploitation enforced by inhumane barbarity that takes different forms in different periods, but, you know, you see the enslaved people chained together being marched to the auction block and then you see today's chain gangs that are being brought back in many parts of the country. And it is kind of like, that's the same thing, that's new clothes for the same body, new forms of the same thing being continued and there is a moment when people are looking at this and this poses a challenge, an opportunity for all forces in society. It's a challenge for those who run it to figure out how do we cover this back over and keep this shit going. But for everybody who sees this injustice and sees the current injustice rooted in the past injustice, there is a challenge to move to rip that further open, break through those floorboards more, to use that analogy, and show the rot that's at the foundation of this and to act to stop it and to get deeper into where did that rot come from, what's the source of all this, and what will it take to get rid of it. And that I think is very important to be brought out in general today in society and it's part of why we have to get Bob Avakian's voice and works everywhere, so that pole and possibility of revolution is out there for people when they do raise their heads.
Not: "Well, there was a problem and it got corrected and it's been a torturous path to correct it, but we're almost there and the arc of history has been bending completely toward justice." No, it hasn't.
Revolution: One of the things that you mentioned that we wanted to get back to was all the different women characters in the story, both the enslaved women and the slave-owner women. What's concentrated in all of that?
I think there were a lot of different things. The first woman that we encounter is the woman, Eliza, who was actually kept by her slave owner, who treated her as his concubine, I guess, but had kept her in very nice conditions with slaves waiting on her and had children with her. And she gives a whole speech about this is how she survived, so she is completely unprepared for all of a sudden being thrown into the situation of being able to be bought and sold by other people and being treated the way... and that's the one whose children are ripped from her. And then you have Patsey. Patsey we should talk about, but let's talk about Eliza first.
CD: Yeah, because that was right towards the beginning of the movie and again the inhumanity of the system of slavery in this country hits you—this woman's children are ripped from her. She's sold to one master, one of her children is sold to another, the guy's going to hang onto her daughter, and posing that perhaps she's destined for sexual exploitation and repeated rape. But that is right at the beginning of the movie, and she is inconsolably devastated by it but then told you'll get over it in a few days. It again underscores that people were being treated as not human beings but animals. "We take the colts from our horses when they're born, why should it be different with you?" So there's that.
Then you're dealing with the situation for women enslaved on the plantation and the fact that... and this question of women's control over their bodies, which is still a question today in a different way. But for enslaved women you were at the beck and call of any white man that had some legitimate place in relation to the plantation that you were enslaved on—they could rape you at their desire and the only thing that would set up rules and regulations around it is if a more powerful white man had already marked you as his. Like I said earlier, other white men on the plantation knew they couldn't do anything to Patsey because she was Master Epps' property but then other women were fair game.
Revolution: And I also think what comes across and what was true in the whole system of slavery was that women were valued for their ability to produce more value. They produced more slaves which were then of tremendous value for the slave owners and then could be sold to make a profit. And Eliza had been in sort of a rarified situation where she had been allowed to believe, contrary to the way the system worked overall, she'd been allowed to believe that she had a family situation there where those were her children and she was going to be able to be with them and raise them. None of them were prepared for the reality of what their situation was because they had been in this rarified thing, but the truth of the underlying relations that actually were operating there came out because the master who owned her and had set her up in this situation was no longer her owner and then she became the property of somebody else who had no reason to preserve that situation. There's a whole speech, though, that she gives Solomon at a later point when he's telling her to stop crying for her children, and she says something like, "You're separated from your children too... and this was the only thing that was given to me in my life was to have these children and now that they're gone what's the point of my living? Here I am just a slave and there's nothing left." You think about that... you mentioned before about the tearing apart of the families but it wasn't even the case that most slaves were allowed to even consider the idea of family because even though people tried to bond together, and did bond together, that was totally at the whim of those people who owned them whether that was gonna be a situation that could sustain. And so when you think about all the great family values that are discussed today and how none of that had anything to do with even... women were breeders. But they were breeders as property and then producing property and that was it.
CD: And people who were enslaved could marry and they could even have children but that was in the context of a system where they were property and the property relations trumped anything about families and so that children could be sold out from under parents or parents could be sold away from children or husbands and wives could be separated by the dictates of property. And that's what came down in the situation with Eliza and very sharply portrayed a feature that was at the foundation of America—the tearing apart of the families of the enslaved people because they fit into the needs and it was dictated by the property relations. And the point that you made about enslaved women having children was producing more value—that's actually very important too. I think the guy who did the biography of Jefferson, Henry Wiencek [Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves], made a point about how Jefferson writes in his thing, as he's cataloguing his property, he realizes that: "Oh you know the thing that really grows here isn't the tobacco, it's the people who I've got to work the tobacco fields." That's where the increased value is coming from, and Wiencek underscores that in his work. But that's brought to life in this movie.
Revolution: Then you had all these social relations that were built on this economic system where the slave owners' wives and children were all part of the slave owning class, but there were contradictions also between the men and women. The men had the power. The women didn't have the power except that they could exercise it in certain ways of either being kind to or cruel to the slaves that were underneath them. So there's a whole scene with Epps and his wife—Epps, the owner of Patsey—where he is blatantly going and having sexual relations with Patsey and flaunting this to his wife and she is furious about that. And at one point in the movie he tells her: "Well, I'd get rid of you sooner than I'd get rid of her." Now, all the reasons for that is what we should discuss—what was going on with him about it. I have some thinking on that. But her way of being able to deal with this is to take all the revenge not on him but on the slaves and particularly on Patsey.
CD: And to me what this book that the film is based on does, and part of why I want to read it, is again to see how this actually plays out, but it takes what was a feature of slavery and then depicts it through this particular slave owner and his wife and one of his slaves, a woman that he has an obsession for. Epps is kind of like: I gotta have her. And that is something, and while not every slave owner was out there with it, part of what brought it out was the offspring. You know, because the enslaved women start having offspring that are clearly not the result of their liaison with other enslaved people. Wiencek talks about it in relation to Jefferson, that there were all of these children going around who were half-white and looked like Jefferson. So even if you have someone who wasn't being flamboyant about it, the evidence is there. And it does become a thing, and it reflects the fact that the men did have the power and they could act on that power in that way and that the women had no choice but to put up with it and deal with it. And in this case they depict how it plays out between this slave owner and his wife. And you do see the way in which... because the whole society put the onus on the enslaved woman, both because the master can have her any time he wants at his whim, whether she's reluctant or not, and you see that in this movie where he does come to her, forces her and it's not being reciprocated, it's very brutal and coercive... this is one of the most painful scenes of the movie to watch. And on one level that doesn't matter because he wants her and "I own you so I have you." But then on another level it does matter to him because this woman is doing all that she can to make clear that I don't want you, I don't accept this even though I can't do anything about it. And that seems to drive him even farther over the edge.
And then the wife is like: it's your fault in relation to the enslaved woman, to Patsey, that my husband is acting in this depraved way. And she carries it out in terms of violence. But the overall societal thing was that this mythology, which also took the force of law, was that Black women were just hypersexual and on one level white men couldn't help themselves but on another level any sexual encounter was desired on the part of Black women. And where it made into force of law is that on top of the thing that Black couldn't testify against white people, a Black woman by law and custom could not be raped—because any sexual encounter was desirous. So charges of rape on white men for enforced sex on Black women did not happen.
Revolution: Even after the abolition of slavery.
CD: Oh, that carried into Jim Crow that that couldn't happen. And so there was a societal thing which is depicted in this movie, again in relation to the particular slave owner and his wife. And it does... it reflects the fact that the wife did not have the power to stop her husband from going to this other woman, but what she did have the power to do was to punish the enslaved woman for being the object of her husband's desire. And that does get carried out. And like I say, it reflects broader stuff in society at that point. And then even after slavery, because it continued and it is ironic that part of the justification for the lynch-mob terror was to keep Black men in their place, to keep them from violating white women when actually what was going on broadly throughout the society was the violation of Black women by white men. And you get through all kinds of memoirs, reporting from that time, that that was what was going on in a fairly widespread way, but terror being carried out the other way....
Revolution: With Patsey herself... you're watching the movie and it's clear that she's picking cotton at a rate over the top. She's a small woman and yet she's doing better than any of the men, and you're thinking why is she doing that? It seems like there's a certain way that that was the only way she could value herself. It was the only thing open to her that she could excel at this slave labor. So that's kind of excruciating on the one hand. And then you see Epps holding her up as the "queen" of the slave cotton pickers and there's obviously lust in how he's dealing with her. But at the same time he has to keep dominating her continually. And the obsession with her exists in the sense that she's his property. It's not that he has love for her, it's different even than the situation with Eliza where there's some regard for the person even if she's still kept as a slave. But this is just the most brutal possession of her, and then at the same time existing within the situation where he's not supposed to be... he is supposed to be but he's also not supposed to be doing this, if you see what I mean.
The way that he's so brutal to her... the scene in the movie where she comes back and says, "I only went there to get some soap because I slave away picking cotton, I stink so bad I make myself gag and the mistress won't give me any soap." I mean, the degradation of a human being to the point where you won't even give them soap to wash themselves, and you can just imagine what that labor produces in terms of how you would end up stinking and smelling from that labor. And to force somebody in such a degraded condition. And then he beats her for daring to—in his imagination—lust after some other man. It's not out of love for her, it's out of, this is my property and I can do what I want with it. It's one of the most horrendous relationships ever portrayed in a movie, I think.
CD: And I think it is obsession and it does have to do with "I own her, she is mine," and then it's compounded by her rejection of him. So you have this person who's enslaved and who is picking cotton off the charts. But that's not enough, and you do go and you force yourself on her but that's not enough either. She has to be a willing participant in it, she has to welcome this, and because she doesn't welcome it then he's gotta beat her down even, and invent that if she's not available to be forced into sexual relations or brutalized and degraded, well then maybe it's because she's after this other guy, this other slave owner who is obviously—they called him a Lothario. And he has a Black woman who he's treating as his wife.
And there is this obsession that drives Epps to further and further brutalize and degrade Patsey because of her rejection of his attention and there is no way that she can work through that. And there is a thing of that she continues to pick the cotton off the charts and I hadn't gotten at why is that. I think that might be what you're talking about, that this was somewhere where she could excel at something and do something she could do. She clearly could have picked less cotton and avoided the lash.
Revolution: With these slave owners, they have to keep trying to reinforce that the people they enslave are not human, but meanwhile they know that they are. This goes on throughout the whole movie in all different ways. In terms of the women in the slave-owning class, you have Mrs. Ford who makes the comment you mention: "Why are you crying, you'll get over it in a few days." She wouldn't get over it for years if her children were yanked away from her. But she doesn't see herself in the same category as this other woman—even though she's not cruel in the overt way. And then you have this other woman who's completely unsympathetic to any of the slaves and vicious because of the power relationship that's going on between her and her husband. And then there's Shaw's wife, the character played by Alfre Woodard.
CD: I did really wonder about that one. Because here you have on the one hand, master and mistress Epps and the cruel regimen that they enforce on all of the Black people that they've enslaved. Then you see Patsey over at the Shaw place being treated to tea by Mistress Shaw who herself is Black, and she's talking about: "I know what it means to be the object of the peculiarities of your master, but this is something you can work your way through." And it appears that she has worked her way through to the point where... she's called Mistress Shaw, and that's what's meant by treated as his wife. It isn't like she's just an enslaved woman he sleeps with, but she's called Mistress Shaw, there are other people waiting on her. So you have this situation and it is like you're seeing people in different ways trying to come to grips with a situation of being enslaved and here is a case of a woman who at least in this particular seems to have worked her way through it, and she's trying to advise Patsey on "here's an approach you could take—I know there's real problems with it but you could work through to something like where I've gotten."
And then you wonder, well, where exactly has she gotten because if Shaw croaked where would she be? Who would own her then? And what would that mean? But then the other thing is you're figuring that there's no way Patsey could work her way through to that because after this tea is over she's gonna go back to Epps who does have this obsession with her and is causing contradictions with his wife which gets played out in brutality directed at Patsey from his wife, and then there's the brutality that he heaps upon her because she does not welcome his sexual enforcement on her.
Revolution: I thought part of the situation with Mistress Shaw is one of these things where you've got a few people who kind of can work their way through the system to get into a better place. And it's being held up as maybe a way out of this which in reality is not a way out. It might be beneficial to that one individual but it's an anomaly to the whole system. You've got these millions and millions of people who are in this situation who are not going to work their way out of it through that. If you think about that in terms of today and how it's being brought up: you can make your way through this if you just try and you work it out and stuff. I wondered about what she was preaching and how that resonates in a certain sense with some of the ways things go today where a few people can make their way through the meat grinder and make their way out of it. I don't know exactly what their relationship was—her relationship with Mr. Shaw. But she intimates that she sort of figured out how to work him a little bit or something. I think that raises some questions in terms of women and how do women have to... in general but also women have to become pleasurable to men in such a way that maybe they can "work their way." You see a lot of relationships like that today. But what is the general condition of people? I was just wondering about... it's both the slavery question but also the woman question. It's worth thinking about.
Revolution: When you read the book, it captures more than just Solomon Northup's individual experience. He goes to pains to bring out the things that he observed and saw and all the different ways that this institution of slavery took place. He doesn't have a thorough analysis of what was underneath it, but you do get a picture of it. It does bring to life all the different dimensions of this bigger than just his own individual experience. It does make you think about how did such a system... how did all of it come together and operate as a system, as opposed to just: this happened to him and this happened to this other person. It leads you to want to go deeper into understanding that. How did they get away with having this system like this? How did they get away with treating people like this? And things are brought out that help you to question that and go more deeply into that. And that gets back to the question of what's happened since, and how did things end up the way they are now today, too. It brings in a lot of the dimensions of this—not by telling you about them in the sense of here's how this system worked, but by showing you in ways that I think make people want to think more deeply about how did these systems work like this. How did it all fit together? We were talking about earlier that the South was an armed camp but there were laws that were set up to reinforce the fact that the way they made society run and function was based on this extraction of value from these slaves—these people's value was to produce for the people who owned them and then that went into the market. So it's not like it lays all that out but I feel it does bring you to question.
CD: Yeah, it's actually in there, including the role of ideological justification through religion—that's in there as well with both the good master and the bad master quoting scripture as why you're in the place that you're in and I'm in the place that I'm in, and even the force that I use to keep you in place is rooted in the scripture.
And it's also another thing: "property reigns supreme." Ownership of property, including of people, but property is the determining factor. The ownership of property in one form or another is how the system works, private ownership of property. That takes a particular form of slavery, but it exists within the larger context of property relations, that that's how the society works—some people own the means of producing things and own the land, the machinery and the slaves. And that's how things are produced and those people get to benefit from it and other people are the ones that have to provide that for them. Whether it's the slavery then or later became share-cropping and other forms of it, it's all in that framework. I think...
Revolution: One thing I wanted to bring up is, I was talking to this Black woman who was telling me that she really didn't want to go see this movie because it just seemed too hard to look at this. And I think other people have said they didn't want to go see Fruitvale Station, which is the movie about the murder of Oscar Grant by the rapid transit police in the San Francisco Bay Area "because it was just too hard to see it and not feel like you have to act. And where are you going to act?" And I was just wondering what sense you have about that and how to speak to that.
CD: Yeah, I think that's important because, on the one hand... well, I was telling you the story earlier about when I bought the ticket to see it this time, the second time, there was a Black guy selling the tickets. And he gives me the ticket and he says "Enjoy." And then he says, "Well, I'm not really saying you should enjoy a movie about slavery because you can't really enjoy that. You know what I mean, man, right?" And there is that. It's a movie about slavery and it actually does depict slavery unlike Gone with the Wind that makes it appear like: "Oh, that wasn't so bad, in fact the slaves really liked it." This movie tells the truth, but you can't like that. That's not some shit that you could like. But people have to see it. People actually do have to confront that reality, and that's also the case with the murder of Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station. And from one end, I wanted to see them both to see if they depicted that truth, and they did.
And this is truth that everybody has to see. Black people need to see it, white people need to see it, people of other nationalities. We all need to actually get the truth about both the history of this country in the case of 12 Years a Slave, but also its current-day reality which is spoken to very forcefully in Fruitvale Station. And people should feel like this is unacceptable—it was unacceptable that people were treated like that then and it is unacceptable that the treatment continues, although in different forms, today. And if you really got an ounce of justice in your heart, you should feel like you should act—act to stop this stuff because it is unacceptable. And look, I mean we're building a movement for revolution because things don't have to be this way. People don't have to be subjected to these horrors—whether it's the brutality and degradation that the slow genocide of mass incarceration and all of its consequences inflict on Black and Latino people, whether it's the immigration raids that tear families apart and disappear people, whether it's the denial of rights and brutality enforced on women, the government spying, the wars for empire, or the insane destruction of the environment by this capitalist system. All of that can be stopped through revolution and we're building a movement for revolution, and people need to get with that. And they need to take on these particular horrors. They need to be part of the fight to end patriarchy and pornography, they need to oppose these wars, the drone missile strikes, the government spying, and they need to be fighting to stop mass incarceration. And I think these movies contribute to a sense of questioning of this, both the history but also the current-day reality of the treatment of Black people in this society. And it's to me a very fine thing that movies like this... not only are they coming out but they're no longer kind of: one or two comes out and they're on the corner of things and you could maybe go to an art-show-type movie theater to see it. No, no—this is playing in the major multiplexes. That's a very big development and a very good thing because it is working on what people think and how they think about some very big questions. I know I've seen people online talking about: not another slave movie, I don't think I can go see it. No, you should go see this one. You should go check this one out because it tells the truth, and then spread the word and get others to check it out, including challenging people who don't know about this to come to know about it.
Revolution: I remember when Roots was being shown on television—it's a mini-series from back in the '70s covering the history of Black people—and what societal impact that had on people. And I think this movie is even more powerful than Roots in some ways. But I remember the effect that it had on Black people of feeling vindicated in the sense of some truth was coming out about what was real, and having right on your side of being against this and not accepting being treated this way in all the forms that it brings into the present. But also the effect that it had on millions of white people who did not know this history. It's been a number of years since that came out and meanwhile there's been tremendous assaults on any sense of right on the side of Black people and standing up against their oppression—all this bullshit about "reverse racism" and all kinds of things. Like "that was so yesterday, you shouldn't keep bringing that up." It's not like these films are films that are political tracts in a certain sense—these are artistic films, very artistically done, by the way—the photography, the quality of the filming, the acting and everything about it is extremely high quality. And that was... watching a second time that was brought home to me even more sharply, being able to watch the different elements of it. But films like this, and other films that deal with these kinds of questions, do have an impact in the thinking of people and the sense of what you were referring to of what's legitimate and what's not, what's right and what's wrong. And it's very important that there are works of art that bring that to people in this form. And I think it would be very wrong if this were reduced to this is just a good story about a guy who fought through adversity and ended up finally getting free. This is a story of a people, for one thing, but it's the story of this country. And I think... you know, from past times when things like this start penetrating, it both reflects that there's some divisions and some things going on in society where something is coming to the surface, but it also can have a major effect on the consciousness of people—not in a direct linear way, but significant nevertheless. And I think it's really important when such films are made that they be given this wide a berth of exposure, and that they be given awards and honors that help too... when they warrant them. And I'm hoping with these Academy Awards... I'm hoping that will be the case. But whether it is or not, it's important that people see these films and it's important that they have been given backing by people who are trying to get this story out. I think that's important. I feel like it's important to see how these things work into the mix of a lot of things, where you've got the awareness of Trayvon Martin and what that... you were bringing up Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till. The screenwriter, John Ridley, was bringing up that there's a lot of slavery going on in the world today actually, sex slavery and other forms of slavery, and that this is not... this form is no longer the form of it, but that this system is still producing this. So there's a lot of questions that are getting thrown up by such a film that I think is a very fine thing, even as it's excruciating. The excruciating character of it is something that should compel people to feel like it's unacceptable... I'm just agreeing with what you're saying that this is... not in the sense of you have to go out tomorrow and be in protest, whether people feel like they want to do that. But just challenging the whole way things are from the roots to present-day reality.
CD: Yeah, I think it does point to a different way to... it brings to people some things that a lot of people don't know. And then even people who know them, it matters that this is being spread through society and it gives more of a sense of right on your side and legitimacy in the way that you feel. I guess what I'm trying to get at is it's a different way for people to think and feel. And that's actually very important. It isn't just: well, can you get people to do something, but what are people thinking about, what do they understand, and how do they understand it, and how can that be transformed. Because we do have to go... just like you had to go from a point where that setup, that system of chattel slavery—with human beings outright owned by other human beings and treated as property and beasts of burden—had to go from that being seen as legitimate to that becoming seen as completely illegitimate. Well, today we have to tear away the legitimacy of the New Jim Crow and the slow genocide that's strangling the lives of tens of millions of people, and move that to the point where people are seeing that and all these other horrors today and the capitalist-imperialist system behind them as totally illegitimate.
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
February 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In this issue of revcom.us are two thought-provoking letters about the BA Everywhere campaign that in different ways grapple with how raising funds to make Bob Avakian and the work he has done known throughout society can make a real difference in how people understand the world and how they can act together to change it.
Integral to the whole process of bringing forward people to be a part of and partisan to the movement for revolution and to building the Party at the core of that movement involves people individually and collectively thinking about and scientifically summing up the experience in doing so, and sharing that on revcom.us. We not only learn how to do better, but more fundamentally the movement as a whole develops its understanding of reality: how and what people are thinking about; and, how through the work we are doing overall and in this campaign, we are influencing and changing the thinking of people to understand the necessity and basis for revolution and the strategy to bring that into being. This is part of a process of "Grasp Revolution/Promote Production."
These two articles contribute to a series of pieces on the BA Everywhere subportal of this website, titled: "Thoughts, Wranglings, Lessons, and Getting Out into the World with BA Everywhere." We may not agree with every formulation or idea presented in these correspondences, but we feel these are all part of a scientific process of probing reality, struggling to understand it more accurately, and to developing plans and approaches to carry forward the BA Everywhere campaign as the leading edge of the strategy for revolution today.
Over the past few weeks we have called for thinking and proposals for how to bring BA Everywhere to people from all parts of society and struggle with them to generously donate to BA Everywhere to make BA and the radical vision and plan for revolution and whole new world known everywhere. Proposals have begun to come in—we look forward to receiving more. Send your ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
BA Everywhere House Party
Some Thoughts About BA Everywhere as "the Leading Edge..."
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
February 17, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader who has been following the case of the murder of Jordan Davis
The mistrial in the case of Michael Dunn, murderer of Jordan Davis, is an intolerable injustice and outrage.
Dunn was convicted on all the other charges he was facing, including three charges of attempted murder, which could put him in prison for the rest of his life. But the fact that a jury was unable to reach a verdict on the first degree murder charge points to some truths much deeper than the fact that Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law gives carte blanche to racist killers—contemptible as that law is; and more relevant than the now well established ineptitude of Florida's prosecutors when it comes to trying white men who kill Black youths.
For centuries, countless Black men in this country have been killed or sent to prison because they "looked suspicious," because they were "talking loud," because they "looked at a white woman," because they "had something shiny in their hand," and for any reason their assailants could think of. For centuries, over and over with infuriating regularity, killings like these have been upheld in the courts—in the rare instances when the cases even made it that far.
This country was founded on enslavement of Black people, and genocide of Native Americans. Since then, over the course of hundreds of years, some forms of the oppression Black people face in this society have changed—but the oppression continues and deepens.
Dunn is a product and a zealous proponent of a culture of white supremacy, a culture that is not limited to "fringe" groupings, but is deeply embedded in American history, in the economy, in political, educational and social life, in culture, and law.
Dunn, like George Zimmerman (the murderer of Trayvon Martin) before him, initiated a conflict with a Black youth, then shot and killed the unarmed youth, then was not convicted of this crime. Both Dunn and Zimmerman viewed Black youth as criminals or potential criminals, and acted with the expectation that the law would back them up and society would understand their deadly acts.
At least some people on Dunn's jury argued that he should be convicted of murder. But there is no question that one or more jurors bought into the line that white men have the right to blow away Black youths whose conduct somehow offends them. As Jacksonville journalist Tonyaa Weathersbee wrote, these jurors "believed that Davis' cursing at Dunn and arguing over the volume of his music equaled a serious enough threat to make Dunn reasonably fear for his life."
Ron Davis, Jordan's father said [youth like Jordan] "shouldn't live in fear and walk around the streets worrying about if someone has a problem with somebody else that if they are shot, it is just collateral damage."
Think about it. Why do the youth live in fear that some white man who doesn't like the way they look, or the music they listen to, or who thinks they look suspicious, can kill them and get away with it? Why did the prosecution never bring up the hateful racist ravings of Michael Dunn as evidence not only of the kind of person he is, but of why he would initiate a confrontation with a carload of Black youths? Why is it that in the courthouse in Jacksonville that tried Michael Dunn, a Black woman named Marissa Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison because she fired a warning shot into a wall, to try to frighten off an attack by her estranged husband? Why is it that the lawyer who prosecuted both Marissa Alexander and Michael Dunn was able to get a maximum conviction of Alexander with a jury that "deliberated" all of 12 minutes, but unable to convict Dunn of murder?
These are not just isolated stories, random questions, or aberrations from an otherwise just system. They point to a system working the way it is supposed to work.
On November 23, 2012 Jordan Davis was enjoying the long Thanksgiving weekend with some friends. They were hanging out together, having some laughs, going to a mall, listening to music they liked.
Everything changed in a minute when they pulled into a quick mart in Jacksonville. A 47- year-old white man, Michael Dunn, didn't like the music coming out of the youths' Durango SUV, and told them to turn it down. Angry words were exchanged. Dunn then reached into his glove box and pulled out a 9mm handgun. He began firing out his window at the SUV with four teenagers—four Black teenagers—in it. Dunn fired a total of 10 times, and three of those shots tore apart Jordan Davis. Jordan was hit once in each leg. Another bullet went through his liver, both his lungs, and his aorta, and killed him.
When Dunn's girlfriend returned from the store, he drove off to the hotel where they were staying. Dunn claimed he felt "fear and panic."
The reality is that after he had just shot up a car full of people Dunn went to the hotel, ate pizza, walked his dog, watched a movie, and had a couple of drinks. He never bothered to phone police or anyone else about it, much less wait for authorities to arrive. The next day he drove over two hours to his home before telling anyone of the incident.
Dunn claimed his life was threatened by Jordan Davis. He claimed that Jordan poked four inches of either a 12 or 20 gauge shotgun out the window at him. Or maybe it was a lead pipe, Dunn said. Dunn claimed Jordan began getting out of the SUV and moving toward him. He told the Jacksonville jury that it was "Jordan Davis who kept escalating this to the point where I had no choice but to defend myself. It was life or death."
There was definitely a loud argument between Jordan Davis and Michael Dunn. But nothing else in Dunn's story was corroborated by the evidence, or confirmed by other witnesses. There was no evidence or any other witness who claimed there was a gun.
Dunn didn't have to park in the spot next to a vehicle playing music he hates. He could have just stayed in his car. He could have pulled the car away from the youths and waited for his girlfriend at another parking spot. He could have just sat it out and waited another minute or two until she returned from the store.
He did none of those things. Instead, he provoked and initiated a confrontation with the youths. First he began yelling at them, demanding they obey him and turn down the music. When Jordan Davis argued back, Dunn picked up his gun, unholstered it, put a round in the chamber, and shot repeatedly into a car with four people.
If this isn't "premeditated murder", what is? Everything Dunn did, and didn't do, indicates very clearly that he was thinking about what he was doing, and he carried it out with deadly, cold blooded violence against people he despised. Not because he knew anything about these individuals, but because he regards all Black youth who listen to rap music as thugs and criminals.
While in jail awaiting trial, Dunn wrote to his grandmother that "truth and the law" were on his side. Truth is most definitely not on the side of Michael Dunn. Sorting out the different stories—the "narratives," as some news reports put it—of what happened on that fateful November day is not complicated. Michael Dunn pulled out a gun and unloaded it on an adjacent vehicle with four unarmed human beings inside; he continued shooting at them as they pulled away. Jordan Davis, 17 years old, lay bleeding to death in the SUV after Dunn's barrage.
But what makes a white man think he is perfectly justified, that the law is "on his side," when he kills an unarmed Black teenager?
A whole history and legacy of white supremacy and oppression of Black people, and a legal system that enforces that oppression, were behind Dunn's statement, and gave him the confidence he could shoot and kill a Black youth and drive away without worrying about the consequences. Black people have faced brutal and continual oppression from the days of slavery, through Jim Crow, down to today and the mass criminalization and incarceration of Black people, and especially Black youth.
In Florida, the same year Jordan Davis was murdered, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by cop wannabe George Zimmerman because he looked "suspicious." And as everyone knows, a Florida jury found Zimmerman not guilty. Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's lawyer, gave some advice to Dunn's lawyer in the Jacksonville newspaper, when he wrote that to find Dunn "not guilty" of first degree murder on the basis of "reasonable doubt" it was only necessary for Dunn to claim he felt threatened.
In other words, in the United States today, and in Florida in particular, prejudices and hatred of a racist white man are legal grounds for murdering Black youth.
Dunn's seething hatred, fear, and contempt of Black people, especially Black youth, pulse throughout the letters he sent from jail to relatives and friends after his arrest. So do many threats and warnings from Dunn that Black youth are bringing violent deaths upon themselves—they are "asking for it."
Dunn's letters are full of the arrogant swagger of a white man who thinks he is entitled to and deserving of superiority over Black people; who thinks Black teenagers should call him "sir" and jump to obey commands he shouts at them. He writes and acts like a man who has every expectation that society and the law are on his side, and will understand that when he shoots at and kills an unarmed Black youth, this is a perfectly reasonable and justifiable act.
He wrote to his grandmother that he is "not really prejudiced against race, but I have no use for certain cultures. This gangster rap, gang thug 'culture' that certain segments of society flock to is intolerable." In another letter Dunn wrote that "it's spooky how... biased towards blacks the courts are. This jail is full of blacks and they all act like thugs. ... This may sound a bit radical but if more people would arm themselves and kill these fucking idiots when they're threatening you, eventually they may take the hint and change their behavior."
Of course, Dunn knew nothing about Jordan Davis, or the other youths when he began shooting into their car. The only thing he knew of Jordan Davis and the other youths was that they were young Black men listening to music he doesn't like, and they didn't turn down the volume for him.
The state prosecution team—which included State Attorney Angela Corey, who supervised the prosecution of George Zimmerman, and John Guy, who also was a prosecutor in the case against George Zimmerman—did nothing to contradict Dunn's lawyers about his motive for killing Jordan Davis. The hatred of Black youth that Dunn poured out, the explicit and veiled threats against Black people and what Dunn calls "thug culture," the demand that Black youth "change their behavior" or be killed was not an issue in the courtroom.
But how could all this not be relevant to the prosecution of Michael Dunn? Why wasn't Dunn's virulent racism forcefully brought out to contest Dunn's claim that he was acting "in self defense," when in fact he initiated and then escalated a verbal conflict, and turned it into a murderous assault?
The dominant culture in this society is saturated with the criminalization of Black youth. Generations of Black youth have been treated by the police, the courts, the educational system and other social institutions as generations of criminals, and imprisoned in great numbers. Of about 2.3 million people in prison today, about 60 percent are Black or Latino. Portrayals of Black youth as thugs and criminals are so common on TV and the movies it is almost a surprise when a Black youth isn't depicted that way. The "nightly news" in city after city across the country spins out one story after another of Black youth supposedly engaged in terrifying and violent crimes.
Dunn is someone who embraces and participates in that culture of white supremacy; at least one of the jurors accepts it and sees Dunn's murderous aggressive actions as reasonable. The entire legal system, operating under its self-proclaimed banner of "equality before the law," masks and perpetuates a system of deep inequality embedded in its economic and social structure, reflected and reinforced in its dominant institutions.
Everyone who feels anger over the hung jury in the trial of Jordan Davis needs to ask themselves, what will it take to get to a place where all the youth are cherished and nurtured, where their creativity, initiative, and energy is prized, where their innovations and insights are welcomed, not feared. What will it take to get to a social and legal system that does not repeatedly find excuses and justifications for gunning down Black youth because they are said to be "suspicious," or because their music is too loud?
This system of capitalism-imperialism we live in has extracted fortunes over centuries from the brutal exploitation of Black people—from the days of enslavement, through the Jim Crow years of segregation and lynching, to the subjugation of "last hired/first fired" and staying at the bottom in the factories of the North. But now we are in a place where this system can no longer profitably exploit the masses of Black people in the same way. This system has no place and no future for the youth especially.
As Carl Dix says in his statement on this verdict:
"By not convicting Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis, Amerikkka is declaring, once again, that Black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect. How long are we going to put up with Black people being gunned down, or lynched, by racists and by the police? Nothing short of revolution is needed to uproot the white supremacist capitalist system that is responsible for these racist murders. And as part of getting to the point when it's time to make revolution, we have to powerfully come together against these outrageous injustices. Get with the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and the movement for revolution it is building and get into the works of Bob Avakian, the leader of the RCP. These murders have been going down too damned long. They must be stopped, once and for all."
Carl's full statement needs to get out urgently and widely!
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
February 10, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Across the planet, women are being slammed backwards—facing the epidemic of rape, the scourge of sexual slavery, the degradation of pornography, the imprisonment of the veil, the humiliation of the woman-hating cultures, and the countless other punishments meted out against women and young girls for the "crime" of being born female.
"The fabric of women's oppression is carved deeply into the calloused hands of women in the sweatshops of China and Honduras. It is draped over the faces of young women in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. It is stripped off the bodies of girls of Moldova and Bangkok who are put up for sale in brothels worldwide, and it is worn like a prize by pre-teens in the U.S. and Europe who are taught to dress and move like sex objects long before they understand what sex even is. This fabric ropes back into history, it winds its way around the globe, braided into all the dominant religions and "moral codes" and woven into every aspect of human societies. It is a heavy veil that casts the darkness of humanity's first oppressive divisions over the lives, the dreams, and the prospects of every corner of humanity in the 21st century.
"To live like this on this planet in the 21st century cannot be justified and should not be accepted. None of this can be tolerated or excused away with counsel of patience.
WE DECLARE: NO MORE!
"Women need emancipation. Women need liberation from thousands of years of tradition's chains. This is a declaration that stands on the clear recognition that for humanity as a whole to advance, half of humanity must be lifted from centuries of being condemned to being the property of men and pitilessly exploited, demeaned and degraded in a thousand ways.
"Women are not breeders. Women are not lesser beings. Women are not objects created for the sexual pleasure of men. Women are human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor. When women are held down, all of humanity is held back. Women must win liberation, and they can only be liberated through the revolutionary transformation of the world and the emancipation of all of humanity, and through being a powerful motive force in that revolution."
International Women's Day is a day to call forth the fury of women and unleash it as a mighty force for revolution. It is a day for all who dream of and yearn for a better world to act on the recognition that you cannot break all the chains except one, that if you are serious about winning full liberation you must include the fight for the full liberation of women. It is a day to call forth mass struggle against all forms of enslavement and degradation of women, and it is a day to make all this contribute to hastening the development of a situation where revolution here and all over the world will become possible.
This March 8, join with protests and other actions around this country and across the world.
Break the Chains! Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution!
Go here for info on IWD 2014 actions in NYC, SF Bay Area, Seattle, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
February 17, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
I was wrangling with the challenge the movement for revolution faces today of accumulating forces for revolution and in particular the form of forging cores of people to take responsibility in different ways around various political initiatives we lead, and things like Revolution Books and different specific events like forums or even New Year's Eve parties. I remembered that there was something about this process in a talk Bob Avakian gave several years ago called "Reaching for the Heights and Flying Without a Safety Net," so I went back to take a look at that talk. But when I went back to Reaching/Flying, what BA says is somewhat different than the shorthand which I have been using ("forging and re-forging the core")—he is pointing to a more strategic and more sweeping contradiction.
The title of the section in the talk is "Expanding and Transforming the 'We' Who Holds State Power," so he is talking about the "we" who holds state power, but the section is very applicable NOW to the whole process of "how thousands can be brought forward and oriented, organized and trained in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation" (from "On the Strategy for Revolution" in BAsics). He doesn't just pose it as forging or even re-forging the "we," but expanding and transforming the "we." Perhaps this process is implicit in the forging and re-forging formulation, but I found both elements of expanding, and especially the transforming, to be challenging and somewhat different from how I had been thinking. There had been a tendency in my thinking to narrow down this process to be "getting people to take this (whatever the particular project is) up as their own," "taking responsibility for this effort," "being part of the core"—which all too often translates into what people are going to do to make whatever particular thing a success, which does need to happen, but BA puts the process in a much more strategic context. This paragraph from that section of Reaching/Flying is worth measuring our thinking, and practice, against:
We have to be expanding the "we" even before state power is won—and, again, in a more magnified and concentrated way, after revolutionary state power is established and consolidated.
We have to do this until there is no more state power, until there is no more need for a vanguard, until there is no division between leadership and led and the potential no longer exists for that to be transformed into an antagonistic, oppressive relationship. And this has to be accomplished on a world scale. Nothing less than that is the magnitude of the task that we're undertaking. After all, as important as the seizure of power truly is, it is not an end in itself and is not the final aim—the final aim is the establishment of communism, with the abolition of class antagonisms and class distinctions altogether, the end of all oppressive social relations and divisions, not just in this or that country but throughout the world, and the establishment of a world community of freely associating human beings who are, as Mao put it, consciously and voluntarily transforming themselves as well as the objective world. (Emphasis added)
He is measuring what we will be doing after seizing state power and noting that even this is not the final aim, but communism is and that is what we have to be working on. I think sometimes objectively our practice with aiming to forge these "we's" reflects that we are focused on at the given time as being the end result of the process we are leading, instead of this process of preparing the thousands to lead millions referred to above, as part of the transformation of both the Party and the masses. These efforts we are leading today are extremely important in their own right but not for their own sake.
If when the event/project is over and it is just "on to the next thing" we are doing—and we are not conceiving of it, or building on it in various ways, as part of the process of accumulating forces for revolution—then what are we actually doing? When we do make an advance and unleash a core of people around a project, are we measuring that just against the goal of how "successful," or not, that particular project was? As opposed to that, we need to be measuring what we have accomplished, and identifying difficulties we have been having, against the "On the Strategy for Revolution" statement referred to above. To repeat, it sets an objective of "how thousands can be brought forward and oriented, organized and trained in a revolutionary way, while beginning to reach and influence millions more, even before there is a revolutionary situation," in order to be able to actually lead when a revolutionary situation begins to develop. Flowing from that objective, do we aim to not only unleash people in a particular effort but, in dialectical relationship to that, also build ongoing relationships with them proceeding from our communist understanding, learning from them but also struggling with them to transform their thinking, and with that goal of forging the "thousands"—and the larger goal of which that is part, the emancipation of all humanity—in the forefront of our thinking? We need to be working with these cores in ways so that, as much as possible, they themselves are consciously preparing to be part of those thousands.
There do have to be shorter-term goals. It is really important that BA becomes a household word and that the mass, multi-faceted fundraising campaign, BA Everywhere, really meet its goals to achieve that. Broad political resistance needs to be mounted against the outrages which this system spawns on a horribly regular basis. Events and campaigns around these objectives have to be launched, built broadly and summed up so that further advances can be made—and "expanding and transforming the 'we'" is crucial to achieving those objectives. But sometimes I think the cores we are setting out to forge are too often an extension of more overall thinking of these efforts as separate from the whole process of making revolution, a way of thinking, and practice, which has been characterized as "thing to thing." This way of thinking cuts off building these cores—and ultimately everything else we are doing—from the overall process of expanding and transforming the "we" which eventually will wield state power after state power is seized through revolution, but even beyond that, from the process and goal of humanity "consciously and voluntarily transforming themselves as well as the objective world."
How do the people we are forging these cores with, both those people more central to the core and those we are seeking to bring forward into that core more broadly, see the world and the contradictions both of the particular contradiction we are working with them on to transform, and also the wider world and bigger questions? How are we working to transform their thinking in ways that more correspond to reality? What are their questions individually and what patterns and trends can we discern from knowing that? Then how do we address those questions in the pages of our paper and our website—in order to transform their thinking and the thinking of blocs of people they represent, the sections of people that they come from or which they are the political and literary representatives of? Do we principally focus on how they can play an active role in building the event/campaign, what they will do, and reduce our role as communists to letting them know if they want to get into the bigger questions of revolution and communism, we are open to discussing that with them? Or are we repeatedly, in a living and materialist way, showing how the particular abuses spring from the underlying contradictions of capitalism-imperialism, seizing on the reality that communism springs from every pore of society and showing that it doesn't have to be this way, that there is a very liberating future that is possible. And because of BA and the work he has done, building on the past advances, but summing up the shortcomings and errors and breaking through on some of the knotty problems which up until now had not been addressed and/or solved on how to go forward to seize power and then advance to communism, there is a viable vision and strategy, and a leadership to achieve that. And conceiving of what we are doing as leading them. And making all of this scientific understanding, while not being the basis of unity of a particular effort, something which will be compelling and challenging for them to engage and struggle around, even while we are working together with them on a project with its own discreteness and particularity. And doing all of this because we, ourselves, are taking up the strategic objectives of making revolution "not merely as far-off and essentially abstract goals (or ideals) but as things to be actively striven for and built toward." (BAsics 3:30) And are bringing forward people, in waves, to do so as well.
Earlier in the talk quoted above (Reaching/Flying), BA poses the question,"What are we preparing ourselves and the masses for? That's another way to put it. And how are we going about that?" And then a bit later in this section he says, "Even now, there is the decisive question of bringing forward the masses and not only leading them in resisting their oppression today but preparing them for the future, preparing them to rule and revolutionize society."Are we actually proceeding from that when we think about forging these cores, expanding and transforming the "we" at every point? If we aren't aiming for that, then ultimately what are we doing but fighting for reforms absent any actual concrete building of a movement for revolution, which is objectively being a knife in the back of the masses instead of being the vanguard party which the masses so desperately need to lead them to make revolution when the conditions are right? And when we are doing that, then we are part of making great advances in the transformation of the people in preparation for making revolution when those conditions do come into being.
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
A Global Event
February 17, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On February 14, all around the world, women and men took to the streets as part of One Billion Rising For Justice to dance, sing, and protest against violence against women and other forms of injustice. As Andy Zee, spokesperson for Revolution Books in New York City, wrote on revcom, "One Billion Rising For Justice is a very positive international manifestation against the abuse of women.... The day forges a sense of worldwide community of joyful resistance to what is one of the deepest and most vicious forms of oppression—the brutalization, degradation, denial of the basic humanity of women." Read Sunsara Taylor's post to the One Billion Rising blog "Break the Chains: Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution—This is Why I Rise..." at revcom.us. And the website onebillionrising.org is gathering videos and other news of what happened that day around the world.
* * * * *
From Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA:
"You cannot break all the chains, except one. You cannot say you want to be free of exploitation and oppression, except you want to keep the oppression of women by men. You can't say you want to liberate humanity yet keep one half of the people enslaved to the other half. The oppression of women is completely bound up with the division of society into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited, and the ending of all such conditions is impossible without the complete liberation of women. All this is why women have a tremendous role to play not only in making revolution but in making sure there is all-the-way revolution. The fury of women can and must be fully unleashed as a mighty force for proletarian revolution."
(Download: PDF | JPG)
"Look at all these beautiful children who are female in the world. And in addition to all the other outrages which I have referred to, in terms of children throughout the slums and shantytowns of the Third World, in addition to all the horrors that will be heaped on them—the actual living in garbage and human waste in the hundreds of millions as their fate, laid out before them, yes, even before they are born—there is, on top of this, for those children who are born female, the horror of everything that this will bring simply because they are female in a world of male domination. And this is true not only in the Third World. In 'modern' countries like the U.S. as well, the statistics barely capture it: the millions who will be raped; the millions more who will be routinely demeaned, deceived, degraded, and all too often brutalized by those who are supposed to be their most intimate lovers; the way in which so many women will be shamed, hounded and harassed if they seek to exercise reproductive rights through abortion, or even birth control; the many who will be forced into prostitution and pornography; and all those who—if they do not have that particular fate, and even if they achieve some success in this 'new world' where supposedly there are no barriers for women—will be surrounded on every side, and insulted at every moment, by a society and a culture which degrades women, on the streets, in the schools and workplaces, in the home, on a daily basis and in countless ways."
(Download: PDF | JPG)
"In many ways, and particularly for men, the woman question and whether you seek to completely abolish or to preserve the existing property and social relations and corresponding ideology that enslave women (or maybe 'just a little bit' of them) is a touchstone question among the oppressed themselves. It is a dividing line between 'wanting in' and really 'wanting out': between fighting to end all oppression and exploitation—and the very division of society into classes—and seeking in the final analysis to get your part in this."
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
February 11, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From Gregory Koger:
February 10, 2014. Prisoners in Menard, Illinois, have refused liquids as they entered the fourth week of a courageous hunger strike opposing their placement into administrative segregation in filthy conditions of severe isolation. (For more background see "Rising From the Pit: Illinois Prisoners Join National Upsurge of Resistance to Torture and Dehumanizing Conditions in U.S. Prisons") Attorney Alice Lynd reported, "The Menard hunger strikers have apparently decided to go without liquid as well as food, and their physical condition could deteriorate rapidly."1 These men's lives are on the line and we must support them.
At least one prisoner has been beaten in retaliation for being on hunger strike and others have reported receiving retaliatory “disciplinary reports.” A Chicago attorney for some of the hunger strikers has also reported that in the first weeks of the hunger strike the Illinois Department of “Corrections” (IDOC) had been barring the prisoners from using the telephone and holding up their legal mail, preventing information about the conditions of the hunger strikers from getting out in a timely manner.
IDOC has issued a number of bald-faced lies in response to journalists’ inquiries into the prisoners' demands. In regards to the prisoners having no notice of the reasons for their placement into administrative segregation, IDOC Director of “Communications” Tom Shaer told Solitary Watch that because prisoners have allegedly been “interviewed about issues causing [their] placement” into ad-seg, they have “a very good idea of the reasons.”2 However, in the next breath Shaer actually revealed that—just as the hunger strikers have claimed—the IDOC has provided no actual formal legal notice of the reasons for their segregation: Shaer admitted that “the placement decisions and 90-day reviews contain confidential information, so issuing copies to prisoners could pose a security threat.”3 Shaer then had the audacity to claim that “we don’t have Solitary Confinement in Illinois prisons” while running down a listing of conditions of confinement that, as Solitary Watch pointed out, exactly fit the definition of solitary confinement used by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other human rights groups.4
One of the hunger strikers wrote and asked that “you & your friends call the Governor’s office, the Director of IDOC S.A. Godinez, & the Warden of Menard CC, and inquire about our peaceful protest & our reasons & conditions of confinement.”5 He added, “Our conditions are inextricably linked to the social mobilization across the nation against the injustice of mass incarceration. We hope that we have your support & we thank you.”6
Illinois Department of Corrections Director Salvador Godinez, (217) 558-2200, ext. 2008, Illinois Department of Corrections, P.O. Box 19277, Springfield IL 62794-9277 or http://www2.illinois.gov/idoc/contactus/Pages/default.aspx
Warden Rick Harrington, (618) 826-5071, P.O. Box 711, Menard IL 62259
1. "Menard hunger strikers refusing water until face-to-face hearings begin," Alice Lynd, San Francisco BayView, February 9, 2014 [back]
2. Voices from Solitary: Hunger Strike in Menard Prison, Solitary Watch, February 6, 2014 [back]
3. Ibid. [back]
4. Ibid. [back]
5. Ibid. [back]
6. Ibid. [back]
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
By Alan Goodman | February 17, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
In a recent Opinion piece in the New York Times, Hirsh Goodman writes:
ON Feb. 4, 1965, as a teenager, I left South Africa, the country of my birth, for a new home in a place I'd never been—Israel.
I loved South Africa, but I loathed the apartheid system. In Israel, I saw a fresh start for a people rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, a place of light and justice, as opposed to the darkness and oppression of apartheid South Africa.
Now, almost 50 years later, after decades of arguing that Israel is not an apartheid state and that it's a calumny and a lie to say so, I sense that we may be well down the road to being seen as one. That's because, in this day and age, brands are more powerful than truth and, inexplicably, blindly, Israel is letting itself be branded an apartheid state—and even encouraging it. ("Losing the Propaganda War," January 31, 2014).
Hirsh Goodman is responding to growing outrage at the way Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people is associated with the terrible crimes of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Many other defenders of Israel, including recently in statements by Vice President Joe Biden, are sounding alarms that Israel is perceived very widely as an apartheid state.
They are reacting to, among other things the growth of a worldwide movement for Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions which has achieved important successes in exposing and opposing Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people.1
Under apartheid, black (and other non-white) South Africans were locked down in prison-like "Bantustans," without the most basic necessities of life (like clean water or decent shelter). They were treated as non-humans, subject to fascist "pass laws" that governed their every movement if they left.
On the backs of their labor, white settlers lived the lifestyles of northern Europeans and global capitalism-imperialism accumulated massive profits. And apartheid South Africa served as a military enforcer for the interests of the U.S. empire in southern Africa, particularly in the "cold war" era, backing massive terrorist operations against and invasions of neighboring countries. (For an understanding of apartheid South Africa, where it came from, what it represented, why and how it fell, and the current state of affairs in South Africa, see "The Legacy of Nelson Mandela and the ANC's Non-Revolutionary Road" from A World to Win News Service at revcom.us).
But Hirsh Goodman claims that the growing association of those crimes with Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people is wrong. That this is a product of Israeli policies that he insists are at odds with the fundamental nature of Israel. And he blames forces who oppose Israel's "occupation of Palestinians' land and, in some cases, Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state," and who Hirsh sees as striving for the "delegitimization" of Israel.
Hirsh Goodman argues that in apartheid South Africa:
"Masses of black people were forcibly moved from tribal lands to arid Bantustans in the middle of nowhere. A 'pass system' stipulated where blacks could live and work, splitting families and breaking down social structures, to provide cheap labor for the mines and white-owned businesses, and a plentiful pool of domestic servants for the white minority. Those found in violation were arrested, usually lashed, and sentenced to stints of hard labor for a few shillings per prisoner per day, payable to the prison service.
"None of this even remotely exists in Israel or the occupied territories."
Yes it does.
This is not a matter of branding. ALL of the things Hirsh Goodman denies exist do exist—as the BASIS for the state of Israel. And as crimes that are happening EVERY DAY throughout occupied Palestine.
Here is the basic reality underlying the place Hirsh Goodman describes as "a place of light and justice."
Zionism—a movement for a Jewish State in Palestine—emerged as a movement among Jewish people in Europe in the late 1800s. The movement was one response to the persecution of the Jewish people by the capitalist ruling classes and other reactionary forces in Europe, and it was in opposition to other movements with wide appeal among Jewish people that opposed oppression in unity with other oppressed and exploited people in the places they lived. Zionism got traction with the sponsorship of European imperialist powers that saw it as an opportunity to establish a colonial outpost in the Middle East.
Israel is portrayed as "a land without a people for a people without a land." That is only the case if one considers that Palestinian people not to be human. In 1880, 24,000 Jews lived in Palestine among 450,000 Palestinians. Palestinians owned and farmed virtually all the land. By 1922, several decades of Zionist-sponsored Jewish immigration from Europe had only raised that percentage to about 11 percent.
The Nakba (an Arabic word for "catastrophe"), in 1948, "cleared the ground" literally for the establishment of the state of Israel. This was wave after wave of violent Zionist terror concentrated in the year 1948. One million Palestinians were brutally forced from their land, villages and homes, fleeing with only the possessions they could carry. Many were raped, tortured and killed. To ensure that there would be nothing for the Palestinians to return to, their villages and even many olive and orange trees were thoroughly destroyed. When the Nakba ended, there had been 31 documented massacres—and probably others.2
And rather than being any kind of place of "light and justice," Israel has been a violent enforcer of the interests of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East, and around the world. Israel developed and maintains a substantial nuclear arsenal with which it holds the entire region hostage. Israel has invaded neighboring countries and carried out terrible crimes around the world in service of the U.S. empire—including a significant role in the genocide of 200,000 Guatemalan indigenous people in the early 1980s, and major military backing for apartheid South Africa. (See "The U.S. ... Israel ... and Crimes Around the World" at revcom.us).
Today, the areas which the Palestinian people are confined to are every bit as oppressive as apartheid South Africa's Bantustans.
A towering wall—known to all as the "Apartheid Wall"—zigzags through populated areas of the West Bank where Palestinians still struggle to survive. It divides farmers from their fields. It cuts off towns from each other, requiring Palestinians to be subjected to degrading and potentially lethal detention and interrogation to travel from town to town.
The two million people in Gaza are literally confined in prison conditions, unable to leave, even to visit family in other parts of Palestine. They can see the homes they and their parents and grandparents were driven from on Google Maps, but they can't visit them. They can't see who is living in homes they were driven from. If they venture near the heavily armed walls that keep them locked into Gaza, they will be fired on by Israeli soldiers.
All this is undeniably similar to apartheid South Africa's pass laws—if anything, worse.
Gaza has a coast on the Mediterranean Sea, but the Palestinian people are unable to fish in the sea—which is patrolled by Israeli gunboats. Gaza has farmable land, but farmers who try to harvest crops too near the border with Israel are shot at by Israeli soldiers. Every bit of food, building material, medicine, and anything else that gets into Gaza is filtered by Israeli border guards to provide just enough calories for people to live, and the UN has reported food supplies in Gaza equivalent to those among the poorest families in sub-Saharan Africa, with half the families surviving on one meal a day.
Again, this is not about "branding." It's the truth. Israel is akin to apartheid-era South Africa—and its oppression of the Palestinian people is a particularly egregious crime in a world of raging injustices and oppression.
As part of his argument that the association of Israel with apartheid South Africa is just an issue of "branding," Hirsh Goodman writes:
"Unfortunately, Israel is doing almost everything it can to help its opponents achieve their goal. Instead of focusing on peace talks, Israel continuously signals its intention to build more settlement housing, most recently on Jan. 10, when plans for 1,400 new homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank were announced."
Here's the basic background to this so-called "settlement housing":
The Palestinian nation is currently divided into three entities—1) Israel 2) what are referred to as the "occupied territories" and 3) areas nominally administered by the Palestine Authority.
The bulk of Palestine, including the best land, most of the access to the Mediterranean Sea and the largest cities was seized by Israel through ethnic cleansing and war in 1948. After 1948, the UN (unjustly) drew boundaries based on that ethnic cleansing and war, recognizing a state of Israel and setting aside the remainder of Palestine for the Palestinians. These 1948 boundaries are the formal, "internationally recognized" borders of Israel. And this ongoing crime is enforced by one of the most powerful militaries in the world, and by daily terror against the displaced Palestinian people (see sidebar "Kidnapping and Torturing Children with Self-Righteousness").
As a result of wars since 1948, Israel militarily occupies much of the area designated as Palestine by the UN. These areas—still populated by Palestinian people—include the eastern part of the city of Jerusalem and much of the West Bank of the Jordan River (the western-most section of Palestine). These areas are referred to as the "occupied territories" and Israeli occupation of them is illegal under all international mandates and agreements.
Since 1993, small, disconnected sections of the West Bank and Gaza have been administered by different factions of the Palestine Authority. The Palestine Authority has no real authority. It is not allowed to maintain an army or defend the borders of the area it administers from constant Israeli military encroachment, and is not recognized as a state by Israel.
The government of Israel has repeatedly expanded what it calls "settlements" in the "occupied territories" in the West Bank. These "settlements" are armed outposts of highly armed, fanatical Zionists who spread terror among the Palestinian residents of the "occupied territories."
What Hirsh Goldman blithely calls "settlement housing," and condemns only as bad PR on the part of Israel, is an ongoing escalation of the ethnic cleaning of the Palestinian people from their homeland. And a statement to the world that there are no rights of the Palestinian people and no international legal mandates that Israel is bound to respect.
If, in fact, apartheid South Africa was illegitimate, then what makes Israel—a nation torn from the Palestinian people through ethnic cleansing and terror, and a regional and global hit-man for the U.S. empire—legitimate?
Defenders of Israel (including Barack Obama) invoke the Holocaust as their "bottom line" argument.
But the lesson of that terrible crime—the genocidal killing of millions of Jews (and others) by German imperialism and other reactionary forces in Europe in World War II—should be that this kind of horror should never be repeated anywhere, ever again. That people cannot stand by in silence or passivity when such crimes are being prepared or carried out. That understanding—which does reflect the real lesson of the Holocaust, argues for standing with the Palestinian people against their oppression by Israel. More than a few Jewish people, including Holocaust survivors, have taken that stand.
Defenders of Israel, on the other hand, invoke the Holocaust to argue that any crime is justifiable if it means defending "my people" under any circumstances. That because of the terrible crimes committed by German imperialism and other reactionary forces in Europe against the Jews and others—whatever Israel does is justified. (for a full exploration of the nature of the Holocaust see "Revolution Responds to Question on Nature of Holocaust" at revcom.us) That is a morality that serves a world of oppression and exploitation, the grinding up of billions facilitated by setting sections of people against each other. Invoking the Holocaust does not legitimize the state of Israel, it is a further exposure of its illegitimacy.
* * *
Comparisons of Israel today to apartheid South Africa are simply accurate. The growing "delegitimization" of Israel in people's understanding is most fundamentally rooted in the fundamental illegitimacy of a state built on terrorist ethnic cleansing and serving as a global enforcer for a world of exploitation and oppression.
1. The aims of BDS are summarized at the website bdsmovement.net: "In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights." In December, 2013, the American Studies Association voted to endorse an academic boycott of Israel. The Association for Asian-American Studies has also taken this stand. Courageous, important stands like this have shined a spotlight on Israel's oppression of the Palestinian people and contributed to exposing and isolating Israel. And important institutions and organizations around the world have endorsed B.D.S. [back]
2. Ilan Pappe's book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine makes a carefully documented indictment that the dispossession of the Palestinian people meets the legal definition of ethnic cleansing, and that it was the conscious plan of key Zionist leaders. The book draws on primary sources from the Israeli military archives, including the diary of David Ben-Gurion who played a key political and military role in the founding of Israel. [back]
3. "The U.S. ... Israel ... and Crimes Around the World" (Revolution #214, October 10, 2010)
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
Response to Bill Keller
by Li Onesto | February 17, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On January 26, 2014, a major opinion piece appeared in the New York Times titled, "America on Probation" by Bill Keller. It begins by saying, "In recent years Americans have begun to wise up to the idea that our overstuffed prisons are a shameful waste of lives and money. Lawmakers have recoiled from the high price of mass incarceration ... and some have recognized that our prisons feed a pathological cycle of poverty, community dysfunction, crime and hopelessness."
Many people reading this may have thought: "Finally, someone in the mainstream press is addressing this big problem." Because in the last few years there's not only been increasing awareness of the problem of mass incarceration in the U.S., but a struggle has been growing against it, including heroic hunger strikes by prisoners in California.
The New York Times, read nationally and internationally, is a major outlet for liberal U.S. ruling class voices. In this piece Keller, who was its executive editor from July 2003 until September 2011 and then became a full-time writer, is representing the concerns and views of a growing section of the ruling class about the current situation of mass incarceration.
After Keller gets everyone's attention by bringing up a problem many are concerned about, he quickly moves on to propose some "broad strategies" he says "seem promising." But before looking at these, a few points on Keller's method—the way of thinking he uses to make his arguments and draw his conclusions. Because if we want to understand the world in order to change it—then it's important how we think about it.
If our method of thinking is flawed, then we're not going to be able to understand not only the problem, but also the solution. But while Keller throws "the problem" out there in broad strokes he actually doesn't talk about what the REAL problem is. And he doesn't talk about what led to this whole situation of mass incarceration in the U.S.
If you want to solve a problem you have to not only correctly identify it, but also analyze and get to the root of the problem. Keller doesn't do this. In fact even in the ways he briefly characterizes the situation he embeds a wrong understanding of this problem.
First, he doesn't even mention that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world; that there are some 2.3 million people behind bars, many for non-violent crimes. He doesn't talk about the fact that some 80,000 are held in solitary confinement, in conditions that fit the international definition of torture. And it is incredible that anyone could write a serious piece about prisons in the U.S. and not even mention the fact that around 60% of those incarcerated are Black and Latino; or acknowledge the many other indicators of racism in the U.S. judicial system (except for one small mention of the effect of mandatory minimum sentences on Black men).
Keller does point out that "our prisons are an international scandal" and here he's speaking some truth. From the viewpoint of the U.S. ruling class, there is real concern about how this is impacting America's "image" in the world and this is a big part of why, as Keller points out, there is "an emerging consensus" among different forces—including different bourgeois forces—that some things need to be done about mass incarceration.
Here we have the United States, going all around the world, invading and occupying countries, bragging about how "we are the leaders of the free world." We have a Black U.S. president and people are being told that "racism is finally becoming a thing of the past in America." But then there is the ugly reality of mass incarceration, undermining the legitimacy of the system in the eyes of many in the U.S. as well as internationally. This is a problem for the ruling class.
But more than just leaving out some basic truths about the situation, more importantly, Keller actually insinuates a wrong view of what has caused mass incarceration in the United States.
"As crime rates have dropped, the public has registered support for reforms that would have fewer nonviolent offenders languishing in prison." Then, referring to support for reforms, Keller says, "we can only hope the new attitude doesn't evaporate with the next Willie Horton-style rampage or spike in the crime rate."
Here, Keller feeds into a wrong view many people have that the main reason there's a lot of people in prison is because there's a lot of crime.
Later on Keller comes back at this again, saying: "America has long been more inclined than other developed countries to treat crime as a disposal problem; 'trail 'em, nail 'em and jail 'em,' is our tough-on-crime slogan. Beginning in the '70's, rising crime rates, compounded by the crack epidemic and the public fear it aroused, set off a binge of punitive sentencing laws."
But the problem with Keller's premise is that a rise in crime is NOT the main cause of the rise in incarceration. Over the last several decades there has been no correlation between crime rates and the tremendous increase in the number of people being sent to prison.
The mass incarceration of people in the U.S. rose to an all-time high of nearly 2.4 million people in a relatively short period of time. In 1970 there were fewer than 340,000 prisoners in federal and state prisons and local jails. By 2010, in just 40 years, the United States had more than 2.2 million people locked up—with Black and Latino people making up about 60 percent.
But violent crime, which had increased in the 1960s, experienced a sustained decline over the next three decades. For 40 years before this, the prison population had been stable, at around 200,000. Then came the explosion in the U.S. mass incarceration, beginning around 1973—the year President Nixon declared a "war on drugs." Use of illicit drugs has actually been on the decline for about three decades, but arrests for drugs offenses have never been higher. Over the next several decades the number of people in U.S. prisons and jails increased by 800 percent.
Keller's insinuation that mass incarceration in the U.S. is a response to "crime" is false. And to the extent there is public support for "tough on crime" measures to lock people up, this has a lot to do with the fact that people are given a false perception that crime rates are rising and that this is the reason the U.S. puts so many people in prison.
So what is the REAL root cause of the problem of mass incarceration in the United States and what led to this whole situation?
First of all, the incarceration of Black people has developed as a major part of the overall oppression of the masses of Black people in the United States. It has become the leading edge of what Michelle Alexander has called "The New Jim Crow."
Today, you don't have "colored only" signs or men in white sheets running around with nooses. But Black people are still systematically denied equal rights in all kinds of spheres—from health care, to education, to housing, etc. You have the brutalizing and murdering police who especially target the youth.
This mass incarceration involves not only those in prison, but affects tens of millions of Black people. There are the families of those in prison. There are all those who have been in prison—who because of this have an even harder time getting jobs, housing, education, etc. There are all those who on a daily basis live with the threat hanging over them that at any moment they could quickly be targeted, racially profiled, brutalized, and end up in one of the many "pipelines to prison," whether it's gang databases, stop-and-frisk, juvenile detention centers, etc.
How did this whole repressive situation come about? Revolution wrote:
"In 1969, H.R. Haldeman, Nixon's top assistant, wrote in his diary that '[President Nixon] emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.' Thus was born the 'war on drugs.'
"Launched by Nixon, this 'war on drugs' was taken to a whole other level by Reagan, who became president in 1980. It marked a strategic decision by the ruling class to maintain inner-city Black youth in desolate hyper-segregated neighborhoods which lacked jobs, and where education and health care resources had been severely cut. Even with the jobs that remained, discrimination was stepped up, as employers sought to avoid the 'defiance' of Black youth who, in the words of Bob Avakian, were 'not so pliant for capitalist exploitation.' Instead of providing better education and the promise of new opportunities for these youth, drugs would be allowed to flood the inner city (including with the connivance of the CIA), and many inner-city youth would be funneled into the drug trade—where they would then be vulnerable to constant harassment, arrest, imprisonment and social isolation. The rate of imprisonment exploded drastically to the point where shuttling between the hard hustle of the streets and the harder times in prison became the dominant mode of life in many oppressed inner-city communities—a lifetime of lockdowns. Beginning at that time and continuing and intensifying up through today, whenever jobs open up in a major city, people will line up for blocks to even get a chance to apply. But for most of the time—and, in some areas, for most of the people—there is little choice other than the illegal economy." ("The Oppression of Black People, The Crimes of This System and the Revolution We Need")
This was a conscious policy on the part of the U.S. ruling class, that had very conscious aims, responding to two intersecting things during these decades.
As Carl Dix has pointed out about the 1960s:
"The revolutionary upheaval of that period rocked the ruling class back on its heels, but it didn't seize power from them. Having ridden those storms out, and conscious of the role the uprisings of Black people played in spearheading that and their potential for sparking future upheaval, the ruling class has moved to viciously suppress that potential before it can manifest itself—counter-insurgency before the insurgency. ... Going in and out of jail will remain a rite of passage for millions of oppressed youth, many of whom already look to their immediate future and can see nothing more than prison or death. This is slow genocide and, given the sharp divisions in the ruling class and the building up and unleashing of outright fascist forces, it could easily become fast genocide." ("Taking the Movement of Resistance to Mass Incarceration to a Higher Level Thru Unleashing Determined Mass Resistance")
During the decades since the '60s, there has also been the further globalization of U.S. imperialism. This means factories that had existed in cities like Detroit, Chicago, L.A., and New York moved to other countries where capitalists could make greater profits by more savagely exploiting people. For example, we see what happened to Detroit—a city where tens of thousands of Black people could get relatively decent jobs in the auto industry, but is now bankrupt with a sky-high unemployment rate, especially for Black youth. This has created a situation where, even more so than before, this system cannot provide any kind of future for millions and millions of Black and Latino youth. Through the workings of capitalism, generations of youth have become "useless" to the system—and also at the same time, in the eyes of the system, a potentially dangerous and unstable section of society.
Increasingly, the only future this system has to offer millions of inner-city youth is to be a part of their killing machine, to fight in their wars of empire, or to end up in prison.
Mass incarceration is part of a whole strategy of the capitalist-imperialists to both control these youth in general AND to prevent any resistance or, indeed the emergence of a movement for revolution among them. It is a counter-insurgency before an actual insurgency.
So now let's look at Keller's proposals for reforms.
He starts with the question of SENTENCING and how there has been a "binge of punitive sentencing laws." He points to things like three-strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentences, and requirements that felons serve a minimum portion (often 85 percent) of their sentence. He says because of these draconian laws "we are paying to imprison criminals long past the time they present any danger to society" and he quotes the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice who says, "If we're really seeing something deep going on here, the proof will be whether legislators have the political will to roll back sentencing."
So here we have a situation with many tens of thousands of prisoners—including people sentenced for crimes they committed when they were juveniles—serving unjust, long sentences. Some are doing decades, even life without parole, for non-violent crimes. And Keller's "solution" to this? He says, "Restoring common sense to sentencing is the obvious first step in downsizing prisons." But he doesn't say anything about the thousands and thousands of prisoners already serving outrageously unjust sentences. Those who have been given life without parole sentences for non-violent crimes? Those unjustly sentenced under things like "three strikes" mandatory sentencing—including people who got decades for relatively small crimes. The victims of what he correctly calls draconian laws. The only thing Keller says about those already in prison is that some older prisoners should be let out—in other words, let people languish for decades, then let them out after they turn 65.
Keller also talks about SUPERVISION of those who get out of prison:
"A few jurisdictions have tried to make parole and probation less of a revolving door back to prison, with some encouraging results. They focus attention on offenders considered most likely to commit crimes. They send caseworkers out of the office and into the community. They use technology (ankle bracelets with GPS, A.T.M.-style check-in stations, Breathalyzer ignition locks to keep drinkers from driving) to enhance supervision. They employ a disciplinary approach called 'swift and certain,' which responds promptly with a punishment for missing an interview or failing a drug test. The punishments start small, then escalate until the offender gets the message and changes his behavior—preferably before he has to be sent back to prison."
Here, Keller is basically saying that when we do let some prisoners out—we're gonna treat them on the outside like they're still in prison! A lot of people may be unfamiliar with what it's like to be on parole. But ex-prisoners are systematically subjected to constant invasion into their lives, with capricious parole officers deciding their fate; with the tiniest infraction landing them back in prison. Keller is talking about tightening this up even more with a high tech sheen.
When it comes to reforms in POLICING, Keller says that instead of the wholesale policing of "bad neighborhoods" and indiscriminately stopping and frisking residents, what should be done is the targeting of "micro hot spots, such as drug corners, and small groups of violent actors, such as gang members."
Again, what's the actual program here really about? It's about making some changes, perhaps in the breadth of who is targeted, while keeping the essence of things in place—and going more ruthlessly after some sections of the youth. For example, now after all the outrage against stop-and-frisk, the NYPD won't stop so many millions of innocent people. But they have already talked about plans to target in on certain neighborhoods, sections of people—with even more stepped-up repression. And as for Keller's example of targeting "small groups of violent actors"? One only need look at what current NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton did when he was head of the LAPD. He was the one to preside over the gang injunctions where youth could be arrested for simply congregating in groups of two or three on the corner. And in the name of building "community relations" between the police and people in the neighborhoods, he set up networks of informants.
But, people ask, "What about the problem of crime?"
This is a real problem. But again, we have to ask—what is the root cause here?
Youth do crimes and end up in prison. And then they and everyone in society are constantly told it's their fault because they made "bad choices." We are all told that if the youth had only made the right choices—to stay in school, pull up their pants and stop hanging out on the corner, they would have had opportunities.
But seriously, are these youth the ones who made the "choice" to move factories out of the cities to other countries because it was more profitable, so there are no jobs? Are the youth the ones who have a system in financial crisis, who are cutting back social services and funds to inner city schools so poor kids can't get a decent education? Are they the ones who came up with conscious policies like the gang injunction in LA or stop-and-frisk in NYC where youth are systematically criminalized, racially targeted and brutalized? No, it is the very workings of the system that led to these things—that created a situation where as one conservative economist put it, for youth in the inner cities, "crime is a rational choice."
The system is the real criminal here. This is what's at the root of these problems. And this is why Keller's whole program is a dangerous one. Whatever program people like Keller propose—and he also talks about things like diverting nonviolent drug abusers to treatment instead of prison or banning the box on employment applications that ask people if they've ever been in prison—all this will become part of the already highly repressive justice system.
And even more than this is the bigger FACT that no matter what kind of reforms are carried out to America's mass incarceration, such incremental changes leave intact the WHOLE situation of the New Jim Crow where millions of Black and Latino people, most especially the youth, will continue to be criminalized, hounded, brutalized, and imprisoned. It leaves people passive in terms of fighting against all this. And let's remember that from the very beginnings of this country, the oppression of Black people, from slavery up to today, has been integral to the whole way this system operates.
There are many people who want to fight mass incarceration. There are millions of people of all nationalities, outraged at the conditions Black and Latino people face in this society—just look at the tens of thousands who poured into the streets after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin. And it is very harmful if such people get sucked onto a path of fighting with the illusion that we can "reform" mass incarceration and other outrages of this system. Instead, the fight against mass incarceration must be taken up as part of building a movement for revolution.
Mass incarceration in the U.S. is rooted in the white supremacy that has been built into the fabric of U.S. society from the very beginning. As Bob Avakian so aptly put it:
The book by Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, has shined a bright and much needed light on the reality of profound injustice at the very core of this country.
And this brings me back to a very basic point:
This system, in this country, in the whole history of its treatment of Black people, what has it been?
First, Slavery... Then, Jim Crow—segregation and Ku Klux Klan terror... And now, The New Jim Crow—police brutality and murder, wholesale criminalization and mass incarceration, and legalized discrimination yet again.
That's it for this system: Three strikes and you're out!
Yes! America doesn't need to "Be on Probation." This system's time is UP! We need revolution, nothing less to be able to get rid of this system and be able to address the problems we're talking about here—and all the other problems the people face.
We need to build mass struggle against the attacks coming down on the people, against mass incarceration, widespread torture in prisons, the discrimination against former prisoners, and the criminalization of Black and Latino youth. We need a determined fight that can lay bare the illegitimacy of this system. And as we build this struggle, we must bring to people the need for, and possibility of, revolution aimed at bringing a totally different, liberating world into being and bring to them ways to join the fight for that world right now.
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
By Larry Everest | February 17, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Last May 23, in a major speech on the "war on terror," President Barack Obama claimed he was instituting new, more extensive legal oversight of U.S. drone strikes, and repeated his commitment to "due process." Obama's speech was, in part, a response to the widespread global outrage at his escalation of drone strikes (four times the number conducted by George W. Bush), the tensions that these had created between the U.S. and its allies, as well as what Obama acknowledged were the "constitutional issues" raised by the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki and three other American citizens in drone strikes—in other words, profound issues of legality and legitimacy.
Obama's May 23 speech was full of reassurances and legal buzzwords: he claimed he agonized deeply before blowing someone to bits with a drone missile, he was adhering to due process, and that he was now instituting even more transparency and new restrictions. "I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen—with a drone, or a shotgun—without due process," he claimed. "I've insisted on strong oversight... submitted information....briefed the Congress" before the al-Awlaki strike, we've set a "high threshold" before killing anyone, now we want to "extend oversight" even more. All this to reassure people that things had changed—the U.S. government was no longer run by the cowboy Bush regime which seemed to take pride in openly twisting or flouting existing law and precedent.
Now, on February 10, some eight months after Obama's speech, the New York Times reported that the U.S. was once again discussing assassinating a U.S. citizen:
Protesting drones and wars at Obama's inauguration, January 21, 2013. Photo: Li Onesto/Revolution
"The Obama administration is debating whether to authorize a lethal strike against an American citizen living in Pakistan who some believe is actively plotting terrorist attacks...The officials would not confirm the identity of the suspect, or provide any information about what evidence they have amassed about the suspect's involvement in attacks against Americans. ...Details about the deliberations—including the identity of the proposed target, what he is accused of doing and the quality of any evidence against him—remain murky."
The Times noted that this "is the first time American officials have actively discussed killing an American citizen overseas since President Obama imposed new restrictions on drone operations last May." ("U.S. Debates Drone Strike on American Terrorism Suspect in Pakistan," New York Times, February 10, 2014)
Let's walk through what's actually going on here (including decoding the New York Times' dispassionate, euphemism-filled coverage).
Protesting drones and wars at Obama's inauguration, January 21, 2013. Photo: Li Onesto/Revolution
So now it turns out the reforms and "oversight" promised by Obama are meaningless. According to The New York Times, one change was that only the Pentagon would conduct strikes against Americans in order to make them more "transparent"—although the CIA could carry them out if need be; and those targeted would supposedly have to pose "a continuing, imminent threat against Americans." But even the Times admitted all this remains shrouded in secrecy: "Details about the deliberations—including the identity of the proposed target, what he is accused of doing and the quality of any evidence against him—remain murky."
As Revolution summed up after Obama's May 23 speech:
"... [T]he due process that has been in effect is not the due process of law and judicial review. It is process of review and secret decision-making of the executive branch without recourse to open courts and any kind of civil liberties or rights at all for those targeted for assassination. Again, as in the Bush years, it is the 'trust us, we know'—in this case, the deliberation of the president and advisors as they draw up and review 'kill lists' is called 'due process.' Obama raised the possibility of some kind of oversight mechanism—but the goal is simply to provide a legal fig leaf for executive action, for the broad authority to strike terror, instant incineration, outside any battle zone." ("Obama's Speech: Not a Step in the Right Direction, But Justification for Assassination, Torture, and Unjust War" Revolution #305, May 30, 2013)
What Glenn Greenwald—investigative journalist who, along with documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, was the first to receive and publish Edward Snowden's leaked NSA documents—wrote after Obama's recent NSA speech, applies to drones as well: "The crux of this tactic is that U.S. political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are 'serious questions that have been raised.' They vow changes to fix the system and ensure that these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic 'reforms' so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge." ("'Reforms' Aimed at Keeping Mass Surveillance Intact" Revolution #329, February 3, 2014)
So the U.S. imperialist state is still acting, in secret as judge, jury and executioner—to advance the interests of empire .
Glenn Greenwald calls this state of affairs, "the most extremist and out-of-control government you can get." (Democracy Now!, February 10, 2014)
He's right about the extremist part, but the government isn't "out of control." It is being controlled, tightly controlled by the top political operatives of the capitalist ruling class. In fact, the entire state apparatus is part of a dictatorship of the capitalist class. Now the makeup is peeling off.
In order to maintain and strengthen their global empire, the U.S. rulers feel the need to murder people opposing—or suspected of opposing—their wars, interventions, and/or political and economic interests. It's those needs of capitalism-imperialism that dictate law, policy, and actions—not general principles of "human rights," "due process," or "democracy." All the political structures in the U.S.—the presidency, the Congress, the courts, the media—serve the needs of capitalism-imperialism. And today the gutting of fundamental rights including executive assassinations has been normalized.
This is another example showing why placing any faith in U.S. officials or working to reform this system and its political structures is worthless, and the notion of "saving" or "restoring our democracy" is an illusion.
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
Updated February 22, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
This year, on the weekend of International Women's Day: Saturday March 8 should be a day of resistance against the horrific oppression of women; and Sunday, March 9 should be a celebration of the bright future made possible through revolution. The spirit of internationalism should infuse both of these days.
All over the world one-half of humanity is held in a state of subjugation and degradation. And right now what we face in this country is an all-sided assault on women's right to abortion, on the basic right of a woman to decide if and when she wants to bear children. Forced motherhood truly is female enslavement! And the right to abortion is seriously hanging in the balance.
On Saturday March 8, demonstrations and rallies should be organized in favor of the right to abortion where the call for "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!" should ring out. The future of women is at stake—all those who oppose the war on women need to step out and make their voices heard on this day, International Women's Day.
One key front of the attacks on abortion is the vicious campaign of harassment against abortion clinics around the country, as Mary Lou Greenberg highlighted in her recent letter to Revolution ("The Battle for Abortion at the Clinic Doors"). One very good idea would be to mobilize people to defend these clinics and confront the anti-abortion fanatics who are terrorizing women seeking to get abortions. There may be other kinds of activities and places to focus these demonstrations—including where others are organizing women's day rallies and events, bringing this spirit into those events. Where Stop Patriarchy has called for IWD events, those should be united with. And everywhere the call to action "End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women!" should be taken out and distributed.
Banners can be taken out to communities of the oppressed and palm cards distributed with BAsics 3:22—"You can't break all the chains, except one..."—calling for people to come out and join with others in these IWD demonstrations.
And in the midst of all this—many people wearing REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS! t-shirts—infusing these manifestations with that message and edge: we need a revolution, and nothing less than a revolution is needed to get rid of this system which is built on and enforces the oppression of women and all the other horrors humanity faces.
Then Sunday, March 9 should be the occasion for celebratory IWD dinners with a real revolutionary and internationalist character—gathering people who stepped out on March 8, drawing forward women and men from among the oppressed neighborhoods, students and activists, immigrants who have come here from countries all over the world, people involved in the BA Everywhere campaign, and people who support the Revolutionary Communist Party. Organize a potluck—make it simple and radical and fun! If possible find a community center or church in a neighborhood—where people from the neighborhoods along with people from the campuses and other scenes can all gather together and experience a taste of what kind of world could be possible through revolution and a new revolutionary state power.
These gatherings should pulsate with revolutionary energy and vision—displays with pictures and text about the world-shaking steps to liberate women during the first stage of communist revolution, quotes from Bob Avakian, pictures of women and men standing up against horrific forms of oppression from Mississippi to Lagos to Dhaka to Cairo and beyond. Poems, songs, music and other cultural expressions—particularly drawing forward the contributions of women and men from all over the world. Excerpts from the films Stepping Into the Future... or BA Speaks: REVOLUTION—NOTHING LESS!; readings from BAsics or other revolutionary works. If there are people you know who traveled to revolutionary China in the 1970s and saw first-hand what having revolutionary state power meant for the liberation of women, they could give a brief talk and show slides or clips from revolutionary Chinese films. Preparing these celebrations can be a way for all different kinds of people to get involved—inspired by the vision of emancipating humanity and bringing forward a society that gets beyond the oppression of women and all other forms of oppression. And a special message from the Revolutionary Communist Party will be sent to be delivered at these gatherings.
All out for an International Women's Day weekend that's about fighting the power, and transforming the people, for revolution!
Break the Chains! Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution!
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
From the Stop Mass Incarceration Network:
Updated February 23, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The refusal of the court system to convict Michael Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis is an outrage that must be responded to. On top of the exoneration of George Zimmerman for the vigilante murder of Trayvon Martin, the murders of Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell for asking for help while Black, and many, many more; it amounts to Amerikkka declaring, once again, that Black people have no rights that whites must respect.
In response, on February 26, 2 years since the murder of Trayvon, we must say in a loud voice—HOODIES UP! TIME’S UP! WE’RE STANDING UP! NO MORE MURDER OF BLACK YOUTH! This must be a Day of Outrage & Remembrance for Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and all the others who have been murdered by cops and by racists. A day when we declare: WE ARE ALL TRAYVON MARTIN! THE WHOLE DAMNED SYSTEM IS GUILTY!
This day must be marked by hundreds of people wearing hoodies and holding targets gathering at the seats of power and influence in cities across the country. Hoodies in solidarity with Trayvon. Targets symbolizing the way the verdicts in the Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis cases underscore the reality that Black and Latino youth in this country live with a target on their backs; an ugly reality that we will show our determination to STOP on February 26.
Youth who are tired of being treated like permanent suspects by police, and by society as a whole, looked at as guilty until proven innocent, if they can survive to prove their innocence need to be in the streets on February 26.
Parents, who are sick of wondering when they send their children off in the morning whether they’ll make it back alive, need to join them.
Everybody, Black, Latino, Asian or white, who has an ounce of justice in their hearts, needs to be part of this outpouring of resistance.
HOODIES UP! WE ARE ALL TRAYVON, JORDAN, RENISHA AND ALL THE OTHER VICTIMS!
THE WHOLE DAMN SYSTEM IS GUILTY!
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014From the Stop Mass Incarceration Network:
February 24, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
February 26, two years since the modern day lynching of Trayvon Martin, eleven days after a Florida court refused to convict racist Michael Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis. Wherever you are, put on your hoodies, get people together, print out these targets, and gather at the seats of power and influence or go to the public square. Stand together in silence, hoodies up, fists raised, holding targets. Be part of creating a powerful visual image and stand of defiance that goes out around the world.
On Wednesday, February 26, join with people in your city or town. Put on a Hoodie for Trayvon, hold a target with the message of “No More” for Jordan and all the Black and Latino youth who this system views as suspects. Defiantly represent that we refuse to accept a target being put on the back of every Black youth in this country, we refuse to accept the declaration that Black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect.
February 26, make a difference. This action can break the paralysis by being the first national action against the mistrial of the murderer of young Jordan Davis and linking this outrage to the fight for justice for Trayvon. Be a part of puncturing the lie that there is nothing we can do—that we must accept this nightmare. Join with hundreds nationwide standing up to the murder of Black youth declaring that we are determined to stop it.
Don’t let your action be a secret from the world at large. Take pictures of yourselves, post them https://www.facebook.com/stopmassincarcerationnetwork and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and spread them everywhere.
Stop Mass Incarceration Network 347-979-7646 email@example.com
http://www.stopmassincarceration.net/ and on Facebook & Twitter
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
Updated March 3, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Wednesday, February 26 marked two years since Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, Florida, by racist vigilante George Zimmerman—found not guilty and allowed to walk free. Two weeks ago, a jury in Jacksonville, Florida, refused to convict Michael Dunn for the murder of 17-year-old Jordan Davis (see "Mistrial of Michael Dunn: An Intolerable Injustice")
To mark the two-year anniversary, people across the U.S. protested to demand a STOP to the killing of youth of color by cops and racist vigilantes. There were rallies and protests in the streets, in public squares and college campuses; artistic and cultural events; students making a statement holding Skittles at candlelight marches. The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported on a rally at the student union at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee organized by the Black Student Union.
Actions took place in at least 20 cities across the country, some responding to the call from the Stop Mass Incarceration Network for a Day of Outrage and Remembrance for Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis—declaring "Hoodies Up! Targets Up! Fists Raised! We're Standing Up! No More Murder of Black Youth!"—in larger cities like New York, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles as well as smaller areas like Greenville, South Carolina, and New Haven, CT. In Jacksonville, Florida where Jordan was murdered, Carl Dix from the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network spoke at a rally in front of the courthouse. According to stopmassincarceration.net, "most of those who turned out were people who had directly felt the lash of this country's criminal 'injustice' system: family members of people wrongfully incarcerated or of people who had been brutalized or murdered by police and formerly incarcerated people."
In a message issued on February 26, Carl Dix said, "Things don't end with today's action. We are just getting started. There needs to be a movement of determined resistance to the criminalization of our youth, to the warehousing of people in prison, to mass incarceration overall and all its consequences. We need to go from the hundreds who are acting today to thousands acting soon, to ultimately mobilizing a movement of millions of people saying no more to the slow genocide the criminal 'injustice' system in this country enforces on Black and Brown people."
Carl Dix said in the message that he and Cornel West had developed a basic vision for a Month of Resistance to Mass Incarceration in October: "We envision a month of nationwide rallies and demonstrations, major concerts, symposiums and panels, well known people speaking out, people wearing armbands and ribbons, and more. A month that can change the way millions of people in this society look at mass incarceration."
The hundreds who took to the streets and acted and spoke out in different ways on February 26 showed the potential for this vision to become a reality.
Revolution #330 Extra February 17, 2014
February 28, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
On February 27, Barack Obama gave a speech launching what he is calling the "My Brother’s Keeper" initiative, which he claims is about “empowering boys and young men of color, a segment of our society that too often faces disproportionate challenges and obstacles to success.” (The entire speech is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2014/02/27/president-obama-speaks-my-brothers-keeper-initiative#transcript.) Obama spoke to an audience that included, among others, the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, two young Black men murdered by white racists (see revcom.us for in-depth coverage of the refusal of the system to convict their killers of murder). Obama’s speech, in the name of just talking about “what works,” actually put forth an upside-down, completely wrong and poisonous understanding of the actual problem facing not just young Black and brown men, but ALL people of color, women and men alike. In the name of “what works,” he offers paltry solutions that purport or claim to save a few more people from the meat grinder... while leaving the meat grinder intact. For now, the day after, we will only comment on:
Three Bitter Ironies, One Glaring Omission... and an Ominous Punch Line
Bitter irony number one: Obama says America is the land of opportunity, where you can make it if you try.
NO! America is the land in which the land, labor and lives of hundreds of millions of people from Africa and the Americas were ground under and ground up in order to create a powerful empire dominated by a relative handful. America is a land where this handful offered to a section of other people—historically white European-descended people—the “opportunity” to get in on or at least share in the plunder. This did not end with the great struggles of the 1960s—instead, things were adjusted to allow a section of the oppressed nationalities to “move on up” while conditions for the masses grew even worse. Today, as this empire runs into serious and in some ways unprecedented problems, they cannot offer the same—ugly—deal. The irony is this: at a time when the system literally has no future for the youth, Obama comes up with a played-out fantasy lie of the past.
Bitter irony number two: In a proposal to “do something about the situation of young men of color,” Obama honored former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Michael Bloomberg was cited for financing a program supposedly designed to mentor young Black men. Michael Bloomberg, however, is much more famous for—and much more directly affected the lives of men of color of all ages in New York by—instituting and stubbornly defending the stop-and-frisk program in New York City. This program, which arbitrarily stopped literally hundreds of thousands of Black and Latino men a year for no reason, then frisked and humiliated them, was nothing but apartheid control, and has been justly hated by masses of people and fought, including by people like Carl Dix and Cornel West and the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. The irony is this: It was right for Obama to honor Bloomberg’s example in the speech, because Bloomberg’s program—a mentoring program that will have little overall social effect while maintaining and intensifying the ongoing criminalization of the masses of Black, Latino and other oppressed nationalities and the outrageous denial of their fundamental rights—is exactly the effect of what Obama puts forth.
Bitter irony number three: In the audience, and pointed to by Obama, were the parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. Yet everything Obama proposed would have had absolutely no effect on either the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, or the outcome of the trials that did not punish those who murdered them.
Think about it: The parents of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis did everything that Obama so arrogantly and downright misleadingly criticizes other Black and Brown people for NOT doing. The fathers were able to be present in their sons’ lives. The sons were in school. They were doing NOTHING at all but minding their own fucking business when some racist, feeling the power of the state and the approval of society behind them, decided that they had to die.
Nor would anything Obama proposed do anything about the structural racism that ensures less funding for minority needs (compare schools in the inner city to those in the suburbs, compare health care availability, etc.) and the countless ways this gets played out on the individual level by the human resources hiring managers, the credit officers, the doctors, the principals, the store-owners, and all the many others in positions of some authority—including, very especially, cops, judges, probation officers, prison guards, etc.—whose racist micro-decisions each day reinforce and give life to that.
The one glaring omission: Where was the mention of women and the particular oppression faced by Black, Latina and other women of color?
From listening to Obama's speech, you would think things were just great for African-American, Latina and other women of color. Their situations – which, yes, are different but certainly no less oppressive than those of men of color and further burdened by both the pornification of society (and the particular ways this targets women of color) and the denial of birth control and abortion (and, again, the particular and even more intense ways in which poor women and women of color are denied these rights in ways even more intense than comes down on white and/or middle-class women) and the many overall ways in which male supremacy comes down in all kinds of social relations, including violence against women and just generally being demeaned and devalued in every dimension of life—did not merit a single mention! This speech by Obama, and this program he says he will set in motion, in essence puts forward a solution of strengthening patriarchy in communities of color.
The ugly and ominous punch line: Once again, the heart of Obama’s message—NO EXCUSES!
There was nothing more ominous and ugly than the end of his speech, in which Obama turned to the young men he had up on stage and lectured them, invoking his “no excuses” tag line and turning these young men into props for his show. In other words, calling out racism and white supremacy... demanding an END to outrages like mass incarceration... if you stand up to all the outrages of the system... and actually dig into the CAUSES of these problems that, on the surface, seem like “individual bad choices” but are actually traps that have been knowingly set by this system... traps that not only keep the system going but persuade the victims of the system that the failures of the system are their fault... then, according to Obama, you are making an excuse. This is an extremely ugly lie. And it is ominous—it is justification for every cop, for every vigilante, for every person in any position of authority to go on with what they are doing and to even do worse... because after all, any protest, any criticism is just... “an excuse.”
“I made it,” Obama says, “therefore you can make it.” This theme of Obama calls to mind Bob Avakian’s point:
Determination decides who makes it out of the ghetto—now there is a tired old cliché, at its worst, on every level. This is like looking at millions of people being put through a meatgrinder and instead of focusing on the fact that the great majority are chewed to pieces, concentrating instead on the few who slip through in one piece and then on top of it all, using this to say that "the meatgrinder works"! (BAsics 1:11)
No, Mr. Obama, your experience proves nothing other than the fact that some from the oppressed will shamelessly pimp their own experience and that of the people from which they came and attempt to use it to buttress the powers-that-be and to invalidate any who tell the truth about what those powers actually do and enforce. And the truth is this: this society has nothing to offer anyone but more oppression, more exploitation, more war and aggression, more spying and repression, and more environmental devastation; and the situation of Black and Brown youth, both male and female, is just one particularly sharp example of the fact that what is required, at long last, is REVOLUTION...nothing less!