"I don't battle anymore! I uplift motherfuckers!" - GZA
Thursday, March 30, 2006,12:17 PM
The Browning and Yellowing of Whiteness
By Tamara K.Nopper

A Review of Who is White?:

In 1903 the ever-forward looking W.E.B. DuBois declared, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” A century later, the relevance of DuBois’ observation is being contested by those preoccupied with the increasing ethnic and cultural diversification of the US. Many argue that DuBois’ centralization of the boundary between the entangled black and white worlds is outdated, going so far as to propose that we now have “colorlines.” Such gestures are more than semantic and instead imply that blackness as the definitive social boundary for US race relations is either less pronounced or completely erased by the significant presence of nonblack racial minorities such as Latino/as and Asian Americans.

This is precisely why George Yancey’s book Who is White?: Latinos, Asians, and the New Black/Nonblack Divide is such a necessary read. Yancey, a sociologist at the University of North Texas, provides compelling evidence that supports the (unstated) hypothesis that the color line of the twentieth century will remain firmly entrenched in the twenty-first. Using as his point of departure the popular projection that whites will soon be a minority group, Yancey opens his book by arguing that whites will remain the majority despite the growing populations of Latino/as and Asian Americans. How can the increase of Latino/as and Asian Americans enforce, rather than disrupt, the color line? Simple. By 2050, according to Yancey, most Latino/as and Asian Americans will be white.

For those who consider race to be a biological fact rather than a social and political one, Yancey’s projection is sure to raise eyebrows. Yet his argument is grounded in an understanding of how whiteness, like any racial category, is socially and politically defined yet enacted in real and meaningful ways. Whiteness is also fluid and maintains itself when threatened by incorporating previously excluded groups. In the chapter “How to be White,” Yancey covers ground commonly discussed by practitioners of what is becoming institutionalized as “whiteness studies,” including the racialized discrimination and nativism that different European ethnic groups faced before they eventually became socially accepted by Anglos and then later by a more expansive pan-European race simply known as “white.”

Since it is generally argued that these ethnic groups were able to assimilate into whiteness because they had similar phenotypes and could trace their roots to Europe – a point Yancey acknowledges – what makes Who is White? so provocative is its author suggests that European phenotype or ancestry will no longer be prerequisites for becoming white. While the US Census Bureau treats Latino/as as an “ethnic group” of sorts by emphasizing Latin American origin, many are socially read as “brown.” Most Asian Americans are markedly non-European in phenotype and ancestry. Nevertheless, Yancey argues that while they may experience patterns of discrimination and racism from whites, both Latino/as and Asian Americans are following the same pattern of assimilation as Europeans did before them.

Grounding his study within the framework of noted sociologist Milton Gordon, whose work on assimilation emphasized social acceptance by the majority and identification with it from the minority, Yancey provides compelling evidence indicating that Latino/as and Asian Americans are well on their way to becoming white. In the chapter “They are Okay – Just Keep Them Away from Me,” the author analyzes survey data on racial groups’ social attitudes regarding who they approve as potential neighbors as well as marriage partners for their children.

Contrary to the popular image of blacks as racially restrictive, Yancey discovers that black respondents are the most open to all other races. Yet despite being the most receptive to other groups, blacks in general are rejected by all nonblack groups – whites, Latino/as and Asian Americans. While some assume that whites will be closed off to anyone not white, Yancey’s research show that white respondents are more accepting of Latino/as and Asian Americans than they are of blacks. In turn, Latino/a and Asian American respondents are fairly receptive to one another as well as whites. Overall, Yancey’s findings reveal that whites, Latino/as and Asian Americans do not tend to reject one another as possible neighbors or their kids’ spouses, but all three groups show a general resistance to blacks in these social roles.

That all three nonblack groups were found to be more accepting of one another in a way that they were not of blacks suggests that assimilation may be less about desiring whiteness as it is avoiding blackness. Yancey concludes, “The rejection of African Americans, rather than the acceptance of European Americans, is the best explanation of social distance in the United States.”

This assessment will surely be criticized for being “pro assimilationist,” a response Yancey anticipates: “It is debatable whether assimilation is a desirable goal for racial minority groups. I do not take a position either way. However, understanding the ability of a given minority group to assimilate is necessary for determining the degree of acceptance experienced by that minority group.”

Another criticism of Yancey’s work may come from those who argue that Latino/as and Asian Americans are different from whites based upon cultural norms. Such proponents may think that Yancey’s emphasis on majority acceptance gives “whites too much power” by ignoring Latino/as’ and Asian Americans’ distinct cultures or worldviews. Yet Yancey shows that despite their supposed cultural differences from the white majority, Latino/as and Asians Americans do not necessarily reject dominant culture and ideology when it comes to racial politics.

For example, Yancey shows that, for the most part, Latino/as and Asian Americans express dimensions of what he labels a white racial identity, which, according to the sociologist, emphasizes individualism, color-blindness or an aversion to dealing with race, and a belief in European cultural normativity. Analyzing survey data measuring respondents’ opinions of “racialized” issues such as affirmative action, prison spending, welfare, and talking about race, Yancey determines that, even when controlling for social and demographic characteristics, “there was no situation where the nonblack minority groups differed significantly in a direction opposite from that by which European Americans differed from African Americans.” In other words, black respondents were the only group to demonstrate a “distinct” worldview – due, according to Yancey, from experiencing an intense amount of social alienation. Conversely, Latino/a and Asian American respondents did not significantly distinguish their opinions from those held by white respondents. This finding suggests that despite their current status as non-whites, Latino/as and Asian Americans are more apt to hold a white world view than a black one.

Overall, while some will surely dismiss Who is White? as “academic” – a practice many activists and even academics engage in when confronted with political conclusions that make them uncomfortable – Yancey’s research is extremely relevant for contemporary racial politics. Most importantly, Yancey’s findings hint at possible inadequacies of current approaches to “multiracial” America, most of which emphasize a white/non-white paradigm that minimizes or outright dismisses the reality of antiblack racism as the structuring and generative ideology of US race relations and social inequality.

Thus, Who is White? is more than a rich sociological study; it also serves as a blueprint for the political possibilities that lie before us if left unaddressed. In the final chapter, Yancey leaves us with a concluding remark that will hopefully be appreciated for its DuBoisian approach, which is one that challenges today’s activists and intellectuals to not only deal with the past and present, but also with the very real possibilities of America’s racial future:

“Previous research on majority group domination tends to be built upon either the concept that white supremacy is, or was, the dominant ideology among majority group members, or the concept that dominant group members utilize notions of color blindness to protect their racial position of privilege. Both concepts lead to an understanding of an American racial hierarchy formed by a white/nonwhite dichotomy. In such a system all non-European groups face social rejection and theoretically all non-European groups deserve an equal amount of academic attention – even if they have not been receiving it. Yet given the merging of nonblack racial minorities into the dominant culture, this white/nonwhite dichotomy is losing relevance. A black/nonblack dichotomy produces more understanding about contemporary race relations. It suggests that the informal rejection of African Americans, rather than a tendency by the majority to oppress all minority groups in a roughly equal manner, is the linchpin to the American contemporary racial hierarchy.”

Tamara K. Nopper is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Temple University in Philadelphia. She is currently working on her dissertation which explores the different sources of capital and resources available to Korean immigrants to open, run and expand small businesses in the US. Contact her at
posted by R J Noriega
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,12:14 PM
1000 new prisoners a week
Jail population surges to 700,000: advocates and elected officials call for increasing re-entry programs and prison reforms

Washington, DC – According to data to be released by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) this Sunday, the number of individuals incarcerated in jails and prisons grew by 48,452 between midyear 2003 to 2004. Driven largely by growing federal and state prison populations, and huge increases in jail populations during the past 4 years, BJS reports the incarcerated population grew by 932 people each week.

Despite crime being in decline for over a decade, these numbers show a persistent rise in prison population, and push the US’s rate of incarceration to a startling 726 per 100,000-maintaining the US status as the world’s leading incarcerator (*England-142, *China-118, *France-91, *Japan-58, *Nigeria-31---*Incarceration rates per 100,000 citizens).

“Unless we promote alternatives to prison, the nation will continue to lead the world in imprisonment,” says Jason Ziedenberg, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute. “While the numbers of incarcerated people continue to rise, some legislators are realizing that by removing the barriers to housing and jobs that formerly incarcerated individuals face when re-entering their communities, we can improve public safety, cut corrections costs, and rebuild communities.”

Prisoners and Jail Inmates at Mid-Year 2004 shows that between mid-year 2003 and 2004, the jail population grew by 3.3%, the state prison population by 1.3%, and the federal prison population by 6.3%. The increase in the federal population is unnerving to some since Congress is currently considering HR 1528, legislation that could drastically increase the federal prison population even more.

“The mandatory sentences in HR 1528 are cruelly punitive and destructive," said Julie Stewart, president and founder of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "Despite a growing national movement away from mandatory sentencing laws, HR 1528 creates new mandatory sentences and senselessly increases existing ones. It targets parents with mandatory sentences if they witness their children using or selling drugs and do not turn them in and it would completely remove a judge’s discretion to consider the facts or the individual’s role in all federal cases.”

While more people are coming into the prison system through the front end, around the country, federal and state legislatures are considering a flurry of reforms designed to help the 650,000 people who leave prison each year to return to their communities.

Nearly two-thirds of people released from prison are re-arrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor. A spectrum of federal legislators, including Rep. Robert Portman (R-OH) and Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) are working to pass the Second Chances Act (HR-1704), legislation that will coordinate federal policies on re-entry and increase job opportunities, housing, substance abuse, and mental health treatment, as well as provide support for families of those re-entering society.

Some states are reluctant to enact the kinds of reforms needed to reduce prison populations, or ease the burden on people returning to communities. In California, which has the second lowest level of parole success the nation, the state recently scrapped plans to reduce the parole failure rate by diverting people to drug treatment and community corrections instead of prison—even though these policies had already been shown to be reducing parole returns. Instead of closing prisons, which the state had originally projected it would do, the administration is instead pressing ahead to open the state’s 34th prison at Delano.

“There is more than a decade of evidence that California’s pre-reform parole system was a billion-dollar failure resulting in the highest return to prison rate in the country,” said Dorsey Nunn, a member of the Coalition for Effective Public Safety (CEPS). “It’s ironic that because we purportedly don’t have evidence that these reforms are working, we instead choose to return to a system we know is a disaster.”

Prisoners and Jail Inmates at Mid-Year 2004 continued to show an alarming rise in the number of people incarcerated as 13 states reported at least a 5% increase in their prison populations, led by Minnesota (13.2%), Montana (10.5%), and Arkansas (8.9%). On the flipside, 12 states including Connecticut, Alabama, and Ohio, saw their incarcerated populations drop. According to the survey, jails were holding nearly 100,000 more people than they were in 2000.

“We should be alarmed at the growth that we are witnessing in the local jail population, which has continued to rise exponentially,” says Dana Kaplan, a policy analyst with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City who is studying jail expansion.

Kaplan said the growth was caused by factors including: increased arrest rates for low-level offenses, particularly in low-income neighborhoods where many residents cannot meet bail, the increased detention of non-citizen immigrants in county facilities, and a rising number of people with mental illness who were formerly residing in mental health facilities. She said jail growth could easily be addressed by implementing the reforms that move people through, and frequently out, of the system faster.

The Justice Policy Institute is a Washington DC-based think tank dedicated to ending society’s reliance on incarceration and promoting effective and just solutions to social problems. For more information on the issues cited here, please contact the commentators listed above, or contact Malik Russell at (202.363.7847x308, or cell 202-271-0742), or visit our website at www.justicepolicy.org
posted by R J Noriega
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,10:39 AM
The New Face of Revolution
By Paul Kingsnorth

Perhaps you can hear it from where you’re sitting now: that low, distant rumble, growing clearer and closer as you focus on it. Perhaps you can see the storm clouds on the horizon. Out there, change is coming.

This is not empty rhetoric. All over the world, there is a revolution brewing. It’s not a revolution in the sense that the twentieth century has taught us to understand the word: not a massing of red flags this time, not a determination to seize the state, not a gathering of Peoples’ Parties with blueprints for a new Utopia. This is something that is harder to explain at first sight, but no less significant.

It’s clear why it is happening: the world is more unequal than at any time in history. A planet in which 20 percent of us are rolling in 86 percent of the wealth, while the very systems of life itself come under increasing strain from mass over-consumption, is not a civilization built to last. The uprising against it began years ago, and it’s gathering in speed.

What used to be called, inaccurately, the ‘anti-globalization’ movement has become a worldwide web of people and groupings dedicated to reclaiming the power that the cult of the market has stolen from them.

They see how the stealing of that power has affected their communities, and as they do so, they see what their causes, their battles and their problems have in common with those elsewhere in the world. They have become a movement – the first genuine global movement of its kind – and they are still growing. Two hundred thousand of them gathered at the World Social Forum in Mumbai, India, this year, and they represent the tip of a political iceberg that is tens of millions strong.

Who are they? They are Mexican Zapatistas, still battling after a decade to reclaim their community rights from the corporate stitch-up of nafta. They are the South African poor in the townships fighting water privatization. They are landless people all over Latin America, struggling to redefine their position in a corporate farming world. They are local activists in the US, using the law to drive corporations out of their small towns. They are farmers in India, resisting corporate patents and the market-driven food industry. They are tribal people in New Guinea, resisting the corporate enclosure of their land for mining and oil drilling. They are young Europeans trying to rethink resistance to capitalism in the shadow of communism’s spectacular failure.

What is new, and gives cause for hope, is the widespread awareness that old answers will no longer do. Few people involved in this new wave of resistance are very interested in seizing the state. They see where that has taken us in the past, and they also see that globalization has undercut the ability of governments to run their own national economies. In almost every country on Earth, political parties of left, right or center now pledge themselves to the gods of the market. What this new wave of revolutionaries wants is the chance to create its own spaces, free of the rule of the market. If the state can’t deliver that, other ways must be found.

In other words, this is a power struggle. We can talk about nafta, about the wto, about corporations – but at the heart of it all is an age-old human battle over resources, power and the public mind. Money is currently winning that battle. Societies everywhere are becoming markets first and communities second. We become consumers above all, and only then are
we given permission to be human.

This movement seeks to make us people first, to drive the market back into its cage. It can be seen, perhaps, as a battle for the public over the private mind. Who wins it – movement or market – will determine our future. It could be our last, best chance to avoid the McWorld that so many of us can see around the corner.

The movement exists on every continent, but it has no global manifesto because it seeks, in the words of Subcomandante Marcos, “a world with many worlds in it.” Both communism and neoliberalism gave us universal blueprints for prosperity and both failed us. This time, we can’t afford to be fooled by ‘Big Ideas’ that are built around theory and not reality. We can’t afford it because, as the global economy spreads into every nook and cranny of a previously unmarketed world, resistance spreads too.

Perhaps you think that this resistance, and the determination to build a new world based on new values which flows in its wake, is something that just happens to other people, somewhere else in the world. Think again. Wherever you live, it’s coming your way, and it’s coming fast. There has never been anything quite like this before, and as long as the global economy continues to move in its current direction, spreading poverty, inequality, exclusion and environmental destruction in its wake, this rebellion can only grow. Keep your eyes on the horizon, and get ready.
posted by R J Noriega
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,10:37 AM
Kick it Over! – The Rise of Post-Autistic Economics
By Deborah Campbell

The university-aged children of France’s ruling class ought to have been contentedly biding their time. They were, after all, destined to move into the high-powered positions reserved for graduates of the elite École Normale Supérieure (ENS). “The ENS is for the very good students, and the very good students aren’t afraid to ask questions,” says Sorbonne economist Bernard Geurrien.

He was addressing a conference on the disconnect between mainstream neoclassical economics instruction and reality. Economics has an ideological function, he told them, to put forth the idea that the markets will resolve everything. In fact, he added, economic theory absolutely doesn’t show that.

A group of economics students, their worst fears confirmed, approached Guerrien eager to “do something.” A week later, 15 of them gathered in a classroom to hash out a plan of attack. Someone called the reigning neoclassical dogma “autistic!” The analogy would stick: like sufferers of autism, the field of economics was intelligent but obsessive, narrowly focussed, and cut off from the outside world.

By June, their outrage had coalesced into a petition signed by hundreds of students demanding reform within economics teaching, which they said had become enthralled with complex mathematical models that only operate in conditions that don’t exist. “We wish to escape from imaginary worlds!” they declared. Networking through the internet and reaching the media through powerful family connections, they made their case.

“Call to teachers: wake up before it’s too late!” they demanded. “We no longer want to have this autistic science imposed on us.” They decried an excessive reliance on mathematics “as an end in itself,” and called for a plurality of approaches.

With that, ‘autisme-économie,’ the post-autistic economics (PAE) movement, was born.

Their revolutionary arguments created an earthquake in the French media, beginning with a report in Le Monde that sent a chill through the academic establishment. Several prominent economists voiced support and a professors’ petition followed. The French government, no doubt recalling the revolutionary moment of May 1968, when students led a 10-day general strike that rocked the republic to its foundations, promptly set up a special commission to investigate. It was headed by leading economist Jean-Paul Fitoussi, who also traveled to Madrid to address Spain’s nascent “post-autistic” student movement. Fitoussi’s findings: the rebels had a cause. Most important to the PAE, Fitoussi agreed to propose new courses oriented to “the big problems” being ignored by mainstream economics: unemployment, the economy and the environment.

A backlash was inevitable. Several economists (notably the American Robert Solow from MIT), launched a return volley. What followed was an attempt to discredit the PAE by implying that the students were anti-intellectuals opposed to the “scientificity” of neoclassical economics. The accusations didn’t stick: the dissenters were top students who had done the math and found it didn’t add up.

Gilles Raveaud, a key pae student leader, along with Emmanuelle Benicourt and Iona Marinescu, sees today’s faith in neoclassical economics as “an intellectual game” that, like Marxism and the Bible, purports to explain everything, rather than admitting there are many issues it hasn’t figured out. “We’ve lost religion,” says Raveaud, “so we’ve got something else to give meaning to our lives.”

Benicourt described his hope for PAE as follows: “We hope it will trigger concrete transformations of the way economics is taught . . . We believe that understanding real-world economic phenomena is enormously important to the future well-being of humankind, but that the current narrow, antiquated and naive approaches to economics and economics teaching make this understanding impossible. We therefore hold it to be extremely important, both ethically and economically, that reforms like the ones we have proposed are, in the years to come, carried through, not just in France, but throughout the world.”

Raveaud and Marinescu, key French PAE student leaders, visited the Cambridge Workshop on Realism and Economics in the UK. “It must have been the right time,” says Phil Faulkner, a PhD student at Cambridge University. That June he and 26 other disgruntled PhD students issued their own reform manifesto, called “Opening Up Economics,” that soon attracted 750 signatures. Economics students at Oxford University, who had been at the same workshop, followed with their own “post-autistic” manifesto and website. Similar groups linked to heterodox (as opposed to orthodox) economics began emerging elsewhere in Europe and South America.

The Cambridge rebellion “was prompted by frustration,” says Faulkner, but they hadn’t expected such a positive reception from fellow students. “If anyone were to be happy about the way economics had gone, we’d expect it to be PhD students, because if they were unhappy with it, they simply wouldn’t be here. In fact, that wasn’t the case.”

As expected, Cambridge ignored them. Their efforts, Faulkner explains, were meant to show support for the French students and to use their privileged position at the esteemed economics department to demonstrate to the rest of the world their discontent. Some of the signatories worried that speaking out could have dire consequences, and the original letter was unsigned. “I think it’s more future possibilities, getting jobs, etc., that [made them think] it might not be smart to be associated with this stuff,” says Faulkner. He says he already knew that his research interests meant he would have to work outside of the mainstream: “There was nothing to lose really.”

Edward Fullbrook, a research fellow at the University of the West of England, had already launched the first post-autistic economics newsletter in September 2000. Inspired by the French student revolt and outraged by stories emerging from American campuses that courses on the history of economic thought were being eradicated (which he viewed as an effort to facilitate complete indoctrination of students), Fullbrook battled hate mail and virus attacks to get the newsletter off the ground. Soon, prominent economists such as James Galbraith stepped up to offer encouragement and hard copy. The subscriber list ballooned from several dozen to 7,500 around the world.

Fullbrook edited The Crisis in Economics, a book based on PAE contributions, now being translated into Chinese. Textbook publishers, always hunting for the next big thing, have been inquiring about PAE textbooks. It makes sense, says Fullbrook, since enrollments in standard economics classes have been dropping, cutting into textbook revenues. In other words, students just aren’t buying it. Ironically, says Fullbrook, “Market forces are working against neoclassical economics.”

One of his contributors is Australian economist Steve Keen, who led a student rebellion in 1973 that led to the formation of the political economy department at Sydney University. “Neoclassical economics has become a religion,” says Keen. “Because it has a mathematical veneer, and I emphasize the word veneer, they actually believe it’s true. Once you believe something is true, you’re locked into its way of thinking unless there’s something that can break in from the outside and destroy that confidence.”

But the neoclassical model still reigns supreme at Cambridge. Phil Faulkner now teaches at a university college, but is limited to mainstream economics, the only game in town. “If you’re into math, it’s a fun thing to do,” he says. “It’s little problems, little puzzles, so it’s an enjoyable occupation. But I don’t think it’s insightful. I don’t think it tells these kids about the things it claims to describe, markets or individuals.”

Sitting in an overcrowded café near Harvard Square, talking over the din of full-volume Fleetwood Mac and espresso fueled chatter, Gabe Katsh describes his disillusionment with economics teaching at Harvard University. The red-haired 21-year-old makes it clear that not all of Harvard’s elite student body, who pay close to $40,000 a year, are the “rationally” self-interested beings that Harvard’s most influential economics course pegs them as.
“I was disgusted with the way ideas were being presented in this class and I saw it as hypocritical – given that Harvard values critical thinking and the free marketplace of ideas – that they were then having this course which was extremely doctrinaire,” says Katsh. “It only presented one side of the story when there are obviously others to be presented.”

For two decades, Harvard’s introductory economics class has been dominated by one man: Martin Feldstein. It was a New York Times article on Feldstein titled “Scholarly Mentor To Bush’s Team,” that lit the fire under the Harvard activist. Calling the Bush economic team a “Feldstein alumni club,” the article declared that he had “built an empire of influence that is probably unmatched in his field.” Not only that, but thousands of Harvard students “who have taken his, and only his, economics class during their Harvard years have gone on to become policy-makers and corporate executives,” the article noted. “I really like it; I’ve been doing it for 18 years,” Feldstein told the Times. “I think it changes the way they see the world.”

That’s exactly Katsh’s problem. As a freshman, he’d taken Ec 10, Feldstein’s course. “I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Ec 10 presents itself as politically neutral, presents itself as a science, but really espouses a conservative political agenda and the ideas of this professor, who is a former Reagan advisor, and who is unabashedly Republican,” he says. “I don’t think I’m alone in wanting a class that presents a balanced viewpoint and is not trying to cover up its conservative political bias with economic jargon.”

In his first year at Harvard, Katsh joined a student campaign to bring a living wage to Harvard support staff. Fellow students were sympathetic, but many said they couldn’t support the campaign because, as they’d learned in Ec 10, raising wages would increase unemployment and hurt those it was designed to help. During a three-week sit-in at the Harvard president’s office, students succeeded in raising workers’ wages, though not to “living wage” standards.

After the living wage ‘victory’, Harvard activists from Students for a Humane and Responsible Economics (SHARE) decided to stage an intervention. This time, they went after the source, leafleting Ec 10 classes with alternative readings. For a lecture on corporations, they handed out articles on corporate fraud. For a free trade lecture, they dispensed critiques of the WTO and IMF. Later, they issued a manifesto reminiscent of the French post-autistic revolt, and petitioned for an alternative class. Armed with 800 signatures, they appealed for a critical alternative to Ec 10. Turned down flat, they succeeded in introducing the course outside the economics department.

Their actions follow on the Kansas City Proposal, an open letter to economics departments “in agreement with and in support of the Post-Autistic Economics Movement and the Cambridge Proposal” that was signed by economics students and academics from 22 countries.

Harvard President Lawrence Summers illustrates the kind of thinking that emerges from neoclassical economics. Summers is the same former chief economist of the World Bank who sparked international outrage after his infamous memo advocating pollution trading was leaked in the early 1990s. “Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]?” the memo inquired. “I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that . . . I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted . . . ”

Brazil’s then-Secretary of the Environment, Jose Lutzenburger, replied: “Your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane . . . Your thoughts [provide] a concrete example of the unbelievable alienation, reductionist thinking, social ruthlessness and the arrogant ignorance of many conventional ‘economists’ concerning the nature of the world we live in.”

Summers later claimed the memo was intended ironically, while reports suggested it was written by an aide. In any case, Summers devoted his 2003/2004 prayer address at Harvard to a “moral” defense of sweatshop labor, calling it the “best alternative” for workers in low-wage countries.

“You can’t ignore the academic foundations for what’s going on in politics,” says Jessie Marglin, a Harvard sophomore with share. share didn’t want a liberal class with its own hegemony of ideas. It wanted “a critical class in which you have all the perspectives rather than just that of the right.” Without an academic basis for criticism, other approaches “aren’t legitimized by the institution,” she says. “It becomes their word versus Professor Feldstein, who is very powerful.”

Harvard economics professor Stephen Marglin, Jessie’s father, teaches the new course. A faculty member since 1967, Marglin was the tail end of a generation formed by the Great Depression and World War II. “This generation,” he says, “believed that in some cases markets could be the solution, but that markets could also be the problem.”

His new course still uses the Ec 10 textbook, but includes a critical evaluation of the underlying assumptions. Marglin wants to provide balance, rather than bias.

“I’m trying to provide ammunition for people to question what it is about this economic [system] that makes them want to go out in the streets to protest it,” he says. “I’m responding in part to what’s going on and I think the post-autistic economics group is responding to that. Economics doesn’t lead politics, it follows politics. Until there is a broadening of the political spectrum beyond a protest in Seattle or a protest in Washington, there will not be a broader economics. People like me can plant a few seeds but those seeds won’t germinate until the conditions are a lot more suitable.”

The revolution is spreading. A slogan emblazoned on a wall on a Madrid campus, where the PAE movement has been making inroads, makes its case: “¡La economia es de gente, no de curvas!” – “Economics is about people, not curves!”
posted by R J Noriega
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,9:32 AM
Hurricane Katrina Exposed the Face of Poverty
by Maya Wiley
Director Center for Social Inclusion

As a nation, we face a rising tide. The flood waters of Lake Pontchartrain and the mighty Mississippi River reminded us that poverty, while it comes in all colors, is disproportionately black. The broken levees also showed us that our disinvestment in our public infrastructure harms us all, even if it does not harm us all equally. We have eliminated legalized racial discrimination against people of color, but have left the structures it produced intact.

This is structural racism, which has five primary characteristics: 1) it is not race neutral; 2) history matters in that the structure of our society has been constructed over time and racial hierarchy has been an integral part of that restructuring; 3) effects matter because they tell us how the structure operates so that intentional bad acts are irrelevant; 4) racial disparities are effects that show the structure does not operate neutrally; and 5) everyone is harmed by the structure, even if we see it most glaringly in majority people of color communities.

The structures have unevenly distributed the benefits and burdens of our public policies and private actions. For example, many outer-ring suburbs, which have become among the most opportunity-rich communities in most metropolitan areas, have received a much larger allocation of transportation infrastructure funds than their urban neighbors. When these wealthy, lesspopulated suburbs are built, inner-city tax dollars subsidize their sewers, utility lines and new schools. The poor are paying for the rich. And often lower-income blacks are paying to support better-off whites.

Policies and actions driving racialized suburbanization have divided us as a nation. It has reduced our cross-racial interaction, fragmented our governmental structures between cities and suburbs, and it has made both city and suburbs, still critical in the globalizing economy and in the national consciousness, weak and unsustainable. However, there is a way out—the rising waters are also a rising tide of possibility. Efforts to reduce central city poverty have led to an increase in regional wealth and a reduction of regional poverty.

We must cross urban and suburban governmental fragmentation, business and community group divisions, and racial group identities to work together and invest in the poorest people and their communities, to connect them to opportunities like jobs in growth sectors, training and educational opportunities, transportation and housing. The state of Black America is the state of the nation. We, black and white, single mother and two-parent household, citizen and undocumented, all of us are critical to the strengthening of our nation and the success of our democracy.
posted by R J Noriega
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,9:30 AM
The State of Civil Rights
by The Honorable Nathaniel R. Jones

Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Retired) Senior Counsel

The state of civil rights in America is most precarious. This should come as no surprise to the civil rights advocates who have been manning the

The warning signs have been many. The most ominous warning came from the late Justice Thurgood Marshall in the final dissenting opinion he wrote before retiring from the Supreme Court. One need only look at subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court on civil rights remedies, and in cases that impact on the rights of minorities and the poor, to know that Justice Marshall’s warning is coming to pass. Moreover, events surrounding the 2000 and 2004 presidential and congressional elections, followed by the way in which the federal judicial nominating process has been manipulated, have proven Justice Marshall prescient.

Voting rights are at the core of the people’s right of self-determination. When that ability is impaired, the officials who do get elected frequently dismiss or are deaf to the pleas of racial minorities. A recent example of this took place in the cynical way United States Senators turned a deaf ear to the protests raised by black and minority voters over Supreme Court nominees. Sadly, some Senators allowed their political partisanship and electoral cowardice to override their solemn duty.

This was a classic instance of non-accountability that cries out for a renewal and expansion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. There is a daunting fear that as a result of the way federal judicial nominations were made and the confirmation process was conducted, the ability of civil rights advocates to continue relying
upon the federal courts to define and enforce remedies may have been seriously undercut.

Those who relied upon the jurisprudence developed and refined by Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, William H. Hastie, and the civil rights bills enacted under the leadership of Clarence Mitchell, Whitney M. Young, Jr., Joseph Rauh and others, must be eternally vigilant and work to arouse the nation to the peril that confronts civil rights.

As Justice Marshall warned,“scores of established constitutional liberties are now ripe for reconsideration.” What was true when he wrote this is now, with the Supreme Court changed, even more true.
posted by R J Noriega
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Tuesday, March 28, 2006,6:16 PM
America’s Blinders
America’s Blinders
By Howard Zinn

Now that most Americans no longer believe in the war, now that they no longer trust Bush and his Administration, now that the evidence of deception has become overwhelming (so overwhelming that even the major media, always late, have begun to register indignation), we might ask: How come so many people were so easily fooled?

The question is important because it might help us understand why Americans—members of the media as well as the ordinary citizen—rushed to declare their support as the President was sending troops halfway around the world to Iraq.

A small example of the innocence (or obsequiousness, to be more exact) of the press is the way it reacted to Colin Powell’s presentation in February 2003 to the Security Council, a month before the invasion, a speech which may have set a record for the number of falsehoods told in one talk. In it, Powell confidently rattled off his “evidence”: satellite photographs, audio records, reports from informants, with precise statistics on how many gallons of this and that existed for chemical warfare. The New York Times was breathless with admiration. The Washington Post editorial was titled “Irrefutable” and declared that after Powell’s talk “it is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.”

It seems to me there are two reasons, which go deep into our national culture, and which help explain the vulnerability of the press and of the citizenry to outrageous lies whose consequences bring death to tens of thousands of people. If we can understand those reasons, we can guard ourselves better against being deceived.

One is in the dimension of time, that is, an absence of historical perspective. The other is in the dimension of space, that is, an inability to think outside the boundaries of nationalism. We are penned in by the arrogant idea that this country is the center of the universe, exceptionally virtuous, admirable, superior.

If we don’t know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives. I am not speaking of the history we learned in school, a history subservient to our political leaders, from the much-admired Founding Fathers to the Presidents of recent years. I mean a history which is honest about the past. If we don’t know that history, then any President can stand up to the battery of microphones, declare that we must go to war, and we will have no basis for challenging him. He will say that the nation is in danger, that democracy and liberty are at stake, and that we must therefore send ships and planes to destroy our new enemy, and we will have no reason to disbelieve him.

But if we know some history, if we know how many times Presidents have made similar declarations to the country, and how they turned out to be lies, we will not be fooled. Although some of us may pride ourselves that we were never fooled, we still might accept as our civic duty the responsibility to buttress our fellow citizens against the mendacity of our high officials.

We would remind whoever we can that President Polk lied to the nation about the reason for going to war with Mexico in 1846. It wasn’t that Mexico “shed American blood upon the American soil,” but that Polk, and the slave-owning aristocracy, coveted half of Mexico.

We would point out that President McKinley lied in 1898 about the reason for invading Cuba, saying we wanted to liberate the Cubans from Spanish control, but the truth is that we really wanted Spain out of Cuba so that the island could be open to United Fruit and other American corporations. He also lied about the reasons for our war in the Philippines, claiming we only wanted to “civilize” the Filipinos, while the real reason was to own a valuable piece of real estate in the far Pacific, even if we had to kill hundreds of thousands of Filipinos to accomplish that.

President Woodrow Wilson—so often characterized in our history books as an “idealist”—lied about the reasons for entering the First World War, saying it was a war to “make the world safe for democracy,” when it was really a war to make the world safe for the Western imperial powers.

Harry Truman lied when he said the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima because it was “a military target.”

Everyone lied about Vietnam—Kennedy about the extent of our involvement, Johnson about the Gulf of Tonkin, Nixon about the secret bombing of Cambodia, all of them claiming it was to keep South Vietnam free of communism, but really wanting to keep South Vietnam as an American outpost at the edge of the Asian continent.

Reagan lied about the invasion of Grenada, claiming falsely that it was a threat to the United States.

The elder Bush lied about the invasion of Panama, leading to the death of thousands of ordinary citizens in that country.

And he lied again about the reason for attacking Iraq in 1991—hardly to defend the integrity of Kuwait (can one imagine Bush heartstricken over Iraq’s taking of Kuwait?), rather to assert U.S. power in the oil-rich Middle East.

Given the overwhelming record of lies told to justify wars, how could anyone listening to the younger Bush believe him as he laid out the reasons for invading Iraq? Would we not instinctively rebel against the sacrifice of lives for oil?

A careful reading of history might give us another safeguard against being deceived. It would make clear that there has always been, and is today, a profound conflict of interest between the government and the people of the United States. This thought startles most people, because it goes against everything we have been taught.

We have been led to believe that, from the beginning, as our Founding Fathers put it in the Preamble to the Constitution, it was “we the people” who established the new government after the Revolution. When the eminent historian Charles Beard suggested, a hundred years ago, that the Constitution represented not the working people, not the slaves, but the slaveholders, the merchants, the bondholders, he became the object of an indignant editorial in The New York Times.

Our culture demands, in its very language, that we accept a commonality of interest binding all of us to one another. We mustn’t talk about classes. Only Marxists do that, although James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” said, thirty years before Marx was born that there was an inevitable conflict in society between those who had property and those who did not.

Our present leaders are not so candid. They bombard us with phrases like “national interest,” “national security,” and “national defense” as if all of these concepts applied equally to all of us, colored or white, rich or poor, as if General Motors and Halliburton have the same interests as the rest of us, as if George Bush has the same interest as the young man or woman he sends to war.

Surely, in the history of lies told to the population, this is the biggest lie. In the history of secrets, withheld from the American people, this is the biggest secret: that there are classes with different interests in this country. To ignore that—not to know that the history of our country is a history of slaveowner against slave, landlord against tenant, corporation against worker, rich against poor—is to render us helpless before all the lesser lies told to us by people in power.

If we as citizens start out with an understanding that these people up there—the President, the Congress, the Supreme Court, all those institutions pretending to be “checks and balances”—do not have our interests at heart, we are on a course towards the truth. Not to know that is to make us helpless before determined liars.

The deeply ingrained belief—no, not from birth but from the educational system and from our culture in general—that the United States is an especially virtuous nation makes us especially vulnerable to government deception. It starts early, in the first grade, when we are compelled to “pledge allegiance” (before we even know what that means), forced to proclaim that we are a nation with “liberty and justice for all.”

And then come the countless ceremonies, whether at the ballpark or elsewhere, where we are expected to stand and bow our heads during the singing of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” announcing that we are “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” There is also the unofficial national anthem “God Bless America,” and you are looked on with suspicion if you ask why we would expect God to single out this one nation—just 5 percent of the world’s population—for his or her blessing.

If your starting point for evaluating the world around you is the firm belief that this nation is somehow endowed by Providence with unique qualities that make it morally superior to every other nation on Earth, then you are not likely to question the President when he says we are sending our troops here or there, or bombing this or that, in order to spread our values—democracy, liberty, and let’s not forget free enterprise—to some God-forsaken (literally) place in the world.
It becomes necessary then, if we are going to protect ourselves and our fellow citizens against policies that will be disastrous not only for other people but for Americans too, that we face some facts that disturb the idea of a uniquely virtuous nation.

These facts are embarrassing, but must be faced if we are to be honest. We must face our long history of ethnic cleansing, in which millions of Indians were driven off their land by means of massacres and forced evacuations. And our long history, still not behind us, of slavery, segregation, and racism. We must face our record of imperial conquest, in the Caribbean and in the Pacific, our shameful wars against small countries a tenth our size: Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, Iraq. And the lingering memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is not a history of which we can be proud.

Our leaders have taken it for granted, and planted that belief in the minds of many people, that we are entitled, because of our moral superiority, to dominate the world. At the end of World War II, Henry Luce, with an arrogance appropriate to the owner of Time, Life, and Fortune, pronounced this “the American century,” saying that victory in the war gave the United States the right “to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit.”

Both the Republican and Democratic parties have embraced this notion. George Bush, in his Inaugural Address on January 20, 2005, said that spreading liberty around the world was “the calling of our time.” Years before that, in 1993, President Bill Clinton, speaking at a West Point commencement, declared: “The values you learned here . . . will be able to spread throughout this country and throughout the world and give other people the opportunity to live as you have lived, to fulfill your God-given capacities.”

What is the idea of our moral superiority based on? Surely not on our behavior toward people in other parts of the world. Is it based on how well people in the United States live? The World Health Organization in 2000 ranked countries in terms of overall health performance, and the United States was thirty-seventh on the list, though it spends more per capita for health care than any other nation. One of five children in this, the richest country in the world, is born in poverty. There are more than forty countries that have better records on infant mortality. Cuba does better. And there is a sure sign of sickness in society when we lead the world in the number of people in prison—more than two million.

A more honest estimate of ourselves as a nation would prepare us all for the next barrage of lies that will accompany the next proposal to inflict our power on some other part of the world. It might also inspire us to create a different history for ourselves, by taking our country away from the liars and killers who govern it, and by rejecting nationalist arrogance, so that we can join the rest of the human race in the common cause of peace and justice.

Howard Zinn is the co-author, with Anthony Arnove, of “Voices of a People’s History of the United States.”
posted by R J Noriega
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Monday, March 27, 2006,10:55 AM
Who Is Killing New Orleans?

A few blocks from the badly flooded and still-closed campus of Dillard University, a wind-bent street sign announces the intersection of Humanity and New Orleans. In the nighttime distance, the downtown skyscrapers on Poydras and Canal Streets are already ablaze with light, but a vast northern and eastern swath of the city, including the Gentilly neighborhood around Dillard, remains shrouded in darkness.

The lights have been out for six months now, and no one seems to know when, if ever, they will be turned back on. In greater New Orleans about 125,000 homes remain damaged and unoccupied, a vast ghost city that rots in darkness while les bon temps return to a guilty strip of unflooded and mostly affluent neighborhoods near the river. Such a large portion of the black population is gone that some radio stations are now switching their formats from funk and rap to soft rock.

Mayor Ray Nagin likes to boast that "New Orleans is back," pointing to the tourists who again prowl the French Quarter and the Tulane students who crowd Magazine Street bistros; but the current population of New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi is about the same as that of Disney World on a normal day. More than 60 percent of Nagin's constituents--including an estimated 80 percent of the African-Americans--are still scattered in exile with no obvious way home.

In their absence, local business elites, advised by conservative think tanks, "New Urbanists" and neo-Democrats, have usurped almost every function of elected government. With the City Council largely shut out of their deliberations, mayor-appointed commissions and outside experts, mostly white and Republican, propose to radically shrink and reshape a majority-black and Democratic city. Without any mandate from local voters, the public-school system has already been virtually abolished, along with the jobs of unionized teachers and school employees. Thousands of other unionized jobs have been lost with the closure of Charity Hospital, formerly the flagship of public medicine in Louisiana. And a proposed oversight board, dominated by appointees of President Bush and Governor Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, would end local control over city finances.

Meanwhile, Bush's pledge to "get the work done quickly" and mount "one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world has ever seen" has proved to be the same fool's gold as his earlier guarantee to rebuild Iraq's bombed-out infrastructure. Instead, the Administration has left the residents of neighborhoods like Gentilly in limbo: largely without jobs, emergency housing, flood protection, mortgage relief, small-business loans or a coordinated plan for reconstruction.

With each passing week of neglect--what Representative Barney Frank has labeled "a policy of ethnic cleansing by inaction"--the likelihood increases that most black Orleanians will never be able to return.

Lie and Stall

After his bungling initial response to Katrina, Bush impersonated FDR and Lyndon Johnson when he reassured the nation in his September 15 Jackson Square speech that "we have a duty to confront [New Orleans's] poverty with bold action.... We will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives."

In the event, the White House sat on its pledges all autumn, mumbling homilies about the limits of government, while its conservative attack dogs in Congress offset Gulf relief with $40 billion worth of cutbacks in Medicaid, food stamps and student loans. Republicans also rebelled against aid for a state that was depicted as a venal Third World society, a failed state like Haiti, out of step with national values. "Louisiana and New Orleans," according to Idaho Senator Larry Craig, "are the most corrupt governments in our country and they always have been.... Fraud is in the culture of Iraqis. I believe that is true in the state of Louisiana as well."

Democrats, apart from the Congressional Black Caucus, did pathetically little to counter this backlash or to hold Bush's feet to the fire over his Jackson Square pledge. The promised national debate about urban poverty never took place; instead, New Orleans, like a great derelict ship, drifted helplessly in the treacherous currents of White House hypocrisy and conservative contempt.

An early, deadly blow was Treasury Secretary John Snow's refusal to guarantee New Orleans municipal bonds, forcing Mayor Nagin to lay off 3,000 city employees on top of the thousands of education and medical workers already jobless. The Bush Administration also blocked bipartisan measures to increase Medicaid coverage for Katrina evacuees and to give the State of Louisiana--facing an estimated $8 billion in lost revenues over the next few years--a share of the income generated by its offshore oil and gas leases.

Even more egregious was the flagrant redlining of black neighborhoods by the Small Business Administration (SBA), which rejected a majority of loan applications by local businesses and homeowners. At the same time, a bipartisan Senate bill to save small businesses with emergency bridge loans was sabotaged by Bush officials, leaving thousands to face bankruptcy and foreclosure. As a result, the economic foundations of the city's African-American middle class (public-sector jobs and small businesses) have been swept away by deliberate decisions made in the White House. Meanwhile, in the absence of federal or state initiatives to employ locals, low-income blacks are losing their niches in the construction and service sectors to more mobile outsiders.

In stark contrast to its neglect of neighborhood relief, the White House has made herculean efforts to reward its own base of large corporations and political insiders. Representative Nydia Velazquez, who sits on the House Small Business Committee, pointed out that the SBA has allowed large corporations to get $2 billion in federal contracts while excluding local minority contractors.

The paramount beneficiaries of Katrina relief aid have been the giant engineering firms KBR (a Halliburton subsidiary) and the Shaw Group, which enjoy the services of lobbyist Joe Allbaugh (a former FEMA director and Bush's 2000 campaign manager). FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers, while unable to explain to Governor Blanco last fall exactly how they were spending money in Louisiana, have tolerated levels of profiteering that would raise eyebrows even on the war-torn Euphrates. (Some of this largesse, of course, is guaranteed to be recycled as GOP campaign contributions.) FEMA, for example, has paid the Shaw Group $175 per square (100 square feet) to install tarps on storm-damaged roofs in New Orleans. Yet the actual installers earn as little as $2 per square, and the tarps are provided by FEMA. Similarly, the Army Corps pays prime contractors about $20 per cubic yard of storm debris removed, yet some bulldozer operators receive only $1. Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung, where the actual work is carried out. While the Friends of Bush mine gold from the wreckage of New Orleans, many disappointed recovery workers--often Mexican or Salvadoran immigrants camped out in city parks and derelict shopping centers--can barely make ends meet.

The Big Kiss-Off

In the fractious, take-no-prisoners world of Louisiana politics, broad solidarity of interest is normally as rare as a boulder in a bayou. Yet Katrina created an unprecedented bipartisan consensus around twin demands for Category 5 hurricane protection and mortgage relief for damaged homes. From conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats, there has been unanimity that the region's recovery depends on federal investment in new levees and coastal restoration, as well as financial rescue of the estimated 200,000 homeowners whose insurance coverage has failed to cover their actual damage. (There has been no equivalent consensus and little concern for the right of renters--who constituted 53 percent of the population before Katrina--and of public-housing tenants to return to their city.)

Yet by early November it was clear that saving New Orleans was no longer high on the Bush agenda, if it had ever been. As Congress headed toward its Christmas adjournment, the Louisiana delegation was in panic mode: A Category 5 plan had disappeared from serious discussion, and there were doubts about whether the damaged levees would be repaired before hurricane season returned. (In early March engineers monitoring the progress of the Army Corps's work complained that the use of weak, sandy soils and the lack of concrete "armoring" insured that the levees would again fail in a major storm.)

Congress ultimately voted to provide $29 billion for Gulf Coast relief. Yet as the Washington Post reported, "All but $6 billion of the measure merely reshuffled some of the $62 billion in previously approved Hurricane Katrina aid. The rest was funded by a 1 percent across-the-board cut of non-emergency, discretionary programs." The Pentagon won approval for a whopping $4.4 billion in base repairs and other professed Katrina-related needs, but Congress cut out the $250 million allocated to combat coastal erosion. Meanwhile, Mississippi's powerful Republican troika--Governor Haley Barbour and Senators Trent Lott and Thad Cochran--persuaded fellow Republicans to support $6.2 billion in discretionary housing aid for Louisiana and $5.3 billion for Mississippi, with red-state Mississippi getting five times as much aid per distressed household as pink-state Louisiana.

Louisiana received another blow on January 23, when Bush rejected GOP Representative Richard Baker's plan calling for a federally guaranteed Louisiana Reconstruction Corporation, which would bail out homeowners by buying distressed properties and packaging them in larger parcels for resale to developers. Local Republicans as well as Democrats howled in rage, and the future of southern Louisiana was again thrown into chaos. Although the Administration eventually promised an additional $4.2 billion in housing aid, the appropriation continues to be fought over by Texas and other jealous states.

The Republican hostility to New Orleans, of course, runs deeper and is nastier than mere concern with civic probity (America's most corrupt city, after all, is located on the Potomac, not the Mississippi). Underlying all the circumlocutions are the same antediluvian prejudices and stereotypes that were used to justify the violent overthrow of Reconstruction 130 years ago. Usually it is the poor who are invisible in the aftermath of urban disasters, but in the case of New Orleans it has been the African-American professional middle class and skilled working class. In the confusion and suffering of Katrina--a Rorschach test of the American racial unconscious--most white politicians and media pundits have chosen to see only the demons of their prejudices. The city's complex history and social geography have been reduced to a cartoon of a vast slum inhabited by an alternately criminal or helpless underclass, whose salvation is the kindness of strangers in other, whiter cities. Inconvenient realities like Gentilly's red-brick normalcy--or, for that matter, the pride of homeownership and the exuberance of civic activism in the blue-collar Lower Ninth Ward--have not been allowed to interfere with the belief, embraced by New Democrats as well as old Republicans, that black urban culture is inherently pathological.

Such calumnies reproduce ancient caricatures--blacks running amok, incapable of honest self-government--that were evoked by the murderous White League when it plotted against Reconstruction in New Orleans in the 1870s. Indeed, some civil rights veterans fear that the 1874 Battle of Canal Street, a bloody League-organized insurrection against a Republican administration elected by black suffrage, is being refought--perhaps without pikes and guns, but with the same fundamental aim of dispossessing black New Orleans of economic and political power. Certainly, a sweeping transformation of the racial balance-of-power within the city has been on some people's agenda for a long time.

The Krewe of Canizaro

Power and status in New Orleans have always been defined by membership in secretive Mardi Gras "krewes" and social clubs. In the early 1990s civil rights activists, led by feisty Councilmember Dorothy Mae Taylor, forced the token desegregation of Mardi Gras, and some of the clubs reluctantly admitted a few African-American millionaires. Despite some old-guard holdouts, Uptown seemed to be adjusting, however grudgingly, to the reality of black political clout.

But as post-Katrina events have brutally clarified, if the oligarchy is dead, then long live the oligarchy. While elected black officials protest impotently from the sidelines, a largely white elite has wrested control over the debate about how to rebuild the city. This de facto ruling krewe includes Jim Amoss, editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune; Pres Kabacoff, developer-gentrifier and local patron of the New Urbanism; Donald Bollinger, shipyard owner and prominent Bushite; James Reiss, real estate investor and chair of the Regional Transit Authority (i.e., the man responsible for the buses that didn't evacuate people); Alden McDonald Jr., CEO of one of the largest black-owned banks; Janet Howard of the Bureau of Government Research (originally established by Uptown elites to oppose the populism of Huey Long); and Scott Cowen, the aggressively ambitious president of Tulane University.

But the dominating figure and kingpin is Joseph Canizaro, a wealthy property developer who is a leading Bush supporter with close personal ties to the White House inner circle. He is also the power behind the throne of Mayor Nagin, a nominal Democrat (he supported Bush in 2000) who was elected in 2002 with 85 percent of the white vote. Finally, as the former president of the Urban Land Institute, Canizaro mobilizes the support of some of the nation's most powerful developers and prestigious master planners.

In a city where old money is often as reclusive as Anne Rice's vampires, Canizaro poses as a brave civic leader unafraid to speak bitter but necessary truths. As he told the Associated Press about the Katrina diaspora last October: "As a practical matter, these poor folks don't have the resources to go back to our city just like they didn't have the resources to get out of our city. So we won't get all those folks back. That's just a fact."

Indeed, it is a "fact" that Canizaro has helped shape into reigning dogma. The number of displaced residents returning to the city is obviously a highly variable function of the resources and opportunities provided for them, yet the rebuilding debate has been premised on suspicious projections--provided by the RAND Corporation and endlessly repeated by Nagin and Canizaro--that in three years the city would recover only half of its August 2005 population. Many Orleanians cynically wonder whether such projections aren't actually goals. For years Reiss, Kabacoff and others have complained that New Orleans has too many poor people. Faced with the dire fiscal consequences of white flight to the suburbs, as well as three decades of deindustrialization (which has given New Orleans an economic profile closer to Newark than to Houston or Atlanta), they argue that the city has become a soul-destroying warehouse for underemployed and poorly educated African-Americans, whose real interests--it is claimed--might be better served by a Greyhound ticket to another town.

Kabacoff's 2003 redevelopment of the St. Thomas public housing project as River Garden, a largely market-rate faux Creole subdivision, has become the prototype for the smaller, wealthier, whiter city that Mayor Nagin's Bring New Orleans Back commission (with Canizaro as head of the crucial urban planning committee) proposes to build. BNOB is perhaps the most important elite initiative in New Orleans since the famous "Cold Water Committee" (which included Kabacoff's father) mobilized in 1946 to overthrow the "Old Regulars" and elect reformer deLesseps Morrison as mayor. BNOB grew out of a notorious meeting between Mayor Nagin and New Orleans business leaders (dubbed by some "the forty thieves") that Reiss organized in Dallas twelve days after Katrina devastated the city. The summit excluded most of New Orleans's elected black representatives and, according to Reiss as characterized in the Wall Street Journal, focused on the opportunity to rebuild the city "with better services and fewer poor people."

Fears that a municipal coup d'etat was in progress were scarcely mollified when at the end of September the mayor charged BNOB with preparing a master plan to rebuild the city. Although the seventeen-member commission was racially balanced and included City Council president Oliver Thomas as well as jazz musician Wynton Marsalis (telecommuting from Manhattan), the real clout was exercised by committee chairs, especially Canizaro (urban planning), Cowen (education) and Howard (finance), who lunched privately with the mayor before the group's weekly meeting. This inner sanctum was reportedly necessary because the full-panel meetings did not allow a frank discussion of "tough issues of race and class."

BNOB might have quickly imploded but for a shrewd outflanking movement by Canizaro, who persuaded Nagin to invite the Urban Land Institute to work with the commission. Although the ULI is the self-interested national voice of corporate land developers, Nagin and Canizaro welcomed the delegation of developers, architects and ex-mayors as a heroic cavalry of expertise riding to the city's rescue. In a nutshell, the ULI's recommendations reframed the historic elite desire to shrink the city's socioeconomic footprint of black poverty (and black political power) as a crusade to reduce its physical footprint to contours commensurate with public safety and a fiscally viable urban infrastructure.

Upon these suspect premises, the outside "experts" (including representatives of some of the country's largest property firms and corporate architects) proposed an unprecedented triage of an American city, in which low-lying neighborhoods would be targeted for mass buyouts and future conversion into a greenbelt to protect New Orleans from flooding. As a visiting developer told BNOB: "Your housing is now a public resource. You can't think of it as private property anymore."

Keenly aware of inevitable popular resistance, the ULI also proposed a Crescent City Rebuilding Corporation, armed with eminent domain, that would bypass the City Council, as well as an oversight board with power over the city's finances. With control of New Orleans schools already usurped by the state, the ULI's proposed dictatorship of experts and elite appointees would effectively overthrow representative democracy and annul the right of local people to make decisions about their lives. For veterans of the 1960s civil rights movement, especially, it reeked of disenfranchisement pure and simple, a return to the paternalism of plantation days.

The City Council, supported by a surprising number of white homeowners and their representatives, angrily rejected the ULI plan. Mayor Nagin--truly a cat on a hot tin roof--danced anxiously back and forth between the two camps, disavowing abandonment of any area while at the same time warning that the city could not afford to service every neighborhood. But state and national officials, including HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, applauded the ULI scheme, as did the editorial page of the Times-Picayune and the influential Bureau of Government Research.

The BNOB recommendations presented by Canizaro in January faithfully hewed to the ULI framework: They included an appointed redevelopment corporation, outside the control of the City Council, that would act as a land bank to buy out heavily damaged homes and neighborhoods with federal funds, wielding eminent domain as needed to retire low-lying areas to greenbelt ("black people's neighborhoods into white people's parks," someone commented) or to assemble "in-fill" tracts for mixed-income development a la River Garden. Other committees recommended a radical diminution of the power of elected government.

On the crucial question of how to decide which neighborhoods would be allowed to rebuild and which would be bulldozed, BNOB endorsed the concept of forced buyouts but equivocated over process. Instead of the ruthless map that the Bureau of Government Research wanted, Canizaro and colleagues proposed a Rube Goldberg-like temporary building moratorium in tandem with neighborhood planning meetings that would poll homeowners about their intentions. Only those neighborhoods where at least half of the pre-Katrina residents had made a committment to return would be considered serious candidates for Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) and other financial aid.

Canizaro presented the report to Nagin in front of a public audience on January 11. The mayor said, "I like the plan," and he complimented the commissioners for "a job well done." But most locals found little charm in the Canizaro report. "I will sit in my front door with my shotgun," one resident warned at a jammed meeting in the Council chambers on January 14, while another demanded, "Are we going to allow some developers, some hustlers, some land thieves to grab our land, grab our homes, to make this a Disney World version of our homes, our lives?" Predictably, Nagin panicked and eventually disavowed the building moratorium. Soon afterward the White House torpedoed the Baker plan and left BNOB with only the state-controlled CDBG appropriation to finance its ambitious vision of New Orleans regrouped around a dozen new River Gardens linked by a high-speed light-rail line.

But Canizaro doesn't seem unduly worried. He has reassured supporters that the ULI/BNOB plan can go forward with CDBGs alone if necessary; in addition, he knows that independent of the local political weather, there are powerful external forces--lack of insurance coverage, new FEMA flood maps, refusal of lenders to refinance mortgages and so on--that can make permanent the exodus from redlined neighborhoods. Moreover, as anyone versed in the realpolitik of modern Louisiana knows, nothing is finally decided in New Orleans until some good ol' boys (and girls) in Baton Rouge have their say.

Power Shift

Even before the last bloated body had been fished out of the fetid waters, conservative political analysts were writing gleeful obituaries for black Democratic power in Louisiana. "The Democrats' margin of victory," said Ronald Utt of the Heritage Foundation, is "living in the Astrodome in Houston." Thanks to the Army Corps's defective levees, the Republicans stand to gain another Senate seat, two Congressional seats and probably the governorship. The Democrats would also find it impossible to reproduce Bill Clinton's 1992 feat, when he carried Louisiana by almost exactly his margin of victory in New Orleans. With a ruthless psephologist like Karl Rove in the White House, it is inconceivable that such considerations haven't influenced the shameless Bush response to the city's distress.

New Orleans has always vied with Detroit when it comes to the violent antipathy of white-flight suburbs toward its black central city, so it is not surprising that representatives from Jefferson Parish (which elected Klan leader David Duke to the state legislature in 1989) and St. Tammany Parish have particularly relished the post-Katrina shift in metropolitan population and electoral power. Both parishes are in the midst of housing booms that may consolidate the hollowing out and decline of New Orleans.

For her part, Governor Blanco, a Democrat, has expressed little concern about this fundamental reconfiguration of Louisiana's major metropolitan area. Indeed, her immediate, Bush-like responses to Katrina were to help engineer a state takeover of New Orleans schools and to slash $500 million in state spending while sponsoring tax breaks (in the name of economic recovery) for oil companies awash in profits. The Legislative Black Caucus was outraged at Blanco's "complete lack of vision and leadership" and went to court to challenge her right to make cuts without consulting lawmakers. But Blanco, supported by rural conservatives and corporate lobbyists, remained intransigent, even openly hostile, to black Democrats whose support she had previously courted.

Poor people have no voice inside the Louisiana Recovery Authority, whose gaggle of university presidents and corporate types appointed by Blanco is even less beholden to black New Orleans voters and their representatives than the Canizaro krewe. The twenty-nine-member LRA board, dominated by representatives of big business, has only one trade unionist and not a single grassroots black representative. Moreover, in contrast to Nagin's commission, the LRA has the power to decide, not merely advise: It controls the allocation of the FEMA funds and CDBGs that Congress has provided for reconstruction.

According to interviews in the Times-Picayune, leading members of the LRA believe that the sheer force of economic disincentives will shrink the city around the contours proposed by the Urban Land Institute. The authority has thus refused to disburse any of its hazard mitigation funds to areas considered unsafe, and presumably will be equally hardheaded in the allocation of CDBG spending. At a special session of the legislature Governor Blanco emphasized that the state, not local government or neighborhood planning committees, will retain control over where grants and loans go.

But Blanco and the elites may have overlooked the Fats Domino factor.

'No Bulldozing!'

Like hundreds of other flood-damaged but structurally sound homes, Fats Domino's house wears a defiant sign: Save Our Neighborhood: No Bulldozing! The r&b icon, who has always stayed close to his roots in working-class Holy Cross, knows his riverside neighborhood and the rest of the Lower Ninth Ward are prime targets of the city-shrinkers. Indeed, on Christmas Day the Times-Picayune--declaring that "before a community can rebuild, it must dream"--published a vision of what a smaller-but-better New Orleans might look like: "Tourists and schoolchildren tour a living museum that includes the former home of Fats Domino and Holy Cross High School, a multiblock memorial to Katrina that spans the devastated neighborhood."

"Living museum" (or "holocaust museum," as a black friend bitterly observed) sounds like a bad joke, but it is the elite view of what African-American New Orleans should become. In the brave New Urbanist world of Canizaro and Kabacoff, blacks (along with that other colorful minority group, Cajuns) will reign only as entertainers and self-caricatures. The high-voltage energy that once rocked juke joints, housing projects and second-line parades will now be safely embalmed for tourists in a proposed Louisiana Music Experience in the Central Business District.

But this minstrel-show version of the future must first defeat a remarkable local history of grassroots organization. The Crescent City's best-kept secret--in the mainstream press, at least--has been the resurgence of trade-union and community organizing since the mid-1990s. Indeed, New Orleans, the only Southern city in which labor was ever powerful enough to call a general strike, has become an important crucible of new social movements. In particular, it has become the home base of ACORN, a national organization of working-class homeowners and tenants that counts more than 9,000 New Orleans member-families, mostly in triage-threatened black neighborhoods. ACORN's membership has been the engine behind the tumultuous, decade-long struggle to unionize downtown hotels as well as the successful 2002 referendum to legislate the nation's first municipal minimum wage (later overthrown by a right-wing state Supreme Court). Since Katrina, ACORN has emerged as the major opponent of the ULI/BNOB plan for shrinking the city. Its members find themselves again fighting many of the same elite figures who were opponents of hotel unionization and a living wage.

ACORN founder Wade Rathke scoffs at the RAND Corporation projections that portray most blacks abandoning the city. "Don't believe those phony figures," he told me over beignets at Cafe du Monde in January. "We have polled our displaced members in Houston and Atlanta. Folks overwhelmingly want to return. But they realize that this is a tough struggle, since we have to fight simultaneously on two fronts: to restore people's homes and to bring back their jobs. It is also a race against time. The challenge is, You make it, you take it. So our members are voting with their feet."

Not waiting for CDBGs, FEMA flood maps or permission from Canizaro, ACORN crews and volunteers from across the country are working night and day to repair the homes of 1,000 member-families in some of the most threatened areas. The strategy is to confront the city-shrinkers with the incontestable fact of reoccupied, viable neighborhood cores.

ACORN has allied with the AFL-CIO and the NAACP to defend worker rights and press for the hiring of locals in the recovery effort. Rathke points out that Katrina has become the pretext for the most vicious government-supported attack on unions since President Reagan fired striking air-traffic controllers in 1981. "First, suspension of Davis-Bacon [federal prevailing wage law], then the state takeover of the schools and the destruction of the teachers' union, and now this." He points to a beat-up green garbage truck rattling by Jackson Square. "Trash collection in the French Quarter used to be a unionized city job, SEIU members. Now FEMA has contracted the work to a scab company from out of state. Is this what Bring New Orleans Back means?"

ACORN also went to court to insure that New Orleans's displaced, largely black population would have access to out-of-state polling places, especially in Atlanta and Houston, for the scheduled April 22 city elections. When a federal judge rejected the demand, ACORN organizer Stephen Bradberry said it's "so obvious that there's a concerted plan to make this a whiter city." The NAACP agrees, but the Justice Department denied its request to block an election that is likely to transfer power to the artificial white majority created by Katrina.

It would be inspiring to see in this latest battle of New Orleans the birth pangs of a new or renewed civil rights movement, but gritty local activism has yet to be echoed in meaningful solidarity by the labor movement, so-called progressive Democrats or even the Congressional Black Caucus. Pledges, press statements and occasional delegations, yes; but not the unfaltering national outrage and sense of urgency that should attend the attempted murder of New Orleans on the fortieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. In 1874, as historian Ted Tunnell has pointed out, the failure of Northern Radicals to launch a militant, armed riposte to the white insurrection in New Orleans helped to doom the first Reconstruction. Will our feeble response to Hurricane Katrina now lead to the rollback of the second?
posted by R J Noriega
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,8:50 AM
9th Wonder (blackitolism)
posted by R J Noriega
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Sunday, March 26, 2006,8:14 PM
Looking For America
Kevin Powell

Few of us will have the will to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

“I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand in hand with every form of intelligent search for truth.”

Monday, November 8, 2004

I have sat in my Brooklyn, New York apartment, quietly, for several days now, too perplexed to talk with many people, friends or not, about the American presidential election of 2004. I have read mainstream and alternative news accounts of the campaign on and offline, absorbed statistics and exit polls, sifted through the debates, flipped between CNN and the Fox News Channel, dodged most emails and phonecalls coming my way, asking me what I thought it meant that President George W. Bush had won, that Senator John Kerry had lost. I have heard the chorus of Bush supporters say it was Mr. Bush’s “faith” that led them to punch the hole, to pull the lever, to touch the screen for the president-elect. And I have heard the chorus of Kerry patrons say they feel robbed, that there must be some vast conservative conspiracy, that they are deeply traumatized, in a state of shock, that they do not know what to do next, nor to whom to turn. I have spoken with my mother, who has voted in every election since she has been able to, dating back to the 1960s and the Civil Rights Movement. And who, with her sharp South Carolina accent and uncomplicated, front-porch observations on the world, has always given me something to ponder. My mother, like I, is a lifelong Democrat and her sleepy response was, well, dry, nonchalant, uncharacteristically melancholy: “Boy,” she said, “at least we got the chance to vote.”

Indeed, mother, indeed. But has it come to this? Where real democracy, real freedom, real self-determination, is tied, exclusively, to our right to vote? Is the vote it? Twenty years ago, when I was an eighteen-year-old first-year college student at Rutgers University in New Jersey, the vote was the thing. I was stirred by a Southern Baptist preacher named Reverend Jesse Jackson, who, after Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm had done it in 1972, was the only other serious Black candidate for president my community has ever had. Reverend Jackson implored us, young and old alike, Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American, to keep hope alive, that we were, in fact, somebody, and we believed him, believed that our vote could, would, matter. President Ronald Reagan was reelected, in a landslide that year, and by 1988, when Rev. Jackson ran a second time for president, and came in second in the Democratic primary to eventual nominee Michael Dukakis, many of us felt that Rev. Jackson, with those millions of Rainbow Coalition votes, had the power, the juice, to manifest a new American coalition of progressive people: Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, labor, city and country folks, working and middle class people humane enough to care about their neighbors to the left and right; and all those groups that had been marginalized during the Reagan-Bush years. It was, we felt back then, an opportunity to win back the soul of the Democratic Party, to have a party, an organization, that truly reflected the diversity, the gorgeous mosaic, as former New York City mayor David Dinkins was fond of saying, of America. But, alas, and for reasons only Rev. Jackson knows to this day, a great compromise was struck, the Rainbow Coalition was allowed to wither on an ashen sidewalk in exchange for Rev. Jackson’s seemingly cozy relationship with the Democratic Party hierarchy, and many of us young folks became disillusioned with politics for years to come.

I was one of those young people, at age 22, who walked away in 1988, right through the Clinton years, and in spite of Mr. Clinton’s youthful appeal and Kennedyesque affectations. I never stopped voting. I could not fathom that inaction as my mother chided me, habitually, that there was a time when we, African Americans, could not vote, that I had an obligation to do so for no other reason that blood, literally, had been spilled, that heads had been smashed, literally, so that I could have a semblance of citizenship in these times.

I say all of this to say it hurt me, immensely, to see so many young Americans, of various persuasions, registering to vote for the first time, volunteering for Mr. Kerry’s campaign throughout America, standing in lines in some areas for up to ten hours, then having to deal with the harsh reality that their candidate had lost. It hurt me to see the tears of defeat, to hear the echoes of Hey, it does not seem to matter what we do, nothing is ever going to change. There is a sense of confusion, of hopelessness, permeating young America, older America, Democratic America, liberal America, progressive America. Many people believed that MTV, BET, Rock the Vote, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, Russell Simmons, Oprah Winfrey, P. Diddy, Leonardo DiCaprio, Eminem, Michael Moore, and other popular and well-meaning institutions and icons could, and would, make a difference. Several people believed that because of the Iraqi war, the horrible economy, the outsourcing of American jobs, the ugly partitions that have been erected on our soil during the Bush-Cheney years (Black vs. White, White vs. people of color, Christian vs. Muslim, Americans vs. Arabs, poor vs. rich, straight vs. gay, and so on), that there was no imaginable way that Mr. Bush could get reelected. Many of us assumed, hoped, prayed, that John Kerry, though a mediocre candidate at best, would somehow win this election and get America back on the course of figuring itself out, for the good of us all.

But perhaps this is where the mistake began. We placed more faith in one person, Senator John Kerry, than we placed in ourselves. When Mr. Bush was awarded the presidency in December 2000, after a long and acidic fight that wound up in the United States Supreme Court, I did not, could not, read the newspapers nor watch the news for several months. I felt cheated, that a high crime had occurred. This was the sentiment of many Americans. But while we stuck our heads in the sand the Bush-Cheney regime took root, its agenda took flight, and before we knew it a tax cut was passed that greatly benefited the rich, September 11 happened, a war on terrorism began, and we invaded, first, Afghanistan, then Iraq. Civil liberties have been eroded under the heading The Patriot Act. And over 1000 American soldiers, mainly young Americans, have lost their lives to date. And the count for dead Iraqis is 100,000, according to several reports. So we have essentially been in reactionary mode the entire time; we being liberals, progressives, the Democratic Party. We being Americans who know that America does not belong to one particular party, to one particular ideology, to one particular race of people, to one particular history, to one particular God. And as we have been playing catch up, the incredibly wealthy leadership of the Republican Party has pandered, so very effectively, and with the help of a well-oiled propaganda and marketing initiative, and via, among other instruments, talk radio, to blue-collar, rural White Americans, in the Midwest, in the Deep South, catering to their most basic thoughts about God, religion and, if we are to be mad truthful, to their fears and prejudices. I was just in the great state of Ohio a couple of days after the election, and it was striking to be in areas where some of the poorest Whites lived but there, on the windows of their homes, on their pick-up trucks, stamped into their minds, was some symbol (a poster, a bumper sticker, a hunch) that Bush and Cheney were on the right side of God. Somewhere, some time ago, the Democratic Party ceased to be the party of the people, and we have no one to blame but ourselves. We have developed very few leaders who know how to talk with and listen to the masses of Americans. We have shied away from what the party had been about, at least on the surface, during Franklin Roosevelt’s tenure, and as manifested in the thoughtful dreams of Bobby Kennedy in 1968, of his brother Ted at the Democratic National Convention in 1980, and of Reverend Jackson for much of the 1980s. And we have allowed the Republicans to paralyze us with paranoia and inertia, thereby forcing us, again and again, to replicate strands of the Republican agenda rather than fulfill our mission of doing what is right, for the people, all people, all the time. I now wonder how many leaders in the Democratic Party actually even spend consistent time in their respective communities, in the ghettoes, in the backwoods, in the suburbs, on college campuses, in the churches, at prisons, at homeless shelters, at battered women’s facilities, interacting with the people, and not just when it is time to rally the troops for votes?

I can say this because, for sure, I have been fortunate, very fortunate, these last several years, dating back to the mid-1990s, to travel America extensively as a public speaker, a political organizer, and a writer, to see life in this nation beyond my city, county, state, region, and I have visited nearly all fifty states, big cities and small towns, densely populated locales and places where I did not see another person for miles at a time. These trips have given me a very different take on America. A fuller, more comprehensive take. While we remain a nation still embarrassingly segregated due to race, gender, class, region, religion, sexual orientation, and the like, I am also struck by the common stories of alienation, of the multitudes living on the frayed fringes of this so-called democratic nation. There was the middle-aged White gentleman in New Hampshire I met back in January, at the tip-off to the presidential crusade, who told me he was a Vietnam veteran, that he was driving the cab I was in because there were no jobs for him, that he was on welfare and ridiculously destitute, that he felt the government had been neglectful, woefully neglectful, of Vietnam War veterans. That he was not going to vote, and, as a matter of fact, he had not voted in over twenty years. When I asked him why not he said, with contempt at the borders of his mouth, that politicians did not care about people like him. When I asked which politicians, he muttered, All of them. There was the Black man, early 40ish, in Texas, Mr. Bush’s home state, whom I met only a week or so ago, who, when in his twenties during the Reagan 80s, was falsely accused and convicted of raping a White female. His jury was composed of 11 Whites, 10 men and one woman, and, sadly, in a state like Texas, with its history of sadistic racism (let us not forget that semi-retarded Black man, James Byrd, who was tied to the back of a truck a few years back, by bigoted and demented White males, and dragged to his death) this gentleman did not stand a chance. He lost his youth, he lost his innocence, he lost chunks of his sanity while in prison for a crime he did not commit, and only the use of a DNA test exonerated him, right at the start of Mr. Bush’s first term in office. This man now carries in his hip pocket crumpled copies of articles about his case, as well as a crumpled copy of his official pardon, as if he were in another time in American history where one, if Black, had to carry around his or her freedom papers to prove, without question, that one was free. And I have mentally recorded more tales than I can recount in this space, but the point is that America, this country, our country, continues to be stuck, spiritually, emotionally, in spite of the proclamations of democracy, of equal opportunity, of being one nation under God (which God, and for who?), of this being the greatest show on earth. If all of us are not completely free, and free in every sense of the word, then, dear friend, none of us are as free as we have been led to believe. And what, pray tell, is freedom, anyhow, and what is democracy, when in the alleged most democratic nation in the universe millions upon millions of human beings wondered, and still wonder, if their vote was actually counted on Tuesday, November 2, 2004, and why, for God’s sake, did some of them have to present an I.D. or otherwise prove why they have the right to vote in the year 2004? Is that being free after all that has happened to make the vote accessible to anyone qualified to vote?

Well, we certainly were not free at the Democratic National Convention in Boston back in July. As happy as I was to be there I could not help but think, far inside the marrow of my Democratic bones, that it was a charade, a hoax. There was no far-reaching vision, no expansive, humanistic agenda, no imaginative leadership, just, with the exception of brilliant speeches by Hillary and Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, a lot of empty rhetoric and unsophisticated retorts to the Bush-Cheney platform. It was evident to me that while the Dems had more A-list celebrities, threw better parties, allowed hiphop, the forever controversial yet dominant culture of our day, into its sacred halls, it was all dental floss distorting the fact we had, and have, no teeth on the left, and, really though, have been missing our teeth for some time now. A month later I attended the Republican National Convention here in New York City and you could feel the focus, the vision, however myopic, and the battle plan. While the Dems barely spoke of faith, of religion, of spirituality, the Republicans spoke of it every chance they got, and they monopolized the market on moral values. The perception became the reality: the right is of God and the left is of the devil. And the Democratic Party, the liberals, the progressives, or whatever we label ourselves, have allowed the right to act as if they are more in step with God, with morality, with spirituality, with personal virtue, than we are. This is sheer lunacy, from my perspective as an African American, given that practically every movement, from the anti-slavery rumblings of the 1800s right through the Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s, has been led by the spiritual leaders of my community, of individuals who had a deep belief in a higher power, no matter what we called that higher power. And we were always clear that we were on the right side of God, that religion was about liberating and uniting people, not oppressing and dividing the multitudes. Certainly, we Americans who do not suffer from selective amnesia know something of the hypocrisy of racist White American Christians and their skill at distorting God’s words to suit their needs. Let us not forget that there was a time when these very types of Christians manipulated and abused the Bible to justify slavery, for nearly three centuries. Let us not forget that there was a time when these very types of Christians turned their noses up and turned their backs on Jews as they were being stuffed into Holocaust ovens in Germany. And let us not forget that there was a time when these types of Christians, under the guise of representing the true intentions of the Lord, physically assaulted Civil Rights marchers, Black and nonBlacks alike, in places like Alabama (down South) and Illinois (up North).

The point, dear reader, is that much of the Bush-Cheney agenda has everything to do with fear, with playing to folks’ base bigotries. The Southern White Democrats of the 1950s and 1960s (popularly known, then, as “Dixiecrats”) used the race card and their interpretation of Christianity to attack the Civil Rights Movement, then slowly but surely championed a mass exodus of the party (as Negroes got they right to vote) to become the driving force, all these years later, of those too many to count red Republican states we see today. While the race card is still used, albeit in more guarded, coded language, this year the taboo topic was homosexuality, or, rather, same-sex marriages. And what does it mean that right-wing Republicans, during an election year, can play political football with this polarizing subject, get it on the ballot in several states, while Vice-President Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is openly gay, is there at the post-election victory celebration, shoulder to shoulder with her lover, her partner, being photographed for the world to see? What kind of hypocrisy is that? Or, better yet, does it not suggest, we people of moral conscience, that many Americans have someone in our lives, a sister, a brother, a son, a daughter, a cousin, a friend, someone from our childhood, someone from high school or college, a coworker, a neighbor, a church member, a pastor (gasp!), who is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, just as Dick Cheney does, but we are too ashamed to recognize their humanity, their existence, so terrified, in fact, to do so, that the Republicans can steamroll in and make homosexuality one of the central issues on which we are deemed as spineless, and lacking in morality? Why did anyone not say, boldly, Look, homie, Dr. King, a man of God, a Christian, a Christian minister, a Christian scholar, worked with Bayard Rustin, a gay man, who was the chief architect of the March on Washington in 1963? Dr. King may not have agreed with Mr. Rustin’s life path, but he at least respected the man’s genius, the man’s work ethic, the man’s humanity, the man’s quest for democracy, the man’s right to exist. And what could be more Christian than that? And who among us is God, himself, herself, itself, that we are in a position to say what form a person’s life should take anyhow?

But we on the left, as Newark, New Jersey Deputy Mayor Ras Baraka has said of the hiphop generation, need to grow up. Grow up and ask ourselves what do we, in fact, believe in? What are our moral values, our spiritual values? There are many Americans, in the Deep South, in middle America, who believe we have no principles whatsoever, that we believe in nothing more than having a good time. Any extreme is dangerous. That means the extreme of blind religious zealotry, but also the extreme of no boundaries, no agenda, in any form, for our lives, for this nation. Where, then, is the middle ground, where are our souls, and where is the soul of America, or are we simply destined for a certain kind of hell these next four years, and beyond?

As I continue to struggle and grow in my spiritual walk, in my Christian walk, in my human walk, I am clear that I don’t want to go to hell, nor do I want life in America, for any of us, to be a hellish nightmare. Nor do I believe that the 4 million votes that separated President Bush from Senator Kerry constitutes a mandate. We need to state, emphatically, that it does not. Mr. Bush may be the president, Republicans may control both the Senate and the House of Representatives, but the struggle has only begun. Our work was not in vain. I feel we have awakened a sleeping giant, or, more importantly, the giants, the leaders, in any of us who care about real democracy, real freedom, real self-determination, real people power. The younger Americans who became passionate about politics, about life, about living, in 2004, give me hope. Hope in spite of the fact that more bodybags will come home from Iraq. Hope in spite of the fact that extreme poverty is as deadly in America’s ghettoes as it is in any so-called third world nation. Hope in spite of the ugly divides, the intolerance, the lack of humanity we often show to each other. Hope in spite of the fact that the budget deficit will continue to force this nation to it knees, and in spite of the fact that unemployment and despair has reached epidemic levels unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Undoubtedly, I think all of us, myself included, because of Tuesday, November 2, 2004, must do a gut check, confront our personal demons (I assuredly have mine and have no problem, none whatsoever, owning them and working through them), shovel the debris surrounding our souls, struggle against our blatant contradictions, think, hard, about all the unnecessary fights, arguments, petty jealousies, juvenile competitions, pathetic trips into backbiting and gossip and ask ourselves, amidst another term of Bush-Cheney, Is this the best we can be in America? Is this what I, we, desire to be, an utterly imperfect human being, wallowing and content to be in a state of arrested development for the remainder of my natural life?

I am not going to surrender the moral high ground, any longer, to these right-wing activists who pretend to care about the average American, and really do not. And you should cease surrendering as well, if you truly care about freedom and democracy. For if we capitulate in this arena we will never be able to have any fruitful discussions, debates, and actions about the Iraqi War, this destructive economy, the lost jobs, nor about race, gender, class, religion, sexuality, poverty, hunger, homelessness, the environment, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the genocidal mayhem in the Sudan, the crisis in Haiti, and every other human drama that demands our attention. And at the end of the day it should not matter whether one is Black, White, Latino, Asian, Native American, or Arab; liberal or conservative; a Democrat or a Republican; Christian, Jew, or Muslim; straight or gay; what should matter is what type of human being you are, what type of human being you aspire to be, and whether you have any regard, any concern, any God-given compassion, true compassion, not just lip service, for other human beings.

And what do we do with that true compassion? Well, if we did not learn any other lesson from the tragedy of September 11, 2001, we should have at least learned this: As the Twin Towers were hit by those two jumbo airliners, as those buildings came crashing from the sky to the earth, as bodies leaped from windows or were crushed beneath the force of that concrete and steel, at that very moment suddenly trivial categories like race, gender, age, class, sexual orientation, religion, status in society, did not matter. What mattered, on that day, was how one had lived one’s life, what one had done with one’s life, to advance humanity, be it via the tiniest of baby steps, or via gigantic strides. That is the kind of American I yearn to meet, the kind of America I am looking for.

America did not begin as a real democracy, and in spite of the changes, the upheavals, the lives lost, the sacrifices made, we are still not there, yet. Mr. Bush and his crew need to think again if they believe, truly, that the American people have spoken. No, the last word has not been uttered, the last battle has not been waged. The freedom fighter legacy represents the America I am looking for. Freedom fighter as in Patrick Henry and Harriet Tubman. Freedom fighter as in Cesar Chavez and Fannie Lou Hamer. Freedom fighter as in the multicultural young leadership of today, of young people with names like Billy Wimsatt, Rosa Clemente, L. Joy Williams, Jeff Chang, Farai Chideya, and T.J. Crawford. Freedom fighter as in the millions of young people who voted in this presidential election, who understand, clearly, that they, we, younger Americans, are the leadership we are waiting for. What would the so-called American democracy look like if these folks had not existed, if they did not exist today?

I am looking for an America that will acknowledge, finally, its history of taking Native American land; of using free Black labor to build this nation; of treating women as objects, as invisible, second-class citizens; of viewing Latinos as nonspeaking nuisances to be seen, worked to death, but not heard; of marginalizing and excluding, at different times in our history, among many others, the women, the Chinese, the Jews, the Irish, Italians; of scapegoating and isolating the Japanese and, in this new millennium, Arabs, Muslims, gays and lesbians. I am looking for an America that will acknowledge that this nation would not exist were it not for the Native American, the Blacks, the women, the Latinos, the Chinese, the Jews, the Irish, the Italians, the Japanese, the Arabs, the straight, the gay, the liberal, the conservative, the me, the you.

I am looking for an America that respects every explanation for life, for the creator, the lifegiver, the higher power, that entity some of us may refer to as God, that others may refer to as Allah. I am looking for an America that ceases to refer to itself as a Christian nation but, instead, as a nation of many faiths, or many spiritual walks, a nation that has a tolerance and a patience not just for Christians, but also for Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Rastafarians, Yorubas, all the many belief systems that manifest themselves daily within these borders.

I am looking for an America that does not rely on celebrities, on superstars, to be the leaders of the people, but understands that the real celebrities, the real superstars, the real leaders, are the mill workers, the secretaries, the construction workers, the teachers, the layers of cables and telephone lines, the postal workers, the artists, the grassroots organizers, the bus drivers, the home health aides, like my mother, the military veterans, like my uncle.

I am looking for an America that will have the courage to abolish the electoral college once and for all, that will have the audacity to create uniform and modern voting methods across the land, that will not seek to disenfranchise the most vulnerable persons in this society from their God-given right to be free, to speak their minds without fear of punishment or alienation. I am looking for an America that will no longer attempt to teach other nations how to make democracy work until we get it right, and working, here at home.

I am looking for an America that will raise the minimum wage, provide more money for public school education and less for war, an America that will really rehabilitate prison inmates, that will insure that elders, like my mother, can afford their prescription drugs and have a Social Security program that acknowledges what they have given to this country by way of labor, taxes, and endless loyalty.

And I am looking for an America where through much defeat and pain and suffering we can birth new possibilities, new ways of being and doing. We are not losers, friends, those of us who voted for Mr. Kerry, or, in some instances, against Mr. Bush. I am not, and neither are you. We who believe in real democracy, in real freedom, in real self-determination, who believe in the creative force or forces that placed us on this planet, who believe in the possibilities of humankind, in truth, in justice, in life, who believed that our efforts, our sweat, our vote, could and would count a few days ago, on Tuesday, November 2, 2004, here in America, have nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing at all. Nor should we see the reelection of President George W. Bush, and the defeat of Senator John Kerry as the beginning of a great catastrophe for us, for this country. No, what we have is a beginning, a start, with necessary speed bumps along the way. But the questions remain for all of us to ponder. What are we going to do to create the America, to create the world, we so desire? And are we, each of us, willing to look within ourselves for that answer?
posted by R J Noriega
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