March 27, 2007


Fire on the Mountain has been tracking the development of a Black-led anti-war initiative in New Jersey for several months now. We publicized the call, the endorsers' list and the program for the initial conference. A FotM reader contributed an incisive report on that January 20 conference, emphasizing the forward looking nature of the event.

Determined that this not be a "one-time" event, participants planned a continuations committee to hold the coalition together to build a massive state-wide march for peace and justice in Newark later this year.
FotM regular, Bondi, has now written a report on the Coalitions followup event, a mass rally in Newark last Saturday (noted here the same day by Prairiefyre).

"We Are ALL Prisoners of War"

After rocking the house with their version of "The World is a Ghetto" to open the anti-war rally of the People's Coalition for Peace and Justice, James Kelly and his band, "Affect," got serious. Mr. Kelly related how his son, Sgt. Clarence Lavon Floyd, had joined the 111 Airborne Light Infantry after failing to secure any other kind of work, and ended up in Iraq. A series of firefights gained him both the respect of the troops he was stationed with and the rank of sergeant. When he was killed by a "sniper" shot to the back of the head, this raised "friendly fire" issues for the family, but apparently not for the Army investigators. "We are ALL POW's, Prisoners of War," Mr. Kelly explained.

Over 600 activists filled the gymnasium at Essex County College in Newark for the rally Saturday. This was the first major follow-up event to January's exciting and successful conference on the U.S. War in Iraq and Our Communities: "Breaking the Silence: The Grassroots Speak." The coalition of more than 124 African-American churches and community groups, street organizations, labor, peace, student, and veterans organizations, who had joined the People's Organization for Progress in sponsoring the January conference, clearly came through on their promise to build on that gathering.

Among new participants in the People's Coalition for Peace and Justice (formerly the People's Peace Coalition), was Wake-Up, a group of young people who, along with their teachers, took the bleachers because the main seating area was completely full. New to the Coalition as well were the Union County and Essex County Chapters of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Central Northern NJ Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.

Two speakers from Iraq Veterans Against the War, USN vet Michael Embridge of Jersey City and Army veteran Margaret Stevens of Newark, explained the extent to which the troops understand that they are being used as mercenaries for the oil companies.

Speakers also included Rev. William Howard of the Bethany Baptist Church, U.S. Congressman Donald Payne and NJ State Senator Ronald L. Rice, who, as a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, drew parallels between the "poverty draft" of the 1960s and that of today. Madelyn Hoffman of NJ Peace Action, and Minister James Muhammad, chairman of the NJ Committee for the Millions More Movement, also addressed the enthusiastic crowd.

The organizations that have united into the People's Peace and Justice Coalition are still looking ahead. As Larry Hamm, chairman of the People's Organization for Progress, “The truth of the matter is only a handful of people want to continue this war. We must increase the presence of African-American, Latino and other persons of color in the anti-war movement”.

The rally ended with all the sponsoring organizations committing themselves to a Saturday, August 25 march in Newark for Peace, Equality, Jobs and Justice.

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March 26, 2007

Sallie Holley--Inspiration From Our History

This bit of US history is the latest in a series of posts written in part to call attention to the essential new book, The Cost of Privilege. This one highlights an abolitionist little remembered today, a white woman named Salley Holley. Because she is relatively unknown, I will front-end load this essay with three reasons why she is important to us now.

1. At a time when US society held that women should avoid mixed company and public spaces, Sallie Holley became one of the small, much-loved, much-reviled band of women speakers who took to the platform and the pulpit to denounce slavery.

2. She lived her whole adult life with a supportive companion, Caroline Putnam, whom she met at college. While I have no knowledge of what they did in bed, and no desire to impose ahistorical categories on them, anybody wishing to claim them as foremothers of modern lesbian people's fighters like Audre Lorde will get no argument from me.

3. Most important, Sallie Holley and Caroline Putnam stayed with the struggle for justice for African Americans until their deaths, long after many of their white abolitionist comrades had moved on to currency reform, women's suffrage, spiritualism, temperance or commercial pursuits. It is no easy thing to be a revolutionary for an entire lifetime, and while she never described herself that way, that's what she was.

I have taken the liberty of laying out Sallie Holley's life in four stages, or battles. Most of this piece is drawn from a book entitled A Life For Liberty, published in 1899. It is a compilation of Sallie Holley's letters and excerpts, selected and introduced by a minister named John White Chadwick, who knew Sallie and many in her circle. I doubt that even the late Sonny Bono can restore copyright to it from beyond the grave and hope that someone will scan, OCR, and post a copy on the Internet.

Sallie Holley's First Battle--To Be A Full Human Being

Sallie, born in 1817, was fortunate in her father. Myron Holley was a politician and businessman who had extremely progressive ideas for his era. He loved his children and paid as much attention to the education of his daughters as his sons, at a time when the debate was "Should women learn the alphabet?" Sallie always attributed her anti-slavery values to his teachings. He did not become actively involved until the late 1830s when he helped bring into being the Liberty Party, an early precursor of Lincoln's Republicans and the first US party with an organized abolitionist group at its core. He died, barely solvent, in 1841.

From him she also got her religion, a strong New England Unitarianism. Salley remained extremely interested in religious matters her whole life, for their own hold on her, as well as because in the 19th century they were so deeply intertwined with the political issues of the day (so unlike our own time). Her values were strongly held. While young, she met General Childs and challenged him on the morality of the Seminole war, in which he had taken part:

He confessed its injustice but pleaded that as a soldier he must obey the commands of his superiors. Miss Holley did not see why.
Staying with family, she considered a career teaching or nursing, but friends persuaded her to attend Oberlin College in Ohio, and she went in 1847. Oberlin was a radical place--formed in 1835, it admitted women and Black people, unheard of at the time. When a scholarship ran out, she supported herself doing washing, baby-sitting, baking, tutoring, and sewing.

Even at radical Oberlin, Sallie Holley was something of a rebel, the only Unitarian and an increasingly "ultra" abolitionist. She met and soon was inseparable from Caroline Putnam, a fellow student. Caroline's description, from half a century later, of Sallie speaking at graduation resonates with love and appreciation:
She was radiantly lovely as she stepped forward on that great stage of the Oberlin Tabernacle, animated by the preceding music, her deep blue eyes looking off from her manuscript now and then to more earnestly impress her heretical 'Ideal of Womanhood.' Her ideas put bees in the bonnets of the sages, humming as they did with women's right to vote, to preach and with the brightest humour, poetry, and satire...

Salley Holley's Second Battle--To End Slavery

What Caroline Putnam refers to as "the momentous, the decisive convention of our lives" came in Litchfield, Ohio in 1852:
Among the speakers at this meeting was Abby Kelley Foster, who made an eloquent appeal to her listeners in behalf of the slave-woman and asked:

"Who in this great assembly is willing to plead her cause?"

At the close of her address and in the recess of the meeting Miss Holley advanced to say, 'I will plead the cause of the slave-woman.'

She wrote Caroline, "Putty, I've decided to be an anti-slavery lecturer!"

True to her pledge, she hit the speaking trail agitating against slavery and collecting funds for William Henry Garrison's magazine, The Liberator, and the American Anti-Slavery Society. Traveling from village to village by buggy and wagon, staying with strangers, facing crowds ranging from rapt to hostile, she lived "the rough and tumble kind of a life the anti-slavery lecturer experiences."

Her unrelenting attitude was captured in one letter from Farmersville, NY:
A week or two ago at a common school celebration in this village, the county superintendent invited me to address the children. Accordingly I told them of the slave-children in this country, who are not allowed to read or write or spell or commit to memory the multiplication table which they had just repeated so well. Whereupon two Buchanan men rose up and left in high indignation that 'an abolition lecture was poked at them.' I am very sorry to even seem rude and 'fanatical' but know not how to avoid it and be faithful to the cause of the slave. In fact, nothing else is so important and proper for all occasions, to be talked of, as the slave and his cause.

Sallie Hollie's Third Battle--To Resist The Dissolution Of The Anti-Slavery Movement After The Civil War

Although she was a coworker and follower of the pacifist William Lloyd Garrison, like him, she welcomed the war that followed Lincoln's election in 1860. Even before that,
on the day following John Brown's raid, she thanked God in the prayer before her lecture in Ellsworth, Maine, for John Brown's heroic deed.

After the passage of the 13th Amendment and the end of the Civil War, new tasks presented themselves. In August, 1865, she attended an Oberlin reunion:
They insisted on my relating what I had been about. I said I was afraid they wouldn't care to hear how I had been holding anti-slavery meetings all these years and still 'spoke in public.' Mr. Cooper asked what I lectured upon now. 'Oh,' I said, 'Black folks must vote all through the country.' Helen Finney, who was present with her husband, General Cox, said she thought I wanted women to vote. 'Oh, yes!" I said, 'that's inevitable,' whereupon there was 'immense sensation,'as the newspapers say.
Garrison and others argued that the goal of the American Anti-Slavery Society had been accomplished with Emancipation and it should vote itself out of business. The internal struggle which followed raged for five years, with Sallie Holley among the most passionate of those arguing that it was still needed.

Sallie wrote a scathing letter to one woman who favored closing it down, and it was published in the National Anti-Slavery Standard in 1868. This excerpt will give the flavor:
It is heartless, cold-blooded, worldly apathy, that can object to the name or the work of an Anti- Slavery Society. Since this New Year began, three negroes were seized in Tennessee, bound over logs, and beaten nearly dead, because they voted the Republican ticket. Three thousand black men in Mississippi petition Congress to send them to Liberia. In their touching language, "The white people have all the land, all the money, all the education. Many of the planters refuse to pay us all to gether, and they work generally to prevent the education of our children." And you tell me there is no need of an Anti-Slavery Society.

See black men all over the South persecuted, driven from homes, such as they have had, denied work and bread, for daring to vote loyally. See them still shot down--killed by all the cowardly, ruffianly means known to the old barbaric days of slavery--and then, if you have a human heart, ask the American Anti-Slavery Society to stop its work, if you can! Are you afraid the black people will have too many friends, too much justice, too much liberty?

Sally Hollie's Fourth Battle--To Educate and Empower The Freed Slaves

When the struggle to preserve the American Anti-Slavery Society was finally lost, in 1870, she undertook the battle that would last until her death. Two years earlier, in 1868, her beloved Caroline had moved to Lottsburg, Virginia and started a school for the freed slaves in the area. As it became clear that the defeated Southern slavocracy craved revenge and restoration and that the North was unwilling to force them to accept defeat, Sallie joined Caroline Putnam there in 1870, at the age of 52. Through the coming decades they lived at the Holly School, as Caroline named it, leaving one at a time for an annual trip North to beg funds and supplies from friends and old movement comrades.

They worked unrelentingly, growing much of their food in a massive garden and steadily improving the facilities for their students, and did so under a near-total boycott of any communication by their white neighbors:
Though our new schoolhouse is not entirely completed at this date, yet I rejoice to write, the second coat of plaster is this day going on and by November our school will enter triumphantly. These Virgina rebels are fairly confounded to see our schoolhouse spring up so magically, and our fortunes revive from their hostile tread. Like the chamomile bed, the more it is trod upon, the more fragrant and lively it becomes. Our coloured friends are cheered to the vary marrow of their bones. Their faces shine as day after day they call on us to exult and crow. Still we know the enemy ever sits with lance in rest to take advantage as often as he can make a deadly thrust.

One can sense the deep isolation of these two properly-brought-up New England ladies in Sallie's response to Southern religion, so different from the austere Unitarianism and subdued Quakerism with which she was so familiar:
The white folks' campmeeting has just ended. Over thirty conversions! The coloured 'protracted meeting' is this week in full blast, making night hideous with terrible noises.' All this kind of religion seems to me worthless. It doesn't save from lies and stealing. Nobody's character is elevated or ennobled. Vanity and self-conceit are fostered. People pray and shout and say the Holy Ghost is moving their souls! It is awful.

This last is only one example of the class bias and white paternalism that appear in Sallie Hollie's letters, and it should not be swept under the rug. But weighed against it must be the consistency with which she fought and taught and organized. In late 1892, with only scraps of the Reconstruction program in the South left, she laments that after 25 years of organizing to hold Republican majorities in local elections and relentless vote rigging by the white Democrats,
our Lottsburgh ex-slave-holders boast that they will get the post office in March. One of the most bitter told a white woman that 'That old Yankee,' meaning me, 'has ruined these Lottsburgh niggers, making them think they are as good as anybody.'

Shortly thereafter, on her annual retreat to New York, Sallie Holley caught a chill, developed pneumonia and died on January 12, 1893. She was 74, and still fighting.

In closing, let me suggest that the greatest contribution Salley Hollie and Caroline Putnam made to this country probably took the form of the thousands of African Americans who passed through the Holley school. Some went North to settle in Baltimore and New York. Others stayed in the area and used what they had learned to make better lives for their families. But many fanned out across the South, like men and women educated at similar schools, taking teaching jobs and ensuring that the white power structure would never again be able to enforce the near-universal illiteracy which had helped keep Black America in slavery's chains.

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March 23, 2007

Take Five: Cool Comics Websites

[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.]

I like funny books. I like daily comic strips in newspapers. I like editorial cartoons. If you have not the slightest interest in any of these, this Take Five will not set your heart to going pitty-pat. Better luck next time…

The less mature and cultured readers here will doubtless enjoy the following websites, if you don’t already know them. And please add your own recommendations in the comments section.


Keith Knight

A while ago, FotM featured a cartoon by the excellent Keith Knight. If you didn’t bother then to go to his website, The K Chronicles, or if or did so and forgot to bookmark it, here it is again. With the teeveefication of Boondocks, Keef is, for my money, the best Black daily/weekly cartoonist working.

This amazing site is a compendium of real comic book covers (and a few panels, like the one illustrating this post), mainly from the ‘50s and ‘60s which are unintentionally hysterical. The site’s name comes from the dozens of covers in which Superman disses or ignores danger looming for Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and others, leading to the official site motto: Superman Is A Dick.

Comics Curmudgeon

Originally this site was titled “I Read The Comics So You Don’t Have To.” The dedicated blogger here, Josh, reads the daily strips and comments on them in a splendidly cranky and enjoyable style. You may think gunning down the likes of Marmaduke and Mary Worth is shooting fish in a barrel, but you’ll gain new insights here, trust me. With this kind of frequency, there’re bound to be some duds, but if you read the comics everyday, you should check this out.


You can loathe Doonesbury all you want. For starters Garry Trudeau is insanely successful and popular, which makes him easy to hate. For another, he’s a damn liberal—and some would say that’s only on his good days. His cartooning style lacks the skill and the close observation of character that, say, Lynn Johnson brings to For Better or Worse.

Against that I’ll put two things. First, his strips comprise a fascinating political and social history of the US over the last 35 years. In the early ‘80s I started to assemble from tag sales and the like a complete run of the Doonesbury books, but the cost went up as the number of strips went down and now you can evidently get the whole archive online for 17 bucks a year. The only thing comparable is Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd books from the ‘30s and ‘40s (to learn more, read the comments toward the end on this blog post).

Second, his strips featuring first BD and then a whole crew of troops sent to Iraq, some now struggling with rehab for wounds and PTSD, have won him a loyal following from troops in the Middle East. His website features a letters column called “The Sandbox” which offers a real window on what the occupying army is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With the decision of Bill Watterson to retire Calvin and Hobbes at the end of 1995, comic artists lost their most powerful advocate in the struggle with daily newspapers. Since then, the space allocated to strips in the daily papers has continued to shrink and reruns of old chestnuts like Peanuts take up space that newer artists lust after. While the Internet threatens the future of newspapers themselves, how it will treat the comic form is as yet unclear, though this website offers one possible future. You can (with a little patience) follow your favorite mainstream strips for free, and sample some that haven’t made it into your local paper yet.

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March 16, 2007

URGENT--Anti-War Protest Today

[Crossposted at DailyKos]

The anti-war movement has called a massive emergency protest today, March 17 (in addition to the hundreds of activities already scheduled), featuring new symbolism and direct action.

In solidarity with the Iraqi victims of this horrific occupation, we call on all who oppose the war to wear something green, the color of Islam, today.

And to demonstrate in the clearest possible terms our utter disgust with the repellent crimes of the Bush administration, we call on thousands of self-sacrificing volunteers, starting in the morning hours and continuing until after midnight, to vomit on the streets and sidewalks of our major urban centers. Copiously. Young people have much to offer here, drowning the myth of their apathy as they do.

Please check in with reports on your local initiatives...

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Racial Cleansing, Sundown Towns and White Supremacy

As part of an ongoing effort to call attention to the publication of The Cost of Privilege, a splendid contribution to the struggle in the US, I will be blogging a bunch, I hope, about white supremacy and white privilege in the next few weeks.

This post was triggered by an announcement of another new book, entitled Buried In The Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America by Eliot Jaspin. A dramatic excerpt from a plug for the book will give you the idea. Jaspin, who won a Pulitzer for use of computers in reporting for the Cox newspaper group, was visiting a small Arkansas town and found some horrific relics of slavery in the burg's little history museum:

I had been in the area for several days. Until that moment it had never occurred to me that, in all the time I had been there, I had not seen a single African-American. Yet here in front of me was proof that at one time blacks had lived here. Were they still here? If not, when had they left and why? I walked out of the museum with the questions nagging me.

Over the next few days as I drove to my different appointments, I kept searching for even one black face. Tourism was one of the pillars of the local economy and along the main roads were hotels, restaurants and concert halls for country music fans. The people shopping in the stores were white. The people behind the counters were white. The people working in the motels were white. I began checking the people in cars as they passed. All white.

On my last day, I finally asked the person I was interviewing if there were any blacks in the area. “Oh no,” she said, “The Klan keeps them out.”

Now this interested me, not least because of the present tense in this last quote--"keeps them out." I haven't read Jaspin's book, but comments I've seen indicate that it is very thorough and detailed, documenting the systematic driving of Black people out of large sections of this country by lynch terror. I hope to get a review copy, to see how it handles the situation now.

Many of these areas remain lily white to this day. In fact, when Jaspin completed five years of research by writing a 16 part series for the Cox group, their flagship paper, the Atlanta Journal Constitution wouldn't publish it. It laid bare the truth about places like suburban Forsyth County, the whitest in Georgia, whose racism the AJC had been prettying up for decades. The debate over the series was covered by Creative Loafing, Atlanta's alternative weekly.

Overall, though, my impression is that Eliot Jaspin concentrates on the period from the end of Reconstruction through the 20s when a massive wave of ethnic cleansing took place:

I made a list of four or five counties that seemed to be the most suspicious and went to the Library of Congress. By cross checking my list with the New York Times Index for the decade when each collapse occurred, I found the dates when there had been stories written about some of the counties. I mounted a microfilm reel and turned the crank. As I fiddled with the focus in the dark of the library’s microfilm room, a headline appeared: “ALL NEGROES DRIVEN FROM INDIANA TOWN.”

The seven-paragraph story was to the point. “Negroes began leaving this mining town early this afternoon, following the warning issued by white residents to be out of town by 7 o’clock to night...”

Jaspin, as many readers will recognize, is working on terrain others have also researched. The best known work on the topic is by a dude named James Loewen, whose Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong have gotten a lot of well-deserved play among progressives. A couple of years ago he wrote Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism, about hundreds of towns, mainly Northern and Western, like Pekin, Illinois with actual signs at the town line reading "Nigger, Don't Let the Sun Set On You Here."

Loewen's superb website has a Sundown Towns section with some excerpts, interviews, practical research tips and, best of all, some modern day use of his research. Check out his denunciation of Honda's decision to build a new plant in Greensburg, Indiana, a town lovingly described by All Things Considered on National Public Radio as a place that "could be a movie set for an ideal American small town." Always providing that your ideal is white.

In 1906, Greensburg's white residents drove out most of its black population. By 1960, the entire county, which had boasted 164 African American residents in 1890, was down to just three, all female. In the 2000 census, Greensburg still had only two black or interracial households among 10,260 residents.

He concludes:

Surely Honda owes the nation -- and not just African Americans -- a statement telling why it chose Greensburg, despite (or because of?) Greensburg's racial past. Honda should also disclose how it plans to make its workforce look like America while locating in a town that for many decades kept out Afro-America.

Another work I have only just discovered is a self-published work by Monica Davis entitled Land, Legacy and Lynching: Building the Future in Black America--she also refers to it as Lynching for Profit. The teaser she posted on the order form for her book at suggests she been actively involved in the ongoing struggle to defend the remaining Black-owned farmland in this country. Her thumbnail description reflects a materialist approach emphasizing what Marx called "primitive accumulation," i.e. piracy, as a key motive for this ethnic cleansing:

A century ago, the segregated South had a deep secret--black farmers owned the majority of farmland in the region. Then came the 1910 Census results along with an organized effort to drive black farmers off the land. Through lynching and intimidation, and predatory use of federal farm loan programs, hundreds of thousands of black farmers, 90% of African-American farmers, were driven from the land through a 60 year orgy of lynching, murder, intimidation and theft. Many found refuge in factory towns and became middle class through factory work, especially in the auto industry. Others gathered in segregated ghettos in the nation's urban hell holes and continue to fuel the nation's prisons.

This is more than a little reminiscent of the work done by pioneering feminist historians on the role of appropriation in the great European witch scares.

I hope to continue to blog about this theme in an upcoming post, talking about what all this means today--for the fight against white privilege and white supremacy, for the struggle for reparations for the Black Nation, and for the all the battles of people of color in the belly of the beast. Don't let that keep you from commenting now though.

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March 9, 2007

Don't-Miss Gigs! Rovics And Callahan & Moore Tour, Plus O'Neil DJ Set

For the next eleven days, folks on the East Coast have a chance to catch one hell of a double bill of political music. On a hit and run anti-war tour, Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore will be joining David Rovics for six public shows (not counting the one at Boston's Berklee School of Music, where you need some kind of fucking all-access pass to get in--I hope they're getting paid well, the sellouts).

"Who?", I hear you mumble. Okay, short course:

Mat Callahan was in the duet Prairie Fire, kinda the house band of the RU/RCP through the mid-'70s. Their album Prairie Fire (and I've got a handful of them to this day, still sealed) was a killer. Mat went on to form The Looters, a key band in the Bay Area World Beat scene of the early '80s. He writes great for two voices, and I doubt he's ever had a better singing partner than Yvonne. I'm hoping he does "Come On, Virgie"--one of the best strike songs in the English language--but not counting on it.

David Rovics is of a newer vintage--he turns forty next month--and an older school--he's spent the last decade and a half traveling the US and foreign parts with a guitar and an ever-growing collection of original tunes. He performs at picket lines, rallies, sit-ins, riots, anywhere people are in struggle, and on occasion at clubs, in living rooms and wherever he can make a buck. Almost everything David has ever recorded can be downloaded free at his website, but show him some love and throw a couple bucks his way. I'm hoping he does the original version of "Glory and Fame"--with the verse denouncing the restoration of capitalism in the USSR--but not counting on it.

If you are in the vicinity and not in traction, do not miss:

Saturday, March 10
Vox Pop
1022 Cortelyou Road
Flatbush, Brooklyn, NY
Lars Din opening all the way from Gainesville, Florida!
Contact Sander

Sunday, March 11
Wrench in the Works
861 Main St.
Willimantic, CT
doors open at 7 pm
Contact Chris

Thursday, March 15, 7:30 pm
Edge of the Woods
379 Whalley Avenue, 2nd floor
New Haven, CT
Contact Paula

Friday, March 16
House concert

Dunkirk, MD
Contact Russell

Saturday, March 17, 7 pm
Fleming Center
1426 9th St. NW
Washington, DC
Behind the Brian MacKenzie infoshop
In addition to David and Mat & Yvonne will be Spoonboy
Contact Wade

Sunday, March 18
40th Street Stage
Norfolk, VA
Contact Star

And for easier-to-please music lovers in the New York metropolitan area, I have been given reliable information about another date. Dennis O'Neil, who can't sing, can't play, can't clap his damn hands four times in a row with the same interval between, but does have a pretty decent record collection, will be DJing at Teddy's Bar & Grill in Williamsburg on Thursday, March 22. If enough folks show up (and order), this could turn into a twice a month gig!

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March 8, 2007

Internet Women's Day!

It's a sad irony that International Women's Day has been observed pretty widely around the globe for decades, save in the US, even though the holiday was inspired by a March 8, 1908 mass walkout by women garment workers in NYC.

IWD enjoyed a US revival in the 1970s when both the women's movement born in the late '60s and various left groups, especially in the New Communist Movement, took it up fairly seriously (and fairly separately). Unfortunate developments, let's call them, in both movements meant it faded again before it could really take root.

There is a funny and heartening spontaneous IWD revival going on now, thanks to the magic of the Internet. I saw a half-dozen significant stories today on various aspects of women's oppression and on significant women's struggles.

More important, though, is the simple fact that today has been declared Blog Against Sexism Day (a/k/a Blog For Gender Liberation Day), and this highlights how much discussion of gender, of oppression and of resistance there is in the blogosphere. I'm going to climb right out on a limb here and say that the expanding net of feminist blogs (some of which might reject that particular term) resembles more than anything else I can recall the upsurge of women's consciouness-raising groups in the late '60s-early '70s.

The similarities are most striking in the close linkage of the personal and the political, in the detailed analysis of how easily-overlooked cultural phenomena reinforce the system of male supremacy and heteronormativity, in the lively debates over sexual practices and styles of dressing, in the extension of solidarity in the form of advice and compassion, in the excitement of young folks discovering a whole new way to understand the world, and in the discussion of what it will take to build a better one.

Mind you, I don't want to be 100% smiley face here. Some similarities with the consciousness-raising period of the women's movement are less happy--the occasional tendency of new converts to slam the door on newbies or those less certain about everything, the privileging of the more self-assured and articulate (too often a product of class privilege) and, no one will be surprised to hear, the too-frequent appearance of that old devil, white chauvinism.

There are, of course, several huge differences between this blogospheric development and what went on thirty years ago. Those writing today start from a whole different place and set of assumptions, ground won by their foremothers and elders. And they do it in a period which is grimmer, less optimistic and less full of society-wide ferment and excitement.

The most important difference, though, is that the blogosphere is not a women-only or particularly "safe" space. Anyone can read blogs and on many of them, anyone can post comments. A lot of guys feel perfectly entitled to do so. Some are what are known in blogspeak as "trolls"-- assholes who show up to pick a fight, often with a misleading nom du blog. Others are more interested in celebrating, in some detail, just how non-sexist they are.

Combined with the general anonymity of the Internet, this means that it tends to be much harder to build sustaining relationships based on trust than it is when you are in regular face to face contact with a group of people. Even a close-up and personal process is no insurance that participants won't end up feeling screwed over, but to face the rigors of feminist blogging over any period of time would seem to require some real ego strength.

I've blathered on long enough. If you haven't spent any time in the feminist blogosphere, your Blogging Against Sexism Day assignment is to go get your toes wet. Here are a few sites, varied in prominence, in philosophy and in range of concerns, to start at. And I emphasize start at, because many blogs have a list of recommended links that will take you to the People's Republic of Serendip in a couple of clicks. Oh, yeah, read the damn comments, too. that's half the experience.

The Primary Contradiction


Trash Talks Back

Pam's House Blend

Den of the Biting Beaver

If you go exploring, why not come back and comment on what you find.

[I had it all planned out to blog this today, got way behind and figured "anh, can't do everything," and was shamed back into action by the short and sweet IWD post at It's No Accident. Check it out.]

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Why No Recent Posts Here?

I've got an awful lot on my plate, and only one chopstick.

Succinct, hunh? I think I made it up myself, though I may just have forgotten who I stole it from. Sure describes how a lot of us feel these days though.

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March 4, 2007

Oy! FotM Succumbs to Celebrity Worship

Shameful, I know, but Fire on the Mountain feels that this discovery (lifted wholesale from the sometimes downright hysterical image aggregating website ) deserves further circulation, even though it hints at non-materialist concepts like reincarnation...

(h/t Paul Gallagher, on the invaluable Leftist Trainspotters list)

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March 1, 2007

The Iraq Moratorium: It's Time

You are reading an argument that the next step for the anti-war/anti-occupation movement is the establishment of a one-day-a-month Iraq Moratorium. This idea is loosely based on the hugely effective Vietnam Moratorium of 1969, with elements borrowed from more recent movements like the Nuclear Freeze and the immigrant uprising of last spring.

This post will review very briefly why the situation today calls for an Iraq Moratorium, and then sketch out five components of such a moratorium, which should provide a clearer idea of what's being proposed here. It’ll close with a few remarks (all pretty obvious) about the critical role of the Internet in such an undertaking.

Where We’re At

By the end of March, the anti-war movement will be at an awkward juncture. We will be coming off a varied batch of actions around the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq--the Fayetteville,NC protest by vets and military families, the hundreds of regional and local actions called by United For Peace & Justice, International ANSWER’s march on the Pentagon. Congress will have debated and passed some version of Bush’s $93 billion “emergency appropriation,” which many activists have focussed on forcing Congress to block. (The best case scenario, and none too likely looking at the moment, is that it passes with enough of John Murtha’s conditions in place to ensure that the occupation will have to start gradually winding down.) There is nothing major on the horizon afterwards.

At the same time, the movement has seen the rise of new forms of collective action and network building, like the “Appeal for Redress,” the seizures of Congressional offices with the Occupation Project at the core, and the call by students at UC Santa Barbara for a February 15 student strike, which was taken up at a score of campuses.

Finally, the whiteout of the growing anti-war movement in the national media shows no sign of abating. The diary that triggered this one, two nights ago, was on the current wave of Congressional office occupations. Plenty of comments came from people who didn’t know it was happening at all, and that’s here at Daily Kos, a crew that tracks Congress with an intensity rarely found in the broader US population.

Five Aspects of the Proposed Iraq Moratorium

ONE. The Iraq Moratorium is built on a foundation of linking, of concentrating and of making more visible the already existing forms of protest and forces demanding an end to the occupation. On any given day in this country there are scores of significant activities--talks given, fasts undertaken, vigils continued, rallies organized, elected officials pressured, articles written--and by and large it’s treated by the mainstream media (MSM) as not worth mentioning.

This is the heart of the approach which gave the first Vietnam Moratorium on October 15, 1969 such a huge impact--have everyone possible do something on the same day (say, the first Friday of every month) and wherever possible have that something interrupt the normal “War? What war?” flow of everyday life in as many places as possible throughout the country.

Two. The Iraq Moratorium should promote activities with the lowest possible threshold of entry to expand the reach of the movement to the tens of millions who have come to oppose the war but never taken an active step to end it. One unifying thread could be the one utilized so effectively in the October 15, 1969 Vietnam Moratorium--black armbands (and ribbons, and streamers for car antennas). Another could be locally or nationally prepared post cards addressed to Congresscritters. Clog their damn mailboxes like they’ve never been clogged before.

The internal organizing slogan I’d suggest for the campaign to build a moratorium is “Down and Out.” Push the center of activity down to the most local level practical--to neighborhoods and communities. Push ourselves to do more outreach at that level--look to models like’s living room movie showings.

Three. The Iraq Moratorium will have to be a new initiative, combining limited but intense central coordination with viral organizing at the grassroots. New--the Moratorium won’t take off if it is seen as the project of any existing organization, even one as broad as UFPJ. Perhaps some respected outfit like US Labor Against the War could initiate it. (USLAW put out the first call, soon taken up by UFPJ, NOW, Operation PUSH and other broad forces, for last Spring’s moblization in NYC.)

Central--A small crew has to keep on top of things, to use diplomacy to get participation from as wide a range of forces as possible (and restrain sectarian outbursts), to wage a centralized media campaign and to provide resources to those who need it. Viral--This idea won’t become a reality because somebody tells people to do it. It will spread because it is in keeping with the tenor of the times and people’s desire to do something to end the war. Leaving planning of the actual Moratorium Day activities to folks at the most local level practical is an important road to breaking the limits many activists have come up against.

FOUR. The Iraq Moratorium will seek to impinge on the normal business of society in order to highlight the costs of the occupation, both in Iraq and here, and to force the war to end. This formal moratorium aspect will initially be concentrated on campuses (which is why a May starting date is very important). A general strike to end the war would be nice, but it won’t happening this spring. Calling a consumer boycott--without some analysis that tells us we can affect sales (generally, or of some commodity like gasoline) to the point where it would clearly show up as more than normal business fluctuations or statistical noise--would likewise set us up for MSM declarations that we failed.

That does not mean it will be limited to college strikes and high school blowouts. The moratorium should adapt tactics like those of the AIDS movement’s Day Without Art, which had a giant impact in its first few years, or the solidarity shutdowns by small businesses during last Spring’s immigrant uprising.

5. The Iraq Moratorium will carry a simple message: end the occupation pronto and bring the troops home. That will be the effective message because that’s what unites the majority of people who oppose the war. Any slogans suggested by the central organizers should reflect this, but there’s no way that a project like this can enforce slogan discipline (or, for that matter, tactical uniformity)--nor should it. The most important thing is the breadth and depth of participation, period.

The Netroots and the Internet

Obviously there’s much more I could write to flesh out this proposal. Just as obviously, these ideas will benefit immeasurably from readers giving them a thorough look-over and offering criticisms, comments and suggestions. That’s the first valuable role that the Internet can play, but it is certainly not the only one. Ideas for novel tactics will be needed; so will short reports on past or ongoing campaigns that might hold lessons for this proposal.

If this is taken up, the Internet will be a central force in mobilizing people, and not just the usual suspects. An example--many here are also deeply into one or another music scene. Would it not be possible to issue a call that on Moratorium day (or better still all during the week leading up to it), bands add to their set at every performance one of three covers--”Give Peace A Chance” or Edwin Star’s “War” or, say, “Traveling Soldier”? If a central website were maintained, pledges and gig reports could plug participants and encourage others to get on board.

This points to the next obvious need--a central website, changed daily, with reports on local planning and mobilizing for the Iraq Moratorium, links to news coverage it does get, tools like model leaflets, and most importantly, the capacity to take in and turn around 24 hour coverage in various media on the day of the Iraq Moratorium itself.

And of course folks here may have access to other crucial resources--media contacts, anti-war donors, celebs who might want a piece of this, etc.

But for now, what this proposal needs most is your thoughts and suggestions.

So holler, y’all!

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