July 23, 2007

New Yorkers--Benefit Gig for Iraq Moratorium!

DJ D spins for the Iraq Moratorium!

DJ D has a resident gig every other Thursday at the venerable Williamsburg institution, Teddy’s Bar & Grill, and on August 2, he will be running it as a fundraiser for the Iraq Moratorium. The Iraq Moratorium is a vitally important initiative to manifest and focus the growing majority anti-war sentiment among the American people with locally-based activities on the Third Friday of every month, beginning on September 21. Check out the website at Iraqmoratorium.org.

Thursday, August 2, 8 PM to midnight (or so)

Teddy’s Bar & Grill
Corner of Berry and North 8th, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
(L train to Bedford Avenue)

Admission is free. Teddy’s management will donate a portion of the night’s take to the Iraq Moratorium. So contribute by dining from Teddy’s worthy menu and by drinking freely. And bring some spare cash--donations will be solicited.

In honor of the event, and to draw out folks unimpressed by mere great deejaying, DJ D promises a heavily political set:

  • Hum along to Christian pacifist Bruce Cockburn’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher”
  • Discover Lula Belle & Scotty’s hillbilly rant “I’m No Communist”
  • Hear the two best songs of the Vietnam War era (one by crooner BJ Thomas!)
  • And for the first time in any NYC club in 30 years, easy, thrill to the Black Panther Party’s house band, the Lumpen, singing “Free Bobby Now!”

Note: the term “political” is very loosely defined—there’ll be songs about sex, drinking, shoes, working, hooking up at demonstrations, getting old, school, and major strikes as an occasion for cheating.

Plus plenty more. Ya can’t beat it with a stick. And if you are unable to attend, please consider making a direct tax-deductible donation to the Iraq Moratorium at the website.


If you're coming to the gig, suggests DJ D, right here and now might be a good time to make requests--just hit the comments button at the bottom of this post. (Thanks to ey, who came up with some good suggestions.)

And, as a sneak peek--or, rather, listen--here's the video of the excellent Bruce Cockburn tune plugged in the announcement:

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July 22, 2007

Unlearning Racism in Newark in the '60s

[This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the Newark Rebellion, one of the most powerful of the so-called "riots" that shook cities across the US that summer. My friend Joy has written up this recollection of being a white girl in the Newark public schools during the Sixties.

Set four years before the actual rebellion, this story highlights some of the conditions that led up to it: white flight and the conscious abandonment of the school system in Newark by the local and state power structure as the student body became Black. It also reminds us that decades of students since then have suffered from this same educational abandonment and been made to feel unworthy in the same ways Joy's memoir details.

It is also the moving story of one thirteen-year-old white girl suddenly becoming aware of how white people make Black people invisible. I gladly take this opportunity to plug Chip Smith's splendid new book, The Cost of Privilege, which sets this phenomenon in a social and historical context--it's a must-read for anyone seeking to break down the system of white supremacy in this country. --Napolitana Piemontese]

Newark, New Jersey, 1963

It’s the first day of 8th grade for me and there’s complete chaos in the halls of the Hawthorne Avenue School. Hawthorne is the school I have gone to since I was in kindergarten, but everyone seems so unfamiliar.

It’s Newark, New Jersey, 1963 and white flight is in full throttle. And the hallway looks like a place that people are fleeing from. Classes and teachers have not been assigned. No directions for where to report have come in the mail over the summer. So hundreds of Black students and dozens of white teachers occupy the hall. Many students are new to the school and look nervous. No teacher or administrator is rushing over to welcome us back to school. We are just waiting, waiting for our class assignments, getting tired in our new shoes.

Last year the school only went up through 7th grade. This is the first year it is going through 8th grade. This change is instituted so we can avoid the infamous Clinton Place Junior High which draws students from even rougher neighborhoods. Clinton Place is a 7th through 9th grade school, so we would not get to enter Weeequahic High School until 10th grade. None of the parents want that year’s delay. Weequahic has a good reputation. It’s where the whiter, more affluent population of Newark goes. So this is the first year of 8th grade for Hawthorne, and no one seems to know what to do with us.

I am a good student. I have always gotten straight A’s in school. In 7th grade I was in a special class that covered a year and a half of instruction in just a year. The year started with the second half of 6th grade and when it was over you were ready for 8th grade. This was needed to get everyone on a September start schedule. When I and others had started kindergarten, eight years earlier, if you turned five after November you started in February. A placement test was given and either you got to skip a half -year, or you were forced to stay back a half-year. The special class was for those of us who were skipping. The students in the class were two-thirds white, which I am, and one-third Black. But now in the hall, I do not see any of the kids who were in the special class with me. They have all moved over the summer. I start to cry.

I am almost thirteen, and crying like a kindergartner just starting school. But no one even notices me. Finally we are lined up to get class assignments. I notice one girl who lives down the block from me. Dori is her name. She is chubby, white and loud—not school-smart like me but kinda fun. Now they are assigning classes---very clearly tracked. 8-1 is the top, smartest class and 8-4 is the bottom. The principal comes up to me and greets me somberly. “What are you doing here? How come you didn’t move over the summer?” I do not know what to say. I feel humiliated, and poor. Then he tells me that there is a policy that if you were allowed to skip the year before, you cannot be in the top class, because you might still be a little behind. He tells me he knows that is not true of me and shakes his head in pity for me.

The class assignments begin. Almost all the white kids are being assigned to 8-1. I realize the significance of what the principal told me five minutes earlier. I am being made a token white kid in 8-2. That is not totally accurate---there are other white kids, but they are notoriously bad students. I am really crying now. Dori, who was a September starter and so did not need to skip, is of course assigned to 8-1. My one hope of a friend is gone. I continue to cry.

Darlene, a very quiet Black girl, comes over to me. I remember when she was the only Black girl in first grade. I remember that her mom died when we were in 6th grade, and I went over to her house to tell her I was sorry. She was so happy to see me, and her father seemed amazed that I had come. Darlene asks me why I’m crying. I reply, “Because I don’t have any friends in my class.” She asks me what class I was assigned to. I tell her 8-2. She gets really excited and tells me she’s in 8-2 too, and we’re friends!

It suddenly hits that I’m crying because I don’t know any white kids in my class. I do know many of the Black kids, including the few like Darlene who had scored high enough on the test that they, like me, had been allowed to skip half a year. I am totally ashamed of myself.

I hadn’t even noticed Darlene’s class assignment, but now her welcome lifts me and makes me resolve to see her as my friend. Then all the other Black kids, who I have known for years but only in school, not outside, start crowding around me, happy to be with me again. And I’m reciprocating, even as I conceal my shame that they have been invisible to me the whole morning.

The Year That Changed My Life

As the 1963-64 school year unfolded, all the views that I had unconsciously internalized from the culture, about Black kids (then Negroes) misbehaving in schools, dissolved. I experienced firsthand, with my classmates, the fact that no one cared about our education. There were days when we had no paper and not enough workbooks. The classroom contained 35 seats nailed into the floor, but there were 40 students. Instead of bringing five additional desks into the room, it was just assumed that five kids would be absent every day.

The generosity of my Black classmates continued to educate me.
I was never excluded from the teams or from socializing. If anyone put me down, or threatened me on the way home, a classmate always magically rose to my defense. Some of my fellow students looked to me for help with homework; and my classmates ultimately elected me class president.

For the first time in my life, I had Black friends over to my house after school; and my out –of-school reading became fiction and non-fiction about heroic fights against discrimination. A book called The Barred Road, about a girl excluded from nursing because she is Black, is still vivid in my memory.

At first, the principal’s remarks had made me feel that my parents did not care about me enough to move, or finagle me into a better school district, and I was angry at them. What really happened that year, though not by design, was that I was educated to the reality of racism, and my own internalization of that bias. That 8th grade year has changed the rest of my life.

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July 14, 2007

Annette Rubinstein, ¡Presente!

On Wednesday morning, June 20, we lost an amazing woman--an organizer, a scholar and a mentor to three generations of activists: Dr. Annette T. Rubinstein, who died at age 97.

Many New York City leftists, from the 1960s onward, encountered Annette as a teacher of literature and politics at the New York Marxist School, or a supporter of struggles for community control and prisoners’ rights in the Black and Puerto Rican communities. A previous generation knew her as a teacher at the Communist Party-led Jefferson School, a leader of the vital American Labor Party during the 1940s, a top aide to the radical East Harlem Congressman Vito Marcantonio, and a forger of united left electoral efforts through the 1950s. Throughout Eastern Europe and China, where she frequent taught, Annette was known as the author of two important Marxist literary studies: The Great Tradition in English Literature: From Shakespeare to Shaw, and American Literature: Root and Flower.

Annette was a model of someone who kept her commitment to the working class and to socialism through history's twists and turns--from the mass upsurges (like the 1930s unemployed councils which inspired her as a young woman) through the times of reaction (like the McCarthyite red scares that devastated the American Labor Party and ended her work in state-licensed schools). And she always emerged ready to reach out to a new generation of radical youth.

If I had to pick three things I most admire about Annette, I would say: she had great political line; she was a mensch; and she believed that working class people have a right to beauty and to a rich intellectual life.

Annette had an independent spirit and political compass that enabled her to struggle with an organization when she thought its line was wrong, leave if necessary (as when the CPUSA abandoned the ALP and other mass groups), and find new comrades and projects. Over the years, her political practice recognized the interconnection of class and racial oppression, never falling in to the race-blind populism so common in U.S. politics. She organized and authored eloquent pamphlets—models of great political writing-- on behalf of the young Black men imprisoned after the Harlem Riots, the Panther 21 and the Attica Brothers.

Annette had a rich emotional life as a single woman and never stopped making friends. She lent younger activists her time, her name and her home, embracing their projects without second-guessing or controlling but offering constructive criticism when you were ready to hear it. Without sentimentality or the psycho-babble of the boomer generation, she was always there for friends who were going through hard times.

As a teacher of literature, Annette brought people of all backgrounds into her classes to appreciate so-called high-art as well as popular literature, never dumbing down but always rejecting elitism and obscurantism. She always had the perfect poem for any political or personal occasion—called up from memory, of course.

She was cool. I’ll miss her a lot. R.I.P. Annette.

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