Attorney-Author Randy Shaw
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 

I wish I could say I was surprised by George Zimmerman’s acquittal. I wish I could say that I thought this nearly all white jury would be different. I wish I could say that I thought the facts were so obvious that no jury could sanction Trayvon Martin’s killing. But we have seen this script before. And since reading Paul Ortiz’s Emancipation Betrayedreviewed in these pages in 2005 — I’ve known that Florida’s history of racial violence against African-Americans is as bad as that of Alabama or Mississippi, only less publicized.

Activists are trained to use extreme examples of social or racial injustice to mobilize the public to prevent future wrongs. And I applaud those responding to the Trayvon Martin injustice in such a manner. But when you see episodes of violent racism against blacks repeated year after year, decade after decade, it is hard to be optimistic. The United States is retreating in its commitment to racial justice. The Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, and put affirmative action on life support. States are passing voter identification laws to deter minority voting. The media can analyze the specifics of the trial all it wants, but the bottom line is that like Emmett Till, the 14-year old lynched in 1955 for meeting the eyes of a white woman, Trayvon Martin was killed solely because he was African-American—and in both these cases and thousands more, their murderers were acquitted.

When I studied constitutional law, many of my fellow law students went to great pains to find “objective” legal reasons for court decisions obviously driven by the judges racial and class biases. Having committed to a field allegedly built on legal reasoning and case precedents, these students could not accept that racist and elitist judges issue rulings to advance their personal views.

This conscious suppression of racial realities explains media coverage of the Trayvon Martin case. Each day, the performances of the prosecutor, defense counsel, witnesses and judge were carefully analyzed. Much attention was given to Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” defense, which was seized upon by those desperate to find a non-racial basis for the outcome.

The media treated the Zimmerman trial as if Florida’s and the nation’s long history of racial bias in trials involving the killing of African-Americans would not be determinative (while Zimmerman is Latino, he was identified as white by the police that refused to arrest him after the murder). The trial judge barred overt discussions of race, even though that’s what millions of Americans knew the case was about.

Many of us held out a shred of hope that this would be the rare case where a nearly all white Florida jury would do what white juries in the South and much of America have almost never done: convict an armed white-identified man for killing an unarmed black man.

But anyone thinking there was a chance of Zimmerman’s conviction had to know the fix was in when the top law enforcement officer testified he believed the killer’s story despite its many inconsistencies. If the police, who did not even arrest Zimmerman for the murder, believed his claim of self-defense, how could the jury find otherwise?


Randy Shaw, author of Beyond The Fields, a history of the UFW
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 
Obama’s Post-Racial America

After Obama’s election, a narrative emerged that we were in a “post-racial” America. Yet as the Trayvon Martin case and many other examples confirm, Obama’s 2008 victory and his re-election in 2012 heightened fears among many whites that blacks and Latinos were “taking over” the country.

That’s why gun sales have exploded, and why House Republicans openly talk about the Latino “threat” to American values. Right-wing talk radio sees George Zimmerman as a hero. As Daily Kos’s Markos Moulitsas only half-jokingly said prior to the verdict, Zimmerman will either go to jail or be a keynote speaker at the 2016 Republican Convention.

The white backlash against the federal civil and voting rights acts of 1964-66 has not gone away. And Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election left white racists feeling under siege.That Latino votes helped elect Obama in both 2008 and 2012 intensified these feelings, as did demographic trends that show the percentage of white voters in national elections decreasing.

Paula Deen is not the only prominent white person openly expressing racist views. Sirius XM employs a nighttime sports talk host, Dino Costa, who described Hank Aaron as “disgusting” for criticizing baseball’s lack of outreach to African-Americans. Costa, like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and others, know that as long as they don’t use the “n-word” any disparaging comments about blacks are fair game.

The extreme market fragmentation caused first by cable and then the Internet enables white media figures to thrive selling anti-black racism to their audience. And many whites in law enforcement or who end up serving on juries like that for Trayvon Martin listen to these shows and become even more fearful and resentful toward blacks.

The traditional media could not come out and say that a nearly all-white Sanford, Florida jury would never convict a white-identified man for killing an African-American. But this verdict is consistent with America’s shameful history, and Trayvon Martin joins a long list of victims.

Randy Shaw is Editor of BeyondChron. This piece originally appeared in the July 15, 2013 edition of BeyondChron – reprinted with permission from the author.

 
Introduction: I originally intended to devote the better part of 2012 to this thought piece. But the entry of Paul Ryan into the election cycle has added some urgency. Perhaps the Democratic Party pundits are correct that Ryan’s positions on, say, Medicare and contraception are too extreme to help elect Republicans. Even if they are correct about this election cycle, we would be wrong to underestimate the importance and power of Ryan’s ideological agenda. Even in defeat, the right may take solace, if Ryan succeeds in promoting his ultra-free market agenda. If his ideas are not taken on directly, if they are temporized with, they will continue to haunt us.

 


It is also curious, if not ironic, that the proclaimers of individualism are better organized than the community-minded. The right does well at bringing good numbers together for a focused, discipline campaign — whether against ‘Obama-care’ or to vote in primaries; while the left functions in a much more individualistic manner — dwelling on what Freud called “the narcissism of small differences” — operating in isolated silos, hard pressed to organize a state-wide campaign, much less a national one. There is a difference between unthinking conformism and the conscious action of those struggling for authentic change in the structure of power. We can respect and support individual difference and still find ways to act collectively. This becomes possible if we think through which differences are matters of principle, which can be navigated, and which are not of immediate import.

– Howard Machtinger

 
Ryan’s politics, while extreme and mean-spirited, have a long pedigree in American politics and culture. His combination of extreme individualism and a sometime implicit, sometime explicit, appeal to white/male supremacy runs deep in our culture, and not only among the elite. The influence of individualist ideology on the thinking of many Americans has kept the left on the defensive throughout our history. It is at our peril if we depict Ryan as merely a right wing crazy, though he is surely that, if in a ‘nice-guy’ pose. For, as I will try to show, his politics resonate with American political traditions and with average Americans (mainly, but not only whites). The deterioration of the economy will not automatically lead to progressive action or politics. If we want our nation to become a more decent and more democratic society, we need to respond with an alternative vision of equal resonance. This will include an attractive evocation of the communal and social, an analysis of the structural, but also a recognition of parts of the individualist tradition that are not only compatible with, but essential to, progressive politics.

 
I propose a sober confrontation with the actual obstacles that we encounter in our day-to-day work so as to develop a more solid basis for our work. I am trying to turn my frustration with the current state of my country –and its left alternative — into an overall framework which both seriously takes account of and challenges the tenacity of American individualism. Otherwise I believe there will be a continuing disconnect between the left and its presumed constituency.

 
I have spent my adult life as an activist of the left, trying to convince others that fundamental change is necessary and possible, that the ‘people united can never be defeated’, and that grassroots activity not only reinvigorates democracy, but is the energy that drives substantive, progressive change. The movement in the streets helped end the devastating and inhumane war in Viet Nam. The actions of hundreds of thousands of ‘ordinary people’ ended Jim Crow. Countless women’s groups undermined patriarchy and placed the rights and status of women on the national agenda. Gay activists stood up against police harassment at Stonewall and beyond. The powers that be were forced to move because of the pressure of the grassroots. New political identities were created and innovative political forms developed. The pressure of the masses was the best — and often the only — way to make significant and positive change.

Continue Reading…




Two young Marines taking part in the 2012 Memorial Day observance
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — MAY 28, 2012. Memorial Day is a solemn affair for former Marine and National Guardsman Ghanim Khalil — but it is a different story for the average American, distracted by electronic gadgets and the other accoutrements of affluence. What follows is Khalil’s take on Memorial Day and Modern Memory (or lack thereof). The accompanying photographs are from the Staten Island observance of the holiday — held on May 28, 2012.

 

Memorial Day And Modern Memory
by Ghanim Khalil

 




A distracted drummer
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Memorial Day (originally Decoration Day) has solemn origins – to remember those who died to protect “these United States.” Coming at the end of an extremely violent civil war, which claimed the lives of over half a million Americans, Memorial Day was a time for reflection. There was much to reflect upon and much to be thankful for. The nation was badly bruised but remained one. People visited the graves of troops, decorated them with flowers, cried, and remembered.




The Marine in the foreground is wearing an Afghanistan Campaign ribbon with two service stars
(top right of the topmost ribbon bar)
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Memorial Day is many things to many Americans today: a time for shopping and sales, a time for family gatherings and barbeques, a time to hope for beautiful weather so you can visit the beach or park, a time to watch stunning displays of military machinery in action, or a time to pay passing respects to the dead soldiers of the various wars/conflicts of America’s past and present. Slogans of honoring the war dead fill every communication medium technology provides. They seem ritualistic, not genuine. They seem hollow, not heart-felt. Social network sites buzz with single sentences recalling the name of this day in the usual nationalistic styles. Some of these sentences start with the word ‘happy’ thus linguistically reducing a day of remembering the war dead to the consumerized holidays of Valentine’s Day and Halloween.




A “Purple Heart” (medal given to wounded military personnel) float
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

There is another important issue and that is the wars we fight. Not enough Americans care to know why we fight and why so many “had to die”, besides the spoon fed nationalistic reasons we are expected not to question. “We fight to protect freedom” or “we fight for the American way of life”, or these days, “we are fighting the war on terrorism”, and thus, complex (in often endless shades of gray) human events are reduced to fit a simplistic “us versus them” ideology. The important historical, political and economic contexts before, during, and after our wars (which provide the most accurate accounts of reality) need not be sought for clarification. Why seek them when we are so busy shopping, barbecuing, playing, and being happy? We are satisfied with displaying outward forms of respect for the war dead via flags or buying products of all types displaying the red, white, and blue.




A Vietnam Veteran carrying combat gear
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Since the rise of the United States as a global superpower, for those who notice, there have been multiple examples of the nation’s involvement in military actions overseas that later turn out to be not so honorable or consistent with American ideals. The war in Vietnam began with a lie (the Gulf of Tonkin myth) which led to 58,000 dead U.S. troops and personnel and over two million dead Vietnamese. In more recent times, the war on Iraq (2003) represents an important example of how fear-mongering and hate can lead to unnecessary death and destruction: over 4,200 dead American troops and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, but no weapons of mass destruction. We are still fighting the idealistic “war on terrorism” (and employing methods of violence we supposedly deplore, like torture, humiliation, collective punishments, extraordinary renditions, illegal detainments, and other violations of human rights), and the death rate steadily increases with scant attention by the American media and people of who is actually dying (which includes a substantial number of innocent civilians).




A young ROTC cadet
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

Somewhere in time America grew into an empire, today struggling to keeps its place and influence in the world both most effective and most relevant, but “we the people” persistently refuse to acknowledge this reality regardless of how evident it has become. Unnecessary conflicts continue, yielding more troop deaths, yet we simply want to celebrate or commemorate our holidays in the current ideological, materialistic, and apathetic ways that keep us content.

 




The Future?
(Photo: Thomas Altfather Good / NLN)

 
Memorial Day today is less the weeping of loved ones over the graves of dead troops or important reflection about war and its multiple consequences. Today Memorial Day is a day of sunshine and thoughtlessness.

***

Ghanim Khalil was born in England and moved to New York City when he was 11. He is a former U.S. Marine and NYC National Guardsman and a member of Peace Action Staten Island and Iraq Veterans Against the War. He spoke out against the war on Iraq in 2003 and continues to write and speak about the negative consequences of war. Being a practicing Muslim, he has worked with other Americans of different backgrounds in inter-faith activities and bridge-building. He currently lives in Staten Island, New York.

Posted by TAG - September 18, 2011 | Special To NLN


Carl Oglesby at Brown University in 2006
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Carl Oglesby, one of the most eloquent leaders in the movement against the war in Vietnam, died of cancer on September 13. He was 76.

As a Students for a Democratic Society member in Oklahoma, I first heard of him in early 1965 through a long mimeographed article about the war that he wrote that was sent out to chapter leaders. Along with Robert Scheer’s pamphlet, How the U.S. Got Involved in Vietnam, it convinced civil rights and anti-poverty activists that they had to take action against the war. Its prose sizzled with persuasiveness and urgency.

My first physical view of him was at that year’s SDS convention. I was curious to see the man behind the article and he was every bit as impressive in person as he had been on paper. He was tall, thin, and bearded with the intensiveness of an engage scholar — more than a little like the character played by Marcello Mastroianni in The Organizer.

SDS was running on a high. Two months earlier it had organized the first march on Washington against the war, the success of which had exceeded everyone’s expectations and the organization was in the national spotlight. At the march, SDS President Paul Potter had delivered a searing indictment of the war that went straight to the moral and historical responsibility to stop it.

For reasons that I don’t know, the organization was locked into changing presidents every year. Al Haber, Tom Hayden, and Todd Gitlin had been the first three before Potter. Now the organization would have to choose another president who would instantly become the focus of intense national and international scrutiny. It was a key decision for the 200 or so people at the convention.

Potter and the previous presidents had all been long time members active in national meetings. Oglesby was not. He had been living in Ann Arbor while working for a defense contractor, a job he had taken after not being able to earn enough as a writer. He had a wife and three children, a suburban house, and was a good ten years older than the average late teen, early twenties SDS member. As the U.S. was beginning to escalate the war, he became increasing aghast and joined forces with SDS members at the University of Michigan.

There were a number of strong candidates for President, but the convention was smitten with Oglesby and a few months after joining the organization he was its new president.

A month after the convention I went to work in the national office in Chicago. Oglesby came through on his way to Japan, where he had been invited to represent the U.S. antiwar movement. On his way back we learned that he had caused a near scandal by challenging well known Japanese intellectuals on television to take a position on the war. The Japanese press buzzed with coverage of this audacious American.

That November there was a second, even larger, march on Washington, and he was the star speaker. He began: “Seven months ago at the April March on Washington, Paul Potter, then President of Students for a Democratic Society, stood in approximately this spot and said that we must name the system that creates and sustains the war in Vietnam?name it, describe it, analyze it, understand it, and change it.”

Oglesby went on to identify the system as corporate liberalism, showing how obedience to corporate interests, domestic liberalism, and imperialist aggression could all be wrapped up into one unitary dominant politics. He exposed cold war liberals for what they were and set SDS to their left.

It was a speech the articulated and oriented the sentiments of the movement.

The response was overwhelming. News organizations identified SDS as the epicenter of the movement against the war and flooded the national office with interview requests. Each day’s mail brought scores of letters from students inquiring about how to organize new chapters. There was excitement in the air.

Oglesby toured campuses and spoke widely elsewhere in and out of the country, on his way to becoming an international celebrity, a status he would occupy for the rest of the 1960s.

In Chicago at the 1968 Democratic Party Convention demonstrations, I remember him speaking to a large crowd as the police began moving in and clubbing. As I was running to escape, I heard his surreal indignant words over the loudspeaker, “Are you surprised?”

What those of us who were ten years younger were not sensitive to at the time was that it was not so easy to suddenly assume the role of full time activist when you already had a family that included three children, to move from a middle class income and stability to a hand to mouth economic existence. He had made an existential decision to give his life to the movement come what may and it took a toll that eventually led to the family breakup.

He was also became involved in wrenching disputes with the Weather faction and feminists.

By the 1970s as the crowds were waning and the movement was losing steam and breaking up, Oglesby became like everyone else, a veteran. Five or six years earlier we had all believed that the movement would keep growing until the whole society was transformed and then we would be involved in its reconstruction. But that was not to be.

People adapted in different ways. The Weather people went underground. Some went into Marxist-Leninist party-building as a kind of organizational tightening to compensate for the increasing loss of public resonance. Some went into the Democratic Party and tried to move it to the left. Others got involved later in solidarity for third world revolutionary organizations. Still others went into what later become known as identity politics. Many dropped out of activism altogether. A very few went to the right.

Oglesby struck out on an eclectic path. He recorded two music albums. He delved into conspiracies around the Kennedy assassination. He invented and explored in writing the useful Yankee-Cowboy thesis as a way to analyze divisions in the American ruling class. He ended up flirting with right wing libertarians.

His trajectory was consistent with a kind of radical eclecticism that existed in some quarters of SDS — an umbrella organization that had contained disparate and sometimes contradictory tendencies. (It was in SDS that I met an ideological species that identified itself as anarcho-Maoist.)

I saw him in 1974 in San Francisco. A neighbor of mine, the creator of Young Lust comics (don’t ask), was having a wedding reception at the warehouse of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers — another underground comic. I spotted Oglesby and we chatted for a while. He was excited about libertarians he had met. He said that they had the same interests we had. I expressed my doubts and we let it go at that.

He struggled to remain relevant in a historical period marked by the end of the movement and the decades long ascendance of the new right. In retrospect, it can be said that he had already made his mark on a particular historical period that was intense but short.

But he made quite a mark. Bob Ross, a former SDS vice president, wrote, “Edward R. Murrow said of Winston Churchill in 1940: ‘Now the hour had come for him to mobilize the English language, and send it into battle, a spearhead of hope for Britain and the world. … It sustained. It lifted the hearts of an island of people when they stood alone.’ John F. Kennedy glossed this when, presenting Churchill with honorary citizenship he said: ‘He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.’ Well, Carl Oglesby was our Churchill. In the year he was SDS President, and after that, Carl was our Tribune. With infinite eloquence he mobilized our forces against an unjust war. His passion in words led our passion in the streets.”

I will always remember Carl Oglesby for having shown those of us in the movement at our best by articulating most eloquently our highest ideals and intelligence. In his historical moment, he made you proud to be a part of the same common movement.

***

James W. Russell was the first editor of New Left Notes, the SDS national newspaper. His newest book, Escape from Texas, a historical novel about slavery and the Texas War of Independence, will be published later this year.

“The financial burden of the war obliges us to cut millions from an already pathetic War on Poverty budget. But in almost the same breath, Congress appropriates one hundred forty million dollars for the Lockheed and Boeing companies to compete with each other on the supersonic transport project-that Disneyland creation that will cost us all about two billion dollars before it’s done.”

“We are dealing now with a colossus that does not want to be changed. It will not change itself. It will not cooperate with those who want to change it. Those allies of ours in the Government – are they really our allies? If they are, then they don’t need advice, they need constituencies; they don’t need study groups, they need a movement. And it they are not, then all the more reason for building that movement with the most relentless conviction.”

— Carl Oglesby, November 27, 1965

Click Here to read”Let Us Shape The Future” by Carl Oglesby

Posted by Ed Hedemann - November 27, 2010 | Special To NLN


(Photo: Ed Hedemann / NLN)

NEW YORK — November 22, 2010. On Monday more than a dozen demonstrators from the War Resisters League, Catholic Worker, Grannies for Peace greeted a long line to WNYC supporters waiting to board the USS Intrepid war museum for a food event titled “New York by Fork” starring Leonard Lopate and Times food writer Mark Bittman. For more than an hour, the protesters, handing out leaflets, carrying signs, and passing out plastic forks — with messages reading “WAR: It’s What’s for Dinner,” “Fork the War,” “NPR: National Pentagon Radio,” “War Is Unappetizing” — objected to WNYC, NPR, and the New York Times legitimizing the use of the Intrepid by holding public events on a warship whose sole purpose is to glorify war and recruit youth into the military. Though several in the extremely slow moving line were uncomfortably defensive, others voiced their support of the protest and vowed never again to return to an event on the Intrepid.


(Photo: Ed Hedemann / NLN)

GRANNIES’ SIXTH-YEAR ROCKEFELLER CENTER VIGIL COMMEMORATION PREEMPTED BY THE TABLOID FOUR — CONAN, JAY, TIGER AND HARRY
by Joan Wile, author, “Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace” (Citadel Press 2008)

Good God, are our country’s priorities mixed up! Imagine! The number one story recently prior to the Haiti earthquake in what is laughably called The News was about two super-rich show biz boys of arrested development whining like toddlers over their million dollar late-night toys. In addition, the other prominent stories in print and on the air waves which claim to deliver us vital coverage, diddled around about a golfer’s sex life and a Senator’s time-warped political remark, whipping the unfortunate but not ill-intentioned comment into the politically incorrect gaffe of the decade. Where is the sense of the media functioning as the truth-telling chroniclers of the people’s business, I ask you?

One could easily despair of having one’s message communicated to the public. Despite that, New York City peace granny groups — Grandmothers Against the War, the Granny Peace Brigade, and the Raging Grannies — held an historic event on Fifth Avenue in front of Rockefeller Center Wednesday, Jan. 13, commemorating SIX years of their weekly peace vigil there begun on Jan. 14, 2004. Approximately 30 people stood in the bitter cold on Fifth Avenue to mark the long dedication of the vigilers.


6-year commemoration of peace vigil at Rockefeller Center
(Photo: Phyllis Cunningham / NLN)

Every effort was made to induce the media to cover the occasion, but no one showed up except for a journalist from Afghanistan radio and press. Perhaps this was attributable to the Haiti disaster, not just the sensation-seeking bent of today’s reportage, but nevertheless one would hope there were a few journalists left to cover other substantial stories. The grannies were naturally disappointed at the press and media inattention but welcomed the chance, as they do every week, of showing passers-by, most of whom are tourists from around the globe, that at least some Americans have not succumbed to the apathy of the masses and are passionately struggling to end the terrible and immoral wars.

New York State Sen. Bill Perkins spoke of the importance of the grannies’ weekly protest of the Iraq and Afghan wars, and remarked about the appropriateness of the occasion because of its conjunction with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday this coming Friday, Jan. 15. He suggested that the vigil attendees sing “We Shall Overcome,” The group formed a circle and sang the stirring hymn out there on the sidewalks of New York, twice.


State Sen Bill Perkins (second from right) singing “We Shall Overcome”
(Photo: Phyllis Cunningham / NLN)

Names of the dead in Afghanistan, both our American military and Afghan civilians, were solemnly read, each name accompanied by the mournful sound of a muffled bell.


Barbara Walker reading names of the dead in Afghanistan
(Photo: Eva-Lee Baird / NLN)

Among those marking the end of six years was a contingent of Veterans for Peace, who have stood with the grannies “On the Avenue” for almost the entire six-year watch. One of them, Chaplain Hugh Bruce, a Vietnam vet, spoke movingly at the vigil, noting that it we weren’t pouring billions into these destructive and unjust wars we could ensure health care for everyone. Jenny Heinz, one of the original vigil stalwarts. also spoke to the group. “It’s very sad to still be here at the beginning of the seventh year,” Jenny said, “and to recognize that things are worse, not better — policies that we thought were limited to the Bush administration now seem to have become institutionalized.”

Said 94-year-old Lillian Pollak, a regular at the vigils, “It is imperative that our presence be known to the public. Mostly, the American people are oblivious to the fact that our young soldiers are dying and being grievously wounded more and more as the Afghanistan occupation is escalated. Also, people need to be made aware that we have continuing casualties in Iraq. This is to say nothing of the many, many innocent civilians who’ve become victims to our unethical bombs and drones. We grannies have tried in vain to stop these wars, but have to face the fact that we may not be able to do so in our lifetimes. We feel a duty to keep on keeping on as long as we are able and hope the American people will carry on our struggle after we are no longer here.”

Barbara Walker, the Associate Director of Grandmothers Against the War, which initiated the vigil in 2004, and a co-founder of the Granny Peace Brigade, made a point of noting that the vigil has been held every single week all six years no matter what the elements throw at it — rain, sleet, heat or cold. The only time the grandmothers were unable to hold a vigil was recently before Christmas on tree-lighting day when the vigil site was blocked from access. “That’s a pretty good record for us old ladies, some in our 90′s,” she said proudly. One would have to agree, observing several of the women standing for the entire hour hanging on to walkers and canes.

Makes one marvel at the sterner stuff of these elder women of conscience, doesn’t it? Let’s hope they are not a dying breed.