December 29, 2006

Take Five--James Brown Cuts

[Take Five. Every Friday, Fire on the Mountain picks a category and lists five cool things in it. It's up to you, dear reader, to add your own in the Comments section. Just click on the word "comments" at the bottom of the piece and you're off to the races.]

This week's category is a no-brainer--James Brown tunes with political themes or implications. I was inspired to do it, and to keep things on the positive tip, by a memorial post for James on Ajamu Dillahunt's blog, Sankofa Meets the Future:

In 1980 i heard revolutionary activist Muhammad Ahmad/Max Stanford give a talk about how culture does not and cannot lead a movement. His point was that a mass movement creates conditions under which artist generate products that reflect the level of struggle and consciousness of the movement and even push it further. His example was James Brown and the creation of the inspiring and challenging lyrics of "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." With the movement on the wane, James Brown could issue patriotic songs like Living in America from Rocky fame and even endorse Nixon in 1972.

I Don't Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door, I'll Get It Myself) [1969]
Old James was a do-for-self kind of guy, and this is an ideological follow-on to that current in "Say It Loud." It's all the more powerful for its bluntness--just get your foot off our neck and we'll do fine.

Blackenized--Hank Ballard [1969?]
This is here because somebody stole my copy of "How You Gonna Get Respect (If You Haven't Cut Your Process Yet?)" about 30 years ago, and my memory being what it is (or isn't), I don't want to fake it. Hank Ballard & The Midnighters cut a bunch of great rockers in the '50s ("Work With Me, Annie" and "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go," for instance) with a gospel flavor that was an influence on James. In the late '60s he paid his debt back by incorporating Ballard into his entourage, and producing several very James-flavored songs for him. This one is in the "Say It Loud" tradition lyrically, though not as funky, a flute-driven quasi-shuffle.
Now I don't know whether you realize
Before you get some respect
You got to be Blackenized
You been leanin' on others to be your keeper
That's why they call you Negroes and colored peoples
Rockin' Funky Watergate--The JBs [1973?]
A couple days ago, I blogged about "I Don't Care About Watergate, Just Give Me Some Bucks And I'll Get Straight" and the need to come to grips with its anti-politics message. This one doesn't even bother to make a value judgement--just turns "Rocking Watergate" into an intermittent party chant in one of those live (or "live") jams James excelled at.

King Heroin [1972]
Some of the most powerfully "conscious" Black songs have been anti-drug ones from Curtis Mayfield's "Freddie's Dead" to "White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)" by Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel. James's spoken entry in the field is kinda weird, because he recites it from the point of view of the drug itself.

Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto [Jeez, late '60s I guess]
Here not for really political lyrics (though I like the fade-out appeal "Santa Claus, a soul brother needs you so") but because it shows Brown's lifelong identification with the Inner City. Let's not forget James collapsed after his annual Christmas toy give-away in Augusta, GA. It's not the hard funk of the day, but an almost boppy rhythm wound just a half turn too tight to be relaxing.

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December 28, 2006

Belgian Reds Now "Smallest of the Big"

I asked a Belgian friend to comment on what has been happening there since the Workers Party of Belgium (PTB, their initials in French) tripled their representation in municipal councils, from 5 to 15 seats nation-wide in elections earlier in the year. He sent me a most interesting update.

I post it in three sections: First, a quick report on the latest near-victory for the PTB. Second, an up-to-the minute report on the situation in Antwerp with the newly elected officials due to take office on New Year’s Day (and a short comment on how the party won its two seats). Third, a very interesting document, which some readers here may have seen already on the PTB website, in which the national leadership of the party sums up the elections.

And that's not all. My friend has promised to keep an eye on this blog and, when he gets a chance, to try and answer any questions on the local elections there that folks may raise.

A) Miss Brussels, who was on the list of PTB candidates in the municipal elections nearly became Miss Belgium! She ended second and I heard she was speaking of our demands in her municipality.

B.) We are coming much more in the media now.

The new municipal governments must start on 1 January, 2007. But until now there is no solution in the Hoboken district in Antwerp. (The city Hoboken in New Jersey was named by Belgian colonists after the district Hoboken in Belgium).

The situation is particular in Hoboken. In the elections, we blocked the Flemish fascist party, the Vlaams Belang, from having an absolute majority. We blocked them because some protest votes against the 'democratic' bourgeois parties were going to us instead of Vlaams Belang. The fascists have 10 seats, the 'democratic' bourgeois parties 9 and we have 2. Until now nobody wants to collaborate with Vlaams Belang. The 'democratic' bourgeois parties have to find an arrangement with the PTB to form a coalition!

In Hoboken and Deurne, the electoral success of the party started with an investigation from 2500 people (together). The result from the investigation was that we know the most important problems. They were the following: The price of gas and electricity is too high, the local hospitals must remain open, the unemployment of young people and the growing difficulties for older people to take an earlier retirement.

From these needs we were building our program. For example, lowering the price of gas and electricity is possible with a municipal company. This company can buy the energy in gross, so that it becomes much cheaper for the population.

C. This significant electoral progress is the result of sustained work at the grassroots level, and shows what can be achieved since the Party has renovated itself over the last couple of years. As a major daily wrote: "The Workers’ Party of Belgium (WPB) has not abandoned its conviction, but has left behind a certain radicalism. Today, it is much closer to the common people." Indeed, the Party has opened its doors wide for new members from among the workers, trade unionists, youth, democrats and progressives. The party’s new main slogan, "people first, not profits", encapsulates in a popular and accessible way that in Belgium (and in Europe), the choice is either for the working class or for capitalism.

Ten reasons can be given why people may have voted for WPB+ [the party adds the + to indicate that in some places its candidates ran on slates that also included non-party candidates--JH] candidates:

1. A credible and realistic programme – e.g. a campaign for cheaper medicines that received 100,000 signatures and led to concrete price-lowering measures by the Ministry of Health

2. Going all the way in confronting particular issues, and doing this by listening to and working with the people – e.g. obtaining the elimination of an unjust tax on households

3. All-out action against increasingly expensive living conditions – e.g. fighting for cheaper electricity for households

4. Fighting for better health – e.g. by preventing public hospitals from being privatised; e.g. by defending the workers’ health against unsafe and unhealth working conditions

5. Concern for the environment – e.g. against the air and ground pollution caused by major companies

6. Blocking the extreme Rightist ‘Vlaams Belang’

7. Unity and solidarity, across language divides – The WPB is the only remaining national Belgian party, without being divided in a Flemish and French-speaking party.

8. A genuine workers’ party – Among the WPB+ candidates, you will find a lot of workers and trade unionists. WPB members are very active in the trade union movement, and supported the trade unions’ struggle against the government measures to keep older workers longer years at work, while maintaining a high level of unemployment among the youth.

9. Candidates ‘with and for the people’ – instead of candidates ‘with and for money’

10. Small is no longer beautiful – The WPB has long been considered ‘the biggest party of the small ones’. Now it aims to become ‘the smallest party of the big ones’ and to be taken into account as a serious force for societal change.

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Sean Bell's Murder Won't Go Away

Blogger Modern Pitung spent the runup to his Crispness keeping us up to speed on the treacherous undertow which has been surging beneath the holiday civic life of New York City since a 50-shot cop fusillade murdered Sean Bell. In three successive daily posts, he takes on the police effort to use Giuliani-era tactics to make it all go away, rips hipster liberals for dancing around with the police defense instead of stepping to it, and uses Lexis-Nexis to track the unfolding series of false leads and slanders of Sean Bell pumped out by police sources speaking "on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing."

I've blogged on the Bell killing here and here myself, but this time want to give a precis of MP's three posts and strongly recommend a visit to his blog All Out for the Fight to get the full richness of his analysis--and of his anger.

On December 22, Modern Pitung gives the props to Steve Gilliard's coverage of the case on the News Blog and runs down and answers the three point police approach:

a) defame the dead, b) point out how many people-of-color cops were on the scene, or c) use the old-fashioned "We wouldn't shoot people of color if they weren't savages" line.

His stuff on the cops-o'-color defense name-checks Ice Cube and KRS One and his conclusion is that point three can't get traction because this has happened too many times.

On December 23, MP gently points out to the nice liberal folks at The Gothamist (by appointment, journalists to the hipoisie) how reprehensible it is that they balance an extended retelling of the Police Benevolent Association/Detectives Endowment Association claims that Bell was drunk when killed with a one-line opposing view from a Bell family lawyer and a mention that the cops might have been drunk too. Most important, they never bother to point out that:

If blood-alcohol levels mattered at all to this case, Bell would have gotten a breathalyzer exam rather than sprayed with bullets.

On December 24, he gets curious and tracks down a month's worth of leaks from "a law enforcement official" to the NY Daily News journalists covering the Sean Bell story, all unsurprisingly exculpatory to the cops. MP then suggests and weighs four possible hypotheses, all fairly sophisticated, about what might be going on "on the other side of the curtain," analyzing the interests of the various players--the cop unions, the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau, the Queens DA's office, and the Bloomberg administration.

Again, I highly recommend reading the originals. New York could still blow over this, and it's important to understand why.

[crossposted at DailyKos]

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December 27, 2006

James Brown, Revolutionary

Okay, don’t get your undies in a bunch—I’m not memorializing James as belonging in the same expressly political musical pantheon as, say, Bob Marley or D. Boon or Phil Ochs. I just want to highlight a few points which were shorted in many of the obits that have blanketed Teh Internets and the media.

James Brown was, beyond any doubt, a musical revolutionary who changed the face of African American music—two times, maybe three. Which means he changed the face of American music. Which means he changed the face of world music. And that’s revolutionary, small-r revolutionary anyhow, on a scale few have ever achieved.

The estimable Charles Keil, a crack musicologist of the partisan rather than the academic type and all-round smart guy, identifies two traditions in popular music. The more common is the one which highlights strings and the human voice—“pickin’ and singin’ ” for short. The other is based on horns and drums, a school which Charlie favors, as shown in the more intriguing shorthand he has devised for it—“beaten and blown.” If one accepts Charlie’s typology for a minute, the biggest difference, in my opinion, is that pickin‘ and signin’ tends to be head music, listening and toe-tapping music, where beaten and blown is body music, demanding, impelling, a more comprehensive physical response than the patting of a foot.

Well, James Brown was a beaten and blown guy all the way, in a country where, with the partial exception of the big band era and some earlier and subsequent small group jazz, one could argue that pickin’ and singin’ has dominated and shaped musical taste for the last century.

With early instrumentals like 1961’s “Night Train” pointing the way, he developed a band that transformed the vamp—the repeated unison instrumental riff in a long jazz performance, as in “vamp ‘til ready”—into the whole song. Goodbye to the conventions of popular songwriting—the intro, the verse, the chorus, the bridge, the changes, the resolution. What was left at the heart of the song was the vamp. Folks talk about the Live at the Apollo, Volume 1 album as the epistemological break, but I gotta go for “”Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” Dave Marsh says of it:

“No record ‘Before Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” sounded anything like it. No record since—certainly no dance record—has been unmarked by it.”
But “Brand New Bag” was only a turning point, not the end. By the time he got to “Cold Sweat” a couple years later James had virtually dispensed with chord changes, period. As the late Robert Palmer put it:
"The rhythmic elements became the song....Brown and his musicians began to treat every instrument and voice in the group as if it were a drum. The horns played single-note bursts that were often sprung against the downbeats. The bass lines were broken into choppy two- or three-note patterns....Brown's rhythm guitarist choked his guitar strings against the instrument's neck so hard that his playing began to sound like a jagged tin can being scraped with a pocket knife."
In these early years he had also transformed soul vocals. In jazz the voice was often treated (as in classical and art music) principally as another instrument—words were secondary. Scat singing as practiced by Louis Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald made the point that the often–corny pop lyrics they recorded didn’t matter; the joy of the music and artistic mastery (mistressy?) were what counted.

James’s implied critique was different. Drawing from the traditions of the Black church, he tortured the lyrics, hollering them, whispering them, drawing them out, chanting them, moaning them, and in doing so transcended the lyrics by showing that these words, that any words, were too weak, too pallid to fully express what was inside him—and us.

The second revolution Brown pioneered was the further evolution of what was by now called Funk. In the late “60s. early ‘70s, he was putting complex polyrhythms into cuts like “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine,” codifying and deepening Funk and setting the stage for the early ’70s disco era. Like ‘60s soul, with its Motown vs. Stax/Volt dichotomy, classic disco had its smooth and its rough—and James was in the vanguard of the rough.

Of course Brown didn’t make the revolution alone. He had help, in the form of his band, and motivation , in the form of innovative funk competitors like the Isley Brothers, the Brothers Johnson, New Orleans’ Meters, and loads of others. The main one of course was George Clinton and the whole P-Funk combine. Some followed James’s polyrhythms back to Africa, like Osibisa and Mandrill. Folks who turned to Africa to find the roots of this remarkable music found themselves tripping over James himself more than once, in the form of artists like Nigeria’s Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who got turned on to him during a US sojourn in the late ‘60s. The creator of Afro-Beat, Fela returned the favor, influencing James Brown cuts like 1973’s “Time Is Running Out.”

Which bring us to the “maybe three” revolutions in the introduction. Plenty of people will argue that without James Brown, there would be no hip-hop. Certainly his shit got sampled by more early MCs and producers than anyone else’s—by at least an order of magnitude. It kind of peaked with NYC MC Fresh Gordon’s “Feelin’ James” tribute in, what was it, '85? (And someday somebody’s gonna write a book about James’s influence on house music. Despite what would appear to be an insistence worthy of the Adversary, the AntiJames, on a synthesized four/four beat, a lot of ‘80s house and garage cuts used piano flava recorded or inspired by James.)

To close, a brief word about James Brown’s politics. A lot of people have parsed his interesting love-hate relationship with America and his contradictory views on racism and capitalism and poverty. Hey, go to the music. Two tunes tell the story, and the rest is commentary.

In 1968, James Brown cut the raucous, defiant anthem of the Black Liberation Movement, “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud.” This was well before the more mainstream outfits like Motown and Stax/Volt let their artists record even mildly nationalist or political music—or, to be more exact, were forced by them to allow it. It announces that the long centuries of white values, white history and white aesthetics being imposed on Black folk and used as a yardstick to judge them are at an end. When Sam Cooke cut the achingly beautiful “A Change Is Gonna Come” less than five years earlier, neither he nor anyone else could have predicted that it would come this fast or that it would take this amazing form.

Another five years on, in 1973, Richard Nixon was going down in flames. James’s background band, the JBs, led by legendary trombonist Fred Wesley, recorded a little ditty called “You Can Have Watergate, Just Gimme Some Bucks and I’ll Get Straight.” It’s absolutely a James Brown cut of the era, complete with grunts, a goofy riff on Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddy’s Dead” and a repeated chorus of “I need some money!” (Which reminds me—there’s precious little in Go-Go that doesn’t come from James Brown, too.) And the message is just as simple as “I’m Black And I’m Proud”: Black folks can’t afford to care about politics, we got to focus on the wallet. Wrong, but a view that is stronger now than it was then and hence one that revolutionary socialists need be on top of and ready to engage with.

But I can't leave that as the last word. The personal is after all political. James Brown was an abuser of women, a serial abuser. He may have meant every syllable of agonized self-abasement in "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World," but it didn't stop him from clocking wives and girlfriends anymore than "I Get Along Without You Very Well," stopped Frank Sinatra. I'm gonna go back and reread Pearl Cleage's influential "Mad At Miles," to cut my sadness, and my wonkery, with anger.


Be sure to check out Ajamu Dillahunt's thoughts on James's death over at Sankofa Meets the Future.

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December 26, 2006

Happy Maosday!

Maosday Greetings, one and all!

Yep, one hundred sixteen years ago today, Mao Zedong was born.

This is mighty convenient, since it permits, once the working class and its allies have established the cooperative commonwealth, the same strategic slight of hand early Christian missionaries employed as they pushed into the Northern European forests from the Mediterranean littoral. They quickly told their prospective converts, "Hey, this guy Jesus we've been talking about, did we forget to mention he was born on the same day as your Jul celebration?"

Jul, of course, was one of an astonishing range of celebrations of the Winter Solstice by early humans around the Northern Hemisphere. Even today, for most of us, the fact that the days stop getting shorter and start getting longer is a cause for cheer, conscious or unconscious.

Early Christian organizers co-opted local Jul traditions wholesale. Mistletoe, for instance, was held sacred by the priestly Druid caste in Celtic societies. Even our Christmas ham is the survival of the solstice sacrifice of a pig to the Norse/Germanic deity Freyr.

So why not simply take a well-loved and extremely widely observed holiday, and (in business-school-speak) repurpose and--it hardly needs saying--reform it? Hence, Maosday.

Hey, did I forget to mention how fond Chairman Mao was of pine trees? Loved pine trees, old Mao did...

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December 22, 2006

Take Five--Reasons for the Fall-off in Anti-war Demos After '69

It's Friday, and time for Take Five. Last week's inaugural list was five lefty mysteries.

This time, it's a little more free-form. In a discussion about the student movement of today on another blog, a commenter nmed lawyerDan raised the following question:

One of the things I always wondered about was why there were those huge demonstrations of maybe 2 million people in the fall of 1969 and then, even as the war became even less popular, there were never such big marches again. It was like the Vietnam Moratorium ended the war, but it took 6 years to process the paperwork.

The response, by lao hong han, conveniently for Fire on the Mountain offered five points, as a partial explanation. That post follows:

I agree that the high point of mass demos was 1967-69. In the remarkable "Honorable Peace," one of the finest and most savage protest songs of the Vietnam era, Gerry Goffin writes of the 1972 Christmas bombings of Hanoi ordered by Nixon and Kissinger:

I know the tide of protest has passed us by somehow,
But when will you speak out, if you don't speak out now?

(This puppy was recorded on Christmas Eve 1972 as the bombing intensified by, believe it or not, B.J. Thomas, Mr. "Rainsdrops Keep Fallin' On My Head," and almost universally forbidden radio play by station managers fearful of its blunt condemnation of Nixon.)

Five short points in partial explanation:

1. Fatigue with what some of us had taken to calling "Peace Crawls" and saw as ineffective and toothless, especially as media coverage dwindled.

2. A broad radicalization in the student movement which led to the eruption in May, 1970 (Cambodia, Kent State, Jackson State, national shutdown of campuses, the partial or complete destruction of 33 ROTC buildings around the country, etc.). This advance was undercut even as it was happening by the 1969 collapse of SDS, depriving the student movement of organizational leadership.

3. The perception that the war was in fact ending with negotiations with North Vietanm and the NLF underway, the drawdown of US troops under "Vietnamization" to fewer than 200,000 by Fall, 1971, and the erosion of the US military.

4. The institution in 1969 of the draft lottery which let a majority of draft age males know whether or not they would likely be facing conscription, thus limiting the insecurity previously felt by an entire age cohort. This was followed by the end of the draft overall in 1973.

5. The fact that despite the shellacking of "peace candidate" George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election, more and more Senators and Congressmen were belatedly taking stands for ending the war.

What say you, dear readers?

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December 20, 2006

Rallying to defend the Morales/Shakur Center at City College

There was a rally today at the City College of New York, in defense of the student-run Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Community and Student Center, a long-standing people's institution there. Maybe 70 people or so, a majority from the community or radical groups, but a solid showing at a time when most people are off campus until well into January.

The administration stonewalled the delegation of students, teachers, and community figures who demanded to speak with the President, and promised a meeting at a date to be disclosed later. The background can best be tracked at the excellent All Out for the Fight blog, which has been posting on this since last Monday when the attack was launched on the Center because it is named--and has been since its founding in 1990--for two fugitive freedom fighters who are also CCNY alums. (All Out has also done some model work researching and exposing the dime-dropping little weasel whose inititive gave the reactionaries the opening they needed to attack.)

In his first post there, Modern Pitung pointed out that this little tempest was stirred up in the first place as a distraction and a rallying point for reactionaries hard pressed to defend the NYPD after the 50 shot police fusillade that killed the unarmed Sean Bell on his wedding day. "Look, a sign with a cop-killer's name on it! Something must be done."

In fact, City students have made the connection work the other way. The administration, after first declaring that intervention was not within its powers, took down the Morales/Shakur center sign in the middle of the night. The students reclaimed it and marched with it in last Saturday's powerful march for Sean Bell--and got a lot of recognition and support from folks in the crowd for their struggle. (See photo at top, by Stan Ragouski).

I want to highlight three points made at different points in the short speeches at the rally today, which linked together make for a very good campaign.

At a very basic level, the attack on the name is an attack on free speech and free inquiry, and on any independence for public higher education. If any political hack or egomaniac newspaper publisher can determine what ideas will and won't be permitted at CCNY, the students can kiss their education goodbye.

At another level, the question is who's going to run City College. The administration wants something like a combination of WalMart and a police state, where students are passive and obedient consumers of whatever gets dished out to them, not human beings who need a say because their whole lives will be shaped by what they experience and learn at CCNY. That's why students there have always fought back, with organizing, with strikes, with lawsuits, with passive resistance to stupid rules.

At still another level, the names of Guillermo Morales and Assata Shakur are proud banners for our side in the long war over whose interests CCNY will serve--the needs of the communities of NYC, particularly the disenfranchised communities, or of those who are looking to build and run some fake Ivy in the middle of Harlem. These freedom fighters symbolize the self-determination of Black and Puerto Rican people, the need for revolutionary struggle against all oppressors and the drive to create a better future--and that's why the administration and the greater powers behind the administration hate the very sound of their names...

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December 18, 2006

Sean Bell & Peyton Strickland—Compare and Contrast!

For the third but undoubtedly not the final time, Fire on the Mountain turns to the simmering rage in NYC’s Black community about the 50-shot police murder of the unarmed Sean Bell in the early hours of his wedding day, November 25.

Ajamu Dillahunt on his North Carolina-based blog Sankofa Meets the Future has drawn an instructive comparison between the Sean Bell case and another recent police shooting. A young man in Wilmington, NC named Peyton Strickland was killed on December 1 as a heavily-armed police task force followed up a complaint that he had stolen two new Play Stations. Peyton Strickland was killed when Deputy Christopher Long of the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office Emergency Response Team fired his pistol through the front door, even as it was being knocked down by a police battering ram. The unarmed Strickland was hit in the head and shoulder, fatally.

By December 8, just a week after the shooting, Deputy Long was fired from the Sheriff's Office. On December 11, he was indicted on charges of second-degree murder brought before a New Hanover County grand jury by District Attorney Ben David:

After interviews with other law enforcement personnel at the scene, it became clear that Long's perception "was not the belief of others," David said. Long's actions were not "objectively reasonable," David said, even though the ERT had information that the occupants of the house might be armed and dangerous. To obtain a second-degree murder conviction, prosecutors must prove that Long committed an unlawful killing with malice, but not premeditation and deliberation.

Is anyone reading this surprised to learn that Peyton Strickland was white and that his father is a prominent attorney in the Durham area?

I didn’t think so.

In NYC, we have a crime just as egregious being played out as a shell game, with politicians like Bloomberg, police spokespersons and the media shuffling statements of concern, declarations of fealty to the legal process and broad hints about fleeing, gun-toting friends of Sean Bell. Only calculated leaks from within the NYPD have provided any information. One nugget that has come out is that a couple of the killer cops reported that they didn’t know whether they had fired their guns or not! These people are still on the payroll. Feel safer, New Yorkers? The Queens District Attorney can’t tell us when, if ever, a grand jury might be convened or what charges it might consider.

As Ajamu Dillahunt points out:

So what we have in Wilmington is a swift action against a law enforcement officer... in a case that is no more compelling then the deaths of Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo and countless hundreds of other People of Color who are victims of "armies of occupation" in our communities. Clearly Strickland's racial, ethnic and class background have compelled the Sheriff and the District Attorney to move quickly and seriously.
In closing I want to call attention to another important point the first Sankofa Meets the Future piece makes. It cites a local news story on the family’s response:

His father, Durham-area lawyer Don Strickland, said Saturday that he would address Long's firing "at the appropriate time."

"Right now, I'm just going to let the judicial process do its work," Strickland said.

Can anyone reading this imagine the parents of an African American victim of police murder in New York City proclaiming that they’re going to be quiet and let the system work?

I didn’t think so.

As Ajamu Dillahunt sums up:

While he may not be conscious of it, only a sense of White Privilege positions a person to take this approach to such a serious blow to their family. His legal background and experience with the criminal justice system may be responsible for him refraining. In contrast, Black and Latino families, based on a long history of injustice in these kinds of investigations have usually joined communities in speaking out against the atrocity and have often joined the outraged masses in the streets.

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December 17, 2006

Ten of Thousands March for Sean Bell

Yesterday, I joined some tens of thousands of New Yorkers in a solemn demonstration demanding justice for Sean Bell, the unarmed 23-year-old Black man gunned down by NYC cops while leaving his bachelor party, less than 12 hours before his wedding.

And it was one hell of a demonstration. Tens of thousands of us—I’m pretty good at counting marches but this one was just too damn big—strode down Fifth Avenue past the iconic Rockefeller Center tree in the middle of all the Christmas shopping hoo-hah. The media keep calling it a silent demo, because it was announced as one. Not hardly—plenty of chants and unison counting up to 50, the number of shots in the fusillade that killed Sean Bell and wounded two friends in his car.

A few observations follow—add your own in the comments, please.

1. The march was overwhelmingly Black, 80-85%, I’d say. The African American turnout was likely slightly lower because of a solid turnout from Africans and Haitians. Also significant, it was not a particularly young demonstration—there were plenty of kids and junior high students there with parents or grandparents, and even some high school kids seemed to be in family mode. I would say the bulk of the crowd ranged in age from 35 to 70, and judging by signifiers like neat dreads, kofis, and mudcloth jackets, they were folks who had actively identified with the upsurge of the Black Liberation Movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s. There were banners from unions, church groups, NAACP chapters, the National Action Movement, and so on, but the number of folks from unions and churches exceeded the organized contingents by an order of magnitude or two. This was a noteworthy chunk of NYC’s Black working class on the move.

I recognized more of the white folk marching than I would have liked. Beyond usual suspects, folks turned out by their unions, and clumps of lefties, organized predominantly white contingents were few and far between. UFPJ, to its credit, was there with a big banner and a modest and well-framed flier, and there was supposed to be a NOW demo around the killing downtown at City Hall an hour earlier. If those folks subwayed up, I didn’t see ‘em.

2. Signs proclaiming “Improve Police and Community Relations” were handed out free by the NAACP and predominated, but there were plenty of homemade efforts as well. The NJ–based People’s Organization for Progress had two distinct clumps in the march (contingent integrity was very difficult to maintain in the jam-packed assembly area), but their distinctive signs—with much more direct and militant slogans--were scattered throughout the march as well. Many in the crowd addressed themselves to the officers guarding the route, and had some pithy things to say to the Black officers in particular.

3. The march screwed up holiday traffic in Midtown for hours; while the march was on, neither cars nor pedestrians could cross Fifth Avenue above 30th Street. Good! On the other hand, police containment tactics were distressingly effective. The entire march route, maybe a mile and a half, was very heavily copped out. Worse, it was lined with double layers of the interlocking metal barricades they’ve been using to keep rallies controlled and split up in recent years, and the police adjusted seamlessly to the unexpectedly large turnout by expanding the march’s right of way, once we stepped off, from one lane to the whole of Fifth Avenue. The police were unusually respectful, especially in light of the righteous anger that was being directed at them by marchers. They were scared, right up to the highest level.

4. The cops’ nervousness reflects the fact that the rulers of the city are running kind of scared themselves. And they should be—killer cops get off scot-free in NYC as a matter of course, and people are righteously sick of it. Folks are angry. Ed Koch, former mayor and current has-been columnist for give-away newspapers, made a point of complimenting Rev. Al Sharpton in his most recent outing, just as Bloomberg made a point of being photographed with him.

The problem is that after decades of the likes of Koch and Giuliani, there is a veritable thicket of laws, procedures and “safeguards” which make getting a cop behind bars for even the most outrageous shooting nearly impossible, even pretending for a moment that the city administration really wanted to. Impunity, racism and lamentable training make future Sean Bells and Amadou Diallos a certainty, and at some point the rage is likely to erupt.

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December 15, 2006

Take Five—Mystery Novels

There is, in the blogosphere, a tradition of regular weekend-associated posts, like hobbyists who blog photos of orchids or kitty cats every Friday, or Amanda Marcotte's Random Ten, where folks post ten songs dished up by iPod shuffle (which can be a tad embarrassing at times, believe me).

Unfortunately, I don’t have any photogenic hobbies (here’s Brother Higgins napping on his sofa, here’s Jimmy asleep in a friend’s chair, here’s old JH drooling down his shirtfront on a bus…) and I’m too Adult ADD to focus on one theme week after week.

Thus, Fire on the Mountain’s entry into the Friday sweepstakes, Take Five. Every (in theory) Friday (give or take a day or two) we’ll post a list of five cool things—songs, books, tactics, jokes, whatever—and encourage readers to weigh in with their own favorites.

For an easy start, here are five mystery novels (not thrillers—that may wind up being a later Take Five) featuring left politics in one way or another. Not the five best, mind you, not by a long shot, just five that might interest you, and I hope aren’t too obvious. Now throw in a couple of your own!


The Bandaged Nude by “Robert Finnegan” (actually Paul William Ryan)

This one is here mainly because under a second pen-name, Mike Quin, Ryan was a CP journalist in the 30s and ‘40s, and wrote the definitive first-hand account of the San Francisco General Strike, The Big Strike. Before his death at 41 in 1947, he wrote three quickie mysteries “to make crime pay.” The psychology of detective fiction can be fascinating—at a time when loner detectives were the thing, his hero Dan Banion is part of a collective enterprise, a newspaper reporter, who is always getting help from everyday folk like workers and immigrants.

The Penny Ferry by Rick Boyer

His series character, oral surgeon Doc Adams, takes on the case of Sacco & Vanzetti. Not a mystery for the ages, but the theme makes it irresistible, and his denunciation of capitalism as embodied in the textile mills of Lowell, MA is sweet.

The Man Who Liked To Look At Himself by "K.C. Constantine"

I don’t much like cops, so my taste in mysteries leans heavily toward the tough guy, private eye end of the spectrum. That said, Constantine’s decades-long series revolving around Police Chief Mario Balzic is a brilliantly written look at what happens to working class life in a Pennsylvania mill town as the Rust Belt goes belly up. I chose this one from half a dozen favorites, because it includes an early and perceptive glance at homosexual panic.

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

This is a guilty entry. I was recently discussing with my arch-feminist friend Judith our longstanding mutual fondness for the fat misogynist Nero Wolfe who stars in Stout’s books. We couldn’t decide quite why we both gave him a pass, but this book, in which Wolfe takes on and bests J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, came up early in the conversation.

A Radical Departure by Lia Matera (with a taut short story at the link)

We live in the age of legal thrillers—Grisham, Baldacci, & Co. Can’t stand ‘em myself, but Matera writes old fashioned mysteries and the hero in her Willa Jannsen series, of which this is the second, is a red diaper baby and a lefty lawyer. This book pivots in part on a contested election in a Bay Area Teamsters local where her firm represents the insurgents from the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU).

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December 13, 2006

Stopping the Occupation: "The Appeal for Redress" Is Key

Third straight post on the anti-war/anti-occupation movement. I hope you'll bear with us here at Fire on the Mountain, as we go from march routes for the extremely important January 27 March on Congress to the "mobilizable moment" represented by the upcoming 3000th US troop death to, now, the Appeal for Redress.

Like most people in this country, you probably have not heard of the Appeal for Redress. It is critical that the low profile of this oddly named document be raised.

It is a simple statement:

As a patriotic American proud to serve the nation in uniform, I respectfully urge my political leaders in Congress to support the prompt withdrawal of all American military forces and bases from Iraq. Staying in Iraq will not work and is not worth the price. It is time for U.S. troops to come home.

It is based on a simple premise:

While serving soldiers have their democratic rights severely curtailed, the Constitution guarantees them the right to appeal to their elected senators and representatives in the national government for the redress of grievances.

It is a simple tactical masterstroke:

By formulating it as a joint appeal and submitting it in public, these young men and women have taken the first big collective step by active duty military personnel in this war to protest being used in an unjust and unjustifiable occupation.

This is not the rebellion-riddled military of the Vietnam era, at least not yet. Different times, different conditions. But the High Command keeps talking nervously about how, if something doesn't change but quick, the Army, the National Guard system, and so on will be "broken." Believe that they are watching as hundreds of troops sign on to the Appeal for Redress, watching and worrying.

All anti-war activists should add this valuable tool to the kit we are using to fight for an end to the occupation, and should support the troops who are signing and distributing it. The more attention it gets here, the more attention it will get in The Sandbox. The more troops hear about it, the more will sign on and the bigger the impact will be.

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December 9, 2006

3000 Dead By Christmas? Help People Take A Stand

In the first week of December, 31 US troops died in Iraq, bringing the total to around 2,920. At the current rate, the 3,000 death will be reported sometime between Christmas and New Year's Eve. If not, it will happen in January for a certainty.

Suddenly the US death toll will be back on the front page and back on the evening news, however briefly, fueling the deep and growing anti-war sentiment among the people of this country. The Associated Press reported December 8 that its latest poll shows 71% of the country disapproving of Bush's handling of Iraq and 60% in favor of getting the troops out within six months!

The anti-war movement must develop and hone ways of tapping and harnessing this sentiment. Bush refuses point blank to listen to anyone but his "gut." The new Democratic majority in Congress, far from providing the leadership people elected them to give, shows nary a sign of fighting for an immediate end to the occupation.

That's the point of this post: armbands or pin-on ribbons, black for mourning with the number 3000 in white, will be a powerful statement of sorrow and of protest in the days after that grim milestone is reached.

If activists make these in the coming weeks, not just for their own use, but in quantity to distribute to everyday folks--in shopping districts, on campuses, in front of government buildings, at busy mass transit stops, wherever there are people in motion--many will be moved to have an armband or ribbon pinned on them. As they go about their daily routines, they will bear silent witness to the anger so many feel.

Across this country, small local groups have stood up bravely for the last four years to oppose the war, holding weekly vigils, showing anti-war films in living rooms, firehouses and church basements, writing letters to the editor, lobbying elected officials, supporting anti-war candidates. Now is a good time for them to expand that work among their neighbors, co-workers, fellow students.

Making and handing out ribbons or armbands to mourn the 3000th death is a model for the kind of outreach work that needs doing. Many who agree with us will never carry a picket sign, let alone get on a bus to DC or San Francisco. The activists among us need to develop activities they can engage in with a low threshold of entry, and often that small first step--voting in a local referendum around the war, signing a postcard to a Congressman, or wearing a black ribbon--will help folks think about themselves and their responsibility to help end the occupation in a different way.

If big coalitions and groups like United For Peace and Justice, US Labor Against the War and Peace Action, progressive Internet-based forces like and others get behind this push in coming days, the impact could be substantial.

Comments and suggestions are most welcome.

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December 4, 2006

March in DC Jan. 27? You Bet, But Give the Locals a Listen!

See the map? Lemme tell you where this map comes from.

Every time a big peace or global justice demonstration is called for Washington , DC (which means, lets face it, at least once and probably twice in any given year), I get my coat pulled by my friend Steve. Steve's a longtime activist in DC, and his calls and emails on these occasions tend to be impassioned. With the big United For Peace and Justice rally against the occupation coming up January 27, we had our usual conversation, which I will summarize here.

The message--and, trust me, Steve's language is substantially more colorful and detail-filled-- is a simple one. As a rule, the big national coalitions calling these demos treat DC poorly. They make the major decisions shaping their marches and rallies without consulting with the locals about logistics, let alone how to tie in DC's struggles or mobilize the community there to take part. What's worse, they insist that area activists subordinate themselves to the advance team the coalition has set up to build and run the demo.

This time I challenged Steve to come up with a better plan, one that wouldn't isolate the march in the governmental section of DC--what Steve calls the Dead Zone--where the only people around on weekends are visiting high school classes and Finnish tourists. A skilled geographer, he came up with two carefully designed march routes, but decided the blog should only try to promote the one shown above. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

The route's merits are easy to understand. As the maps above show, it goes through the busy commercial districts bordering major Black and Latino communities. The march route passes right by several parks, which could be used for out-of-town bus drop-offs and rallies of constituent groups before joining the main march. And there are several Metro stations along the line of march, an important factor in January, as anyone who has taken part in the hypothermia-fests that are counter-inaugurals can attest.

I will close with one of Steve's more temperate observations: "People identify with the social imaginary of Washington, and engage in magical thinking--that screaming at empty buildings and each other will change the universe. The most effective part of these demos isn't the event but rather the dispersal, when participants filter into living parts of the city. I would love to see sometime a rally that chose to have the buses drop off out of towners at a number of outlying metro stops and moving through the subway system to the assembly point, which should be accessible by metro. There is a certain inertia to the pattern we see time after time, the noglobal movement broke through the set piece normalized protest senario, but thanks to traditional movement folks everything is comfortably marginalized once again."


In response to complaints that the map does not give enough detail for non-DC old-timers to tell where it was going, Steve provided the following mapquest-style written route:

My proposed route goes from Malcolm X Park, down 16th Street to K Street, over to Mt. Vernon Square and down 9th, I and 7th Streets to Constitution and on to the West side of the Capitol. The written directions were generated by the software, the little dog trot around Mt. Vernon and onto I is to avoid streets that are main arteries for cars, but in areas with heavy pedestrian traffic on the weekends.

1. Go on 16TH ST ST
1.1 mile(s)

2: Turn right on K ST
.1 mile(s)

3: Go back East on K ST Mt Vernon sq
0.5 mile(s)

4.: Turn left on K ST ST
0.2 mile(s)

5: Turn right on 9TH ST ST
0.1 mile(s)

6 Turn left on I ST ST
0.1 mile(s)

7: Turn right on 7TH ST ST
0.1 mile(s)

8 Continue South on 7TH ST ST
Drive 0.5 mile(s)

0.5 mile(s) to arrive at the Capitol .

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SomeThoughts on Repression

On December 4, 1969, Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were gunned down in their sleep in a massive military-style raid executed by Chicago cops. I only heard about it a couple of days later, as I had just arrived in Cuba with the first Venceremos Brigade. Some of us talked regretfully about being stuck in the Caribbean for the next two months when stuff was starting to break loose back in the belly of the beast. Hey, we were young.

Every December 4, thousands of us of a certain age think of Brother Fred and of how the pigs murdered him because he was a dynamic leader of the oppressed.

I’ve been thinking about him today with Oaxaca in mind. Last night I heard filmmaker Tami Gold and some very recently returned global justice activists report. The situation is dire. 17 activists and bystanders have been killed and more than 150 arrested or disappeared in the last 10 days. Teachers union leaders, back at work, are being grabbed in the classroom and carted off. Bloody reaction is gaining the upper hand.

While it is true that the Mexican government would rather not suffer international attention or even anger, there are alternatives that the Mexican ruling class finds far less acceptable. I’ve spent the last few months being irked as hell at some here in the US who celebrated the popular uprising led by APPO as an invincible revolutionary upsurge. Wake up—they are in one city and armed, as the showdown with the Federal Preventive Police and PAN vigilantes unfolded, with slings, molotovs and some cheap handguns! I fear many more may die as Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz and the Federales crack down and take revenge, and the movement begins the difficult task of adjusting and consolidating under conditions of “normalcy” and fearsome repression.

And if they think their interests demand it, the rich and powerful here will gun down as many as they need to—and jail more. The BPP lost many more cadre to the criminal “justice” system than police bullets. Some are still in jail. Today, with far less attention from liberals or the left, dozens of young activists in the ecology movement and the animal rights movement are facing—and serving!--fearsome sentences. Check out the Day in Support of the Green Scare Indictees slated for December 7. There’s probably an event happening near you.

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What Did You Do On World AIDS Day?

[Friday was International AIDS Day and I requested this report from long-time ACT UP/NY member John Riley to get a snapshot of the AIDS movement today. For a lot of the Left, the movement has pretty much fallen off the radar. If you've got a moment, after reading this please go to comments and answer the three bluntish questions at the end of the article.]

In the last year 3 million more lives were consumed by AIDS while Big Pharma and political elites in the developed world continue to clutch the pennies that could have saved them. World leaders have pledged universal access to AIDS treatment by 2010, but progress is slow. The global movement of people with AIDS continues using a range of tactics to fight for treatment for all--with some real success stories.

Just 2 days before World AIDS Day the Thai Network for People with AIDS (TNP+) announced a victory. "The Thai Ministry of Public Health has bowed to pressure from HIV/AIDS lobbyists and NGOs and has agreed to issue a 5 year compulsory licence (CL) for the anti-retro viral drug, Efavirenz commonly used in first line treatment for HIV. US Pharmaceutical company, Merck, currently holds a patent on Efavirenz in Thailand."

Compulsory licenses effectively break patents by licensing production of brand-name drugs to a generic company when brand-name companies won't lower prices, and they can be implemented during public health emergencies. Legal under World Trade Agreements, compulsory licenses mandate a small royalty--in this case 0.5% of Merck's price!

Within two days, Merck lept to the defense of its patent by offering to discuss discount prices or voluntary licenses with the Government Pharmaceuticals Organization...

Activists demanded that the Thai government not back down and that it fight the drug companies' newest tactic: getting free trade agreements to include provisions which make the data proving a drug's efficacy into "intellectual property." Thus, a generic drug company would have to conduct a new set of (very expensive and time-consuming) trials before going into production.

On a different front, US activists from ACT UP/NY, Philly, the Student Global AIDS Campaign and Health Gap demonstrated at the White House to demand that the Bush administration support a new initiative to fund Health Care Workers for people with AIDS in poor countries with new money (i.e. not reallocated money from other AIDS programs). The "brain drain" of health care workers to better paying jobs in Europe and the US has left many poor countries with health care systems desperately understaffed. The proposal would help by providing funding for more jobs and better pay.

Bottom line, a cure and vaccine are still needed. Even in the US 18,000 people died of AIDS last year. 8,000! Many had drug-resistant virus or were unable to handle the side-effects of the drugs. An additional 40,000 people were infected, the majority people of color and injection drug users.

The epidemic can end, but the political will has to be mustered to do it. The Bush administration has used AIDS to funnel money to right-wing "Christian" organizations. These groups go on to spread lies, promote homophobia and sex panic, and obscure truly effective AIDS prevention techniques. We must struggle to overcome this misuse of public money by building a movement to counter it.

[Please click on comments and take a minute to answer these questions and comment further if you want to:
1. Did you know December 1 was World AIDS Day?
2. Were you aware of anything for you to do on the 1st?
3. In the last year, has your activism intersected at all with the AIDS movement?
Any further remarks would be most welcome, of course.

This is not about being judgemental--my own answers are yes, no, not that I can think of

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December 2, 2006

Hard to Know What to Think

This is a disquieting subject. Malachi Ritscher is--was--a guy who set himself on fire in downtown Chicago last month to protest the unjust and unjustifiable US occupation of Iraq. His death got one mention in the mainstream press, a single paragraph buried deep in the Chicago Sun-Times. Suicide protest, the embrace of martyrdom in any form, falls so far outside the norms of US society that we instinctively write him off as a loon.

I found that dismissive stance surprisingly hard to adopt. I don't think it's mainly the particulars, though Ritscher was a music freak like me, passionately opposed the war like me, was a white guy in his 50s like me, had a few quirks--well, you get the idea. Our, my, discomfort comes more from sensing how driven Malachi was both by the need to make a difference and by his need to reject the privileges that come with living in the Belly of the Beast, while billions of others live constricted lives and suffer agonizing deaths to pay for those privileges.

There is, however, a "happy ending." An independent journalist named Jennifer Diaz wrote a moving story about his death and joined with some friends of his who set out to reclaim Malachi Ritscher and his sacrifice from the memory hole. They started a website in his memory, designed a tee shirt with the image to the left and the words "I heard you, Malachi" and began relentlessly pumping the story out to the anti-war movement and the public through the Internet. I found it via the news digest on the website of the Bring Them Home Now! campaign.

Now an email from Jennifer Diaz reports:

This week the story was picked up by dozens of papers across the country, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the New York Times, and finally, on Wednesday, the Tribune. Radio programs from all over the world have also been broadcasting the story of his actions, as well as the story of how a growing community of Americans refused to let his message go unheard.
Loyal friends, the Internet and, most of all, the sore-tooth-you-keep-touching-with your-tongue nature of Brother Ritscher's sacrifice have combined to make a reality of the simple slogan "I heard you, Malachi."

A question to readers here: When did you first hear about Malachi Ritscher and what did you think when you did?

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December 1, 2006

Sleeping While Black (in Queens)

As a blogging newbie, I had every intention of exercising self-discipline and not going post-crazy, especially in light of the fact that nobody even knows Fire on the Mountain exists yet. But the NYPD has turned my good intentions to dust. A friend forwarded me an article from the Friday NY Daily News with this title and the laconic introduction, "Things have really gotten out of control..."

Most people reading this blog, wherever you might be from, have likely heard about the 50 police bullets fired into the car of Sean Bell, a 23 year old Black man celebrating in the early hours of the day sct for his wedding to Nicole Paultre. Bell was killed outright and two companions wounded. None of them were armed. New Yorkers are very much on edge at this blunt reminder of the deadly peril Black males face any time they come in contact with the pig.

Mayor Bloomberg knows how tense things are. Instead of automatically defending the cops a la Giuliani, he has questioned their judgement and made damn sure to be photographed with Reverends Al Sharpton and Herbert Daughtry, longtime camaigners against police brutality. But today's paper describes a reign of terror being perpetated as the cops careen through the community seeking a "fourth passenger" who somehow fled the deadly fusillade and had a gun. Read this excerpt from the column by the estimable Juan Gonzales:

Around 6 a.m. Wednesday, LaToya Smith, 26, was playing in her bed in southeastern Queens with her 7-month-old son Jalyn.

Just then, she heard a strange noise in her family's darkened house. Her locked bedroom door suddenly burst open, and several uniformed cops burst into the room with flashlights and guns drawn.

According to Smith, the cops ordered her to lie facedown on the floor.

"My baby, my baby. Where's my baby?" she recalls pleading to them as they hustled her into the living room. There, they gathered her brothers Timothy Smith, 19, and Stanley Smith, 23; her mother, Laura; the baby and Christopher Keys, 18, a friend who was staying in the apartment. Meanwhile, a dozen officers searched the entire place.

Police officials said they found a loaded 9-mm. pistol in the apartment and a small bag of marijuana, whereupon they hauled the young woman and the three men to the 103rd Precinct stationhouse. They charged the men with gun possession, but released LaToya Smith.

Police also are saying the apartment was a known drug-dealing location.

But the real purpose of the raid was not to find guns or pot.

All the cops' questions at the stationhouse were about last weekend's police shooting of Sean Bell, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield outside the Kalua Cabaret, Smith said.

They kept asking if she knew the whereabouts of certain friends of the three men shooting victims.

"If you don't tell us what we want to hear, you know, you can get five years," she says one cop told her.
New York may not blow over this, but an old wound has been torn open and it will not heal any time soon. (Modern Pitung, at the blog All Out for the Fight, has pointed out one bright spot--the solid response by the John Brown caucus of the newly-formed NYC SDS/MDS chapter.)


Anybody thinks that I'm throwing too much drama with a formulation like "New York may not blow over this" ought to give a listen to "50 Shots," the cut by rapper Papoose just posted at the online music mag Prefix. You're not listening to fabulous flow or lyric brilliance, you are listening to raw anger. (h/t to Steve Gilliard)


These pictures are to accompany the new comment on this thread by Bondi on media coverage of this week's demo in Newark, NJ around Sean Bell organized by the People's Organization for Progress.

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For a Singing Socialism

"I know, there is in Socialist Party circles an assembly of mockers. They deride aught that savors of sentiment. But we heed not their scoffing. We will not permit them to outface us. A songless Socialism is a wrangling, contentious, dismembered thing. A singing Socialism will be a socialism triumphant."

Bouck White, Letters from Prison, 1915

As the above suggests, this blog will try to avoid dry dogma and nit-picky polemic, plus which it will have a bunch of stuff about music, and culture more broadly.

I am very partial to this passage, from one of those great eccentrics thrown forward every now and then by the people's movement in the US. The wikipedia entry linked to his name (above) hardly does him justice. White was the founder and minister of the Church of the Social Revolution in NYC in the early decades of the 20th century. The Letters From Prison date to the six months hard labor he did for disorderly conduct in 1914. His crime? Shortly after John D. Rockefeller's gun thugs killed and wounded dozens of striking miners, wives and children in Ludlow, Colorado, White crashed the cloistered confines of Rockefeller's church, the staid Fifth Avenue Baptist Church, during Sunday services and challenged the pastor there to hold a joint service to discuss the murders.

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The Next Two Years

I've been thinking about the new Freedom Road/El Camino para la Libertad statement on the elections--currently being discussed at All Out for the Fight and Pottawotomie Creek. One thing that stands out is the bit which reads:

The greatest danger is that of demobilization. One need only think back to the Clinton years and the manner in which his presidency effectively demobilized social movements, as well as liberal and progressive forces generally. The fear of criticizing Clinton because it might fuel the Republicans (at least that is the way that the rhetoric went) led to nearly complete silence while welfare was repealed, the anti-terrorism act was passed, more people were incarcerated in the U.S. than under any president, Yugoslavia was bombed, Iraq was being strangled...and the list could go on and on.
In some ways, the comparison with the Clinton era may understate the problem. If memory serves, what happened then was, in the main, what you could call a demobilization from the top. The leadership of major organized liberal forces with a following in the social movements--NOW, the AFL-CIO, the Black Church, the big environmental groups--were easily played by a shrewd Dem in office after the massive shock of 12 years of Reagan/Bush. A few invitations to the White House, some bad legislation vetoed, FMLA and a handful of other accomplishments, and they rolled over on the White House lawn, waiting for their bellies to be scratched. As David Bromberg puts it in Kaatskill Serenade, "He called me by name/He bought me that cheaply."

What will be driving demobilization this time is two different factors. First, at the big picture level, the stage has been set by the polarization between the bourgeois parties plus the Democratic wave in the 2006 midterm elections, fueled by popular revulsion at Bush, the occupation of Iraq, incumbent venality, and so on. Thus, we can expect that the initial frame inside of which all politics will be discussed for the next two years, on the Sunday morning talk shows and in the laundromat alike, is going to be this: Bush hangs onto his expanded presidential powers as the Congressional Democrats flail at him and candidates for the top slot from both parties jockey for position in the pack. Everything will be about 2008.

Second, and perhaps more important, we would do well to look more closely at developments in the Democratic Party. A giant part of the Dems' sweep was the self-mobilization of tens of thousands of progressive individuals around the country whose loathing for Bush, for what he's done and what he represents, wouldn't let them sit still. They took an active role in campaign after campaign, and even more made targeted donations to "long-shot" candidates who will be taking the oath of office this January.

These women and men were galvanized into action not primarily by the (in most places, barely existant) Democratic party machine, but mainly through a range of Internet-based forms like, BlueState and especially the yeasty DailyKos (or more correctly DailyKos/MyDD/News Blog/FireDogLake/TPM/&., &.) empire in the blogosphere. Many of them would have to be counted (in Maospeak) among the advanced. Many of them work for NGOs, belong to unions and/or are employed in the "caring professions," like teaching and health care. Many have demonstrated against the war.

Now, these folks have just had a very unusual experience. They stepped forward to do something and they had a big fat visible effect on the real world. So while some may, from our point of view, be "demobilized" from independent social movements and non-electoral activism, that's hardly the same as being passive or alienated or depending on Nancy Pelosi to make things right. In fact, some of the most visible are being courted and hired right now as staffers and consultants by politicians, 2008 candidates, think tanks, lobbying firms and the like, exactly so they can mobilize others in the same way.

What do those of us who are anti-imperialists, revolutionaries, socialists, do about this? If this is gonna be a blog and not an on-line book, perhaps we'd best explore that in a future thread. I'll only say the FRSO/OSCL statement correctly identifies the occupation of Iraq as a key link, because the Dems ain't gonna do anything about it and the people of this country are gonna get very restless once they realize that means the carnage may well continue unchecked until well after Inauguration Day, 2009.

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