BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
Subscribe

Archive for the ‘Politics’

Really, Laura, Really?!

December 19, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Politics

I had no intention of writing anything about the school shooting in Connecticut. Maybe Pablo Neruda could have found words to talk about something like that, but it is beyond my capacity.

I understand the desire for people to ask how it could happen and how we can prevent it from happening again. But there is a fine line between asking why and using a tragedy to push your pet policy positions or promote your philosophy. It isn’t a line I want to walk.

But then I read this piece on Jezebel and I just can’t let it go.

Some incredibly brave woman wrote about being the mother of a child with serious mental health problems. If you haven’t read I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother yet, do it now.

Try to imagine what it would be like to be that mother. Imagine trying to cope with your kid’s behavior. Imagine the terror every time you hear about a serial killer or mass murderer. Imagine having to wonder – Will I have to put him in prison? Will my kid kill himself? Will he kill me? Will he kill somebody else? What if my only option to stop him from killing me or someone else is to kill him? You know that thought has to have gone through her mind.

If that child ever does anything horrible, the first thing anyone will ask is where the parents were. No. Scratch that. They will ask where the mother was. They will want to assess blame. They will want to dissect every action that woman has taken. They will want to know why nobody was warned.

Well, we have been warned. And we have been pleaded with. That mother put all her anguish out for the world to see. But instead of thinking about how hard that was, how hard it must be to live like that, some compassion-challenged asshat at Jezebel called the woman’s torment a distraction.

A fucking distraction.

According to Laura Beck, we are supposed to leave mental health diagnosis to the experts. But someone whose last posts included World’s Best Airport Pianist and Alison Brie Loves to Rap, Danny Pudi Loves to Beat Box is fully qualified to declare that mental health care needs to take a back seat to gun control. And if that means using someone else’s tragedy and shitting all over a woman’s cry for help. Fuck em.

No. Laura. Fuck you.

I rarely blog anything truly personal, at least not the details. It is so difficult to dig up the most painful things that happen to you and lay them out for the world. And there are too many Lauras out there who can’t even see what it is that they are shitting on.

So when I read something like I am Adam Lanza’s Mother, the only thing I am thinking about is what it would be like to experience that. I’m thinking how fucking hard it would be to share it and how hard it would be to not share it. And I’m thinking – Whatever you do, lady, don’t read the comments!

So, Laura Beck, how about this. How about you take the most awful thing that has ever happened to you in your life and write about it. How about you dredge up all the pain and splay it out for the internets to use and to tear apart and to tell you how your pain is completely besides the point. Maybe then you might find some tiny bit of compassion in there somewhere?

No? Well then stick to writing about airport pianists.

Confessions of a Former Liberal: A Response to Rebecca Solnit

October 02, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics

Boy Confessing to Priest "You First"By now you have probably read, or at least heard about, Rebecca Solnit’s piece on TomDispatch titled The Rain on Our Parade. Salon republished it as Hey left wing: Quit griping.

Solnit is frustrated that us radicals are constant Debbie Downers who do nothing but bitch and moan. We can never see anything positive. We are ebullience crushing, sanctimonious, disgruntled, sour, bitter, narcissistic, privileged, fools who lack any compassion for the people who will be helped by the incremental policy changes that Democrats will bring us.

Ouch.

I will give Solnit this. I think that radicals are too often better at pointing out problems than offering solutions. I wish that the Criminal (in)Justice Committee spent more time talking about restorative justice and other alternatives to incarceration. People need a positive vision to fight for and not just enemies to fight against.

But the Democratic Party and incremental policy change are not that vision.

I used to be a liberal. I was brought up to believe that the people who voted Republican were all ignorant, racist, homophobic, Christian fundamentalists who were beyond redemption. The implication being that people who voted for Democrats were not those things. The “good” people voted for Democrats and our only option for change was to cross our fingers and hope more people would pick the Democratic Team.

I was excited that my first election put Clinton in office. He wasn’t 250 years old. He wasn’t going to arm Contras. He talked about civil rights and justice. I thought things were going to be different. But they weren’t. In fact, in a lot of ways they got a hell of a lot worse. And I knew that Clinton was about as good as it was going to get. It was a horrible and paralyzing realization.

Contrary to Solnit’s assertion that us radicals fixate on international issues and ignore the national issues that Democrats are better on, it wasn’t international issues that made me give up on Democrats. It was studying drug policy. It was understanding that Bill Clinton was arguably the worst president on the drug war. It was understanding how racist our criminal (in)justice system is and how Democrats (including our current vice president) were front and center pushing the policies that have 7 million people under correctional supervision.

Studying drug policy opened my eyes to other things to. Like that a whole lot of libertarians who voted Republican were actually paying attention to an issue that most liberals didn’t (and still don’t) seem to notice. Here liberals were pretending to care more about poor people and people of color, but (at best) ignoring one of the systems that targets them mercilessly. Suddenly, I had to reassess my view of who was the enemy and who I had common ground with. Suddenly, I found myself in conversations with libertarians and conservatives and people who defied our limited categories.

Losing my liberal baggage and walking away from electoral politics is not about hopelessness or nihilism or sanctimony. Walking away from electoral politics was what finally started to give me some hope. If I kept smashing my head against our electoral system, I would have permanent brain damage from all the political concussions. It isn’t “an excuse for not really doing much.”  It was the opposite. It allowed me to see possibilities that politics keeps hidden. It allowed me to start building the unlikely relationships that the defenders of our hideous systems are rightly terrified of.

I find it incredibly ironic that Solnit says that radicals are being divisive, that we fall into a “cartoonish black and white.” It isn’t just that she says it in an article that has such contempt for us and has understandably pissed a lot of people off. It is that she also talks about how we have to “counter the Republican right.” It is that she talks about how we have to be intelligent and empathetic, unlike those people. How is that not divisive? I no longer see the right as Republican. I certainly don’t see it as the people who vote Republican any more than those who vote Democrat, at least not all of them.

I see the problem as the systems that crush us all – the criminal (in)justice system, the school system that is designed to teach us the futility of resistance, the corporate behemoths who bleed us dry, the thugs with guns here and abroad – and whoever it is that upholds those systems. Any president, or anyone who wants to be president, has the job of conserving those systems. And that means that they are the problem.

I get that sometimes a small policy change can make a real difference in someone’s life. And I do not begrudge the people who work for those changes, even though I believe that they are operating on a gross misunderstanding of how change happens. If a movement is big enough, if the culture shifts, the change will come no matter who is in office. But a politician cannot make change (even if we think they want to) without the movement. The movement is what is important. Solnit herself uses the Montgomery bus boycott as an example. That wasn’t an election. That was direct action. That was a movement.

It is so frustrating to see people buy into the right/left, Democrat/Republican divides that have so little meaning. I can’t stand watching people waste their time begging at the doors of the powerful and watching them be worn down by it.  That is what I find divisive. That is what I find hope killing. That is what keeps us from resolving problems and coming up with creative solutions.

I get frustrated too, Rebecca. Sometimes I need to let out a good rant. I live in DC. I am surrounded by party loyalist “progressives” who focus myopically on the few scraps Obama has thrown and close their eyes to the damage he has done with bombs, bailouts and a total disregard for civil liberties. Sometimes the only response I am capable of is to puke out a damage list. Sometimes, when someone accuses me of being a brat for not being grateful that the person who cut off my arm gave me a band-aid,  I really lose my shit.

So I won’t hold all the insults against you. But I hope the insults and uncharitable assumptions are out of your system now. Because every moment we spend being frustrated at each other’s frustration is one less moment we spend building the relationships and movements that might actually do something.

My Uterus Hates Elections

September 28, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Stratification

Giant Uterus Heads for GOP ConventionI always know there is an election coming up when my email and blog reader are filled with stories meant to scare my uterus into a self defensive trip to the voting booth.

This Republican sheriff candidate would shoot women who tried to have abortions. This Republican Senate candidate thinks there shouldn’t be a rape exception because women can’t get pregnant from rape. (Never mind if either of them win.) These asshats introduced a bunch of anti-abortion legislation. (Never mind if it got passed). Don’t you understand how much republicans hate women? Better go give Obama some money.

I’ve been saving all the “Republicans hate women” posts for a month. I had so many they crashed my web browser when I tried to pull them all up. Emily’s List even has this fancy War on Women graphic. Apparently, war is only an election topic when it refers to cutting funding for abortions. It isn’t like we need to talk about Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia or the worldwide war on drugs.

Abortion voters – Let me explain why you are, at best, wasting your time.  While you have been out fear voting for president and panicking about whether or not SCOTUS will overturn Roe v. Wade, states and cities have been regulating abortion out of existence. Instead of writing screeds about how misogynistic republicans are and putting all your energy into presidential elections, maybe you could try talking to the women that those republicans are appealing to.

Because candidates like Romney become “pro-life” when they run for president in order to appeal to the millions of people who don’t support abortion rights. And not all those people are men. Have you ever observed the yearly march for life in DC? Thousands come out for that. And the majority seem to be women.

But I guess it is easier to ignore those women and write them off as brainwashed.

I hate what those women believe. I think they are incredibly misguided. But dismissing them as tools of politicians or popes is as obnoxious as thinking all sex workers are passive victims who need to be rescued. Abortion rights are not in danger because of Mitt Romney. They are in danger because the 1.5 million women who live in Mississippi aren’t out in the streets trying to stop their last remaining abortion clinic from being regulated out of existence. And that is what people should be focused on.

Who becomes president isn’t going to make a damn bit of difference. So all your scare emails are bullshit.

I don’t only get scare emails about abortion. Women’s health is the thing this year. 16.8 million dollars have been poured into political advertising on the subject. Today, Planned Parenthood wants me to #askmitt a bunch of questions about women’s health. Oddly, I don’t notice any questions about the health effects of incarceration, indefinite detention, or bombings. But I guess then we would have to ask Obama too and we can’t have that.

Meanwhile, Mitt is telling women that his party is going to give us economic opportunity. Because you too can step all over people and earn gazillions of dollars in the process. Then you don’t have to worry about unplanned pregnancy, cause you can just hire some poor woman to take care of those kids for you. Democrats are no better. Former Obama administration official Anne-Marie Slaughter explains how challenging it is to climb the ladder of success, sip champagne with important people, and still manage to raise kids. If only we had better daycare or slightly more flexible hierarchical jobs, then even more of us could make our dreams of champagne and nannys a reality.

The worst is when the male politician’s bullshit doesn’t quite stick and they trot out the wife. We are supposed to believe that George W. Bush can’t be that bad. I mean look how lovely Laura is. She is a woman who really knows her place. And what about that Michelle Obama speech at the democratic convention. She didn’t mention anything about her husband’s bank bailouts, but look how glamorous she is. Doesn’t it make you want to buy a new dress and head for the polls?

Sometimes the politicians will even throw a woman in the race to get us excited. Because once a woman is in power, everything will change. You know. Just like after Thatcher got elected. The only thing more torturous than hearing non-stop coverage of Sarah Palin last election is reading shit about how Hillary is god.

If you would rather burn the ladder than climb it. If you actually care about the lives of all people and not just fetuses or middle class women in the United States. If you are disgusted by politicians bombing women under the guise of protecting them. If you understand that good things don’t happen from the top down. Then there is nothing for you in politics, especially not in presidential elections.

Going to the polls because “at least he supports abortion rights” is like staying with some shitbag guy because “at least he doesn’t beat me.”  Fine. That’s better. But could we raise our expectations just a smidge?

I need some election strength midol.

Is the Media Liberal?

August 06, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics

A friend of mine just posted this nifty graphic showing how much more often the media quotes the GOP. But I’m not sure that it says much.

If conservative is defined as wanting to live by religious doctrine or being anti-abortion, then the media is not particularly conservative. If conservative is defined as supporting current institutions of privilege, power, and domination, then the media is conservative as hell.

If liberal is defined as wanting fundamental changes and real social justice, then the media is not liberal. If liberal is defined as being classist, elitist, and status-seeking, then the media is liberal as hell.

When people who identify as conservatives call someone a liberal what they often really mean is that they are classist and arrogant – which many liberals are. When people who identify as liberal call someone a conservative, what they often really mean is that they are sexist and white supremacist – which many conservatives are.

But you can find classism, arrogance, sexism, white supremacy and every other wrongheaded, hierarchical view among people who identify as liberal or conservative or anything else. You’ll also find people who identify as liberals who are not arrogant and people who identify as conservatives who are not white supremacist.

As far as I’m concerned, both “liberals” and “conservatives” are fundamentally conservative. Is the mainstream media radical? Hell no.

Dear Reformists, You’re Welcome

July 20, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Seeking

You're WelcomeThe problem with people who focus on reform is that they don’t seem to understand how reform actually happens. They want to focus on influencing the people in power by gaining access. That almost never leads to change, or at least not the kind of change that we need. Reform happens in one of two ways:

1. You find an insider who agrees with you and they perceive that they can do something without suffering any political consequences. That is incredibly rare. And the only things that don’t lead to political consequences, like a loss of political contributions, are things that are not going to significantly change our lives.

2. The people have already decided to ignore or challenge the rules and reform becomes self preservation. If enough people decide that they are not going to bow down to the powers-that-be then the powers have two options. They can increase repression or they can change the rules to reflect what the people have already decided to do. Otherwise, their power is completely delegitimized.

My aim is to delegitimize the state. If the state wants to make some reforms in order to hold on to power a little longer, and those reforms help some people, that’s cool. My aim doesn’t change. And since my aim is not reform, I am not going to stop pushing when reform happens. Reform is not an end, but a delay. That doesn’t mean we vilify reformists for delaying the evolution. The only way to ensure that we don’t replace a horrible system with an even worse one is to be patient enough to have most of the people on the same page. That takes time.

But reformists need to stop vilifying radicals as well. That isn’t only because of their misunderstanding of how change happens. It is also because they are not appreciating how much the uncompromising rabble-rousers outside help them. The more radical we are, the more reasonable they seem. The more reasonable they seem, the more access they have. Without us, the people who want to use “insider strategies” aren’t going to get a foot in the door.

Lets take the civil rights movement. The minds of people had changed. And the people most affected by racism decided that they were no longer going to obey. There were sit-ins, bus boycotts, freedom rides. And because so many people’s minds were already changed, many joined those first few. Now, not only was the United States embarrassed on a worldwide scale (claiming to be a beacon of freedom while attacking peaceful protesters with dogs and hoses), but they risked a complete breakdown of authority. So the laws changed. Do not kid yourself that they changed because of the huge heart of the people sitting in the Whitehouse. Perhaps other leaders would have chosen the full-scale repression route, but ultimately it was self preservation.

What’s more, the existence of more revolutionary groups pushed the state to work with the part of the civil rights movement that was asking for justice within the current structure (as opposed to the part that wanted to bring the whole thing down). While you could argue that the Civil Rights Act had serious political consequences for democrats, ultimately it legitimized the state. If you don’t believe me, try having a conversation with a liberal about social justice and why it was direct action and not something LBJ signed that ended segregation.

So next time some reformist gives you crap for being “unrealistic” or “not serious” or “naive” or some such bullshit just say “you’re welcome.”

 

And…Not Either/Or

April 16, 2012 By: Mel Category: Politics

Taibbi had an interesting post up a bit ago about the growing consensus about big banks. He talks about a report by the head of the Dallas fed’s research department who is calling for an end of “too big to fail” banks.

Moreover, he talks about an inherent perversion of the system that has led to a two-tiered regulatory environment: a top tier where the misdeeds of TBTF banks are routinely ignored and unpunished (“virtually nobody has been held accountable for their roles in the financial crisis,” he writes), and a lower tier where small regional banks are increasingly forced to swim upstream against “the law’s sheer length, breadth and complexity,” leading to a “massive increase in compliance burdens.”

To me, the dichotomy outlined by Rosenbaum helps explain the appearance of two seemingly contradictory major protest movements: a Tea Party movement fulminating against a repressive, overweening regulatory regime, and the Occupy movement railing against an extreme laissez-faire system bordering on lawlessness.

It’s amazing how often the liberal leaning who want more regulations and the libertarian leaning who feel over-regulated think they are on different sides. Usually, they think the other side is completely blind and not operating on facts. But often they are both operating on facts, just different sets of them.

When I hear about cops raiding a barbour shop under the pretext of the drug war and then charging people for (heaven forbid) doing hair without a license, it is nearly always from a libertarian. And when I hear that regulations had some minor moderating effect on the free for all that is the conspiracy between government and big business, it is nearly always from a liberal. (Granted, they don’t often  explicitly recognize that conspiracy.)

Nice to see some acknowledgement that two seemingly contradictory views can actually both have some truth to them. Could people be beginning to add two and two together?

Is Stand Your Ground a Distraction?

April 02, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Politics, Stratification

A lot of people, especially in mainstream media, have been talking about the “stand your ground” law. Darren Hutchinson wrote an excellent post about how “stand your ground” has nothing to do with the Trayvon Martin case. Definitely read the whole thing, but the short of it is this.

In some states, self-defense is not available if the defendant had the ability to “retreat” from the harm. In other words, if the defendant could have escaped the danger without using violence, then the use of force is not justifiable. These states impose a duty to retreat in order to discourage the unnecessary use of force.

In 2005, Florida amended its law to remove the duty to retreat provision. So long as the person claiming self-defense had a legal right to be in a particular location, that individual can stand his or her ground and remain there without any duty to retreat from the threat

So why are people talking about lobbying to reinstate the duty to retreat in the context of this case? Doesn’t that imply that the shooter was possibly acting in self defense? An armed man followed an unarmed kid under the pretext of there having been some robberies in the neighborhood? Even if you believe the kid might possibly (eyebrow raised) have punched the shooter who was creepily following him, that just boggles the mind.

Did Martin have a TV in his hoodie pocket?  What if he had stolen the world’s tiniest TV? Is theft now a capital offense? Zimmerman didn’t even see the kid do anything, much less have reason to fear for his life. Is every bar brawl where somebody punches somebody now a self defense claim for murder? Not even the people behind the law change think it applies in this case, cynical as their statements may be.

Let me repeat. ZIMMERMAN WAS FOLLOWING HIM!!! I’m sorry to yell, but really.

This case isn’t just tragic and infuriating, it is absurd. And we should be focusing on the absurdity that any kind of self defense claim was accepted by the police. Seems to me that talking about the  “stand your ground” provision as though it applies is almost helping the defense.

We should be focusing on the murder and on the police and prosecutors who let someone walk away from it. Why are so few people discussing all the citizens of Sanford that have come forward about how local police have handled their cases? Why aren’t we discussing a pattern of Sanford police letting people connected with the police department get away with murder? Why is there so little discussion about how Zimmerman may have walked away from previous charges because his father is a judge? I mean the guy had an altercation with a cop and got no charges. Who the hell does that ever happen to?

The law is applied differently to people who are poor or black or otherwise marginalized.

“I can tell you that if it was the other way around, someone would be in jail by now,” Ulysees Cunningham said Wednesday.

No shit.

Florida is a cesspool of thug cops and corrupt officials. One of my earliest memories growing up in Florida is of the Liberty City riot that broke out after a bunch of white cops got away with beating a black man to death. The cops tried to cover it up. The truth came out. They went to trial and then they walked away.

Nothing much has changed. Seven black men were shot and killed by Miami police in the course of eight months. As of last July, there were 63 police shootings in Miami (25 resulting in death) that remained under perpetual “investigation” while nothing happened to the officers. Growing up in Florida, I can tell you that I didn’t know many young males that were not regularly harassed by cops. If you were black, it was far worse and far more often, but Florida cops are real fucking thugs.

To the best of my knowledge, the “stand your ground” provision does not compel police and prosecutors to let somebody go if there are no other witnesses. It may be true that self defense claims have increased since the law was enacted. And the Garcia case that Ta-Nehisi Coates mentions on his blog is disturbing as hell. But I personally would be careful to assume that is typical.

Changes in the law around the obligation to retreat actually came about in part in response to battered women who killed their abusers.

And 100 years later, courts and legislatures faced a new problem: What to do with women who said they were victims of domestic violence and had killed their husbands to save themselves? Did you have a right not to retreat if the person coming after you lived under the same roof? At first, the answer was no, to the fury of feminists. Then in 1999, the Florida Supreme Court said a woman who shot and killed her husband during a violent fight at home could successfully call on the Castle Doctrine to argue self-defense. “It is now widely recognized that domestic violence attacks are often repeated over time, and escape from the home is rarely possible without the threat of great personal violence or death,” the court wrote.

What if we were talking about obligation to retreat in the context of one of the women who was in prison for murdering her abuser and finally pardoned by the Ohio governor? What if it was somebody faced with a bunch of armed Neo-Nazis stopping them on the street? What if Martin had been able to wrestle the gun away from Zimmerman and shoot him? Would you want the prosecutors to claim that he should have run away? We’re talking Florida here. The state would have killed Martin for sure.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that it is how laws are selectively enforced that is at the root of the horrors that are our criminal (in)justice system.

One last thing.

Growing up in a very liberal, urban household, I was under the impression that it was only white supremacists stocking up for a race war that wanted guns. In the last fifteen years, I have met a whole lot of gun loving people who distrust/hate authority (especially cops) far more than they dislike people of other races and ethnicities.

I’m not saying that said people are free from racism. Racism is in the air and water in this country. I’m saying that I was often mistaken in what I imagined peoples primary motivations to be.  I was often mistaken about where their anger and rage was focused. Not always mistaken. But often enough.

Florida is an extremely libertarian state. Even the liberals lean libertarian. Focusing on a provision of the self defense law doesn’t only seem to help the defense. It also distracts attention from the massively corrupt and abusive authorities in the state (especially police and prosecutors). And it decreases any chance people in Florida might have to build the seemingly unlikely alliances that might actually have the power to change things.

Let me be clear that I do not think focusing on police abuse and corruption should be instead of focusing on racism. Racism needs to be front and center. But we also need to be focusing on classism, privilege, power, and the abuses of power that are epidemic in the criminal (in)justice system.

It would not be easy to make those alliances. And it is asking a lot of people to try. But what other way is there?

_____________

* If anyone has good data on the cases that have used “stand your ground” as part of the defense, send them along.

Kony and the Problem with Advocacy

March 09, 2012 By: Mel Category: Politics, Seeking

I’ve been thinking a lot about advocacy the last couple weeks, in large part because that advocacy mindset keeps seeping into the movement building and organizing work that I’m involved in. I wrote a little bit about this in my post on the perils of DC activism. But then a friend sent me the Invisible Children video on their Kony campaign and I think it is time to expand a bit on what I was saying.

Like I said in the other post, I am not completely against advocacy.

People have immediate and pressing needs. Sometimes a minor reform can actually help somebody without increasing the state’s power. Changing the crack to powder cocaine sentencing discrepancy does not challenge the racist prison industrial complex. Though I’m sure those people getting out of prison a bit early are glad someone did it.

It is possible to have radical goals and still spend some of your time dealing with the power structures in order to help people in the here and now. But many of the people who do that work do not have a critique of the system. They think the system needs tweaking, but that it is the best we can do. Sometimes those people will run into so many roadblocks that they accidentally hit on something. But without a radical critique of the system, and of power itself, they end up being misdirected into doing things that are completely wrongheaded.

The Invisible Children video is inspiring in a lot of ways. And they get some things right. It all starts with a personal relationship, with someone coming face to face with a human being who would rather die than keep on living in constant danger of being kidnapped and turned into a murderer. Not being radical, his first thought was to go to the US government to fix things. Finding that they didn’t give a shit, he turned to educating and organizing everyday people. One by one they built awareness and relationships.

But then they used that strength to go right back to the power structures to ask them to fix it. I’m supposed to cheer the involvement of the U.S. government and military in Uganda? Ask an Iraqi or one of the millions of people being tortured in U.S. prisons how great they are. And what about the Ugandan government? Are we really supporting the government that wants to kill gay people, that murdered nine people during their elections, that regularly tortures and imprisons people on a whim?

The goal should not be to get enough collective strength to make power seeking thugs pay attention – whether they call themselves LRA or Senator. The goal should be to get enough collective strength to make power seeking thugs impotent.

Now, of course, you are thinking. But what should we do?

I don’t understand the situation in Uganda well enough to propose a solution. Neither do you. Neither do people in the US government, probably not in the Ugandan government either. I’m still trying to understand the situation in my own city well enough to avoid doing dumb shit that will make things worse. How arrogant would I have to be to think I could come up with the answer for Uganda? And that doesn’t even begin to address histories of colonialism, imperialism, racism, privilege…

The people in the communities of Uganda are the only ones who know their situation well enough to pose workable answers. That doesn’t mean we ignore people who are suffering. It means we support people in resolving their conflicts. But we need to do it on their terms and with the understanding that we come from a position of power and privilege, a position that the aim is to dismantle. We need to do it without turning to people who are responsible for equally heinous shit.

P.S. That pic comes from afriPOP with African reactions to the video.  This piece on Clutch is worth a read too.

Shoot the Messenger

January 09, 2012 By: Mel Category: Change, Conflict, Politics

First commandment is not to shoot the messengerTa-Nehisi Coates wrote a post about Ron Paul the other day. He featured a clip of Paul talking about the civil war. In the clip, Tim Russert asks Paul about his statement that “Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war. There were better ways; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery.” Paul stood by his previous statement,

600,000 Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn’t have gone to war. He did this just to enhance and to get rid of the original intent of the republic…Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. The way I’m advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years. Hatred and all that existed. Every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. That doesn’t sound to radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

Coates put up the video to demonstrate Paul’s ignorance about the civil war, one of the reasons he could never vote for him. (Ever hear of a little place called Haiti, Ron?) The post inspired a lot of comments about war and pacifism. Being Coates’s blog, they were mostly intelligent and thoughtful.

Not so intelligent or thoughtful was this screed on Mondoweiss. Jerome Slater refers to Ron Paul as simpleminded and then goes on to make that tired argument about what Howard Zinn referred to as the “good wars.” I mean what kind of evil, naive, stupid person couldn’t see that we needed to fight the nazis in WWII? Right?

Howard Zinn never claimed to be a pacifist. But he did challenge conventional beliefs about the American Revolution, the Civil War, and WWII. You can see one of his presentations here. Here is what he had to say about the civil war.

You can’t deny that the civil war is fought and slavery is ended. But even while not forgetting that – that is very, very important – it is worthwhile at least looking at the other side of the balance sheet. 600,000 dead in the civil war…in a population of 30 million…600,000 today would mean we fought a civil war in which 5 million people died.

What if we want to end racial segregation, or maybe even slavery? Should we fight a war in which 5 million people died in order to end slavery? Of course, we want slavery to end. But is this the only way it could have been done, with a war that takes 600,000 lives? There are countries in other parts of the world and in the Western hemisphere that did away with slavery and without a bloody war, all over Latin America and the West Indies. It is worth thinking about.

It is not that we want to retain slavery. No. We do want to end slavery. But again, we have to let our imaginations go. Is it possible that slavery might have been ended some other way? Maybe it would have taken longer. This is a very important factor. If you want to avoid horrendous violence and accomplish something, you may have to wait longer. The nice thing about violence, it is fast. You want to accomplish something fast, violence will do it. But very often you can accomplish the same thing without violence if you have a more orchestrated plan of – not submission, not appeasement, not giving in, not allowing the status quo to go on, but – gradually eroding the status quo…

We did not really end slavery. It is not simply they were slaves and now they are free. No they weren’t free. They were put back into serfdom, not slavery, but serfdom after the civil war. They were left without resources. They had to go back and work now for the same plantation owners that they were enslaved by with the same kind of restrictions on them because they had no resources. So to say slavery was ended, not quite true. And as you know, black people then went through 100 years after the supposed end of slavery and after the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments are passed to the constitution promising racial equality. For 100 years after the supposed end of slavery black people are segregated and live as second class human beings.

I think the similarities between what Ron Paul said and what Howard Zinn said are striking. The thing is, I don’t ascribe the same intentions to Ron Paul as I do to Howard Zinn. Paul is a politician who has been associated with all kinds of nasty racism. Zinn was a teacher and civil rights activist who was beloved by former students like Alice Walker.

Kevin Drum says that “Ron Paul is such a profoundly toxic messenger that his support for a non-interventionist foreign policy probably does the cause more harm than good.” He may be right about that. But I think the bigger problem is that we are all to often only capable of hearing ideas when they come from sources we like.

Let’s take another quote.

Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

That quote almost sounds anarchist. I might think that the person who said it had some interesting ideas. Unfortunately, the quote came from Ronald Reagan’s inaugural address.

One of the truly unfortunate things about politics is that politicians adopt the language of ideas that people respond to, but they only adopt them in order to gain power. Then we associate that language and those ideas with the actions of dishonest, smarmy politicians and close our minds to the ideas themselves.

I’m not trying to defend Ron Paul here. I sure as hell won’t be voting for him (or anyone else). I also think that there are quite a few more things to factor in when thinking about whether or not there was another way to end slavery. Slavery was violence. Slaves were beaten, raped, and killed every day. But it upsets me that people can’t keep an open mind, even when the idea is delivered by a hideous messenger.

Nobody is right all the time. Nobody is wrong all the time. Important ideas can come from unexpected sources. And we need to be able to question everything, to weigh everything, particularly where lives are at stake. It is only by keeping ourselves open to all information, no matter where it comes from, that we have any chance of not repeating the mistakes of the past.

Unlike Paul, Howard Zinn did not make a definitive statement about whether or not the civil war should have been fought. He only asks us to contemplate if there could have been another way.

You have to imagine something that didn’t happen as opposed to accepting something that did happen…Otherwise we are going to be stuck with history. Otherwise we are going to be stuck with doing the same thing over and over again, because this is the only way it can be done.

How is that simpleminded?

Targeted, Vilified, Ignored

December 22, 2011 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Politics, Stratification, Work

In a strip mall, right across the border from DC, there is a small event center called Plaza 23. People can rent the space for all sorts of things, from birthday parties to cabarets. Often, they have go-go shows.

Go-go is DC music. This is a city that can be incredibly segregated by both race and class. Go-go is the music of the working class and poor black people that are all too often targeted, vilified, or ignored. The people who listen to go-go are portrayed as violent and dangerous. So is the music they listen to and any place that plays it.

That isn’t to say that there have never been violent incidents at or near go-go shows. But any time there is violence nearby, it is all too easy for the “authorities” to swoop in and scapegoat the artists and venues based on already preconceived ideas about who listens to go-go.

Plaza 23 is located in PG County, Maryland. PG county had a spate of violence in January of 2011. Unfortunately for Plaza 23, and all the other music and dance venues in PG County, the sixteenth homicide of 2011 happened not far outside the Plaza after a TCB show.

In response, the PG county council passed an emergency bill regulating dance halls. Lowlights of the bill include:

  • A $1,000 nonrefundable license fee
  • A background check and denial of a license to anyone who has been “convicted of a felony, violating any Federal or State laws relating to offenses involving moral turpitude, or crimes involving financial misrepresentations”
  • A security plan, including installation of cameras inside and outside
  • Private security officers to patrol the perimeter
  • Suspension or revocation of the license at the whim of the “authorities”
  • No dancing between 2:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
  • A $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail for anyone who “is a licensee, and/or owns, leases, operates, is in charge of or in apparent charge of an adult dance hall or teen dance hall, or promotes a facility or event required to be licensed under this Division without first having obtained a public dance license”. Same penalties for violating any provision of the act.

The emergency bill sailed through the PG County council in July of 2011. Just before the bill was passed, the owner of the Plaza tried to get his license renewed, but the county was not renewing them. Applications in accordance with the new bill were not made available until October. In November, as the Plaza was trying to apply for their license, they were cited and closed down.

According to this Washington Times article from December 18th, “no new dance hall licenses have been granted and the county has ceased to renew old licenses…save for the two venues whose old dance hall permits are still valid, Prince George is a dry county in regard to dancing.”

Isn’t this the plot from Footloose?

Shutting down the Plaza because someone got shot outside is like saying we should shut down the Hilton across from my house. After all, Reagan got shot there. And those shady political types are always gathering there. It’s just too damn dangerous. And perhaps we ought to outlaw homes too. That is where the biggest chunk of violent crimes occur.

That part about hiring security for the outside of venues. They were already required to do that. Every event required inside security and the hiring of off duty cops for the outside. Except that the PD in PG county refused to show up for some shows. That saying about how we should respect cops because they run towards violence while we run away from it – turns out not so much.

What about felons not being allowed to own dance venues? DC has the highest rates of incarceration of any city in the United States, often on bullshit drug charges. Three out of four black men in DC will go to prison. Then they come out and nobody will hire them. On top of that, all kinds of licenses are denied to former felons. Now we can add owning a dance hall to that list. How is a person supposed to make a living?

Ironically, at the very same time this is happening, the DC council is holding press conferences on jobless ex-offenders.

“We need to look at helping ex-offenders get businesses and apply for contracts,” said Charles Thornton, director of the Office of Returning Citizen Affairs in the D.C. Mayor’s Office. “If you own a certified business, with more contracts, you can hire who you want.”

Charles, maybe you could go and have a chat just over the border? In fact, perhaps you could have a chat with a whole bunch of Maryland officials. While incarceration rates across the country are decreasing, Maryland has the dubious distinction of being one place where they are going up. Somehow I don’t think bills like this are going to help.

Plaza 23 is not giving up without a fight. They have hired an attorney. But they are fighting without being able to operate their business. And their funds are sure to dry up soon. They are asking people to spread the word and to sign this petition to let them operate while they contest this.

I said before that this is about a community that is routinely targeted, vilified, or ignored. Let’s not be the people that ignore them.