August 26, 2010
posted by Rahim on the Docks
"We must breath the spirit of rebellion into our youth," Lawrence Hamm said, reflecting on the importance of this past Saturday's commemoration of the 179th anniversary of August 21, 1831 South Hampton County Virginia slave revolt with these words. In fact, Newark, NJ may be the only place in the US where there is a park honoring Nat Turner, the leader of this rebellion.
In addition to brother Hamm, Roger Smith and Elizabeth McGrady spoke representing the Friends of Nat Turner Park, the Central Ward community group that reached out to the Trust for Public Land, the Newark Public School, the Springfield/Belmont Super Neighborhood Council and other public advocacy groups to bring this, the largest city-owned park into Newark, into existence. Smith, a former member of the original Black Panther Party has been active in the city his entire life and was able to shed light on exactly how this unique park came into existence over the last four decades.
"Street Doctor" Earl Best reflected on the many ways the Central Ward needs this new park, while Larry Adams, POP's co-chair, shared Nat Turner's story and the history of the 1831 slave revolt he led. POP chairman Hamm decribed Adams presentation as a "deep and thoroughly materialist" history. POP elder and movement griot, Aminifu Williams expanded on brother Adams' masterful history lessons, melding in his own seven-decades of experience in the people's struggles, while POP historian Wade McIver shared little-known facts about Turner's revolt. Revolutionary poet Carlos Dufflar shared brand new verse devoted to Turner's life and legacy.
Zayid Muhammad, National Minister of Culture of the New Black Panther Party, roused the nearly 100 participants in attendance, speaking about the political and cultural implications of Nat Turner's revolutionary ideals and their implications for a new generation of revolutionaries. "We need to wonder," brother Muhammad asked, "how this revolutionary people's park got the approval of the reactionary Booker administration?"
The answer to this question is that the very existence of Nat Turner Park is the legacy of an earlier generation of activism. As Roger Smith pointed out, the 1967 Newark Rebellion energized the Committee for a Unified Newark, which in turn led to the election of Kenneth Gibson, Newark's first African-American mayor in 1970. The mood, attitude and community culture of the times that attempted to build the Kawaida Tower low-income housing, succeeded in getting the land set aside and designated for Nat Turner Park. It took more than 30 years to build, but it is certainly a people's victory…
[This Fire on the Mountain blog entry is dedicated to the memory of our brother Ron "Slim" Washington, an African-American labor and community leader who passed Sunday, August 22. In the words of his friends, he devoted the entirety of his intellect, passion and energy to the cause of Black Liberation. Slim would most certainly have been with POP at the Commemoration of Nat Turner's 1831 slave revolt, just as he played a leading role in the many struggles of the past four decades that helped bring this park into existence. Ronald "Slim" Washington, Ashé! Ronald "Slim" Washington, Presenté!]
Thanks once again to POP photographer Jon Levine for sharing the photos used in this blog. For more pictures from Newark's 1st Annual Commemoration of Nat Turner's Rebellion click on this link. Read more!
August 23, 2010
posted by Jimmy Higgins
A email note two days back from a personal friend provided the trigger for me to finally get to writing this slow-gestating post drawing links between the armed struggle by coal miners in the US in 1921 with the current armed battles of the Adivasi (indigenous) peoples of India. Recent developments also permit me to tie in another struggle, one some ‘rades of mine in Appalachia are involved in, the struggle against “mountaintop removal” coal mining.
Let’s start with the note. It came from my friend D, and asked:
Do you all know of anyone or any organization who will work with families fighting big oil/gas companies from land grabbing? I was just informed by my brother in New Orleans that some land that my family has owned in Mississippi since apparently right after Emancipation is being threatened. They want to pressure my mother and uncle to sign some "lease" agreement to do exploratory drilling (basically, fracking). It's a crazy situation which resembles the "Boss Hogg" setup--good ole boys network all the way up to the courts and legislative bodies out there.
The battle against this kind of land theft by mineral-hungry monopoly capitalists is something pushed to the forefront of my mind about when I read Indian literary luminary Arundhati Roy’s recent article “Walking With The Comrades.” In it she describes spending weeks with guerrillas under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in the densely forested areas of Central India where the various Adivasi peoples, know to the Indian government as “Tribals,” live traditional lives.
Their problem is that these forests, it turns out, cover huge mineral deposits coveted by Indian monopolists like the Tata group and foreign transnationals like Arcelor Mittal and Posco.
Over the past five years or so, the governments of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal have signed hundreds of MoUs [Memorandum of Understanding—FotM] with corporate houses, worth several billion dollars, all of them secret, for steel plants, sponge-iron factories, power plants, aluminium refineries, dams and mines. In order for the MoUs to translate into real money. tribal people must be moved.Anyone familiar with the history of the First Nations in the U.S. knows what comes next: oh-so-sincere expressions of concern. Adivasis must be “brought in the mainstream” and permitted to enjoy “the fruits of modern development.” Somewhere else.
The comparison that struck me, though, was the hard-scrabble farmers of Appalachia at the end of the 19th century. Denise Giardina, in Storming Heaven, her powerful historical novel about the battle of Blair Mountain describes the process as if it were today:
First came the railroad agents.
My Papaw, Henry Marcum had refused to sign the papers giving the minerals to the railroad…The railroad men claimed they owned all the land, had bought it off somebody in Philadelphia whose papaw had fought in the Revolutionary War and had been given it as a gift. According to them, they owned most of Justice County, and McDowell County too. Then they’d come around, fat, smooth-faced men in black suits and vowed they’d leave us the land if we’d sign over the minerals.Henry Marcum spoke to the railroad lawyers.
When he told them about the deed he held at the courthouse, they laughed at him. Junior patent, they kept saying. Senior patent is what we own. That takes precedence. Ask any judge.And then the key sentence, whether on Blackberry Creek in West Virginia or the forests of Chhattisgarh:
The judges we was supposed to ask was a far way off, so most folk signed. The railroad men vowed they’d not bother us no more.And they kept their word. They sold the mineral rights to the coal companies and the local sheriffs started evicting people at gun-point two years later.
In India right now, poorly armed guerrillas based in extremely rural areas are waging desperate battles--with surprising success--against the armed forces of a huge, well-armed modern state. In the Appalachians, armed resistance was sporadic and largely individual in character for decades, but in 1921, the dispossessed, now miners--wage labor in the coal tunnels under the land stolen from them—erupted in fury.
79 years ago today, forward detachments of miners whose leaders and whose defenders in elected office had been gunned down by coal company thugs, were on the move, seeking to punch through the ring of official and hired terror surrounding Mingo and Logan Counties and bring the union in. By the 29th of August, 1921, 15,000 armed miners were in combat on Blair Mountain, West Virginia with gun thugs and police, backed by US bombers ordered in by President Warren Harding. Deciding they couldn’t defeat the U.S. military in pitched battle, the miners withdrew after several days of chaotic combat.
Ironically, Blair Mountain is once again the focal point of intense struggle. The descendants of the railroad and mining operators who grabbed the mineral rights and evicted the rural people over 100 years ago, now want to blast the top off Blair Mountain to strip the coal out.
This is called mountaintop removal. It is capital intensive and low labor, and in particular it is ecologically devastating, with the rock covering the coal seams, the overburden, blasted and dumped in adjacent valleys and stream beds.
And the broad movement to stop mountaintop removal is making the historic nature of the Blair Mountain battlefield an issue. Archaeologists and hobbyists find old firearms and loads of spent bullets on the mountain--over a million rounds were fired during the battle. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mineworkers of America has called for its preservation as a historic site--the last major upsurge before the drives of the 1930s finally unionized the Appalachian coalfields.
Last week, Fire on the Mountain carried an outraged article about Whirlpool Corporation grabbing a public park in Benton Harbor, Michigan to build a luxury homes and a golf course. We should be just as outraged at the far more common seizure of land by mining and oil companies, be it at the expense of small Black landowners, whole indigenous peoples, or history itself. Read more!
August 17, 2010
posted by Jimmy Higgins
I wrote an introduction to this very recent and very important poem, but have decided it works better as an afterword.
A Discourse on Non-Violence
(translated from the Malayalam by the poet)
The day was calm.Three of
Gandhi’s visitors stepped forward:
an expecting Mahar woman, almost a girl,
from the Maratha region, a young dumb Bhili youth
from Gandhi’s own place, his body burnt black,
a Korba from mid-India on crutches,
still carrying his bow.
As soon as Gandhi, filling post-cards
with his small hand, gestured to them to talk,
the woman pointed to her belly and said:
“You are responsible for this.”
Gandhi just smiled his Zen smile
as she went on: “ I could have cut him
to pieces, but you taught us to loathe violence.”
Now the Bhil spoke in sounds and gestures:
His landlord who had trapped him in debts
and enslaved him, tied him to a tree,
cut off his tongue and burnt him all over
for having drawn water from his well.
He had endured it all as to resist
would have meant violence.
The Korba lowered his bow: “ With this
bow and arrow I could’ve killed that leopard
that had left me lame; but what do we have
once we give up non-violence?”
Gandhi dropped his pen and told his
faithful disciples: “You have taken me literally.
Here violence was done by that rapist,
the landlord and the leopard. Of these
only the scared leopard was unaware that
he was committing violence. He was
just following his instinct. But the other two
deserved no mercy. Dear child, if teeth and nails
were of no help, you could’ve saved your honour
with your sickle or the kitchen-knife.
Gandhi now turned to the Bhil and spoke in gestures:
“Your axe would’ve helped where words failed you.”
“Then what about non-violence”, asked the Korba.
“Nowhere have I said that it is wrong
to harm the aggressor in order to save
your life or honour; only it should be
the very last resort..”
An onlooker now
posed a question: “Then why did you condemn
Bhagat Singh and his comrades?” “Simple.
I knew who I was fighting and we had
better chances if we abjured violence.”
“Is not fasting violence too?”, asked another,
“you torment your body and blackmail your enemy.”
“Look here: there is no iron-wall between violence
and non-violence, and no value in life is absolute.”
The woman stared at her belly, the Bhil youth
at his near-charred body and the Korba
at his leg-stumps: “ We didn’t understand.”
A tender voice responded from within the
woman’s womb: “ I understood.”
The author, Koyamparambath Satchidanandan, is a leading literary figure in India. Satchidanandan, as he is usually known, is revered as one of the writers who led in the development of modern poetry in the Malayalam language, a major tongue in Southern India, especially Kerala. He is not just a poet but a translator, a critic and a teacher.
When India was shaken in the late 1960s and early '70s by the Naxalite movement of Communist guerrillas based among the poorest section of the peasantry, Satchidanandan turned his attention away from abstract literary questions, to the point where his poetry was censored by the state and he was harassed by the Crime Branch. He, like many other progressive cultural figures, became less overtly concerned with political and social issues as state repression, adventurist errors and infighting drastically weakened the Marxist-Leninist movement by the late 1970s
Thus it is extremely significant that he has written this poem, this year, as well as another (still only in Malayalam) about the stunning military success of resurgent Maoist guerrillas in battle with Indian police at Dantewada. This reflects a revival of interest among Indian intellectuals and cultural figures in the suffering of the rural poor and in their rising resistance. This development has been spearheaded by Arundhati Roy's sympathetic reportage on the guerrillas.
The subject, too, is most timely. It challenges Gandhian non-violence as a useful response to gender, class and caste oppression. This is an important debate to have in today's India, where many dedicated activists among the rural poor, dalits ("outcastes") and adivasis (tribal people, the First Nations of India) see themselves as followers of Gandhi. Here in the US, folks steeped in Gandhian principles and stone revolutionaries have been among the most steadfast forces in the anti-war movement and often developed deep mutual respect, providing a good foundation on which to explore our differences.
August 16, 2010
posted by Jimmy Higgins
The title here is hardly late-breaking news to anybody who knows me, or FotM, but you know how sometimes you run into an outrage so appalling, so telling, that your brain almost freezes as it oscillates between disbelief and rage? I just got hit by one.
It involves Whirlpool Corporation, golfer Jack Nicklaus, the largely Black town of Benton Harbor, Michigan and a legacy from a dead child, and I’ll try and keep it tight.
Last Friday, there was a march of 100 people in Benton Harbor, protesting the opening (despite two ongoing lawsuits) of a multi-million dollar Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. The links are the anchor of a luxury development of second homes being built by the Whirlpool Corporation, the world’s largest home appliance manufacturer, whose headquarters is just outside of Benton Harbor.
That alone sounds well worth picketing, but the real deal is that the damn thing is being built in part on what had been a public park, left to the people of Benton Harbor in perpetuity by a local businessman and his wife, John and Carrie Klock. In 1917, the couple gave 90 acres of shoreline, dunes and interdunal wetlands to the town in memory of their little girl, who had recently died.
When Jean Klock Park was dedicated, later that year, her father gave a moving speech:
The deed of this park in the courthouse of St. Joseph will live forever. Perhaps some of you do not own a foot of ground; remember then, that this is your park, it belongs to you. Perhaps some of you have no piano or phonograph; the roll of the water murmuring in calm, roaring in storm, is your music, your piano and music box.
John Klock closed:
The beach is yours, the drive is yours, the dunes are yours, all yours. It is not so much a gift from my wife and myself, it's a gift from a little child. See to it that the park is the children's.Unfortunately, by end of the century, more than 90% of those children were Black and poor, in a broke-ass city of 12,000. Scores of factories had closed since the ‘60s, when Whirlpool alone had 2,400 workers at its production plant in town. Which the company shuttered in 1986.
And Whirlpool had its eyes on one of the finest remaining pieces of unspoiled land on Lake Michigan.
You can read some of the atrocious details here, but long story short, the local Chamber of Commerce, headed by a former Whirlpool CEO, and the corrupt city administration conspired to hide the plans until they were well underway. Protests and legal challenges alike have failed to stop the juggernaut. Only a few acres of beachfront will be left after Whirlpool competes its grab.
Actually there are a couple of particulars I do want to highlight, just to see if I can get you as pissed off as I am.
1. Whirlpool Corporation is the scum of the earth. Take, for instance, the fact that the scattered parcels offered "in mitigation" for the land lost in Jean Klock Park include severely polluted former company production facilities. Or consider Whirlpool Vice President Jeff Noel who in a talk to U. of Michigan business school students and faculty, said that if a company wants want poor peoples' land, and have justice groups "on your back," they should simply bring in Habitat for Humanity to build a few houses and donate some appliances. Lo and behold, a quick visit to Wikipedia's Whirlpool page reveals that some company flack put in a line bragging about the 10 Habitat for Humanity houses they built in Benton Harbor in 2005, the year the scheme came to light.
2. Whirlpool's Harbor Shores subsidiary claims that the golf course is open to anyone, so really it's still public parkland. Any resident of Benton Harbor, average per capita income $8965 a year, the lowest in the state, can call—two weeks in advance—and schedule a round. That'll be $175, please. (It's not clear that children, even those with large allowances, will be permitted to play.)
3. The cravenness and cupidity of the politicians is astounding. Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat who frequently pontificates about the environment, directed all state agencies to help Whirlpool push through its scheme. Why? It seems the golf course is essential "to the future talent recruitment efforts of Whirlpool Corporation." The Benton Harbor Town Commission only this April changed its position and took a meaningless vote withdrawing support for the project. Why? Because the billboards promoting the Harbor Shores development say it's in neighboring, predominantly white, St. Joseph.
In the neo-liberal era which crashed with the economic meltdown, the privatization of publicly-owned goods--land, utilities, schools, etc.--was justified by claims that the free market could provide the same social goods more cheaply and more efficiently. Benton Harbor is, I very much fear, a percursor of post-2008 privatization: no grandiose claims, just the rich grabbing what they want. Read more!
August 6, 2010
posted by Giulia
I recently visited Rome, Florence (Firenze) and the town of Positano on Amalfi Coast region, below Naples. Here I want to focus on the politics and culture of Firenze, but first I just have to say…I think the Amalfi Coast is the most beautiful place on earth.
A world-heritage site with winding cliffside roads jutting over the sea, terraced hillsides of lemon and olive trees, oleander vines, Moorish-influenced sun-bleached stone buildings, stunning ceramics and mosaics all over. And then the food! There’s an Italian saying that when a person from Positano dies and goes to heaven, it looks just like any other day. If you don’t expect to see heaven, I strongly suggest you check out Positano or one of the other coastal towns.
Moving north, I toured Florence for a day-and-a half, and realized that it combines the love of beauty and red politics in a totally unique way. Though I’d seen the city before, my eyes were opened to this by my friend Eric Canepa, who re-located there several years ago. With Eric as guide, I experienced church art, fantastic and reasonably priced food, and a historically and locally grounded activism. Eric, a musicologist whom many know as the former coordinator of the Left Forum in New York City, plays a 16th-century organ at his local church every Sunday. In Florence, it’s not at all weird to be commie, gay and into early music and playing a harpsichord.
One highlight of Eric’s whirlwind tour was a conversation with Andrea Montagni (affectionately known in Firenze by his nome di battaglia “Formaggino”), a national leader of the Italian General Confederation of Labor (CGIL), the largest of Italy’s unions, and the one with a socialist and communist tradition.
Firenze is a city that retains its medieval footprint, so you can easily walk it, going back and forth on the different bridges across the Arno. Eric’s neighborhood of San Frediano is a 15-minute walk from the Santa Maria Novella train station and houses the highest concentration of artisans in the entire European Community: leather workers, bronzers, tailors, cabinet-makers, upholsterers, jewelly makers. People don’t throw shoes or purses out, they keep repairing them. When the actor Daniel Day Lewis went to Florence to study shoe-making for three years, he did it on Eric’s street. Eric doesn’t go to department stores but gets all his clothes from the tailor down the street who chooses from his own designs, tells Eric what suits him, and measures to fit—all for no more than what I spend at Filene’s Basement or Loehmann’s.
Many of the artisans, artists and musicians, the grocers, the tripe dealer and chefs in the hood see themselves as comrades. (I got an enthusiastic welcome from the grocer when Eric introduced me as a teacher of Marx’s Capital.) This means they are members of either the Democratic Party, the centrist successor to the Communist Party of Italy (PCI, dissolved in 1990) or Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Refoundation), the left break-away which has been through many vicissitudes since the PCI’s demise. These folks combine epicureanism, politics and sometimes entrepreneurship in interesting ways.
For example, Il Cibreo is an internationally known, expensive restaurant which uses only local, mostly organic ingredients. Its chef, Fabio Picchi, also runs a “club” called Teatro del Sale, or Theater of Salt, in the building adjoining the restaurant, You can join the club for 5 euros, even as an international tourist, and then for 20 euros have a prix fixe lunch—with a changing menu set by the chef each day-- that would cost four times as much in the restaurant. (Eric, as a local musician who plays in concerts in the club, eats for free.) The rustic dining room features an open kitchen with a poster of Karl Marx above the oven. Every few minutes, a cook shouts out what the next dish will be—“vitello tonnato in 5 minutes,”—and you go back to the buffet table. The meal was out of this world, with the most delicious anchovies I’ve every tasted, and when you’re done and stuffed, you can go into a back room with battered old couches and takes a little nap!
We shared this meal with Andrea Montagni, aka Formaggino, the long-time activist and a leader in the largest of Italy’s labor federations, the CGIL. Noms de guerre seem to be more common in Italy than here, and Formaggaino got his because he had once said at a meeting that when you have a new slogan or campaign, you have to promote it like it’s a new cheese. Ever since then, he’s been called “Little Cheese.”
I asked Formaggino about the Italian labor movement and economy rather than overall electoral politics because one can get that info more easily from other sources. Formaggino explained that in Italy, overall, 30% of the workforce is unionized. While in NY, Domestic Workers United just won a historic victory in the passage of the USA’s first domestic workers bill of rights, in Italy domestic and agricultural workers have been unionized for decades. Agricultural workers are expected to work 6 months of the year but get their pay over the whole year, though sometimes, in the South, immigrant workers are brought in seasonally outside of national labor law.
Formaggino describes Italian agriculture as largely mechanized except for the harvesting of olives, tomatoes and grapes, which require hand picking to meet the standards of traditional production. Italy, he says, is now primarily an industrial country which gets much of its own agricultural produce (aside from the products that are “d’origine controllata”) from Greece, Spain, Israel and other countries, Much of Italian industry is co-owned with German firms.
On the second day of my visit, there was a one-day strike in public transit, affecting buses, trolley, light rail and all inter-city trains except the Eurostar. The strike was called to protest the lag in implementing the equalization of working conditions between the different sectors of transport, which had been won in the national contract. Like most Italian strikes, which are fairly frequent (including three general strikes in the last two years), its duration, scope, etc. had all been negotiated. However, anyone who participates in or leads a more spontaneous work stoppage that’s not negotiated in advance, is subject to severe penalties.
Regarding labor and international issues, Formaggino noted that even though Italy’s own imperial operations don’t generally take the obvious militaristic form that the US’s machinations have lately, there is still a problem of workers identifying with imperialism that revolutionaries have to challenge.
My visit ended with a stop by Florence’s vibrant municipal labor headquarters, where workers can get help with legal issues, housing, immigration, etc. Then I savored a final plate of pasta with wild boar, tomatoes, berries and spices, at a restaurant on Eric’s street.
August 5, 2010
posted by Rahim on the Docks
UPDATE: Friday, August 6, 12:30 AM—
Additional information and corrections to yesterday's FotM blog
|Picket line in front of Newark City Hall|
Chants of "No M.U.A.!", "We Are Not for Sale!" and "Water is a Human Right!" rang out in front of Newark City Hall as upward to 75 demonstrators from the People's Organization for Progress, Newark Water Group, the New Black Panther Party and many unaffiliated concerned community members picketed the meeting of the City Council. Speaking for the Newark Water Group, Brenda Toyloy presented in-depth background, recounting the role of Andrea Hughie, chair of the People's Organization for Progress Youth Committee played in bringing the issue to light last fall. The Council was deliberating on the Booker Administration's proposed "Municipal Utility Authority" scheme to sell the City's water. The M.U.A., in the name of covering budget shortfalls, will also create 6-figure taxpayer funded "jobs" for Corys' loyal friends.
POP friend, Councilman Ras Baraka, left the demonstration to join in Council discussion of the vicious proposal.
|Our children will be forced to pay for elected officials' greed, aspirations, and their blindness |
to community needs.
"The crisis is real and would exist no matter who sat in City Hall. Cutbacks in funding of urban aid go back to the Reagan Administration, at least. For more than twenty years, the U.S. government has funded military adventures abroad at the expense of aid to the cities. While this has only become worse with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the gutting of community support to bailout banks and failing corporations has a long history," Hamm added.