- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Monday, 12 January 2015 13:16
- Written by Joseph Ramsey
"Examining the theory, practice, and rhetorical strategies of Assata Shakur's powerful autobiography, ASSATA, this essay from a Kasama supporter reflects on Assata's text as an exemplary work of revolutionary pedagogy, a work that relates radical and revolutionary ideas to concrete experiences, and represents the revolutionary project in ways that are both bold and yet relatable to wide sectors of the people. This story of how revolutionaries who are also educators can provoke discussion using accessible and inspiring radical texts helps contextualize the process of developing revolutionary consciousness.A version of this article appears at Red Wedge. Part one can be viewed on Kasama here.
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“I was a puppet, and I didn’t even know who was pulling the strings.”
Assata’s long line of social self-criticism starts in the living room, with a discussion of Television, and how watching it as a child led her to internalize dominant images of beauty, domesticity, and (white) middle class normativity, so pervasive and insidious in 1950s America. Shakur harshly recounts her unsympathetic and judgmental attitude towards her own mother for “failing” to recreate the middle-class consumer ideal as depicted on TV. “Why didn’t my mother have freshly baked cookies ready when i came home from school?” she writes, “Why didn’t we live in a house with a backyard and a front yard instead of an ole apartment? I remember looking at my mother as she cleaned the house in her old raggedy housecoat with her hair in curlers. ‘How disgusting,’ i would think. Why didn’t she clean the house in high heels and shirtwaist dresses like they did on television” (37). She shows her younger self to be an ingrate and a complainer, an unfair judge of her working-class, single mother. “I was a puppet,” Shakur reflects later, “and i didn’t even know who was pulling the strings” (38).
At the same time, Shakur frames this embarrassing self-critique as a social commentary on the cultural apparatus that enabled and encouraged her anti-social and deluded ideology. It was not something she came to “on her own”; she is both an object and a subject in this process. In framing matters so, Assata not only offers a model of humility and self-critique, she targets particular – and pervasive — social institutions and ideologies in such a way as to welcome readers to interrogate (and perhaps confront and transcend) the influence of these same institutions and ideologies in their own lives. The influence of mass media commodification and consumer ideology, of course, is as pervasive today as ever, making her discussions all the more relevant to contemporary readers.
A particularly memorable self-critical exposure comes soon after this, with Shakur’s account of how, as a child, she publicly denigrated her close friend—and would-be boyfriend — Joe, a boy she honestly likes. She tells off Joe, stating that he is “too black and ugly” to ever date. The young Joanne does this to avoid the scorn of peers, who make fun of Joe at school as looking like a “black frog.” “I will never forget the look on his face,” Shakur writes, reflecting on her own opportunistic complicity. “He looked at me with such cold hatred that I was stunned. I felt so ugly and dirty and depraved. I was shaken to the bone. For weeks, maybe months afterward, I was haunted by what happened that day, the snakes that had crawled out of my mouth. There was nothing I could do but change myself. Not for him, but for me” (72). Across the board, students were moved by this moment, as well as by Assata’s later historical and theoretical reflections on how such internalization of racism and black-on-black dehumanization can be traced all the way back to habits and rituals forcibly imposed on Black people in the context of plantation slavery. Again, Assata’s (self-)critical reflection on a particular bad practice is tied to an argument that foregrounds the larger structural and institutional forces at work through these practices. In the process, the text offers us living proof of how important a grasp of history and of social power relations can be for a critical navigation of everyday life, even as it also lays the basis for imagining an inclusive and welcoming political collectivity, one that will include not just those subjects who have somehow (allegedly) come through racist-imperialist, patriarchal capitalism unscathed, but also, crucially, those who have been in various ways damaged by this process, even to the point of victimizing others. Shakur presents herself as having been ensnared in the very contradictory net that traps so many others, and that she is working to escape, and to shred for good. By connecting, contextualizing and politicizing the “personal” wounds that the system has inflicted on herself and on others (including those wounds that she has helped to inflict on others!), Assata challenges readers to refuse the divide and conquer strategies — both ideological and repressive — that serve ruling class-ends, by turning people with so much in common against one another, and against themselves. Shakur’s narrative shows us how humble yet bold reflection can transform what turns us against one another into what unites us, laying the basis for building a common, revolutionary strength.
Notably, in this early episode with young Joe, Shakur describes her participation in this black-on-black “colorism”without herself believing in it; her only drive is to “desperately be one of the pack” (71). In pursuing this goal, Joanne harms not only Joe, but herself, insofar as she and her family both have grown fond of Joe’s innocent flirtations and affections. Thus, in a manner that once again welcomes readers into parallel self-interrogations,Assata’s self-critique extends from the phenomenon of internalized racism (in particular, racism within the oppressed community) to the broader practice of succumbing to peer pressure, cynically going along with the dominant fashion, even when at some level one knows better.
As Shakur puts it later, provocatively, if in a different context: “Everything is a lie in amerika…the thing that keeps it going is that so many people believe the lie” (158). Shakur’s account of denigrating young Joe shows us that it is not necessary for people — be they kids or adults — to actually believe the “lie” in order keep to that lie going; all that is necessary is to act as if one believes. Objective belief — and the reproduction of ideology — does not require subjective sincerity, but only a cynical going through the motions, a willingness to stifle one’s own true(r) feelings and thoughts for the sake of keeping up appearances, and avoiding conflict with other “believers.” Adding to the tragic irony here, but also laying further basis for revolutionary rupture, is the distinct possibility that those “believers” whom one fears offending are themselves not sincere subjects of the bad ideology (racism, colorism, etc), but are equally cynical — which is also to say cowardly — participants in the performance of a ritual that they don’t “really believe” in either. The revolutionary hope here lies in the potential implied by this shallow shell of cynical conformity; once one of these tight-packed eggs cracks…others may quickly do the same.
Later, in a more overtly political vein, Shakur discloses how she was spurred toward rethinking her views of “America” and its foreign policy, in 1964, before the anti-war movement really blew up, not first by her own studies, but by being publicly embarrassed, confronted with her own ignorance — and her cynical parroting of half-baked ideology. Fancying herself “an intellectual” coming out of high school, she spouts off patriotically to a group of African students regarding the Vietnam War, saying that both the war and the broader American struggle of “Democracy” against “Communism” are “all right.” The African students leap to refute her. After hearing all the historical and political knowledge they bring to bear regarding French and US colonialism, corporate interests, and more, Shakur recalls that “my mind was blown.” Yet,” she adds:
I continued saying the first thing that came into my head: that the u.s. was fighting communists because they wanted to take over everything. When someone asked me what communism was, i opened my mouth to answer, then i realized i didn’t have the faintest idea. My image of a communist came from a cartoon.… The Africans rolled with laughter. I felt like a bona fide clown. (151)
Again, Shakur follows up this account with a more general reflection on her particular embarrassment, one that welcomes readers to apply her general insight to the texts of their own lives: “I never forgot that day,” she writes,
We’re taught at such an early age to be against the communists, yet most of us don’t have the faintest idea of what communism is. Only a fool lets somebody else tell him who his enemy is.… I never thought i could be so easily tricked into being against something that i didn’t understand. It’s got to be one of the most basic principles of living: always decide who your enemies are for yourself, and never let your enemies choose your enemies for you.
“After that,” she adds, “I began to read about what was happening in Vietnam” (152).
Obviously, as a wanted “terrorist” who continues to be subject to character assassination (and perhaps to actual assassination attempts) by the US government, Shakur’s warning about believing in “bogeymen,” and especially in “bogeymen” constructed by one’s enemies, resonates not only in relation to the issue of communism — though students were still sparked by this aspect — but also in relationship to her particular case, and, by extension, to the entire contemporary US discourse around “terrorism.” She implicitly asks readers to reflect critically on the extent to which the US government continues to do our thinking for us, deciding who is an “enemy” and who is not. She prompts readers to admit how they too, like the young Joanne, may at times have found themselves mouthing official ideologies that they don’t even understand — and how these very moments of cynical, quasi-robotic conformity may, if brought to consciousness, mark out fault-lines of potentially radical self-shattering. Being able to admit such embarrassing, complicit moments is key to Assata’s process of transformation, and to the effective radical pedagogy of her text. She models the humility and the courage of self-critical practice.
At a typographical level, Assata’s revolutionary humility is symbolized by her refusing the convention of capitalizing the first person singular, “i” throughout her book. In this way, Shakur sets off her narrative from more self-congratulatory accounts by self-proclaimed political “leaders,” including various “cults of personality” that afflicted so much of the New Left, and even the BPP itself. With this move, she refuses the mantle of individual heroism, suggesting that her “self” is but a moment in an evolving and collective process of constant, self-reflexive struggle and transformation. The “self” she has become was not something she was born into, or something that she herself determined through sheer will or wisdom, but a product of collective struggle. In bringing out the necessarily contradictory nature, and the transformative potential of both her own subjectivity and that of others — and of their mutual dependence — Assata provides us with an account of becoming revolutionary that is as relatable as it is radical, as humble as it is hopeful. It is, I believe, an exemplary mode of revolutionary self-representation for dark, cynical times like ours.
Assata’s Political Lessons
What makes Assata an outright revolutionary text, and not just a radical one, is that Shakur does not confine critical thinking to her own private or personal experiences, but applies it also to her self-consciously political, collective, outward-oriented activities, as an organizer in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, a member of the Black Panther Party, and a cadre in the Black Liberation Army. Her story of “personal” transformation is one that includes extended discussion of revolutionary theory and practice, strategy and tactics. Her rhetorical and pedagogical strategies, as detailed above, are of interest in themselves, for the humble-hopeful method they enact, but also because they function as effective means for stimulating broad and sustained engagement with radical and revolutionary “contents.”
A full discussion of the strictly political content of Assata’s autobiography falls beyond the scope of this essay. But her key insights include the following:
*We must be clear about what we mean by “revolution.” For Shakur this means “the revolutionary struggle of Black people had to be against racism, capitalism, imperialism and sexism and for real freedom under a socialist government” (197).
*We must define the enemy in a sharp yet open way. “One of the most important things the [Black Panther] Party did was to make it clear who the enemy was, not the white people, but the capitalist and imperialistic oppressors. They took the Black liberation movement out of a nationalist context and put it in an international context” (203).
*Colonialism is not just about race, but about class. Blacks can become oppressors and exploiters just as whites have (191).
*Being for racial equality or black liberation in the USA requires being anti-capitalist, for as long as there is a class hierarchy race will be used to justify and reproduce the exploitation at the bottom of it.
* Those who speak of “climbing the ladder of success” are accepting class inequality, a system with a “top” and a “bottom,” where some stand over others. Such “ladder” schemes are to be rejected (190).
*Multi-racial unity among and across oppressed and exploited groups is necessary for a revolutionary alliance that can win, but must be built upon the basis of independent strength within the Black revolutionary movement itself (and in the other oppressed groups as well), not by ceding leadership to others outside that community (192).
*Black (or any) nationalism that is not fundamentally internationalist is reactionary.
*There can be no revolutionary theory divorced from practice (180).
*Listening is primary, often more important than speaking. Many of the best “teachers” are to be found on the street, in prison, and in other unexpected places.
*Revolutionaries need to build and maintain close ties to the masses of people; the isolation of revolutionaries from the people is a great danger, and is one of the enemy’s primary goals (181).
*Revolutionaries cannot depend on dominant institutions (such as the existing educational structures) to do our work for us; new and independent institutions must be constructed, even as struggle is carried on within and around the existing ones.
*The movement for community control over schools and local resources quickly and necessarily raises the question of who controls economic and military power; serious mobilization for reform soon brings up the question of state power and of revolution, and of the need for something like a People’s Liberation Army (182-83).
*Such a People’s Liberation Army needs to be thought of as primarily political, secondarily military. “No people’s war can be won without the support of the masses of people. Armed struggle can never be successful by itself; it must be part of an overall strategy for winning, and the strategy must be political as well as military” (242).
*It is not enough to want to “rebel,” one must want to actually “win.” And to win, one must study so as to develop ascientific approach to making revolution possible. (242).
*Humility and Respect for the People is key, and must be a matter of daily practice; Leftist “revolutionary” arrogance is a major obstacle (218). “I hate arrogance whether it’s white or purple or Black,” Shakur writes, reflecting on a rude and foolish Panther cadre she encounters, “Some people let power go to their heads. They think that just because they have some kind of title in front of their name you’re supposed to bend over and kiss them on the ass.” As she elaborates: “The only great people I have met have been modest and humble. You can’t claim that you love people when you don’t respect them, and you can’t call for political unity unless you practice it in your relationships. And that doesn’t happen out of nowhere. That’s something that has got to be put into practice every day” (218).
*Effective revolutionary education means transforming “students” into teachers and “teachers” into students (189). Teacher-student hierarchies may become another form of oppression; restructuring pedagogical approaches can unlock hitherto untapped potential of what appear to be “bad” or resistant students.
*The process of creative, collective struggle itself can function as “medicine” for the people, as they emerge from the existing society with all their wounds and worries: “The more active I became the more I liked it. It was like medicine, making me well, making me whole” (189).
*Political education should meet people where they are at, through dialogue, and by speaking to questions that are on people’s minds, not through the imposition of dogmatic principles and phraseology, and should teach them their own history, not only the history of radical movements elsewhere. An awareness of history is crucial to breaking people from their old (bad) habits of slavish identification with their oppressors.
*The Black Panthers’ audacity captured the imagination of the masses, and drew many cadre to them, but this bold and provocative approach could turn into ahindrance when working among the people. As Shakur reports, “I preferred the polite and respectful manner in which civil rights workers and Black Muslims talked to the people rather than the arrogant, fuck-you style that used to be popular in New York. I said they cursed too much and turned off a lot of people who would otherwise be responsive to what the Party was saying” (204).
*Despite various problematic tendencies, many people in the BPP were sympathetic and responsive to such sharp internal criticisms; such an ability to absorb and encourage criticism and self-criticism must be a key feature of any healthy revolutionary organization.
*The cult of macho personality and martyrdom needs to be rejected, as does the macho approach that encourages non-strategic and non-viable direct confrontation with the state. As Assata paraphrases Mao’s writings on guerrilla warfare: “Retreat when the enemy is strong and attack when the enemy is weak” (227).
* Both the fear and the actuality of state infiltration, disruption, and repression pose real threats to maintaining the culture of revolutionary creativity, openness, and trust that is necessary to any healthy growing organization (231).
* Revolutionaries must work collectively and in a spirit of love to overcome inevitable and often acute differences and misunderstandings. A sectarian failure to reconnect and regroup on the basis of fundamental unities played a key role in the fragmentation and stagnation of the BPP.
*Criticism and Love are not mutually exclusive categories; criticism of other revolutionaries and of one’s own revolutionary organization should come from a place of seeking a new and better unity, which is not at all to say that such criticism should not be sharp, honest, and direct (232).
Assata’s political lessons take the form of criticism (and self-criticism) of tendencies within the radical movement in which she herself participated. She offers a number of criticisms of the BPP, its leadership, culture, and methods of work, while making clear her love for the organization, foregrounding her gratefulness for the way it “really opened my horizons a helluva lot,” and reminding readers of the important barriers to Party work created by COINTELPRO disruption and repression (221). But while recognizing the impact of massive state repression, Assata also reflects on practices that were within the BPP’s power to control. For instance, she asserts that the group — and the radical movement generally — tended to under-emphasize, in both theory and practice, the necessity of serious and mass political education. Further, she argues that even when it did happen, much of the educational work of the Black Panthers and other revolutionary groups was too dogmatic and too focused on conditions, texts, and experiences from elsewhere (such as in revolutionary Russia or China). As she puts it, “They were reading the Red Book, but didn’t know who Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, or Nat Turner were. They talked about intercommunalism but still really believed that the Civil War had been fought to free the slaves. A whole lot of them knew barely any kind of history, Black, African or otherwise” (221). She also laments that political education tended not to focus enough on spreading the tools of organizing beyond the main cadre. While giving a moving account of her participation in Panther breakfast programs and freedom schools, Shakur still laments how the BPP became isolated from the people, not only because of the vicious state attacks it faced, but because it failed to forge new roots with masses beyond the ranks of radical and progressive allies.
She criticizes the arrogance, egotism, and machismo of particular radical leaders, black and white alike, even as she offers a persuasive argument that interracial alignments are essential to any united front strategy. Pointedly, she laments the ways in which sectarianism and dogmatism afflict the movement, as different wings and regions of the BPP itself are not able to resolve their differences internally, and the revolutionary movement fails to maintain unity amidst the strife exacerbated by state repression.
More generally, Shakur criticizes herself and others for having acted primarily as “romantic” and “emotional,” rather than “scientific” revolutionaries, overestimating the revolutionary force of spontaneous mass anger and rebellion. As she writes of her political attitudes in Cuba: “I was no longer the wide-eyed, romantic young revolutionary who believed the revolution was just around the corner…. I had long ago become convinced that revolution was a science. Generalities were no longer enough for me.” She elaborates: “I believed that a higher level of political sophistication was necessary and that unity in the Black community had to become a priority. We could never afford to forget the lessons we had learned from COINTELPRO…. I couldn’t see how we could seriously struggle without having a strong sense of collectivity, without being responsible for each other and to each other” (266-67).
At the same time, Shakur does not disown the idealistic thrust of her own narrative. She gives us a vivid account of both the revolutionary optimism and the rage of the late 60s, particularly in a long italicized section describing her immediate reaction to the news of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. “I don’t want to rebel, I want to win” she writes (195). Reflecting on the brutal police suppression of the urban uprisings that follow, she adds, “I am tired of watching us lose. They kill our leaders, then they kill us for protesting. Protest. Protest. Revolution. If it exists, I want to find it. Bulletins. More bulletins. I’m tired of bulletins. I want bullets” (196). She embraces this revolutionary passion and anger even as she reflects on the need to give it more disciplined and strategic form.
In the end, although Shakur writes the closing lines of her autobiography from the hopeful shores of socialist Cuba, citing the ten million revolutionary people who have “stood up” there as proof that “The cowboys and bandits didn’t own the world” (274), Assata offers no facile optimism, and no easy formulas. Despite her expressed faith in the tradition of struggle, she continues to pose the question of revolution precisely as a question, not as a set doctrine, nor a dogmatic catechism. She certainly offers lessons and warnings for radical-minded readers today — but principally she invites us to think and to discuss for ourselves how to answer this question theoretically and practically (with both passion and a scientific critical consciousness) for our own time. Her book sets the table for a conversation that is very much needed, and does so in such a way as to welcome new participants to that table.
- Remarkably, at one point, Shakur goes so far as to offer humanizing reflections on how the African American youth who attempt to gang rape her have come to the point of “hating her” so much. Ready to fight these would-be rapists to the death — she is able to drive them off — Assata still concerns herself afterwards with thinking about their dastardly actions not just in moral terms, but in terms of the social and historical forces that are at work through such wretched, violent, sexist ambitions. This astonishing act of understanding reminds me of Marx’s favorite proverb: “Nothing human is alien to me.”
- The allegory of the “Emperor’s New Clothes” is useful here. What shatters the naked, deluded Emperor’s hegemony over his subjects is not the imparting of any particular new knowledge to the populace, but ratherthe shifting status of already existing knowledge, prompted by the naïve actions of a child, who says aloud and publicly what everyone else is only thinking silently and privately: “The Emperor has no clothes!” It is in a sense not just the Emperor who is exposed in this moment, but the cynical, cowardly people themselves, who now, stripped of cover by the spontaneous blurting of a child, can (must!) see one another for what they really are. Once this occurs, turning against an Emperor is all but inevitable. See my discussion in “Revolutionary Underground: Critical Reflections on the Prospect for Renewing Occupation,” Socialism and Democracy, vol. 26 No. 3, November 2012; also my discussion of Occupy, written as this event unfolded, in the introduction toCultural Logic’s special issue, Culture and Crisis, www.clogic.eserver.org.
- She also refuses to capitalize the names of her enemies, and enemy institutions, from the u.s.a. to the names of various judges, police, US presidents, and district attorneys she discusses. The refusal to capitalize in these cases, while it represents a similar refusal of Authority, has a more provocative and antagonistic quality. Shakur does capitalize the names of her friends and allies (and allied organizations).
- Indeed, Assata’s adopted Yoruban name means literally “Woman in Struggle” or “She who struggles.”
- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Saturday, 20 December 2014 21:38
- Written by Doug Enaa
A comrade from Denver has forwarded us an article of interest on student walk-outs in protest against police brutality that we are sharing here.
Ferguson forced the issue, New York escalated it to no business as usual, now Denver youth are helping usher in a new wave of youth of color-led resistance. Today, Friday December 12th will mark the eighth consecutive day of thousands of students walking out of dozens of schools across multiple cities in the Denver Metro area. These demonstrations are the largest youth-led protests happening in the country right now and they are taking place in the face of intense smear campaigns by the police and mainstream media.
It started Wednesday, December 3rd, when 1000 East High school students walked out of class in Denver, joined thousands across the country protesting the non indictment of Darren Wilson in the murder of Mike Brown. On Thursday over a thousand more walked out. Over 400 students from Lincoln High School, hundreds more from George Washington High School, and still hundreds more from Montbello High School and Bruce Randolph High School School. George Washington students marched to Thomas Jefferson High School in hopes of joining up with students and protesting together. Instead the Thomas Jefferson administration put the school on lockdown.
1000 East High School students walked out of class in protest over the Ferguson decision. They unexpectedly set off waves of walk outs across dozens of schools that have lasted for days.
By Friday it was clear that the walkouts were not letting up, in fact they were growing. Now the protests had spread to Aurora and Commerce City. Hundreds of students from three middle schools and five high schools marched through the streets to the Aurora Municipal Building.
On Monday walkouts continued with hundreds from South High School marching for seven miles to East High School where they hoped to meet up and march on the capitol together. Instead, like at Thomas Jefferson, administrators put the school on lockdown. Still more walked out from Denver School of the Arts in protest.
Thousands of youth, mostly Black and Latino, have repeatedly taken to the streets in protest of police violence against communities of color.
On Tuesday the walkouts didn’t stop. On Wednesday they didn’t stop. On Thursday walkouts spread to the Auraria campus in Denver. Today students from across Denver are organizing the Colorado Unity March, which may be the largest protests we’ve seen to date.
Not like this, day after day.
And so to say that these walkouts are historic is not an exaggeration.
Denver police commander Matt Murray stated that in his 25 years of law enforcement, these walkouts are like nothing he has ever seen.
“Not like this, day after day.”
It’s true. To see the level of youth organizing for justice on this scale we need to go back almost 50 years. In 1968 Chicano youth in Denver joined thousands of other students across the country in walkouts protesting the Vietnam War. One year later Denver youth made history when they hosted the first National Chicano Youth Liberation conference. It was here that “El Plan Espiritual De Aztlán”, was drafted, a plan forward for the liberation of brown people that is considered one of the most formative texts in the Chicano movement.
1500 Chicano youth marched to the steps of the Capitol rallying for brown liberation.
Today in 2014, the movement for liberation continues, and Denver youth of color are again on the front lines. The school walkouts have been by far the largest, most diverse and most vocal demonstrations against police violence in the city. And they’ve done this almost entirely on their own, using word of mouth and social media to coordinate themselves into actions hundreds strong. Their organizing is already making an impact. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced that the city will be establishing community meetings to discuss race and policing. This is the first direct response from the city to any of the protests that have taken place (youth or adult led).
Hundreds of Middle School and High School students march on the Aurora Municipal Building.
Still, while concessions have been made, youth have refused to allow the mayor, school officials or others force them out of the streets. The walk out has opened up space for youth to tell their stories, recite poetry, speak truth to police, vent, chant, and sit in silence. To create a space with so much power without the permission of school officials, in front of a police force that for many is one they must be fearful of, is nothing short of transformative.
Incredibly, this is all taking place against the backdrop of hostile media coverage and a campaign of guilt tripping, deception and even lies on the part of the Aurora and Denver police. It calls into question, or more accurately it highlights how broken our nation truly is, when institutions are willing to vilify young people in order to save their own reputation or normalize a grossly misrepresented image about who and why and what young people are doing.
It’s time to show up
And while it’s inspiring to see youth accomplish so much with so little support from adults, it’s also time to show up for them. It’s time to stop questioning youth and start asking them questions. It’s time to stop talking for them and start talking with them. It’s time to call out the police when they release false statements, to challenge the media’s hostile reporting, tocreate and share independent media that amplifies the voices of youth, and when asked to, join them in the streets.
Independent media makers such as Brother Jeff provide rare coverage of youth voices during these walk outs.
We have an opportunity to do this today at 3pm at City Park. Adults are encouraged to bring signs, offer support in transporting youth and make themselves available in their own capacity.
Denver youth of color are showing a way forward that is pushing movements for racial justice and liberation into new directions. They are demonstrating their ability to carry out widespread actions (both coordinated and spontaneous), exposing the links between policing, prisons and failing school systems and they are creating spaces of resistance outside of the classroom where they have a voice. We’ve seen signs of similar actions taking shape in other cities: Berkeley, San Jose, and elsewhere. Whatever the future might hold, the youth of Denver are clearly leaders in the fight for racial justice. The question for adults is whether we will stand with them.
- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Friday, 05 December 2014 22:56
- Written by eric ribellarsi
Απ’ άκρη σ’ άκρη των ΗΠΑ έχουν εξαπλωθεί οι διαμαρτυρίες με αφορμή τη μη παραπομπή σε δίκη του αστυνομικού που εκτέλεσε, εν ψυχρώ, τον Μάικ Μπράουν στο Φέργκιουσον. Πλήθη ανθρώπων, κυρίως νέων, διαδηλώνουν και συγκρούονται, καίνε περιπολικά, αποκλείουν αυτοκινητόδρομους και απαιτούν δικαιοσύνη. Η προσπάθεια του Ομπάμα να παρέμβει κατευναστικά, απειλώντας ταυτόχρονα τους «ταραξίες», δεν αποδίδει. Την ίδια στιγμή, οξύνεται η αντιπαράθεση και μέσα στους κόλπους της οργανωμένης (και πολύ αδύναμης) βορειοαμερικανικής Αριστεράς, θυμίζοντας πολύ ανάλογες αντιπαραθέσεις στη διάρκεια της εξέγερσης των γαλλικών προαστίων το 2005 ή της ελληνικής νεολαίας το 2008. Στο κείμενο που ακολουθεί ο Έρικ Ριμπελάρσι, στέλεχος της νεολαιίστικης κατά βάση συλλογικότητας Kasama Project, απαντά στις άκαιρες και δογματικές επικρίσεις άλλων αριστερών στον ξεσηκωμό που έχει προκληθεί με αφορμή την αδικία στο Φέργκιουσον.
ΗΠΑ: Είναι οι κομμουνιστές υπέρ των εξεγέρσεων ή όχι;
Δασκαλεύοντας το Φέργκιουσον…
Του Έρικ Ριμπελάρσι
Σε κάθε μεγάλο ξεσηκωμό, εξέγερση ή επανάσταση των ανθρώπων αυτού του πλανήτη, είναι οδυνηρό να βλέπει κανείς κάποιους αριστερούς που στέκονται στην άκρη και παραπονιούνται γι’ αυτήν ή την άλλη πτυχή της. Στην πράξη, παρά τα όσα λένε, δείχνουν περισσότερο αποτροπιασμό για τις δίκαιες εξεγέρσεις του λαού, παρά για το σύστημα.
- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Thursday, 04 December 2014 22:43
- Written by ISH
“This empire is splitting open over the faultline that it was built upon: the humanity of Black people.”
After Ferguson: Snapshots from a wave of protest
Three years ago, Occupy Wall Street set off a wave of national protests. The Occupy encampments set up from coast to coast were soon smashed by a wave of repression, and the movement faded from the headlines. That movement was complex and contradictory, but it seemed to mark a sea change shift in attitude toward structurally challenging the rules of US politics, especially among increasingly precarious young people. That movement also didn't actually go away. After this summer's brutal slaying of an unarmed Black youth by a white cop in Ferguson, Missouri, long-simmering tensions between communities of color and the forces of state repression boiled over into an urban rebellion in Ferguson itself and a wave of protests nationwide, especially now after the refusal of a majority-white grand jury to indict young Michael Brown's killer.
It's clear to observers and participants now that just as the Occupy movement was bolstered by the outrage over the judicial murder of Troy Davis back in 2011, so today's movement over Ferguson has been deepened by the experience of people working on Occupy and then moving on to focus on justice for Trayvon Martin or other issues where the white supremacist capitalist system is on full display. OWS was criticized by some for being too white and too middle-class, but in a healthy evolution we now see a burgeoning national movement forefronting survival issues for communities of color.
What's unfolding in the protests over Ferguson, and now, suddenly, over the protests over yet another refusal to indict a badge-wearing killer — this time the murderer of Eric Garner — suggests game-changing potential.
We asked friends and comrades to report on some of what they've seen over the past weeks of protests sweeping the country. We don't get to speak very often in this country of weeks of waves of protests, but here we are.
From Boston, one comrade writes:
When I first heard that Darren Wilson was not going to be indicted, it wasn’t that I was surprised, so much as stunned into a cold rage. Here was the system proving once again that it lets cops get away with murdering defenseless Black kids. I couldn’t sleep that night. The next day, I did my best to avoid the news, knowing that I would hear racist apologists trying to spin it all.
The night after the verdict I, and so many others, finally had a chance to vent our anger. I made my way down to Dudley Square and was stunned at the enormous crowd – probably close to two thousand who were there – Black and white, young and old, men and women. Normally at a lot of protests, I don’t listen to the speeches, but I did here. The speakers, young and old from oppressed Black neighborhoods spoke of how “America was guilty” and that the “system didn’t protect them.” There was open talk of revolution and taking liberation into “our own hands because no one is going to give it to us.” Once those speeches were over, we stood for four and a half minutes in dead silence to honor Michael Brown and all the other victims of police brutality and white supremacy.
Then we took to the streets, marching and chanting. I stayed with the protest, far in the rear, until we reached the South Bay House of Corrections, where we stood in solidarity with the inmates. The prisoners could be seen through their barred windows saluting us and waving. In one cell, the prisoner spelled “Mike” (backwards). I am not sure if he was saying “Mike Brown” or giving his own name. But I like to hope that “Mike” stood for all of those, Mike Brown, the South Bay prisons, and millions of others who suffer under the jackboot of this racist capitalist system.
From another comrade in Boston:
I wasn't able to attend the huge Wednesday night protest march in Boston — this one nearly shut down Rt. 93, Boston's major highway — but I was quite literally swept up in a spontaneous protest march on Tuesday night in downtown Boston, immediately following the verdict.
I left the restaurant/pub where I had been decompressing after work and in the distance I heard chanting. Pausing to listen, as the chanting came closer, I could tell it wasn't random noise, and I could make out the words: “Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!” They turned the corner on Beacon Street and before long I was falling in and chanting alongside them, work-bag swinging at my side, raising my fist. A comrade I've known since Occupy greeted me with a marching one-armed hug. It was a young crowd, mostly college students, interracial and often led by young people of color, though majority white, I would say. And predominantly female, led by Black women, as it seemed to me.
The march had taken the street, stopping traffic, and garnering an occasional honked horn of solidarity from vehicles we passed. We turned up hill and headed for the Massachusetts Statehouse, 150–200 of us, I'd say, but growing, this demonstration called by individuals via Facebook just the minute before. Other friends and comrades I know would show up shortly — word was spreading. Outside the steps of the Statehouse — a short phalanx of state troopers already posted by the locked gate, blocking the steps — organizers stopped the march and directed us into a circle, encompassing and blocking the road. All the time chanting continued: “Black Lives Matter!” “No Justice? No Peace! No Racist Police!” Then organizers led us in a moment of silence for the slaughter of Michael Brown. We held hands, our heads bowed, for several minutes. United in our silence, in the spirit of loss and injustice.
Still holding the road — police directed traffic elsewhere — we evolved into an open mic rap session, reminiscent of Occupy, speakers addressing the crowd, expressing emotions, personal stories, concerns, political philosophies, strategic outlooks, and local connections to the events in Ferguson.
A comrade in New York City says,
I went with some comrades to one of the Ferguson solidarity protests in New York on November 24. There were several protests that day, 3–4, and each shut down major streets, highways, bridges, and tunnels. Thousands of people came out in the cold to aggressive defy the police and shut parts of the city down so that the police and state occupiers would have to reckon with the people they occupy. It was inspiring to see so many people angrily defying both the cops and the sell-out “community leaders.” People are now seeing that police repression and violence in the US has a direct link to the drug war casualties in Ayotzinapa, the Israeli apartheid in Palestine, and America's ongoing imperialist wars.
From Brooklyn, New York:
Tuesday night I attended a meeting at St. Jacobi Church in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. St. Jacobi was the original home to Occupy Sandy and strongly supported Occupy Sunset Park in the heyday of OWS. The occasion was preparation for an action to tie the ongoing movement around Ferguson with the Palestinian resistance and the Ayotzinapa movement in Mexico around the murder of 43 students by the narco-state, and it included a video conference with activists in Mexico. The meeting was really well attended, and some of the young people I talked to there were really clear on the connection between these three issues. Their approach to connecting these issues was sophisticated and organic, and they were also clear that these movements are not about making demands of the government, they're about organizing the people to fight. People were making stencils and stickers with terrific artwork and slogans like, “From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson, the State Protects Killer Cops.” Many of them were veterans of Occupy Wall Street, but cross-pollination with movements around immigrant rights and indigenous peoples was really evident. The meeting, held in English and Spanish, was a mix of activists and community folks, and unlike many Occupy meetings, was majority Latin@. People seemed upbeat and excited about sustaining and developing a real movement making the most of such obvious connections. In New York City we're waiting for the imminent decision whether to indict the cops who killed Eric Garner, and it will be really interesting to see how this strongly radical movement counterposes itself to the 'peaceful, legal' response being called for by pacifiers like Sharpton.
From Albany, Georgia:
We had a small but really pissed-off turnout at the police department downtown at 2am on the night of the verdict. Later on some of us went to the courthouse for a prayer vigil held by civil rights movement old-timers.
Next day a couple of us went to the Albany State Campus and we got a lot of support. One student told us “I'm not really into protests. What we really need here is a riot.”
Officials here claimed that we do not have a police problem because the police here have the body cams. Likely that is an outright lie. In the past, dash cam evidence mysteriously disappeared or happened to be corrupted at exactly the important moment.
From Portland, Oregon:
At 4pm on the day after the announcement, we rallied (as was pre-arranged), downtown. I think about a couple thousand people showed up for the initial rally and short march around the area, but I didn't have a good vantage point. After the initial rally and march, the group split in two; roughly half moving to demonstrate rage, the rest singing a song and dispersing.
The militants scuffled with police for a few hours with some, short freeway blockages, lots of blocked traffic, police charges, pepper spray and about a half dozen arrests.
Saturday night, pretty much the same crowd returned for a similar level of street confrontation, this time with the cops trying out their flash bangs and about 10 arrests.
Some things I think are notable:
• The Tuesday event was organized by a coalition of black clergy (with a lot of quotes from MLK) and the radical community, especially the AAPRP.
• The coalition failed to make a break-through in bringing out people in its target communities in north and northeast Portland.
• The break-away on Tuesday and the event on Saturday were agitated for and lead largely by a small number of new emerging young Black activists.
Today there was a significant high school walk out this afternoon of at least 1,000 students near downtown. I'm headed down after work in a few hours to try to catch the tail end of the announced demo at the capitol.
Another comrade in Portland writes in:
Monday night was like a punch in the gut to anyone in the United States who cares about justice and humanity. The Ferguson grand jury's failure to indict was a declaration of open season on Black people; a declaration of war.
A demonstration was called for the following day by a coalition of local peace and justice groups. Several thousand people turned up Tuesday evening, in a mood of anger and rage. After listening to speakers from various organizations, the crowd marched through downtown, chanting "No Justice, No Peace" and "Hands Up Don't Shoot!" The crowd returned to the Justice Center. While preparing to disperse, while "We Shall Overcome" was sung from the stage, a group of Black youth shouted that they were not done and led a breakaway march of several hundred that marched through the city, shutting down bridges and highways and confronting the police for several more hours.
On Saturday morning there was a rally in Northeast Portland (a historically Black residential neighborhood). The crowd was genuinely multiracial and made up primarily of families there with their children. The "radical activist" milieu was noticeably absent. After speeches from educators and high school students, the group marched for several miles through the gentrified "Alberta Arts District." Marching peacefully on the sidewalk, and obeying traffic laws the group disrupted the peaceful brunches of many a white person who preferred not to notice that the country is burning. Upon reaching the destination, the listened to a final speech and dispersed.
On Saturday night a crowd of about 500 met again on the steps of the Justice Center. After an hour or so of speeches, the Reverend Jesse Jackson (who happened to be in town on other business) arrived and spoke to the crowd about redemption and reconciliation, demanded a Federal Grand Jury and urged the crowd to be peaceful. The crowd then marched through downtown Portland, blocking traffic and shutting down business as usual for four and a half hours, the amount of time that Mike Brown lay bleeding in the street. At one point outside of a shopping mall there was a particularly tense stand off with the riot police that culminated in the police throwing flash bang grenades into the crowd and then charging. The crowd continued to march. The night ended in a die-in behind the police headquarters. At this point riot police moved in from all sides and declared that everyone was under arrest. The crowd tightened up, locking arms and called loved ones to report their situation and make arrangements for the following days. After about a half hour of chanting "Let us go!" the police made 10 arrests and let the rest of the crowd leave one by one through their armed cordon.
From marching peacefully through neighborhoods with my four month old son, to running from flash bang grenades and preparing to spend the night in jail it has been a powerful week. Portland, one of the whitest cities in the US, stood up and declared that Black Lives Matter. This empire is splitting open over the faultline that it was built upon: the humanity of Black people. We must continue to march, to rebel, and to build a movement that can fight militantly and creatively for Black liberation and for the destruction of this murderous system.
- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Thursday, 04 December 2014 22:20
- Written by Nat Winn
“As we marched toward Columbus Circle I ran into an old friend. This friend and I used to give know-your-rights trainings about interactions with the pigs. We worked in a copwatch together. As we quickly caught up with each other about our more recent past, this friend gave me a look, and said ‘here we are again.’ We then both paused and about the same time we said to each other, ‘But it feels different this time.’
It certainly did feel different. We were smack in the middle of a sustained resistance to police brutality that was not seeking justice from the ‘legitimate’ political and legal channels. We were there for Eric Garner, but there was a larger context. There was a clarity, among thousands of us, many thousands around the country, that this system is killing Black people with impunity. And that even when people are awakened to the senseless taking of Black life by the racist police forces around the country, the justice system still won’t indict its police officers, the same officers who are unleashed to enforce the violent authority of the one percent. The system sleeps on us. They think they can do whatever the fuck they want and get away with it. But it was different this time. Since Ferguson we have all been wide awake.”
Eric Garner, Mike Brown: Shut it down, Shut it down
by Nat Winn
Another unarmed Black man is murdered by the police. Another grand jury refuses to indict the pig. The story is getting old, yet the outrage and determination not to accept this shit is growing and growing. Like everyone I know here in New York City, I am filled with that rage.
Wednesday a grand jury refused to indict the police officer who choked Eric Garner to death in Staten Island for the unspeakable crime of selling loose cigarettes.
The refusal of a grand jury to indict Darren Wilson, the police murderer of Mike Brown, has already sparked mass outrage around the country and the world. Hot on the heels of that outrage, the US justice system has again spit on our collective faces, telling us that in their twisted logic Black lives don't matter: They will simply not indict one of their police officers for murdering a Black man.
Shut it down!
But thousands of people in New York were ready for this decision and prepared to act. The decision around Garner's murder was rightly seen as a continuation of the injustices that have roused our discontent in Ferguson. More and more of us are beginning to understand that the murder of Black men by the police and its justification by the powers that be is to be expected. And related to this expectation is the understanding that we cannot seek justice through the racist American justice system – we must seek our own justice in the streets!
When the decision came down that Garner's murderer would not be indicted, calls for protest spread like wildfire. I ended up going to a protest in Times Square at 5pm. It turned out to be the same day that the famous Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree was to be lit. The goal of many of the protesters was to “shut down” the lighting of the tree. Shit was on!
When I got to the protest there were about a hundred people present. Like other protests I've been to since the Ferguson decision came down, this crowd was younger, multi-national and militantly anti-establishment in its orientation. Chants were yelled out in English and Spanish and I was struck by what appeared to be a Latino worker I saw who was wrapped in a Palestinian flag. The connection between Ferguson, Palestine, and Ayotzinapa, Mexico — where 43 student protestors have recently been disappeared causing a huge wave of protest — has been a prominent internationalist feature of this wave of rebellion in the United States.
Chants included “No indictment is denial, we demand a public trial,” “I can't breathe” (Eric Garner's last words), and “If Eric don't get it, shut it down!” among others.
As time passed the crowd grew larger. After an hour, there were a few hundred more protesters in Times Square. By then another march that had started at Union Square converged with our protest and people started calling out “Shut the tree down!” We took off and marched toward Rockefeller Center, a few blocks away. When we got half way there, the streets between us and the Center were barricaded. The pigs were out in full force, and as we then marched north on Sixth Avenue we were blocked from that direction as well. At 51st Street, we were able to break through some barricades and take the street. We marched in the street from then on, turning onto Madison Avenue and clogging up a key vein of the midtown traffic grid. The protest seemed to grow much bigger: The traffic was stopped and we owned the streets.
We stopped at Madison and 47th Street and demanded to be let through the barricades that prevented us from getting to our destination. The protesters and many onlookers shouted their indignation at the cops. “How do you spell racist – NYPD!” (for New York Police Department), “Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Shut it Down, Shut it Down!”, “Hands Up! Don't Shoot!”, “I can't breathe, I can't breathe!”, “I got my hands above my head! Please don't shoot me dead!” Suddenly word got through the crowd that there was an opening a block away. Protesters headed there and broke through the barricades one more time. As we headed west, this time off the sidewalks and on the street, our numbers had doubled at the very least. Sixth Avenue was shut down.
The pigs dug in near the entrance to the block where the tree lighting was going on. Protesters demanded “let us through!, let us through!” The pigs announced that everyone in the street was now under arrest. Many of the protestors refused to back down. All of us chanted at the pigs, “I can't breathe, I can't breathe!” and “Shut it down, shut it down!” Eventually the pigs bum-rushed us and arrested whoever they could. They undoubtedly had targeted some people out. There remained hundreds of us who had crept up on the sidewalks. We continued to express our outrage to the pigs. Many started chanting “Fuck your tree!, Fuck your tree!” There was a standstill between the cops and the crowd of young people.
At one point a young protestor called an Occupy-style mic check. Another march was headed to Columbus Circle, and the Occupier asked all of us to march to Columbus Circle and meet up with the other march. And so we went, into the night, determined to shut shit down, to register our decision about the worth of the life of a Black man named Eric Garner.
Running into an old friend
As we marched toward Columbus Circle I ran into an old friend. This friend and I used to give know-your-rights trainings about interactions with the pigs. We worked in a copwatch together. As we quickly caught up with each other about our more recent past, this friend gave me a look, and said “here we are again.” We then both paused and about the same time said to each other, “But it feels different this time.”
It certainly did feel different. We were smack in the middle of a sustained resistance to police brutality that was not seeking justice from the “legitimate” political and legal channels. We were there for Eric Garner, but there was a larger context. There was a clarity, among thousands of us, many thousands around the country, that this system is killing Black people with impunity. And that even when people are awakened to the senseless taking of Black life by the racist police forces around the country, the justice system still won't indict its police officers, the same officers who are unleashed to enforce the violent authority of the one percent. The system sleeps on us. They think they can do whatever the fuck they want and get away with it. But it was different this time. Since Ferguson we have all been wide awake.
Shutting down the West Side Highway, again
We got to Columbus Circle, by the south edge of Central Park. We headed west and converged with another march. When we got to the West Side Highway we were well over a thousand. We shut that shit down again! For the second time in as many weeks the West Side Highway was shut down. A statement was made again that could be heard around the country: You may kill Black people and let your filthy pigs walk away from it, but from here on in, this disdain for Black life won't go unchallenged. You will kill and we will shut shit down! We will gather strength until you will no longer be able to do what you do. And we create a better world in the process, without the pigs and without the one percent they serve.
There were dozens of arrests on this night. When we took West End, the pigs came at us full force. But they could not shut us down. They could not crush us. There's something brewing here. The country and the world are watching. People of all races and nationalities are standing together to say that our lives are precious, Black lives are precious, and if you take one needlessly, hatefully, we will fight you. We will not stand down. We will not get out of the street. We will shut shit down. We will take your power and build something beautiful.
Alas, here we are again, but shit is different this time.
- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Tuesday, 25 November 2014 02:51
- Written by Nat Winn
This is a revised version of an article posted last night that was open to being read as counterposing support for the immediate task of spreading the Ferguson rebellion with the longer term tasks of communist organization. We do not view these tasks in opposition to each other. Rather we see them as intimately connected. It is precisely through participation in and support for the spontaneous struggles of the people that revolutionaries develop the networks among the oppressed that form the foundation of the communist organization which we believe remains critical to actually bringing down the system responsible for the death of Michael Brown and so many other young Black men.
by Nat Winn
The system has laid down THEIR verdict. Now, and in the coming days, the people will give OUR verdict.
It has been a long time since the people, in their broad mass, have anticipated and prepared to respond to the oppression and disregard that the United States government has shown Black youth. The police murder of Michael Brown in August of this year in the small midwest town of Ferguson, Missouri, has served as a rallying call to young Black people and all who support their fight against oppression. Both the racist authorities and the people in the streets have been anxiously awaiting this decision on whether to indict Brown's murderer, which is now here. The national guard has already been called out. The emergency has already been declared. And the people in the streets have been building together to insure that the mockery of justice that is now upon us doesn't go unchallenged.
Predictably, yet another Black life is deemed expendable, and the right of the police to wage a reign of terror over Black communities has again been validated by the grand jury's decision.
Now those of us who stand with the young people of Ferguson must tell the truth: in order to seek justice, to end oppression — the people themselves must unite and rise up. There will be no condescending saviors. We must decide our duty and do it well.
There are times in history when “the people” run ahead of the revolutionary forces in society. While it is clear that many communists, anarchists and other revolutionary-minded people have been strengthening ties with the people in Ferguson and preparing to respond to the grand jury decision that was just laid down; it is also true that the decision may potentially lead to events that we as an emerging revolutionary ecosystem are not yet prepared to influence. And yes — revolutionaries should seek to engage movements such as the one in Ferguson to help lead them in a revolutionary direction.
What then is it that revolutionaries can provide to the people of Ferguson and their allies?
A crack in a faultline
The rebellion in Ferguson and its aftermath is reflective of a larger problem that the government (at national and local levels) cannot easily resolve or co-opt. Look at how many times the brutality of the police has led to these kind of rebellions within Black communities: Police brutality was the cause of urban rebellions in the 1960s including Watts, to Rodney King in the 1990s, to Cincinnati in 2001, to East Flatbush last year after Kimani Gray was killed, to Ferguson today.
Why is this? Why can't the government and its lackeys like Al Sharpton contain and satisfy the anger of Black people, especially youth? Wouldn't it be easy for the government to just arrest this cop, bring him out in handcuffs and take him to jail? And yet this doesn't happen – and that has been a pattern.
The answer with this has to do with the role of police in relation to Black people.
Black people have been pushed to the margin of societies. The US rulers have not figured a way in which to integrate Black people into the economy since the turn toward de-industrialization. Increasingly many Black people are unemployed for most of their lives and targeted for prison and ethnic cleansing. They are being isolated, frequently being pushed out of urban cores with the poor enclaves in which they live surrounded and occupied by police forces.
Why are the police given all the military equipment we now see them using in Ferguson? What is all that for?
The fact is that it is the job of these police to terrorize Black people. This is what they are trained to do. They are taught during their training, just as we are taught through mass media, that Black youth will not work, that they are criminal, and that they must be controlled. This is not a question of “some bad cops” or of “hiring cops from the communities they patrol.” The pigs are the pigs. Their role is to terrorize Black people and there is no reforming that basic fact.
This is why the county police in Ferguson think that it was okay to murder Michael Brown. This is why no branch of government will just arrest him. What kind of message would it send to their police, bedrock of this system of repression? If police were prosecuted for brutalizing and executing Black people, then police couldn't do their job, there would be no trust between the police and their political leaders and the system that oppresses Black people wouldn't work.
It must first be realized that the events in Ferguson represent a faultline in the broader society. That is, it is a problem of the capitalist system of oppression that cannot be easily resolved or co-opted by the ruling classes.
Rebellion is right, but it is not revolution
The rebellion in Ferguson has inspired all who care about human liberation. It's right to rebel and to spread the spirit of rebellion. Solidarity actions have broken out across the country to express the rage felt against this display of contempt for Black life. It's encouraging to see people challenging officially-approved channels of “nonviolent” protest.
While the spread of rebellions to other cities could have a positive effect on the consciousness and fighting spirit of the people, such rebellions alone will not, by themselves, lead to liberation. Obviously we think solidarity actions, including urban rebellions with a real base in their community, are good. But are riots enough to take the struggle to the next level?
Street-fighting alone, however, is not itself the same thing as making revolution. We need to begin to take the steps to turn the righteous anger of Black youth, and everybody else in this society who identifies with the spirit of the Ferguson rebellions, into the kind of politically serious and disciplined organization that it will actually take to overthrow this system and replace it with something much better.
What Ferguson exposes is the urgent need for communist organization.
We need to do real work to develop networks of people that can respond to events like Ferguson and have real influence over the debates in the broader society when events like Ferguson pop off. Pretending like such networks already occur will not work.
To be clear, there are emerging networks being formed among revolutionaries and this is obviously positive. However this will not replace networks between revolutionaries and the broader people, which are currently primitive. If the people engage in street fighting, then they should be supported and joined, but this cannot be replaced by small revolutionary networks spread out around the country seeking to ignite such rebellions through sheer force of will.
The outrage of the people needs to be transformed into revolutionary organization, not merely courageous yet unorganized fighting. The people in Ferguson are seeing the need for organization and creating it. But there needs to be revolutionary organization. These can include organizations at many levels: Street level organizing projects, mutual aid projects, strong media projects, revolutionary art, music, the capacity for rigorous investigation into 21st century political economy, and more.
All this involves fusing communist ideas with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. We need to have a sense of direction – direction toward developing the strategy and program that can challenge the existing order of things, and truly begin to liberate Black people and all those who suffer from the inequality, alienation, and misery of capitalism.
Faultlines as spaces where communist organization can take root
Openings to connect communist ideas with a section of the people are not spread evenly throughout society. Those problems in society that are very hard for the ruling classes to resolve have disproportionate potential for communists to develop connections with broader sections of the people. The brutalization and murder of Black people by the police has provoked militant resistance time and time again, It is correct to organize around this faultline.
In Ferguson the people have stared down the barrel of the police gun and have stood their ground. There are those who have argued that there is no potential for revolutionary change in the United States. They say that the majority of society is bought off, more concerned with owning the new iPhone or Nike sneakers than with fighting for liberation.
What would such skeptics have to say about Ferguson, about the willingness of the people to risk arrest and physical harm to demand justice for a young man gunned down by police in their small town? It seems clear that Ferguson in fact reveals something deep about the potential for struggle. But how fundamental the nature of this struggle becomes is now key.
We communists work from the understanding that the people in Ferguson and around the world need liberation. Our responsibilities are not merely to tail behind the spontaneity of the rebellion. We need to be building the types of organization and developing the sophisticated networks that can challenge this society and its rulers that perpetrate police murder of Blacks. What we can offer at our best is a strategy and program for liberation that many people can unite around.
Illusions about the potential for justice in the capitalist USA are worn thin in places like Ferguson. This is a moment when it's important to crystallize what oppressed people are teaching us every day about the way the world works with ways of sustaining the fight and pointing it toward victory.
- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Thursday, 23 January 2014 15:56
- Written by Thomas C. Mountain
The following article first appeared on Counterpunch. We post here to give readers some background into the meaning of current events in South Sudan and particularly the role of imperialist rivalry in the conflict.
Another Proxy War
The USA v. China in South Sudan
by THOMAS C. MOUNTAIN
If one asks the question "who benefits from the South Sudanese civil war?" the answer is clear. The USA is presently the ONLY beneficiary of the ongoing horrors in South Sudan for this latest round of conflict has once again shut down the Chinese run oil fields in the country.
The USA has determined that its in its "national interests" to deprive China of access to Africa's oil fields and has succeeded in its goal of again shutting down Chinese oil production in Sudan, the only majority Chinese owned oil field in Africa.
What other evidence links the USA to the South Sudanese civil war? Thanks to Wikileaks we know that the USA via the CIA has been paying the salaries of the South Sudanese Army (SPLA) since 2009. In other words, both the soldiers ("rebels") supporting Riek Machar and the soldier supporting President Salva Kiir are being paid by the USA, paid to kill each other? Don't take my word for it, go check Wikileaks.
Another question NOT being asked by the international media is how is Riek Machar funding his army? Where is he getting the funds to pay for his soldiers ammunition, the fuel to run their trucks and equipment, to pay for their food? Where is this money coming from in a country complete destroyed by the ongoing fighting? If its coming from funds stolen by Riek Machar while he was Vice President of South Sudan, where are the funds deposited and how is he accessing them?
The USA prefers proxies to do its dirty work so as to keep its self insulated from charges of foreign interference and to keep its "hands clean" so to speak. The fact that "rebels" supporting Riek Machar have been receiving weapons from Ethiopia is a matter of public record with reports from the past year exposing what is just the tip of the iceberg in the matter.
What is Ethiopia's interest in this, isn't the Ethiopian regime a "neutral party" hosting "peace talks"?
The fact that Ethiopia has some 10,000 soldiers/peacekeepers on the Sudan/South Sudanese border this past year including the oil fields is another matter being ignored by the media. Again, thanks to Wikileaks, we know that Ethiopia has an ongoing fuel crisis and spends up to 75% of its foreign currency earnings on fuel imports. The Sudanese oil fields are the only immediately available supply for Ethiopia's problem and with Brazil promising to build a $1 billion railway from the South Sudanese border to Addis Ababa this would be the quickest solution to Ethiopia's major headache.
I for one am really, really sick of Africans being portrayed as tribalistic animals murdering each other in never ending slaughters when the only real beneficiary of such are foreign powers, mainly the USA and its western vassals. If one does just a little research into these holocausts one begins to see who really benefits and when it comes to the civil war in South Sudan the only party presently benefiting from these crimes is the USA.
How this will play out will be an omen of things to come for the USA and China are certain to be at odds in the future when it comes to exploiting Africa's oil fields which today supply half of the USA's oil imports.
Thomas C. Mountain is a life long revolutionary activist, educator and cultural historian, living and writing from Eritrea since 2006. He can be reached at thomascmountain_at_gmail_dot_com
- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Wednesday, 22 January 2014 13:42
- Written by Amaju Baraka
Today is the first day of the Geneva 2, "so-called" peace talks regarding the civil/proxy war in Syria. There is little hope that the talks will lead to any kind of peace as the constellation of "rebel" fighters on the ground don't take them seriously, nor do they accept the Syrian National Coalition and its weak Free Syrian Army that the US and its allies want to prop up as "legitimate" rulers. At the same time Assad's army seems to be winning against the opposition in battle and is unlikely to cede control of Syria, a key condition of the US and the West going into the talks. As imperialist powers led by the US one side and Russia on the other - along with regional powers such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Iran all jockey for stronger political position, the people of Syria continue to suffer and their is little prospect that the so-called "peace talks" in Geneva will do anything to improve their situation. Here in the US let's strongly condemn the role of the US government in the atrocities being carried out on the Syrian people and call for the US government to stay out of Syrian affairs. - Nat Winn
The following article by Ajamu Baraka appeared on the Counterpunch website. Baraka lays out quite powerfully the farce of the current talks in Geneva and the crimes of US imperialism that lay behind all its hypocritical talk of seeking out a "democratic" solution.
Undermining the Peace Conference
The Obama Administration's Orwellian Subterfuge on Syria
by Amaju Baraka
There is one thing that the so-called peace conference on Syria is guaranteed to achieve and that is that when the last speech is made and the delegates leave the hall, the grotesque bloodletting and devastation will continue for the people of Syria. Why? Because for the Obama Administration, the diplomatic process was never intended to bring about a peaceful resolution to the war. Its main purpose was always to affect their main strategic objective – the removal of President Bashir al-Assad from power and the disappearance of Syria as an independent state.
Fidelity to this goal continues to drive U.S. policy. U.S. strategists care little about the fact that, in their quest to oust the Syrian President, they have created an unholy alliance between the U.S. and its Wahhabi allies from Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda as their "boots on the ground." It is an alliance that ensures that, should the Al-Assad government fall, the Syrian people will either live under totalitarian fundamentalist Wahhabi rule or see their country disappear as a coherent state and into warring factions.
By juxtaposing U.S. rhetoric that expresses concerns for democracy, pluralism and the human rights of the Syrian people with actual U.S. decisions, we see a dramatic illustration of the astonishing hypocrisy of U.S. policies. The Obama Administration understood the scale of human suffering it would unleash in Syria by arming, funding, training and providing political support for the opposition—opposition that it moved from a non-violent protest movement to a violent insurgency, as part of its larger geo-strategic plan for the region.
That is why commitment to regime change, rather than to a peace based on Syrian realities and the needs of the Syrian people, is the price of admission to this week's conference in Montreux, Switzerland. It is a conference that it would be more accurate to call a 'war conference' rather than a 'peace conference' due to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry's insistence on keeping the scope of the conference confined to the terms of the Geneva I communique, which calls for a political transition in Syria.
The Syrian National Coalition is a mirage. Its "Free Syrian Army" has no standing and the most effective fighters are the al-Qaeda linked jihadists armed by the U.S. and the Saudi government. They are now the real power brokers on the ground.
For these fighters, Geneva II is an irrelevant sideshow that has no bearing on them and they have rejected the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition. So who does the Syrian National Coalition represent, when the bulk of the fighters have shifted to al-Qaeda and the other more than 1,000 Islamist rebel groups that between them have 100,000 fighters, all united in their commitment to a post-Assad state in which Sharia, or Islamic Law, will be established throughout Syria?
Yet on January 16, Kerry restated the U.S. position on Geneva 2 "It is about establishing a process essential to the formation of a transition government body — governing body — with full executive powers established by mutual consent," he told reporters.
The consent of whom? Who assumes power and will a new government represent the aspirations for democracy, civil liberties, workers' rights, respect for religious and community difference that the "revolution" promised or is Syrian's future already written from the Libyan experience?
There are now voices inside and outside the Administration saying that the U.S. should abandon the Syrian National Coalition and work instead with the Salafi-Wahhabi fundamentalists who have joined together under the umbrella of the Islamic Front (IF) and are being presented as the "moderate" alternative to the radicalism of al-Qaeda. However, the Syrian people, who have a history of secularism and respect for different religions, have not signed on to a post-Assad society and government ruled by a group that has publically stated its opposition to democracy and intention to establish an Islamic state under Sharia law.
But who cares what the Syrian people want? It does not seem to matter to the U.S. that supporting Salafi-Wahhabi fundamentalism is the antithesis of the justification it gave for supporting the "revolution" against al-Assad. It does not matter because in the end the interests of the Syrian people are of little concern to these policymakers who prioritize U.S. imperialist interests above every other consideration.
In the long annuals of crimes by U.S. and Western imperialism, the slow, protracted destruction of the Syrian state, including the tens of thousands of lives sacrificed, is starting to emerge as one of its most significant crimes, if not in numbers then in terms of scale. It can be listed with crimes like the Christmas season carpet bombing of North Vietnam in 1972 and the millions murdered in Iraq during the period of sanctions and full-blown military attack.
In this era in which war is peace and wars are fought for "humanitarian purposes," it is hard for many to get to the truth. But one thing is certain—the humanitarian disaster in Syria that was supposed to be the justification for intervention by the U.S. and its allies will continue unabated for the foreseeable future.
Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist, organizer and writer. He is an Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) in Washington, D.C. and editor and contributing columnist for the Black Agenda Report. Baraka's latest publications include contributions to two recently published books "Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA" and "Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amilcar Cabral."
- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Tuesday, 21 January 2014 18:03
- Written by Self-Defense Group of Aquila, Michoacan
In the past week Mexico's federal government moved into towns in the southwestern state of Michoacán to disarm self defense groups that have emerged to fight a powerful drug cartel in the region named the Knights Templar. In many of the towns the local people resisted the government forces and supported the defense groups. In the struggles a number of civilians have been killed by federal troops. Reporters in the mainstream press are reporting that the self defense groups are shady and have ties to rival drug cartels. The following statement comes from one of the defense groups in the municipality of Aquila. It appeared in english on the El Enimigo Comun website. It is dated January 18, 2014.
First Statement from the Self-Defense Group of Aquila, Michoacán
January 18, 2014
Translated by Scott Campbell
From the Self-Defense Group of Aquila, Michoacán to the general public:
Today, the residents of the municipal seat of Aquila, tired of the extortions, rapes, killings, kidnappings and all sorts of criminal acts committed by the Knights Templar; given the complete abandonment of the citizenry by the municipal and state governments who for 12 years did not provide the security needed for our people to have a peaceful and dignified life; we have decided to organize our self-defense group in order to expel organized crime from our town, and we invite the rest of the people of the municipality to rise up against crime, so they never again feel fear or pay protection fees.
As is known from the national and international media, our municipality previously attempted to remove the yoke of organized crime. This movement was led by members of the indigenous community of San Miguel Aquila. This community is one of the four that comprises the municipality, and is owner of an iron mine whose resources are exploited by the transnational mining company Ternium. This company pays a royalty to the indigenous community for the extracted iron, which it hauls from Aquila, Michoacán to Tecomán, Colima, and organized crime charges them a monthly quota. That is to say, they ask the residents to part with the money they receive. If they don't pay, they kill them. So the indigenous from this community decided to form their community guard in order to protect their heritage, life and dignity. They invited us to join them, but we, as prisoners of fear of the reprisals from organized crime, decided not to support them.
The illegitimate municipal president, Juan Hernández Ramírez, was invited to join the movement and to stop paying fees to the criminals in the region, but instead decided to flee and to leave his people at the mercy of organized crime. It is known that this president obtained his post as a result of fraudulent elections, during which the Knights Templar cartel undertook to intimidate people into voting for Juan Hernández. They also burned ballot boxes where he had a clear disadvantage. But all of their tricks were not enough, as the rival candidate won the elections. So the criminals threatened him with death so he would not take the position. And that was how Hernández Ramírez became municipal president at the hands of the Templars. The period of July 24 to August 13, 2013 – when the community guard of the indigenous from the community of San Miguel Aquila operated in the area – was one of immense calm. The rapes, kidnappings and payments of protection fees disappeared as the criminals fled. Seeing the results of the community movement, we became inspired to support the cause of the community. However, on August 14, a joint state and municipal government operation, together with the Marines, entered Aquila and dismantled the community movement. They took 45 prisoners. The Special Operations Group (GOES) and State Judicial Police killed two and also beat women, children and elderly who called for them to return the men who were defending them from organized crime. When the community guard was dismantled, the Knights Templar, under the auspices of the state and municipal governments, decided to "exterminate" all the residents of San Miguel Aquila. Miguel Alcalá Alcalá, Emilio Martínez López and Miguel Martínez López were tortured and murdered by Templar criminals. Later, Ignacio Martínez de la Cruz, Francisco Javier Ramos Walle and Carlos Zapien Díaz were disappeared on November 25, 2013 and haven't been heard from since. The remaining residents were displaced, prisoners of panic and sadness as their government did nothing to protect them.
Once the community guard was completely dismantled by the tripartite alliance of the Knights Templar-State Government-Municipal Government, the Knights Templar decided to charge fees from the entire population, which particularly impacted our humble neighbors who are of limited means. We thought that if we didn't support the community guard, the Templars would have compassion on us and wouldn't charge us fees, or at least would not increase them, nor hassle our families. However, they returned more ambitious and bloodthirsty. The Templars increased the fees because they lost income from those who were jailed, murdered, disappeared and displaced. Only some in the community hand over payment to the Templars, but they are the ones who have ties to them. They are José Cortes Méndez, Miguel Zapien Godínez, Fidel Villanueva Espinosa, Juan Carlos Martínez Ramos, Juan Zapien Sandoval, among others.
The self-defense phenomenon in Michoacán has great momentum, every day there are more people who decide to expel the criminals from their regions, which has caused the Templars to migrate to neighboring regions, in particular into our area, increasing the wave of violence in Aquila. So we are faced with the panorama of violence which we are returning to live in again, with the complicity of our state and municipal government and the apathy of our federal government. It is for these reasons that the residents of the municipal seat of Michoacán opened our eyes and decided to organize as a self-defense group in order to expel all criminals from the area. Our social struggle will not end just when Federico González, alias "El Lico," the boss of the Knights Templar cartel in the Aquila-Coahuayana region, falls, but when all his partners and gunmen do.
Our self-defense movement organized by the residents and people in general of the Aquila area is inclusive. Because of this we gave a vote of confidence to municipal president Juan Hernández Ramírez and invited him to join the struggle against crime. But the mayor once again showed his Templar leanings, he decided to leave the area. As such, our self-defense group and the people who support the movement condemn the criminal and indifferent attitude of Juan Hernández Ramírez. Let it be clear that our self-defense movement was born of social necessity, against organized crime. It seeks to reestablish peace and order for our people. We invite other towns, villages and communities in the municipality of Aquila to join our struggle, as we seek only well-being and social peace.
The Self-Defense Council of Aquila, Michoacán
- Category: News & Analysis
- Created on Tuesday, 21 January 2014 17:27
- Written by by Chris Geovanis
This article originally appeared on Counterpunch. The NATO 3 are a group of activists preparing for protests against a NATO meeting in 2012 in Chicago. They were entrapped by undercover agents and arrested on terrorism charges. More about their story can be found here.
"Meanwhile, public officials continue to invoke the ‘terrorism’ meme in the NATO trial as part of a criminal prosecution that has consistently conflated dissent with criminality. And they’re taking no chances on uncontrolled spin in the case. Besides making members of the public surrender their privacy rights to attend the trial, they’re enforcing the courts’ recently imposed ban on cell phones, lest people who CAN get in report from the ground, and have told those who are willing to ‘pre-register’ that officials are giving priority seating to those who then RE-register to attend a day before each trial date. You don’t re-register? You take your chances at getting a seat the following day. At one point, the judge even considered banning pencils and paper from the courtroom. New rules for non-corporate reporters are equally extreme. Officials are imposing restrictions that effectively ban freelance reporters and reporters with non-corporate and non-traditional media from the kind of access and privileges — including the right to carry their cell phones — that corporate reporters will be afforded."
"Meanwhile, public officials continue to invoke the ‘terrorism’ meme in the NATO trial as part of a criminal prosecution that has consistently conflated dissent with criminality. And they’re taking no chances on uncontrolled spin in the case.
Besides making members of the public surrender their privacy rights to attend the trial, they’re enforcing the courts’ recently imposed ban on cell phones, lest people who CAN get in report from the ground, and have told those who are willing to ‘pre-register’ that officials are giving priority seating to those who then RE-register to attend a day before each trial date. You don’t re-register? You take your chances at getting a seat the following day. At one point, the judge even considered banning pencils and paper from the courtroom.
New rules for non-corporate reporters are equally extreme. Officials are imposing restrictions that effectively ban freelance reporters and reporters with non-corporate and non-traditional media from the kind of access and privileges — including the right to carry their cell phones — that corporate reporters will be afforded."
Locking The Public Out Of Public Trials In Chicago
Your Rights Aren’t Worth Crap
by CHRIS GEOVANIS
Public trials are one of the fundamental tenets of American democracy. And they've been cancelled in Chicago, at least for the trial of the NATO 3 — three defendants battling terrorism charges for alleged 'crimes' wholly instigated, manufactured and advanced by undercover cops in a blatant case of entrapment. But you'll be hard pressed to determine this for yourself, since you're essentially banned from the courtroom unless you're willing to surrender your right to privacy, your right to even a glimmer of free expression, or your right as a non-corporate reporter to cover the case in real time like your corporate colleagues can.
Government officials are forcing every member of the public seeking to observe the NATO 3 trial to 'pre-register', produce a government-issued ID, submit to a criminal background check — and, of course, trust them with your data.
This last bit is spectacularly hard to swallow, as news continues to come out about the extent of government spying and data-mining on perfectly lawful activity like talking on the phone. Government agencies have surveilled and disrupted the Occupy movement, to which the defendants had a loose affiliation, simply for existing, and we've barely begun to plumb the depths of cop spying in the run-up to Chicago's NATO protest — and beyond. For Chicagoans, this comes in the wake of the Chicago cops' notorious history of political spying, disruption and assassination going back to the days of the infamous COINTELPRO Red Squad.
In fact, there would be no criminal case against the three defendants if the city's autocratic former mayor, Richard M. Daley, hadn't finally succeeded in convincing the federal court in 2001 to effectively gut the Red Squad Consent Decree banning police spying, infiltration, harassment, intimidation and undercover disruption of political activity. The hollowed out decree was ultimately dissolved in 2009.
Attorneys for the NATO defendants have argued in a court finding that the 'terrorism' scheme they're charged with is based on "idle chatter, laced with bravado and abetted, encouraged and egged on by the undercover police agents." There was no actual act of vandalism committed, and there certainly was no act of 'terror' committed — unless you're feeling terrorized by the prospect of undercover cops inciting thought crimes to dirty up your political beliefs. But there was, essentially, a law enforcement scheme to incite crime where no crime had been committed, wholly fomented by undercover cops engaged in manufacturing criminality — cop behavior that would have been illegal under the Red Squad consent decree.
Meanwhile, public officials continue to invoke the 'terrorism' meme in the NATO trial as part of a criminal prosecution that has consistently conflated dissent with criminality. And they're taking no chances on uncontrolled spin in the case.
Besides making members of the public surrender their privacy rights to attend the trial, they're enforcing the courts' recently imposed ban on cell phones, lest people who CAN get in report from the ground, and have told those who are willing to 'pre-register' that officials are giving priority seating to those who then RE-register to attend a day before each trial date. You don't re-register? You take your chances at getting a seat the following day. At one point, the judge even considered banning pencils and paper from the courtroom.
New rules for non-corporate reporters are equally extreme. Officials are imposing restrictions that effectively ban freelance reporters and reporters with non-corporate and non-traditional media from the kind of access and privileges — including the right to carry their cell phones — that corporate reporters will be afforded.
"It is my sense going into this trial that the Cook County Sheriff's Office will be putting on a trial that undermines the public's right to access much more than the US military did during Manning's court martial," writes Firedoglake reporter Kevin Gosztola. He should know, since he covered the Manning trial daily — and his most recent piece on the NATO 3 trial is a compelling and disturbing summary of the state's dubious basis for its terrorism allegations.
The state's scheme to effectively ban the public from a public — and publicly funded — trial is part of a long-standing official pattern to harass, arrest and undermine those who dissent in Chicago. For years, activists in Chicago had to fight in court for permission to rally and march against the Iraq war, and protesters have routinely been subject to arrest simply for attempting to exercise their First Amendment rights. More broadly, the restrictions that local government overlords have imposed on public access and public oversight in the NATO trial are part of a national effort to rebrand dissent as inherently dangerous.
The judge in the NATO 3 case, Thaddeus Wilson, prominently displays a picture of Martin Luther King behind his bench. If he were able, King would be spinning in his grave at some of the rulings Wilson has issued in the case. Wilson refused, for example, to dismiss a juror for cause, even though she routinely teaches at the Chicago police academy, and is married to the law enforcement officer who supervised the undercover operations of state police during the NATO protests. Despite the fact that police spying and its abuses lie at the heart of the NATO 3 case — and that this prospective juror's very livelihood and family economy is grounded in police collaboration — Wilson ruled that there was no reason to doubt her ability to serve objectively.
That's like saying that the chairman of BP is perfectly fit to serve on a jury weighing criminal negligence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Defense attorneys were forced to exercise a peremtory challenge to keep her off the jury.
Judge Wilson has also issued a disingenuously named 'decorum' order that sets the stage for massive courtroom repression. The edict is so sweeping that one could conceivably be ejected from the courtroom and cited for criminal contempt for the 'crime' of raising your eyebrows or shaking your head at testimony — or even smiling at a defendant. The order also bans political buttons, t-shirts, armbands and perhaps even particular colors — we won't know until we show up wearing red or black or both. If you get up to take a leak, you can't get back into the courtroom until the judge calls a recess — and in the jury selection of the phase, court sometimes ran past 9PM, so empty your bladder early.
Wilson has also consistently ruled in the prosecution's favor in terms of what evidence will and will not be admissible. And in one of the judge's worst rulings, Wilson has asserted that that police are included under the terrorism definition of the state statute under which the defendants are being tried, which defines terrorism as "intent to coerce a significant portion of the civilian population."
In short, the testimony of the undercover cops who manufactured the conditions for a 'crime' to be alleged should be treated like any testimony from any 'civilian'. Jurors could essentially be asked to embrace the legal fiction that these undercover cops felt 'coerced' into the self-same crime they themselves were attempting to create and incite. This ruling essentially privileges testimony from cops in a police department whose officers routinely tell flat-out lies with impunity to bolster their cases.
It bears emphasizing that the undercover cops at the heart of this case are not civilians. They're the undercover cops who told court officials they 'lost' a shitload of text messages that could have been exculpatory for the NATO 3 defense team — this in an age when virtually any electronic traffic anywhere lives somewhere, including in the NSA's vast databases. Except when the NSA's pals in the Chicago police department lose that electronic traffic. They're the undercover cops who actually manufactured the conditions in which they could allege a crime under the notoriously vague and little used state terrorism statute under which the NATO 3 are charged.
This is just as dunderheaded as the only other instance in which this state terrorism statute has been used to charge someone. In that case, the state convicted a college student for making a terrorist threat — even though he actually did no such thing — after cops searched his unoccupied car and found some crappy and inflammatory rap lyrics scribbled on a piece of paper. The state circuit court in that case sentenced the student — a Black man in a largely white community — to five years in prison. An appellate court later tossed out that conviction. Blacks, dissidents — hey, this state terrorism statute is perfect for Illinois' law enforcement community!
Secret trials are abhorrent. That's why the nation's founders, whatever their other manifest flaws, banned them. Secret trials built on the testimony of undercover cops given broad license to manufacture and incite criminal activity to entrap defendants is particularly revolting and deeply dangerous to all of us.
"The NATO 3 trial is not about terrorism," says Andy Thayer, who helped organize 2012's protests against the NATO meeting. "This trial is about the government using hype ABOUT terrorism to pursue a political agenda, and as such represents a fundamental mis-use of the justice system, if we are to believe the words of the U.S. Constitution."
The political agenda of the Cook County States Attorneys Office — the prosecutors of record of the NATO 3 and others criminally charged around the 2012 NATO protests — has included a stubborn commitment to defend its own most egregious miscarriages of justice. Cook County States Attorney and career Chicago prosecutor Anita Alvarez, who's not been shy about chasing media face time in the NATO cases, has historically embraced the worst sorts of police excess and abuse — including cops who torture, lie and murder.
Alvarez' local prosecutorial agenda dovetails with allied schemes in national and local government to support increasingly militarized police forces which hustle funding for their agencies on the public dime, and promote the careers of "security" industry professionals — many of whom are former members of these self-same militarized police forces.
Those self-same law enforcement agencies are also perfectly happy to collude with corporations to suppress dissent that those corporations deem unhelpful — what journalist Naomi Wolf has described as "totally integrated corporate-state repression of dissent."
To support this agenda in Chicago, authorities are using the tried and true tactic of terrifying people into signing off on their most fundamental civil liberties — including any vestiges of privacy rights — for the 'privilege' of attending a public criminal trial rooted in police misdeeds. More than a few activists who assembled in Chicago in May 2012 to oppose the murderous war agenda of NATO have said they simply will not submit to the state's draconian terms to attend the NATO 3 trial. And in that respect, the state has succeeded in locking out some of the people with the most at stake in a 'public' trial in which defense attorneys have been consistently thwarted in their effort to expose law enforcement's schemes to derail dissent and manufacture crime.
The Chicago police and their overlord, Rahm "Mayor 1%" Emanuel, worked mightily to make the city safe during the NATO protests for the worst sorts of corporate criminals and their military backers. Emanuel and Alvarez remain strong allies in a shared dystopian vision of civic life in a city that routinely criminalizes people of color and undermines the fundamental tenets of economic and social justice. It's no accident that Mayor 1% backs privatization schemes in critical public endeavors that range from education to health — just as States' Attorney Anita Alvarez backs privatizing this critically important public trial.
So, who are the real terrorists?
Chris Geovanis is a Chicago media activist, advocacy journalist and member of the HammerHard MediaWorks collective. You can reach her via Twitter @heavyseas, via her Facebook page or at chrisgeovanis(at)gmail.com