Saturday, March 25, 2017

Malcolm X and the road to liberation

He was born in a nation
that claimed to represent
liberty and justice for all.
But there were a few exceptions.

Young Malcolm Little was Black.
The Jim Crow laws effectively said,
that Black people had no rights.
They also claimed that this system was a democracy.

Malcolm’s parents supported
the ideas of Marcus Mosiah Garvey
who argued that Black people
have a rich history to be proud of.

Garvey looked at the world he lived in
and felt that Black people
would only gain control of their lives
on the mother continent; Africa.

Malcolm’s parents moved to Nebraska and Michigan
to spread the message Garvey promoted.
But those in power liked things as they were,
and a mob lynched Malcolm’s father, Earl Little.

Earl Little was one of thousands
of Black people who were lynched in this country.
The government was not interested in prosecuting the murderers,
because Black people, effectively, had no rights in this country.

The insurance company ruled the lynching of
Earl Little to be a suicide.
So, both the government and the insurance company
became accomplices in the murder of Earl Little.

Malcolm and his seven brothers and sisters
were placed in foster homes.
Eventually Malcolm went to Boston
to live with a relative.

Malcolm was the smartest student in his class
and had dreams of becoming a lawyer.
But his teacher said he needed to be “realistic”
about being the n—word, and a lawyer wasn’t a job for an n—word.

Malcolm gravitated to what was known as the “ghetto” section of Roxbury.
He said, “That world of grocery stores, walk-up flats,
cheap restaurants, poolrooms, bars, storefront churches, and pawnshops
seemed to hold a natural lure for me. 
Not only was this part of Roxbury much more exciting,

but I felt more relaxed among Negroes
who were being their natural selves and not putting on airs.”
Since he was denied equal rights, he became something similar
to a corporate lawyer, he became a thief.

When the police arrested him,
Malcolm was seeing a white woman.
The judge didn’t like this,
and gave Malcolm a harsher sentence.

While in prison Malcolm began to educate himself
and read all the books he could get his hands on.
His family introduced Malcolm
to the ideas of Elijah Mohammed.

Elijah Mohammed said: “As long as we are not allowed
to establish a state or territory of our own,
we demand not only equal justice under the laws of the United States,
but equal employment opportunities—NOW!

“We do not believe that after 400 years of free or nearly free labor, sweat and blood, which has helped America become rich and powerful,
that so many thousands of black people
should have to subsist on relief, charity, or live in poor houses.”   

Those ideas were similar to the teachings of Marcus Garvey,
and Malcolm became a member of the Nation of Islam.
After his release from prison,
Malcolm became a leader of the NOA.

At that time there were many Black people
who became enraged by the system
that refused to give them the equal rights
of human beings.

Malcolm X understood this attitude well and argued:
“Being here in America doesn’t make you an American.
Why, if birth made you an American, you wouldn’t need any legislation,
you wouldn’t need any amendments to the Constitution.”

“Don’t let anybody tell you that the odds are against you.
If they draft you, they send you to Korea
and make you face 800 million Chinese.
If you can be brave over there, you can be brave right here.”

“Expand the civil-rights struggle to the level of human rights,
take it to the United Nations, where our African brothers
can throw their weight on our side, where our Asian brothers
can throw their weight on our side.

Malcolm supported the second amendment of the Constitution and said:
“where the government has proven itself either unwilling or unable
to defend the lives and property of Negros,
its time for Negros to defend themselves.”

When the police beat two members of the Nation of Islam
Malcolm organized the Fruit of Islam and the Harlem community.
This demonstration forced the police to send Johnson Hinton to the hospital.
He would receive $70,000 as a result of a lawsuit.

When the press asked Malcolm about the assassination of
President John F. Kennedy, he said:
“that the hate in white men
had not stopped with the killing of defenseless black people,

but that hate, allowed to spread unchecked,
finally struck down this country’s Chief of State. 
I said it was the same thing as had happened with
Medgar Evers, with Patrice Lummumba.”

This statement along with other issues
caused Malcolm to split from Elijah Mohammed,
and he formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity
This was one of the activities the organization proposed.

“We propose to support rent strikes. 
Yes, not little, small rent strikes in one block. 
We’ll make Harlem a rent strike. 
We’ll get every black man in this city;

the Organization of Afro-American Unity
won’t stop until there’s not a black man in the city not on strike. 
Nobody will pay rent.  The whole city will come to a halt. 
And they can’t put all of us in jail because they’ve already got the jails full of us.”

Malcolm viewed the struggle for the liberation of Black people
to be a part of an international struggle.
At that time there were revolutionary struggles erupting around the world.
This is what Malcolm had to say about the Vietnamese revolution:

“The French were deeply entrenched for a hundred years or so. 
They had the best weapons of warfare, a highly mechanized army,
everything that you would need, 
and the guerrillas came out of the rice paddies

with nothing but sneakers on and a rifle and a bowl of rice,
nothing but gym shoes—tennis shoes—and a rifle and a bowl of rice, 
And you know what they did in Dien Bien Phu.  They ran the French out of there.  And if the French were deeply entrenched and couldn’t stay there, then how do you think someone else is going to stay there, who isn’t even there yet?”

When the Cuban revolutionaries came to New York,
Malcolm arranged for them to stay at Harlem’s Theresa Hotel.
There he met with Fidel Castro
and they discussed the prospects for liberation.

Malcolm visited nations throughout Africa
and met with leaders who had years of experience
fighting against colonialism.
They discussed how the struggles in Africa and America were intertwined.

He argued that he wasn’t about teaching people about their oppression.
No, but when you teach people about
their heritage, their humanity, and their worth as human beings,
then you’ll get action.

People have learned much from the life of Malcolm X.
We have a lot more that we can learn.
He will forever be the light that shows us how we can achieve liberation

“By any means necessary.”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Celia Sánchez—an organizer of the Cuban Revolution

She was raised in Pilón,
a small town in the province
of Oriente, Cuba.
Her mother died when she was a child.

Her father, Manuel Sánchez,
came from an affluent family
and became a medical doctor.
He also raised Celia, her brothers and sisters.

Unlike most doctors in Cuba at that time,
Dr. Manuel Sánchez treated
those who could not pay.
Many of these were the ones who the cut sugar cane.

His patients suffered from having bad teeth,
to tuberculosis, to malnutrition,
to gunshot or knife wounds, or the effects of alcoholism.
He also delivered the babies.

Celia became her father’s assistant.
She leaned the names, illnesses, and problems of all the patients.
She joined her father making house calls
on horseback riding into the mountains.

She made sure that on the day of the Kings holiday,
that every child had a present.
This became her mission,
and the people loved her.

She liked to read the fashion magazines,
and wore bright red lipstick.
Even after the Revolution triumphed
she wore high heels with her fatigues.

Her father taught Celia about Cuban history
He taught her to appreciate the beauty of the mountains.
He taught her how to do deep-sea fishing.
At night, on the beech, with her friends, she ate her catch of the day under the stars. 

Where she lived, the rural guards had absolute power.
They could take whatever they wanted.
They raped women,
and resistance was met with torture or death.

Celia had supported political campaigns
aimed at making meaningful change.
These efforts failed,
Then, Celia found out about the July 26 Movement.

She discovered that she needed to change
from being an independent woman,
into a disciplined revolutionary,
who strictly followed orders.

Initially her leader was Frank País.
But life in the city became increasingly dangerous
and government forces murdered País.
Sixty-thousand attended his funeral in Santiago.

These forces arrested Celia.
Her fate would have been almost certain torture and death.
But she saw an opportunity and escaped,
hiding in the cover of the marabu

Celia then joined Fidel and the revolutionaries in the Sierra Maestra.
She was a small woman,
but managed to march
for many miles each day in the mountains.

Then, she looked for the children who needed medical attention.
She spoke with the patents asking for their permission,
so revolutionary doctors could treat the young ones.
She also asked the revolutionary priests to preside over weddings.

The forces of repression had tremendous resources.
They used aircraft in a relentless effort
to find the revolutionaries.
But they failed.

Celia organized the construction of a small town in the mountains,
that served the needs of the revolution.
The town was hidden by a canopy of trees.
From this base, the revolution advanced.

Although the army of the people was outnumbered
and had fewer resources,
their spirit became more powerful
than those who were motivated by money.

One of her first acts as a leader of
the revolutionary Cuban government
was to airlift toys to the children of the Sierra.
She had not forgotten them.

When Cuba was attacked by mercenaries
supported by the United States at Playa Girón,
Celia played a prominent role
in defending the island.

She brought many of the campesinos
from the Sierra to Havana
where they learned skills
and improved their lives.

The women received new clothes,
makeup, and hairdos
at the beauty parlors.
Yes, this was a new day.

From the beginning Celia and the revolutionaries
understood the importance of health care and education.
Today, Cuba probably has more doctors and teachers
per capita than any other nation in the world.

We might consider that the United Nations
estimates that about 30,000 children die every day
due to preventable diseases.
Cuba has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.

Celia Sánchez, along with Vilma Espin, and Haydee Santamaria
are examples of how women
have the potential to organize
to transform the world.

Today, more and more working people
see instability of the world.
Celia Sánchez taught us that we can work to build

a world where human needs are more important than profits.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A History of Immigration and Migration in the United States

Today President Trump is saying that he will ramp up the deportation of immigrants who are living in the United States.  We might look at this statement in a bit of context.  President Obama deported over 2.5 million people from this country.  That number amounts to over 900 for every day he was in office. 

We might also consider that President George W. Bush deported about two million people.  Between the years 1892 and 1997 the United States government deported 2.1 million people.  So, Presidents Bush and Obama more than doubled the number of deportees in this country in just sixteen years.

There are workers who are justifiably enraged by these deportations.  Many of those who were deported have children who were born in this country.  When the parents are deported, the children are sent to foster care where they might never see their parents again.

In order to place these deportations in perspective, I believe we need to look at a bit of history.  I will start with a story of the first people who lived in this part of the world.

The Indian Removal Act—1830

In the year 1800 the Cherokee nation owned 53,000 acres in the states of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.  The Cherokee call themselves the Tsalagi, and had a highly developed culture.  They had their own written language, their own newspapers, businesses, and homes. 

Then, in the year 1830 the United States government adopted the Indian Removal Act.  This law required all Indian nations to leave their homelands and move to what is now the state of Oklahoma.

The Cherokee appealed the Indian Removal Act in the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee and, in effect, reversed the Indian Removal Act.

President Andrew Jackson was a slave owner who wanted Native American lands to be turned into slave labor camps.  Jackson refused to defend the Supreme Court decision and allowed the state of Georgia to remove the Cherokee from their homelands.

An armed force then required the Cherokee to migrate nearly 1,000 miles to what is now the state of Oklahoma.  Of the 15,000 Cherokee who left their homeland, about 4,000 died on this forced march known as the Trail of Tears. 

The treaty that gave the Cherokee land in Oklahoma said that they could have that land “forever.”  However, after the Civil War this same land was given away to settlers moving west.

However, not all of the First Nations of this country left their homelands peacefully.  The Seminole carried out three wars in the defense of their homeland in Florida.  The Seminole included escaped slaves who found shelter from the slave owners in Florida.  About 1,500 soldiers in the United States army lost their lives in these wars.  The Seminole who refused to surrender became known as The Unconquered Ones.

The Fugitive Slave Act—1793 & 1850

The most valuable so-called commodities before the Civil War were human beings known as slaves.  These slaves produced about three-quarters of the income of this country during those years.  In fact, the enormous financial wealth of this country has its roots in the system of slave labor.  The slaves as well as their descendants never received compensation for this immensely valuable work.

Because this system of slave labor was central to the economy of this country the government passed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1793.  This act required states to apprehend escaped slaves and send them back to the owners.  Interfering with the apprehension of escaped slaves became a crime. 

This law led to the kidnapping of many free blacks who were sent into slavery.  Solomon Northup gave a personal account of his kidnapping in his book Twelve Years a Slave.

However, the Fugitive Slave Law was extremely unpopular in the northern states and few wanted to cooperate with the apprehension of slaves.  This is why another Fugitive Slave Act was passed in the year 1850.  This law increased the penalties for not cooperating with the apprehension of escaped slaves.

However, this law was also largely ineffective.  From 1850 to 1860 only 330 escaped slaves had been apprehended.

It took the Civil War to abolish the Fugitive Slave Act.  About 350,000 Union soldiers died in the war that abolished slavery.  Many of the buildings in the South were destroyed.  The clear reason for this immense destruction was to convince those who supported the slave owners that they had absolutely no chance of winning the war.

Today we might keep in mind that most immigrants in this country come from Mexico.  The Mexican people are largely of Native American descent.  Wages in Mexico range from ten dollars per day.  The drive to deport hundreds of immigrants from this country every day can be seen as similar to both the fugitive slave act, as well as the trail of tears.  

The Great Migration

In 1900 nine out of every ten Black people in this country lived in the southern states.  Three out of every four lived on farms.  By 1970 only 50% of all Blacks in this country lived in the South and only 25% lived in rural areas.  This change reflected the fact that between 1916 – 1970 six million Black people moved out of the South.  This dramatic change is known as The Great Migration.

One result of the Civil war was the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution that outlawed chattel slavery.  Reconstruction governments came into being after the Civil War.  These governments put in place numerous democratic reforms aimed at improving the standard of living.  One of these reforms was to teach Blacks and caucasians how to read.

The federal government didn’t like these reforms and made a deal that removed union soldiers from the former confederate states.  White supremacist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan took advantage of this deal and worked to militarily overthrow the reconstruction governments.

The Supreme Court supported the new segregationist governments with their Plessey v. Ferguson verdict.  This decision, in effect, reversed the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution that presumably gave all citizens full rights in this country.

As a result of these actions Black people lost citizenship rights in this country.  There were thousands of lynchings where racist mobs murdered thousands of Blacks people as well as some caucasians.  The federal government rarely, if ever, attempted to prosecute these murderers.

These were the conditions that motivated six million Black people to leave their homes in the southern states.  In the north and in California, Black people had the opportunity to triple their income doing the horrendous work of factory production.  While the discrimination in the North wasn’t usually as vicious as in the South, institutionalized discrimination was, and continues to be, a routine fact of life.

The working class mobilizes

Before the Second World War, working people routinely experienced poverty.  Working long hours at dangerous jobs was the norm.  Incomes were such that hunger was a normal fact of life.  Education, as well as health care, were things only the affluent could afford.  In order to make ends meet, working parents told young children to toil in factories.

The labor movement experienced sixty years of strikes and most of those strikes ended in defeats.  One of the reasons for these defeats was the fact that many of the so-called labor leaders refused to support strikes that could have resulted in victories.

Then, in the year 1934 three strikes erupted in the midst of the depression.  These strikes gained widespread support.  The owners of corporations feared these strikes.  They had seen how the Russian Revolution of 1917 put in place a workers government that confiscated corporations and placed them under workers control.  So, these three strikes won victories.  As a result, millions of workers also went on strike and won union recognition.

After the Second World War workers discovered that their sacrifices during the war only won them meager wages at grueling jobs.  Another strike wave erupted.  Hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike and entire industries shut down.  These strikes not only won union recognition, but a significant improvement in the standard of living for working people.

The Civil Rights movement and the rebellions continue the struggle

The labor movement learned from its earliest struggles that it needed to stridently oppose racial discrimination.  If the labor movement failed to take this position, corporations were prepared to use Black workers as scabs during strikes.  This would have made any meaningful organizing impossible.

A. Philip Randolph was a leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.  One of his most ardent supporters was E.D. Nixon who was the President of the NAACP chapter in Montgomery, Alabama.  Nixon was one of the leaders of the 381 day Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Rosa Parks was his secretary.  Nixon was the one who recruited Reverend Martin Luther King to support this boycott that began in 1955.

The civil rights movement became so powerful, the government felt the need to reverse itself and outlaw the Jim Crow legislation that effectively denied Black people citizenship rights.  However, outlawing Jim Crow segregation clearly didn’t end the institutionalized discrimination that continues to this day.

Black people who lived in the northern cities experienced this institutionalized discrimination.  The issue of routine police brutality sparked rebellions in all of the major cities in the United States in the 1960s.

The owners of capital are the people who have power in this country.  These people and their supporters viewed the civil rights movement and the rebellions and understood that they needed to make changes.  They worked to recruit many of the leaders of the civil rights movement to the Democratic Party.  Many also supported affirmative action programs that gave Black people educational and employment opportunities that hadn’t been available in the past.

The other side to the ruling class reaction

Corporations are in business to maximize profits on investments.  Because of the routine functioning of the capitalist system, the percent of profit on investments declines over time.  For this reason, capitalist managers are routinely obsessed with cutting costs and selling more and more commodities.  This seeming contradiction leads to an unavoidable crisis of capitalism.

 So, when working people began to see our standard of living improve, corporations viewed this as harmful to their bottom line.  The corporate response to these developments took several forms.

Corporations made massive investments in nations where workers were paid about two dollars per day or less.  As a result, much of the manufacturing in the world comes out of China.  Bangladesh has become a garment center where workers are paid about one dollar per day.  However, manufacturing enterprises today operate throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

One result of these measures has been that many manufacturing jobs have literally left the country.  It is possible that over 300 million jobs have been eliminated in the United States since the 1970s.  Most of these jobs have been replaced with jobs that have effectively lower wages and fewer benefits.

Corporations also worked to recruit immigrants to the United States.  Entire enterprises like agriculture, meatpacking, garment, and restaurants rely on immigrant labor.  Highly skilled jobs in medicine, research and development also depend on immigrant labor.

We might also keep in mind that under the system of Jim Crow segregation Black people had no real citizenship rights in this country.  Today immigrant workers have no citizenship rights.  These measures are aimed at keeping the wages of all workers down.

The prison population in the United States has skyrocketed.  Today the United States has more prisoners than any other nation in the world.  Corporations also profit from prisoners, paying them just a few dollars per day for work that is highly profitable.  At the same time, the government is paying tens of thousands of dollars every year to maintain each prisoner.

A political movement that can transform the world

There are two conclusions that we can draw from the corporate actions that I’ve described.  One is that the capitalist system is heading for a complete disaster.  When President Trump says that he wants to invest in the infrastructure of this country, he forgets to mention a few things. 

Corporations have made massive investments, to the tune of thousands of trillions of dollars in derivatives.  They have made these investments because they don’t believe that investing in manufacturing is profitable.  Without capitalist investment, banks will close their doors and there will be another depression.

The other conclusion is that there is an enormous amount of wealth produced in the world today.  This wealth might be used to eliminate poverty, if a workers government held power.  Instead of investing in banks, insurance companies, and advertising agencies, a workers government would make the needs of working people its top priority.

In order for this to become a possibility, we need to view all working people all over the world as one international working class.  Any effort to undermine the rights of immigrants, Black people, women, or workers and farmers from other nations undermines the interests of every worker.

When working people create an international movement that advances all of our rights, those capitalists who profit off of our labor will be unable to stop the advance of history.