Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Simone Manuel, John Carlos Story

Simone Manuel just became the first Black swimmer from the United States to win a gold medal in the Olympics.  Tommie Smith and John Carlos won the gold and bronze medals in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.  They are both known for raising black-gloved fists while the Starr Spangled Banner played at their victory ceremony.  What does John Carlos have in common with Simone Manuel?

John Carlos

John Carlos wrote an autobiography with Dave Zirin titled: The John Carlos Story.  In his autobiography Carlos wrote that his first serious interest in athletics was swimming.  He had dreams of competing in the Olympics in swimming events.  He won the 200 meter New York City freestyle championship.  He also spoke to coaches who said that if he worked hard he clearly had the potential to make an Olympic team.

John Carlos’ father Earl ran a shoe repair shop in Harlem, New York.  He noticed his son’s interest in swimming and did the research to find out what it would take in order to train to make an Olympic team.  These are the words John Carlos used to describe the talk he had with his father.

“Finally this sixty-two-year-old man took his twelve-year-old son by the shoulders and said to me, ‘John, your not going to be able to go to the Olympics for swimming.  It’s not about the fact that you’re the best.  I know you’re the best.  But you need to listen to me, and I will say it again: there is nowhere you can train.  And you have to train to go to the Olympics.  So where would you train?’”

John Carlos wasn’t satisfied with this answer and asked the question: “Why not Daddy?”  His father answered: “The color of your skin.”

“What do you mean the color of my skin?” John asked.  His father answered, “Well this is why they haven’t had any black swimmers up until this point to represent America, because they don’t allow the blacks to join the private clubs.  And you have to be involved in a club that’s connected to the Olympic people to train.”

In order to fully appreciate who John Carlos was and see the connection with Simone Manuel we need to look at his life story.

Growing up in Harlem Carlos understood that there were many people who didn’t have enough food to eat.  There was a rail yard in the area that was a warehouse for food.  John and his friends became modern day Robin Hoods.  They stole food from the rail yard, and they had the ability to run fast so the police wouldn’t catch them.  Then, they distributed the food to those who lived in hunger.

Some people might argue that this was against the law.  Well, in the United States of America institutionalized discrimination is a fact of life.  Corporations derive huge profits by paying Black people less than their Caucasian counterparts.  This is all legal, but in a rational world this discrimination would be considered a crime.  So, by breaking the law and giving hungry people food, John Carlos and his friends were, in a way, correcting a grave injustice.

In Harlem, John Carlos became friends with Malcolm X.  He remembered that Malcolm walked very fast to his many meetings.  Being the athlete he was, Carlos was able to keep up with Malcolm.  In those walks Carlos asked Malcolm many questions.  Malcolm’s answers gave Carlos a deeper understanding of discrimination, as well as a sense of pride in who he was.

John Carlos had the disease of dyslexia.  He was only able to overcome this disease when he was older in life.  This is the reason why he didn’t do well in his academic studies.  This is why he went to a college in East Texas instead of a school considered to be more prestigious.  In East Texas he was exposed to the vicious apartheid-like Jim Crow system.

Before the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games, Mexican students protested the fact that resources were being used for the Olympics, while poverty and a lack of educational opportunities existed for the people of that nation. 

The Mexican government decided to respond to these demonstrations with brutal repression.  The armed forces of Mexico murdered hundreds if not thousands of demonstrators.  It was in this atmosphere that the Mexico City Olympic games began.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos were the ones who protested the inhumanity of those times by raising their gloved fists in the air as they received medals for winning their event.  Their protest showed the world the other side to the history of Black people in the United States.  Their attire symbolized the lynchings, the humiliating jobs, and the poverty Black people endured.  However, their protest also demonstrated how defiance was the characteristic that gave Black people their humanity.

We might also consider what was happening in the United States in the year 1968.  The Civil Rights Movement effectively forced the government to outlaw Jim Crow segregation.  They did this with the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and 1965. 

However, doing away with Jim Crow didn’t change the institutionalized discrimination that Black people experienced all over this country.  Police brutality as well as the assassination of Martin Luther King sparked rebellions in cities all throughout the nation.

Faced with these open rebellions, the people who have power in this country began to understand that they needed to do something.  So, affirmative action programs gave many Black people opportunities they never had before.  The protest of Tommie Smith and John Carlos need to be seen in this context.

Simone Manuel

What does all of this have to do with Simone Manuel?

Simone Manuel was raised in the relatively affluent Sugar Land area of Houston, Texas.  Houston happens to be located in the eastern part of the state.  She is now attending Stanford University.  People who are impressed with the educational system in this country consider Stanford to be one of the elite universities.

After winner her Gold medal, this is what Simone Manuel had to say:

“It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality.”

“This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on.  My color comes with the territory.”

“It is something I’ve struggled with a lot.  Coming into the race I tried to take weight of the black community off my shoulders.  It’s something I carry with me.”

“The title black swimmer suggests that I am not supposed to win golds or break records, but that’s not true because I train hard and want to win like everyone else.”

“This medal is not just for me.  It is for some of the African Americans who came before me.  This medal is for the people who come behind me and get into the sport and hopefully find love and drive to get to this point.”

So, when we look at the lives of John Carlos and Simone Manuel we see some of the changes that have emerged over the years.  We also see that the problem of institutionalized discrimination continues to be a fact in this country and around the world.

We might recall that the Mexican government ordered the military to murder hundreds of demonstrators before the 1968 Olympics.  In Brazil, the police have murdered thousands of people and the vast majority are Black.

We also might recall the words of Malcolm X who said: “Either we will all be free or no one will be free.”

Malcolm also spoke about the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington where many people sang the words, “We shall overcome.”  Malcolm argued that when people go to Washington and sing these words, this is a clear sign that the government has failed.

Today there is a movement called, Black Lives Matter.  Saying that “Black lives matter” is a clear statement that there is no real democracy in this country.

As the standard of living continues to deteriorate in this country and around the world, people will create a new movement that demands fundamental change.  When we look at the lives of Simone Manuel and John Carlos, I believe we can say that this is exactly where we are heading.            


Friday, August 12, 2016

We are the Workers of the World

We are the ones who produce everything we need.
I’m talking about food, clothing,
transportation, communication,
health care, education, and even music.

We are the garment workers of Bangladesh.
We’re the Chinese workers who make cell phones.
We’re the Korean autoworkers.
We’re the Vietnamese workers who make running shoes.

We’re the Mexican farmworkers.
In fact, we’re the farm workers of every nation.
We’re also the construction workers of every nation.
We transport goods and people all over the world.

We go deep into the ground,
mining coal in dirty and dangerous conditions,
so some of the people of the world
can have light and live in comfort.

Yes, this is who we are,
and we have a long history.
A history made up of struggles,
so we might be treated with the dignity we deserve.

Spartacus led a rebellion of slaves
against the Roman Empire.
Toussaint L’Overture led a slave revolution
against the Spanish, British, and French.

The native people from all over the world
fought against those who invaded their homeland,
and continue to struggle
so they might live in with dignity in their native land.

The thirteen colonies freed themselves
from British colonization.
Then, the Union Army freed the
United States from a government of slave owners.

Governments demanded that we murder each other
so the affluent would continue to dominate the world.
Then, workers organized in unions,
and waged strikes against those who profit from our labor.

Black workers organized
so they might have citizenship rights
in the nation claiming to have
liberty and justice for all.

Women struggled for decades
just so they might have the right to vote.
They also joined in the struggle to prevent
their children from becoming slaves in factories.

The people of Cuba had a revolution.
They now have a government
that makes human needs the priority.
Today, Cubans have the right to education and health care.

But the owners of corporations
are indifferent to all of this.
They have one and only one priority.
This is their drive to maximize profits on investments.

So corporations and investment companies
spent massive amounts of money
to build factories in nations
where workers are paid two dollars per day.

They may have eliminated hundreds of millions of jobs,
while politicians talk about creating jobs.
The new jobs usually have lower wages
and fewer benefits than the jobs that left the country.

Workers living in nations
where they exist on the knife edge of survival,
risk life and limb for a chance
to work in a nation where they can make a living.

These workers have the worst jobs that few people want.
They have no protection and can be deported at any time.
Corporations depend on these workers,
while they build walls to keep them out.

Then, there is that idea that every worker
thinks about at one or another time in our lives.
This is the idea that things might be better.
Yes, we have the capability to make this a better world.

We produce enormous amounts of wealth
that can be used to eliminate poverty,
end all wars, and work in harmony with the environment.
Yes, we have the potential to stop the destruction of this planet.

We can use sophisticated technology
to make work easier and more rewarding.
Yes, we can expose the myth
that this is impossible.

There are those who argue that the idea
of a workers government is dead.
Half of the world’s population lives on two dollars per day.
They say this is the best we can do.

They tend to forget that the history of the world
has been made up of one continuous struggle
to make life better for the people who live on the planet.
That struggle is continuing.

So for all those who have their doubts,
I have these words.
We are the workers of the world

and we will be heard.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Captain Fantastic

Director, writer of the story and screenplay – Matt Ross

Starring – Viggo Mortensen

The other day I viewed a quite unusual film.  The film is Matt Ross’ Captain Fantastic.  While I don’t feel that this is an outstanding film, I believe it is worth seeing.

The film is about parents who decide to raise their six children isolated from society in an Oregon forest.  In this environment the children learn to become self sufficient, physically strong, and competent in conversing in several languages.  They become avid readers and learn to analyze the ideas of the arts and sciences.  Also, the father of the children pushes them to think for themselves and develop their own perspectives.  Along these lines, they all become competent musicians and enjoy those times when they sing, dance, and perform their music.

We never meet the mother, and she dies early in the film.  The family then travels to New Mexico for her funeral.  Here is where we see the inevitable conflict between this family and the everyday world we all know.  Ultimately the father learns that there was a central flaw in how he raised his children.  They had no social skills that would allow them to live in the world.

From the opening scenes of the film there are some parts that are difficult to watch.  Clearly, I was uncomfortable watching certain scenes.  These scenes portrayed the rigorous and unconventional way the father instilled in his children a sense of self-sufficiency.

In thinking about these scenes, we might also think about the environment many children are exposed to in this country.  Today millions of children do not have a place to live or enough food to eat.  Many children suffer from treatable illnesses or injuries because they don’t have sufficient medical insurance.  Then, there is the huge number of children who experience sexual abuse.  A common problem many children face is sheer boredom, that can lead to Attention Deficit Disorder, that can lead to drug addiction.

The utopian socialists

The idea of setting up a communal society away from the mainstream is not new.  The utopian socialists Robert Owen and Charles Fourier both were critical of the world they lived in.  Radicals actually set up communities that attempted to be self sufficient as well as fair to all inhabitants.  All this happened in the 19th century.

In their lives Robert Owen was the first to argue for an eight-hour day for working people.  Charles Fourier invented the term of feminism and argued that women should have the same rights as men.  He was also critical of the idea of civilization as it was used in his day.  All these ideas emerged in the 19th century.

Clearly all these experiments in utopian socialist communities ended in failure.  However, the ideas promoted by Owen, Fourier and others live on to this day.   

The psychologist Erik Erikson

In considering the ideas expressed in the film Captain Fantastic we might also consider the works of the child psychologist Erik Erikson.  Erikson studied the Lakota and Yurok Indians in this country and learned how they raised their children.  We might consider that the indigenous people of this country needed to live their lives with a total dependence on the natural environment.  This wasn’t easy, so the methods used in raising children were extremely important. 

Erikson used his knowledge of the indigenous peoples to develop his theories for raising children.  He argued that if children do not establish feelings of trust, they will be mistrustful.  If children do not develop a feeling of autonomy, they will feel shame.  If children aren’t given the opportunity to take initiatives, they will develop a sense of guilt.  If children aren’t allowed to be industrious, they will develop feelings of inferiority.  If children are raised in a way where they are trustful and industrious, Erikson believed that they would become competent.

Erikson also believed that parents need to set an example their children can admire.  This is how he explained it:

“Healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death.”
The film Captain Fantastic clearly is not an instruction manual of how to raise children.  As the film points out, there were clear problems with the way these children were raised.  However, the film also shows how children can become extremely competent if they are raised in a totally different environment.  The film accomplishes this while portraying a compelling story.

These are some of the reasons why I feel Captain Fantastic is well worth seeing.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The hypocrisy of the so-called debate on immigration

Donald Trump has received considerable publicity for his so-called position on immigration.  He argues that he wants to “build a wall” to keep immigrants out of this country.  He also argues that he wants to place Moslems under government surveillance.  This would be a clear violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution that says we are supposed to have freedom of religion.

Why have people voted for Trump in spite of these ideas?  Working people throughout this country have been devastated by a deteriorating standard of living.  When I graduated from high school college tuition was about $200 per semester.  Today college tuition at the same university is $10,000 per semester.

In the 1970’s I took a day off from work looking for a job.  I was offered six jobs in one day.  Today, many employers will not even talk to you without a computerized application and many workers have given up looking for work.

So, when Donald Trump argues that he will “Make America great again,” this appears to be a complete fantasy.  Clearly the news media isn’t interested in reporting the facts that place Trump’s vicious arguments in perspective.

The United States of America was never a “great” nation.  Yes, the American Revolution and the Civil War won independence and an abolition of slavery.  However, this is a class divided nation that has a long history of repression.  From the times of slavery, to the genocide against Indians, to the horrendous conditions imposed on working people, to the mass incarceration today, there clearly never was a time when this country was “great.”

We can do a quick Google search for the question of: How many immigrants have been deported under President Obama’s Administration?  The answer is that Obama has deported more immigrants than any other President and there has been stiff competition on that issue.  My estimation is, there have been about 1,000 deportations for every day Obama has been in office.  I should also mention that today there is a wall in place separating the United States from Mexico.

So, I believe that we need to take a look at the full history that surrounds the issue of immigration.

500 Nations

The first people to live in this part of the world are known as Native Americans or Indians.  There were about 500 Indian nations living in what is now the United States when the Europeans arrived.  These people have lived here for thousands of years.  The Europeans had a problem with the millions of people who lived here. 

Many nations shared everything and didn’t believe in private property.  Women had real equal rights to men.  The other difference was that Indians didn’t know what the word dishonesty meant.  The word of the Indians was their bond.

Clearly, these were not utopian communities.  There was inter-tribal warfare, periodic scarcities, and Indians usually died at an early age.  However, the communal nature of Indian life was totally incompatible with the emerging capitalist European economic system. 

The result of this European invasion was that about 90% of the Native Americans died because of diseases imported by settlers.  Settlers of European decent engaged in open warfare against Indians for hundreds of years.  The United States government violated about 400 treaties with Indians.  After all of this history, the U.S. government sent Indian children to schools where so-called teachers punished Indian children when they spoke their native language. 

So, when we listen to politicians talk about ridding this country of immigrants, we might talk about how governments throughout the Americas treated the first people who lived in this part of the world.

Most of the so-called immigrants who come to this country today are from Mexico.  Many immigrant rights activists argue that the southwest of this country used to belong to Mexico.  While this is true, the facts are that the Mexican people are overwhelmingly of Indian decent.  In other words, most of the people who are deported from this country can trace their heritage to this land for literally thousands of years.

The government forced people to come here against their will

We also should mention that for literally hundreds of years European colonists, as well as the United States government, actually forced Africans to come to this part of the world against their will.  I’m talking about every single imaginable crime settlers perpetrated in order to enslave human beings for profit. 

The nation that became Haiti was the first to outlaw this criminal practice.  The Haitian revolution terrified slave-owners like President Thomas Jefferson.  They understood that if a slave uprising erupted in this country, like the one in Haiti, they would literally loose everything.  For this reason, the U.S. didn’t establish formal relations with Haiti until after the Civil War.  The very idea of negotiating with a Black person as an equal was incomprehensible to the slave-owners.

During the period of slavery, the Fugitive Slave Act made escaped slaves criminals under the law.  This meant that they needed to leave the United States in order to avoid the threat of returning to slavery.  Thousands of freed Black people left this country for Haiti so they could live in a nation with a Black government.

The divisions between the slave owners and the capitalists in the northern states became irreconcilable.  This was the cause of the Civil War.  350,000 Union soldiers died to remove slave owners from power in this country. 

After the war, reconstruction governments came into being and instituted some real democratic reforms.  Black and caucasian residents learned to read for the first time in the former slave states.  However, by 1877 the federal government betrayed these governments and withdrew federal troops from the former Confederate states.  The Ku Klux Klan took advantage of this situation and militarily overthrew the reconstruction governments.  This military action, as well as the Supreme Court decision of Plessey vs. Fergusson, stripped Black people of citizenship rights in this country.  Jim Crow segregation became the law.

Labor engages in open rebellion against employers

Also in the year 1877 there was a national rail strike.  The government ordered federal troops defeat the workers using military force. 

We might think about the fact that before unions developed some strength in this country, workers frequently lived in one-room cold-water flats.  The workday ranged from twelve to sixteen hours per day.  Wages were so pathetic that families needed to send their children to work in factories.

Most of the strikes until the 1930s ended in defeats for the workers.  Then, after the economic crash of 1929, workers started to win real concessions that included union representation.  We might keep in mind that this strike-wave erupted after the Russian Revolution. 

Faced with an economic depression, and worker militancy, employers were terrified of the idea that they might loose everything if a political revolution erupted.  These were some of the reasons why workers won concessions during those years.  Millions of workers joined unions as a result.

The Second World War was about what capitalist power would control the world.  If we read histories of the war in Northern Africa, we discover that neither the Nazis or the Allied Powers had any interest in advancing the cause of the native Arabic people.  No doubt, there were few soldiers on either side that even spoke Arabic.

Yet corporations reaped super-profits because of the war.  After the war, people from all over the world carried out another war to gain their liberation.  Algerians lost over one million people in their revolution against French colonialism.    Koreans and Vietnamese also lost millions of lives in their revolutions to free themselves from colonialism.

In the United States, workers engaged in open rebellion in a strike-wave against employers.  Hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike shutting down entire industries.  The government countered this rebellion by going on a red-bating campaign against anyone who supported the idea of communism. 

At that time members of the Communist Party were officials in many unions.  The CP had supported the United States in WWII and played a largely conservative role in the labor movement.  They refused to mount a defense campaign to oppose these victimizations.  As a result, many unionists were driven out of their jobs.  In spite of these setbacks, union workers made significant gains and the standard of living improved significantly.

The civil rights movement

Under these conditions, Black people also wanted an improved standard of living, as well as citizenship rights.  Black union activists like E.D. Nixon helped to organize the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  This was the beginning of another rebellion that erupted demanding full rights for Black people.  Although many leaders of this rebellion argued for non-violence, some people died, and many were arrested or brutalized in the struggle to overturn the Jim Crow laws.

However, many Blacks had already migrated away from the Jim Crow states.  Although there were somewhat better conditions outside the south, institutionalized discrimination was a fact of life.  So, after Jim Crow was outlawed, police brutality, as well as widespread discrimination, were facts of life.  Malcolm X once said: “Stop talking about the South.  If you’re south of Canada you’re in the south.”

These conditions led to rebellions by the Black community in hundreds of cities and towns across the United States.  We should keep in mind that these rebellions came after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

Clearly corporations didn’t like the fact that many cities in this country erupted in open rebellion.  So, they dealt with this problem by advocating for affirmative action programs that gave opportunities to some people in the Black community.

The capitalist obsession to cut costs

Clearly, the advances of the labor movement and the civil rights movement were positive developments.  However, we live in a capitalist system where corporations do not have this point of view.

Under capitalism the number one priority is always profits.  A problem is that the percentage of profits on investments tends to decline.  So, in 1929 there were sufficient materials as well as workers to make vast improvements in the standard of living.  However, there were more commodities on the market than people were buying.  We should consider that working people only receive a small percentage of what our labor is worth.

So, because of this over production of commodities, employers created an economy where there was about 30% unemployment.  Savings accounts of workers vanished.  Employed workers received pay cuts.  This was the atmosphere that led to the strike wave of the 1930s.

So, employers had a problem that they clearly did not share with workers.  Corporations needed to cut costs while the standard of living was improving for working people. 

Corporations and banks dealt with this problem by making massive investments in nations where workers are paid about two dollars per day or less.  Factories in this country closed, while new factories opened up all over the world.

Many people argue that corporations engaged in this move because of greed.  They feel that the affluent can reap more money in profits from workers who are paid two dollars per day. 

The facts are that if these corporations did not move to other countries, they simply would go bankrupt.  The depression didn’t merely happen because the super-rich were greedy.  No, depressions are not in their interest.  Depressions erupt because this is an inevitable result of capitalist development.

These investments in other nations have enlarged affluent minorities all over the world.  This has also created new markets for corporations to sell their commodities.  Today, China has become a huge market for the auto industry.  All of this has postponed the eruption of another depression.  However, an all out depression is exactly where we are heading.


Understanding this history, we can now gain an appreciation of why people immigrate to this country.  Is there anyone in this world who wants to work hard every day for a wage of two dollars?  No, people risk life and limb to escape to a country where they might be paid more.

The facts are that the low wages in the world are a big reason why the capitalist system has avoided depression.  In other words, people come to this country to escape from an environment created so the affluent might continue to live in opulence.

We might consider the conditions workers who experience wages of about two dollars per day.  These conditions are similar to the working conditions in this country before there were unions, when children worked long hours in factories.

We might consider that escaping from these conditions is similar to slaves who escaped from slavery.  We might also consider the Great Migration of Black people who escaped Jim Crow segregation and moved to a place where they might have a better life.

We might consider that the Jim Crow laws of legal discrimination have been pushed aside.  However, legal discrimination against twelve million immigrant workers continues to this day.  I’ve heard of stories where immigrant women who have been raped will not report this crime to the police.  They feel that any contact with the police might expose them to deportation.

Many people in this country have followed the First Family, Barrack and Michelle Obama and their two daughters.  This appears to be a happy family with the daughters who went to a private school that costs about $40,000 per year.

When we look at this family, most people don’t think about the immigrants who have children born in this country.  President Obama’s Administration has deported thousands of these immigrants.  Because the children were born here, they are placed in foster care while their parents are deported.  Is there a more horrendous crime than forcing parents to be separated from their children?

With the astronomical costs of education in this country, many students are motivated to make as much money as they can.  This has led students to major in finance or business administration.  Clearly, the universities in this country aren’t interested in teaching students about the horrendous consequences of corporate “success.”  

This has meant that there is a need for workers with a highly specialized technical background.  Many of these workers are trained in other countries to aid the emerging industries all over the world.  Some of these technical workers come to this country and work in various technical fields, oftentimes at relatively low pay.

So, immigrants came to this country to work in all kinds of fields.  They are not taking jobs away from workers.  They, in most cases, do the work that people in this country prefer not to do.

If Donald Trump is so concerned about immigrant labor taking jobs, there is an easy solution.  He can line up for work in the mornings during the summer and pick fruits and vegetables in any of the farms all over this country. 

The state of Alabama has restrictive laws against immigration.  These laws have had a clear effect.  Now, fruits and vegetables grown in Alabama rot on the vines because immigrant workers are not there to process them.   

The owners of corporations would like us to think of ourselves as citizens of the United States.  They want us to believe that we have different interests from workers who live in other countries.

In fact, workers from all over the world have the same interests.  We would all like to have decent jobs where we have the resources to provide for our families.  When we begin to understand that we all live under the same moon, and we all deserve to be treated with respect, we can organize a movement that can transform the world.