Monday, December 20, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Unmasking the History of the United States
We might ask a basic question: Why do we study history? Clearly, as much as we would like to, we are simply unable to change history. What happened in the past will never change.
The best history books give us an insight into various periods of the past. However, few of these books demonstrate how this history is relevant to understanding the problems we face today. We are living in the midst of an economic depression, war, and the growing destruction of the environment. Few historians have anything to say about what kind of political orientation is needed to resolve these monumental problems. So I repeat the question: Why do we study history?
I have studied and written about history because the facts of the past can give us insight into the problems we face in the world today. While the study of history will not enable anyone to predict the future, a rational study of the past can give us clues about the possible trends we will face in the coming years.
A common error most historians of the United States make is that they portray the government as having supreme power. While governments claim that they advance the interests of the majority of the population, this has not been the case in any nation that has capitalist economic relations. From the time of the Revolution to end British rule, the US government has done everything in its power to support capitalist interests. The results of these policies have been that today one percent of the population owns about 42 percent of the wealth and indirectly controls about 80 percent. We might reflect on the fact that while this one percent lives in opulence, about 40 million people do not have enough food to eat, and about 46 million have no health insurance.
Since governments are supposed to have supreme power, the US government can make a decision that tomorrow everyone will have enough food to eat and everyone will have all of their medical expenses paid for. This will not happen because the US government is, in effect, a support committee for the most affluent people in the world. When people experience layoffs, the government is in part responsible. When prices appear to be astronomically high, the government is in part responsible. When this country goes to war against some of the poorest people in the world, the government is clearly responsible.
These facts tend to contradict the words in the Pledge of Allegiance which state that the United States is a nation “with liberty and justice for all.” However, when we look at the 234 year history of this country we can make another more accurate statement. The people who have economic and political power in the United States have carried out policies that were, and continue to be, the most destructive in human history. This statement is fairly easy to substantiate.
Today the United States is the world’s super-power and about 40% of the world’s population lives on two dollars per day or less. About one billion people in the world do not have enough food to eat. Banks located in the United States, in effect, control the economies of the nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. While all of this is happening, the resources have been available to end poverty for over 100 years.
In 1958 Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, gave a speech where he agreed with this perspective. Mandela argued that, “It is American imperialism, which must be fought and decisively beaten down if the people of Asia and Africa are to preserve the vital gains they have won in their struggle against subjugation.”
While other governments in the history of the world have been more repressive than the one in the United States, today a strong case can be made that this country is among the most repressive in the world. Anyone living in the United States has a better chance of going to prison than citizens in any other nation. Over eighty percent of those who serve time in prison are there because of “plea bargain” agreements where they were coerced to confess to a crime. Over half of those in prison are serving time for drug related offences that, in most cases, harm only the user of drugs. To the best of my knowledge, no other nation has prisons like the super-max prisons in the US where the entire prison population lives in solitary confinement. In all the major cities in the US hundreds of thousands of people are stopped and frisked every year.
We might also make the argument that the entire legal system of the United States is merely a bunch of rationalizations that support corporate interests. All the rights people have in this country were won through struggle. Laws change with the changing needs of capital. Here is a short list of some examples.
The US government acknowledged that it violated 371 treaties with Native Americans. A treaty is not a law and the violation of a treaty is not supposed to be adjudicated in a civil court. The violation of a treaty is an act of war. Leonard Peltier is a Native American who has been in prison for over two decades. He was convicted of murdering two FBI agents even though there is considerable evidence that he is innocent. However, these FBI agents were on the Pine Ridge reservation when they lost their lives. According to the treaty Native Americans are supposed to have jurisdiction over that land for as long as the grass grows.
After the Civil War the government ratified the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. These amendments were supposed to outlaw slavery, give every citizen Constitutional rights, as well as the right to vote for all men. The federal government sent federal troops to the former confederate states to enforce these new measures. By 1877 those troops were withdrawn and a system of Jim Crow, legalized discrimination became the law. The Supreme Court endorsed legalized discrimination in its decision Plessey vs. Fergusson. The Supreme Court isn’t supposed to have the power to reverse amendments to the Constitution, but they did it anyway and the rest of the government went along.
In the 1960’s the civil rights movement effectively forced the government to do away with the Jim Crow laws. However, these laws were always a violation of the Constitution. Today discrimination continues against African Americans with respect to wages, education, health care, housing, and the enforcement of the law.
The United States is a nation of immigrants and of Black people who’s ancestors were forced here to become slaves. Native Americans are the indigenous population and they are the least affluent nationality in the United States.
The Declaration of Independence states clearly that one of the reasons for the revolution was the fact that the King of England limited immigration. In the early years of the twentieth century immigration from Europe was relatively easy. During this same period immigration from China was much more difficult. Today the United States has built a wall to keep Mexican people from entering this country and over 400 people died in 2009 attempting to cross the border.
The repressive and destructive nature of the government of the United States is only one part of this history. The United States was born as a result of a revolution and another revolution erupted to end slavery. Native Americans engaged in armed warfare for over 100 years to defend their rights. Black people have been fighting for their frights throughout US history. The labor movement engaged in titanic battles so working people might be able to escape from abject poverty. Millions of people lost their lives battling against US aggression all over the world. Today immigrant workers are continuing this struggle for human dignity.
Malcolm X once said that, “The greatest mistake of the movement has been trying to organize a sleeping people around specific goals. You have to wake the people up first, then you’ll get action.”
“Wake them up to their exploitation?” an interviewer asked.
“No, to their humanity, to their own worth, and to their heritage,” Malcolm responded.
The goal of this series of essays is to show how working people in this country have the potential to transform the world. While it is clearly possible for the future to be profoundly worse than the present, there is another possibility for the future. Working people have the potential to make this a world where poverty and discrimination are no longer a part of the human condition. If the resources of this planet were properly utilized, people could have a profoundly better standard of living while working fewer hours. If we study history in a rational way we can see how this kind of future world can become a reality.
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
The other day I viewed a video of a demonstration of about ten to fifteen young people at a supermarket in Philadelphia. The demonstration supported a boycott of the Sabra and Tribe brands of hummus. Apparently, the owners of Sabra and Tribe are ardent supporters of the state of Israel and the demonstrators asked that shoppers refrain from contributing to “Israeli apartheid.” The demonstration was well organized with a choreographed dance routine, as well as a well-rehearsed chant supporting the boycott. The overall impression I had of the demonstration was that it was a cheerleading chorus promoting a boycott of Sabra and Tribe.
In order to look at this demonstration objectively, I believe we need to step back and look at several issues. Clearly, the government of Israel is guilty of horrendous genocidal crimes against Palestinians who have lived in the Middle East for thousands of years. However, Israel is a relatively small nation with a population of about 7.3 million. There is no way that Israel could maintain the massive armed forces it has without a tremendous amount of support. The lion’s share of that support does not come from Sabra and Tribe, but from the government of the United States which today is headed by President Barrack Obama. Billions of dollars flows to Israel every year from the US government, as well as enormous amounts of military hardware. Billions more dollars go to the government of Egypt which has joined Israel in maintaining the criminal embargo of the Gaza Strip.
The largest corporations in the United States are united in their support of the Israeli regime. Despite what some right-wing ideologues might argue, the overwhelming majority of the owners of US corporations are Christians and not Jews.
So, I have to ask the question. If the US government is giving vital aid to Israel, and that aid is being used to suppress the rights of Palestinians, then why are people demonstrating against the Sabra and Tribe brands of hummus? Another question I have has to do with the fact that this is an election year. Virtually all candidates in the Democratic and Republican Parties are supporters of the state of Israel, and are also asking for support in the elections. So, why are people demonstrating against Sabra and Tribe, and not holding all US government officials accountable for their criminal support for the state of Israel?
One of the reprehensible acts of the Israeli government is that it accuses its opponents of anti-Semitism. Anyone who has a dictionary can look up the word Semite. The dictionary makes it clear that this word doesn’t just refer to Jews, but also to Arabs. Palestinians are an Arabic people and no country in the world today discriminates against a Semitic people more harshly that the state of Israel.
However, anti-Semitism against Jewish people does have a long and horrendous history. I happen to be Jewish. My grandfather’s family left Czarist Russia because of the anti-Semitic atmosphere in that country. While my grandfather moved to the United States, his sister moved to Germany.
At that time, the Weimar Republic of Germany was one of the most liberal governments in the world and Jewish people appeared to be fully integrated into that country. When an economic crisis hit Germany, German capitalists gave tremendous amounts of money to fascists headed by Adolph Hitler. The fascists attacked demonstrations of workers who protested for better conditions. These Nazis admitted that they could have easily been crushed in their early years because they were a tiny minority.
The German Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party did not take the fascists seriously and refused to form a voting block which could have prevented a fascist takeover. As a result, the Nazis sent all dissidents to the concentration camps and had a policy of murdering all Jews, Gypsies, gays, and anyone else who didn’t measure up to their fascist standards. One of the people who might have been murdered was the sister of my grandfather.
David S. Wyman wrote a book about an aspect of this history titled The Abandonment of the Jews – America and the Holocaust. Wyman documented how the administration of Franklyn Roosevelt had a conscious policy of barring Jews from entering the United States who were attempting to escape the Nazi holocaust. Wyman estimates that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews could have been saved if Roosevelt gave them asylum in this country.
We can skip ahead to the year 2004. I was working at a factory in Philadelphia and attended a demonstration in Washington protesting the war against Iraq. I mentioned this to my co-workers and there was one co-worker who didn’t like my anti-war views. He also openly said that he didn’t like the fact that I am Jewish. This co-worker went on a campaign of harassment against me which culminated in the slashing of two of the tires on my car.
I had a meeting with the management of the factory and informed them of what was happening. I argued that I had a right to work at the plant free of the harassment I had been exposed to. Management had another meeting with me where they said they agreed that I had a right to work at the plant and also said they disciplined the co-worker who had been harassing me. After three months there was a round of layoffs in the plant. I was the first one to be laid off in spite of the fact that there were several co-workers who had less seniority. So, while the management said I had a right to work at the plant, they actively proceeded to make sure that I would no longer be employed by that company.
I mention these examples to show that anti-Semitism exists and bigoted attitudes against Jews continue to exist in this country. While most people will find these attitudes reprehensible, there is a tiny minority of people who continue to advance the politics of fascism. History has shown that corporations will support fascists in times of economic crisis, when they feel that their investments are threatened. In other words, today we need combat all forms of anti-Semitism because there is no question that the economic crisis will spur fascist organizations to become more aggressive, as they have in the past.
When people who claim to support the rights of Palestinians support a boycott of Jewish owned businesses without demanding that the US government end its ardent support of Israel, we need to ask, what are they doing? Fascists who promote hatred of Jews and Palestinians have no problem with a boycott of Jewish businesses. What these fascists have a problem with would be a genuine international movement in solidarity with the human rights of Palestinians and Jews.
Counterpoising roadmaps for peace in the Middle East
A lot has been said about “the roadmap for peace in the Middle East.” Clearly the US government does have a roadmap for peace in the Middle East and we can see that strategy as it unfolded in Iraq. First, we need to explain that the United States is a nation that has a political economic system based on capitalism. While the US government pretends to support freedom and democracy, in reality the system of capitalism requires that this same US government actively exploit workers and farmers throughout the world, so a tiny minority of the population can live in opulence.
Oil is a commodity that is the lifeblood of capitalism. The entire transportation system relies on vast quantities of oil in order to function. Without oil, transportation comes to a screeching halt and profits for corporations vanish. This is why the extraction of oil from the Middle East and all other locations in the world is a top priority for the owners of capital.
We might consider that the Arabic world accounts for hundreds of millions of people who live in an area from Morocco to Iraq. Seventy million more inhabitants live in Iran. I can recall an insightful statistic which argued that the industrial production in the entire Arabic world is less than the production in the tiny nation of Finland.
Clearly the oil in the Middle East could be used to build and power factories that could produce all the goods and services needed in that region. Instead, the oil is shipped to the United States and other developed countries. Commodities are then manufactured in the developed nations and sold back to the Arabic world at exorbitant prices. This state of affairs maintains a consistent flow of money to the most affluent people in the world, while millions of people in the Arabic countries live in abject poverty. Even in the oil rich nation of Saudi Arabia the infant mortality rate is 11.57 per 1,000 births, which is almost double this same rate in the United States. As late as 2003, infant mortality in Saudi Arabia was 47.94 per 1,000 births.
Clearly, the capitalists in the United States do not want the oil of the Middle East to go towards the development of that region. Pro-capitalist so-called economists talk about “developing nations.” In reality the history of the twentieth century is a history of the largest banks in the world consistently working to make sure that the majority of the world lives in nations that are becoming increasingly underdeveloped.
In order to accomplish their goals, the United States government has had a routine policy of supporting the most brutal dictatorships in the world. One of the many dictatorships the US government supported for thirty years was the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Only when Hussein made agreements with France and invaded Kuwait did Washington cut their ties with him. Clearly, Washington and Hussein were agreed that neither wanted a genuinely independent government in Kuwait. Washington initially went to war against Iraq because they wanted Wall Street to have unobstructed access to the oil in Kuwait.
When William Jefferson Clinton was President, he advanced the war against Iraq with the use of onerous sanctions. These sanctions caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. Then President Bush continued the war by taking military control of Bagdad and installing a puppet regime in that country. Reliable estimates have been made that over one million Iraqis have died unnecessarily since the US invasion of Iraq.
Several workers who I’ve talked to expressed the opinion that the second President Bush is, in a word, stupid. However, when we look at the facts, Bush achieved most of his objectives in Iraq. He unleashed massive destruction against Iraq to install a puppet regime in that country. He did this without encountering many anti-war demonstrations in the United States or around the world.
We can clearly say that this was not the case in the movement that protested the US war against Vietnam. In the anti-war movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s entire universities went on strike across the United States protesting the war against Vietnam. Massive anti-war demonstrations were held in Washington and around the world. This sustained anti-war movement effectively forced President Lyndon Johnson to decline a run for reelection. Ultimately this same anti-war movement created an atmosphere where President Richard Nixon was forced to resign from office. The resistance of the Vietnamese people as well as the international anti-war movement forced Washington to effectively admit defeat and withdraw all US armed forces from Vietnam.
Washington’s goals in Palestine are similar to its goals in Iraq. Washington wants a loyal ally in the Middle East and they have that with the government of Israel. The state of Israel was created in 1948, the same year as the creation of the apartheid state of South Africa. Both Israel and apartheid South Africa patterned themselves on the social relations of the United States, which became the world’s super-power after World War II.
The United States went to war for about 100 years to effectively steal the land from the native inhabitants of North America. The government then banished Native Americans to reservations. After the Civil War and the defeat of radical reconstruction, the federal government allowed Jim Crow to be the law in the former confederate states. These Jim Crow laws took away all the rights African Americans had gained with the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. One of the results of this state of affairs was the lynchings of thousands of African Americans, while government officials did almost nothing to stop those who were responsible for mass murder.
Israel and South Africa patterned their legal systems on this historical example of the United States. In both nations the governments stole the land from the original inhabitants, and moved them to areas resembling the Native American reservations in the United States. In South Africa they called these areas “Bantustans.” The Israeli government created similar areas and called them the “West Bank” and “Gaza Strip.” Israel and South Africa both created colonial settler states where the legal system systematically discriminated against the indigenous population. In Israel they call this state of affairs a “democracy.”
Clearly the governments of the United States and Israel do want peace in the Middle East. They want the kind of peace where the indigenous people of that region will accept conditions of poverty and repression without complaint. The only reason why the US government ever says anything against Israel is to placate Arab governments and to diffuse the growing international sentiment against Israeli repression. In fact, the reason for the brutal repression of Palestinians is to defend US capitalist interests in the region. This brutal repression mirrors Washington’s brutally repressive policies against the people living in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Just as the US government enforced onerous sanctions against Iraq, today Israel is enforcing onerous sanctions against Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Just as in Iraq, the Israeli government is hoping that they can minimize international opposition.
There is a roadmap for a genuine peace in the Middle East. This roadmap follows the basic political history that caused the removal of the apartheid regime of South Africa. Under the leadership of the African National Congress, the Freedom Charter was adopted demanding full rights for everyone who lived in South Africa. South African organizations opposed to apartheid supported a complete economic boycott of that nation. Demonstrations were held throughout the world demanding an end to apartheid. Universities in the US divested from South Africa. This movement became so powerful that the elder President George Bush was forced to support the economic boycott of South Africa. Even the most right wing fascist groups in South Africa have bowed to the new government headed by the African National Congress.
This international movement succeeded in removing the apartheid government from power. This kind of movement has the potential of removing the Israeli government from power and establishing a democratic secular Palestine.
The Palestine Liberation Organization initially supported the demand for a democratic secular Palestine. However, this demand was given up for the idea of a two state solution. The two-state solution was never a realistic solution for Palestinians. Palestinians living in Israel continue to be treated as second-class citizens. The Israeli government has effectively shut the door on a two state solution and has done everything in their power to make sure that this strategy will not work.
Clearly advancing the strategy for a democratic secular Palestine will not be easy. However, this is a strategy that has proven in action to be successful. I believe that the primary focus for activists who live in the US, who are in solidarity with the Palestinian people, is to focus on ending US government support to Israel. Without the tremendous amount of aid Israel receives from the US, the Israeli government and all the repression that goes with it will not be able to continue.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Should Women Have the Right to Control Their Bodies?
Every month for the past year I’ve been volunteering to escort women who choose to have an abortion at a health clinic in Philadelphia. I do this because these women face a gauntlet of protesters who’s goal is to prevent any woman from having an abortion. These protesters, who are armed with their prayer beads, shout out that women who attempt to get an abortion will, “regret this decision for the rest of your lives.” They shout at the men who accompany these women with the words, “be a man and raise your child.” They hold up tiny figurines of fetuses and shout out, “don’t kill your baby.” All the while they join in a chorus of prayers which start with the words “holy mother Mary.”
These protesters have another goal. They would like to go back to the days when abortion was illegal. During that time women routinely filled emergency rooms because they had been mutilated by back alley abortionists. Hundreds of women died from these illegal procedures and thousands suffered from the effects of mutilations because abortion was illegal. In John Irving’s novel The Cider House Rules he gave a list of all the means women used to have abortions. Women who survived these procedures might suffer for the rest of their lives because they had been denied safe legal abortions. A grandmother of an escort at the clinic died because of a back alley abortion. She had nine children and did not want another.
A few years ago I listened to a Catholic nun who was opposed to abortion. This nun made a decision never to have sexual relations. She argued that women who are not nuns should only have sexual relations when they are planning to have children. Ultimately, this is the position of all those organizations that oppose a woman’s right to control her body. If this position were acknowledged, very few individuals would oppose abortion.
In order to fully appreciate this issue I believe we need to go back and look at the reasons why we are faced with this atmosphere today. Throughout most of human history women had real political power. Men were the hunters and women did everything else. This meant that women were the first farmers, construction workers, scientists, doctors, and ship builders. Because women were so influential in society they had real political power. Lewis Henry Morgan lived among the Iroquois and noticed that the women were organized into the Clan Mothers. No one could become a leader of the Iroquois without the approval of the Clan Mothers.
Throughout most of human history the idea of fatherhood did not exist. The uncle was the man who raised children. At this time, the idea of mine and yours was unknown and an entire clan took on many of the aspects of raising children. This state of affairs made things a lot easier for women because they did not need to be the only ones who cared for the children they gave birth to. Because everything was shared by all, when there were sufficient quantities of food, everyone understood that the necessities of life would be provided to all.
This all changed when men began to trade cattle for wives. It was only at this time that women began to be confined to domestic chores and were forced to take on the primary role of raising their children. This state of affairs found an extreme expression in China where the feet of women were bound and broken so they would not be able to leave the home.
Today, we think of this practice as barbaric. However, the Phillip Morris corporation advanced an advertizing campaign to promote their Virginia Slims cigarettes. Their main theme was “You’ve come a long way baby.” In other words, today corporations find it perfectly acceptable to promote a product to women that will cause lung cancer.
In this atmosphere, corporations view women as vessels that produce children. In most instances, women, not society as a whole, are the ones expected to raise children. Women’s bodies are routinely displayed to sell a wide variety of commodities. The idea that women should have rights that are equal to the rights of men is an idea that shakes the foundations of the capitalist system. While some women have managed to become professionals, government officials, or corporate officers, women are paid on the average about 80% of the salaries of men.
In the early 1970’s the Supreme Court ruled in Roe vs. Wade that abortion was legal in the United States. The court was clearly influenced by the woman’s movement which had been actively demanding this right for several years. We might also consider that the woman’s movement had been influenced by the civil rights and anti-war movements of that time.
Since the Roe vs. Wade decision, the government has worked consistently to compromise women’s right to abortion. In eighty percent of the counties in this country, there are no centers where women can have an abortion. Most hospitals do not provide abortions. We might note that hospitals could have a significant revenue from abortions since this is one of the most used medical procedures in this country. In fact, on the rare occasions where there are complications from abortions, it would be safer having these procedures in hospitals where any problems can be dealt with.
In order to pass his new so-called health care plan, President Obama used the issue of abortion as a sacrificial lamb. Now, women who want their health insurance coverage to include abortion will need to have a separate plan. This seemingly insane state of affairs came about so the government will not be accused of funding abortions in any way.
All these facts point to the reality that the most powerful people who oppose abortions are not the protesters who come to health clinics with their prayer beads. The government, at all levels, as well as corporate America, has worked to compromise a woman’s right to control her body.
If women do not have the right to control their bodies, we might ask the question, What rights do they have? When abortion was illegal, intelligent women risked their lives, rather than be forced to give birth to a baby they clearly did not want. Then and now, there are orphanages filled with children who are not wanted. These children are desperate to live in an environment where they would be nurtured and cared for. This state of affairs exists, not because of uncaring mothers, but because in the capitalist system profits are more important than human life.
In Cuba abortion is a woman’s right, and the government works to ensure that children are cared for. Cuba has more doctors and teachers per capita than any other nation in the world. The infant mortality rate in Cuba is lower than in the US, and the percentage of people who have HIV/AIDS is one-sixth the percentage in the US. Health care is not a commodity but a right for all. I met a Cuban worker who had four children. He was proud of the fact that all of his children will have a lifetime right to both health care and education. While Cuba has enormous problems, the Cuban government’s commitment to the defense of woman’s rights sets it apart from the consistent policies in this country that are hostile to woman’s rights. This state of affairs came about because Cuba had a revolution that overturned capitalist relations.
It is clear that the only way women will continue to have the right to control their bodies is if people stand up to defend this right, and work to roll back all the efforts aimed at compromising a woman’s right to abortion. Without this right, there is no women’s liberation. Without the liberation of women, humanity is not capable of moving forward.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
A film directed by Wayne Kramer starring Harrison Ford
Last evening I viewed Crossing Over, a 2009 film that gives a series of glimpses into the lives of people who live in the United States, but are not legal citizens. Today there are eleven million people living in the United States who were born in other countries and do not have documentation required by the government. Although this film is a work of fiction, all the events are based on the real life experiences of immigrants in this country.
One Mexican woman in the film was caught up in an INS raid and deported. Her son was left in this country without a mother. In order to provide for her family this woman needed to return to the United States and died in the desert in her attempt to re-enter. In the year 2009, 417 people died a similar death attempting to enter this country.
A young girl probably from Africa was sent to a detention center after her mother passed away. She was held in this center for immigrant children indefinitely.
An Australian woman was coerced into having sex with an immigration official in order to obtain a green card.
A girl who might have been a fourteen year old high school student from the Middle East gave a report in her class about September 11. While she was opposed to the September 11 bombings, she argued that these bombings were caused by people who responded to the repressive conditions in Palestine and Iraq. The principal of her school informed the FBI about this student’s report. A judge signed a warrant to search this student’s home. The FBI then ordered this student to be deported along with her mother. Never was there any allegation that any laws had been broken.
This year the administration of President Barack Obama has a goal of deporting more immigrants than ever before in history. With 393,000 deportations the Obama administration has already reached its goal.
There was another 2008 film titled Under the Same Moon which had a similar theme as Crossing Over. This was the story of nine-year old Carlos who traveled from Mexico to Los Angeles, California, so he could live with his mother. There was one scene in this film that I found particularly striking. The scene was of two Los Angeles police officers attempting to arrest young Carlos for sleeping on a park bench.
Seeing that scene, I thought of Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail. At the time several people criticized King for violating the law in his protests against the system of Jim Crow segregation. They argued that King should be “patient” and that things would change eventually. King gave the following reason for why he was not going to be patient. He wrote about the time his daughter asked him if she could play in a local amusement park called Fun Town. King then went on to write about how he and his daughter felt about the fact that she was not allowed to play in Fun Town because she was Black. This was one of King’s reasons for why he was not patient and chose to break the law in the struggle to abolish Jim Crow.
I would say that there must also be at least 11 million people that are impatient about change that needs to take place with respect to the immigrant laws in this country. They would like children like young Carlos to be able to play in the parks of this country, just as Martin Luther King wanted his daughter to have the right to play in Fun Town.
Before I viewed the film Crossing Over I saw an interview with Angela Davis on the news show Democracy Now. Davis is promoting a new edition of Frederick Douglass’ autobiography.
Anyone who is familiar with the life of Frederick Douglass knows that he did not always abide by the laws of this country. Douglass was born Frederick Bailey, and violated the law at the age twelve when he learned to read. At that time it was illegal for slaves to learn to read. At the age of 19 he broke the law again and escaped slavery. He changed his name to Frederick Douglass to avoid the slave catchers who would have sent him back to slavery. When he wrote his autobiography, Douglass needed to leave the United States and moved to Britain because his autobiography was clear evidence that he was an escaped slave who was living in violation of the law. Douglass only returned to the US when his supporters purchased his freedom from a slave owner.
Angela Davis had her own problems with the law. California Governor and future President Ronald Regan openly supported firing Davis from her job as college professor because of her political views. At that time, Davis and the Los Angeles police department felt she needed to be defended from the numerous threats to her life. One of Davis’s weapons was used in a crime and Angela Davis was placed on the most wanted list of criminals by the FBI. She was incarcerated for sixteen months before she was found not guilty of any crime.
During this interview Davis stated that today there are more African Americans in prison, parole, or probation than there were slaves before the Civil War. In fact, if we read the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which abolishes slavery in this country, we will find an exception. According to the Thirteenth Amendment, slavery is acceptable in cases of penal servitude.
Today Davis advocates for the abolition of the prison system. She argues that the prison system is not about supporting the interests of workers, but is used to stifle descent in this country. We might also argue that the immigration laws that deny working people from other counties Constitutional rights in the United States are also used to stifle descent. In both instances the law is used to prevent the lowest paid workers from attaining legal rights that could be used to allow them to struggle for better conditions.
Every year on the fourth of July there is a national holiday celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While the signers of the Declaration did not support giving rights to slaves, women, Native Americans, or men who did not own land, they did support immigration. One of the reasons given for the revolution in the Thirteen Colonies in this Declaration was that the King of England restricted immigration. This is what the Declaration of Independence said about one problem which provoked revolution:
“He has endeavored to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners. . .”
In the following passages of the Declaration of Independence we get a better idea of what the revolutionaries who created the United States had in mind:
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, That all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such principles. . .”
“Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their Future Security.”
When we look at the reality of the life of Frederick Douglass, the theft of land from Native Americans, the gross disparities in income from rich to poor, from Black to white, from women to men, as well as the treatment of immigrant workers, as well as the growing unemployment we are exposed to, the above words have a bit of relevancy. These words were not just relevant in 1776 but also can be used today.
I will end this review with a quotation by Frederick Douglass:
“The struggle may be a moral one,
or it may be a physical one,
and it may be both moral and physical,
but it must be a struggle.
Power concedes nothing without a demand.
It never did and it never will.
Find out just what any people will quietly submit to
and you have found out the exact measure
of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them,
and these will continue
till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”
The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, Volume II, P. 104
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Capitalism and Hunger
Every year the Philadelphia Inquirer has editorials that criticize the fact that tens of millions of people in this country go to bed hungry. This year the Inquirer ran an in depth article by Alfred Lubrano titled Portrait of Hunger. The Inquirer followed this article up with another editorial and argued that, “Far too many kids go to school hungry. For many children, a free meal at school could be their only food of the day.”
These articles and editorials failed to mention the most relevant facts concerning hunger in the United States. The facts are that the food that could be used to feed 34 million hungry people in this country has already been paid for. If this is the case, then why are there hungry people in this country, and why do so-called journalists fail to mention this fact when they write about hunger in this country? In order to answer this question we need to look at the facts.
Supermarkets and restaurants routinely purchase more food than these enterprises need. This means that routinely throwing out huge quantities of food is a routine expense of doing business. Therefore feeding hungry people would not cost any additional money. If you are scratching your head after reading this, there’s more.
Food production in this country is limited in order to keep prices high. Most farmers feel that they need high prices in order to barely meet their expenses. However, the money the farmer receives is only a small percentage of the price the consumer pays at the supermarket for food. If food was produced for human needs and not for profits, the prices for food would plummet and the farmers would live better than they ever lived before.
We can also generalize and say that health care for everyone in this country has also been paid for. The facts are that the United States pays significantly more for health care per person than any other nation in the world. Yet, other countries have nationalized systems where people have a right to health care. Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the United States but spends a tiny percentage of the money that the US spends on health care per capita. Every Cuban has a lifetime right to health care.
When the newspapers argue that we are in an economic crisis, they never mention that there is no shortage of goods or workers who are willing and able to provide us with everything we need and want. In fact recessions and depressions happen because there are more commodities on the market than there are people willing to purchase those commodities. This means that in the capitalist system overproduction is the root cause of scarcity. This doesn’t mean that people have what we need. In the capitalist system, people can only have what we need when capitalists are maximizing profits.
We might also consider all of the things the government and corporations spend money on while 34 million people live in hunger.
· The city of Philadelphia has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in tax abatements. Most of these abatements enable some of the most affluent people in the region to refrain from paying taxes.
· The Philadelphia city government has given more hundreds of millions of dollars to the affluent in the form of money for sports complexes and the Convention Center.
· More millions are given away to the affluent in Philadelphia and other cities in interest payments on municipal bonds.
· The federal government under democratic and republican administrations has given away hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus money while unemployment has skyrocketed.
· Every year corporations pay out tens of trillions of dollars in advertisements in an effort to show how supposedly wonderful their commodities are.
· Every year more trillions are spent on interest to banks. This money in no way directly contributes to the production or distribution of commodities.
When corporate officers, politicians, journalists, or university professors argue that there is no money to profoundly improve the standard of living for everyone, we can recite the above information. Clearly the resources have been available for quite a long time to eliminate poverty in the world. It is clear that as long as we have governments that support the capitalist system, poverty will reside right next to those who live in opulence. Only a government of working people that believes that human needs are more important than profits can bring reason into politics. As the economic crisis deepens more and more people will be open to this kind of alternative.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Women and the Continuing Transformation of Humanity
We live in an environment
which continually informs us
that there is something
wrong with humanity.
They tell us that there are genuinely
evil people out there
We see the lists
of these crimes
in the newspapers.
argue that we need armies
and police forces
to protect us against these evil people.
They tell us that this is just
and that things
have always been this way.
They tell us that the one
progressive force in society is the family.
If all else fails, we can rely
on the family for support and this is the way it has always been.
What those who have power never tell us is,
What is the real
story of human history?
This poem will attempt to begin to answer that question.
We are the descendants of animals.
Animals who cared for their young,
but, at times,
killed and ate their young.
We are the descendants
of male animals who fought,
and, at times killed one another
in order to have access to females.
This is because males are, at times,
a small minority where groups of animals live.
However, rape never happens
in the animal world.
Humanity changed these relationships.
First there were hoards or clans
where all members of the clan
protected one another.
Sex was not allowed within the clan
and all relations came through the mother.
Uncles were the men
who helped to raise the children of the mother.
Although women were always the physically weaker sex,
collectively women were the ones who pioneered the changes
that allowed humanity to do skilled work in a social environment
and advance from the animal world.
The concept of natural death was unknown.
All deaths were attributed to humans or animals from the outside.
Therefore everyone from other clans
were seen as enemies.
This included the fathers of all children.
Eventually fathers would have to
prove themselves to the mother-in-law
in order to marry the daughter.
As time went by this state of affairs became impractical.
People gave worthless gifts
to those from the other clans who accepted those gifts.
Fathers now became outsiders.
During these years men were the hunters
and women did most of the rest of the work.
Women were the first doctors, construction workers,
farmers, ship builders, and scientists.
During these years, women needed to carry heavy loads
of water, construction materials, food, as well as an infant.
This was not seen as drudgery,
but as a deeply appreciated contribution to society.
During these years biological fatherhood was unknown.
People were not interested in who biological fathers were.
Children played sexual games
and adults thought this was natural.
Men lived in the home of the mother’s clan
and if the wife or mother wanted a divorce,
she simply placed the fathers things
outside of her home.
The words mine and yours were not known.
All things were shared by all.
When someone received a gift,
everyone expected to share in the use of that gift.
Food was divided equally amongst all.
The idea of fighting each other
for morsels of food
was seen as something only animals did.
During these years, in many areas of the world,
humanity experienced a relatively care-free existence.
Everyone contributed to the welfare of all,
and individuals didn’t worry about paying bills.
This wasn’t always an easy process.
At times men murdered their children
to avoid conflicts with other clans.
This was better than war.
Then the world changed.
Men began to trade cattle for wives.
The wife and child now belonged to the father.
There was no more reason to murder children.
Uncles lost their right to raise their sister’s children.
Fathers, for the first time in human history,
became the ones who were responsible
for their children.
However, women lost their independence
and became tied to their husbands.
The ancient Greeks had the myth of Orestes where Orestes
murdered his mother and the social relations of the world were transformed.
However, humanity, at this time,
still did not know
that there was such
a thing as biological fatherhood.
Even as late as the Egyptian Empire,
heredity came through the mother.
The queen ruled with her brother,
but had children with her husband, not her brother.
In other words, fatherhood, the family
and even private property are relatively
new inventions in the 150,000 years
of human history.
When Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere,
they came with the ideas of private property and the family.
The Native American could not understand why
European men abused women.
They could not understand what private property was,
or why the European was
so adamant about taking
the land they had lived on for centuries.
Today people who have power continue to
insist that we need to defend the idea of
private property, the family, and the state.
They refuse to even consider the reality of our history.
As the crisis in the world becomes more and more deplorable,
humanity will discover that during most of our history
women were treated with the utmost respect
and private property wasn’t even known to exist.
When humanity makes this discovery,
We will transform the world into a place
Where there is liberty. justice,
and human dignity for all.
Most of the ideas in this poem come from Evelyn Reed’s book: “Woman’s Evolution – from matriarchal clan to patriarchal family.” Published by Pathfinder press