Thursday, May 21, 2015

Free Tanya McDowell

I wrote the following blog three years ago.  Tanya McDowell has just been sentenced to three years in prison.  The article appeared in the Daily Mail that is published in Britain.  I don't know of any media source that has covered McDowell's recent sentence.

Tanya McDowell is a homeless mother who sent her son to a public Norwalk, Connecticut school while living in Bridgeport.  The authorities in Norwalk felt that this was a crime.  As a result, a Norwalk court sentenced McDowell to twelve years in prison and she has been fined $6,200.  McDowell happens to be Black.    

The idea of sending a mother to prison for sending her son to a public school appears to be incomprehensible.  However, the court decision sending McDowell to prison took place in a nation that claims to represent “liberty and justice for all.”  In order to understand the background to this case, we need to look at a bit of history.         

The history of the struggle against discrimination

The heroic struggle to free the people of the United States from Jim Crow segregation is known throughout the world.  The Civil Rights movement effectively forced the Supreme Court to make its decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education Topeka.  This decision ruled that the idea of separate but equal, or segregated education is illegal.  However, this decision only applied to students living in a particular school district.  Today, education continues to be segregated when we compare many inner cities to the suburban communities.  This is the problem that Tanya McDowell faces today.

The Census Bureau lists the Norwalk, Stamford, Bridgeport, Connecticut metropolitan area as the 13th most segregated metropolitan area in the nation.  Typically this means that educational facilities are funded at a much higher rate in the suburban areas than in the inner cities. 

Philadelphia is rated as the ninth most segregated metropolitan area in the nation.  Per student funding for education in Philadelphia is about $11,000 per year and about 90% of the school population is Black or Latino.  When we cross the Philadelphia border at City Line Avenue, we enter the Lower Merion School District where per student funding for education is about $22,000 and about eighty to ninety percent of the student population is Caucasian. 

Tanya McDowell and the struggle against discrimination

Tanya McDowell has a more consistent view of the educational system in this country than the Supreme Court.  McDowell understands that segregated educational facilities are not equal.  While the judicial system allows gross disparities in the funding of education, McDowell took a different approach.  She used the address of her babysitter, Ana Rebecca Marques, to register her son in a Norwalk school while she lived in Bridgeport. 

The authorities in Norwalk charged Tanya McDowell with stealing $15,000 in educational services from the district.  The housing authority in Norwalk evicted Ana Rebecca Marques from her so-called public housing for providing the documents that allowed McDowell’s son to go to school in the district.  Twenty-six other students have been thrown out of Norwalk’s so-called public schools for similar reasons.

When we consider the charge that Tanya McDowell stole money from the Norwalk School District, we might consider a few facts.  The historical facts are that huge amounts of money were effectively stolen from Black people during slavery, Jim Crow segregation, as well as the legalized discrimination we see today.  This theft was, and continues to be perfectly legal and, to the best of my knowledge, no one ever went to prison for stealing this money.  To the contrary, some of the most lucrative financial enterprises have reaped enormous profits from this discrimination.

The Mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut is Richard A. Moccia.  His daughter, Suzanne Vieux, is the District Attorney who prosecuted Tanya McDowell.  These politicians have a similar outlook as the top government officials, which include President Barack Obama.  These officials understand that there is blatant segregation in the educational system in this country and they have decided to do nothing about it.  To the contrary, they advocate for horrendous cutbacks that have made the disparity in educational funding even more dramatic.    

The Connecticut Parent’s Union, and the NAACP have given their support to Tanya McDowell.  There was also a petition with 15,600 signatures that also supported her fight to avoid incarceration.

Gwen Samuel, who heads the Connecticut Parent’s Union, had this to say as to why she supports Tanya McDowell:

“She [McDowell] understands something about the importance of education…I’m disappointed and I’m scared… I’m afraid of a system that would rather arrest me for being a good parent than help me raise my child to be a productive citizen.”

This is an election year.  Politicians routinely rant and rave about the importance of education.  All of these arguments will amount to nothing more than a lot of gibberish if these politicians refuse to say the words: Free Tanya McDowell.  


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The World That Made New Orleans – From Spanish Silver to Congo Square

By Ned Sublette
Published by Lawrence Hill Books

A Review

Before reading Ned Sublette’s history of New Orleans, I only knew some of the outlines to the history of this unique city.  As the title of this book states, in order to begin to understand the history of this city we need to look at a history of the world.  In looking at this history we can see how the history of New Orleans has collided with the history of Haiti and Cuba.

We can begin this narrative with the silver the Spanish royalty ordered to be taken from the Americas.  Gold and silver mined in Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia was shipped to Spain and then distributed throughout Europe.

The beginnings of New Orleans, Haiti, and Havana

On its way to Spain, Spanish vessels stopped in the port of Havana.  Cuba also became a center for Spanish ship building.  This meant that the Spanish cut down the native forests of Cuba to build and repair the ships used for this transport. 

The Spanish colonies were so vast they were difficult to control.  French buccaneers initially settled in the western part of the island of Hispaniola.  These buccaneers along with pirates of other nations preyed on the Spanish ships loaded with precious metals. 

After the Spanish took most of the gold and silver from their colonies, new commodities began to dominate international trade.  The cultivation of sugar along with tobacco and coffee became the new sources of wealth in the world.  The French colony of San Domingue became the most productive producer of sugar in the world.  At that time, the revenue France received from her Caribbean colonies amounted to about 40% of her total income.   

So, when the French established their colony in New Orleans in the early 1700s, both Havana and the French colony of San Domingue were thriving centers of commerce.        

The initial idea for a settlement in New Orleans came from a French gambler by the name of John Law.  Without any actual evidence, Law argued that there were vast quantities of precious metals in the area of New Orleans.  After the French made substantial investments to fulfill Law’s pipedream, this initial enterprise went bankrupt.

During these first years of New Orleans, the French monarchy was having severe financial problems.  This meant that the French didn’t see the development of New Orleans as a priority and the colonists needed to find ways of surviving on their own.

These colonists learned to grow rice from Africans they kidnapped and made into slaves.  They also learned basic medical procedures from the Indians who lived in this area for thousands of years.

The French didn’t see much future in their colony in New Orleans and gave it to the Spanish who ruled the city for about 33 years.  During this time New Orleans became a center for the trade of the United States because of its location at the mouth of the Mississippi River.  One of the most lucrative aspects to this trade was the selling of human beings.

The history we didn’t learn in school

Ned Sublette mentions in his book that the history he learned in school wasn’t very good.  He gives the following explanation as to one reason why the government of this country doesn’t want to teach children the real history of slavery in this part of the world.

“It’s embarrassing to have to explain what it consisted of.  It gets into things we would prefer children not know about—middle-aged men fornicating with adolescent girls, women used for breeding purposes, children sired and sold, black men dehumanized, and families routinely shattered.”

Clearly those of us who have endured the so-called “American History” classes in high school never learned this part of the history of this country.  In his history of New Orleans, Sublette gives us the facts informing us of this nation’s true history.

We can begin with the French colony of San Domingue.  We have already seen how important this colony was to France.  However, the wealth of this colony came directly from slaves who were virtually worked to death.  A slave who worked in the cane fields was only expected to live for ten years.

In the history of slavery, there were several women who distinguished themselves in the struggle to abolish this horrendous institution.  Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth were just two of these women.  However, there were other women who defended slavery and not all these women were Caucasian.

In the French colony of San Domingue, there were thousand of mixed race women who were not slaves and lived as concubines.  These women may have owned as many as 150,000 slaves in San Domingue.  Most of these women, in no way opposed slavery.

In New Orleans Sublette quoted an eyewitness who commented on how graciously he was treated by one of these concubines.  Then, he noticed how this concubine routinely carried whips.  This eyewitness reported how this supposedly gracious concubine viciously beat one of her slaves. 

Ned Sublette argued that one of the reasons why the confederate states waged war was to defend the fact that Caucasian men had the right to routinely rape Black women who were slaves.  Even President Jefferson apparently fathered children from a slave he owned named Sally Hemings.

The revolution that created Haiti and made New Orleans a part of the United States

These were the conditions that led to the revolution that transformed the French colony of San Domingue into the nation of Haiti.  This revolution was the only one in the history of the world where a government of slaves managed to maintain political power.

The initial response of the French to this revolution was one of horror.  Clearly many people died in the revolution and there may have been numerous horror stories.  However, The French who promoted the horror stories of the Haitian Revolution didn’t have a problem with the routine horror stories experienced by the slaves of their colony of San Domingue.

For this reason the revolutionary slave government initially supported the Spanish section of the island against the French.  Then came the French Revolution, and the new revolutionary government outlawed slavery.

The new government of former slaves in San Domingue appreciated this change in policy and joined with France to take over the Spanish half of the island of Hispaniola.  They also defeated an attempt by the British to take control of the island.

The new government in San Domingue then faced a civil war between the creoles in the south and the slave government led by Toussaint L’Ouverture in the north.  The creoles had been loyal to the slave owners and they in no way wanted to be ruled by a government of slaves.  For this reason they initially received support from France.

At that time the relatively new government of the United States was wary of the French presence in the area and President Adams gave support to the government of Toussaint L’Ouverture.  Then, Thomas Jefferson was elected President.  Ned Sublette argued that Jefferson was terrified of the slave rebellion in San Domingue.  After all, the totality of the enormous wealth Jefferson enjoyed came from the labor of human beings he owned.

In France Napoleon came to power and reversed the gains of the revolution.  Jefferson made a deal to aid Napoleon in an attempt to defeat the slave revolution.  Napoleon sent a huge force of about 43,000 soldiers to reestablish slavery in the French colony.  If he was successful he thought he could have used this force to overcome the government of the United States.

However, in his first decisive defeat, Napoleon lost the totality of his army to the army of former slaves.  During the course of this war literally hundreds of thousands of former slaves lost their lives.  This defeat caused Napoleon to sell his vast colony in North America to the government in Washington.  This is how New Orleans became a part of the United States.

Looking at this history, I thought of a basic question that might start with the words “What if.”  What if Napoleon, instead of going to war against the former slaves, had joined their cause?

We know that Toussaint L’Ouverture was thinking about establishing a movement that would attempt to do away with slavery throughout the hemisphere.  Former slaves from San Domingue could have fought with the French armed forces to free the slaves held in bondage in this country.  This armed force could also have formed an alliance with Indians who were in an active war aimed at preventing the theft of their homeland.

Had this path been advanced, clearly the history of the world might have been different.  The reason why Napoleon never considered this path was because he was about bringing back the old relations that existed before the French Revolution.  It was this act of sheer stupidity that led to his eventual downfall.

However, the Louisiana Purchase virtually doubled the size of the United States.  This acquisition was paid for in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of former slaves who established the government of Haiti.

The Louisiana Purchase, the slave trade, the Civil War, and today’s New Orleans

The Louisiana Purchase opened up vast areas that would be used to cultivate cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco using slave labor.  The biggest business in New Orleans became the sale of human beings into slavery.  The production of cotton by slave labor marked the beginning of the industrial revolution that transformed the world.

These new vast areas of land were a bonanza for the slave trade.  In those days, the only way for much of this land to have value was in slave labor camps.  Therefore the price paid for slaves increased.  The price paid for women were higher because they could give birth to children.  Slave women continued to work during most of their pregnancy.  Even President Thomas Jefferson spoke about why the price for slave women was higher.              

As in all revolutions, the Haitian Revolution caused an exodus from the country.  Initially many French slave owners went with their slaves to the eastern section of Spanish Cuba known as Oriente.  Then, when Napoleon took control of Spain these French nationals were exiled from the island, and most went to New Orleans. 

We should keep in mind that many of these French nationals were familiar some of the advancements of French culture.  They were familiar with engineering, literature, as well as the arts.  The former slave owners were also adamantly opposed to the abolition of slavery.

On the other had the slaves that came from Haiti knew about revolution as well as the music that came from the Congo in Africa.  They joined with the slaves of New Orleans every Sunday in Congo Square and performed music that developed a unique sound.

When we think of the music of this country, from the blues, to jazz, to rock & roll, to rhythm & blues, and even country western, all this music has a connection to the Sunday gatherings at Congo Square that took place for over 100 years.

It took one of the most profound wars for the United States to abolish slavery.  About 600,000 soldiers of the Confederacy and the Union armies perished.  There might have been millions of casualties.  When the Union army marched through South Carolina they destroyed literally every building they saw.

While the government abolished slavery, after the year 1877 the Ku Klux Klan effectively took power in the former slave states.  The governments in those states took away citizenship rights of Black people with their Jim Crow laws.

Ned Sublette gives us a glimpse in his book of the Indian Clubs of present day New Orleans.  The members of these clubs come from working class neighborhoods in the Black community. 

They make elaborate costumes and march the streets in their neighborhoods playing the music that have been performed in the city for over a century.  They don’t ask the police for permits to march and believe that this is their city.  Looking at the history of New Orleans and the United States, it is clear that they have earned the right to march in the city that they and their ancestors created.   

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Why did a State Attorney indict six Baltimore police officers?

The Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has indicted six police officers for the murder of Freddie Gray.  These indictments came down after the state government ordered the National Guard to Baltimore.  Many city residents were outraged at the fact that police officers murdered another Black man and there had been no arrests.  Only after these rebellions did the Baltimore District Attorney issue her indictments.

In the summer of 1967 I was fourteen years old and another rebellion took place in my hometown of Newark, New Jersey.  The issue that sparked that rebellion was also police brutality.  At the time, the government also ordered the National Guard to Newark in an unsuccessful effort to stop the rebellion.

We might consider the fact that at the same time as National Guard tanks rolled down the streets of Newark, other soldiers from this country were at war in a place called Vietnam.  Politicians as well as the press labeled these rebellions as “riots.”  President Barack Obama and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake labeled many of those who had been enraged by the murder of Freddie Gray, “thugs.”

Recently, I read an old interview with the late James Baldwin where he was asked to comment on the numerous rebellions that erupted in 1967 and 1968.  Baldwin spoke about a hypothetical young Black man who broke into a store and took a television set.  Baldwin argued that this young man didn’t really want that TV.  What this person wanted was to be recognized that he, in fact, existed.

In the past several years, we have seen many Black men who were murdered by police officers, where the police never served jail time.  This state of affairs begs the question: Do Black people have the right to the due process of the law?  If Black people are citizens of this country, then, when they are murdered, those who commit the crime must be prosecuted.

When this doesn’t happen, the anger generated from the community is clearly understandable.  So, a young person who might break the law wants to make the point that he is a human being who should be entitled to equal protection of the law.

The point here is that when official efforts fail to defend the rights of the people, then other methods of struggle oftentimes have erupted throughout history.  The main purpose of this column is to introduce readers to some of the events that have changed history and involved the destruction of property.

The revolution of the thirteen colonies

The nation known as the United States of America came into existence because of a revolutionary war of independence.  Every year there is a national holiday on the Fourth of July.  On this day in the year 1776 revolutionaries met to sign the Declaration of Independence.  This declaration was a list of grievances against the British royal government. 

The declaration argued that governments should not be pushed aside for “transient causes.”  However, when there are a “long train of abuses” that results in “despotism,” the people not only have a “right” but a “duty” to push aside that government and establish “new guards for their future security.”

The British labeled those who took part in the revolution to be “rabble,” and they called their leaders “rabble rousers.”  Today the history books call those who were once known as rabble to be heroes.

On December 16, 1773 Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty boarded three ships in Boston Harbor.  They were protesting the onerous tax the British had placed on the tea in the hulls of these ships.  It took three hours for the Sons of Liberty to throw 342 chests of tea into the water.

The Civil War

While the Revolution of the thirteen colonies ended British rule in this part of the world, the horrendous institution of chattel slavery continued to exist.  In all, human beings kidnapped from Africa as well as their descendants endured slavery for over 300 years.

Indeed, the most lucrative way to make money in the first years of the United States was from a slave labor camp.  The immense wealth of the slave owners and their creditors gave these people enormous power.  We might argue that before the Civil War, slave owners controlled all the branches of the federal government.

Eventually, there was a growing consensus of those who opposed slavery that this institution was a roadblock to any future progress.  This is why the Civil War erupted.

In all, there were about 350,000 deaths of union soldiers in the Civil War.  Thousands of soldiers might be killed in a single day.  However, there was also a growing resolve that slavery needed to be permanently outlawed.

General William Tecumseh Sherman marched about 60,000 soldiers from the west all the way to Atlanta, Georgia.  After a long siege, Sherman’s forces were able to take Atlanta.  This was one of the turning points of the war. 

While Sherman was taking Atlanta, General Phillip Henry Sheridan was turning Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley into a “barren waste.”  This valley was a source of food for the Confederacy and by completely destroying everything in the valley, the union army worked to starve their enemy into submission.

Then, after General Sherman took Atlanta, he marched his army to Savanna and then north to South Carolina.  In South Carolina Sherman ordered the union army to literally burn down every building in their path.  Sherman was conscious of what he was doing and gave the following reason for torching South Carolina.  “My aim then was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them dread us.”

Both Generals Sherman and Sheridan received cabinet positions in the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant after the war.

The war against the Indians and workers

While the defeat of the confederacy was a huge victory for working people, this would be the last time that the government in this country made any progressive initiatives.  Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan used the military to carry out a genocidal war against Indians. 

In the year 1830 the U.S. government instituted the Indian Removal Act.  This law attempted to remove Indians from their homelands east of the Mississippi river.  They endured a forced march to the new Indian Territory that is now the state of Oklahoma. 

After the Civil War, the U.S. government went to war against all the Indian nations west of the Mississippi River.  General Sheridan made his famous statement that “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.”  Clearly, the entire administration of President Grant agreed with this sentiment.

Generals Sherman and Sheridan used their strategy of total war to steal the land Indians had lived on for centuries.  When they failed in these efforts, they signed treaties with Indians that they had no intention of honoring.

After the hundred years of war against Indians ended in 1877, the Union army left the former confederate states.  The army had been defending the reconstruction governments that attempted to bring some degree of democracy to the former slave states.  When the Union army left their posts in the south, the Ku Klux Klan waged a counter revolution to strip Black people of citizenship rights.  They called the new discriminatory laws “Jim Crow.”

Also in the year 1877 the army was sent to crush a strike of rail workers that was taking hold throughout the country.  During the Second World War President Franklyn D. Roosevelt ordered federal troops against workers in several locations where they chose to go on strike.

The rebellions of 1967 & 1968

In the years 1964 and 1965 the U.S. government ratified the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  The ratification of these laws clearly came about because of the determined organization of the civil rights movement.  These laws effectively outlawed Jim Crow segregation.

However, the passage of these laws changed little in the north.  As was stated before, police brutality was the primary issue that sparked rebellions in hundreds of cities throughout the country.

We might speculate as to the discussions of people who have power in this country during those years.  Their primary objective is to reap in profits.  Uprisings in hundreds of cities clearly was an obstacle to their drive for profits.

We know that after those rebellions, corporations, the government, as well as universities expanded their affirmative action programs.  This meant that many Black people attained jobs and educational opportunities they never had before.

Barack Obama was the beneficiary of one of those affirmative action programs at Harvard Law School.  In other words, President Obama may have been admitted to Harvard partly because of the rebellions of the 1960s.  Yet today Obama labels those who took part in the Baltimore rebellions, “thugs.”

There is something clearly wrong in this country when the government routinely fails to defend the rights of working people.  This is why the words in the Declaration of Independence continue to ring true.  If this government has no interest in defending the rights of working people, we need “new guards for their future security.” 

One day there will be a more organized and disciplined resistance to the madness the government routinely exposes us to.  Yes, Black lives matter as well as the lives of working people and farmers all over the world.  We indeed have the potential to put in place a government whose top priority is human dignity for all.