Category Archives: aggressive policing

A Wake-Up Call from Catalonia: Contrary to Kamikaze Puigdemont, The Majority of Catalans Don’t Want Independence


Screen Shot El Pais.png

Today hundreds of thousands of Catalans took to the streets of Barcelona in favour of maintaining unity with Spain and rejecting separatist leader Carles Puigdemont’s aim of declaring independence next week, in effect a coup d’état. The situation in Catalonia is much more complex than the narrative circulated by the independentistas – that the demand for secession expresses a mass uprising against an oppressive Francoist state – as editorials in the Washington Post and the New York Times cautioned earlier this week. The demonstrations for the union in Cataluña today and those for dialogue yesterday have shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that secession is not backed by a majority of Catalans.

The voices of unity are finally being heard above the cacophony of the separatist referendum and general strike. Until now those Catalans who do not support independence were actively intimidated by the separatists and their opinions suppressed in the Catalan media. Javier Pérez, a 36-year-old teacher, told reporters: “I joined the demonstration today because I believe there’s a problem between official Catalonia and those it silences, that doesn’t consider Spanish-speakers here as real Catalans. … I went because I want to stop being treated as a second-class citizen.”

According to the Guardian, the Societat Civil Catalana (SCC), who organized the rally, claimed as many as 930,000 people had taken part.  “I hope that nothing will happen,” said Juliana Prats, a Barcelona resident taking part in the protest. “[Catalonia] is going to lose more than [Spain] because businesses are fleeing from here already. I hope it will remain like it has been up until now: 40 years of peace.” Nobel-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa told the rally: “Besides Catalans, there are thousands of men and women from all corners of Spain who have come to tell their Catalan companions that they are not alone. We want Barcelona to once again be the capital of Spanish culture.”

The Observer reported Álex Ramos, president of the SCC, saying: “This is a revolution of the powerful, of Catalonia’s wealthiest classes, not the oppressed. It’s a selfish revolution. They mobilise, telling the world how hard done by they are, and then dismiss anyone who disagrees as a fascist.” One Barcelona native who didn’t wish to be named added: “No one talks about the state of siege brought on by the secessionists that has the rest of us watching what we say and what we do, or that we don’t post on Facebook just so that others don’t come down on us and call us fascist.”

The left in Britain and around the world has fallen uncritically for the secessionist line, ignoring a number of red flags, the most obvious being that the party leading the movement is the Catalan European Democratic Party (PDeCat), a center-right leaning party which represents Cataluña’s political and economic elite. Its history is worth noting. It began as Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (CDC), characterized by a pro-independence article in Jacobin as the party that represents big capital. “The CDC came to power in 1980 under the leadership of Jordi Pujol, initiating a long phase of conservative nationalist hegemony and closing the previous period when Catalanism was mainly dominated by its progressive currents,” it stated. During the post-Franco transition, Pujol presented himself as a moderate nationalist, but moved to the right after the late 1990s and was succeeded by Artur Mas, who chose Puigdemont as his successor after the failure of the “consulta” (survey) vote in 2014.

Puigdemont’s and PDeCat’s coalition with the left parties (CUP and ERC) hinges on the political necessity of the separatist project and not on any shared vision for what would happen in Cataluña in the aftermath of its independence. Such cynical political expediency should give outsiders and Catalans of all persuasions serious pause. They have played upon the legitimate frustrations of Catalans with austerity which have been successfully channeled against the central Spanish government by the separatists, with the help of the ultra-left propaganda of the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular. The CUP “played an important role in social activism, but remained politically marginal until the 2000s, when radical left pro-independence candidates began to win seats on local councils… Over the past five years, CUP has combined its commitment to the independence process with an anti-capitalist program. However, it has largely operated from within the independence movement’s framework” reports Jacobin. 

The fact that the separatist leadership is part of a right-wing regional government which in the past called out the Catalan police to violently disperse anti-austerity demonstrations has not seemed to matter to leftist commentators in Britain and the United States, including public figures such as Susan Sarandon. Puigdemont, the leader of the separatist movement, is not above sacrificing those Catalans who disagree with his kamikaze politics—as he calmly told TV3, the Catalonian government-controlled television station, he intends to declare independence based on the results of the vote on October 1.

He claims for the secessionists a legitimacy that they clearly do not have: neither by virtue of the vote, which, aside from its legality, had no regular processes in place to guarantee the legitimacy of the vote itself – no international observers, no control of how many and who cast votes – nor by virtue of the numbers: only 40% of Catalans support independence. That means that 60% of Catalans reject independence. Mariana from Madrid questioned the validity of the referendum’s results, and added: “Catalonia is one of the wealthiest regions in Spain and its political elites have been involved in massive corruption cases in the last years. This is not a revolutionary process but a secessionist movement promoted by the elites.”

To accept the claims of Puigmont and the independentistas is to support a politician who would claim popular legitimacy to seize the apparatus of the state against the wishes of the majority of Catalans. This seizure could not be anything but violent, as it is going against the general will, and in its essence is an antidemocratic coup d’etat. All people of progressive conscience around the world rightly condemned the repressive maneuvers of the National Police on the October 1 vote, but it is baffling to read the same people uncritically supporting a man and a movement who would found a putative Catalan state on even greater repression.

For example, Red Pepper published an article describing the admittedly hard-line actions of the conservative Spanish government to defend the constitution as a “coup” against Catalonia, and the general strike as part of a popular uprising against a “brutal police occupation.” Images circulating on Facebook of demonstrations during the “general strike,” rather an employer-sanctioned work stoppage, involving some thousands of people, and those of the heavy-handed attacks by national police on citizens asserting their right to vote, seemed to support this interpretation.

To a great extent this binary narrative, people versus authoritarian state, has been manufactured by the left Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (the ‘Popular Unity Candidacy’) party who are in coalition with the extreme right. The Red Pepper article itself points out that the role of the CUP was crucial in creating the semblance of popular support for the referendum by encouraging supporters to form lines at the polling stations with their families in defiance of its illegality. “It is CUP, with its roots in the neighbourhoods, that initiated the coordinated defense of polling stations against the police,” it says. “It is CUP that was central to supporting the left trade unions and the community and social movement demands for the general strike today.”

The CUP makes the naïve claim that the events around the referendum have pushed independence organizing towards a popular democratic revolt; but, in reality, the rightwing leadership will dispense with the CUP and institute much worse austerity measures if they were ever to gain control.

The political context is vitally important. The situation in Catalonia is much more like that in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, rather than that of Scotland or Greece, the references used by Paul Mason in trying to understand the independence agitation. In those years, Northern Ireland also had a general strike called by the Ulster Workers Council against power-sharing which was solidly supported by sectarian loyalist workers. Republicans faced intimidation and suppression: a bus driver who continued working was shot by a paramilitary gunman. A leftist group (the Irish Communist Organization) in a similar way to the CUP argued that protestant Ulster was a separate nation with the right of self-determination, echoes of which continue to exist today in the contention that Ulster Scots is a separate language rather than a local dialect.

Elena Tavera, a Spanish national who lived in Northern Ireland and has now returned to Cadiz, opposes the separatists’ cultivation of enmity towards Spain and sees the parallels between Cataluña and Northern Ireland : “I have heard accounts of a secondary school student who reported that school staff asked students to raise their hands if their families were going to vote. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if teachers asked students if their families would support a Sinn Féin-orchestrated referendum about joining the Republic of Ireland. It would be called sectarianism. I have not read in the international press that on Sunday people in Catalonia could vote as many times as they wanted as reported by, for example, El País. I have not read either that the advice on the day of the referendum was to bring children and form big queues for the press to photograph, or that their regional police had instructions to watch from a distance.”

The popular support of any movement does not guarantee its progressive nature. More importantly, it is clear that the case for self-determination of Catalonia through popular sovereignty has been grossly abused by the secessionists, and much of the media in Britain and the United States has aided and abetted that fiction. Progressives who truly care about the peoples of Catalonia, Spain, and Europe should not enable the destructive fiction of an independent Cataluña, for in the hands of Puigdemont and his allies, it will be anything but free.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under aggressive policing, Catalonia, Catalonian independence, populism, Separatism in Europe, Uncategorized, Verizon Strike

The United Airlines scandal reveals the hand of corporate authoritarianism


The confluence of corporate demands and police violence has made extremely visible the absolute lack of rights for citizens in planes, in shopping malls, and in allegedly public spaces. Corporations are riding roughshod over consumers because of their relentless drive for cost-cutting to boost profits, driven by equity capital and aggressive hedge funds.

By now, most people have seen the videos of the violent assault on a 69-year-old physician, Dr. David Gao, as three airport police dragged him from his seat on a United Airlines flight due to depart Chicago O’Hare. He was left with a broken nose and two missing teeth, and will need reconstructive facial surgery.

The police were acting on behalf of airline staff who had failed to convince Gao to give up his fully-paid seat for a United crew member. A police spokesman made a vain attempt to blame the victim for bringing his face in violent contact with an armrest: Gao, said the spokesman, “became ‘irate’ after he was asked to disembark and that he ‘fell’ when aviation officers ‘attempted to carry the individual off the flight… His head subsequently struck an armrest causing injuries to his face’.”

United’s chief executive, Oscar Muñoz, initially joined the blame game, calling Gao “disruptive and belligerent.” As the videos of the assault went viral, and the company’s share prices plunged, he changed his tune, saying “No one should ever be mistreated this way,” and committed to make sure it never happened again. But all this amounted to was to institute a rule that aircrew had to be allocated seats at least an hour before takeoff; flying aircraft at capacity with little room for maneuver will not change, because it’s central to the company’s strategy to maximize profits.

The flight was not overbooked, as most media have wrongly reported. It had been boarded and was completely full with passengers when, according to an eyewitness, Tyler Bridges, “an airline supervisor walked onto the plane and brusquely announced: “We have United employees that need to fly to Louisville tonight. … This flight’s not leaving until four people get off.”

After a young couple had left the plane, Gao was approached, but refused to move. “He says, ‘Nope. I’m not getting off the flight. I’m a doctor and have to see patients tomorrow morning,’” said Bridges. After staff attempted to argue with him, the airline called the Chicago Department of Aviation, which handles security at O’Hare International. Three officers then boarded. The videos show one of them reaching across two empty seats, yanking Gao up and pulling him into the aisle.

“The man’s face smacked an arm rest as the officer pulled him, according to witnesses and police. ‘It looked like it knocked him out,’ Bridges said. ‘His nose was bloody.’ In any case, in the video, the man goes limp after hitting the floor. Blood trickling from his mouth, his glasses nearly knocked off his face, he clutches his cellphone an officer drags him by both arms down the aisle.”

Other passengers attempted to argue with the police. Another eyewitness, a Kentucky high school teacher, wrote to the Chicago Tribune that one of the officers laughed during the incident.  “Some passengers audibly protested to the officers, some stood and removed themselves from the plane rather than continue to witness the abuse, and one father, while trying to console his 8-year-old daughter, confronted the officer saying, among other things, ‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself!’ “

Yves Smith comments that United “is getting a virtual free pass [from the press] as far as its rights to remove a paying passenger with a confirmed seat who has been seated. This seems to reflect the deep internalization in America of deference to authority in the post 9/11 world … The excuse for United’s urgency was that if these crew members didn’t get to their flight, it would create cascading delays. … The FAA tracks flight status of planes by their tail numbers in real time. If the four crew members were in a fix due to a flight delay, United should have known well before they landed and alerted the gate personnel of whatever flight it wanted to put them on as soon as the gate opened. … This in turn reveals the lack of any slack whatsoever in United’s system. Clearly the urgency was due to the four crew members somehow being late; Plan A had failed and the last-minute boarding effort was Plan B or maybe even Plan C. As one experienced passenger said, ‘They can’t come up with four crew members in one of their biggest hubs?’ ”

Wired magazine reports: “The scandal is the predictable byproduct of a relentless obsession with filling planes to absolute maximum capacity coupled with open and invidious discrimination in the treatment of customers. It is a strategy that (along with those nasty baggage and change fees) yielded almost $10 billion in profit over the last two years. …

“United’s 2010 merger with Continental marks the turning point. Before then, United had been, variously, a regulated carrier; the world’s largest firm owned by its employees; and, from 2002 to 2006, in bankruptcy. All the while, it operated in a relatively normal, if not particularly profitable, way. The merger changed that. … Among the unstated goals of the merger was the systematic reduction of capacity, to ensure the major airlines’ flights would always be full, or, better yet, overfilled. … United and Continental had been competitors along many routes, especially out of New York. The merger let them decrease supply so that there would be fewer seats to sell, making possible higher prices and fewer money-losing empty spaces.”

Although over a billion dollars were wiped off its share value when the news broke, United regained its trading position the next day. The Washington Post explained: “The reason is the same for why any of our country’s other oligopolistic powerhouses can treat their fellow Americans with such crass indifference: Shareholders don’t really care about consumer opinion or even a company’s larger public image. They care about profits. If there is no competitor to whom consumers can turn, who really cares what they think? The 2013 merger of American Airlines and U.S. Airways — the biggest and last in a series of dramatic consolidations that federal regulators did little to stop — left the United States with only four major airlines.”

It’s this kind of aggressive industrial consolidation, driven by predatory finance and accompanied by outsourcing of jobs and attacks on pensions, that created the authoritarian social climate behind Trump’s administration – more obvious now that he has ditched the pseudo-populism that won him presidential votes.

Leave a comment

Filed under aggressive policing, donald trump, Homeland Security, Neoliberalism, Uncategorized, United Airlines

People Who Have Captured the Imagination of the Country: The Victory of Americans Standing Together at Standing Rock


The victory of Standing Rock protesters over the Dakota Access pipeline displays a microcosm of the social forces realigning themselves in the struggle against the rapacity of corporate America. The US Army Corps of Engineers finally denied permission for the section of the pipeline that would run under the Missouri river near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, saying there was “a need to explore alternate routes.”

The media has minimized the significance of the victory, like the Washington Post which editorialized that “these pipelines, at their core, are nothing more than routine infrastructure projects, thousands of which underpin the U.S. economy.” But like the blocking of the Keystone XL project, the protests have come to symbolize social resistance to corporate hegemony and have brought together many strands of struggle against state oppression.

The protesters had resisted not only the fossil fuel industry’s drive for the pipeline’s construction, but also the militarized local police and private security contractors who had unleashed attack dogs, water cannons (in subfreezing temperatures), rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas grenades in unsuccessful efforts to clear the “water protectors” off the land, resulting in the hospitalization of a number of people and the permanent maiming of Sophia Wilansky and Vanessa Dundon. Police use of military-grade equipment, including landmine-resistant trucks and armored personnel carriers, prompted Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman Dave Archambault II to appeal to the Justice Department to investigate civil rights abuses.

According to one eyewitness, “I watched as grandmothers with red feathers in their hair, Oglala elders in ceremonial regalia, and teens astride horses were teargassed, tased, and arrested. Cops fired rubber bullets at protesters and blasted them with earsplitting whines from Long Range Acoustic Devices. As the police marched down the highway, the crowd, echoing Black Lives Matter protesters, held their arms in the air and shouted, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot!’ ”

The optics of these attacks, recalling nineteenth-century slave patrols and military massacres of native peoples, galvanized a large contingent of US veterans to travel to North Dakota to defend the protesters against an expected intervention by the authorities on Monday December 5, the deadline set by the army corps for the protesters to vacate the site. They joined with representatives from over 200 native American nations, indigenous peoples from Norway to New Zealand, and environmental activists.

[UPDATE:] Wesley Clark Jr., the veterans’ contingent organizer, writes that upwards of 4,000 veterans arrived at Standing Rock to fight the pipeline, twice the number expected.

The announcement of the pipeline permit’s denial was a vindication of the nonviolent strategy advocated by tribal chairman Dave Archambault, who had used all his moral authority to prevent a confrontation between more militant native Americans and the police, insisting that the camp was a place of prayer. However, not all protesters believe that the path through official channels will result in their favor – citing years of bad experiences with the authorities.

The pipeline is being built to carry 470,000 barrels per day from the Bakken shale oil fields in North Dakota to a refinery in Illinois. It was originally set to cross the Missouri ten miles north of the state’s capital, Bismarck, but local fears of water pollution led the construction company to move the path south to a point less than a mile from the Sioux reservation.

Some media accounts emphasize that the Army Corps’ decision could be overturned by president-elect Donald Trump after his inauguration on January 20. But this is not as certain as might be assumed from his general support for fossil fuels. In the first place, the economic justification for the pipeline is fast eroding. It was started when oil prices were high as $100 a barrel, and shale oil production in North Dakota was projected to expand considerably. However, oil prices are now down to $50 a barrel and producers are likely to use the opportunity to shed their financial commitments to the pipeline.

The Economist reports: “The developers are rushing to finish the construction of the controversial pipeline because they are under financial pressure, not because of a need for increased local pipeline capacity, argues Clark Williams-Derry of the Sightline Institute, an environmental-research institution. According to court documents oil drillers have the right to void their contracts with ETP if the pipeline is not finished by January 1st, which could result in steep losses for the developers. … Mr Williams-Derry argues that the pipeline is a superfluous project being built to preserve the favourable contract terms negotiated by its developers before the oil price tanked.”

Secondly, if Trump were to send in state forces to push through a pipeline in which he himself has a financial interest, overriding the legal process set in motion by the Army Corps, that would establish his administration from the get-go as so corrupt as to warrant his impeachment. And thirdly, this would set him up against the federal bureaucracy, and given that his appointments to office have been selected from the wildly incompetent to the spectacularly inexperienced, he needs its cooperation. He will find it difficult to reverse years of federal law by executive fiat.

As climate change activist Bill McKibben wrote in the Guardian: “Trump, of course, can try and figure out a way to approve the pipeline right away, though the Obama administration has done its best to make that difficult. (That’s why, instead of an outright denial, they simply refused to grant the permit, thus allowing for the start of the environmental impact statement process). But if Trump decides to do that, he’s up against people who have captured the imagination of the country. Simply spitting on them to aid his friends in the oil industry would clarify a lot about him from the start, which is one reason he may hesitate.”

The company building the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, now says it doesn’t need the permit from the Army Corps and they will continue to build, anticipating support from the future Trump administration. However, the lawyer representing the Standing Rock Sioux, Jan Hasselman, pledged continued court battles in that event. “If an agency decides that a full environmental review is necessary, it can’t just change its mind with a stroke of a pen a few weeks later. That would be violation of the law, and it’s the kind of thing that a court would be called upon to review. It doesn’t mean they’re not going to try.”

On Monday a hugely symbolic forgiveness ceremony connected the veterans with the Sioux nation. Wesley Clark Jr., son of the retired Army general, apologized to an assembly of tribal elders for actions of the US military against Native Americans, kneeling and begging forgiveness. “We took your land,” he said, “We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills.” While the veterans who joined him there had little interest in electoral politics, the reasons they gave for being there “demonstrate a commitment to fundamental American rights: to defend the Constitution, to protect innocent civilians, to protect water. They may have lost their faith in our politics, but their actions are still plenty patriotic,” commented Slate magazine.

Arthur Woodson, a Marine veteran from Flint, Michigan, told ABC News that he views the purpose of the growing veterans’ protest movement as being able to “stand up to the elites and the 1 percent.” The next destination for the group is going to be Flint, he said, where people still have to drink bottled water because of the high lead levels in the municipal system. “We don’t know when we are going to be there but we will be heading to Flint,” Wesley Clark Jr. said. “This problem is all over the country. It’s got to be more than veterans. People have been treated wrong in this country for a long time.” A surplus of bottled water that was donated to Standing Rock protesters could not be used, and will be rerouted to the Michigan city.

The multiracial alliance that has taken form at Standing Rock projects the future of resistance to right-wing corporate rule, uniting veterans with African, Latino and Native Americans. Trump is adept at seizing the headlines of the gullible media, but he is not going to win over Americans who remember his false promises and attacks on union officials. What is needed is clear opposition from leading Democrats to Republican efforts to dismantle Medicare and the remaining social safety net. They were notably missing from support for Standing Rock protesters, apart from Bernie Sanders and Hawaiian representative Tulsi Gabbard – although local Democratic party branches gave moral and material support – but nothing was heard from Hillary Clinton or even Elizabeth Warren, despite her claims to native heritage.

Opposition to the Trump agenda is going to come from within all layers of society, including the federal bureaucracy itself. Sanders’ supporters should get over their shock from the presidential election result, and make sure this opposition is expressed within the Democratic party as well as outside it, building multiracial alliances to defend the American public against the Trump administration’s expected onslaught on the $15 minimum wage, unions, civil rights, working class rights and environmental justice.

Leave a comment

Filed under aggressive policing, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, racial justice, standing rock, Uncategorized, US Veterans

To White American Progressives: Vote Down Trump with the Rest of America


The Republican and Democratic party conventions held in July both staged a virtual political reality well removed from what is happening in America’s communities. The Democrats produced a carefully choreographed appearance of unity that masked deep divisions between its establishment and Sanders-inspired delegates. The Trump-dominated Republican convention appealed to profound dissatisfaction with the country’s prospects, but stoked the demonization of immigrants to protect the billionaires who are actually responsible for outsourcing jobs.

Meanwhile, state legitimacy is dissolving because of unconstrained shootings of non-white Americans by trigger-happy police.

Clinton’s acceptance speech showed clear signs of the influence of Sanders’ campaign, denouncing factory closings, economic inequality, Wall Street vs. Main Street, and money in politics; but while her speechwriters are attuned to the outcome of the primaries, they are insensitive to the disenchantment of many Americans with the political establishment. For these people, contrary to her message, America is not great. There is a pervasive anti-establishment populist movement in society based on a decline in middle-class jobs and living standards – above all, on a perception that there is no prospect of a better future – that has produced a fundamental shift in the relation between the political elite and the public.

This has created a dangerous desire for a powerful leader who will fix everything. The Associated Press reported: “After a recent Trump rally in West Virginia, countless news articles and academics dismissed Trump’s pledge to bring back coal as impossible, tied to market forces and geology. Chuck Keeney, a professor of political science and history at Southern Community College in Logan, often hears his students dismiss the criticism as the establishment, the very machine that ignored them for so long, beating up on Trump now, too. ‘What they see in their minds is the elite that looks down on them, mocks them, makes fun of them, thinks they’re stupid,’ Keeney said. ‘They see all those establishment groups ganging up on Donald Trump and that makes them root for him more’.”

Trump has leveraged the reaction against globalization and the rejection of political authority to take over the Republican party. Although his convention speeches were politically chaotic, they nevertheless succeeded in convincing his base that he could be president. Moreover, it articulated the appeal of his authoritarian rhetoric to the security forces and the rightwing NRA – not to mention the KKK.

A star speaker at the Republican convention was an African American police officer who denounced the Black Lives Matter movement. Milwaukee county sheriff David A. Clarke told the delegates: “What we witnessed in Ferguson and Baltimore and Baton Rouge was a collapse of the social order. So many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcend peaceful protest and violate the code of conduct we rely on. I call it anarchy.”

This is the true danger of Trumpism – its affinity with the authoritarianism of repressive state agencies built up under Bush and Obama. Max Blumenthal commented: “Clarke opened with what was perhaps the most successful applause line of the evening: ‘Ladies and gentleman, I would like to make one thing very clear: Blue lives matter in America!’ … Invoked on the national stage by culture war icons like Sheriff Clarke, Blue Lives Matter has become an integral component of the Republican base. It is not only a catch-all for opposition to Black Lives Matter and virtually any effort to spur police reform, but also a brand that conveys the racial backlash sensibility cultivated by the Trump campaign.”

The Democrats began their convention with party organizers maneuvering to contain dissent from Sanders’ supporters, and ended with Obama and Hillary Clinton staking out the Republican territory of American exceptionalism to deliver a message of patriotic optimism. Their election strategy appears to be one of winning over moderate Republican voters disenchanted with Trump and to pivot away from the concessions made to Sanders’ representatives on the platform committee.

“America is already great. America is already strong,” insisted Obama in his convention speech. According to the New York Times, “Democrats sought to seize on the traditional core of Republican campaign messaging: America as a place of virtue, optimism and exceptionalism. … Democrats celebrated the country’s diversity, with Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, the vice-presidential nominee, ladling on the Spanish.” It’s a welcome sign of the times – but, as Greg Grandin points out, while Kaine speaks Spanish to market the presidential candidate, he still supports “the policies of free trade and militarization that produced the poverty, the violence, and the immigration [from] Central America.” The party’s leaders are simply blind to the contradiction between their professed aims of social justice and their close connections to corporate financial interests.

Alternet reported that “for most of the 1,900 Sanders delegates in Philadelphia, the convention was a turbulent and trying affair. It began with DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz being forced to resign a day before it opened, after WikiLeaks posted emails of aides plotting against Sanders, but then she was rewarded with a top appointment to the Clinton campaign. That didn’t just affirm their suspicions about DNC bias, but it more ominously signaled that the party and Clinton campaign didn’t care about them.” Luis Eric Aguilar, a delegate from Illinois, told Democracy Now: “The theme of the DNC was to unify the party, but the delegates for Hillary get there early, reserve seats in the front rows so it shows good to the media, and then they push us to the back. … They tried taking away these signs, the ‘No TPP’ signs. All the homemade signs were taken away from us. But that is taking away our freedom of speech.”

By day four of the convention, Sanders’ supporters were arguing passionately about what to do next. They had expected to have more of an opportunity to express their critique of Clinton, but found themselves being shut down. Melissa Michelson, a member of Sanders’ California delegation, told Alternet: “We kind of understand where Sanders is going. We understand that he doesn’t want Donald Trump to win. However, he also told us that the political revolution is about us, not him… A lot of us are going to start getting involved in local politics. … We’re still skeptical how things will work out with this new relationship, you know [with Sanders endorsing and planning to campaign against Trump]. I will not vote for Hillary Clinton and I will not vote for Donald Trump either.”

A different view was expressed by a Texas delegate, Fawaz S. Anwar. He said: “I’m scared that Trump’s going to win now. And now that Clinton is sagging behind Trump, the most misogynistic, sexist, sexist, racist person that the Republicans have ever nominated, Clinton is slipping up. I just—I don’t know how else to say it. But our democracy is in danger if Trump becomes president. I’m in agreement with Bernie. I’m going to vote for Clinton if she’s the nominee.”

Now that Sanders activists have reached the limits of the Democratic nomination campaign, they face a decision about the presidential election. In a discussion between Robert Reich and Chris Hedges hosted by Democracy Now, Reich said he saw no alternative to supporting Clinton because under a Trump presidency there would be negative changes that would irrevocably worsen the structure of the country, including appointments to the Supreme Court. He suggested that it was still possible to build “a multiracial, multiethnic coalition of the bottom 90 percent that is ready to fight to get big money out of politics, for more equality, for a system that is not rigged against average working people, where there are not going to be all of these redistributions upward from those of us who have paychecks” in order to take back democracy.

Hedges, advocating a vote for Green party candidate Jill Stein, responded that corporate power has already seized all the levers of control and the Democratic party was identical to the Republicans in this respect. “We’ve got to break away from political personalities and understand and examine and critique the structures of power,” he said. Obama “has been as obsequious to Wall Street as the Bush administration. … I don’t think it makes any difference. The TPP is going to go through, whether it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. Endless war is going to be continued, whether it’s Trump or Clinton.”

However, the majority of Americans are not going to abstain in this election, nor vote for a third party. For African and Latino Americans this is not an academic debate. They will vote overwhelmingly for Clinton because a Trump presidency is literally life-threatening for them. It would give the police carte blanche to gun down minorities without cause and Trump the power to use state force to suppress political opposition. White liberals have the luxury of potentially abstaining or voting for a third party, but this implies walking away from a long-term fight within the ranks of the Democratic party, and within the communities outside it, in order to change its leadership. It means giving up the struggle before it has begun. The left cannot use its criticisms of Clinton to avoid going through the experience of voting down Trump with the rest of America.

1 Comment

Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, aggressive policing, Bernie Sanders, Chris Hedges, Democratic Party, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Obama, political analysis, State legitimacy, Uncategorized, Xenophobia

Black Lives Matter: Pluralism in America Despite Dallas


Protests continued in major American cities over Wednesday’s police killing of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on Tuesday, both of which were recorded on video by witnesses. They continued despite the political backlash from the Republican right after the shooting of five policemen by a disturbed and apparently delusional African American individual during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. As a sign held by protesters in St. Paul said: “When 5 cops die it’s tragic. When a Black man dies, we need more evidence.”

Behind the mounting toll of police killings of black Americans is the authorities’ intensified fear of the public. Mass shootings enabled by the NRA’s stance against regulation of weapon ownership – as in Orlando only three weeks ago – has stoked this tension; combined with racial profiling it has produced extreme over-reactions to people of color suspected of possessing guns.

White Americans’ fear of demographic change and loss of political power is echoed within the police, where it has merged with the increased authoritarianism of security forces to create paranoia. Trump and all the coded Republican rhetoric before him taps into this sentiment and legitimizes it.

In Baton Rouge on Saturday, according to the Washington Post, “At least 200 protesters massed outside of police headquarters and gathered on streets, holding their arms in the air and chanting, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ One group of protesters joined in a song drawing back to protests generations earlier: ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Police – some in riot gear – moved in after ordering crowds to disperse.”

In St. Paul, the New York Times reported, demonstrators blocked a major highway for hours on Saturday night, after marching from the governor’s mansion “chanting refrains such as ‘We’re peaceful, y’all violent’ as the police urged them to leave. Officers struggled for more than four hours to disperse the crowd, at times deploying smoke and marking rounds in a standoff that stretched into early Sunday … Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said organizers scheduled [an earlier] march because ‘people are experiencing trauma after trauma after trauma as a result of what happened.’ Ms. Levy-Pounds said many African-Americans here had still been coming to terms with the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by the Minneapolis police in 2015 and the decision not to charge the officers involved.”

Baton Rouge activist Arthur Reed commented: “What we have here is acts of violence by the police department that is being passed down and all of them are being justified. That’s not just in Baton Rouge, that’s in America period. … what you see right here is that these communities are actually fed up with this. They are sick and tired of seeing this happen to their loved ones. And at the end of the day, we look at a backlash because we look at the violence that’s taking place in our community.”

On Thursday in Oakland, California, more than 1,000 people blocked an interstate for hours, hundreds more marched in Denver, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. More than 40 people were arrested amidst a massive march in New York City. One of the protesters told Democracy Now: “I’m sick of waking up and seeing that there’s another black man or person of color … killed or gunned down by the hands of law enforcement, or in police custody, and with no explanation. I can’t handle anymore. I woke up this morning, I checked my Instafeed, and I said, didn’t we just do this yesterday? … I’m not demanding that we get special treatment. I’m demanding that we get the treatment that every other person gets, especially white people.”

Hollywood personalities like Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams joined the denunciations. In a powerful speech at the Black Entertainment awards he said: “what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.” Beyonce said in a message: “We’re going to stand up as a community and fight against anyone who believes that murder or any violent action by those who are sworn to protect us should consistently go unpunished.”

In downtown Dallas after the shootings dispersed the demonstration, “officers asked an African-American man wearing a bulletproof vest to walk toward them. The man slowly approached with his hands up, and a crowd of onlookers became angry and shouted and cursed at the police. An officer had his gun pointed at a black woman, and many in the crowd quickly began filming the scene with their cellphones. The tension eased as people in the crowd chanted, ‘Black lives matter’.”

The growing political assertiveness of African Americans and other minorities collides with the attempts of the police to enforce the racial and class hierarchy. The authoritarianism of the police affects all Americans, especially African, Latino and Native Americans. But the obvious racial dimension to the shootings undermines the assertion of legal color-blindness that is integral to sustaining white privilege.

The Black Lives Matter movement is giving political direction and cohesiveness to the protests. In Washington, DC, protesting outside the White House on Friday, student Jennifer Jones said: “I feel like we as a people should not go out and kill off police officers or cops who are killing off our people, because then we’re becoming them. I don’t want to become the oppressor. I don’t want to become the enemy. I don’t want to become the murderer.”

What people are reacting to is the fact that even when police killings are captured by witnesses on video, there are no legal sanctions on the officers involved. This sets the justice system and the public on a collision course. Justice has to be seen to be done: there must be convictions of police officers who kill suspects without cause.

Political commentator Josh Marshall questioned if these killings threatened America’s “communal and inter-communal bonds.” One of his readers pointed out, however, that the Yemeni-born Muslim man who owns the store outside which Alton Sterling was shot, who had recorded the killing on his cellphone, was held in high esteem in his largely African American neighborhood. The Baton Rouge Advocate reported: “Regular customer Tanisha Johnson said that in her experience, not every business owner is patient with his local clientele. But [Abdullah] Muflahi … cared enough about a regular to secure and distribute a recording that could be instrumental in helping authorities determine whether or not officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II are criminally liable in Sterling’s death. … ‘They’ve allowed me to become a part of this community, … and I wanted to stand for Alton,’ Muflahi said. ‘We just need to stick together — no matter what race we are, no matter where we are from’.”

This pluralistic sentiment is as much a part of American culture as nativist anxieties, and is the foundation for a movement to defeat Donald Trump in November’s presidential elections, much more powerful than the corporate commonplaces of Hillary Clinton.

1 Comment

Filed under African Americans, aggressive policing, Black Lives Matter, latino americans, Uncategorized

The Death of Sandra Bland: Her Life Matters


A historic conference of Black Lives Matter activists took place last weekend in the midst of daily police killings of unarmed people of color. Over 1,000 activists from groups including Ferguson Action, Black Youth Project 100, and Baltimore United for Change traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to raise national attention to police brutality, immigration rights, economic justice and LGBTQ rights. The conference ended, almost symbolically, in a videoed confrontation between activists and transit police who had arrested a black 14-year-old.

According to the Washington Post, “a transit police officer in the city turned a can of pepper spray on a mostly African American crowd that had gathered as authorities were placing an intoxicated teen into a patrol car.” Conference participant Destinee Hinton said: “They begin to form a barricade around the car urging the police to let the young man go but they wouldn’t and when they were linking arms and doing chants one of the police officers began pepper spraying the whole line.”

Ever since 9/11, police departments have been showered with military hardware and trained to use lethal force as a first resort, leading to more and more cases of unjustified killings of unarmed people, most visibly African Americans. The resistance to these killings has begun to undermine the legitimacy of state violence and has also exposed the extent to which state power is founded on racial terror: for example, The Intercept revealed that the Department of Homeland Security was monitoring gatherings of people in mainly black neighborhoods, confirming the fear of state forces that black militancy will subvert the foundation of their authority. The growth of a multiracial society and erosion of white privilege is a tectonic shift that has created tremors at the base of the US state, fracturing the racial hierarchy that underpinned social relations.

The conference followed a week of protests across the country, beginning with the anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, followed by demonstrations calling for justice for Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail after being arrested at a traffic stop, as well as other black women including Kindra Chapman, an 18-year-old found dead in her jail cell in Alabama a day after Sandra Bland died, Joyce Curnell in Charleston and Ralkina Jones in Ohio, both found dead in their cells in the same week. Sam Dubose was shot down in Cincinnati during a routine traffic stop by a university police officer, who has been charged with his murder.

What happened to Sandra Bland is a microcosm of the social dynamic between police and African Americans. She was close to arriving at a new job at the historically black university Prairie View A&M in Texas, from where she graduated, and driving along University Drive. State trooper Brian Encinia was traveling in the opposite direction. When he saw her, he made a U-turn and sped up behind her vehicle.

She moved to the right lane to let him pass, but did so without signaling. Encinia turned on his lights – automatically triggering audio recording – and approached her car. At this point the interaction was strained, but civil. He checked out her license in his vehicle, and returning with a warning ticket written out, he saw something in her demeanor that told him she was not passively compliant. He asks why she seemed irritated. “I am, I really am,” she replied, “because I feel like it’s crap is what I’m getting a ticket for, I was getting out of your way, you were speeding up, tailing me so I moved over and you stopped me so yeah, I am a little irritated but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket, so.”

At this point, Encinia dismisses her statement with a curt “Are you done?” He deliberately escalates the confrontation by instructing her to put out her cigarette and she challenges his right to do this. He then ordered her out of her car, threatens to use his taser, shouting “I will light you up,” and arrested her after throwing her onto the ground.

The root cause of the confrontation was the clash between her consciousness of her constitutional rights and Encinia’s need to establish his authority by claiming physical dominance through intimidation.

Whatever happened in Sandra’s cell, she was transformed from an empowered young black woman and social activist to a victim of a Kafkaesque legal nightmare, needing $500 to make bail and possibly facing the loss of her job opportunity due to her arrest.

Her life should be respected in a way the authorities did not; Black Lives Matter activists were therefore justified in challenging Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley at the Netroots Nation conference to address the crisis of police violence. Protesters took over Sanders’ Q&A session, shouting “black lives matter,” and “say her name,” until he grew visibly frustrated.

The Washington Post reported: “Sanders threatened to leave the stage as demonstrators demanded that he repeat the name of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in a Texas jail cell this month. Then he canceled a series of meetings he had scheduled with some of the activists following his appearance.” In a later appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sanders continued to cast the challenges minorities faced as primarily economic, again pointing to his lifelong support for the civil rights movement. According to CNN, “He pointed to soaring unemployment figures for young African-Americans, and blamed an ‘unsustainable level of income and wealth inequality’.”

Activist Patrisse Cullors told Democracy Now: “[The intervention] was about challenging the notion that there’s only the lens of the economic justice agenda … They were unable to really listen to the needs of the Black Lives Matter protesters.” Alicia Garza added: “There is nothing separate about wages from black life and the survival of black people than police violence and police terrorism … Police violence is the tip of the iceberg when it relates to the conditions overall of black people across the globe.”

While Sanders was slow to recognize the new dimension of the struggle against police brutality – although in his video-streamed house party on Wednesday he was upfront in attacking the institutional racism that led to Sandra Bland’s death and called for police reform – the intervention of the activists succeeded in changing the political dialog, to the fury of right-wing Fox TV pundits like Bill O’Reilly.

The protests in Ferguson showed all too well that the militarization of increasingly trigger-happy police forces across the country is a danger not only to African Americans, who are the most visibly targeted, but to Americans of all ethnicities. Police abuse of power affects everyone – and video of these abuses has affected all sections of society. As a Ferguson demonstrator said last year: “It’s not a racial thing. It’s a police thing. It’s America against the police.”

In the US, class and ethnicity are fused in a complex set of social markers. For example, well-heeled Cuban-Americans in Miami are much less likely to be stopped and shot than working-class Latinos in Anaheim, California, where unarmed Manuel Diaz was shot dead in 2012 while running away from police. The forces of law and order function to keep the rich safe from the poor – and brownness and blackness are perceived as markers of poverty and criminality. The huge transfer of wealth from the poor to super-wealthy billionaires has only exacerbated this tension.

Economic struggle, like the union-backed Fight for 15, doesn’t supersede the political struggle for racial equality and social justice. However, there is a connection between the fight for a living wage, the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle for immigrant workers’ rights: new coalitions of people and new forms of resistance are possible at their intersection. That’s why Sandra Bland’s life matters.

1 Comment

Filed under African Americans, aggressive policing, anaheim protests, death of sandra bland, Ferguson, Fight for 15

Fight for 15: For Economic Justice and Social Justice, Restoring Dignity and Humanity


The Fight for 15’s one-day strike on April 15 – tax day in the US – provides a welcome alternate perspective to the myopic media coverage of presidential hopefuls. It underlines the gulf between Republican rhetoric and the realities for most Americans, and creates an awkward challenge for Democratic leaders.

Not only did the strike involve more workers than ever before, it spread to wider and unexpected sections of the low-paid, such as 50 Brinks security guards in Chicago who spontaneously stopped work. In all, 60,000 workers joined the strike in over 230 cities. Fast-food workers, carwash workers, homecare aides, childcare providers, student and college campus workers, adjunct professors, airport workers and others were represented in the protests.

The campaign coincides with a sea-change in attitudes to growing inequality and the minimum wage: Seattle and Sea-Tac in Washington and San Francisco have raised their minimum to $15 an hour, and it will soon be on the ballot in both Los Angeles and the District of Columbia. The New York Times reported that one protestor in Seattle, who makes more than minimum wage, came out because “the disparity of wealth has reached alarming proportions and the salaries of business owners and executives are way out of proportion.”

Most Americans now place responsibility for low wages at the door of highly-profitable corporations, not on their underpaid workers. According to the same Times article, Leslie McCall, a sociology professor who closely analyzed opinion data on the topic, said: “People know Walmart and McDonald’s are doing pretty well … We’re into the recovery, the unemployment rate is going down. But most people aren’t doing well.” McCall found that even Republican voters believe the problem is caused by major corporations. “When asked to choose who should be most responsible for reducing inequality — the poor, the rich, the government, major companies, or that it did not need to be reduced — a plurality of Republican respondents, about 37 percent, chose ‘major companies’.”

Early morning rallies at McDonald’s franchises in Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Raleigh N.C., and other towns kicked off the day. In Chicago, at least 3,000 people marched to a McDonald’s in the downtown Loop area demanding “Stop Fooling Around, $15 and a union.”

The largest protests took place in New York City where the Fight for 15 strikers were joined by racial justice activists and union members. At 6:00 a.m. around a thousand people rallied outside a McDonald’s in Brooklyn and at noon crowds of protesters carried signs that read “Why Poverty?” and “We See Greed” to a McDonald’s in Manhattan. Shouts of “We can’t breathe on $7.25” preceded a four-minute “die-in” to protest police shootings of unarmed people of color.

Activist Karl Komodzi told the crowd: “Black people are subject to police violence in their neighborhoods and economic violence in their workplaces. Fight for $15 and Black Lives Matter are about more than raising the minimum wage, about more than retraining some police not to kill us. This is a movement to chip away at the things that take away our dignity and our humanity.”

Meanwhile, an estimated 10,000 building workers rallied at the site in Manhattan where a major construction corporation is using only non-union workers to build one of the tallest residential buildings in the world. The union president, Gary LaBarbera, told the rally: “We know that the workers who are working on this project are only receiving twelve, thirteen dollars an hour. We believe that whether you work at McDonald’s or you work in a car wash, there’s really no difference between a low wage there and a low wage here.” The construction workers were able to overcome police barricades to block traffic for a short time, amid thunderous cheers, before joining other protesters at Columbus Circle for a march to Times Square.

New York Times journalist Steven Greenhouse told Democracy Now: “In this protest yesterday, what was new is [organizers] started working very closely with civil rights groups around the country, with Black Lives Matter. And labor unions, in general, are very involved … I went to Atlanta a few weeks ago to do a story for the Times about how they were very deliberately trying to combine this movement of the fast-food workers, the Fight for $15 movement, with the civil rights movement to show that it’s not just … trying to raise pay a few dollars an hour, but it’s an economic justice and social justice movement. … a lot of the language they’re using or rhetoric they’re using really comes out of the civil rights movement … ‘I am a man,’ ‘We want dignity,’ ‘$7.25 isn’t enough to support our families.’ … You know, now when I go interview a lot of these workers, they’re happy to give me their names. And usually when you interview workers, they’re very scared to.”

But the movement is not without its critics. Indypendent co-founder Arun Gupta claims it is not a “working-class struggle,” pointing out that the SEIU, which has largely staffed and bankrolled the Fight for 15, organizes in a top-down manner that excludes fast-food workers themselves from decision-making. The one-day strikes, he says, are mere spectacles aimed at the media and public opinion rather than building organization and militancy; it is “more of a legal and public relations campaign … than an organizing campaign.” The linkages with the Black Lives Matter movement, argues Gupta, “remain underdeveloped because of the top-down nature of Fight for 15.” The missing ingredient is the organized left: “It’s anarchists who made Occupy Wall Street happen, socialists who have revitalized many teachers unions, and socialists and the left that have turned $15 an hour into reality.”

While it is true that the left played a large role in the legislative victories in Seattle and San Francisco, it can’t take advantage of the space opened by the Fight for 15 without a clear perspective on the class forces involved. Gupta’s article is too one-sided to be helpful: he assumes that the political effect of the mobilization of the low-paid must be limited by the union’s goal of achieving a contract with McDonald’s, when it has already had an impact far greater than the organizers expected, and he devalues their efforts to combine economic and social justice issues. Moreover, Gupta doesn’t address the role of the Democratic party, which most workers still look to for political leadership. According to the New York Times, “Within the next several days, Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that deals with labor issues, plans to introduce a bill to increase the minimum wage, in steps, from its current level of $7.25 to $12 by 2020. … The party is determined to elevate the issue in next year’s congressional and presidential elections.” This poses complications for Obama, who has not taken a position on the Murray plan, and for Hillary Clinton’s electoral bid.

Republicans, of course, are attempting to defuse the issue by asserting that job losses would follow any increase in the minimum wage. Their argument is reminiscent of nineteenth-century economists who claimed that profits were only made in the last hour of a twelve-hour day. But juxtaposed to their support for tax cuts for the rich, Republican politicians’ opposition to minimum wage increases isolates them from even their own voters as the low-wage economy continues to grow.

While they have found it electorally expedient to coopt the low-paid movement, Democratic leaders are not only reluctant to jail corrupt financiers but also to prosecute police who have killed unarmed black men. In Baltimore, for example, where both the Democratic mayor and police commissioner are black, residents expressed outrage not only at the six officers who chased down 27-year-old Freddie Gray before he died from a severe injury to his spine, but also at their political representatives for withholding key facts about the case. Video shot by a bystander shows Gray screaming in apparent agony as police drag him to a van.

What is driving politics in America today is the corrupting effect of the exponential growth of the wealth of the one percent and the social effects of the imposition of a low-wage economy on the other 99. But the resistance to low pay and the courage of individuals who video acts of police violence, like the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina, signifies a change in the political climate that is not reflected in the campaign rhetoric. At the same time, it is a continuation of the change in consciousness begun with the Occupy movement. Even though dispersed, its impact continues to reverberate throughout America.

Leave a comment

Filed under African Americans, aggressive policing, Fight for 15, social justice