Monday, October 20, 2008

Jim the Electrician

Jim the Electrician

It started out as a day like any other day. As any other day off, that is. Jim slept in till eight and then sat and drank coffee while reading the paper till his son Jeb woke up. He skimmed the headlines, same old same old, then flipped to the sports section to see how the Phillies did. He planned to make some pancakes and throw in some laundry then maybe go get the truck washed. Then he would settle in for a little football and whatever.

It was going pretty much to plan until he heard a commotion out in the street in front of the two bedroom bungalow he shared with his son. A crowd had suddenly gathered on what was normally a quiet little street, fifteen or twenty people, some carrying what looked like television cameras and microphones. His first instinct was to sit back down to finish the comics but then he recognized the fellow who seemed to be the center of attention, none other than one of the presidential candidates whose face had been in the news non-stop for six months now. Farouk O’Conner was the young Democrat everyone was going crazy over and if he was hoping to be surrounded by adoring fans, Jim thought he might just disturb those plans. Jim would in fact like to ask this slick liberal an embarrassing question of two and see if he could squirm out of it on camera for the six o’clock news.

Jim was raised in a working class neighborhood where dads worked at the Westinghouse plant and most moms worked too. They ate dinner in front of the TV and didn’t say much. Though he made good money as a machinist with only a high school diploma, Jims dad had expectations for Jim to go to college and get a profession, but Jim had little interest or ambition when it came to his studies and he joined the navy like his father had at 18. He spent two years in North Carolina then two years with the fourth fleet and he married a girl he had met in Virginia while on leave. Finding work with a local building contractor, he learned some basic trades then hooked up with a self employed electrician, running wire and drilling holes. He wasn’t going to do this his whole life, that he knew for sure, but it paid the bills.

As Jim approached the tightly packed crowd in the street, he nearly changed his mind about confronting the candidate, “politics is all a big joke anyway” he thought, but his resolve returned when he thought of what direction this joker was trying to take the country. Most weekdays at work he listened to the talk-radio stations and lately he had been feeling increasingly outraged at all the corruption and incompetence he had been hearing about. Where was the commonsense? Where were the old American values of hard work and fair play? The nanny state and the freeloaders who depended on it seemed to be taking over everywhere you looked and nothing was being done about the illegal immigrants taking all the jobs and white males being discriminated against. Government may be a joke but there was no way to stop it because the media and the universities and Hollywood were all in on it. These angry opinions were developed in conversations with other tradesmen on the construction sites where in between sexist jokes and discussions about the merits of various pickup trucks, the occasional discussion about “politics”

would creep in. Guys like Limbaugh and Hannity could put into words the things he felt
were wrong with society and he tried to learn some of the basic talking points from them
and from watching FOX News in the evenings. He thought Lou Dobbs should be the one running for president. He would heatedly deny that he had an “ideology”. He admittedly hadn’t read many books or could really even define the term, but he picked up a Newsweek or Time occasionally and recognized those things he agreed with.

Though he had no savings ,lived month to month on expanding credit card debt and was actually in arrears to the IRS, he clung to the belief that he was destined to be a “player”, that he would hit the big time and live the American dream and that truly such transformation can only happen in America. As the cost of living skyrocketed his hourly wage had not kept up but he put the blame on immigrant labor rather than his bosses’ stinginess. This despite the fact he knew good profits were being made. (bosses’ new boat, flat screen tv, etc) Blame also fell on the government waste that he knew was eating up his tax dollars, his hard earned money that was going to welfare queens and “clean needle programs”. He knew minorities were getting preferential treatment landing contracts so that his dream of owning his own electrical contracting business stayed just out of reach. All this talk lately of the government buying up banks and government run healthcare and zero down loans for illegal immigrants all smacked of socialism and the next thing we’d find is everybody having to dress and act and think the same. Jim wasn’t going down that road. Not while he still owned a gun. This guy O’Conner was saying he would just tax the rich and “share wealth” but that was the same slippery slope to the gulag. Being successful needed to be rewarded, not penalized, or everyone would sit around watching Oprah all day, eating bonbons. Wealth needed to be created, not “re-distributed”.

Jim the Electrician approached the candidate, question memorized, anger and nervousness in check. In fact an eerie calm engulfed him as he spoke up and plunged headfirst into the grinding gears of the Spectacle.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Odd Hero

While the transformative social movement of Latin America is referred to by many as the Bolivarian revolution,according to Edwin Williamsons’ History of Latin America, its namesake Simon Bolivar was not necessarily interested in the kind of “peoples struggle” which characterizes the political forms seen today. It is true that Simon Bolivar fought a great “war to the death” against the great occupying power of early nineteenth century Spain and that it is this same anti-imperialist spirit which animates today’s revolution, but that is as far as the analogy holds. In every other way Bolivar seems an unlikely symbolic hero.
His effort was sustained and encountered many setbacks. In his first attempt at revolt, a congress declared independence under his leadership in 1811. This new government did little to reach out to non-whites, slavery was retained, only property owners had a say and soon the “pardos” joined the royalists and ended the insurrection. Reaching Caracas with a rebel force for a second attempt in August 1813, he “declared a second republic and assumed the functions of a military dictator, “having become disenchanted with democratic assemblies.” Again the mass of blacks, Indians, and half-castes were disenfranchised, Spain was back in control two years later and Bolivar escaped for the second time.
Bolivar became convinced “that unqualified electoral democracy would lead to catastrophe in society” and he invited Great Britain to become a tutor and protector of the nations freed from Spain.
The third time was a charm and in1819 he again entered New Granada (Venezuela) and began a three-year campaign. Having learned from the past, he this time incorporated blacks, Indians and llaneros but his new constitution proposed a “strong executive president, a parliament of two chambers, one elected, one a hereditary senate and as a further check on the evils of unlimited democracy, a ‘moral power’ formed by an unelected body of notable citizens”. Fortunately the congress rejected both the hereditary senate and the ‘moral power’ but he revived these ideas again in 1826 for the constitution he devised for Bolivia. Here he proposed “a president who would serve for life and who would appoint his own successor”. Bolivar’s aim was, in his own words, to avoid elections “which are the greatest scourge of republics and produce only anarchy.” He died a disillusioned man, observing shortly before his death: “America is ungovernable. Those who have served the revolution have ploughed the sea”.

Fortunately the revolution of today, which bears his name, has abandoned Bolivar’s liberal- bourgeois philosophy and embraced the idea of endogenous development through a unique, regionally inspired socialism. Still, the peoples of Latin America and the movements they have formed are as firmly opposed to advances on their sovereignty and self-determination as was Simon Bolivar. It is just that today the empire has taken on the new form of neo-liberal capitalism. I am looking into other sources to see how accurate this portrayal may be, but Latin America is a land of odd paradox and contradiction. Bolivar seems to embody that spitit.

Post script: I had the great and fortunate opportunity to visit Venezuela last winter and I took with me Gabriel Marquez's wonderful A General in his Labyrinth, the story of the last days of Simon Bolivar. He adds his own overlay of tragic heroism to this enigmatic figure which looms so large in the venezuelan imagination.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Struggle for the Future

Modernity is often equated with the term “progress” and regarded as an inexorable, almost cosmic force, bound and folded into the construct of time and as unremitting as the tides. Those who “stand in the way of progress”, or wish to return to a pre-modern state, as well as those who wish to build an entirely new structure on the ashes of the old have in the past generally been considered casualties of intellectual weakness or romantic utopianism. A moderate liberal or conservative attitude which desires to act as a discerning filter or a tempering brake on the headlong rush of modern development is viewed as pragmatic, mature, perhaps prudent and judicious. Unfortunately, the voices of moderation, concentrating exclusively on diminishing the forces of modernity, have failed to notice or act upon the more insidious forces of reaction. The crisis which I believe humanity now faces is the result of a global reactionary movement unwilling or unable to adapt to the rapid pace of this “progress”, manifested in techno/scientific forms of capitalist development This resistance is primarily assuming the forms of fundamentalism and intolerant, fervid theocracy and its contradictions within the context of the project of modernity are unsustainable.

For my purposes, I will divide the term “revolutionary” into two distinct, yet interrelated categories. The first uses the term within the context of its classical political-economic meaning and the second as it describes the rate of change in technological-scientific knowledge and understanding. Viewing history as a dialectical process where development, or the advancement of both material gain and the just distribution of that gain moves through stages from less to more, we see the movement is both uneven and unsymmetrical. What the evolutionary theorists call” punctuated equilibriam”, or, periods of gradual change, interrupted by rapid upheaval may best characterize this movement. That is, at times the material gain accumulated by a ruling class outpaces the social development of the society as a whole, characterized as periods of class oppression. At other times the social movements reach closer towards equanimity, characterized as revolutionary periods. When modernity or progress become associated with these periods of political upheaval and turmoil, with its often-attendant dramatic violence and disruption, the forces of conservatism will generally tend towards the reactionary. This then is the revolution of classic political-economics. When I speak of revolutionary forces in the materialist or class sense I refer to a force wishing to take ownership of the means of production or grab institutional power. This was the dominant struggle of the catastrophic 20th century but that struggle today is of much less concern today and exists only as an undercurrent in this context. Concurrent with these historical –materialist developments human society is also hurtling into an era of scientific-technological revolution with unprecedented speed and force of momentum. This too results in a reactionary force as the masses try but are unable to absorb the implications of this rapid change on social relations, relations of production and their emotional and spiritual lives. It is just such a reactionary period which Western society, primarily centered in the US, and characterized as Christian, and Islamic Middle Eastern society, are struggling to resolve both internally and as opponents. To the degree that advanced capitalism and scientific progress affects every other culture, nationality or ethnic group they are of course involved peripherally but the center of conflict remains the tension between the once great civilization and the modern challenger. The irony is that the struggle they both share internally is the struggle that divides them globally.

Today in both Islamic and Christian society there is an escalating conflict between the forces of revolution and those of reaction that the moderating forces of liberalism and conservatism are less and less able to affect. Primarily when I refer to revolutionary forces, I am speaking of accelerated technological and scientific progress and the cultural, sociological and psychological change that attends it. Exacerbating this conflict, there is for Oriental Islamic society a sense of humiliation and wounded ethnic and racial pride born of past colonial and post-colonial experience informing a fierce resistance to modern western hegemonic rule. This is compounded by a sense of increasing irrelevance in scientific and technological advancement in a culture that historically led human civilization in these “progressive” endeavors. Economically they are reduced to energy suppliers for the great Western machinery and culturally they are attacked by vulgar consumerism, extreme individualism with its anti-tribal agenda, sexual license and loss of piety. Philosophically they confront post-modern relativism, a global mass media spectacle with no cultural or spiritual references to relate to and politically they are force fed secular, neo-liberal economic doctrine and “democratic reform”.

Other than the post-colonial experience this is exactly the range of experience, which alienates the multitude in Western society, and in as much as a citizen is likely to be an immigrant from a society under recent imperial domination, this aspect may contribute as well. Even the educated masses do not understand the technology that underpins their entire existence. One in ten thousand can explain modern physics, mathematics, biology or engineering. Fewer still have anything but the most rudimentary grasp of history, political economy or psychology. Advancement in scientific understanding has far eclipsed the ability of the masses to process it in any meaningful way. Half the population of the United States says they do not accept the theory of evolution and far fewer actually understand it. Most people (myself included) have as much knowledge of quantum physics, molecular biology, cosmology or nano-technology as they do of Sanskrit or sanghas. The uneducated do not have time to worry about what they don’t know because their day-to-day struggle for existence is all consuming. Economically, they describe conditions as “a rat race”, a “treadmill” or a “grind” unless they belong to that ever shrinking minority for whom satisfying or rewarding work consists of re-arranging capital holdings, re-packaging commodities or reducing workforces to extract more and more production and profit. Culturally their experience is reduced more and more to whatever emanates from the television set and despite the influence of the internet, exposure to foreign sources of literature, art or music is minimal to non-existent. They vaguely understand that there exists an elite “technocracy” which seems able to process, assimilate and disseminate this vast complex of information and knowledge but they themselves have little hope of understanding the systems or structures which determine their own movement or that of the universe at large. For both societies then, the overwhelming feeling of the masses is one of powerlessness.

In both the case of Western and Islamic society then, the reaction to these revolutionary, modern developments is generally one of retrenchment and retreat to a perceived historical or mythological time of safety and tranquility and is in many cases politically reactionary. Within the religious sphere a combination of tradition, reductionist doctrine and communitarian fellowship creates a bulwark against the perception of threat and a seemingly solid foundation upon which to build resistance. The simplistic, dogmatic and theocratic world view is a natural refuge from the confusing, complex and often abstract concepts required for modern, scientific understanding For Islamists, this may escalate into a violent defense of this perceived remaining stronghold of a once global power and challenge to imperialistic outreach. Pan –Arabian nationalism extends into cultural conservatism, with its social mores, sexual roles and religious fundamentalism reinforcing a comforting super-structure of traditions and ancestral values. Moderation by both liberals and conservatives is thwarted by the hysteria of fear, destroyed social systems and the ignorance and extremism born of poverty and neglect. In Western society the feeling of powerlessness is easily transferred into fear of the “other”, racism, xenophobia and nationalism that transcends class boundaries and manifests itself, particularly in those with a rural, less educated or cosmopolitan orientation as patriotism, intolerance and obedience and rejects as un-pure the modernism, often seen as “relativism” or “secular humanism”, which seems to engulf its citizens, This too expresses itself as a violent defensive posture or even projected “pre-emtive”power, defending a perceived historical or traditional position. The same cultural conservatism informs its fundamentalist ideology and blame for poverty, discrimination and alienation is projected at those who seem to represent this destructive modernity, intellectuals, academics, liberals and of course other faiths with a competing claim to absolute truth.

It may seem preposterous that just sixty years after a catastrophic war with Fascism we could see reactionary right-wing movements develop antagonistically yet synergistically in both the East and the West. Part of this is the old revolutionary undercurrent but with the socialist Left in global retreat (save parts of Latin America and a couple of minute outposts), a right-wing military/corporate/statist complex (the great bear) is reduced to fending off a right-wing Islamo-extremist non-state movement (the hornets) in order to quench it’s mighty thirst for oil, project a sense of it’s imperial power and fulfill its millenialist destiny, with all its anti-modern, anti- techno-scientific implications. For this encounter, capitalism must wear both the cloak of conservatism (or neo-liberalism or paradoxically, neo-conservatism) and fundamentalism to garner the support of its own citizens that it is, behind-the scenes, “creatively destroying” through economic attrition. Both sides of this conflict are fighting a perceived “war on terror”. Both sides are terrorized by the same extreme fear of the “other”. Both sides are terrified of a present and future they neither understand nor are able to control.

Where fascism of the last century rose from fervent nationalism and ethnic pride wedded to a zealous anti-communism, the present historical irony is witnessing these same forces congeal once more in a fascistic religious war for control of a future neither side can understand nor accept, based on irrational fear. The tragedy, once again, is that the working class is once more distracted from its historical mission of self- emancipation and pressed into the service of its oppressors to kill and maim one another. Truly, the pull of nationalistic, xenophobic and millenialist extreme right wing ideology is historically strong for the disorganized, supersticious and fearful masses. Fortunately for the forces of progress,a ruling class that knows the "weak citizen"is the easist to exploit and so promotes anti-modernist theology, will find its position less and less tenable as the implacable demands of modernity run headlong into the inflexibility of totalitarian, theocratic rule.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Pride In Tobacco

Pride In Tobacco
By Dave Jones

She sat on her porch watching me work, smoking one cigarette after the other and occasionally barking out that little, gravelly cough. All set up in her lounge chair on the front deck, newspaper spread out at her feet and her ashtray by her side, the lady in the next condo over spent the morning browsing through the flyers and chain-smoking. I was re-modeling the kitchen across the driveway. It seemed a welcome diversion in her day.
As I hung the new cabinets and installed the sink, Joe, the condo’s owner, divided his attention between my work, his Steven King novel, and the always on television. It was tuned to sit-com re-runs of the seventies, many of which I pathetically recognized. He lived alone, retired, with long days to fill and he too chain-smoked. He also had that regular, gurgly, little cough.
I have just moved to the South after living twenty-three years in Montana, found work with a kitchen contractor, and am still scouting out this new terrain. For some odd reason I was struck by the similarities between Joe and his neighbor across the way. Physically they were both thin, almost hollow looking, and seemed old beyond their years. Both lived alone and filled the hours with distractions and an endless chain of cigarettes. Down here in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Tobacco is a force, almost a palpable presence and it is attached to this region in many ways, the names of towns and streets, parks and museums being the most obvious. The politics, history and mythology of tobacco clings to nearly everything, like the odor in Joe’s old couch or the gray cloud wafting about his ceiling. Tobacco built this town, this state and it demands a certain allegiance, even as it slowly suffocates and kills its followers. Tobacco builds the fine universities and supports the arts, bestows power on the politicians and a livelihood to the people. But it’s blood money and they all know it. It is reflected in their eyes and in the windows of their churches. Nicotine stains the school buildings, the highways and the lovely parks but it’s never mentioned. It seems to me this pervasive denial is lethal, both literally and spiritually.
She watched me load up the truck, alternately coughing and dragging on yet another smoke. Beyond her old, black Cadillac, with its license plate holder professing “Pride In Tobacco”, I could see her gaunt face, eyes set deep in their sockets. We were just far enough away that acknowledging smiles seemed unnecessary.
In Montana our mythological symbols, such as the Cowboy, the Pioneer or the Grizzly have an indirect way of poisoning people’s spirit, creating a climate of fear, prejudice and a dangerous nativism.Montanans also seem unwilling to face certain aspects of their collective past. We choose instead to de-construct or better yet, simply deny the exploitation, the slaughters, and terrible injustices’ perpetrated in the pursuit of wealth and empire. The blood money. Here in North Carolina it seems a more straightforward process, the symbol and the poison one and the same. Here they just cut to the chase and poison themselves with poison.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Why not just go I thought to myself. I had been reading about the issues surrounding the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement, including a passionate plea from an activist named Starhawk, describing this as an historical moment, one surpassing in importance the mundane tasks of daily life, like going to a job etc.. That certainly made sense. Looking back these many years later, I’m glad and proud to have participated in protests against the Viet Nam war and to have been involved in the “movement”, as we lefties like to call it. In those days I didn’t mind missing a little school either. For the last year I had been going to all the major anti-war demonstrations in D.C. and elsewhere and always returned energized. Then the other night at a conference on something or other I heard a gal say she was going to feed the protesters in Miami with the group Food Not Bombs and I thought “right on”. Then the final convergence occurred when a friend had contact with some students who were going who had a seat in a free van and I was at a gathering and met one of the people going with the students! Why not indeed. They had a place set up to camp, keeping expenses at a minimum, and they were eager to have someone over 21 to drive (insurance reasons) and I am definitely over 21.
So three o’clock Tuesday rolls around and I’m standing around with a bunch of young Quaker college students ready to pile in for a fifteen hour drive, through the night, to Miami. There is a palpitating sense of excitement on board; knowing we are about to confront Empire and injustice as currently manifested in the FTAA negotiations. For many of these young radicals it is their first action, others are seasoned veterans but they all seem intelligent and aware, a good thing because these “globalization” type demonstrations tend not to be as benign as your garden variety peace march and as it will turn out, this one is no exception. The conversation is lively as the southern night flies by and a sense of comradeship is building, this is the part of the struggle I’ve always enjoyed and often miss in my working class existence, the theory and ideology and passionate intellectual discussion. I am the only one aboard who is a stranger so I mostly listen and analyze then take my turn at the wheel to get us through the deep, sultry night and flat, monotonous landscape.
Around seven in the morning we hit town, cramped and spaced out and a little giddy. We find the house where we will camp, nestled in the jungle landscape of some posh south Miami neighborhood and pile out only to find the place already swarmed with tents and bodies and bikes of young student types decked out in dreads and tattoos and piercing galore. Word had apparently gotten out, the homeowners were unhappy with the unintended crowd and it was up to us to get them removed. This is when I found out we operated in a non-hierarchical structural format, anti-authority and all that and yet in some fashion the bad news had to be delivered. Circles were formed. Feelings and proposals were addressed. Meetings ensued. And ensued and ensued. Finally the squatters were found new homes and sent on their way. Anarchy takes patience and I badly needed some sleep.
After a bit of rest we head for town and some organizational meetings. We are told to walk in small groups as the cops are “pre-emptivly “ picking up people for trivial infractions such as jay walking, loitering, unlawful assembly or for no reason at all. Coming into town on the Metro we see the police definitely have a presence, at all the train stops, overhead in helicopters and back and forth on the streets in cruisers they are everywhere you look. Our destination is “The Convergence Center”, stuck twenty-five blocks from downtown solidly between the ghetto and an industrial hell of chain link fences and pre-stressed concrete warehouses. The center is instantly recognizable both by the assembly of motley anarchists / punks and the helicopters roaring overhead. Our people! World Trade Warriors, Globalistas! Task one is to divide into affinity groups so we sit in a circle and yell through the din just how much risk we are willing to accept, whether we plan to get arrested, what emotions we are experiencing at the moment etc.. It is halfway between a sixties encounter group and a Skinny Puppy concert.
If I was to be perfectly honest, I would have to tell them I was there as a tourist, as much for the theatrical aspects as for the political but the show I wanted to see did not include the inside of a jail. I was hoping to find out what the actual goals and purpose of this action was. Were we intending to stop the meeting of the trade ministers? To support and somehow influence a particular position within the negotiations? To draw attention to the issues, such as the lack of environmental or social justice considerations inherent in these trade deals? As a socialist I was not so much for “stopping FTAA” as I was for ending capitalism altogether but I was unsure how deep that sentiment ran through this crowd. I managed none the less to end up in a three person affinity group that was going to document, with digital camera, the events of the next couple of days and that was considering itself “medium” risk, getting close enough to the action to get pictures but not so close as to get arrested.As I looked around I realized that at fifty years of age, I was easily twenty years older than anybody else here. Deep down I figured despite my age I was still very fast and had good instincts for danger, I would cover my own ass.What we had were two very separate events the next day, the permitted rally and march and a series of very un-permitted “direct actions” including a covert drive to “the fence” and a march to the government center, complete with drum corp,cheerleaders, puppets etc.. Now we were asked to assume code names and learn each others code names, receive telephone numbers for legal aid and a voicemail service we would use to keep in contact, and to show up at five AM the following morning ready for action. None of this dissembling of information was made any easier by the hundreds of other affinity groups planning nearby, the Food Not Bombs generators roaring away or the copters circling overhead. The atmosphere was somewhere between A Clockwork Orange and Oliver Stone. With a dash of Fellini for good measure.
Dark thirty the next morning, gathered on the pavement outside the convergence center, I am asked whether I would be willing to drive a van behind the puppet truck, owing to the fact that I am one of the only ones with a drivers license This is a high, high risk assignment but I figure what the hell. They had planned to minimize some of the risk by “embedding” media people in the van and truck but there was one minor problem, no media had shown up at this ungodly hour or else they weren’t thrilled with our plan. Either way, there was no backing down and my documentary team of “Zeke and Pooh” jumped in along with a couple other guerrillas and we were off, following the UHaul van full of illegal puppets down the darkened side streets of Miami. Suddenly six cop cars burst out of nowhere and the jig is up. There intelligence gathering had obviously been a little more effective than our security arrangements. I whip the van around and split off uptown as dozens more police cars, vans, trucks filled with swat units converge on the hapless UHaul. Disoriented and a bit depressed we park the van and start hiking towards the direct action site, mingling with other protesters in small groups or traveling alone, exchanging what little information we had and staring in wonder and horror at the phalanxes of para-military forces waiting to greet us. Dressed in Darth Vader black with Kevlar pads and shiny boots, gas masks and visored helmets they stood in lines three deep carrying automatic weapons, tear gas launchers, tazers, batons and shields. On their belts hung pepper spray and mace canisters. They stood atop armored vehicles or sat on high tech mountain bikes and they said we are the State and you in deep do do. They numbered in the thousands and they blocked off all the streets, video taping us as we gawked at them. The concept of a “measured” show of force had obviously been discarded in favor of the newly popularized shock and awe. As in some post- apocalyptic nightmare, the streets were deserted, the citizenry hiding behind windows, there were no cars to be seen . I continually checked for clear exits in case we had to run. We watched protesters get picked off from the edge of the group, get beaten to the ground and drug inside waiting paddy wagons.
We finally caught up with the rest of our group near the entrance to the amphitheatre, the place the rally was to take place and march to begin. Security would not let us enter the rally with our plastic container drums so we waited in the hot, southern sun, surrounded on all sides by troops in tight formation, feeling a deep empathy with the Palestinians or the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto, the Iraqis occupied by an invading force.
After a while the steelworkers started pouring out of the amphitheatre, closely followed by other union brothers and sisters, workers from the factories and construction sites and fields from as far south as Peru and we marched in solidarity, housewives, students, teamsters and teachers, ending back at the rally site tired but infused with the spirit that comes from shared struggle. At the south end of the gathering there was a sudden surge of bodies coming towards us and I could see the tear gas canisters suddenly flying through the air. People cried out “walk!” in order to avoid a stampede and others cried out for medics to help the blinded. I began to look for a way out but my fellow documentarians, adrenaline coursing through their veins, wanted close up pictures. We danced along the edge of the skirmish, retreating each time the gas canisters and rubber bullets flew but when I saw the cops begin a large sweep in our direction I urged my comrades to head for the entrance of the amphitheatre, thinking surely the cops would not attack the thousands of union people, many of them elderly, still inside. I was mostly right as they swept past the entrance and kept advancing on the group trapped below, but one cop pointed his pepper spray at an old man sitting in a chair and sprayed him directly in the face. The terrified crowd eventually began to chant “shame, shame, shame” as from our knoll we watched the black horde attack and send fleeing the trapped protesters. They were driven up the one street left open, cops firing at their backs as they ran, till they were beyond our sight. We stood in stunned silence.
A member of our group had a video camera that day and was down in the street as the attack began. His footage shows protesters, direct action people as well as those who had come to take part in a legal march, running nearly twenty blocks while being fired on and clubbed from behind. They were driven into Overtown, Miami’s notoriously dangerous ghetto where many were arrested. That’s how Miami deals with dissent.
Zeke, Pooh and I wandered back towards the convergence center, hoping to reunite with or at least find out what happened to, our group. We checked for messages and left our own on the voice mail, affirming that we were safe (so far, of course we were still walking, in the dark, through Overtown) and stopping to talk to residents out on their porches who were wondering what had gone down. Some were upset we had brought even more than the usual police presence into their neighborhood, others high fived us and asked for more information on the main issues. I wondered what we had really accomplished.
Fascism is not a word I use lightly. One needs to gather empirical data, follow a rigorous intellectual process in order to gain enough knowledge to back up such a weighted charge and yet one also must not shirk from such an accusation due to a lack of courage or fear of the charge of political un- correctness. Modern power structures are always in a state of flux and therefore not so easily pinned down by any one label but trends can be identified, quantified and qualified and for me this ugly name does not present itself based solely on my recent experience, traumatic as that was. History tells us to look for cultural as well as political trends, trends of style, trends within the lexicon of current discourse, trends in art, music, mass media and fashion. Trends within the relations of power. A good place to start looking is Miami.
The all night drive back to North Carolina left me and my fifteen young co-horts plenty of time for reflection and discussion on the methods and goals of this equally young movement. Some of us questioned the uneasy alliance that had been formed with the so called “Black Block” the young anarchists who seemed to be more about style than substance, some of whom just seemed to be delinquents out to vandalize for fun and self glory. The press used this group to present a negative image of all demonstrators and the cops used their presence as a way to justify their abusive use of overwhelming force to stifle dissent. We had to admit that often times their behavior, taunting police, throwing objects or starting trash fires put everyone in danger. Stopping for gas or coffee on the way north we saw how the press coverage diminished the further from Miami we got. Michael Jackson got the headlines while our efforts were reduced to a few condescending paragraphs on page seventeen. It was obvious we would need to evolve and react as our opposition adapted and hardened. I wondered how many here were in it for the long haul and how many would just find it easier to become another cog in the machine, as so many of my own once idealistic generation had done. I shared my own analysis that globalization was the logical, historically determined result of capitalism on steroids, a gentler name for imperialism. I explained my belief that all the reforms and protections inserted into trade deals wouldn’t stop the relentless profit driven destruction of our natural systems, our few remaining unique cultures or the few remaining freedoms, liberties and democratic institutions left on the planet, that only revolutionary struggle could achieve that end. There was a feeling we had underestimated the beast, our euphoric exuberance replaced by a sobering realization of the entrenchment, the shear immensity and inertia of this force that sought to oppress us. We realized we would have to get smarter. There was also a strengthening of resolve, a feeling we had been tempered in the fire. This is what democracy looks like! Aint no power like the power of the people! Next time will be different.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Stop the Next War Now

Are you feeling “alienated from the basic institutional structures of society”? Does the state of our democracy seem hollowed out and unresponsive to the needs of it’s working class citizens? Then perhaps you are willing to consider that the most “basic institutional structure” of global society, the capitalist economic system, is in fact the prime impediment to peace, prosperity and progress in the human social condition.

No matter what political “parties” are in power the capitalist nations of the world are ALWAYS at war or in a heightened state of preparedness for war. This not only drains the precious resources of the planet, and ends the lives of primarily working class young men and women, but also promotes a culture of fear and violence. No matter how much we support and contribute to environmental organizations, critical eco-systems are being destroyed at an ever- accelerating rate. No matter how many millions of tons of food sit in storage or are thrown out as waste, hundreds of thousands die every day of causes directly related to malnutrition in the developing world, most of these women and children. No matter how hard we try to promote human rights, poverty and war disrupt the lives of vast populations.

It is true that liberal reforms of the last century have helped to improve the lives of millions of people, saved some of our precious landscapes and species and are worth fighting for. But along with these efforts a local political movement is needed to strike at the root of the problem and join the international struggle for a real, lasting and comprehensive justice for all peoples and creatures. This means replacing the brutal, predatory, isolating and competitive values fostered by neo-liberal capitalism with the co-operative, collective, ethical and just values of an economic system built on sustainability rather than profit, trust rather than fear, true participatory democracy rather than aggression, greed and the whims of the ruthless Market.

Terrorism, religious fanaticism and racism breed on poverty, ignorance and the wounds of historical injustice. A REAL war on terrorism means ending poverty, educating people in every part of the globe and establishing governments accountable to the people rather than corporations. The great disparities in wealth must end and a truly global economy built to benefit all who are willing to work. Building on the work of Marx, Engles, Gramsci, Trotsky, Althusser, Habermas and many, many others, contemporary thinkers are creating a clear vision of this just and sustainable future. If you are tired of the two party structure upon which the façade of American “democracy” rests and are willing to make the revolutionary leap towards a collective, focused process for change I am organizing a conference to be held later this winter titled Rebuilding A Socialist Alternative. If you are interested in participating please contact me at: or visit my blog at : http://

Another World Is Possible , It Is Our World To Win

Evolutionary Distress

We ended up in Washington D.C. last year, on a cold rainy day, as participants in a large anti- war demonstration and after the march we decided to warm up with a walk through the Natural History Museum at the Smithsonian. Perhaps we could gain some insight into our species incorrigibly violent nature. So we followed the evolutionary path of Homo sapiens, in fact of all life on planet earth, as it is described in the archeological record so painstakingly researched and analyzed by scientists and scholars. Through the protozoa and bony little fishes, the birds, reptiles and mammals, till, rounding a corner we are confronted with a display of “early man”. A replication of a cave dwelling family in their animal skins, holding their stone tools discussing we-can-only-imagine-what ,is gathered around their precious fire there in the middle of this huge gallery. While gazing at this ancestral milieu I am startled out of my contemplation by the loud, angry exclamations coming from the middle aged woman next to me, directed at the now pitifully cowering gray haired old lady next to her.
“ There Mom, look, there’s your Adam and Eve! This is your fabulous Garden of Eden!
What do you say to this?”

The scorn and fury in her shaking voice cause many of us to glance over , to wonder what all the commotion could possibly be about but the embarrassment and chagrin and pain on the old womans face force me to just as deliberately look away. She says nothing as what is now revealed to be her daughter continues to mercilessly berate her. The daughter is wildly agitated and making a public spectacle of this crazy, personal conflict.
“ This is how we evolved Mother, over millions of years, not created in a few days, look at what it says Mother!”

The old woman will not look at the cave people. She stares straight ahead, her jaw set ,lips closed tight. I am so embarrassed for her I can watch no longer and move rapidly into an adjoining room filled with the skeletal remains of ancient dinosaurs. I can feel the jagged gash where this mother and daughter have been violently ripped apart by their respective beliefs and who knows how many other festering little issues. I have to wonder how the eruption could have taken so long to manifest,if the trip to the museum was in fact a trap prepared and finally sprung after to many years of profound disagreement .Perhaps there should have been a serpent in a fruit tree next to the cave.In either case our destiny remains undecipherable in the archaeological record. We may just stay forever huddled in that cave ,staring into the fire,hoping for some clue.