Category Archives: Republicans

Trump’s NeoFascist Treason Attacks the Foundation of U.S. Democracy, E pluribus unum


boston-march

Saturday’s Women’s March for America mobilized 125,000 protestors in Boston

Donald J. Trump’s inaugural speech on Friday proclaimed himself as the sole representative of the authentic American “people”– which is why he was so enraged by the comparison of the size of his inauguration crowd with that of Obama’s, and by the mass demonstrations against his presidency on Saturday. When he asserts “America first,” he reserves for himself the right to decide who to include in the category of “American,” and that definitely is not anyone who is brown or black or Muslim.

He commenced his presidency with a flurry of executive orders aimed at reversing Obama’s policies which, while meaningless without Congressional funding, have the effect of giving direction to the federal bureaucracy. The appearance of speed at getting things done is a two-edged sword: while enthusing his base, he is also provoking mass opposition to the attempt to unravel the social contract that has been constructed over the last 50 years, and evolved from the foundational idea of the United States: E pluribus unum—out of many, one.

Trump’s order to “build the wall” along the Mexican border, along with new anti-immigrant measures, signifies to his white nationalist supporters that he will restore and restructure the racial hierarchy with Muslims at the bottom and Latinos just above them; it’s understood that African Americans and Jews will soon be joining them. Trump’s rhetoric about Mexico paying the billions of dollars it will take to construct the wall is so obviously phony that, as Josh Marshall points out, his intention is really to create the appearance of dominance and humiliation at Mexico’s expense. “After all the promises about his strongman power, … [he] now is sticking taxpayers with the cost of his nonsensical promises about how we’re just ‘fronting’ the money. He got owned. He lied. And now he’s resorting to the same ‘oh you’ll get paid later’ flimflam he’s used to rip off countless investors over the years.”

The swift rollout of these orders has sparked defiance at state and local level: the Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, called Trump’s executive order to strip federal funding from sanctuary cities (where local law enforcement and city agencies generally refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities) a “destructive and unAmerican threat” and “a direct attack on Boston’s people.” “I will use all of my power within lawful means to protect all Boston residents — even if that means using City Hall itself as a last resort,” he said. “If people want to live here, they’ll live here. They can use my office. They can use any office in this building.” He was joined in his rebellion by Bill DeBlasio of New York, and the mayors of Chicago, Washington, San Francisco and Seattle.

In New York, the city of immigrants, thousands of protesters streamed into Washington Square Park on Wednesday evening for an emergency rally after leaked documents showed Trump is preparing to sign an executive order blocking visas from being issued to anyone from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Gothamist reported: “Throughout the course of the night, elected officials, faith leaders, organizers, and activists called for solidarity with immigrants and Muslims, and spoke about the importance of maintaining New York’s status as a sanctuary city. … Fear of Trump’s agenda – and recognition of the need for multi-ethnic solidarity in fighting that agenda – seemed to be a driving force in bringing out those who’d previously shunned political protests. Meret Openheim and Susan E. Meret, longtime members of the LGBT synagogue Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, said that while they’d not previously considered themselves political, Trump’s victory had left them with little choice but to join the protest movement. … ‘We have a country that is [over] 200 years old, and it could be gone in an instant if we don’t stand up for it,’ added Openheim. ‘I think that’s politicized a lot of us’.”

The spontaneous upsurge of opposition to Trump’s presidency on Saturday reached  small towns that Clinton lost badly, like Wichita, Kansas, reported the Washington Post. Sizable crowds gathered “in red states and small towns across the country — in villages on the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, in conservative pockets across the heartland, in rural towns in states like Virginia, and down throughout the South. In Anchorage, thousands of protesters gathered despite an unforgiving snowstorm and 10-degree temperatures, holding signs with slogans such as ‘My body. My rights. My choice.’ Farther north, in Fairbanks, thousands were undeterred by the extreme temperature, which approached minus-20 degrees. At the same time, thousands marched outside the Idaho Statehouse in Boise as snow fell over them. Even in rural Onley, Va., dozens of men and women gathered along a highway in solidarity with the larger Women’s March on Washington.”

Paul Mason writes in The Guardian: “The DC hotel I stayed in turned, on the eve of the Women’s March, into an organising base for 200 low-paid cleaners and care workers. Spanish, Filipino and Caribbean-English words began to drown out the chatter of journalists and politicos. …Winnie Wong, a key figure in organising the march told me: ‘The beauty of the Women’s March as a fledgling movement, which is now both decentralised and already global in scale, is that it will be very hard for any one institution to co-opt the messaging’.” He commented: “It is not only by obliterating truth that the authoritarian beguiles the masses, but by constant recourse to drama: the midnight speech, the military parade, the unexpected deal, the overnight invasion or the extrajudicial killing of an enemy. But the Women’s March showed us the gestural power of mass action.”

Saturday’s marches were powerful in their diversity, as an unprecedented and preemptive show of force against Trump. They also presented a moral challenge to Democratic legislators to fight tooth and nail to block Trump’s policies; but as Robert Reich points out, “Democrats also need to fight for a bold vision of what the nation must achieve—like expanding Social Security, and financing the expansion by raising the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes; Medicare for all; and world-class free public education for all.”

This is an unprecedented moment in American history, and the average person is conscious of Trump’s attack on the founding idea of the country. The left needs to join with and learn from this spontaneous outburst of resistance. It faces a challenge to develop political concepts that will enable it to orient itself and facilitate pluralist alliances in a common struggle to defeat Trump’s neofascist onslaught.

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Filed under De Blasio, Dictatorship, donald trump, Elizabeth Warren, immigrants, latino americans, latinos, muslims in america, Republicans, Syria, Uncategorized

Waking Up to the Minority Vote, the New, Decisive Force in Post-Obama Politics


The South Carolina Democratic primary voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton as presidential candidate, by a margin of 50 percent over Bernie Sanders. Rather than analyzing the meaning of this vote, the media and the campaign professionals immediately turned to the candidates’ prospects on Super Tuesday, when a large number of states hold their primaries.

However, there are some important messages here which are obscured by a narrow focus on the political process. African Americans in South Carolina turned out in unprecedented numbers to participate in the primary – 6 out of 10 voters were black. And of those, 83 percent voted for Clinton. The Associated Press reported that in exit polls about 7 in 10 voters said they wanted the next president to continue Obama’s policies, indicating ideological agreement with Clinton’s strategy of building on his legacy.

The first thing to note is that the result should be seen as a class vote against the possibility of a Republican president. The relentless media reporting of Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim propaganda, together with the pronounced right-wing rhetoric of the Republican debates, are perceived rightly as a threat to black workers. Trump has succeeded in making abundantly explicit the racist basis of the Republican party, empowering extreme white supremacists, and making the Republican brand anathema among minorities. This goes a long way to undermining the Republican strategy of delegitimizing Democratic presidents and may lose them the Senate.

African Americans voted pragmatically for what they saw as the best candidate to defeat a Republican, and specifically, Trump.  Janell Ross commented in the Washington Post: “Black voters in South Carolina cast 6 in every 10 Democratic primary votes, according to CNN’s exit poll data. That ratio is huge — and sets a record-high in South Carolina black voter participation rate. The previous high was 55 percent, set in 2008, when the first black president was on his way to being elected. … these are its outcomes when black voters are convinced of their ability and authority to fundamentally shape American democracy. It is a result that should begin to crush the popular and often repeated myth that black political behavior in 2008 and 2012 was nothing more than a blip, a fleeting kind of emotion-only engagement inspired by a singular and history-making black candidate.”

Second, although a number of prominent black intellectuals like Michelle Alexander and Cornel West are highly critical of the Clintons’ record of legislation in the 1990s that led to mass incarceration of African American men and the dismantling of poverty programs, that message hasn’t reached the black working class. The history that black people remember is the vilification of Bill Clinton by the Republican Congress over the Monica Lewinsky affair, and, as Toni Morrison indicated by calling him the “first black president,” identified with his being hounded by the establishment.

Third, most black workers get their politics from their local churches and mainstream Democratic party leadership. And that was pro-Clinton and anti-Sanders. “A host of well-known, influential and well-connected black elected officials and leaders of civic and religious institutions have made their support for Clinton quite clear. And they have done everything possible to identify themselves as people opposed to a Sanders candidacy. … And, almost as if to say that the shooting death of an unarmed black person is the modern uber-black experience, the Clinton campaign has collected endorsements from several grieving black relatives. The mother of Trayvon Martin has even stumped for Clinton and explained her pro-Clinton voting rather logically in some detail. … Clinton [frames] issues like childcare and the gender wage gap, voting rights and criminal justice and gun policy reforms in ways that make their importance to black voters clear.”

Her political positioning as a champion of African American workers was prefigured in the Nevada primary. Clinton’s victory there was mainly due to the votes of casino workers in Las Vegas, who thanks to the efforts of Nevada senator Harry Reid were given time and opportunity to caucus at their places of work. In These Times contributor Steven Rosenfeld reported from one of the casinos: “Calvin Brooks, a Louisiana native, has been a bellman for 19 years in this hotel. Speaking slowly and deliberately, he explained why Clinton was his choice. ‘This is a union state. This is a union city. The president that we need today is somebody that will stand with us, to keep us together as a whole,’ he said. ‘My mind is made up for Hillary, someone who has been in the White House, not around it’.” Erlinda Falconer, an African-American women and blackjack dealer at the casino for 18 years, told Rosenfeld: “The majority of us realize how serious this election is and the impact it will have on our country and state. This is very, very important. There’s a lot on the line This isn’t a popularity contest. This is trying to get back on track.”

While earlier in the campaign Sanders took on board the criticisms of Black Lives Matter activists, he was too late to the party. Radicalized black youth may have challenged Clinton over her role in the 1990s, but they haven’t influenced the older majority. On Wednesday she was confronted at a fundraiser in Charleston by Ashley Williams, a Black Lives Matter protester, who demanded she apologize for the consequences of her husband’s 1994 crime bill and for having called black youth “super-predators” in a 1996 speech on crime.

Moreover, white progressives have difficulty dealing with race. Sanders’ attempt to reduce racial issues to economics are in line with his social-democratic outlook. But this perspective is inadequate to deal with the complex interrelations of class and race in America. The Washington Post commented: “Clinton doesn’t shy away from race. Sanders talks about race, too, of course. But he seems to do so at a remove, and his attempts to make a convincing link between his economic message and race continue to fall short. … Clinton openly talks about the necessary role that whites must play in healing and bridging the racial divide.” This has resonated with African Americans who resent being told that they are responsible for dealing with white resistance to acknowledging the role of slavery and the defeat of Reconstruction in American society.

Whoever wins the nomination and presidency, the social, cultural and demographic changes in the US are asserting themselves in the elections. The narrative of an “anti-establishment” vote is being superseded by a class consciousness that empowers African American and Latino voters. The realities of class struggle in America today require tackling racism head-on, something that the left has not attempted since the 1930s when the American Communist party sent members into the South to organize black and white workers into unions, risking their lives in the process.

Rather than tying the fortunes of the left to Sanders’ coat-tails, it needs to address the movements that have built up around this election and build an inclusive and pluralist movement that takes the heritage of the Occupy movement into new territory.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democratic primaries, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Obama, occupy wall street, Republicans, Uncategorized

Trump and the Young Americans: Do You Remember Your President Nixon?


According to the media, the most significant political event of 2015 was the meteoric rise of Donald Trump in the Republican presidential primaries. Trump kicked off 2016 with a new campaign ad that ramped up fearmongering to new levels, featuring his demand to halt entry of all Muslims into the US, together with a mash-up of photos of the San Bernardino killers, Islamic State fighters, a US warship firing cruise missiles, exploding buildings and footage of migrants supposedly crossing a desert border.

Stoking up fear is as central to Trump’s strategy as it is to the Republican leadership’s. It enables him to promote himself as a Bonapartist strongman: too rich to be corrupted, able to overcome Congressional deadlock with his no-nonsense “management” skills, and capable of directing arbitrary acts of military retaliation. US News & World Report’s Mort Zuckerman comments: “He swoops in on his helicopter and proudly asserts, ‘Hey, I’m rich.’ Why pretend? His wealth conveys the impression he is incorruptible and thus above our campaign finance system which now allows politicians to garner unlimited funds from unidentified wealthy donors and corporations. … The public likes Trump’s self-description as a strong leader who will take charge, rip up opponents and make the big problems go away.”

The sensationalist media reporting of terror attacks energizes his supporters’ xenophobic resentment at demographic change that reduces their privileged access to resources and opportunities. And this resonates with the Republican base. The Washington Post found that the threat of terrorism was the most important political issue for 39 percent of Republican voters, outranking by far domestic issues like tax policy or healthcare, and half of all Republicans named Trump as the candidate they would most trust to handle it. Commentator Josh Marshall noted that December’s Republican primary debate was marked by “repeated invocations of fear, the celebration of fear, the demand that people feel and react to their fear. This was logically joined to hyperbolic and ridiculous claims about ISIS as a group that might not simply attack America or kill Americans but might actually destroy the United States or even our entire civilization.”

But it’s not only the Republicans. Since so many Americans live precariously from paycheck to paycheck, the disruption of a symbol of civilizational stability – like Paris – creates the fear of a descent into chaos, a breakdown of order, endangering life and property. Muslims are then demonized by the authorities as the unreasoning, nonhuman embodiment of this scenario. Tom Engelhardt notes that in 2015: “Hoax terror threats or terror imbroglios shut down school systems from Los Angeles to New Hampshire, Indiana to a rural county in Virginia. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra, citing terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, cancelled a prospective tour of Europe thanks to terror fears, issuing a statement that ‘orchestra management believes there is an elevated risk to the safety of musicians and their families, guest artists, DSO personnel, and travelling patrons’.”

The other side of this heightened fear is the increased political influence of minorities and women, codified by Trump and other Republican candidates as “political correctness.” One of his supporters, a retired college administrator, explained how her frustration with political correctness connected with her hostility to minorities. “When we wrote things [at her college], we couldn’t even say ‘he’ or ‘she,’ because we had transgender. People of color. I mean, we had to watch every word that came out of our mouth, because we were afraid of offending someone,” she said. “And you look at these people who have never worked and they’re having babies and they’re getting free rent and free food stamps and free medical care. … Something has to be done because we’re shrinking, we’re being taken over by people that want to change what America is. You can’t say it nicely,” she added.

Sometimes political correctness campaigns in colleges can be disproportionate and teachers’ speech needs to be protected; however, as well as sometimes showing a lack of judgment, youth are proving they want to tackle deeply-rooted racism and sexism and insist on real changes in what is socially acceptable. Protests at the University of Missouri over the racial insensitivity of the administration forced the resignation of the president and chancellor in November; the dean of students at Claremont McKenna in California also resigned after an email she sent to a Latina student saying she would try to better serve minority students who “don’t fit our CMC mold” surfaced. At Ithaca College in New York State, protesters accused the college president of responding inadequately to an incident where an African-American graduate was repeatedly called a “savage” by two white male alumni.

The heightened militancy of college students over institutional racism is closely connected to the rise of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. According to Al Jazeera, “Jonathan Butler, the Mizzou graduate student who went on a hunger strike to bring about Wolfe’s resignation, has said that the former college president’s demise started with ‘MU for Mike Brown,’ a Black Lives Matter-affiliated student group formed in solidarity with the uprisings in nearby Ferguson over the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. At Boston College, student organizer Sriya Bhattacharyya has also cited the importance of BLM: ‘At the core of all these [campus] movements is the unifying belief that black lives matter’.”

Al Jazeera also pointed out that the media has ignored activism at the high school level. After the white police officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner were not indicted, “high school students across the country organized solidarity protests in Seattle; New York; Denver; Oakland, California; Minneapolis and Boston. In February, about 250 high school students in Santa Fe, New Mexico left school to protest constant testing and the state’s new mandated exam. In June, Milwaukee high school students walked out of class to protest against the county executive takeover of low-performing schools. And this fall, high school students in Allentown, Pennsylvania, organized a district-wide student walkout demanding the resignation of the superintendent, the inclusion of a student representative on the school board and summer youth employment opportunities. There were also student walkouts in Chicago; Berkeley, California and Philadelphia that occurred this fall.”

Whoever the candidates are in this year’s presidential election, 2016 is going to be all about the growing power of these young Americans and their determination to fight unprosecuted police killings of young people of color. To quote David Bowie: “We live for just these twenty years. Do we have to die for the fifty more?”

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Filed under Black Lives Matter, donald trump, latino americans, police violence, Republicans, Uncategorized, Xenophobia

The Racist Fury Behind Trump’s “Make America Great Again” Campaign Will Break the Republicans


Donald Trump’s increasingly inflammatory statements have caused consternation among the political establishment and fear among minority groups. His media coverage, however, is out of all proportion to his actual influence in the country. He has a vociferous following of white voters, and polls continue to show him leading the Republican presidential primaries. But even after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, his call to exclude Moslems from the United States is opposed by most Americans.

What Trump has succeeded in doing is to bring outrageous ideas like internment camps into the political mainstream. His speeches are legitimizing racist attacks on minorities and Scalia’s open dismissal of integration in colleges. His support has crystallized out of a layer of white, non-college educated workers who have lost jobs and houses through two recessions and are now facing a downward slide into poverty. They are animated by resentment of immigrants and minorities, and by hostility to government, which they see as corrupt and in the pockets of big business. This is the same demographic that between 1998 and 2013 saw a marked increase in the death rate from suicide, drugs and alcohol poisoning, while that for all other groups declined.

New industries that require semiskilled labor of the kind that in the past elevated many Americans into the middle class are no longer being created in the US. Trump references a time when the lack of a college degree was not a barrier to well-paid industrial work – and when white skin implied social privilege. In These Times writer Walid Shaheed comments: “His high poll numbers among white voters in the Midwestern rustbelt show his appeal to people in this region who have been dealing with an economic collapse that has completely changed how millions of people live their lives. As those who came before them, these white voters blame their woes on immigrants and people of color who are ‘taking over the country.’ When Trump declares he will ‘Make America Great Again,’ he appeals directly to the heart of this demographic.”

It’s important to realize that Trump didn’t create his following from scratch: his bombast has gained traction because he was able to pick up the racist subtext of the Republican party’s rhetoric and make it explicit. Political commentator Josh Marshall pointed out: “What Trump has done is taken the half-subterranean Republican script of the Obama years, turbocharge it and add a level of media savvy that Trump gained not only from The Apprentice but more from decades navigating and exploiting New York City’s rich tabloid news culture. He’s just taken the existing script, wrung out the wrinkles and internal contradictions and given it its full voice.”

However, in doing so he is also voicing and legitimizing the suppressed prejudices of people who feel themselves losing an imaginary past cultural unity because of the growth and increase in political influence of the nonwhite population. The New York Times commented: “He harnessed feelings that long predated his candidacy — feelings of besiegement and alienation, of being silenced — and gave them an unprecedented respectability. … America is living through an era of dramatic changes: its demographics shifting, its middle class contracting, its institutions grappling with the pressures of the networked age.”

His supporters come from the most rightwing Republican voters. According to CNN: “A recent poll found that three quarters of Trump’s supporters are in favor of deporting all of the 11 million-plus undocumented immigrants and banning any Syrian refugees from seeking shelter in America. In contrast, Marco Rubio only has 5% and Jeb Bush 6% of those far-right voters.” The Washington Post explains: “Trump draws strong support from the kinds of voters who see illegal immigration as eroding the values of the country and who might worry that their jobs are threatened by the influx. About half of those Republicans who favor deporting immigrants who are here illegally back Trump for the party’s nomination. These are also the kinds of voters who agree most with Trump’s call to ban the entry of Muslims into the United States until security concerns are laid to rest.”

This is by no means a majority of Republican voters, likely less than a third of them, located in areas that have been hit hardest by the economic downturn like the South and Midwest. After years of dog-whistle campaigning by Republican politicians blaming minorities and immigrants for crime and lack of jobs, this social layer is angry and contemptuous of its political leaders for their perceived inaction. It has the potential to break the Republican party apart.

Surveys show that “white working-class Republicans made clear their conviction that government policies favor minority and immigrant interests over their own, and that the nation — its economy and its culture — has gone into decline as, and because, it has become more racially diverse. It’s those beliefs that have driven a large share of the white working class into Donald Trump’s column rather than Sen. Bernie Sanders’s, even though its members plainly agree with Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s perspective that the economy is rigged to favor the wealthy and big business. … years of talk radio, Fox News and now the Trump campaign have tapped into and built a right-wing populism that focuses the white working class’s blame for its woes downward — at the racial other — rather than up.”

On the other hand, there is bipartisan agreement on whose interests the government is acting for. The same survey found “Ninety-three percent of Democrats and 88 percent of Republicans said it tended ‘very’ or ‘somewhat well’ to the interests of the wealthy; 90 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of Republicans said it did the same for big corporations.” By nearly a 2-to-1 margin Americans believe their “vote does not matter because of the influence that wealthy individuals and big corporations have on the electoral process.”

Support for Bernie Sanders among the public is actually a lot greater than for Trump, although you wouldn’t know it from the media, which has devoted 80 times more airtime to Trump than Sanders. He has the challenge of making his presidential candidacy believable to the electorate, despite the pundits’ claims of Hillary Clinton’s inevitability, and of generating enough excitement among new voters to get them to the polls. He continues to advocate a $15 hourly minimum wage and free college education, but, like Corbyn, finds it difficult to get traction for a rational policy on terrorism.

If the Republican vote indeed splits over a Trump or Cruz presidential run, this presents Sanders with an opportunity to win national support on a left populist platform that extols the contribution of immigrants and minorities to the country and advocates stringent controls on foreclosures and Wall Street speculation. He has to foreground policies that will win the less prejudiced sections of the white working class away from supporting corporate billionaires against their class interests.

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Ferguson Protests Are Not the Revolution but Herald a Challenge to Plutocratic Supremacy


The protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the shooting death of Michael Brown exposed for all to see how local police have been militarized and deployed to suppress social unrest and dissent. As the super-rich increasingly accumulate all society’s wealth and refuse to pay more taxes, thus defunding social services and benefits, their solution for poverty is to herd the poor into ghettoes patrolled by armored vehicles.

Aggressive policing of minority communities to segregate them from comparatively affluent middle-class communities is the strategy that has long been adopted by the U.S. state to absorb social and economic tensions exacerbated by globalization. As an African American in Ferguson succinctly explained: “It’s not a racial thing. It’s a police thing. It’s America against the police.”

The protests drew national attention to the way exaggerated “threats” to public order have been used to justify the use of extreme force against citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. The war zone-like images from an American city forced federal and state authorities to step in to defuse the situation in Ferguson and prevent the clashes from escalating.

Although Michael Brown’s funeral last Monday marked a pause in the protests, as a judicial investigation got under way, African American youth have shown they refuse to internalize the white power structure’s evaluation of their lives as worthless. Their defiance of police in riot gear, backed by snipers and armored trucks, brought Michael Brown’s death into the political spotlight.

Parallels with TV news portrayals of the Middle East became another subtext of the confrontations: the head of the St. Louis NAACP, Adolphus Pruitt, compared the militarized police response to Israeli treatment of Palestinians, for example, and a young girl held a sign at the protests that read “Negro Spring.” She told reporters: “The same as the Arabs fought for their rights, for their civil rights, to oust their corrupt government, we’re fighting for our civil rights, our human rights.”

The Guardian’s Gary Younge recounts an incident that shows how the aftermath of the clashes subverted fear of the police. “Just outside a mall in Ferguson, Missouri, shortly after 10 o’clock on Wednesday, a black man in his 30s was stopped and frisked by around eight white policemen. As he gingerly emptied his pockets, careful not to move too quickly, he yelled at them. … ‘Yes I’m angry,’ he shouted. ‘Four hundred years we been here. We built this place for free and y’all still hate us.’ A man filming the incident was told to move on but did not budge. When the police let the pedestrian go (whatever they were looking for he didn’t have), the man recording went too. ‘I’ve done my job,’ he said.”

This is a remarkable change, given the history and extent of police intimidation of the Ferguson community. The culture of militarism in the local police force is combined with a vicious racism encouraged by the town’s political structure, which finances itself by the extraction of fees and fines from the mostly African-American population.

The overwhelmingly white Ferguson police department attracts individuals seeking to perpetuate the inferior status of African Americans. Their supporters (including Fox News) channel a revival of segregationist fervor as some in the white communities fear the influence of a multi-racial majority on the political power structure. St. Louis Republicans were outraged when activists set up a voter-registration booth near Michael Brown’s memorial: the executive director of the state Republican Party was quoted as saying “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.” He described it as “injecting race” into the tragedy of Brown’s death.

As well as the shooter of Michael Brown, at least five other officers in the town’s 53-member department have been named in civil rights lawsuits alleging the use of excessive force. A 5-year veteran of the force, Dan Page, was suspended after video surfaced of him saying “I’m into diversity. I kill everybody, I don’t care” and describing Obama as “that illegal alien who claims to be our president.” Another officer posted on social media that he thought the Ferguson protesters should be “put down like rabid dogs.”

North of Delmar Boulevard, running east-west through St. Louis, the population is overwhelmingly black

North of Delmar Boulevard, running east-west through St. Louis, the population is overwhelmingly black

St. Louis itself is probably the most segregated city in the U.S. today. The Washington Post comments: “the break between races — and privilege — is particularly drastic, so defined that those on both sides speak often about a precise boundary. … St. Louis’s geographic divide stems from a legacy of segregation — legal and illegal — and more recent economic stratification that has had the effect of reinforcing racial separation. … Look at a map of St. Louis, color-coded by race, and majority-African American communities sit almost exclusively to the north — that is, above Delmar [Boulevard].”

Ferguson lies just outside the city’s boundary, in St. Louis county. When deindustrialization impoverished communities in the region, they lost their revenue base. The county’s infrastructure and police are now financed by court fines and fees imposed on the mainly African-American population for minor nonviolent offenses like traffic violations; if they can’t pay, they are arrested.

Despite having a population of just over 21,000, Ferguson issued 32,975 warrants for non-violent offenses – most of them driving violations – in 2013. African-Americans make up 67 percent of the town’s population, but 86 percent of drivers stopped by police are black. Jeff Smith, an assistant professor at the New School and a former Missouri state senator from St. Louis, says Ferguson “facilitates a debtors prison” because of the high number of arrest warrants that get issued when people don’t pay.

Bradley Rayford, an executive of student government at a local community college, told the Washington Post that youth feel “they are caught in a vise, with police harassment on one side and little economic opportunity on the other. ‘It’s a socioeconomic thing,’ he said. ‘It begins with getting a traffic ticket. You get pulled over and get this huge ticket. In some parts of the city, tickets actually double.’ Get a couple of those and soon ‘most people can’t afford their bills.’ … ‘If you don’t pay the ticket,’ Rayford said, ‘you get a court date. But you can’t go to court because you’re working two jobs. Now, warrants are out for your arrest. You can get arrested, then you can’t get a job. So many people are made criminals from traffic tickets’.”

While the Ferguson protests are not the revolution, the recognition of a common political enemy in the one percent has the potential to unite diverse communities in the fight against globalization. Bradley Harmon, local head of the Communication Workers of America, told The Nation labor is “probably the most racially integrated social force in St Louis. … I think if we’re going to reverse the decline of organized labor, we’re going to [have to] take on the systemic poverty and exclusion and withdrawal of public services that made Ferguson happen.” Lara Granich, director of the Missouri branch of Jobs with Justice, points out that “Getting rid of the idea that there has to be poverty jobs is a very important step. Economic inequality and racism are mutually reinforcing forces.”

The confluence of struggles against police intimidation and corporate exploitation is evidenced by the fact that members of the fast food workers group “Show Me $15” participated in the Ferguson demonstrations from the beginning. According to Labor Notes, “Shermale Humphrey used to work at the McDonald’s in Ferguson that sits right across from the scene of Brown’s shooting. ‘This [protesting] is something I had to do,’ she said. ‘I’m African American, and this could be anyone I know. I just can’t let it go on any longer.’ … Humphrey and her fellow Show Me $15 member Jeanina Jenkins were both arrested for trespassing when they protested at McDonald’s shareholders meeting in Oak Brook, Illinois, this May. Jenkins works at that same Ferguson McDonald’s but hasn’t been to work since the August 9 shooting, spending her days and nights at rallies instead.”

More and more Americans of every ethnicity will be drawn into political struggles against poverty wages and the apartheid-like policies that aim and often succeed in separating Americans. As Michael Brown’s tragic death shows, Americans of color in the United States continue to pay their most lethal costs. Yet these policies also blind those who benefit from white privilege to the costs they themselves will have to bear should they seriously try to assert their rights against the plutocratic order that now controls the state through laws like the Patriot Act, which has given us a militarized police, and decisions like Citizens United, which allows plutocrats and corporations to essentially buy Democratic and Republican candidates and unlimited legislative and political power.

The Ferguson protests and inclusive movements like the campaign for a $15 minimum wage, OUR Walmart, and activist groups fighting evictions to protect communities, fighting for We the People, herald the challenge that’s coming to plutocratic supremacy.

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Filed under African Americans, fast-food workers, Ferguson, low-waged, Obama, OUR Walmart, police presence, political analysis, poverty, Republicans

Harris vs. Quinn: a Line in the Sand Against the Rights of American Workers


The majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has handed down a series of reactionary decisions, theoretically narrowly-demarcated but in fact capable of being extended broadly. In each case the justices had to bend the law to the extent of legislating from the bench. As well as their highly-publicized verdicts restricting access to contraception for women, their ruling in Harris vs. Quinn hammered another nail into the legal status of unions, laying the ground for further attacks on collective bargaining.

The decision undermines the way unions are financed from “fair share” provisions that mandate contributions from non-union members covered by collective bargaining agreements. According to the Guardian, the majority ruled that only “fully fledged” state employees should pay these fees. “The ruling split off a whole class of workers – in this case homecare aides who are paid by the state but, in the court’s view, still essentially employed by the individuals they care for – and ordered that in these cases, compulsory union dues were a violation of free speech rights.”

The justices thus created a whole new category of “partial public employee,” who in their view were not represented by a union in collective bargaining nor deserving of workplace protections. Justice Alito, who gave the decision, reportedly wanted to go further and eliminate the requirement that all government workers contribute to the cost of collective bargaining; the scathing language he used indicates support for future legal challenges to the rule.

In These Times correspondent Moshe Marvit explains that the suit was originally restricted to whether unionized home healthcare workers could be subject to the “fair share” contribution. “However, once the case arrived at the Supreme Court in 2013, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation raised the stakes and argued that anything short of a right-to-work model—under which any employee covered by a collective bargaining agreement could forego paying any dues—for all public employees violated the First Amendment.  In the Court’s decision, a five-Justice majority held that fair share provisions for home healthcare workers were unconstitutional, and indicated repeatedly that the 1977 case that allows such provisions for all public sector employees is on shaky ground.”

The Legal Defense Foundation is funded by the National Right to Work Committee, formed in 1955 by Southern businessmen connected to the John Birch Society with the express purpose of undermining unions and applying to all public sector workers the so-called “right to work” laws that bar workers from obligating co-workers to join a union or pay dues, even in workplaces where a large majority vote to form a union. The Committee’s aim of de-funding unions to limit their strength has lately been coopted and financed by extremist billionaires (including the ubiquitous Kochs) and now been given the imprimatur of the Supreme Court majority.

However, this strategy of the one per cent is likely to blow back in their faces. Union bureaucracies have functioned historically as a way of controlling and diminishing labor unrest, and while the administration of unions will be hard hit by the elimination of part of their finances, the grassroots resistance to the plutocracy is growing irrespective of unions’ legal status. Workers and community activists are finding creative ways to organize despite legal restrictions, with groups like OUR Walmart and the campaign for a living minimum wage uniting activists with the low-paid to challenge the status quo.

Public sector workers already face legal constraints on union activity, such as laws making it illegal to strike. For example, New York City transit workers who struck in 2005 were fined a day’s pay for each day of the strike and their union fined $2.5 million. The leadership capitulated, but the members reorganized, elected a new leadership, rebuilt their strength and campaigned in the community they served for support, especially after they got the city moving again after Hurricane Sandy. They were able to generate enough political pressure on the state governor to gain a more favorable contract than other state unions were able to achieve.

Legal attacks are forcing a turn to a new pattern of trade unionism that turns outwards to connect with the community, like the Chicago Teachers Union, rather than the sectional pattern of industry-specific organizing that dominated the years after World War II.

In a parallel development, the two-party political system is being subverted by the successes of the Working Families party, the election of self-proclaimed socialists in Seattle, and moves by African Americans in the South to mobilize independently of the national Democratic party leadership. In Mississippi, African-Americans intervened in the Republican primaries to prevent an overtly racist and segregationist tea-partier from becoming their representative.

Political science professor Daniel Franklin comments: “The narrow re-nomination victory of six-term Republican Senator Thad Cochran in the Mississippi primary run-off may well mark a watershed moment in politics in the South. In his desperation to overtake Tea Party favorite Chris McDaniel, who beat him in the first round of the primary, Cochran hit upon a novel idea: to invite the black community into the final stage of the Republican Party nomination battle. … Mississippi’s black leaders recognized and took advantage of this historic opportunity, by urging their compatriots to vote in the GOP contest to gain a measure of meaningful clout in Mississippi politics.” While turnout increased everywhere in the primary, it jumped highest in Cochran’s strongest counties, which have the highest concentration of African Americans in the state.

Whatever Cochran’s character, the assertion of political clout by African Americans in America’s most racist state is significant. But it upset the national Democratic party leadership, who had been hoping for an extreme Republican candidate in order to potentially elect a Democrat as senator (albeit one with politics marginally less racist than Cochran’s). Their outlook was reflected in Donna Ladd’s Guardian comment: “the GOP cannot suddenly welcome a bunch of black Democrats to their tent. They voted almost exclusively for the federal money Cochran brings home – not for the party that abandoned African Americans back in the 1960s.” Franklin points out an alternative perspective: “At the very least, Cochran will now have to be cognizant of who kept him in office – and if he keeps the pivotal support of African American constituents in mind, he may well moderate his politics to inoculate himself against pressure from the far right.”

African Americans’ insistence on basic rights in Mississippi is also reflected in the state NAACP’s launch of four new efforts: a ballot initiative to better fund public education, a push for voter rights, funding community health centers, and defending workers’ rights. It organized a march on Nissan’s auto plant in Jackson, where nearly 75 percent of the workforce is black, during celebrations commemorating the passage of the Voting Rights Act 50 years ago. Nissan has resisted the efforts of the UAW to organize the plant in the right-to-work state, where full-time workers get $24 an hour, but over a thousand temporary contract workers are employed at just $12 an hour.

Student activists joined actor Danny Glover and Nissan workers to demand Nissan allow a fair union election and respect the civil and labor rights of workers by stopping anti-union intimidation and threats of workers who want to form a union. Activist Monica Atkins said: “Our rally showed that as long as Nissan workers can’t exercise their fundamental labor right to form a union, which is a civil right, then the civil rights struggles of 50 years ago will continue. And young people, again, will lead the way in that fight.”

The Supreme Court’s majority ruling in Harris is the latest line in the sand in that fight, but American men and women will not accept a loss of natural and civil rights by legislative fiat. In Seattle, in Chicago, and especially in the South, new social coalitions are forming that will revitalize American democracy beyond political ideology and defend Americans’ rights to organize and fight.

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Filed under African Americans, chicago teachers, low-waged, OUR Walmart, political analysis, Republicans, Supreme Court, Tea Party movement, UAW, walmart strikes

Revive the spirit of Occupy to defeat re-segregation


Gary Younge raises the awkward truth that, on the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision that struck down school segregation in the U.S., the country is far from showing progress toward racial equality in education and is in fact going backwards.

As white suburban dwellers secede from the problems of inner city school districts, setting up charter schools or carving out their own academic enclaves, race and class disadvantages are concentrated in systems with dwindling resources. Younge writes in the Nation: “Schools are re-segregating, legislation is being gutted, it’s getting harder to vote, large numbers are being deprived of their basic rights through incarceration, and the economic disparities between black and white are growing. In many areas, America is becoming more separate and less equal.”

Essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates, arguing the case for reparations for slavery in the Atlantic magazine, has described how the physical fact of inner city racial segregation was a result of government policy. He told Democracy Now: “In the 1930’s and the 1940’s, we set up the FHA [Federal Housing Administration], we set up the Home Owners Loan Corporation. We set up specific bureaus to make our communities look the way they look. In 1995, I took a trip to Chicago, my first time as an adult and I was writing down the Dan Ryan Expressway, and at that time there was the longest row of projects, public housing I think in North America along that corridor. And it struck me as a moral disaster. What I did not understand at that time was that this was actually planned, that African-Americans had been cut out of any sort of legitimate housing program during the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s. Instead we got was public housing built on a segregated basis at that point — in that particular case, on the Southside of Chicago. There’s no way to understand housing as it exists today without federal policy. Black people, as was the thinking at the time, could not be responsible home-loaners.”

Coates gives more detail of how African Americans were excluded from the suburbs in his Atlantic article. “It was the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation,” he says, “not a private trade association, that pioneered the practice of redlining, selectively granting loans and insisting that any property it insured be covered by a restrictive covenant—a clause in the deed forbidding the sale of the property to anyone other than whites.” He concludes: “The traditional terminology, white flight, implies a kind of natural expression of preference. In fact, white flight was a triumph of social engineering, orchestrated by the shared racist presumptions of America’s public and private sectors.”

The political consequences of these racist presumptions is spelled out by Paul Kantor of Fordham University: “By the 1970s … the population movement to the suburbs and Sunbelt, together with national partisan electoral realignments, diminished the importance of central city electorates in national party coalitions. This triggered almost continuous political marginalization of the cities during succeeding years. Fueled by a powerful conservative tide and a new Republican political majority, the last decades of the century witnessed almost continuous withdrawal of the federal government from the cities and the elimination or diminution of national urban programs.”

One of the most politically divided states is Wisconsin, where there is an extreme concentration of Democratic voters in urban Milwaukee, and conservative Republican voters in the outer suburbs. White flight has made the city of Milwaukee majority nonwhite, while the surrounding suburbs of Waukesha, Washington and Ozaukee are less than 2% African-American and less than 5% Hispanic. A recent in-depth article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that distance from urban centers, rather than income or education, is the best barometer of a community’s political orientation: whites in less densely populated outer suburbs are more Republican than whites closer in. In metro areas with concentrated urban poverty and crime, racial and political polarization is high. According to Wisconsin state legislator Mandela Barnes, concentration of poverty in Milwaukee feeds “this perception (outside Milwaukee) that there’s a ‘culture of takers.’ And that can become political fodder.”

Social divisions – between urban and rural, urban and suburban, even different parts of the same city – underlie today’s political polarization, but do not completely explain it. While the Sentinel article argues that racial segregation is driving political segregation, the antagonism is the result of the creation of an ideological myth that state welfare benefits a dependent urban (black) class at the expense of tax-paying suburbanites. White flight gave the myth a social basis, but ideological work had to be done to create the imaginary of the “welfare queen.”

Republicans from the time of Nixon and Reagan have leveraged this social estrangement to justify cutting social spending and to conceal business-subsidizing legislation behind “cultural” diversions. The super-rich have succeeded in pushing the Republican party even further to the right by sharpening the same ideological differences to an extreme through a barrage of propaganda and skewed cable news.

Although partisan polarization has created a political impasse in Congress, the American public is in remarkable agreement on class issues despite their partisan allegiances: preserving the remaining social safety net and the need for a living wage for the low-paid. Seattle city council has already passed a bill mandating a $15 an hour minimum wage, the California Senate passed a bill pushing the state’s minimum wage to $13 by 2017, and in Chicago, nearly half of the city council has signed on to a $15 minimum wage law.

It also was public pressure that took cuts to social security off the table, forced the government to make at least token reforms to the NSA, and forestalled military intervention in Syria.

There needs to be an ideological struggle against neoliberal tea-party ideas that the poor and socially deprived are the “takers” in society. It was because the Occupy movement so effectively dramatized the inequality that gives the top tenth of the top one percent all the increase in social wealth that it was so determinedly stamped out by the Obama administration. The left should change its focus from party political differences to campaign on issues that unite the American public.

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Filed under African Americans, low-waged, Neoliberalism, Obama, occupy wall street, poverty, public schools, Republicans