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Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
Editors' note: The following is an excerpt from the new work by Bob Avakian, The New Communism. In addition to excerpts already posted on revcom.us, we will be running further excerpts from time to time on both revcom.us and in Revolution newspaper. These excerpts should serve as encouragement and inspiration for people to get into the work as a whole, which is available as a book from Insight Press. A prepublication copy is available on line at revcom.us.
This excerpt comes from the opening section, "Introduction and Orientation," and from part of the section titled "The Cultural Revolution Within the RCP," and is accompanied by the Table of Contents for the work as a whole.
This gathering is taking place at a very important time, when masses of the oppressed in this country, and in particular those most bitterly oppressed, have been rising up— refusing to take the brutality and murder to which they are continually subjected, particularly by the police, acting as the enforcers of this system of oppression—and these uprisings have been joined by people from other sections of society. Rebellion and resistance on this level around such a crucial contradiction and “fault line” of this system, the depth and determination of this rebellion and resistance, and the way in which it has continued, and continues, to “flare up” with new outrages—this is something that has not been seen in a long time. And, with the aim of propelling this resistance to a qualitatively higher level and concentrating it in a qualitatively more powerful way, impacting all of society, and the larger world—and, from our standpoint, working to make this serve the strategic goal of an actual revolution that will put an end to this, and other outrages that concentrate major social contradictions of this system, as embodied in the “5 Stops”1—a massive mobilization of people, demanding that the outrage of police brutality and murder, as well as mass incarceration, must be stopped, has been called for this fall, RiseUpOctober,2 focused in New York City on the days of October 22-24, putting forward the challenge to all of society around this: Which side are you on? All this poses great potential, great necessity, and great challenges for those working for an actual revolution that would put an end to this, and to all, oppression. At the same time, in the larger context in which this is taking place, the contradictions within this system are sharpening, internationally as well as within particular countries, and in some places—many places, in fact—these contradictions are boiling over. And there is the fundamental reality that communist revolution, and nothing less, is necessary to deal with the egregious outrages and injustices, and the profound contradictions, that mark the current world and the system of capitalism-imperialism that still dominates the world, at the cost of so much suffering for the masses of humanity.
In this context, in reading reports on work in various areas over the recent period, and looking at our website (revcom.us) in particular, I think of the comment by people in Baltimore, when people went out to them with revolution—and it’s a comment you hear quite frequently when you go out to masses of people, taking the revolution to them. They sharply posed the question: “Will you be here? We’ve seen people come here, we’ve seen groups come and go and talk a lot of talk. But is this serious? Will you be here?” This is a very important question and poses a very direct challenge for us. We have to meet this with the answer “yes” in the immediate sense, but also in the most profound and all-around sense. We have to be here, now—and we have to be here for the whole thing. Whether any particular individual is there at a given time, that’s not the question that’s really at stake; it’s whether or not the movement for revolution and, above all, the Party, the leadership that people need to get out of this nightmare, is going to be there, in an overall and fundamental sense, because when you get down to it, ultimately the people really do have nothing if they don’t have a party based on the science that can lead them to emancipate themselves and emancipate all of humanity. This is true whether, at any given time, the people know it or not.
And I was thinking about something even heavier when reading about the work being done in Baltimore: the comment of a woman, one of the basic masses in Baltimore, who said, “I am getting worried”—when people were bringing the revolution to her—“I’m getting worried.” Now, you might say, why was she getting worried? She explained: “Because I am beginning to hope.” Now, think about what that means for the masses of people, that they are afraid to hope. Afraid to hope that maybe the world doesn’t have to be this way, that maybe there is a way out of this. Afraid to hope, because their hopes have been dashed so many times. Now, we know there’s a ruling class out there. We know how, along with the vicious repression they carry out, they maneuver and manipulate whenever the people rise up. We have seen it already again in Baltimore, for example: Oh, all of a sudden there’s a crime wave, they say; and they insist that they have to come down even heavier with the police and that they need the federal authorities to come in and help out the police, because the masses are running wild, and the police can’t go out and kill them with impunity, right now.
So, all this is why people say, “I’m getting worried.” They are afraid to hope. And if we don’t intend to meet the responsibilities that we have, if we don’t intend to follow through when we go to people and say there is a way out of this, we should get up and leave right now. Because the masses of people do not need anyone else who comes along, fly-by-night, and leaves them to the miserable conditions they will be subjected to, and the even worse horrors of this system coming down on them. We have to mean it when we say we’re serious about revolution.
This brings us to the question of for whom and for what are we doing what we’re doing. This is not about any individuals, including ourselves. This is one of the first things you have to come to grips with—that this is not about any individual, but is about something much bigger. Look, many people do come to revolution out of their own direct experiences, what this system has done to them, even though they don’t understand it’s a system—or even if they have heard this word “system,” they don’t really know what that system is. But a lot of people do come to this out of their own direct individual experience—they don’t immediately understand that it’s part of a larger picture of what’s happening to literally millions and even billions of people around the world. This is the understanding we have to bring to them. But, first of all, we have to understand: for whom and for what? This is for the emancipation of humanity. This is for the masses of oppressed humanity who desperately need this revolution. It’s not about anything else—and it’s certainly not about ourselves; it’s not about our egos, it’s not about whether we look good or don’t look good, or any of these kinds of questions that should be completely out of the picture.
I’ve talked about this before, but think about it in these terms: People are going to go out here to make a revolution, and the people who are acting as the leadership, as the vanguard, are going to sacrifice, there are going to be big sacrifices. You don’t make a revolution without tremendous sacrifice, and if we don’t understand that, once again, we should just fold up and go away. There’s going to be suffering. There’s going to be dying. There’s going to be terrible repression. There’s going to be torture. I’m not saying this to make some kind of religious-sounding appeal—“let’s gather up our courage like monks whipping themselves”—or something like that. But this is the reality of what you have to go through to get to a better world.
And here is what makes it even harder, ideologically, in terms of how you think about this, how you feel about this. People are going to sacrifice in all kinds of ways. And let’s say you have a revolution, and you’ve lost comrades, you’ve lost friends and loved ones— you’re part of the vanguard of this revolution, or you’re part of the masses who are the backbone of this revolution, and you’ve lost many friends and many comrades, you’ve seen people torn away, tortured, subjected to all kinds of horrors. Meanwhile, a lot of people sat there with their arms folded, or even sniped at you from the sidelines and tried to undermine everything you were doing. And then you get to the new society and you have a new constitution—think about the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America3—you have a new constitution, and all of a sudden, all these people who didn’t do a damn thing to help the revolution, and maybe even tried to undermine it, come out of the woodwork, and every time you’re trying to do something with the economy, or you’re trying to build new political institutions and bring into being new social relations, or you’re sacrificing for the world revolution—they come along and they go blee, blee, blee, blee, blee, blee, blee, blee, blee, blee, with all their little petty complaints about how they don’t have this and that, that they had in the old society. You feel like saying to them: “Shut the fuck up! You didn’t do a damn thing when people were out here sacrificing and dying in all kinds of terrible ways, and now you want to come around with your little petty complaints.” But you can’t do that. And that’s what makes it so hard. You can’t do that. You can struggle with them, you have to struggle with them. You can say, “You don’t know what the hell is going on. You don’t understand any of the contradictions we’re up against, and you should try to actually come to grips with what we’re doing here and what we’re up against.” You can struggle like crazy with people. You have to. But you can’t take revenge on them. You can’t even say, “Who the hell are you to raise any criticisms of what we’re doing, because you didn’t do anything to help—in fact, you tried to undermine things when people were out here fighting and dying.” Why can’t you do that? For whom and for what? This is not about us. If we aren’t prepared to sacrifice, then we’re not serious. This is about getting to a different world where all these horrors for the masses of people don’t go on any longer. And that’s the way we have to approach this. This is our role. This is our responsibility to the masses of people of the world who are suffering so terribly—and, what makes it all the worse, suffering so unnecessarily.
So this has to be our orientation in everything we do, in the way we struggle with each other, in the way we struggle with masses of people. There’s a need for a tremendous amount of struggle. But for whom and for what? This is what we have to keep uppermost in our mind.
Now, I want to turn to the question of why are you here, in particular. Many of the people here come from among the basic masses of people, or have ties with basic masses. And, in any case, people here generally can play a very important role as “levers,” if you want to put it that way, in bringing forward to the revolution growing numbers of people, from among basic masses, as well as students and others.
So, with that in mind, let me turn to the purpose and aim and the approach in what we are doing here—what it is, and what it is not. To begin, as I think you’ve been advised, this presentation will cover a lot of ground, speaking to fundamentals of the communist revolution, and what should guide us in working to bring about an actual revolution. Then we will grapple together with key points that have been raised. So everybody should buckle in, in your seatbelts, and get ready for the ride. There will be a great deal to “take in,” but that’s because, as Mao once put it, so many deeds cry out to be done—to rise to the challenges and responsibilities we face, to do all we can to work actively for the revolution that is so urgently needed by the masses of humanity, and to continually bring forward more people to join the ranks of this revolution and the Party as its leading core. Here, I want to emphasize this important point of orientation: No matter whether we have been involved for a long, or a relatively short, period of time, we all have to keep on learning—and everyone here is fully capable of taking part in the process of what we are doing here and contributing to it while learning from it. We should all have the approach of wrestling together and struggling, in a good way, with each other, based on a sense of the importance of the questions we’ll be digging into. Everybody should fully plunge into the discussion following this presentation—and do so with a conquering spirit, based on an understanding of the need, and the basis, for everyone to apply a scientific method and approach to the biggest problem facing humanity: how to put an end to this system that is the fundamental source of so much misery and torment in the world, and bring something radically different and much better into being. It’s with this orientation and this goal in mind that we should grapple deeply with what will be discussed here, learning and contributing as much as we can.
This is an unusual opportunity—to, in a sense, “step back” and dig into these big questions. And it is very important, even with everything going on in the world, and all the responsibilities we have in relation to this, that we have carved out the time to get into the big questions we will be taking up here. But it needs to be understood that this is NOT just some kind of “study group” or “discussion group” in some aimless sense, where “interesting ideas” are batted around just for our own intellectual stimulation or enjoyment—or as some kind of “diversion” from what we are normally concerned with. We will be dealing here with theory, and going deeply into some things on a high level of theoretical abstraction. Ooh, right away that may sound scary. And it’s gonna be challenging. But this is a challenge we should all welcome, because whether or not there is going to be a scientific approach to revolution and a group of people, a growing group of people, organized to apply that science to really transforming the world toward an actual revolution—that makes all the difference for the masses of people. What we will be doing here is, in one sense, far removed from what, spontaneously, masses of people are concerned with and thinking about on a daily basis; but it has everything to do with whether the masses are going to be brought forward and led to emancipate themselves and contribute to the emancipation of humanity from the systems and relations of oppression and exploitation that weigh down on masses of people all over the world, and all the horrors that flow from this. For it is a very real and profound truth that without revolutionary theory—theory based on a consistently scientific method and approach, and in particular the scientific method and approach of dialectical materialism—and without this theory being taken up and applied by growing numbers of people, there can be no emancipating revolution, and the horrendous outrages and abuses to which the masses of humanity are continually subjected will go on—and on. It is also profoundly true that anyone who applies themself to this, and does the work, can take up this scientific method and approach, can continually deepen their grasp of this theory and the ability to apply it and popularize it, learning and doing in a dialectical—a mutually reinforcing—relation between theory and practice. With this understanding, the basic orientation and goal here is to make leaps, real leaps, in grasping this theory in order, then, to return it to practice—and not just “any old kind of practice,” but practice, guided by this theory, which is in fact aimed at revolution, an actual revolution, and nothing less.
To return for a minute to what the approach is NOT—it is not, and must not be, an approach where things are taken up here in a certain “heavy” and lofty way, and then this is forgotten, or “put aside,” in returning to the “normal, everyday” situation and political work that all too often is marked by the implementation of some other orientation, method and approach. Nor can people’s approach here be, “Let me see if there are some things here that are useful for the work I am doing”—for then that work will not be the kind of work it needs to be; it will be something else than really working for an actual revolution. And, to emphasize it again, because it can’t be emphasized too many times: Our grappling here with crucial points of theory and of strategy should not be approached as some kind of “educational experience,” in the bad sense—as a kind of “scholastic exercise,” which will then find its mirror image in practice divorced from communist theory and from actively working for an actual revolution. At the same time, the point here is not to create expectations of being able to “master,” all at once, everything that is gone into here—and, in terms of this opening presentation, the way to approach it is not to try to fully “digest,” right away, every one of the points that is spoken to (or to become frustrated if that proves not to be possible!). A lot of points will be returned to, things will be woven together, and by the end hopefully things will become clear which perhaps weren’t clear right at first; and then we’ll go into the discussion where things will be drawn out more fully. So the point is to take in this presentation overall and keep in mind the process here, in which this presentation will serve as the introduction to and the foundation and framework for several days of vigorous discussion and struggle. To be clear also, the point is not to leave here with the expectation of taking everything that has been learned here and “force feeding” it, all at once, to people we are working with and going out to: “Hey, let me tell you, I’ve just learned a whole bunch of heavy stuff!” The purpose, what we are aiming for here, is to get a much stronger grounding in what we will be engaging here—and, above all, method and approach—with the orientation of correctly linking theory and practice; and, as we go forward from here, continuing to grapple with and grasp communist theory, more fully and deeply, in dialectical relation with carrying out this, and no other, line—this, and no other, method and approach—taking the basics of this to people, and working with them to get into this more deeply as we join with them in fighting the power, while at the same time we are consistently fighting, in the appropriate ways and with the right spirit, for this line, and no other, to in fact be the line that is in command in giving impetus and direction to building a movement for an actual revolution, with the Party as its leading core.
Now, here, let me speak to the question: Why was I doing the work I was doing? Once again, we’re back to for whom and for what. I wasn’t doing this work for myself. When I was young, in middle school and then even more so in high school, my life got changed in a very major way by coming into contact with people that I hadn’t really known that much before, in particular Black people. I started learning about their situation and how that relates to what goes on in this society as a whole. I was drawn to the culture—not just the music and the art overall, but the whole way of going through the world—of the Black people who became my friends, and the world they introduced me to. And I came to the point of recognizing: these are my people. Now, I knew they had a different life experience than I did. But these are my people—I don’t see a separation—it’s not like there are some other people “over there” who are going through all this and somehow that’s removed from me. These are my people. And then I began to recognize more deeply what people were being put through, the oppression they were constantly subjected to, the horrors of daily life as well as the bigger ways in which the system came down on them. And as I went further through life and began to approach the question of what needs to be done about this, and was introduced to taking up a scientific approach to this, I realized that my people were more than this. I realized that my people were Chicanos and other Latinos and other oppressed people in the U.S.; they were people in Vietnam and China; they were women...they were the oppressed and exploited of the world...and through some struggle, and having to cast off some wrong thinking, I have learned that they are LGBT people as well.
These are my people, the oppressed and exploited people of the world. They are suffering terribly, and something has to be done about this. So it is necessary to dig in and systematically take up the science that can show the way to put an end to all this, and bring something much better into being. You have to persevere and keep struggling to go forward in this way. And when you run into new problems or setbacks, you have to go more deeply into this, rather than putting it aside and giving up.
1. The “5 Stops” refers to the following demands that reflect key concentrations of social contradictions (and is available in poster and leaflet forms at revcom.us):
STOP Genocidal Persecution, Mass Incarceration, Police Brutality and Murder of Black and Brown People!
STOP The Patriarchal Degradation, Dehumanization, and Subjugation of All Women Everywhere, and All Oppression Based on Gender or Sexual Orientation!
STOP Wars of Empire, Armies of Occupation, and Crimes Against Humanity!
STOP The Demonization, Criminalization and Deportations of Immigrants and the Militarization of the Border!
STOP Capitalism-Imperialism from Destroying Our Planet! [back]
2. In response to a call co-initiated by Carl Dix (spokesperson for the RCP) and Cornel West for a massive mobilization in New York City on October 22-24, 2015 to stop police terror and murder, thousands took part in three days of action. RiseUpOctober started with the reading at Times Square of the names of the Stolen Lives, those killed by police; the next day this was followed by nonviolent direct action to shut down Rikers Island prison; and then on the third day this culminated in a march and rally of nearly 4,000 people. Through the work building for these three days and through the actions themselves, a political and moral challenge was issued in society: Murder by police must stop—Which Side Are You On? [back]
3. Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP Publications, 2010). Also available at revcom.us. [back]
Introduction and Orientation
Foolish Victims of Deceit, and Self-Deceit
Part I. Method and Approach, Communism as a Science
Materialism vs. Idealism
Through Which Mode of Production
The Basic Contradictions and Dynamics of Capitalism
The New Synthesis of Communism
The Basis for Revolution
Epistemology and Morality, Objective Truth and Relativist Nonsense
Self and a “Consumerist” Approach to Ideas
What Is Your Life Going to Be About?—Raising People’s Sights
Part II. Socialism and the Advance to Communism:
A Radically Different Way the World Could Be, A Road to Real Emancipation
The “4 Alls”
Beyond the Narrow Horizon of Bourgeois Right
Socialism as an Economic System and a Political System—And a Transition to Communism
Abundance, Revolution, and the Advance to Communism—A Dialectical Materialist Understanding
The Importance of the “Parachute Point”—Even Now, and Even More With An Actual Revolution
The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America—
Solid Core with a Lot of Elasticity on the Basis of the Solid Core
Emancipators of Humanity
Part III. The Strategic Approach to An Actual Revolution
One Overall Strategic Approach
Hastening While Awaiting
Forces For Revolution
Separation of the Communist Movement from the Labor Movement, Driving Forces for Revolution
National Liberation and Proletarian Revolution
The Strategic Importance of the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women
The United Front under the Leadership of the Proletariat
Youth, Students and the Intelligentsia
Struggling Against Petit Bourgeois Modes of Thinking, While Maintaining the Correct Strategic Orientation
The “Two Maximizings”
The “5 Stops”
The Two Mainstays
Returning to "On the Possibility of Revolution"
Internationalism and an International Dimension
Internationalism—Bringing Forward Another Way
Popularizing the Strategy
Part IV. The Leadership We Need
The Decisive Role of Leadership
A Leading Core of Intellectuals—and the Contradictions Bound Up with This
Another Kind of “Pyramid”
The Cultural Revolution Within the RCP
The Need for Communists to Be Communists
A Fundamentally Antagonistic Relation—and the Crucial Implications of That
Strengthening the Party—Qualitatively as well as Quantitatively
Forms of Revolutionary Organization, and the “Ohio”
Statesmen, and Strategic Commanders
Methods of Leadership, the Science and the “Art” of Leadership
Working Back from “On the Possibility”—
Another Application of “Solid Core with a Lot of Elasticity on the Basis of the Solid Core”
The New Synthesis of Communism:
Fundamental Orientation, Method and Approach,
and Core Elements—An Outline
by Bob Avakian
Framework and Guidelines for Study and Discussion
Selected List of Works Cited
About the Author
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
Updated February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Editor’s note: The following is a new version of a previously posted article with the same title that appeared online at revcom.us, which includes some updates as well as some changes to address how a socialist state would address immediate needs in a crisis like this in a way consistent with and contributing to the long-term and strategic objectives of that revolutionary society.
Let’s say it straight up—what has happened in Flint, Michigan, screams “EMERGENCY!” One hundred thousand people have been drinking water poisoned with lead and other toxins for almost two years. More than 30,000 of these people are children, and about 9,000 of those are under six, the people most vulnerable to permanent and irreversible brain and nerve damage from lead.
Here’s what NEEDS to be done, and what WOULD be done by a socialist state if one held power in this country—in sharp contrast to what has NOT been done by the governing authorities of this system, on either the state or the federal level.
To be clear, we are talking about a real socialist state that can only come to power through the overthrow of this current capitalist system, the dismantling of all its institutions, their replacement by revolutionary power, and the reorganization of the whole economy. The ultimate goal of this revolution is communism: A world where people work and struggle together for the common good...Where everyone contributes whatever they can to society and gets back what they need to live a life worthy of human beings...Where there are no more divisions among people in which some rule over and oppress others, robbing them not only of the means to a decent life but also of knowledge and a means for really understanding, and acting to change, the world. (For a fuller understanding of what socialist society is and where it is heading, check out the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America at revcom.us.)
Do you know anyone else—any person or organization—that has managed to bring forth an actual PLAN for a radically different society, in all its dimensions, and a CONSTITUTION to codify all this? — A different world IS possible — Check out and order online the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal).
First, instead of trying to cover up and minimize the scale of the disaster, the socialist state would immediately declare a major emergency. Instead of suppressing and ridiculing scientists who blew the whistle on this—as happened in Flint and happens over and over in this system—the institutions of the revolutionary society would provide them the opportunity to share their research, to test it, and if there was truth to it, or more to be investigated, to alert the whole country. It would mobilize all sections of people to step up and be part of solving the water crisis, give them resources, backing, to immediately address the crisis. And to do that in a way that would further break down barriers among the people and root out social inequalities. Government members, revolutionary communists (whether part of the government or not), and other civic and social organizations would become organizing hubs to tap and mobilize all the many thousands of people who would certainly WANT to help in a situation like this.
On that footing, here are some of the key things that could and would be done:
IMMEDIATELY mobilize thousands of people to go to every home to alert every affected resident—including those who speak Spanish, Arabic or other languages—with a straightforward and scientific message that the water was unsafe due to lead contamination, that boiling this water makes it more toxic, and that they should not drink it or expose themselves or their children to it in any way.
IMMEDIATELY, as a more permanent solution is being worked on, organize a system of daily distribution of bottled water to every household, and as quickly as possible provide lead-effective water filters to all, along with developing a plan for replacing the filter elements on a regular basis. Under this system, that took an outrageously long time. And experts agree that filters must be properly maintained and monitored and people educated on how to use them, and this is NOT happening, and there are no serious plans for it to happen.
IMMEDIATELY address the health and nutritional needs of the people affected by the crisis. Scientists have learned that there are certain foods that will help people’s bodies in dealing with lead poisoning and others that will make it worse. And there are other health needs for people exposed to lead. The majority of people in Flint today, Black people in particular, have little or no access to scientific education in nutrition, to health care, or to fresh food! And even as these needs were being addressed immediately, further research would be stepped up to better understand the long-term effects of lead poisoning and how to address them.
The socialist state would mobilize nurses, doctors, nutritionists, and other medical professionals who would in turn work with students and youths, particularly from the most affected areas. Working together and learning from each other, these experts and ordinary people could identify the areas of greatest need and figure out solutions. Neighborhood youths could be given quick and basic training in the nutritional, health, and hygiene issues and be unleashed as a dynamic force in the hood for health and education. And the socialist state could mobilize people and resources in surrounding areas to make sure that fresh food was available, and delivered, to people on a daily basis.
In all of these immediate mobilizations, the focus would be on going first to the areas that bear the scars of oppression from the old society, particularly Black neighborhoods where there would be the legacy of the worst housing, health care, and education. And attention would be paid to encouraging students, academics, and others who’ve had more opportunities for education to cross the boundaries into these areas so they could, in the course of assisting the people in the most need, also witness and learn about the real—often hidden—conditions that people of color experienced in the former U.S., and to have different sections of people learning from and appreciating each other’s insights and experiences. And through this process, people who have not had as much opportunity to be exposed to science could get training in the scientific method and learn to appreciate the contributions scientists and others can make, including those who may not—at any particular point—agree with the aims and objectives of the new socialist state.
A similar approach of combining the efforts of trained professionals with ordinary people from the affected area and elsewhere could be used to VERY RAPIDLY deal with the other burning needs—testing the tap water in all the homes and institutions, identifying which homes have lead service pipes, examining and testing children to see the extent of damage from lead, and to develop individual and social plans for ongoing care and treatment.
All of this could be done right away, in DAYS or WEEKS, not months, or years, or decades, or NEVER, which is the approach of the government today, even as people learned more about the complex aspects of the problem.
To boil it down, a socialist state—coming from completely different objectives than this system—would treat a crisis like this as a real emergency, a human catastrophe, and not a “political football.” And this state would deal with the crisis by providing leadership and putting society’s resources in the hands of thousands of people to solve the urgent problems.
This is the exact OPPOSITE of what the rulers of this system have done and are doing. Besides inflicting this crisis on the people, besides covering up and lying about it, government officials on every level have dragged their feet every inch of the way on relief measures, taking several months even to organize water distribution.
Every informed expert and activist agrees that the only real solution to the situation involves detecting and replacing the estimated 15,000 lead service pipes which poison water in the homes they connect to. The state and federal government talk about this like it’s “a nice idea” but “unrealistic... too expensive... not really necessary,” or at most say it might be done over years or even decades.
Just think about it, these motherfuckers—on the state and federal level—sitting on top of an empire with vast amounts of wealth, in a country with millions of unemployed, do not see it as serving the interests of THEIR system to allocate the resources to detect, remove, and replace 15,000 water pipes. In fact in the face of this emergency, the Democrats proposed $600 million to detect and replace the lead pipes (less than half of what experts estimate the cost to be), immediately dropped that to $300 million, and then this was shot down by the Republicans.
That is totally unacceptable—if you can’t solve the basic problem of providing safe drinking water to a whole city, even after it has been revealed that you were poisoning people for almost two years, then get the fuck out of the way of the masses of people who, with revolutionary leadership, CAN solve this problem.
A socialist state would mobilize engineers and construction workers, along with other working people and especially youths, in their thousands to work in teams aimed at replacing all the lead service pipes involved in a crisis like Flint. Again, these teams would combine the strengths and knowledge of scientists, skilled workers, and ordinary people, working together and learning from each other, and would rely on and unleash the energy of youths. And they would be backed up by the economic resources, materials, and equipment of a state which prioritizes human needs.
In a nutshell, the rulers of this system cannot meet even the most basic needs of the people, like water; they cannot stop generating one catastrophe after another; and they cannot mobilize the people and resources of society to address even the extreme emergencies that their system has created.
But a revolutionary, socialist society can!
All this is part of why Bob Avakian says:
It is right to want state power. It is necessary to want state power. State power is a good thing—state power is a great thing—in the hands of the right people, the right class, in the service of the right things: bringing about an end to exploitation, oppression, and social inequality and bringing into being a world, a communist world, in which human beings can flourish in new and greater ways than ever before. (BAsics 2:10)
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
Updated March 13, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
You are invited to come together, raise funds, and build community, as part of accelerating the BA Everywhere campaign. The campaign aims to raise big funds to make the new synthesis of communism that Bob Avakian (BA) has brought forward, and the leadership he provides, a major question in society: a point of reference and, for increasing numbers, a living framework for how to understand, and transform, the world. The new synthesis represents a qualitative advance in the scientific approach to making revolution and emancipating humanity.
BA, the Chairman of the RCP, USA, embodies a rare combination: a revolutionary leader who on the basis of 40 years of work has been able to develop scientific theory on a world-class level, while at the same time having a deep understanding of and visceral connection with the most oppressed, and a highly developed ability to “break down” complex theory and make it accessible to the masses of people.
Where there is oppression, there will be resistance—the masses of people will continually rise up against their conditions of oppression and those who enforce this oppression. But, without the necessary scientific theory and leadership, the struggle of the oppressed will be contained, and remain confined, within the system which is the source of oppression, and the horrors to which the masses are subjected will go on, and on.
BA, his work, and his leadership exist at a time when the influence and organized force of revolution—real revolution—is not nearly as strong as it urgently needs to be, but the basis for this is actually stronger than ever. The biggest immediate problem right now is that this is not yet known in the way it needs to be... As BA himself says in the new work we are celebrating:
There is an urgent need for this new synthesis to be taken up, broadly, in this society and in the world as a whole: everywhere people are questioning why things are the way they are, and whether a different world is possible; everywhere people are talking about “revolution” but have no real understanding of what revolution means, no scientific approach to analyzing and dealing with what they are up against and what needs to be done; everywhere people are rising up in rebellion but are hemmed in, let down and left to the mercy of murderous oppressors, or misled onto paths which only reinforce, often with barbaric brutality, the enslaving chains of tradition; everywhere people need a way out of their desperate conditions, but do not see the source of their suffering and the path forward out of the darkness.
The Science, the Strategy, the Leadership for an Actual Revolution,
and a Radically New Society on the Road to Real Emancipation
This has to change... now. As a first step, build these dinners. If you are not now connected to the Party or BA Everywhere and want to participate, or to learn more about this campaign, write to us at email@example.com or get in touch with the local Revolution Books bookstore, or the local distributor of Revolution where you live.
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
February 16, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
Kicking Off the Carl Dix/Sunsara Taylor Speaking Tour at UC Riverside
February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Sunsara Taylor and Carl Dix boldly brought the revolution to the University of California, Riverside (UCR) on February 8, to an audience of about 90 people as part of their Campus Tour, Winter-Spring, “An Invitation...to Meet the Revolution”. Their indictment of the capitalist-imperialist system and their enthusiastic call to recruit students into the movement for revolution based on Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism was heard by mostly undergrads, a couple of sociology and political science professors, and grad students.
UCR is a large public university an hour east of Los Angeles, with many first-time college goers. Students had heard about the event from multiple sources, including in-person classroom announcements by the Revolution Club, extra credit offered by a couple of Media Studies and Political Science classes, posters, and email blasts sent to various classes. An older Black student very into Buddhism said he came off of seeing a flyer in the library. Many simply said they were intrigued by this event’s association with revolution and communism, and felt compelled to check that out since they’ve rarely seen communism portrayed as a positive alternative. That same morning, a leader of the Organization for Black Struggle (from St. Louis) was speaking in front of about 30 people, and the revcoms made an announcement at that event about Carl and Sunsara. Off of this, they got invited to announce the event in a class on labor and social movements, taught by the same professor who was helping host the Organization for Black Struggle’s talk.
Right from the beginning of their talk, Carl and Sunsara had our attention. Sunsara listed many of the statistics of mass incarceration and police murder, and viscerally brought the human side of this injustice to bear. Carl agitated about women’s oppression and exposed the lie that “women have made it” in the U.S. And then they challenged the audience. It was sharp and the delivery real and passionate. I also appreciated how each speaker shared some personal history about how they themselves went through transformation and ultimately joined up with Bob Avakian’s leadership.
The Q&A was also quite lively, and more than a little contentious at times! A swath of the audience kept raising big questions: religion, Bernie Sanders, and the particular role of BA. Specifically, I remember one grad student asking: Are you trying to win a certain amount of people before the revolution to your program, or are you saying you will have the revolution and then win people later? Since it might not only be the “system” fighting back, will this be more like a civil war? Is your method authoritarian, or democratic? Others asked: Isn’t it helpful that Bernie Sanders is talking about socialism? Do you join other movements working with other groups, such as against the “TPP” [Trans-Pacific Partnership] trade deal, or not? Who decides in the new society what is offensive, and how are those decisions made? As in, on misogyny in music: Do communists have a notion of “political correctness,” and isn’t it tricky to impose our own morals on artistic liberties? What is an example of the new synthesis? How does it concretely apply to today?
These were many of the issues that came up after the presentations. Throughout the event, the students with the Revolution Club at UCR openly said that anyone liking what they’ve heard, or wanting to learn more about how they can get involved, should sign up at the table and get organized with the club. There was a follow-up meeting a few days later, and nine students from the event came, including people who had asked tough questions at the event. Among these, a few were excited to get down with the club and stage an intervention on campus the following week using some of the quotes from BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian. A Black activist student who had to leave early from Carl and Sunsara’s talk said he wants to meet Carl, and that the Rev Club is welcome to join a disruptive action he and his group(s) have planned for Black History Month. In some form or another, many people impacted by the tour’s first stop have just embarked on a “crucial journey,” to quote BA’s Invitation that has been printed in Revolution newspaper.
Not everyone who heard the talk decided to jump in and join the Revolution Club. For example, a couple of people who were previously around Stop Patriarchy on this campus expressed hesitation on doing any further work with the revolution. This is part of the flow of things: some people get hit with accusations, or they anticipate the accusations that will come, and they shrink back, convincing themselves that we don’t really need all this theory and this whole communist approach in order to be a part of “creating a safer world.” The Rev Club’s approach is to keep the door open to all these folks, but also to underscore the title of the event: What will it take to get free? Because that IS what we are talking about: not just a few reforms or safe spaces, but a whole new liberated world. Some of the people I talked to the next day said they disagreed with revolution, but when pressed, said they didn’t know what it would take to deal with the system, or whether it was even possible.
A grad student who loved the program observed that some people seemed to keep filtering what was said through their own blinders, and clung to their beliefs even after these beliefs were challenged and an alternative was put forward. I agree that some of this was going on during the Q&A. This is not so surprising. In fact, it really seems like part of the process that needs to go on if there is going to be a revolutionary movement on the campuses with a communist core that won’t lower its sights to anything less than freeing the seven billion human beings who need this. Some people will come wanting to pose their challenges but not really get involved, and others will ruminate (together with the club, or just on their own) on what they heard. But everyone will be touched, and quite a few will be eager for continuing on this journey.
The presentation clearly rocked some people’s worlds and challenged their basic thinking. After all, this was its mission statement! But more than that, this ideological challenge was needed, and it was artfully done. We heard second-hand that someone connected to the facilities management really didn’t like that this was going on, and made a big deal about our chalking the ground without a permit (!), but the professor who helped get the room apparently stood up to this person and defended the event. The professor’s ability to get future rooms for his own future conferences might have been undermined if this facilities person wanted to keep messing with him. So he defended it by saying that this event was very educational. After the event, he was telling another student in his office why HE enjoyed it, saying it made him think. In this way, the impact was felt more broadly than by just those who attended.
This is the first event (including all the previous protests and speak-outs we have organized or been present at) after which there is actually a diverse core of students stepping forward who are either down to join the club, or who are actively weighing whether (and on what terms) to get involved. Getting the club organized in a concrete, immediate way is clearly the next challenge, but the tour put some real wind in our sails at the same time as it placed more responsibility in our hands.
We have the benefit of knowing what some of the undergrad students thought because some of them did a class write-up on how it relates to racial inequality. We would like to share some of these responses. One of these students wrote: “As an African American, I felt that I could relate to the issues Dix mentioned. However, his perspective challenged me to take a more macro approach to understanding how American imperialism has contributed to racial inequality. Equally, Taylor challenged my perspective as a male.... Both activists also challenged me to consider what type of world I want to live in.”
A Latino student admitted that his family lives decently, and hasn’t been discriminated against by authorities. His outlook had usually been one of tolerating the problems of the system as not urgent to him, and pretty much “the way it is.” So he thought he would just hear another diatribe against “The Man,” but he later wrote about how he learned that these problems are worldwide, and that there needs to be more pressure for there to be a change. Then he started wrestling with the proposed solution that Carl and Sunsara had been laying out. He tended to think communism would benefit “minorities,” but that most of these same minorities are turned off by it and not educated about it, plus most people in the U.S. would have to be “really suffering” for this revolution to take place, so he reasoned that maybe this movement is just “talking to intellectuals and the middle class,” because these strata would be more able to understand it and take it up. He knew Marx said the proletariat had nothing to lose but their chains, but the student also thought “minorities have some source of entitlement,” meaning that many people from oppressed backgrounds feel they have a stake in the American dream. When asked if he would get involved, he said he’s not a “real activist,” but definitely wants to explore these ideas more with us.
A Latina feminist “really liked how they both related racial oppression to sex/gender oppression.” Significantly, another Latina wrote: “I really enjoyed how Sunsara, a white woman, was speaking for African Americans and how they should be fighting. As well as how Carl, an African American man, was speaking for women. This stood out to me.”
Yet another Latina responded: “I kept hearing about this event on campus multiple times. The flyer mentioned a revolution involving communism. This is what really caught my attention. Communism is not something that is really heard of anymore. It’s a political ideology that has many negative connotations. So I was really surprised and intrigued by this notion.”
Another student had the same reaction, saying, “I was a little surprised when I read that it was about the Revolutionary Communist Party, but I really wanted to learn more. For the amount of time that I was there, I was intrigued.”
Finally, another student said the event caught her interest when it was posted to her class website: “I’ve always been interested in hearing about what is going on in our country and what our government’s agenda is to its people, as well as other people around the world. Also, the fact that communism was being discussed held a huge interest for me. A majority of people today, I believe, hear the word communism and it automatically has a negative connotation and people are against it, so I was genuinely interested to hear their vision and see the plan in which it could help our path to a real revolution in our country today because I do believe there needs to be a change in our structural system in order to do this.” This person said she was “semi aware” about movements like Black Lives Matter, but that the “heartbreaking” cases she heard at the event made her do some of her own research when she went home. She said that this really showed her “how oppressive our government is against people of color,” but more importantly, how the masses aren’t even aware of it, especially about how women faced many struggles here “as well as in other countries under the patriarchal society.” She enjoyed the program and came away convinced that we need a revolution to bring about “equality for all.”
It’s important to appreciate how much this event not only made some people “aware” of deep injustice and about BA’s new synthesis, but actually moved people viscerally as well as cognitively. It introduced them to the theoretical tools that they can use to pursue these questions further, while moving to organize them on the spot. The fact that Carl and Sunsara are planning to spend bigger chunks of time on the campuses with the Rev Clubs and with students thirsty for this kind of engagement is a huge strategic resource for the whole revolution at this point in time.
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
From Stop Mass Incarceration Network, Chicago:
February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
What is happening in Chicago is a concentration of what is going on across the country, a national emergency where police terror is the spearhead of a genocidal assault on Black and Latino people. Police continue to murder people without letup and the whole damn system goes into gear to exonerate these killer cops. THIS MUST STOP NOW!
In Chicago, tremendous outrage has erupted over the video of the police execution of Laquan McDonald, and what has come to light in similar cases, as well as the lies and cover-up by all the institutions of injustice, from the police to the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA), to the state’s attorney, mayor, and more. This has caused a crisis to erupt where large sections of people find this intolerable.
Since the Laquan video was released, thousands of people have poured out into the streets in weeks of protests. Yet the police continue to murder, and the very powers that be who covered up for the murdering cops are stalling for time, working to suppress and defuse the outrage and protest by promising “investigations” and “reforms”—for example, getting more tasers. No! We cannot let them get away with this! We will not get used to police terror. We are not waiting for reforms. Stopping police murder is going to take a movement of mass, defiant, and determined resistance. Our simple demands are:
STOP POLICE MURDER! WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
Indict All the Murdering Cops and All Those Who Are Part of the Cover-ups, Send Them All to Jail!
Family members of those killed by police. New York City, October 22, 2015.
Photo: Phil Buehler
Many families whose loved ones were murdered by police will gather with others to dramatically bring to life the humanity of those whose lives were stolen by law enforcement through reading their names, and through testimony, art, and song. They will demand justice and call on everyone to join them in standing up to STOP POLICE MURDER, and for the indictment of all the murdering cops and those who covered up for them. All Stolen Lives families are invited.
Chicago, December 9, 2015. Photo: Bobbosphere
Protests will disrupt the evening rush hour. This action is meant to draw the line to challenge people from all walks of life—from the people most under the terror of the police, to people from the suburbs who feel this outrage is intolerable—to take a stand: POLICE MURDER MUST STOP! WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? There is no neutral. We cannot allow the police to continue to murder with impunity and get away with it with the approval and complicity of the institutions of so-called “justice.”
Everyone who is opposed to police murder can find a way to be part of this protest.
Organize groups now from your high school, college, faith community, workplace, neighborhood to flood into downtown on March 2! Resistance must intensify and broaden. Many, many more people from all sections of society must take a stand. No one with a beating heart should stand aside. Join and endorse these actions.
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
by C. Clark Kissinger | February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Last October 23, 17 protesters were arrested at a nonviolent civil disobedience demonstration of 100 people outside the entrance to New York’s infamous Rikers Island jail. Photo: Special to revcom.us/Revolution
Last October 23, 17 protesters were arrested at a nonviolent civil disobedience demonstration of 100 people outside the entrance to New York’s infamous Rikers Island jail. This was part of the three days of Rise Up October protests against police terror and murder on October 22-24. Miles Solay of the band Outernational and I were singled out for more serious charges. And now we have a court appearance and possible trial on Monday, February 22, 9 am, at the Queens Criminal Court, 125-01 Queens Blvd., Queens, NY. What everyone did on October 23 was righteous and just. It makes a difference if people come out on Monday to support us and sign a support statement at StopPoliceTerror.org.
The Rikers Island jail complex, one of the largest jails in the world, holds approximately 10,000 prisoners. Almost 90 percent are Black or Latino, many are juveniles, and most are there awaiting trials because they cannot afford to make bail—making Rikers Island a giant debtors’ prison. Rikers Island also remains the site of horrendous acts of cruelty by guards and the wide use of prolonged solitary confinement—recognized internationally as a form of torture.
Many have read the heart-wrenching story of Kalief Browder, the New York teenager held in Rikers for three years awaiting trial because he could not make $3,000 bail on a charge of stealing a backpack. In the end, the state dropped the whole case. But Kalief, who was locked for two of those three years at Rikers in solitary confinement, was so damaged by what he was put through that he committed suicide after his release.
What kind of society is it that requires an institution like Rikers Island? What kind of system criminalizes, incarcerates, and tortures a whole generation of our youth?
Every day the horrors continue at Rikers. In January, former New York City correction officer Victor Rodman was sentenced to a paltry 90 days in jail for a beating of Rikers Island inmate Carlos Sanchez in 2009 that cost Sanchez his vision in one eye. Then just this week we learn that seven Rikers guards, who are scheduled to go on trial February 24 for savagely beating a Rikers inmate, have been reinstated with full pay! Rikers Island remains “Abu Ghraib on the Hudson.”
As my co-defendant Miles Solay recently put it: “Rikers Island ... is a debtors’ prison where poor people get sent. It’s a torture prison where thousands of people are dehumanized. It’s a conveyor belt to the mass incarceration of our people. It’s unjust, it’s inhumane. It’s like a tumor from the cancer of American capitalism. Too many have died here. Far too many rot away in oblivion. Over the years, thousands and thousands of human beings have had their lives foreclosed upon. Rikers Island needs to be shut down.”
Clearly, they are not about to close down Rikers without one hell of a determined political fight by the people. I say, let’s give them that fight! Let’s shut down this hellhole once and for all!
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a global public health emergency due to what they’ve described as the “explosive” spread of the Zika virus. Over the last year, the virus has been detected in 23 countries in the Americas. As many as four million people could be infected with the virus throughout the hemisphere this year.
The Zika virus is mainly infecting and spreading rapidly among poor people in oppressed countries because of the conditions of life imposed and enforced by global capitalism-imperialism. Above: A boy plays next to sewage water slowly running through the Mandela slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 2015. AP photo
There is a correlation and possible link between the Zika virus and thousands of birth defects in Latin America. News of the rapid spread of the Zika virus has created a growing panic in Brazil because there has, at the same time, been a dramatic increase in the number of infants born with microcephaly in the same areas of Brazil where the virus has been concentrated.
Microcephaly is a birth defect that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads, and a wide range of resulting symptoms: developmental delays (slow to speak, sit, stand or walk); problems learning or functioning in daily life; seizures; problems seeing or hearing; problems eating and swallowing. Brazil has estimated there are 1.5 million people who have been infected with Zika virus.
What Is Zika Virus?
A virus is a small infectious agent that cannot reproduce by itself, but hijacks a human cell to make a copy of itself. The Zika virus was first discovered in 1947 in Uganda in Rhesus monkeys and since has been found in people. It is related to the viruses that cause dengue fever and yellow fever, both of which are transmitted by the same mosquito, called Aedes aegypti. The spread of mosquito-borne diseases like the Zika virus may have increased because of rising temperatures due to global warming. Higher temperatures increase the rate at which mosquitoes reproduce and where they can survive. Also, deforestation, which is going on at a massive rate in Brazil, destroys the habitat of animals and insects that eat mosquitoes.
The Zika virus has symptoms that are considered relatively mild compared to dengue and yellow fever, which are painful, debilitating mosquito-borne disease affecting hundreds of millions of people in tropical areas of the world. Eighty percent of the people who are infected with the Zika virus show no symptoms; others have relatively minor symptoms—fever, rash, joint pain, red eyes. But the reason Zika has now been declared a global health emergency of such great concern is because of the possible link between the virus and the rise in incidences of microcephaly and there is no cure or vaccine, and it is unlikely that a vaccine will be produced for several years. In the face of this crisis, instead of making birth control and abortion more accessible for women, authorities are just telling the women living in areas where they could get the Zika virus that they should just “not get pregnant” or to “delay getting pregnant.”
Zika virus may also be linked to Guillan-Barre syndrome (GBS). This is a rare disorder where a person’s own immune system attacks the nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. While most people fully recover from GBS, some people have permanent damage, and in rare cases, people have died. Like microcephaly, it is not yet known for certain that Zika virus causes GBS, but there appears to be an increased number of people affected with it in Brazil and it has now been reported that Colombia has seen a sharp increase in the number of patients diagnosed with GBS.
The spread of the Zika virus and the correlation of it with a dramatic increase in microcephaly shines a huge spotlight on the horrendous situation for women throughout the world, including women in Brazil and other Latin American countries, where abortion is highly restricted or completely banned.
Microcephaly is difficult to diagnose in a developing fetus and most cases can only be diagnosed through an ultrasound—and not until about 24 weeks into the pregnancy. And since most pregnant women who may be infected with Zika virus might not even have symptoms, this may delay a diagnosis until the beginning of the third trimester of pregnancy. Women who find out that their fetuses are microcephalic then face a situation where they are unable to get abortions because they are banned outright or because late term abortions are outlawed.
As International Planned Parenthood has pointed out: “Poor women and women in rural areas are more susceptible to infection and less likely to have access to sexuality education and contraception.” In fact, 200,000 women in Brazil are hospitalized every year from complications of illegal abortions. With the spread of the Zika virus, many more women will perform unsafe, illegal abortions and more will die.
Seven of the 34 countries in the region have a complete ban on abortion, 23 have severe limits and only four allow abortion for any reason. Because of the lack of access to birth control, over half of pregnancies are unintended. It is estimated that 95 percent of abortions carried out in Central and South America are illegal and unsafe. So millions of women in these countries are now being forced to choose between risking harm or death by resorting to “back-alley” abortions, or giving birth to potentially microcephalic babies.
Abortion in Brazil is illegal except in cases of rape, or danger to the life of the woman, or in a case where it can be shown that part of the brain of the fetus is missing. At the same time, one in five women in Brazil will have at least one abortion by the time she reaches age 40; which means five million women a year in Brazil could face jail for three years for committing the “crime” of having an abortion. In El Salvador, hundreds of women have been jailed for “murder” for having an abortion or even a miscarriage!
With no access to birth control, or ability to travel to countries where abortion is legal, poor women in all of these countries have it the worst. There has been a great deal of attention drawn to the Catholic Church and the horrific role it is playing in telling women that abortion—and even birth control—are absolutely forbidden by the church. In fact, while Pope Francis was traveling in Mexico recently, he said contraception may be acceptable in fighting the Zika virus but that abortion is a “crime, an absolute evil.”
The Vatican issued a statement that said, “Given the potential implications for pregnancy and for the spread of the disease, it is clear that part of an effective response should involve the promotion of abstinence” and that basically, women should carry to term a pregnancy where there is a diagnosis of microcephaly and then care for that child. This is right in line with the whole patriarchal, anti-women role of the pope and the Catholic Church—which has condemned millions of women to forced motherhood or death for lack of birth control and safe and legal abortions; forced women to carry a burden of guilt if they work outside the home, want to control their own reproduction, decide not to have children and struggle to be respected as equal human beings and to fully participate in society.
Zika virus is mainly infecting and spreading rapidly among poor people in oppressed countries because of the conditions of life imposed and enforced by global capitalism-imperialism. The epicenter of the outbreak in Brazil is the “favelas” (shantytowns) of the northeast. Brazil has the largest economy in South America; it also has the largest concentration of poverty, where the top one percent make more than the bottom 50 percent combined.
In these poor areas, people don’t have air conditioning or screens, rubbish collection is sporadic, and people don’t have running water so they’re forced to store their own. The Aedes aegypti mosquito can breed in a thimbleful of water and most are breeding inside people’s homes where they store water. In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times, Debora Diniz, founder of Anis–Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender and a law professor at the University of Brasilia—wrote:
Lost in the panic about Zika is an important fact: The epidemic mirrors the social inequality of Brazilian society. It is concentrated among young, poor, black and brown women, a vast majority of them living in the country’s least-developed regions. The women at greatest risk of contracting Zika live in places where the mosquito is part of their everyday lives, where mosquito-borne diseases like dengue and chikungunya were already endemic. They live in substandard, crowded housing in neighborhoods where stagnant water, the breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes, is everywhere. These women can’t avoid bites: They need to be outdoors from dawn until dusk to work, shop and take care of their children. And they are the same women who have the least access to sexual and reproductive health care.
In contrast, Dr. Celine Gounder MD, an infectious disease specialist wrote in the Guardian why Zika is unlikely to become an epidemic in the United States:
...A higher standard of living, including better home construction and air-conditioning insulate Americans against mosquitoes. Our water and sanitation systems reduce our exposure to standing water, where mosquitoes like to breed, and we have robust mosquito control programs to keep local populations in check. While we could see clusters of Zika transmission in pockets of extreme poverty, it is highly unlikely to become a widespread problem as in Brazil.
What makes all of this so intolerable is that it’s unnecessary. The capitalist-imperialist economic system dominating the whole world is driven by the competitive accumulation of profit—a dynamic that leads to and takes place through an enormous chasm between a handful of developed imperialist countries and the bulk of humanity living in countries exploited and shackled by imperialism. The horrible spread of the Zika virus in Brazil underscores how there is great disparity and acute polarization in the world, where tremendous wealth and power are concentrated in the hands of a small number of people, and in a handful of countries, while in most parts of the world, and in the world as a whole, the great majority struggle, often unsuccessfully, even to secure the basic necessities of life. But the world actually does NOT have to be this way. Revolution to bring about a whole different economic and political system—on the road to bringing about the emancipation of all humanity—is not only necessary but possible.
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
February 15, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Let’s say you have a lot of pain. You go to a doctor, and after doing lots of tests and examining you, she gives you the bad news. You’ve got a really serious disease and unless you have major, radical surgery to get rid of what’s causing all the horrible pain—you’re not only gonna keep having that pain, but you’re gonna die. The problem is, the surgery itself is very dangerous and not guaranteed to be successful. You can’t deal with the thought of going through all this so you leave the doctor’s office and start searching the Internet for other “cures” to the disease you have. You try different kinds of things like herbal remedies, you change your diet, you take lots of pain medication, etc. And these things DO help to make you feel better for a while. Some of the pills you take are actually just placebos and don’t actually have any effect on your condition, but they have the effect of making you feel better. None of these things will make the disease go away and eventually, if you don’t have that surgery to get rid of the root cause of your pain, you’re gonna die.
OK, so what does this analogy have to do with Bernie Sanders?
Well, many people, especially lots of youths, are attracted to his campaign because they look out at the world and see a tremendous amount of pain and suffering. They see endless wars and the destruction of the planet. They see police murder and all kinds of injustices here in the U.S. And they think Bernie Sanders has some solutions to these problems.
So what is the “disease,” the root cause, behind the problems here? What kind of “remedies” is Sanders delivering? Is there a need for radical surgery? And if so, what kind?
Let’s take a central plank of Sanders’ platform. Sanders says “tackling structural inequality” is at the heart of his campaign. He vows to change the fact that “Ninety-nine percent of all new income generated today goes to the top 1 percent,” and says his policies, like “fixing the tax code for citizens, corporations, and banks” and “creating and keeping better jobs” address the root causes of these inequities.
But where did all this wealth come from that Sanders says needs to be spread out more equally among people in the United States?
Look at Walmart, the largest U.S. corporation, #1 in the Fortune 500. This is a company that has grown, expanded, and thrived on the basis of a network of global super exploitation—contracting, sub-contracting, and sub-sub-contracting to sweatshops; using child labor, slave labor all over the world. Walmart has sold clothes made by women and children in Bangladesh sweatshops, forced to work 14 hours a day, often seven days a week. Some of the shrimp you get at Walmart is harvested by men bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand. There is a good chance the Nike soccer ball you get at Walmart has been stitched by the hands of children. And this is true of virtually all the major capitalist corporations.
So when Sanders says we should “Use revenue from progressive taxation [higher taxes on wealthy people and corporations] to expand and create programs to help alleviate poverty and help Americans move forward and contribute to a more robust, equitable economy,” this is what it basically comes down to: more people in America having a share in the spoils of U.S. imperialism—the wealth that comes from the blood and wasted lives of millions of people around the world, from the tears of children consigned to a life of slave labor, from the women who die in factory fires in places like Bangladesh.
Further, electing Sanders will not change—and he does not even promise to change—the fact that under the capitalist mode of production, a small class of people, the capitalist class, OWNS the means of production—the land, raw materials, and other resources, technology, and physical structures like factories needed to produce all the things people and society need to exist and grow. Redistributing the income wouldn’t change the fact that the capitalist mode of production is based on private ownership—where there is the anarchy of capitalist production with individual capitalists all producing with the aim of trying to capture a bigger and bigger share of the market. It couldn’t change the dog-eat-dog economy where different capitalists have to compete with each other in order to survive and in doing this, must find ways to cut costs—whether it means cutting wages and benefits of workers here in the U.S. or just picking up and moving operations to a Third World country where people can be more ruthlessly exploited. Or completely ignoring measures necessary to stop killing the environment because this will just cut into profits and make a company less competitive vis-à-vis other capitalists, and hence drive them under. And this takes you back to the compulsion that these capitalists face to expand and brutally exploit people all over the world, and to back that up with military power and violence.
So, to the extent that any of what Bernie Sanders promises would even be possible, it would be possible on THIS foundation. And this foundation is enforced with all the terror that the U.S. rains down on the world. This is the real meaning of Sanders constantly saying that the U.S. should have the “strongest military in the world.” This military exists to protect, enforce, and extend the interests of U.S. capital all over the world, and this is behind every single war and every single military action it undertakes.
And, very important and central to this society, the U.S. empire has been embedded with white supremacy since its beginning with the enslavement of Africans and the slaughter of the Native Indian peoples, as well as its subjugation of Latin America. All this plays out in a million terrible ways every day. It is so “baked into” the functioning of this system and the psyche and culture of this society that no simple program of economic reforms (even with “add-ons” of promises to deal with mass incarceration and some forms of discrimination) can get anywhere close to the roots of it—and participating in the illusion that it can will only perpetuate it, whatever people’s intentions.
As Bob Avakian says:
Choosing between oppressive rulers will not stop them from ruling over and oppressing you and committing horrific crimes against humanity. This is true of all the major presidential candidates, of both the Republican and Democratic parties, and it will be true of anyone who becomes president, or occupies any major political office, under this system. What supporting these people does accomplish is making you complicit with these crimes.
Bernie Sanders himself has said, “What I am trying to do in this campaign, with some success, is to call for what I call a political revolution, to rally millions of people, many of whom have given up on the political process, young people who have never been involved before.” (Face the Nation, November 15, 2015)
In fact, the Sanders candidacy comes at a time when there has been a major upsurge against police murder, widespread questioning of the racism and white supremacy endemic in all parts of American life, concern over the environment, as well as struggle over income inequality. Thousands have participated in these struggles and millions have been moved by them and many have been stirred to question the very legitimacy of this country. The movement against police murder and, earlier, the Occupy movement, came up against the violence of the state. Now here comes Sanders to promise a more painless progress—one which does not require breaking with patriotic American chauvinism, let alone going up against the violence of the state.
Do you know anyone else—any person or organization—that has managed to bring forth an actual PLAN for a radically different society, in all its dimensions, and a CONSTITUTION to codify all this? — A different world IS possible — Check out and order online the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal).
But any real struggle, even one short of all-out, for-real revolution, very quickly comes up against the repressive forces of the state. At the same time, and working hand-in-glove with that state violence, the system has always sent and will always send representatives into these struggles to channel them back into the “normal channels” and “proper procedures.” They do this to blunt the sharp edge of these struggles and “bring people back into the fold”— and there is in fact a pull on people to “go there,” even as the very system that generates the problems cannot ultimately solve them. Sooner or later, if you are serious about really stopping these outrages, you will have to rupture with the institutions, representatives, and thinking of the system. This was a lesson painfully learned in the last great wave of revolutionary struggle in the country in the 1960s—and it remains true today.
So on two fundamental counts voting for Sanders is actually harmful. One, because it reinforces belief in and allegiance to the very system of U.S. imperialism that is the source of all the suffering, of all the big problems that people are losing sleep over. And two, because it siphons people out of meaningful resistance against the system and deep engagement over the sources of the problem and the solution of revolution into rituals designed to restore faith in that very system.
In fact we DO need a revolution—but a real revolution, not another election campaign that calls itself a “revolution,” even with a phony so-called socialist. If you are getting caught up in this Sanders campaign because you want to see change, you need to look at and get into the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal), by Bob Avakian, and get into a vision of what a society on the road to ending exploitation and oppression and all social antagonisms would actually look like. If you think that such a revolution could not be won, you need to get into “On the Possibility of Revolution.” And if you think that millions could not actually be called forth and mobilized to fight for this, then you need to read our Party’s statement, “On the Strategy for Revolution.”
The point is that there IS a solution to the problem—and you need to get into it and engage with that. A better world IS possible. And Bernie Sanders is part of the problem standing in the way of that better world—and NOT part of the solution.
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Racism in Metal
Phil Anselmo screams "wh**e p**er", and the silence is deafening...
Robb Flynn of the heavy metal band Machine Head righteously called out former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo for his white power salute at Dimebash 2016 in Hollywood, California, last month. Flynn powerfully indicted the ugly racism which is rife in the metal scene. Anselmo is a long-time racist fool known for his “Sieg Heils” and white power salutes on stage during Pantera shows. (Pantera was a hugely popular heavy metal band. Robb Flynn is a founder of Machine Head.)
Flynn’s response was brave, soul-searching, and long overdue. In his video statement, he challenges metal fans who know this ugly racism is wrong but go along with it. He ridicules the justifications of metal fans like, “Here comes the PC police and the social justice team,” or, “Thicken your skin and stop being such pussys when someone screams out Sieg Heil! and white power.”
Robb Flynn schools metal fans about the realities that Black people face in America. He tells about how when he was buying a house and reading over the contract, he got to the part that says, “No Negros shall live in this house or this neighborhood.” While this turns out to be decades-old lease language... it’s not ancient history. This is in northern California in a town in the East Bay of San Francisco. Robb tears into the BS and gives a history lesson about what is fundamentally wrong with the argument that says, “Why is it OK for a Black man to say Black pride and not a white man to say white pride?”
Flynn says, “The amazing thing is that we’re all scared of saying anything.” He describes how thick racism is in the metal scene and how musicians like himself have gone along with and collaborated with racism for far too long. He reflects about when he was on stage with Pantera and stayed silent about the racism. No more! Flynn finishes by drawing the line razor sharp: “Enough’s enough... That shit is fucking wrong! For somebody to sit there and go ‘Oh if you were offended by this, blah.’ But if you weren’t offended by that, fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! There’s no place for that in metal. And if there is a place for that in metal, count me out. Count me out!”
The controversy over Phil Anselmo and racism in metal continues to amp up. Robb Flynn’s stand has given backbone to other metal musicians, fans and bloggers to speak out against Phil Anselmo’s vicious white supremacy as well as the rampant racism in the metal scene. It is really important when people, even one or two at first, stand up and speak out against racism or other reactionary ideas in cultural scenes, or in areas of the country, where this poison is dominant and bullying people.
We are in a time when society is intensely polarized around the issue of Black people’s oppression and other outrages and horrors. Actions like Robb Flynn’s can make a big difference in calling out the truth as well as galvanizing others to stand up.
Cheers to Robb Flynn!
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
This past week, Lee Baca, former Los Angeles County Sheriff, copped a plea that he lied to the FBI when they were investigating brutality and civil rights violations in the LA County jail. Baca served as Sheriff from 1998 to 2014.
The LA Sheriff’s Department is the fourth largest policing agency in the U.S. with 18,000 paid employees, including 9,100 deputies. Plus they have an unpaid, volunteer staff of several thousand, including volunteer deputies. The LA Sheriff’s Department is assigned to police all unincorporated areas and cities in the county without a police force. They provide policing for more than 10 million people in Los Angeles County, and they are in charge of all county offices, including the courts, the LA transit system, the LA County jail system and more.
In 2013, 18 current and former deputies were arrested for various crimes in the jail including beating inmates. (See “Brutality in the Dungeons of Los Angeles—This Must Be Stopped!” Since that time, 17 of them have been convicted and several more deputies are facing charges, including Paul Tanaka, the former second in command under Baca.
One of the incidents, which the Sheriff’s Department named “Operation Pandora’s Box,” was launched in 2011 and involved a prisoner informant who told the FBI about the vicious brutality in the jail. The FBI gave this informant a cell phone to document these abuses. When the deputies guarding the jail found out about this cell phone, they started moving the inmate from cell to cell, hiding him from the FBI. They changed his name in the records so the FBI could not find him. Once the FBI located him, they attempted to conduct an interview with him, but the department cut it short, not allowing the full interview to take place. Then deputies were sent to the home of one of the FBI investigators, with instructions to intimidate her and “do everything but put the handcuffs on her.”
At the time that all this information came out, Baca said he had no knowledge of it and denied any involvement whatsoever in this incident. He gave the standard cop explanation about why this and other illegal activities happened: that there are always few bad apples but 99 percent of his deputies, as well as him, “respect the criminal justice system.”
After Baca’s early retirement in January 2014, the FBI pushed for three counts of felony obstruction in this incident—that Baca had lied about hiding the prisoner, cutting the prisoner’s interview with the FBI short, and intimidating the FBI agent. Faced with several felony counts and a trial, Baca admitted that he had lied about these three things.
The essential role of the FBI and the feds has been to use this investigation to cover up the actual crimes committed. They allowed this pig—who the ACLU said "is in large part to blame" for the horrible crimes committed against inmates in LA County Jail—to plead to a charge that carries a maximum sentence of six months. The odds are that he will not serve one day in jail and will only be put on probation. This deal does not require that Baca testify in the upcoming trials—and it has kept Baca from being questioned about the other illegal activities that his deputies carried out in the jail.
These activities included having deputy recruits beat up and pepper spray mentally ill prisoners and prisoners who were considered to be “disrespectful"; beating relatives who were visiting inmates, including one who had his arm broken; the arrest and handcuffing of the Austrian consul general, who was visiting an Austrian inmate, even though the official had not committed any crime and despite the fact that foreign diplomatic officials are supposed to be immune from prosecution due to their legal status in the country.
Now you have the head of the fourth largest policing agency in the country convicted of obstructing justice and many more in the department already convicted and still more facing further charges.
So has anything changed since 2013?
Those incarcerated in the LA County jails are still subjected to brutal treatment. A report that was just released states that the use of force in the LA County Jail has increased 40 percent from 2014 to 2015, with many of the injuries to inmates being orbital (eye socket) and hand fractures. Plus the county has paid out millions of dollars to settle claims of excessive force against inmates.
No! Nothing has changed.
LA Sheriff’s deputies are continuing to murder and terrorize people on the streets of Los Angeles County. In 2015, Los Angeles area cops killed more people than police anywhere else in the country, and the LA Sheriff’s Department was responsible for about one-third of those killings.
They murdered Terry Laffitte, 49 years old and the father of three daughters, when sheriffs attacked and killed him in his own backyard after they stopped him for riding his bicycle erratically as he pulled into the driveway where he lived. (See “South Central LA March Against Police Murder: ‘Justice for Terry Laffitte!’”) They murdered Cedric Oscar Ramirez when they stormed the house he was in. They murdered Noel Aguilar, shooting him in the back, after he was stopped for riding a bicycle while wearing headphones. They murdered Johnny Ray Anderson, who was unarmed and jumped over a fence because he thought the cops might arrest him. (See “Benny Anderson on the Police Murder of His Brother Johnny...” at www.revcom.us.)
No! Nothing has changed.
It is unclear why the feds (the FBI) are going after the LA Sheriff’s Department. What is crystal clear is that the LA County Jail is a hellhole dungeon and that the brutality in that jail runs throughout the entire Sheriff’s Department. The brutality and civil rights violations have been condoned and even, in some cases, led by the very top levels of the department. So fuck that argument that “there only a few bad cops and that 99 percent of them are good.” No Baca, you all do what Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, says you do:
The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness. (BAsics 1:24)
All of these cops, including Baca, must be jailed. Jail the killer cops and jail those who brutalize prisoners, no matter what role they played in the process.
At the same time, we should not have any illusions that the feds, in going after the sheriffs, are on the side of the people and protecting people’s rights. The role of the FBI has been the opposite—revcoms.us/Revolution wrote about that in “Lessons of the People’s Struggles: The FBI and the Feds—Not Friends but Vicious Enemies”: “There are bitter lessons from the history of the people’s struggle—from the civil rights movement to the righteous movements and uprisings of the ’60s to more recent history—that expose the reality behind claims that the FBI is protecting the rights of the people supposedly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.” The article gets into a number of examples, including the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) that was unleashed on the Black Panther Party to destroy it and to discredit and murder its leaders, like Chicago Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
Keith Davis Jr.
On June 7, 2015, Baltimore police chased, cornered in a parking garage, and fired 44 times at Keith Davis Jr. Keith would have joined the more than 1,100 people murdered by police in 2015, except for one thing—he survived and can now tell the truth about what happened.
What has been the response of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby? To indict the cops who carried it out? No! Keith Davis, the victim of multiple shots to his face and body, is the one in jail.
For over eight months they have denied Davis any kind of bail. For eight months he has been denied medical treatment to remove a bullet fragment lodged in his neck, not far from his spinal cord. When it became clear that somehow Davis would survive, the State’s Attorney’s office hit him with 16 charges. On December 3, the state announced that there would be a new arraignment with additional charges, which gave them a pretext to further postpone his trial far beyond the 180 days allowed by Maryland state law. Davis’ trial is finally scheduled to begin this week, but the State’s Attorney’s office still refuses to share with the Davis legal team the statements from all of the police involved in this shooting spree. What are they hiding?
On June 7, there was a car accident and cops were called to the scene. Then another car, driven by an unlicensed cab driver, Charles Holden, came careening towards the cop car. Holden says someone had gotten in his car and was attempting to rob him. When Holden’s car stopped, the man in the passenger seat leapt from the car and started to run. Keith Davis says he was in the crowd that had gathered on the corner. When the cops started chasing the guy toward them, they all ran. “I wasn’t even the only one that ran in that direction but they ended up chasing me.” The police chased him into a closed parking garage and began to fire at him from two directions.
Keith Davis Jr. in the hospital soon after he was shot by police. He arrived in critical condition and received emergency surgery. While in the hospital, he was chained to his bed. Once out of critical condition, Keith was taken to jail and has been refused medical care for more than seven months. A bullet fragment remains lodged in his neck, not far from his spine.
The police claim that Keith Davis was the man who had been in the cab. Yet the cab driver described that man who attempted to rob him as a light-skinned African-American in his 30s with braids or long hair. “He had good size hair. I think it was plaited,” he told investigators. But Davis is 25 and wears his hair closely cut. Other details given by the cab driver of the person who ran from the cab also do not match those of Davis. Further, it has been reported that a police sergeant tried to “prep” Holden into fingering Davis as the person in his cab by saying to Holden, “We got him and I don’t think he is going to make it.”
Initially, the cops claimed that shooting 44 times at Keith Davis was justified because it was a two-sided shoot-out. But forensic testing of the .22 caliber long gun, which the cops “found” on the scene, shows that it had never been fired. In the midst of this “shoot-out,” Davis called his girlfriend Kelly Holsey. Describing the call, she said there was “a constant pop-pop-pop” while Davis told her, “Babe, I’m gonna die.” The call lasted for one minute and seven seconds. Davis said, “The officer tried to shoot my face off.” And Holsey heard Davis yell, “I don’t have nothing.” Then “one big pop” before the call dropped.
The cops in the poorly lit garage were in two groups on either side of Davis. Some of the cops claim Davis was shooting but admit not actually seeing muzzle fire, only hearing the sound of gunfire. In one preliminary report, a cop admitted that he didn’t know for sure whether shots were “red or blue, friend or foe.” From these preliminary reports that did get out, one can surmise why the state prosecutor has refused to share all the police reports. Their initial plan to railroad Davis has not gone the way they thought. What new ways will they find to justify this grave injustice?
“This is what would have happened to Freddie Gray if he had lived.”
—protester quoted by the Guardian (UK)
Ever since May 1, when Marilyn Mosby indicted six cops for the killing of Freddie Gray, her office, the police commissioners (both old and new), and the media have been saying that it is a “new day” in Baltimore. Dangerous illusions were spread that now people could sit back and “let the system work.” But what is happening to Keith Davis shows just the opposite. The role of the police—and the State’s Attorney’s office—is STILL to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. The police are STILL killing people with impunity.
Here’s some of what’s been happening since last May 1 in Baltimore, in addition to their outrageous actions around Keith Davis:
A system like this is completely illegitimate—and the untold suffering it causes completely unnecessary. A system that produces these horrors is a system that needs to be swept away.
Free Keith Davis Jr.—Drop all the charges!
Indict the cops who fired at him 44 times!
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
From a Vietnam War Vet:
New introduction January 17, 2017, originally posted February 15, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
January 17, 2017: Fifty years ago, in January 1967, the U.S. troops occupying Vietnam began a major military offensive against Vietnamese forces fighting to liberate their country. The heroic struggle of the Vietnamese people, combined with upsurge of opposition within the U.S., would lead to the defeat of the U.S. imperialists in Vietnam. The war in Vietnam is part of a whole bloody history of U.S. wars, invasions, and aggression against countries and people fighting for their liberation. There’s a responsibility for people in the U.S. to understand that “America was NEVER great” and oppose all the crimes carried out by the U.S. imperialists around the world.
We are reposting this piece from a Vietnam War vet, who was not yet in Vietnam in 1967 but has important things to say about the massacres and other horrors that the U.S. committed during the war against the Vietnamese people.
I am writing to revcom.us/Revolution because this is the one place that consistently stands with the people of the world against all forms of oppression and for a radically different and far better world. The reason for this letter is the current wave of patriotism, using America’s soldiers and veterans to justify every conceivable crime and atrocity being carried out by the “troops,” i.e., the U.S. military.
I speak from a whole lot of experience—from both sides of the political battles—supporting and defending U.S. wars and then serving in Vietnam, where I began to learn the truth about America’s bloody, genocidal history.
Right now there is a major campaign to raise millions of dollars in the Wounded Warrior Campaign, for medical care for the wounded veterans of America’s current wars around the globe. Now, let’s set something straight first—they are not heroes but murderers and baby killers. Nowhere in American mainstream media and culture do you find the people we are killing, torturing, droning, raping—the people of the world do not matter in the path of America’s march across the earth. There is no honor in being a soldier in the U.S. military that has invaded every corner of the world and nearly every country on the planet. There is no pride in torturing people across the globe, invading people’s homes and beating up the occupants in the name of the “War on Terror.” The U.S. is actually carrying out a “War OF Terror” against the people of the world. In fact, it can be said with historical certainty that the wholesale slaughter of tens of millions of people is “The American Way” and that, except for the Civil War, there has never been anything honorable about serving in the U.S. military. As I tell youth when I go into high schools as part of the We Are Not Your Soldiers Campaign, you are going to be part of a military that is about killing the people of the world for profit and empire!
You can be sure that whenever there is a stepped-up campaign of patriotism and flag waving, there are also stepped-up military actions that need to be supported by the unthinking and the privileged, while the rest of us are supposed to shrink back, and not speak the truth, as atrocities are carried out in our names. Right now all over Africa and the Middle East there are and have been hundreds of secret military operations, assassinations, kidnappings, and murders galore by special operations teams, while the myth is promoted that “there are no ground forces” in those places. These are American “death squads,” all with the story that this is what is needed to protect “us from the terrorists” when the truth is that the United States is the biggest terrorist on the planet.
Villagers massacred by U.S. Army troops at My Lai in Vietnam, March 16, 1968.
GIs refuse to return to combat, AK Valley, Vietnam, September 1969.
What I am saying here is not my opinion, but history and, yes, science. Because this is not a case of human nature, or bad people, or even the nature of being in the military. No, I learned, through bitter lessons in Vietnam and back here in the American empire, that we live in a capitalist-imperialist system that will go to any length, commit every crime imaginable, to defend and spread this empire of profit and exploitation across the globe. From the banana fields in Guatemala, to the sweatshops in Bangladesh, to the oil of the Middle East, the U.S. has over 700 military bases ringing the globe to defend what the monsters who run this empire call “our interests.” To do that, the military and the powers that be need the bodies and minds of young people, mainly men and some women, to carry out the crimes. So, how do they do this?
They do this in many different ways, and especially through the racism, lies, manipulation, and fear that are a normal part of American culture and education. This is reinforced by a brutal and cruel brainwashing of the young soldiers called “basic training” to instill in them blind obedience to orders, concern only for American lives, and a “shoot first and kill all” mentality in these young brains. Then, when these soldiers return home, they are used again, and especially the wounded ones, these killers for empire, as sympathy and pity for them is drummed up to justify continued murder and torture. The message that is driven home is that the only lives that matter are American lives.
Now I know that some people will say that these soldiers are victims too of this imperialist system. My answer is that these soldiers and vets have a choice: they can cross over to the side of the people of the world and tell the truth about what they saw and did or forever face the world’s condemnation as the baby killers and murderers they are.
It is true that today’s generation born after 9/11 have no real memory of the turmoil of the 1960s and how tens of millions came to oppose the war in Vietnam and the American empire in many different ways, including massive opposition to the war right in the U.S. military. For this same generation, what happened in Vietnam 50 years ago is as ancient history to them as was my growing up listening to WW2 veterans tell their stories. After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center (the murder of 3,000 innocent people by a group of terrorists in the name of Islamic fundamentalism), the United States used them to carry out and justify the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of drone killings in many countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and torture and murder by the military and the CIA at prisons and “black sites.” This is the reality of the world we live in today and lessons from the past must really serve helping to end all this madness. No more stupid and meaningless “war stories.”
The process of how I came to end up in Vietnam is instructive because today’s young soldiers and vets can see similarities to how they have been manipulated and lied to. Back then, in my schooling, the only ideas I learned about America’s wars were the necessity and the wonder and glory of fighting them. On television I learned to cheer for the cowboys as they killed multitudes of Native Americans, while the war movies portrayed Americans as right and justified in defending our way of life. Watch the movie Purple Heart and the racist portrayal of the Japanese. In the 8th grade I won an American Legion Americanism award for an essay I wrote about patriotism. In high school my history teachers, Mr. Gavigan and Mr. Murphy, had the maps that showed communism as evil and taking over all of Asia, especially Vietnam. I even worked for Barry Goldwater after high school when he ran for president in 1964. I was at the first antiwar demonstration in New York City in spring 1966—to stand on the side in support of the war. I joined Young Americans for Freedom, a right-wing campus group.
So while most of the youth in this country are trained in blind patriotism and kept ignorant of history and the nature of the system we live in, I was political at an early age, and I thought I knew American history and why the country was worth defending. I joined the U.S. Air Force and ended up guarding nuclear weapons in the U.S. at small bases on the East Coast. But, I told myself that I could not be alive at this time and not follow my generation’s calling and go to Vietnam. I arrived there just in time for the Tet Offensive of 1968—a military operation by the Vietnamese revolutionaries against all the major U.S. bases in Vietnam. After four of my fellow soldiers and friends died in that attack, my whole world view fell apart because I began to realize that nothing I had been taught or believed about the nature of U.S. reasons for being in Vietnam were true. I knew nothing about the Vietnamese people, culture, and history. We called the people all sorts of racist terms and nowhere did they count as human beings. I spent my next 11 months coming to oppose the war, to see the humanity of the Vietnamese people and beginning to oppose this lie that Americans are the best people in the world. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Davis and Johnson, two of the many Black guys in my unit who refused to salute the American flag (when a movie was shown on our base), and argued with me about the war, Black history, and that they were talking about coming back home to America to make revolution.
Vietnam veterans marching against the war, Washington, D.C., April 24, 1971. Photo: Leena Krohn via Wikimedia Commons
After Vietnam, I joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and became one of its national leaders. And it was here, along with other veterans and the growing soldiers’ movement in the U.S. military worldwide, that we all learned to not just oppose the war but actively resist it. This is where I learned the truth of U.S. history, and not just Vietnam but what America has always been about. I learned about the Sullivan Expedition in the summer of 1779—where Gen. George Washington (yes, that one—the slaveholder) orders a genocidal attack on more than 40 Iroquois villages—destroying the people, buildings, and crops. This became a standard practice of the U.S. military in the following 300 years of wars against the Native peoples of the western U.S., in the Spanish-American war in the Philippine Islands in 1898, to the use of insects and chemical and biological agents in the Korean war in 1950 to 1953, to the American invasion of Vietnam and all its horrors. Research many of these crimes on revcom.us, and you can also find on the Internet several lists that document the hundreds of military invasions, occupations, “small-unit actions,” aerial and offshore bombings, almost 300 years of U.S. military actions around the world.
The veterans and soldiers I was meeting and organizing were studying U.S. history, about the history of slavery, the lynchings and oppression of Black people, talking about how this was an imperialist way of life—killing people for profit and empire. And I met many who were openly talking about why revolution seemed to be necessary to stop all this horror that we were inflicting on the people of the world. We marched for 70 miles through small towns in New Jersey in a simulated search-and-destroy mission to graphically portray “to the heartland” that what we were doing in Vietnam was massacring and torturing the people. Then, we took 125 combat vets to Detroit in 1971 to the Winter Soldier Investigation where vets testified for three days about mass rape of Vietnamese women, mass murder, destruction of villages and crops, napalm, chemical poisoning of the land and people, and yes—the deliberate murder of kids by the soldiers. While there are many powerful and important examples of resistance and opposition by soldiers and veterans to imperialist wars, this was the first time in history that they were self-organized with two goals: to tell the truth about what they had seen and done, and then to call on the American people to stop the crimes.
"For a full week in the spring of 1971, we camped out on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Congress and we named it Dewey Canyon III—'an invasion into the country of Congress.'” Above, throwing medals back onto the Capitol steps as part of the Dewey Canyon III protests.
Before Winter Soldier, I thought I understood the scope of what we had done in Vietnam, but after three days of hearings I was devastated by how deep was the betrayal of our youth, our ambitions, and our minds, that we were really nothing more than killers and cannon fodder for empire. After Winter Soldier, we knew we had to do something that would put Vietnam Veterans on the front page of the newspapers, something dramatic that would send a message around the world, that while we were the baby killers, we were beginning to understand who and what was really responsible. For a full week in the spring of 1971, we camped out on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Congress and we named it Dewey Canyon III—“an invasion into the country of Congress.” After a whole week of demonstrating everywhere, doing guerrilla theater portrayals of how we treated and murdered the Vietnamese people, on the last day 800 to 1,000 vets lined up outside the Capitol to walk up the Capitol steps and throw their medals back at the U.S. Congress and the rulers of America. Some of the comments from the vets as they threw their medals over a fence marked “trash” were: a Black vet who said, “This is my opposition for the policies of this country against the non-white peoples of the world”; “My name is Peter, I got a purple heart here and I hope I get another one fighting these motherfuckers”; “We don’t want to fight again, but if we have to it’ll be to take these steps.”
Then, in the summer of 1971, I was selected by VVAW to represent the organization on a peace delegation to Hanoi—the capital of North Vietnam—“the enemy.” As the first Vietnam veteran to go to North Vietnam on a peace mission, with two other activists from Women Strike for Peace and the War Resisters League, I did not think twice about going. We spent eight days in Hanoi, traveling to Haiphong Harbor and witnessing the lives of a people whose whole history and culture is embedded with the ethos of resisting foreign invaders. This is when I completely went “over to the other side” and became an advocate for the victory of the Vietnamese against the U.S.
I say that today because while there is not an equivalent nation or group that can be supported right now against the crimes the U.S. is carrying out, everyone, and especially the soldiers and veterans of these wars, can and must speak out for the people of the world and against U.S. crimes. This means NOT supporting the troops, because the troops are murdering people. I really hate the slogan “Support the Troops, Not the War” because it makes what these wars are about is American lives, and the humanity of the people we are killing is secondary or nonexistent.
Finally, for those who can only see the power of the empire to manipulate and control the population into either being blind flag wavers or docile opposition, I want to say how important it is to tell the truth, to call on others to do so and to fight for the interest of all humanity. After all, I was witness to something that many people today cannot imagine: I saw a large segment of the former baby killers and murderers of my time turn against the empire on the side of humanity.
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
From A World to Win News Service:
May 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
To draw attention to a dire situation, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson recently pointed out that of the world's seven billion people, six billion have mobile phones, while only 4.5 billion have access to toilets or latrines.
While the news has been the occasion for many jokes, it was not meant to be funny. It reveals the grim imbalances that mark today's world, both between the countries whose capital gorges on global exploitation and the countries they dominate, and in terms of the kind of development that takes place in the dominated countries.
Sanitation—the proper treatment and/or disposal of urine and excrement—could be considered "the most important medical milestone" in modern history according to the British Medical Journal. Yet for at least 2.5 billion people, more than a third of the world's people, this most basic human need is unmet.
Most cases of diarrhea are caused by water and food contaminated by feces, and this disease kills 1,800 children every day. "If 90 school buses filled with kindergartners were to crash every day, with no survivors, the world would take notice. But this is precisely what happens every single day because of poor water, sanitation and hygiene," explained Sanjay Wijesekera of UNICEF.
In fact, almost 9.7 million children under five died in 2006, an average of more than 26,000 a day, mostly from preventable causes. (UNICEF "State of the World's Children," 2008) Diarrhea is not the only or even the main killer—malaria is now the most common direct cause of children's deaths. But the percentage of those children killed by lack of proper sanitation is high, not only because of the numbers who die directly from diarrhea, but also because diarrhea leads to other diseases and can be a factor in malnutrition. Taking all this into account, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that 4,500 young children die of inadequate sanitation every day. More people have died of diarrhea than in all the armed conflicts since World War 2, writes Rose George in her book The Big Necessity. Citing UNICEF, she calls diarrhea "the single biggest hurdle a small child in a developing country has to overcome."
The number of deaths of children under five is a key indicator of a population's health situation. It reveals lethal inequalities between countries and within countries that income figures often conceal. Diarrhea due to fecal contamination is even more deeply rooted in economic and social structures than some other diseases that can be reduced or eliminated by vaccination campaigns. There is no vaccination against malaria, but there are new preventive measures and it is the object of an insufficient but real degree of medical research. Preventing fecal contamination does not depend on any medical breakthroughs whatsoever. It can be prevented by nineteenth-century or even ancient technology—sewers.
Cholera, a disease spread by fecal contamination, threatened to make central London unlivable in the mid-nineteenth century. It was forced into retreat in England long before the advent of vaccines and effective medical treatment, or even before the existence of germs was known, simply by upgrading the sewage system. Later the addition of chlorine to drinking water worked even greater wonders.
It's true, as UNICEF points out, that the number of children dying from diarrhea worldwide has come down over the last decade. But the progress in sanitation indicated in the latest report is excruciatingly—and murderously—slow. The UN's Millennium Development Goal in this regard was to half the proportion of people without sanitation in 2015 as compared to 1990. Even that modest target is almost certain to be missed.
Why is mobile phone ownership soaring in comparison with sanitation? Forbes, an even more unabashedly pro-big business media outlet than most, crows that this disjunct demonstrates the "greater efficiency of the private sector." What it really demonstrates is the way capitalism works.
Investors must seek the highest and quickest returns on their investment. Setting up a mobile phone network takes capital, but not nearly as much as heavy infrastructural projects like water and sewage systems or even old-fashioned fixed phone lines, and the profits come much thicker and faster. In countries like China and India, where almost a third of the world's mobiles are to be found, dense population leads to economies of scale and thus both cheap phone calls and high rates of profit. Services such as water and sanitation, in contrast, require enormous amounts of capital that can only be recouped over many years at best. The same factor that makes mobile phone companies so attractive to foreign and domestic investors in many third world countries, the conditions of profitability, also means that water and sanitation attract little or no investment, even though they are sorely needed by the people. (Providing water is cheaper than building and maintaining sewage systems and can even be profitable, which is why sewage is an even bigger problem than clean water in today's world.)
The point is not that people don't need mobile phones; it's that what people get is determined not by their needs or even the development of technology itself but the workings of capital.
The UN argues that since the cost of sanitation-related deaths and illnesses can be calculated in monetary terms (the cost of lost production and increased medical and other expenses), funding for sanitation should be considered an investment that will pay for itself many times over. But in the capitalist world this is irrelevant because these costs are born by individuals and society as a whole and not particular capitalists who are in life-and-death competition with one another.
Universal sewage systems cannot be developed privately. It is governments that brought these services into existence in every country in the world, and everywhere they are subsidized. But government spending is no less bound by the requirements of capitalism than the private sector. While a capitalist state, as the political representative of a country's ruling class as a whole, can take sanitation and other measures for the public good when the political and economic interests of the ruling classes require it, there are obstacles. The limits of government spending (the so-called public sector) are set by the overall process of capital accumulation and the country's place in that global process, both in terms of sources of revenue (ultimately profits) and priorities.
In India today, for instance, when it comes to public works, motorways and transport needed to move materials and goods get priority over storm drainage and water systems and even public electricity. This is part of what it means to be "business-friendly." While the country has one of the world's fastest-growing economies, that growth is concentrated in the production of services and goods linked to the international market. That applies to mobile phones, because of both direct foreign investment and fees paid for the use of technology, imported equipment and so on. Globalization applied to mobile phones means that even small amounts of money earned by the very poor can be quickly and efficiently concentrated to make some people very rich.
Out of India's 1.1 billion population, most people have access to a mobile phone. (There were 929 million subscribers in May 2012, although many people have several phone numbers to take advantage of tariff differences. This fact often exaggerates phone ownership statistics.) But a majority of people (626 million) do not have access to any kind of toilet or latrine. Even many people working in hi-tech and globalized industries have no sewer hook-up and often no electricity in their homes either. The technology is surrounded by darkness and excrement.
This disjunct is also related to pre-capitalist oppressive relations that have been absorbed into globalized capitalism. India's dalits (so-called "untouchables") remain assigned to cleaning up after everyone else, emptying public latrines, removing excrement from private homes, railroad tracks, etc., while higher caste people want nothing to do with anything related to human sewage, even when there is no health danger, because of the reactionary social hierarchy and beliefs.
The oppression of women is also involved, since the shortcomings and burdens of sanitation fall especially hard on them. And while it would be a slight exaggeration to say that you can tell the difference between imperialist and oppressed countries by their sanitation systems, the disparities often reflect the more general gaps in living standards between the imperialist homelands and the countries they dominate.
A 2004 WHO report estimated that providing healthy water and sanitation for the earth's entire population would cost roughly 1.4 trillion dollars. That is less than what the U.S. has already budgeted for its occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Here, too, capital sets the rules. These wars are not a fight for profits, but the U.S. has to try to defend and consolidate global political domination in order to ensure favorable economic conditions for American capital. There is a complex interaction between politics and economics; and politics, whether fighting imperialist wars or building public works projects, cannot be reduced to economics. But in the end a capitalist state has no choice but to adopt policies that suit the existing economic system, with all its exploitation and oppression. That's what ultimately determines its priorities.
The world's sanitation situation and its lethal consequences are yet another example of how capitalism is a barrier to the use of the world's wealth, technology and even knowledge to serve the needs of the people. Horrific numbers of children and other people are dying unnecessarily every day. This is not because humanity lacks the means to save their lives but because the resources created by the labor of billions of people working together in various ways and linked across the globe cannot be deployed except insofar as they increase private wealth.
A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
From A World to Win News Service:
February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
February 16, 2016. A World to Win News Service. In an alarming development that illustrates how Europe is adopting police and even military solutions to what it sees as its “migrant crisis”—and reflects the real underlying world crises—NATO has sent warships to the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey.
The immense flood of fleeing human beings in the world today, estimated at 60 million, is far more the result of compulsion, in that sense, than a question of individual decisions. Whether or not some entrepreneur—whose morals are at worst no different than, say, Western bankers'—sells them a rubber dinghy is not going to change that situation. If the West really wanted to help people, they would send ferries to bring them safely across the waters, just as the U.S. and Europe routinely sends ships to evacuate their citizens, when that suits them, trapped in war zones—as people in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other places surely are.
Above: A man and child try to reach shore after falling from a boat on which they crossed a part of the Aegean sea from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. Jan. 3, 2016. Photo: AP
This decision, not even hinted at publicly until the eve of a meeting of NATO defence ministers on February 11, was implemented overnight. Within 20 hours, one ship each from Germany, Turkey and Canada was in place. Two or three other warships are expected to join them, perhaps from Greece, the UK and Denmark, a country proud of its heritage from the Vikings whose ships once plundered this sea and that now plunder asylum seekers’ personal possessions.
Even more alarming than the presence of these warships in the Aegean is the degree to which their mission has been left deliberately murky.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told the media that “this is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats.” NATO Supreme Commander in Europe, General Philip Breedlove, whose position reflects U.S. domination of the alliance, said that deploying the ships was a political decision and defining their mission remains part of the “military work” yet to be done.
What these ships are not being sent to do is save people from drowning, as more than 800 did in the Aegean last year and 409 in the first five weeks of 2016 alone, according to the International Organization for Migration. In cases where volunteers have tried to help boats reach Greece safely (for instance, firemen from Italy), they have been arrested.
Mare Nostrum, the Italian operation in the Mediterranean in 2013-14 that rescued 150,000 migrants in danger of drowning, was cancelled because it was deemed to “encourage” people to leave North Africa for Europe in tiny boats. It was replaced by Operation Triton, conducted by Frontex (the EU border police) using patrol boats with no room for passengers or provisions for emergency medical care. People plucked out of the cold water remained on deck and many died of exposure before reaching land. Thousands more died unrescued because the operation was designed to keep them from Europe’s shores and do little if their boats capsized out at sea.
Then Germany, whose population is ageing and shrinking despite the absorption of half a million immigrants from ex-Yugoslavia, announced its willingness to take in a million Syrians. But now the doors are swinging shut again. Blaming anti-immigrant public opinion that has been carefully stoked, and events like the New Year’s eve attacks on women in Cologne as an excuse, better dead than here is the attitude being taken toward many human beings escaping wars and other crises for which the European and North American countries are largely responsible, indirectly and even directly, especially in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, from where the greatest number of refugees are now fleeing.
The vessels operating in the Aegean on what is being advertised as a “patrol” are not patrol boats this time. So far the flotilla consists of a large (170-meter) combat support ship and two combat ships (frigates). While NATO officials have tried to give the impression that the flotilla was sent to “provide intelligence to the European Union,” this does not explain the choice of ships designed for coastal warfare instead of simply relying on aerial surveillance, which in fact is being stepped up as part of this operation. (New York Times, February 12, 2016, is the source of all the misleading statements quoted above.) What “intelligence”? Everyone knows that people are pouring into Europe through these waters and the governments want to stop them.
The mission is definitely not aimed at “human traffickers,” “a criminal syndicate that is exploiting these poor people,” as U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and NATO-friendly media outlets claimed. (Deutsche Welle, February 11, 2016) Most people entering Europe are not being trafficked into slavery, or trafficked in any real sense at all. They are escaping. It is intolerable that this difference be deliberately ignored by the world’s biggest exploiters, the powers whose human trafficking slave ships plied the seas and filled the oceans with the bodies of kidnapped Africans whose only escape was death. This went on for hundreds of years as they began to accumulate the capital that allows them to dominate the world today.
Yet while people crossing the Mediterranean have been acting on their own, still, as individuals and even collectively they are reacting to desperate choices largely imposed on them by the workings of the imperialist capitalist system itself. The immense flood of fleeing human beings in the world today, estimated at 60 million, is far more the result of compulsion, in that sense, than a question of individual decisions. Whether or not some entrepreneur—whose morals are at worst no different than, say, Western bankers’—sells them a rubber dinghy is not going to change that situation. If the West really wanted to help people, they would send ferries to bring them safely across the waters, just as the U.S. and Europe routinely sends ships to evacuate their citizens, when that suits them, trapped in war zones—as people in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other places surely are.
Quiet political events leading up to the sudden NATO decision shed light on the shadowy political manoeuvring. On February 7, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande dined together and came up with a “roadmap” for radically reducing the number of people now entering Europe. (Le Monde, February 11, 2016) Some of it is to be presented to an upcoming EU meeting, but much of it is already being implemented. Greece has been given three months to re-establish its sea borders or be thrown out of the Shengen group of European countries supposedly set up to guarantee free travel through most of the continent. Of course, Germany, Sweden and other countries have now largely closed their borders, flaunting the Shengen agreement.
The great difficulty in getting out of Greece now, due to European border closings, has turned that country, especially the islands near Turkey, into what a UN official called “the world’s largest open air detention centre.” The EU pushed for the establishment of euphemistically called “hot spots” in Greece and Italy. People have been detained by force in stadiums and other facilities on repeated occasions, but the main reason they have to stay in the centres now being established is that they have nowhere else to go, to eat and get out of the freezing rain—and not be beaten by rampaging anti-immigrant civilians. Greece and Italy, which gave other countries so many millions of their people for so long, are becoming doorkeepers of Fortress Europe.
The stated purpose of these centres is to identify and register all arrivals. They are sorted out between those who could be considered candidates for asylum in Europe, basically Syrians, and those from countries declared “safe” like Afghanistan, as Germany recently did. This decision has a particularly nasty resonance among politically awake people in Germany, who have condemned the country’s continuing and now leading role in the occupation of Afghanistan, under the U.S. Among other things, it is a hypocritical violation (better said, exposure) of Germany’s post-World War 2 so-called “pacifist” constitution.
Meanwhile, according to Le Monde, Greece has agreed to ship the victims of this “sorting” back to Turkey. Turkey has agreed to accept them—perhaps everyone, even the Afghans. (Duetsche Welle, February 11, 2016) In return, Turkey is to get a much quicker disbursement of the three billion euros the EU will pay it to warehouse refugees—more than a thousand euros per soul so far. Also in turn, Turkey asked for NATO to step into the Aegean, a move whose implications go far beyond the migrant question.
All this helps to understand the strategic intent of the NATO flotilla and the hastiness of its launching as other elements come together in an extremely volatile situation.
This volatility may explain the haziness of the NATO mission, to the degree that its tactics really remain undefined and officials are not just feeding disinformation to the open mouths of the media. It can’t be considered separately from the collision between the U.S., Europe and Russia over Syria, or Turkey’s extremely aggressive and precarious position as both the West’s indispensable ally against Russia and the main conduit for the arms and volunteers sustaining Islamist forces on the Syrian battleground.
Different wars and contradictions are overlapping and interacting—including what is figuratively and not, at this time, literally, a war against “migrants,” in other words, the fleeing victims. At a minimum, the naval deployment sets a new tone for the handling of the migrant ‘‘crisis.” It may be that NATO wants to establish a physical presence in the Aegean, a “prepositioning” as its new arms depots on the Russian border are called, ready for action if sudden changes in the military situation in Syria, or Turkish and more foreign military intervention, or crisis in Turkey itself, turn the flood of refugees into a tidal wave. What remains to be seen is how much it will actively seek to turn the Aegean into a European separation wall.
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
The Revolution Interview
February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
A special feature of Revolution to acquaint our readers with the views of significant figures in art, theater, music and literature, science, sports, and politics. The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our newspaper/website..
Editors’ note: Michael Pitt is the co-founder and partner of the law firm Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers, which represents a group of Flint residents in two new class-action lawsuits against Governor Rick Snyder, the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services (MDHHS), the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), and additional government officials over the lead poison in Flint water. Details of the lawsuit are available at the firm’s website. Michael Pitt sat down with Revolution correspondent Alan Goodman to provide background to the suit, what prompted it, and the current situation for people in Flint.
Alan Goodman: Let’s start with a picture of what has been done to the people of Flint.
Michael Pitt: For more than 50 years, Flint, which is about 70 miles northwest of Detroit, has received water from the Detroit system. The primary source of water for the Detroit water system is Lake Huron, which is considered one of the cleanest, unpolluted fresh bodies of water in the world. I have lived in this area all my life and I drank Detroit water. It’s terrific. I never had a problem with it. It’s always been refreshing and clean. The studies I’ve read say it’s the finest water in the world. The people of Flint pay extra money, they pay more money that we do in this area because of the distance involved and pumping the water uphill. The water’s uphill from Detroit, so they’ve got to use energy to get the water through the pipe system 70 miles to Flint. And so historically, Flint has paid more, and if you were just to do a cost analysis, it costs more than regular water. So about five-six years ago, some of the people in that area, leaders, decided to develop their own piping system that would run east-west from Genesee County Flint to... It’s called the Karegnondi Water Authority, and it’s like a $300 million project, and is funded through bonds and programs, and that piping system is... will be available probably sometime later this year.
So when Flint agreed to join the Karegnondi Water Authority in 2013, they notified the city of Detroit that they were going to terminate their relationship and they had a year to make other arrangements.
Alan Goodman: OK, so for reasons we don’t really know, the government decided to disconnect Flint from a safe, reliable source, switch to another source, and figure out a way to supply people with water while this switch was taking place?
Michael Pitt: Flint had to make other arrangements where their water was gonna come from, because this was in 2013, and Karegnondi was not gonna be up and running until mid-2016. So you had a lag in there.
So, at the time the decision was made to go to Karegnondi, there was an emergency manager in place. The governor had appointed an emergency manager for cities in Michigan, and primarily minority-populated cities have been broke. And why are they broke? Well, their tax base is eroded to the point where municipal services are under-funded because of a lack of a tax base, and so there is a loss of public services and the governor has the political power and capital to get these emergency managers put in place and to run these basically broken-down cities.
Alan Goodman: Flint lost something like 75,000 auto jobs...
Michael Pitt: Oh, yeah, more than that, more than that. I think in the 1960s, 200,000 people... we’re down to less than 100,000 now...
Alan Goodman: That’s total population in Flint—not auto jobs, right?
Michael Pitt: Yeah. People we’re talking to now are the sons and daughters of former auto workers. They’ve never seen the inside of a plant, but their parents did. But they still live there. And they have family there. And they have reason to live there because they have a lot of kin there.
So anyway, the emergency manager is in control. And in March of 2013, they said they’d go to the Karegnondi Water Authority. And in April of 2014, the emergency manager, Darnell Earley, rejects any final offers from the city of Detroit to continue funding the water source and proceeds to switch the primary drinking source from Detroit to the Flint River.
Alan Goodman: That was a disaster, right?
Michael Pitt: Flint has a water treatment plant in order to process the Flint River, which is highly corrosive and toxic; it has to go through substantial treatment. And what they failed to do is follow the basic protocol, which is, when you have corrosive water and lead pipes that are in service you have to use...
Alan Goodman: When you say in service, that’s the term for running water to people’s houses, right?
Michael Pitt: That’s right. So the lead pipes are those that run from the main to the people’s houses, and they’re probably 15,000 of those still in Flint, and over time they’ve become corroded... and by using an anti-corrosive agent, which the city of Detroit used... The city of Detroit treated their water with an anti-corrosive agent so that when the water ran through the pipe the anti-corrosive agent actually coated the interior of the pipe and created a biofilm and that biofilm prevented the lead that’s in the pipe from leaching into the water. It is a well-recognized and documented form of protection for people who have lead lines. There’s no question that the anti-corrosive treatment was not used when they started pumping the Flint River water to its customers.
Alan Goodman: Is there an explanation for why? This seems like a major decision that could have been known to create an extreme danger for people?
Michael Pitt: We haven’t found that yet. I mean the... we don’t know who is the responsible party for that. Obviously, the people in control of the water treatment plant have some culpability. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, a state agency, has to permit the use of the Flint River as a drinking source, which they did. The state is required to make sure that all the protocols are followed so that the water is actually safe. They failed to do that.
Alan Goodman: Just to emphasize, if I understand your point earlier, the default, or standard procedure, is to do a treatment that builds up this biofilm, and so the decision not to do that is a departure from standard procedure.
Michael Pitt: Yeah.
Alan Goodman: Let me explore something here—people say this was all to save money but it seems the factors involved are much more complex than that.
Michael Pitt: Well, I mean, yeah, exactly right. The estimates are that whole system could have been treated with an anti-corrosive agent for about $100 a day. And you’re talking about a multimillion-dollar project. I mean, you’re talking about water and getting receipts of tens of millions of dollars every year, so $100 per day is nothing. So you would think that the cost is not a barrier. Looking at the totality of the circumstances, one would have to assume that this was an act of gross negligence.
Alan Goodman: Is there anything that has come out in these emails that have been released? Is there anything else that indicates anybody, anywhere saying we should have put this in the water?
Michael Pitt: Yeah. So what happens, the water starts coming out brown, because the water is corrosive, and there are iron pipes as well as lead pipes, and the iron pipes, the rust starts to come off and the biofilm after three or four weeks starts to disintegrate and so the rust from the iron pipes begins to flow into the water, and so people are getting yellow water, rust color. People are reporting that it smells, and it tastes bad. So then they over-chlorinate it. Bacteria forms. Over-chlorination creates another problem. And so by September of 2014, they had to do a boil alert because the quality of the water was so poor.
Alan Goodman: But wasn’t the boil alert counterproductive since boiling lead-poisoned water actually makes the concentration of lead worse?
Michael Pitt: By this point, by the fall of 2014, people were not focused on lead. They were focused on other toxicities that were in the water or the quality of water. And, you know, famously, General Motors in October 2014 said the water was corroding its parts and its machinery, and it had to discontinue use of this corrosive water. And they made arrangements to have Detroit water shipped to its plant.
Keep in mind that Flint is surrounded by Genesee County. During the time that Flint is being exposed to this highly toxic water, many of the communities in the surrounding county are still getting Detroit water. Some are on wells, and some are getting Detroit water. The General Motors plant was able to switch over to the township water, which was Detroit water. And so, some people are saying that General Motors had a duty to tell the people that the water was highly corrosive and that they shouldn’t be drinking it, you know. They make a good point.
Alan Goodman: Certainly a moral duty, if not a legal one.
Michael Pitt: Anyways, but the story, if you research the newspaper accounts, you’ll see that it was publicized that in October of 2014, General Motors was discontinuing the use of the Flint River water because it was damaging its parts. So that was well known. And the other thing that was well known, and the governor can’t deny this, is that people or activists were protesting on the street in the fall of 2014, carrying around jugs of brown liquid saying look how awful the water is coming out of my tap. And so, even though lead was not on the radar at that point, poor water quality and toxic water was indeed on the radar screen. So it wasn’t until February 2015 that lead surfaced as a problem.
LeeAnne Walters, one of the activists, is not getting answers from the city of Flint, not getting answers from the MDEQ. And so she goes to the EPA, the federal. The federal EPA has an investigator by the name of Miguel Del Toral who does a write-up, and on June 24  he publishes an internal memo where he says the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, appears to be lead-laced and that it’s dangerous.
Alan Goodman: How did he detect that?
Michael Pitt: Well, he actually went out and he pulled the water from the homes, and from LeeAnne Walters’ home. Anything over 15 parts per billion was considered dangerous.
There were readings from her home of over 13,000 parts per billion.
Alan Goodman: That’s incredible.
Michael Pitt: It’s like hazardous waste.
Alan Goodman: I haven’t seen that. I’ve seen figures of a hundred.
Michael Pitt: Her readings were off the charts. It was very alarming. It is toxic waste. So there was something very unusual about her system. So they started looking deeper into it and realized it was pervasive. And so he publishes this report. And the director of Region 5 of the EPA, a woman whom I am drawing a blank on her name, I apologize, you can probably pull that out. She just recently resigned in shame. She deep-sixed it. She said you can’t go public with it, don’t go public with it. This is only a temporary report. And so, Del Toral, one of the real heroes of the story, hands the report to LeeAnne Walters. LeeAnne Walters then takes it to the media and the ACLU, and they run with it. So the story by July starts to come out.
So then LeeAnne also contacts Marc Edwards, a Virginia Tech professor, of notable experience and expertise in drinking water, and he and his graduate assistants, and the New York Times did a story Sunday about him and his crew. They come to Flint, and they do a sweeping study of the water in Flint. They come out with the very disturbing high levels of lead pervasively within the city. Not every home but enough to be concerned. Incredibly, the city couldn’t tell us where the lead lines are. The record-keeping is so poor, they couldn’t say which ones.
Alan Goodman: And at some point, I remember reading that somebody dismissed the work of the Virginia Tech people, saying, “Oh, everywhere they go, they pulled that rabbit out of the hat,” referring to the fact that they had previously disclosed lead-paint poisoning.
Michael Pitt: Not lead paint, lead in the water... so it was almost an identical case. Anyways, that comment came from Brad Wurfel, who has since resigned. But, you know, he was mocking and berating. He was Director of Commissions of the MDEQ, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. His job was basically to deny a public health emergency. Marc Edwards and his crew were saying, “Folks, you got a real public health emergency here.” And the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality just went into denial mode. And they attacked the messenger, saying don’t believe him and it’s not true.
And they lied. At one point, the EPA asked the MDEQ employee by the name of Stephen Bush, “Are you using corrosion control in the water?” And he told the EPA “yes.” Which was completely false. There was an email in which he makes that false statement, February 27, 2015. And then he corrects himself, not until April, then he corrects himself... that it was not true. The MDEQ had plenty of information by February, that there was no anti-corrosive agent used.
They came up with the cockamamie evaluation of what the EPA rules required to justify their not using corrosion control. There is no downside to using corrosion control. It doesn’t harm anybody. It’s helpful. And, there’s no cost involved. It’s only a hundred dollars a day. Why wouldn’t you use it?
Alan Goodman: Let me see if I can identify a thread here and see what you think. It does seem like a lot of these government agencies, rather than respond on the basis of the actual need, and health situation, [the agencies] invoke regulations and respond, “Well, we’re not outside of the law.” And these people are drinking terrible or unhealthy water.
Michael Pitt: Yeah. A couple of other key benchmarks in the case. As background, lead poisoning in America is a huge problem. [New York Times columnist Nicholas] Kristoff did a column about lead poisoning being a silent epidemic—so many kids primarily in impoverished areas are poisoned. So the federal government, state governments, have pretty good robust lead awareness programs. Part of the program is to test children who are Medicaid recipients at ages one and two, mandatory testing. So a mom brings a child into a doctor’s office, let’s say at age one, if he or she is a Medicaid recipient then they are supposed to get tested. The state of Michigan every year has 100,000 or more test results. So they can actually map where the elevations are, and what communities have the most lead, they do epidemiology studies of it and they have a huge database.
Alan Goodman: Epidemiology is the study of the spread of disease.
Michael Pitt: Right. So they... so the charts show that from 2010 to 2015, there’s a steady decline. It’s impressive. I mean... I think it’s tied to government policy. There’s so much education. It’s going from 7 percent of the kids are poisoned down to 5, 4, 3... a pretty remarkable slide down, but then there’s a huge spike in Flint. All of a sudden, you see a spike and what’s the time frame? It’s June of 2014 to September 30, 2014, just when the river is going online. And you gotta give the pipes a little bit of time for the corrosion to come out. And so the spike corresponds precisely with the exposure to the Flint River water. It goes from 4 to 7, almost doubles in Flint. And so you look at the chart...
Alan Goodman: And you’re talking about tested one- and two-year olds?
Michael Pitt: Yes. Well, actually, the testing was like children below the age of six. They have a huge, huge number of samples to go from. So there’s no report out on that. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services remains silent about it.
Alan Goodman: So once again, the whistle should have been blown.
Michael Pitt: Absolutely. Right there, right then. That’s the canary in the mine. The canary died. OK? They should have said, what’s going on here? Why are we seeing this spike?
Alan Goodman: And we’ll come back to the human cost. But these are little children too.
Michael Pitt: So Marc Edwards is in Flint doing his thing in August. The media is now on to the story because of the Miguel Del Toral memo that has been released. And Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, pediatrician from a local hospital, starts looking at her data in her hospital, and she’s got quite a database, and she on her own discovers that there’s a spike. So she calls a press conference in September and says the children of Flint are being poisoned. And it’s pervasive. She says every child who drank the water has probably been poisoned and that this is a human tragedy. This is a public health emergency. So that’s in September. She gets a lot of press attention. At this point the governor’s really nervous...
Alan Goodman: And she, too, got a lot of flack...
Michael Pitt: They... and Brad Wurfel [of MDEQ] was basically calling her irresponsible, saying her stats are wrong. So the people from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, they look at their database. Now, they have a separate database. They look at their database, and they say, oh, my gosh. Our data correlates almost precisely with her data. So they say she’s right. At first they were saying she’s wrong but then later they say we rechecked our data and she’s right. So at this point the governor has no choice but to step in. And so on October 1, he says there’s a public health emergency, don’t drink the water. And then a couple of days later he says, I’m gonna order the water to switch back to Detroit water. That happens in October 2015. They continue taking water samples.
The Detroit water is flowing, and the samples from late January 2016 show that there are at least 400 homes that have lead in the water in excess of 15 parts per billion. And this is 90 days after the Detroit water has returned. It’s still showing up lead. So it’s a pretty safe assumption that the pipes were maybe permanently damaged, that even with corrosion control, at this point they’re not going to restore the lead pipes to really being serviceable. So that’s why there’s this large hue and cry now to get funding to actually replace the pipes. The pipes were damaged. The highly corrosive Flint water was running through the pipes for 18 months. And I think they ruined the pipes. That’s where we are right now.
Alan Goodman: So what is the public health status right now, in Flint, with people drinking water? Are there still today people who cannot safely drink their tap water?
Michael Pitt: Well, yes, they’re providing filters. If the filters are applied properly, that’s a big if, because people don’t have standardized faucets. And if the lead levels are less than 150 parts per billion, the filters will be effective in providing safe water for people to use. But not everybody is applying the filters correctly. And the cartridges get used up and have to be replaced every couple of weeks. Many of the people of Flint don’t have transportation. It’s an ineffective fix, because people don’t have the wherewithal to use the filters properly.
Alan Goodman: I wanted to just follow up on that briefly. From what I’ve read, or see in the news, this is a city of people really living on the edge. I just saw account after account of people who are just waiting for a paycheck to go get the basic necessities and no wherewithal to move to another area, or anything like that. So that obviously has to impact a mother trying to care for her children and everything else, and then deal with the technology of a water filter, replacing it, and I am sure there is minimal public transportation, if that.
Michael Pitt: It has been ineffective.
Alan Goodman: My second question, which you have addressed all along the way, and maybe we could just return to it: To what degree was this conscious policy? You’ve painted a picture of how over and over again where low-level people working for different agencies detected the problem, or the problem was showing up in testing...
Michael Pitt: This really is an austerity crisis. The conservative Republicans really believe the least government is the best government. They want to squeeze out extra expenses; allegedly the switch from the Detroit water system to the Flint River and eventually the Karegnondi would be cost saving to save the city money. I don’t believe that’s true. There’s another motivation there that I just don’t understand yet. They talk about saving money, but somebody was making money on this deal. Because the saving money scenario doesn’t really work. In the long run they were going to go to Karegnondi, but it was going to be just as expensive if not more expensive, and that under state law, if a city has a little surplus in the way they deliver the water...
Alan Goodman: Can you break down why the government did not and could not actually save money in the immediate sense by switching water supply?
Michael Pitt: You see, the city buys the water at a wholesale price, and then they distribute it to their customers and they collect fees. In some situations the fees would be greater than the costs of buying the water, so you have a surplus. Under state laws, that surplus is supposed to be passed on to the consumer to reduce the bills. You can’t take the surplus and put it into your general funds to use it to operate your police department. You can’t do that by law. And so the alleged savings was only going to work to the benefit of the customers, not to the city. And so when they say we switched the water to save money, it doesn’t add up. It just doesn’t add up.
So to answer your question, yes, I think there was a conscious... the profit motive for somebody... There’s an economic advantage for somebody or some group of people out of this whole system that I think is eventually going to be revealed. I like to call it the story behind the story. The story behind this story is gonna be who is actually benefiting from the switch. And that’s gonna be the real story. One day it’s gonna come out what happened.
Alan Goodman: But what emerged to me from your narrative was... not narrative in the sense of you made it up... but walking through the history of the whole thing was... sometimes it’s not even so much bad people, or bad rules, but here one- to six-year-olds are being tested at scary levels, here the local pediatricians are identifying the problem. The EPA tests the water, over and over again, society as it functions was incapable, wouldn’t or couldn’t sound the alarm until the shit hit the fan.
Michael Pitt: Well, but look at... people have their comfort level, OK, and bureaucrats have their comfort level, and a lot of the decision-makers, people who are capable, were bureaucrats and they were staring at a public health emergency. They really were. They were looking right in the eye of a public health emergency. And why didn’t they sound the alarm? I mean, is it that they didn’t want to get out of their comfort zone? Is it because they were just indifferent? Is it because these were poor, broken-down, primarily minority people in this town, and we say if they had been in the white neighborhoods where these people lived would they have seen the public health emergency that was really there? I think they would have. I think the public health emergency would have been on the table months and months before it actually happened in this case. It wasn’t until the governor really stood up in October and said, there’s a public health emergency here. But for 10 months...
Listen, I think the day that General Motors decided the water wasn’t fit for its parts was enough for me to say, “If it’s not fit for the parts, it’s not fit for the people” and declare a public health emergency at that point.
So I think it borders on intentional conduct... it is... I mean the risk of injury is so high. And the amount of effort it would take to actually declare a public health emergency makes it appear as though that this was borderline intentional conduct. And there are federal and state law enforcement agencies looking at that very question.
Alan Goodman: Let’s finally talk a little bit about the personal dimension. The people who you’ve had a chance to interact with who were victims of this, stories to share your own personal feelings about it, why you took a case on.
Michael Pitt: First of all, I said to my partners last summer, if there’s some way for us to get involved I’d like to do it. We were invited to join a group of lawyers that are now involved in prosecuting the case. So from a personal...
Alan Goodman: You’re bringing a civil action?
Michael Pitt: Civil action for damages... right. I mean, the... what’s really shocking is when you talk to the parents and the grandparents of the small children, and when you... if you can identify...we have been identifying houses where there is documented lead in the water. So you start with the premise, OK, this house is a source of lead poisoning.
So let’s find out, over the 18 months that the water was poisoned, who was actually exposed to it. So you sit down with mom, or grandmother, and you ask them, “Make a list of all the people who have been in your house, friends, neighbors, children. And they sit down and they do this exercise and write out a list, and sometimes the list has got 25 or 30 names on it. And then you know, you look... you look at this person, and they’re like actually weeping, because I as a lawyer am making them face the reality.
The reality is the list of all the people who have been poisoned in their house. And you know, one grandmother said to me, my... my kids, my grandbabies, they didn’t like the taste of that water so I just put a lot of Kool-Aid and sugar in it and they drank it. They love... they drank it with the sugar and the Kool-Aid, and they just loved it. And all summer long they were drinking that water with Kool-Aid in it and it didn’t taste bad to them once I put Kool-Aid in it. So you know she is voluntarily poisoning her own kin. She doesn’t realize it. But now she feels awful about it.
Alan Goodman: That’s horrible! But it’s not her fault.
Michael Pitt: Yeah, but you’re dealing with these moments of reality when you talk to your clients when you make them tell you, when you ask them to tell you who’s been at your house and how many people have been exposed, kids who have stayed over for the weekend. These people, many of them are related to each other. They all live... and families, cousins, extended families, they all live within walking distance of each other, they all live in each other’s home, and they stay over. The minority people that I talk to, they have this saying, not where do you live, but where do you stay. And “stay” has got a meaning in that community, stay means like you visit with somebody, and you stay with them for a week or two at a time. Then you go back to someplace else. You don’t live some place, you stay some place. That’s the way they view their relationship with their friends and their family. You’re welcome to stay at the house if you want to. And so...
Alan Goodman: Yeah, and then the bitter irony, that with that kind of sharing, networking, people were being poisoned.
Michael Pitt: Any more questions?
Alan Goodman: No. And thanks for sharing your information and perspective.
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
Interview with Environmental Professor Dr. Stuart Batterman
February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Stuart Batterman, Ph.D. is a professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan. In light of the situation in Flint, Michigan, where close to 100,000 people have been exposed to lead poisoning through the water system, revcom.us/Revolution talked with Dr. Batterman about the situation in Flint and the larger problem of lead poisoning in the United States. The following are excerpts from the interview:
Revolution: Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who tested children in Flint, said, “If you were to put something in a population to keep them down for generations and generations to come, it would be lead.” Maybe you could comment on this statement.
Flint, Michigan residents on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing about the water in Flint, February 3. This woman is holding a bottle of tap water in one hand, and hair from the drain in her shower in the other. (AP photo)
Stuart Batterman: What happened in Flint is a tragedy because you’re taking a bunch of people, not just kids but also adults, and exposing them to something that’s entirely preventable and something that can have lifelong effects. And with lead we see intergenerational effects. So these children, depending on the level of exposure they may have had, may have health effects, and their children may have health effects too. The possibility of an intergenerational element compounds the tragedy.
One additional thing that’s important to add, not to diminish what has happened in Flint, is that there are about half a million children elsewhere in this country that currently have lead levels above the guideline values. In Detroit, Michigan, for example, 50 miles from Flint, there are areas where 20 percent of the children have lead levels above the guideline. Moreover, we’d like to lower the guideline values.
At the [recent] hearing [in Washington DC on Flint]. I think it was Representative Cummings from Maryland that stated if this had happened in a rich suburb of any other city it probably wouldn’t have happened. Unfortunately, we see environmental justice issues in many contexts. For example, I deal with air pollution problems in Detroit. Typically the worst pollution problems are affecting minority communities, the poorest sectors, folks who have poor job security, and little access to preventative health care. And then they have pollution to deal with. So we see rates of environmentally-related diseases that are higher and sometimes much higher than of the general population. We consider these individuals to be vulnerable and susceptible to environmental pollutants.
Revolution: So is it kind of like a situation where, like let’s say in Detroit, everybody is getting the pollutants in the air, or like in Flint everybody is getting the lead in the water. But certain sections of the population because of other vulnerabilities, are disproportionately affected.
Stuart Batterman: I’m saying it kind of works like a double or a triple whammy. So not only do they get the pollution, but they are also more susceptible to pollution because they may have a bad diet, less preventative health care, and often they have pre-existing diseases. And then when they get sick they don’t have access to good health care services or health management. For example, they may not be able to take steps to reduce high blood pressure or to manage their asthma appropriately.
In Flint, I think that the emergency city manager was trying to save money. I think that the state agencies charged with enforcing the environmental laws are not typically oriented to deal with emergencies. They have a review function and competent people. But they often are cautious, and it can be difficult to flag problems at an early stage.
You know, if you go back some decades, you might ask, well why do we even have lead pipes? Why were they allowed? For many years, the Lead Industry Association said they’re the best thing. This is the lobbying and political arm of the lead industry. And there were substitutes available. But the industry exerted pressure and argued very effectively, and so many cities were still using lead pipes until the ’60s and ’70s and even later.
Revolution: Even after it was known this was harmful?
Stuart Batterman: The medical and scientific community has known that lead exposure is harmful for over 100 years. The Romans, I think, were the first to use lead pipes—they used a lot of lead. In the modern era, we have medical reports that people died from lead exposure back in the 1890s, and by 1920 or so scientists and others were concerned, but there was no federal regulation on lead pipes until the Clean Water Act amendments in the mid-1980s.
Revolution: I also know that when they were trying to get rid of the lead in gasoline that there was a huge lobby effort to stop this by the gas companies.
Stuart Batterman: Right. The gasoline companies and the auto companies were basically forced to remove lead in gasoline in the 1970s, not because of the environmental impacts of lead but because we wanted to add catalytic converters to cars. The catalytic converters, which reduce air pollution, would be poisoned by lead.
In hindsight, there was a happy combination of circumstances since we got rid of other air pollutants plus lead. And the amount of lead used in gasoline was huge, about 200,000 tons a year of tetraethyl lead as a gasoline fuel additive. By the way, aviation gas, the fuel used in smaller planes, and gasoline for farm equipment—still contain lead.
Revolution: What does that mean? That there is still lead pollution coming from that?
Stuart Batterman: Right, so around airports, especially where there is a lot of civil aviation, you can pick up a lead signature in the air. It’s not a very high level, but you can detect it.
Now, even though we’re not using lead in gasoline and even though we’re not using lead in most paints, the soils that are in urban areas can have a lot of lead. The level is predominantly from those two sources—from lead in paint that’s chipped off and from gasoline because the lead eventually comes to the ground. In addition, we also used to have many lead smelters. And so whenever that soil gets kicked up in a windstorm or whatever—it often happens in summertime when the soils dry out, we see levels of lead going up a bit in air and blood as well.
Revolution: Are there any efforts to address this? I mean this is a huge problem.
Stuart Batterman: Well, yes and no. If you have a child who is lead exposed based on a blood test, then we should try to follow up and identify the sources of lead and then remove them from that child’s environment. The programs that do this have been cut back by Congress in the last few years. If lead levels in soils are very high, sites can be designated as a Superfund site. This was done just outside of St. Louis, Missouri, in a town called Herculaneum, the home of one of the larger lead smelters in the country called Doe Run. Up to just a few years ago, this facility continued to emit lead, and sometimes it exceeded or nearly exceeded the air quality standard for lead. Over the course of its operation, some 40 years or so, soil was contaminated across a large part of the city. And parts of this city were designated as a Superfund site.
The remedy was to have topsoil replaced and other actions to remove the lead. That’s an extreme case. But there are many sites of former smelters in many older cities across the country. In part, this is because a large amount of the lead that’s used is recycled lead and you get that by melting it down and recasting it. And so cities like Detroit; Cleveland; Camden, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Boston; others; they all have a share of sites that are lead contaminated because of the history of old smelters. Unless cleaned up, once in the soil, lead just stays there.
Revolution: So Flint really is just the tip of the iceberg.
The views expressed by those we interview are, of course, their own; and they are not responsible for the views published elsewhere in our newspaper/website.
Revolution #427 February 22, 2016
February 22, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
Gabriel Black Elk came to Los Angeles from Denver to participate in the recent Regional Conference of the Stop Mass Incarceration Network. Gabriel became active in the struggle to stop murder by police after his brother, Paul Castaway, 35, was killed by Denver police on July 12, 2015. Paul was holding a knife to his own throat, obviously in need of compassion, care and people who would help deescalate the situation. Instead, he was shot four times by the Denver police. One hundred people protested after the killing. Since losing his brother, Gabriel has been reaching out to Native American families throughout the country who have also lost loved ones to police murder. And, he and others in Denver have been forging unity among different people and groups, to expose and stop murders by police that have been happening in Denver. In 2015, seven people died at the hands of law enforcement in the Denver area, including six people who were shot by Denver area police. The seventh person died in custody at the Downtown Detention Center, a death that has been ruled a homicide. The following is an interview with Gabriel Black Elk by a Revolution/revcom.us reader.
Q: Tell us what happened to your brother, Paul Castaway?
Gabriel Black Elk: The cops didn't have to shoot him. In Denver they have a rule, a 21-foot rule. If the suspect comes within 21 feet of the police officer, the police officer has the right to shoot. In my brother's case, they forced themselves to be within 21 feet after they trapped him so they'd have an excuse to shoot him. It wasn't like he was coming at them. They trapped him and he turned around, and he was within 21 feet. His last words after they shot him were, "What's wrong with you guys?"
Q: Since your brother was killed in July, what's been revealed to you about the breadth of this epidemic of murders by police?
Gabriel Black Elk: When it happened to my brother it was like everything changed. Everything changed. Everything. Now it's like, to me it was like, when my brother died, it was replaced with revolution. When my brother died, it was just coming all at once, everything. We've been protesting left and right, not only for my brother, but for other families in Denver, for other situations, for things that's happening outside.
The way I see it, police brutality is only a part of the big revolution. I just see it as a big wide open space, so it's like light bulbs are clicking on in the minds of millions of people, being awoken a little bit more to what's going on. That's what I think about the bigger revolution and my brother, what happened to my brother, it brought me up to the level of what's really going on in the bigger life.
Q: What do you think of the plans that came out of the Regional Conference of SMIN, the No More Stolen Lives tour and the vision of a national strike by thousands of college students this spring semester? What difference do you think it will make to bring Stop Police Terror--Which Side Are You On? to college campuses--challenging students to rise up and not go along with "business as usual" while police are murdering people?
Gabriel Black Elk: I'm glad I was invited to the conference. I think it's a good idea because we need to reach college students when their minds are expanding at that age. We have to tell them this is really happening! Murder by cops! And that it needs to stop! I've spoken with a number of families about participating and helping the No More Stolen Lives tour in Northern California at San Jose State, and up in Seattle, too, and a family with connections at Portland State. In Denver, when I get back from my trip, we'll be approaching students at UC Boulder and a number of other colleges. We have work to do on this.
Q: After your brother was killed, you started reaching out to Native American families all over the country. What made you do that?
Gabriel Black Elk: Just to tell them, you know, we're praying for you, you're not alone, because seeing my mom saying that she felt like she was alone, and then I started meeting all these other families and they felt the same way. I was like, well, let's get together so we don't have to feel alone. A lot of these families, when I talked to them, there was nobody that would help them. There's no protest, there's no nothing. No lawyers, there's no legal help for them, they're just sitting there wishing that something would happen. A lot of people are living in small towns with no media. So what I'm doing is I'm using what happened to my brother, I'm using the fame of my brother to help other families.
Q: Other Native American families?
Gabriel Black Elk: Like Terrance Circle Bear. Sarah Lee Circle Bear was killed in the Rapid City, South Dakota Jail, July 5, 2015. She was 24. She was pregnant and had two children. She was having a lot of pain, she was telling the cops, "I need help." That's when they told her to "quit faking." Melissa Goodblanket, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, her son, was having an episode. He was schizophrenic. He broke a window. He was acting out, so the cops came. As the cops came in, I guess one of them cut his hand on the glass in the window, and so the others flipped out about it, they ran into the house. The family specifically told the cops don't shoot my son. They shot him seven times, the last time in the back of the head at close range, execution-style. Christina Tahhahwah, who died in the Lawton, Oklahoma jail in November 2014 after being tasered for refusing to stop singing Comanche hymns. Leanne Estrada, her son Richie was killed by the California Highway Patrol in December 2014. Montano Northwind, his brother Jack was killed by Seattle police. The latest one is Phil Quinn killed in St. Paul, Minnesota, December 17. And Benjamin Whiteshield, I haven't heard much about him, but we're trying to get more info on that. He was killed in Oklahoma in 2012, and the family settled out of court.
Q: So, the way you see it, murder by police targets Black, Latino, poor white people, Native Americans... how do you see this?
Gabriel Black Elk: When I first went out to the native families it was just the natives, then there was Michael Marshall, who was Black, killed in the Denver jail, then I went to a Mexican family, and then it just grew. After that, it was just like, man, the cops don't care where you come from. I read the story of what happened to Patrick Wetter, who was white. It was horrible, it was something that shouldn't have happened. He was sitting in a park and the cops were chasing somebody and the cops came across him, he was sitting in the park, just broke up with his girlfriend--his girlfriend was blocks away and she heard the gunshots.
If it's not race, then what is it? Is it where you're from, where you're at the moment? The cops don't even care no more, they're going after everybody they feel that's a threat to them. So, yeah, that's the way I see it. When all that hit, I could see that it's a bigger problem. And what I started thinking, you know, it's not just the cops--the strong arm is the cops, but it's the people above them that are giving them the ok to do it, and then that person has a person on top of him, telling him what to do. So then that's when I started seeing, it's not just the cops ... it's the cops, it's the DA, it's the federal judge that makes the last decision not to indict the cops, and they all sit at the same table. And then I started thinking man, we going to have to go after the federal judge, we're going to have to tell him to step down or something, change the laws or something, something has to happen so we feel the change out here.
Q: Do you want to make more sweeping comments about the historic extermination campaign the U.S. has waged against Native Americans, and your personal family history?
Gabriel Black Elk: I was born to two revolutionaries of the American Indian Movement (AIM), my mom and my dad. My mom wasn't in Wounded Knee when it happened in the '70s but my dad was. My grandpa was, and all my aunts and all my uncles. So, yeah, say about 100 years ago, 120 years ago, they started bringing my people in, they started bringing them into the rez, forcing them into the rez, after the soldiers came. They started killing our warriors off, so a lot of them went to the rez, the prison encampment. Pine Ridge is considered Prison Encampment 1535. It's not even called a reservation, it's called prison encampment. That's how they have it written down, when I saw the orders from the president, that's how they had it.
Some of the first people to die from police violence were Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse, he was the one that all the young warriors want to be, they want to be him, he's the superman. He's the leader of all of us, today, even now today, because he was a warrior for the people, he put the people's needs before his. So when he was taken into custody, he was stabbed in the back, by a bayonet, and they threw him in a jail cell, and let him die. And then the same thing with Sitting Bull, they shot him, and just left him to die. He died a slow death. So police violence has kept going after that. Even after my people gave up and were forced on the rez, they were still getting harassed. The president made laws against us. We couldn't have long hair, we couldn't speak our tongue, we couldn't do sweat lodge ceremonies, we had to fully convert or suffer pain.
From my mom's side, I come from Eagle Feathers, Bill Eagle Feather, I can only go back to late 1800s because we don't have written records. On my dad's side I come from Black Elk. Black Elk Speaks, the book, is about my grandfather's grandfather. I come from a couple hundred years--both sides of my family come from medicine men. A lot of other people, they come down from lines of warriors, great warriors. But I come down lines from medicine men. So that's the way I see it. It's an ongoing fight, keep on. So, yeah, that's what I been doing. I've been busy.
Since this interview, Gabriel Black Elk's cousin, Raymond Gassman, 22, was shot and killed by a Sioux tribal policeman on February 3 on the Rosebud Reservation in Rapid City, South Dakota. A witness said the officer had come to arrest Raymond and shot him at point blank range after a scuffle. A six-year-old was present in the house at the time of the shooting. The witness said: "They didn't get Ray medical attention! He died and nobody has done anything about it.... We need justice! Ray was shot. He was unarmed. The cop used a weapon in a house with a child!"