March 29, 2013

UPDATED: “History had me glued to my seat…”

Ms. Claudette Colvin speaks at Newark's Abyssinian Baptist Church
Ms. Claudette Colvin had more than 200 assembled activists stuck to their seats as she shared the story of her 1955 arrest for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus. As a fifteen-year-old youngster who'd heard Black History Week presentations in her high school, she felt the spirit of Harriet Tubman "like a hand on my shoulder forcing me to remain seated," when the driver instructed her and three other students to move so a young white woman could have a seat alone on two benches.

After her arrest, Miss Colvin became active in the Montgomery NAACP Youth Council organized by Mrs. Rosa Parks, so she had multiple sources of inspiration, though she was taken off the bus and busted some nine months before Mrs. Parks herself was arrested.  
MS. Colvin with POP members Aminifu Williams and Sharon Hand
"Mrs. Parks was our Esther," Miss Colvin suggested, explaining the difference between her own arrest that became part of a legal battle that reached the Supreme Court and ended segregation on public transit in the US and that of Rosa Parks, which became the basis of the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott. Esther, from the Bible, she explained had a variety of unique gifts that allowed her to fight in ways unavailable to other Hebrews in ancient Persia.

Lawrence Hamm, chairman of the People's Organization for Progress, also spoke about these two different direction in the people's struggle, though matter-of-factly. 

"Inside and outside," Larry said. "Though legal, court battles are less exciting than taking to the streets and marching, they each complimented one another, and the struggle against segregation on Montgomery buses could not have been won without both components."
Larry Hamm, Newark City Councilman Ras Baraka, NJ Poet Laureate Amiri Baraka & Claudette Colvin before the evening program
Hamm expanded on this, speaking about POP's 381 days of struggle for Peace, Jobs & Justice this past year. We'd mounted daily picketlines, in the heat of summer and the snows of winter, under all weather conditions, demanding a National Jobs Program; the End to Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya; preservation of Workers' Rights and Collective Bargaining; a Moratorium on Foreclosures; the End to Privatization Schemes and other Attacks on Public Education; a National Healthcare Program; Affordable College Education. 

Why 381 days? Because the People's Organization for Progress took our cue from the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott, and our goal was to keep our Campaign for Peace, Jobs & Justice running at least that long. In the course of this campaign POP built a coalition of nearly two hundred labor, grassroots, community, and religious organizations, and, as Chairman Hamm noted, the campaign is still active with weekly demonstrations and other activities.
New Jersey State Assemblyman Thomas Giblin
As Assemblyman, and President of the Essex County Central Labor Council, Tommy Giblin noted, this "was one heck of an impressive achievement." Giblin, who spoke as a member of the NJ Assembly for Essex County, was by no means the only elected official present. Municipalities from all over northern New Jersey sent proclamations honoring Ms. Colvin. From Elizabeth to Paterson, from Montclair to Irvington; Essex County, Union County, Passaic County, nearly every elected official wanted to be part of this event. Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith included the Key to the City with the proclamation he presented to Ms. Colvin. Noteworthy, and somewhat perplexing, was the slim participation of Newark elected officials. South Ward council member (and mayoral candidate) Ras Baraka may have been the only local municipal elected official in attendance. 
Approximately 200 community residents and other activists filled the pews of Newark's Abyssinian Baptist Church.
As we honor Ms. Colvin and share the lessons of her life, as well as this successful forum, it is important to remember that Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, Mary Louise Smith, and Jeanette Reese were also plaintiffs in the case Attorney Fred Gray brought before the US Supreme Court, ending segregation on public transportation across the country. But perhaps more important in this era when Mrs. Parks' memory is applauded and lionized, when a statue of her likeness stands in the Capitol Rotunda, is that Rosa Parks herself was for many years the "forgotten woman of the Montgomery Boycott."  In 1960, she was living in Detroit where she'd been forced to move after the successful struggle in Montgomery. Ill, unemployed, poverty-stricken and ignored by the Montgomery Improvement Association and NAACP alike, it was only through the efforts of the militant United Autoworkers NAACP branch at the Ford River Rouge plant that she received support, and eventually a staff job with the newly-elected Congressman John Conyers.

[UPDATE: Click on the link Claudette Colvin to view over two hours of video of the entire event, including Ms. Colvin's presentation, Thursday evening, March 28 at the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Out thanks to WBAI videographer Fred Nguyen]

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March 27, 2013

Poem of the Week: Pangaea


Sendolo Diamanah 

a queer black man is not
like asia
with lungs the size of the old union of soviets
and india lodged like a heart under ribs

despite Bahia’s longing to settle once more inside an African pelvis
(i am) not like south america
forced westward by magma

a queer black man is
from a time when the word continent could find no body on
which to be born and pronounced
no one male or female was there to record
what may have occurred
and so
our geography is not of interest
in the signing of treaties about carbon or sanctions against iran,
nor in the managing of economies that consume the future

in the age of men, agriculture, domesticated dogs, private property,
condoms, televised religion,
water bills
queer black men burn like everything else prehistoric
our love, unwieldy like a mastodon
survives under the pressure of a trillion tons of sediment
as something called crude
extracted only to power the technologies of other genders

we groan, as any planet does
when we remember how our skin was burst apart in order
to transform the earth into a map laid flat—that is to say,
into men and women

[It is difficult to describe how thrilled I am to be posting this poem.
First, because it is a fine and subtle creation in its own right. 
Second, because it is a sneak preview of  a collection of the writer's poetry and other works due to be published soon, under the title Difficult Miracles.
Best of all, by me, is the fact that Sendolo Diamanah is the newly elected general secretary of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization/Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad, the group I have been a proud member of since its founding in 1985.]

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March 22, 2013

The RCP's Anti-Gay Line: A Failed Effort At Rectification

[Lately, interest in the history of the Revolutionary Communist Party USA (RCP) and its predecessor organization the Revolutionary Union (RU) seems to have had a slight bump up, for good reasons and bad. Good: efforts to reassess and reclaim some of the important organizing work and promotion of revolutionary line done by these groups, and by the New Communist Movement more broadly in the 1970s. Bad: the watching-a-train-wreck fascination as the sorry, tattered remnants of the RCP settle deeper into the swamp of a bizarre cult of personality around its glorious leader Bob Avakian. 

One topic of discussion invariably triggered by such interest is the RCP's notorious longtime line condemning homosexuality as bourgeois decadence and LGBTQ  people as incapable of being communists. I have therefore decided to post this paper, written over a decade ago, which contains some thoughts on that line and its history, drawing on personal experience. 

It was written during a most unusual period in RCP history. In 2001, the group issued a draft for a new party programme, and accompanying programmatic documents on homosexuality and on the Chicana/o National Question (spoiler alert: there's no nation). Then they invited members and others to comment on it on a website called The ensuing discussion, though kept under close scrutiny by minders from the RCP leadership, was often lively and thoughtful, especially around gender issues. My contribution was posted there, and stirred some interest and discussion. In a little over a year, the website was

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March 20, 2013

Poem of the Week: Making America Strong


Fred Voss

We worked nights as machine operators
at Goodstone Aircraft Company, where we made parts
for the Air Force's new bomber, the K-20.
In the parking lot, before work and during lunch break,
we drank and smoked dope and snorted chemicals.
At work we wore sunglasses
and danced in front of our machines.
We picked up bomber parts and blew through them
as if they were saxophones.
We stalked each other with squirt guns,
screaming and laughing and staggering.
We played with the overhead crane,
hoisting each other's tool boxes to the ceiling.
We unscrewed knobs from machine handles
and threw them around like baseballs.
Our foreman snuck drinks
from the bottle of vodka in his toolbox,
and paced about the shop in a daze.
We respected our foreman.
He'd given us some valuable advice.
"Whatever you do," he'd warned us over and over, "don't join
the Air Force and fly a K-20. It's gonna CRASH."


 [While the idea of shop-floor slackery as an essential component of revolutionary strategy has always been a little over the top, the fact remains that it does embody a spirit of resistance to wage slavery. That's probably why many working class poets, like Fred Voss, write about it. Plus which, it's fun--to do and to read about.]

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March 14, 2013

Poem of the Week [UNTITLED]



On March 16, at dawn
Birds twittered and hens called out to their chicks,
Homes were burned to the ground and turned to cinders,
The buffalo and the cow lay cold and twisted in their death,
The people were all killed.
Only the pig survived, all alone and helpless,
Who's left alive to care and feed you, poor pig?


[Chuc is or was a Vietnamese peasant living in My Lai village in Quang Ngai Province. He wrote this lament directly after the 1968 massacre of 500 Vietnamese, mostly women, children and infants by troops from Charlie Company of 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, Americal Division, US Army. I found it quoted in a study of the massacre entitled Four Hours In Mai Lai by Michael Bilton and Kevin Sim (Viking, 1992). A title and Chuc's family name were not provided.]

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March 9, 2013

The Best Lost Song Ever: Whitey

There are always "lost" songs which have become legendary without ever having been heard. Sooner or later though, it seems, everything leaks onto the Internet, including political cuts like "Colonized Mind" by Prince or Nirvana's take on "Bad Moon Rising."

But there is one song I long to hear above any other. It is by the peerless songwriting team made up of Mike Stoller and the late Jerry Lieber. These are the two young guys who broke into the music biz in their teens in the early '50s writing rhythm & blues cuts like "Kansas City." Their longest association was with The Coasters, for whom they cut joke-y songs of teen rebellion like "Yakety Yak" and sly flip-the-script attacks on white supremacy like "Run, Red, Run."

I recently found my liner notes to a 2 cassette Very Best of the Coasters compilation I hadn't seen in years, and I'm writing this excerpt up before the set disappears again.

Inevitably, Leiber and Stoller’s lengthy career with The Coasters would wind down. By the late 1960s. times had changed. After all, Jerry points out, "There are only so many 'Charlie Browns' and 'Yakety Yaks' that you can do." Mike adds "The things that now seemed exciting for us were songs that were deemed by the record companies – and by The Coasters themselves to some degree – to be too inflammatory."

According to Leiber, there is still plenty of "material in the trunk" that the due wanted to do with the group. When asked for an example of what remains unrecorded, he quotes a few lines from a song called "Whitey":

Who dropped the bomb and started the war?

An’ when you’re over there fightin’, who you fightin’ for?

When you come back and you can’t get a job,

And the only way to make it is to hustle and rob,

Hey, who you gonna hustle?

And who you gonna rob?

Now tell me that doesn't sound purely awesome!

Bonus quote from rock critic and cultural theorist Greil Marcus (in a reflection on music and Walter Mosely's Easy Rawlins mysteries in Los Angeles magazine):
When Lieber & Stoller had their first number one R&B hit, with Willie Mae Thornton's "Hound Dog" in 1953, they were living against the law, part of a black-and-white, male-and-female communist commune, passing literature out on street corners.

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March 1, 2013

WHY “CHOICE” IS NOT ENOUGH! An Overview of Abortion in the US, Historically and Today

[Fire on the Mountain is pleased to post this new article by Mirk. Like the last one of hers we ran, on the 2012 elections, this was originally written for Rødt!, the magazine of the Norwegian political party called Red. 

The forces of sweetness and light have had cause for celebration lately as the homophobic right wing has taken a terrible beating on the legal front and in the opinion polls alike. But with International Women's Day only a week away, we had best not forget the damage they continue to do to women's reproductive freedom. This article lays out just how grim things really are.]

by Judith "Mirk" Mirkinson

When I was 21, I had my first abortion.  It was 1972 and New York was one of the few states that had made it legal.  I went to a lovely clinic and was surrounded by women from all over the East and Midwest of the country.  

By the next year, the Supreme Court had passed the landmark decision Roe v Wade which made abortion legal everywhere. The decision was made on the basis of the right to privacy and due process--covered by the Fourteenth and Ninth Amendments to the Constitution. “Roe” (as it came to be known) was the culmination of centuries of struggle over who would control women’s reproduction in the US.

I was one of the lucky ones. I had grown up with a mother who had talked about abortion and I had marched and fought for abortion myself.  It wasn’t a tragedy, it wasn’t great, it wasn’t the best form of birth control, but there it was. Abortion was essential to my ability to control my own body and decisions--and thus essential to women achieving their full equality.

Control has and will always be the issue when it comes to women’s reproduction. From the beginning of time, women have been constrained through their biology. It is only now that international law (most explicitly through the CEDAW--the Convention to End Discrimination Against Women) is addressing the necessity for guaranteeing reproductive health. But even in countries where women can have access to contraception and health care, regulation of abortion is one way to contain women.

The Case Of The US

The US is a case in point. Control of women in the US has always been intertwined with the issues of race and class. Thus, one can’t talk about the history of abortion and reproductive “rights” without also discussing the intersection of those rights with the history of slavery and racism.

As early as 1632, there were laws governing the reproductive rights of Black women. (UH – THERE WAS SLAVERY!) Enslaved women were considered breeders--a resource to increase the slave population and they had no maternal rights. African women were property and thus their children were also considered property. As a result a child could be taken away at any time. A slave owner could even determine where a woman’s future children would go. For instance one could "leave" a particular woman to one descendant in one’s will, but leave her future children to another! The threat and reality

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