December 22, 2007

Letter to a Norwegian Historian

[This post requires a little background for non-Norwegian readers. It was written by Morten Falck, long the main science journalist at Aftenposten, Norway's leading daily, and a personal friend. Morten, his wife Sissel Henriksen, and most of my Norwegian acquaintances are members of a newly formed left-wing political party, Rødt (Red, in English). Rødt candidates won office in cities and towns across the country this year, and the party may well place several members in the Storting, Norway's parliament, in the national elections in 2009.

One of Rødt's predecessor organizations was the Worker's Communist Party of Norway (AKP in Norwegian), a major feature of the country's political life since the late '60s. Recent years have seen a spate of articles and books denouncing the AKP as 1. lunatic leftists single-handedly ruining Norway's near-perfect society and 2. totally ineffectual and insignificant. US residents used to seeing today's anti-war demonstrators dismissed as dirty, elitist, granola-eating, America-hating, tree-hugging 1960s leftovers will recognize the pattern--and the purpose: scaring people off from making common cause with a force threatening to the powers that be.

This open letter to one of those critical of the AKP was published in the daily Klassekampen and Morten, knowing I would be interested, kindly had an English translation awaiting me when I arrived in Oslo to attend the recent memorial service for Cde. Tron Øgrim.. Certain that I am not the only non-Norwegian who will find it fascinating, I got his permission to post it here. He has helped further by providing cool graphics, some never printed or posted before.]

A representative of the "social democratic paradise" seeks to engage the young Tron Øgrim in dialogue.

Dear Hans Petter Sjøli,

You have written a book about the history of the Norwegian Marxist-Leninist movement, Mao, Min Mao. That history is my history as well, and you have kindly mentioned my name en passant on page 24. That is why I write you this letter. For I do not recognise my own history in your rendering.

That is not primarily because of errors you make in the details, like when you tell us that the leftist scholar Gutorm Gjessing was a professor of biology. That certainly would have come as a surprise to him, sitting in his office at the ethnographic museum! Such errors could make me suspect you of sloppiness – but never mind, we can all make a mistake.

It is more serious when you write that the Socialist People’s Party (SF) in the 1960s was "a Mecca for industrious troublemakers from the 'east side' with a liking for green tea." (p. 19) Green tea? We had not even heard of the stuff in the Sixties. This kind of error shows me that you lack sufficient knowledge of the background. You seem to take the situation of today for granted, and make your assessments from that. But please remember that the Sixties was before we hit oil. It was before the Value Added Tax was introduced. It was back when Norway was a (relatively) poor country, and before the selection of commodities offered became overwhelming. The Sixties was another world.

You call yourself a historian, and claim to have researched the history of the Marxist-Leninist movement. But that makes your description of the Bryn-Hellerud-area of Oslo, a cradle of the movement, rather odd. "There are far more petty-bourgeois villas than worn city blocks or apartment buildings in the area," you tell us on page 22.

"Worn city blocks"? Here, far out in the rural Østre Aker district, where the apartment buildings sprouted from peasants' fields during the '50s and '60s? And why don’t you pose the question of who lived in these wooden houses that you call petty-bourgeois villas? And since you make a point of it – did the Marxist-Leninist movement have the most members in the apartment buildings or in the wooden houses?

Petty bourgeous villas? Here is the Bryn Hellerud area seen from the west in 1951. The author, then six, moved into the apartment pointed out by the foremost red arrow in December 1951.
The Bryn match factory is pointed out by the red arrow in the center of the picture. Klosterheim is situated among the trees just beneath that. Tron Øgrim lived approximately where the red arrow in the upper left corner is pointing. The three red circles shows brick works along the Alna river and the railway, which can be seen running horizontally through the picture. Teisen high school is situated just outside of the picture to the left (in the opposite direction from the first red arrow), Bryn railway station, with the former brewery, and the then active textile mills along the Bryn falls are just outside the right picture frame.
Being a historian, you ought to know we are talking here of an old working class area, the scene of the famous match workers' strike of 1889, maybe the most famous strike in the whole history of the Norwegian working class, because it was the first woman workers' strike. It became an area of brick works, textile mills, chemical industry, breweries, etc. (The Bryn Temperence Union was founded prior to the 20th century by workers' wives who were infuriated because the brewery sold beer in pails to the brickworkers on payday. Bryn-Hellerud SUF, the core from which the young Marxist-Leninist movement sprang in Norway, held our meetings at Klosterheim, the hall of the Bryn Temperence Union.) Bryn was the first "railway station town" in Norway, as the station was established in the growing industrial center at the Bryn Falls. You will find plenty of sociological facts about the environment in Pål Steigan’s book At the Square of Heavenly Peace, which is listed among the sources in the back of your book..

Why are you placing quotation marks around "east side"? Maybe it is just a part of the rhetoric? Starting from page one you employ an ironic – not to say sarcastic – distancing toward the object of your research. A rather elaborate choice of words seems designed to lead the reader's thinking. (Just one example: “The chairman lit the path” (page 18) – to make us associate Mao Zedong with the ultra-left Peruvian guerrilla movement “Sendero Luminoso.” But historically and logically this is to turn things upside down.)

As research this does not call for much admiration. But it suits the pattern of the book. You start by claiming that "the movement – as far as one can call it by so great a name – achieved very little politically. It hardly affected the social development" in "this country, which in fifty years had changed from impoverished outcrop into a rich, modern and in every way successful society, governed by the workers movement's own party. The revolution had been completed. The Social Democratic Party had in many ways created a social democratic paradise. The working class had got a social and material lift unequalled in history. The social security net was in place…" (page 9-10)

With appropriate modesty you write that this is not the final history, just ”my attempt to understand the Marxist-Leninist movement.” (page 14). But both the ironic language and the prejudiced point of view are obstacles to understanding. You start from a picture of Norway that is unrecognisable, and renders the 1960s and the Marxist-Leninist movement incomprehensible.

I will thank you for making it so clear that you don’t understand, as well as for suggesting why. If history is to be comprehensible, it must be viewed against the preceding times, and every social movement must be understood in relationship to its own time, not the present of some historian living several decades later. Oh, yes, I do recognise the picture of Norway that you draw. They served it to us in school: "The class struggle is over. Norway is the perfect democracy, the best of all worlds." But it was precisely when reality broke the school-peddled myths that we became Marxist-Leninists. Allow me to get a little personal.

Understanding the sixties

On the 25th of January, 1965, Winston Churchill died. He was mourned by many in Norway. The department store Steen og Strøm in Oslo filled its big windows with pictures from his life. One late evening I came by, and stopped to look at the display.

Nedre Slottsgate (Lower Castle Street) lay desolate and quiet. Only a single, elderly gentleman in a gray coat and galoshes came walking through the sleet with a worn leather briefcase under his arm. "Lawyer," I thought.

He came up to me, tapped on my shoulder with a bony finger, nodded towards the picture behind the mirror glass pane, where Sir Winston stood bare-headed and unyielding among the brickheaps in a bombed London street – and said in a somewhat dry voice: “Young man, He didn’t have as much hair on his head as you. But he had so much more within!"

Did I glibly retort ”So that’s where he had it!”? Oh, no, not in my wildest dreams! I had not yet turned 19, and was not yet accustomed to being insulted in public just because I had let my hair grow till it covered the edge of my ears. But I was soon to learn that hair length made me a total outlaw. Nice, cultured grown-ups could freely shower me with disparaging remarks because my hair was longer than average. Elderly married couples would step demonstratively sideways out into the driveway, pointing their fingers and hollering when I was going for a walk with my parents through the quiet Sunday streets of Oslo the following summer (by then both hair and beard had grown longer still) "Hey! Is that a boy or a girl?"

The author, apparently a boy, 1968

The reactions were not unique, rather, typical. The next year a young pupil named Odd Hansen was thrown out of Teisen High School because he had long hair and a beard – and even wore spectacles. The teachers claimed it was impossible to teach such a pupil.

But over the shimmering television screen flickered black-and-white images from the Vietnam war: Children burnt by napalm, captured guerilla fighters: young women and young men with their hands tied behind their backs – youths like us. They were communists, the Norwegian voices repeated after the American soundtrack. A specially vile type of communists, called “Vietcong”. But to me they looked like quite ordinary humans, like us. (At that time, the television still broadcast something called news, dealing with important events all over the world, and it was more than just headlines.)

There was an enormous gap between the suffocating, stagnant, unidirectional, official Norwegian "reality," where all problems, everything that did not "fit in" was swept under the carpet – and the reality that confronted us outside of schools, newspapers and public opinion. Out there, in the world, there was war! Out there, in reality, young girls who had unwanted pregnancies died from illegal attempts at abortion. To bear a child out of wedlock was still a scandal. There was no security. Outside, in the real world, there still existed enormous differences between the poor and the rich, and a quarter of a century after the start of the Second World War, the third one loomed as a substantial threat. The very end, nuclear war. And yet, my hair length was a bigger problem!

We had observed the 25th anniversary of the start of the Second World War and the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, with television serials, radio-programs and movies. Strong anti-war movies like Oh, What a Lovely Warand King and Country. The Russian nuclear tests at Novaja Zemlya had added new and nervous terms like "Strontium 90" to our vocabulary, and the Cuban missile crisis was still fresh in memory. I, like many others, was an ardent pacifist. But the world was standing at the brink of war. Indeed, it was war. In Vietnam, my fellow adolescents were fighting for their lives and freedom against the United States of America, the very superpower of technology.

Merely twenty years had passed since my parents fought the same struggle against the German Nazi occupants. But still the important thing was that you dressed like your grandpa and wore a haircut like a US marine. Form was the important thing, the surface, the look of things, not the content. If we did not have the same conditions, we still were to look the same! Newly ironed tulle curtains, clean fingernails, membership in the state church. It was essential not to deviate. The pressure to conform was unbearable. No one asked for your opinion. The politicians took care of opinions on your behalf. And though the social democratic politician Einar Førde did not coin the sentence until much later, it was supposed that "We are all social democrats."

I commence

In 1965 I participated in my first march against the war in Vietnam. I dragged a friend along, for I knew no one there. But I had to participate in that demonstration. I had to express my opinion. So was I interested in politics, then? I was not. Art, literature, movies and theater, history – and biology, but not politics. But the world meant something to me, for that was where I intended to live.

The march started from the square outside of Centrum Cinema. A couple of hundred participants rallied there, serious grown-ups with hats and coats, some youths deep in parkas. They were strangers, unknown to me, but obviously many of them knew one another. That demonstration did not make me an activist.

But the next year I got acquainted with Bryn/Hellerud SUF.

1966 was a year of active recruiting for the Bryn/Hellerud local section of the Socialist Youth League, SUF. (The SUF was the youth section of the Sf, the Socialist People's Party, then the leftmost of Norway's large electoral parties.) My brother was elected editor of the school newspaper at Teisen High School, and became a member of Bryn/Hellerud. But I did not follow suit. I was older, had turned twenty, and taken the preliminary course of philosophy at the University, today called Examen philosophicum. I had objections, I didn’t like communism, I was concerned about the environment.

Members of the
local section of
the Socialist
Youth League, a
hothouse for
future leaders
of the AKP.

Right: Jorun
Below: Tron

But the Bryn-Hellerud-section did not give up. One night the doorbell rang. Outside stood Tron Øgrim. He stepped out of his botfores (a sort of ankle-high lined winter galoshes), deposited his fur-coat, I brewed some tea (ordinary Earl Grey!) and we withdrew to the boy’s room. During teapot after teapot, night by night, we discussed topics like pacifism, war and peace, revolution, communism, socialism, the Chinese cultural revolution, economics, philosophy, materialism and idealism, dialectics and metaphysics, the atomic bomb, literature, art, environmentalism, and of course science fiction – or Tron would not have been Tron.

We discussed Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and the Swedish diplomat Georg Borgström's books on food supply for the world’s exploding population – and Reverend Malthus. Or if there was any hope for the great whales. Then Tron came armed with a copy of Scientific American. Tron was well prepared. In the end I had no arguments left, and only one road was open if I wanted to keep my self respect: I had to join. Tron made me a Marxist, and for that I will always be grateful. He taught me to see how the world works.

You wonder why we became Marxist-Leninists. But every opposition in the world was Marxist-Leninist. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a revitalisation of Marxism-Leninism, it was seen as extremely liberating, and inspired uprisings and protest all over the world. Anti-imperialists the world over called themselves Maoists. It would have been a much greater mystery had we not become Marxist-Leninists.

Did we make a difference?

To see whether the Marxist-Leninist movement has had any significance, we have to look at Norway before the movement emerged, and see what changes have taken place.

I remember a discussion during a Norwegian lesson in high school, after an essay about whether women might or ought to be employed outside of home. It may have been in the autumn of 1963 or spring, 1964. We were 24 pupils in the English class, with a great majority of girls. But during that discussion only two – maybe three – were of the opinion that women ought to have their own occupation! One of the heavy counterarguments came from a boy who lived in the military apartments at Ulven. His mother had been away the preceding week, and there had been no one to empty the ashtrays!

The '60s really was another world, and I doubt you would have liked it there.

The fight for women’s equality with men met with opposition from broad sections of the official Norwegian society. It was far from evident that women were entitled to their own occupation. An individual woman’s right to decide for an abortion, which you may consider an evident democratic right, was actively sabotaged by the Socialist Left Party, which gave the individual conscience of a single, male Member of Parliament higher priority than the right of women to control their own bodies.

The fight for kindergartens for everyone has still not been won, and the fight for equality at work will probably go on for a long time yet. But today the demand for the six hour working day has wind in the sails, and it is generally accepted that women have the right to provide for themselves. Would the world have changed in the same way without us?

When the SUF raised the issue of Palestine, shock waves penetrated far into The Socialist People’s Party (our mother party). The party weekly Orientering and the party central committee took a clear stand against us. Now even the former conservative Prime Minister Kaare Willoch agrees with us. Do you think this has happened on its own?

When we supported the South Vietnamese resistance, the National Liberation Front (NLF), people asked “Are you a communist?!” to shut us up. The best answer was a clear and loud “Yes!”. That shut them up. It still is legitimate to be a communist in Norway. In the mid 1960s the Cold War was at its sharpest, and the shadow of McCarthyism loomed heavy im public opinion. It was close to sacrilege to criticize the USA, whatever the reason. Now, a great majority stands against the US war in Iraq. And everyone agrees that the US was a bandit and an aggressor in the Vietnam War. A lot of people also agree that the US is an imperialist state. Do you think that has happened by itself?

We headed into work places and met petrified unions whose leadership were shocked by any initiative from ordinary members. The members were to listen to their elected representatives, and apart from that, keep "order in the ranks." Newly employed at the Freia chocolate factory in the autumn of 1970, I took the podium and proposed that we should support the on-going strike among the bus and tram drivers of Oslo. My local union leader was married to a striking bus driver, but she was a member of the ruling social-democratic Labor Party, and so she (and the rest of the board) opposed the proposition. But they lost the vote. Their panic was palpable.

On page 47 you tell us: "Towards the end of 1969 [the organisation initiated] the most widespread strike activity in recent times in Norway." Don’t you think that all the strikes might have come as a result of actual unrest among the workers? We raised the fight for local mobilization, against the rule of pampered union bosses and suffocating Social Democratic control of the labor movement, we supported local demands and local actions. Today another climate has taken hold in Norwegian industry. Local initiatives are normal. Union bosses loyal to the government are no longer in monolithic control.

We broke the sixties’ dank conformity, we expanded democracy.

Keeping the EU's thumb off Norway

The fight against ruling class efforts to bring Norway into the European Economic Community (EEC) was critical, yet you focus on the slogan we used! You write that EEC was "the name the Vote No people used for the European Community (EU)." No! The name European Economic Community had been commonly used in Norwegian debate since the early Sixties. With the aim of sugaring the pill, the Norwegian Department of Foreign Affairs pushed Norwegian membership in 1971-1972 under such new banners as European Commonwealth (EF) and European Economic commonwealth (EØF), to draw on the Norwegian traditions of collectivity, but to no avail. The most rational name was of course that which had been used in the debate all along, and which people understood without further explanation. [During the 1994 effort to re-raise this question, when the AKP again played a leading role in urging our fellow Norwegians to Vote No, we used the term European Union, because that was the one evryone understood. It didn't help advocates of Norway joining--the proposal was still rejected.]

Falck, family and colleagues, again making no difference, during 2nd campaign to defeat EU membership, 1994

You serve up some figures (p. 68) to show that AKMED (The Worker’s Committee Against EEC and Inflation) had no following and no effect. I strongly doubt that your numbers are anything more than guesses. And the Marxist-Leninists worked not only within AKMED, but were active within all sectors of the broader people’s movement as well. We were activists, we mobilized the Norwegian people, and we were of great significance to the victory of September 25,1972.

It goes without saying that we were not alone in achieving this. Thousands of people made a giant contribution against the EEC, and can quite rightfully claim a part of the credit for the victory. But we were important to the outcome because we were active, we went out and discussed with people, we offered reasons and we pointed out connections, and we helped organize.

Yet the struggle against EEC membership was just the beginning. In its wake arose local struggles on every rock and in every alley, on every shore and in each fjord. While some kept busy ridiculing the struggle for Blowaway Commons [the Norwegian equivalent of East Nowhere--jh], we connected with and participated in these struggles to defend the living conditions of the Norwegian people. Some of them we lost, and many others we won. Thus we changed Norway, and made it possible to breathe. It is no longer required that you dress according to code and say the same things as your grandfather – or what is decided in the headquarters of the Social Democratic Party. You breathe so freely because we were there. We weren't alone. But we were the vanguard. There was no other political movement in Norway which did all that. We were the motor of all these struggles that changed Norway. Do you think it would have happened like that without us?

In the Sixties, few had even heard much about homosexuality. It could not be mentioned, and was even criminal for males. Now the Salvation Army is loosing support because of its discriminatory practice towards gay people. Isn’t that good? But without seeing the Sixties for what they were, you will not see the difference.

A daily full color newspaper called Class Struggle in a country with a population about 2/3 that of NYC!

This connection, which seems so evident to me, you don’t see. It even looks as though you don’t see the importance of the daily newspaper Klassekampen (Class Struggle). We started a daily newspaper, and have helped keep it going right up to the present. Its very existence, to the left of all the other daily newspapers on important questions like war & peace, anti-imperialism, the European Union – drives wedges in the ice that so easily covers the other newspapers. As long as Klassekampen has not turned totally loyal to the government, it opens breathing space and creates greater space for skeptical and diverse opinions in the other newspapers as well. It is peculiar that you, who work there as a journalist, are unable to see this. And that you don’t understand that this has been a struggle for greater democracy, greater freedom.

Certainly you may insist that we made mistakes, that we were sectarian, and so on. Well, do it in a way that we can learn from, and I shall not protest. But give us credit for what good things we did. And if you are going to say something about Mao’s policies and writings, it would be wise to read him. If not, it will not be possible to understand what ignited us, and you make us look foolish, which we were not.

But you do suggest connections that did not exist. On page 48 you say that the militance of the SUF was partly responsible for the ruling Labor Party drawing over one million votes for the first time in the election of 1969. You know that is nonsense. Twelve years earlier, the Labour Party, with a two percent higher vote, fell short of a million. The numbers hide a growth in the electorate – and it may be a little hard to blame the Socialist Youth League for that? At least at such an early date?

Since I have embarked on the road of anecdote, let me end with a tale about the absolutely rigid and humourless discipline that ruled the AKP. For Klassekampen's Yule party in 1981, a special spoof edition of "Klampekassen" was produced without the knowledge of the editorial board. At that time I was an active book reviewer and participant in debates on the cultural pages, specialising in books on natural history. "Klampekassen" featured a parody of my work: a rave review of a (non-existent) must-have, 12-volume, popular work on the ticks of Norway. Editor Sigurd Allern evidently found it a little over the top, and came over to me during the party with an awkward apology. I will never forget the look on his face when I responded, "I wrote it myself."

We were disciplined because we were serious. But within that discipline, there were room for humour, hilarity, irony, creativity and laughter. Say what you will about the Workers Communist Party, but don’t ever call us tedious.

Morten Falck

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December 7, 2007

Now That's What I Call Good News!!

Just checked my email from here in Oslo, and found a press release from Loretta Williams, Director of the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America. Annually the Center gives its Outstanding Book Award to a number of works which promote justice and combat bigotry.

Among this year's winners will be Chip Smith's superb The Cost of Privilege. Words cannot describe how happy this makes me. This kind of recognition is extremely important for a book (unlike most on the list) that does not have the imprint of a mainstream publishing house like Simon & Schuster, a university press like Harvard's, or even a well-established left outfit like Pluto or South End. So if you have chosen to ignore the series of plugs we have given TCoP here since New Year's Day of this year, here's a wake-up call from the people who give one of the most prestigeous awards in the field.

To learn more, and to order The Cost of Privilege, click here. And bear in mind that it makes a nifty holiday gift, so click even if you already have your own copy!

And to check out the other worthy recipients of this year's Gustavus Myers Award, take a look at their website!

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FotM Is 1! Taste the Revolution!

I had hoped to post something on December 1, which marked the actual first anniversary of this column, but I was out of the US at an anti-war conference in the UK and am now in Norway to attend a seminar being held in memory of Tron Øgrim, the Norwegian Red and polymath I mourned here in May.

It actually stunned me when I realized that in this short year, my two fellow Fire on the Mountain bloggers and I have posted 126 entries here. Not too damn shabby, if I do say so myself. And in the true five year plan spirit, we pledge to exceed this impressive rate over the coming year! (I can make this pledge without knowingly lying, because I have ready to go a several part piece by the excellent Morten Falck defending the Norwegian new communist movement against attacks from those eager to write it out of history, and the promise of a fabulous new addition to the FotM stable of bloggers.)

In my first post, I made the following mild declaration:

"I know, there is in Socialist Party circles an assembly of mockers. They deride aught that savors of sentiment. But we heed not their scoffing. We will not permit them to outface us. A songless Socialism is a wrangling, contentious, dismembered thing. A singing Socialism will be a socialism triumphant."
Bouck White, Letters from Prison, 1915

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

Let us know in the comments section if you think that vow has been kept, and what else you'd like to see in future posts.

And in the meantime, enjoy these ads for Taybeh Beer, started by Palestinians who returned from the US to Ramallah after the Oslo accords to help jumpstart the Palestinian economy, and who have persevered in the face of unbelievable pressure from the Israeli occupation. (No, I haven't tried it and only heard of it from the splendid Sissel Henriksen, journalist at Klassekampen, Norway's finest daily newspaper.)

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November 25, 2007

Judge Asks Deutsche Bank: Where's the Mortgage?

Let's hear it for Cleveland, Ohio.


Okay, let's at least hear it for Judge C.A. Boyko of the Federal District Court in Cleveland and for Cleveland blogger Bill Callahan.

Before the current sub-prime mortgage meltdown, Cleveland had the highest foreclosure rate in the country. I don't know if it's hung on to this dubious honor, but the foreclosure overhang is getting worse all over the US, as the adjustable rates on sub-prime mortgages soar and the economy threatens to tip into recession.

Which brings us to Boyko. In a recent case in Cleveland, Deutsche Bank National Trust Company was moving to evict 14 families and seize their homes. Boyko asked a simple question: Okay, where are the mortgages?

The Judge asked DB to show documents proving legal title to the 14 homes. DB could not. All DB attorneys could show was a document showing only an “intent to convey the rights in the mortgages.” They could not produce the actual mortgage, the heart of Western property rights since the Magna Charta if not longer.

Again why could Deutsche Bank not show the 14 mortgages on the 14 homes? Because they live in the exotic new world of “global securitization”, where banks like DB or Citigroup buy tens of thousands of mortgages from small local lending banks, “bundle” them into Jumbo new securities which then are rated by Moody’s or Standard & Poors or Fitch, and sell them as bonds to pension funds or other banks or private investors who naively believed they were buying bonds rated AAA, the highest, and never realized that their “bundle” of say 1,000 different home mortgages, contained maybe 20% or 200 mortgages rated “sub-prime,” i.e. of dubious credit quality.

DB's panicky lawyers argued that no one had ever made them do this in all the foreclosures they have pushed through in recent years. Boyko was, to say the least, unimpressed:
The Judge then declared that the banks “seem to adopt the attitude that since they have been doing this for so long, unchallenged, this practice equates with legal compliance. Finally put to the test,” the Judge concluded, “their weak legal arguments compel the court to stop them at the gate.” Deutsche Bank has refused comment.
Now these documents are someplace, and eventually either the banks will bring pressure to bear to overturn Boyko's decision in a higher court, or Deutsche Bank's US subsidiary will lay hands on 'em and proceed with turfing out the poor folk who went for the okey-doke when the mortgage brokers came knocking.

In the meantime, though, this precedent will be raised not only in Cleveland, but in foreclosure cases in Federal District Courts around the country. If upheld, it will slow both the flow of broke folk out of their homes and the shedding of bad paper by banks which are desperate to put the whole mess behind them and reverse their cratering stock prices.

Even if Boyko's decision is overturned, it has already intensified the spotlight being shone on the criminal greed of the big banks whose massive, and still incalculable, losses have made a joke of their every effort to bury their role in this mess. The mechanisms of this massive scam have been explained in detail in the press of late, but the one of the clearest I've seen is by Bill Callahan in his blog Callahan's Cleveland Diary. In an article titled "What’s this Boyko / Deutsche Bank thing all about, anyway?", he takes a case study, this house, four blocks from his, and shows what has happened to it since the couple who owned it made the mistake of refinancing in 2003. Read it and weep.

[In a future FotM post, I hope to dig into the question of what this sub-prime meltdown means for the Black community and other communities of color in this country and tie it in to the "sundown town" posts that appeared here earlier this year.]

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November 20, 2007

Jay-Z and the Doom of the Dollar

Watch this video, and get a long look into the abyss into which The World's Only Superpower(TM) is sinking.

You're not looking at the sucker as a work of art--I mean, "Blue Magic" is perfectly adequate late Jay-Z. He doesn't quite phone it in, but he's lost a few mph off the old fastball, for sure.

What you're looking at is the future, and you're looking at it in the form of the latest cutting edge status symbol for rappers who've made the big time (and soon, no doubt, for wannabes). Forget the Bentley and the champagne, watch Jay-Z in nighttime New York as he riffles through a sheaf of bills, not hundred dollar bills, but...Euros. Peep his briefcase full of stacks of...Euros.

Most of us haven't been bitten in the ass by the weak dollar--yet. But it's coming--higher prices on imported goods, interest rates jacked up to keep central banks and investors in other countries buying US paper, US firms being snatched up by capitalists from Europe, OPEC countries, China.

The United Arab Emirates shifting out of the dollar and into Euros, that's news. But when Hiphop Nation ditches the Yankee Dollar out for the Euro, now that's a sign.

'Cause it's all about the rococo.

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November 19, 2007

A Big Shout-Out To FotM Readers

A recent interview with a vice president at Technorati, the search engine for the blogosphere, suggests that the total number of blogs in the world increased 16% from August to October. All that competition had me a bit depressed, until I got to the end of the interview:

Q Any idea how many of the 109.2 million blogs you track
get no hits in the course of a year?

A Just over 99 percent. The vast majority of blogs exist
in a state of total or near-total obscurity.

No hits in the course of a year? Zero? I'd just like to say how much that makes me appreciate our regular readers. Without you, without both of you, Fire on the Mountain might not be in the top 1% of all blogs in readership!

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November 12, 2007

Dave Cline: Rank & File Rebel, Introduction

In an hour, I will be on my way to Jersey City, NJ where a ceremony will accompany the placing of a plaque honoring Dave Cline on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Community Center in Pershing Field. Dave is being honored because of his extensive work on behalf of veterans there, as recounted in this story from the Jersey City Reporter.

But for me, Jersey City is not just where Dave made his home. It is the home of the US Postal Service's New Jersey Bulk & Foreign Mail Center, the largest postal facility in the country and the scene of important wildcat strikes in 1974 and 1977, in which Dave played a leading role.

I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago by a two page article in the most recent issue of the Union Mail, the newspaper of the New York Metro Area Postal Union (part of the American Postal Workers Union) remembering Dave. It was written by Flo Summergrad, another veteran of the struggles at the Bulk in those days. Flo still works at the Bulk and is active in defending postal workers against management attacks from the national level right down to the shop floor!

I knew it was time to keep the promise I made when I posted four pieces about Dave Cline in September. Those concentrated on his well-known role as a leader of the veterans and anti-war movements, where he made his greatest contributions, but I said I'd try to do something on his role as a rank and file union militant as well.

This is being posted in four parts (reading down, not up): this introduction, an overview of the 1978 postal wildcat by labor historian Michael Braun, followed by two poems drawing on the events of 1978, by Sean Ahern and Martin Zehr. This is only the tip of the iceberg, however. Much more remains to be written about these struggles. Bob? Chris? Lee? Jay? Ken? C'mon folks, chip in a little to this tribute to someone we all miss...

This is a plugger for a documentary film about the 1977 struggle.

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Dave Cline: Rank & File Rebel, Part 1

[I am very deeply obliged to scholar Michael Braun. At my request, Michael wrote this summary of the 1978 postal wildcat strike, in which Dave Cline was a key leader, based on a far more extensive paper Michael has written in preparation for doing a doctoral dissertation and publishing a book on this important working class battle. Without Michael's work, we might never have had Dave's reflections on these events 30 years later! Other posts under this heading are here, here, and introduced here.]

The 1978 Postal Wildcat

The 1974 "Battle of the Bulk"

In 1974, Dave Cline went to work for the United States Postal Service at their New Jersey Bulk and Foreign Mail Center in Jersey City, New Jersey, right across the river from NYC. The Bulk, as it was called, was not your mythical sleepy neighborhood post office with a single postal employee slowly sorting the mail. The Bulk was the first of twenty-one bulk mail centers, which were going to be the linchpins in a plan to quickly and aggressively transform the old sluggish United States Post Office into the United States Postal Service (USPS), an industrial giant.

The BMCs were created and placed outside the major urban centers to churn out the mail like the auto plants of Detroit made cars or the steel mills of Chicago-Gary turned out steel ingots. They were massive industrial factories filled with machinery and thousands of USPS workers where automation, massive use of new mail-sorting machinery and modern corporate methods became the order of the day. Workers protested the speedup, sub-standard safety conditions, and draconian repressive management measures that accompanied the creation of the BMC. The USPS saw increased profits and efficiency in its new facilities and new corporate management structure, while postal workers saw increased degradation and misery.

The Vietnam War was near its end and many of the new postal workers were veterans, partially reflecting the USPS quasi-federal governmental civil service hiring policy. Veterans received five extra points on the employment exam, while disabled veterans received an additional five points on top of that. Some Vietnam veterans infused the Bulk rank and file movement with their élan and character which at times was reflected in the militancy in the insurgency. Dave Cline, who had been shot three times in Vietnam reflected
That is one thing about returning soldiers, they expect better. That was one of the driving forces of our movement. We had a lot of ‘Namies.
Dave Cline became one of the leaders of the rank-and file insurgency at the Bulk. He joined Outlaw, an “anti-imperialist organization of postal workers” which had active members in USPS facilities throughout the New York City metro area. Outlaw emerged from the aftermath of nine-day 1970 postal strike where 173,000 workers successfully defied no-strike laws aimed at federal employees. The militancy of the 1970 strike was centered in New York City.

Dave was one of the leaders of a successful 4-day “job action” in 1974 at the Bulk protesting the USPS arbitrary changing of work schedules. Dave was a union steward of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), but also a big critic of the APWU’s leadership. Union leadership in the United States at this time, especially on the national level, was complacent, often more interested in collaboration with management than fighting for worker’s rights, and treacherous at times in foiling attempts by the rank and file to organize itself. The APWU was no different; Outlaw, with Dave as one of its leaders, was often locked in battle with Moe Biller, the president of the Metro local which represented all APWU members in the New York City area. Pitched battles, with chairs flying, erupted at union meetings, as Outlaw brought hundreds of Bulk workers to fight against the undemocratic methods of Biller and his cronies.

Dave, Ken Leiner, and P. McClosky were fired in 1976 and this had a chilling effect on the insurgency at the Bulk. However, one and a half years later the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the USPS had acted illegally since they had terminated the three activists for what was deemed “union activity”. Leiner, Cline and McClosky got their jobs back, back pay, and marched back into the plant in April 1978. “I played it to the hilt, I walked in down the main aisle, with my fists over my head-Rocky style,” remembered Dave.

The return of Leiner, Cline, and McClosky invigorated the moral of many militants at the Bulk and led to the formation of a new organization called the Good Contract Committee (GCC) to agitate around the new contract coming due in July 1978. They formulated demands such as Decent Wage Increase, Improved Cost of Living, No Mandatory Overtime, Right to Strike and others. The postal activists launched a newspaper called P.O.W. ( Post Office Worker) and distributed fifteen thousand issues at the Bulk, in New York and nationwide through contacts with other postal rank and file groups. Seventy-five thousand leaflets were distributed at postal facilities between May and the end of July 1978. The button of the GCC read “No Takeaways, Tradeoffs or Sellout. Good Contract in ’78.”

The New York locals of the APWU and the NALC issued calls for two demonstrations in front of the Manhattan GPO on 33rd Street to agitate around the contract in the months before the July 20th contract deadline. The GCC played a major role in building these demonstrations which attracted several thousand postal workers each time. Members of the GCC organized other Bulk workers to go to a July 13th rally in Washington, DC, where 6,000 disgruntled postal workers from around the US marched from the Washington Monument to the new, sleek headquarters of the USPS. “No Contract-No Work” was the most popular chant from the demonstration which postal executives described as the loudest and largest display they could recall.

However after midnight, July 20th in Washington, D.C. after the old contract had run out , postal management, the national union leadership, and the Carter Administration, amidst repeated talk of strike possibilities manufactured a collective agreement, which ignored most rank and file postal workers’ concerns. In Jersey City, N.J., a militant rank and file, with diverse and active rank and file leaders like Dave Cline would, in their desire to obtain what they considered to be a good and equitable contract, confront the USPS, their national and local union leadership, and the federal government with an informational picket line which with grew into a wildcat strike action. Dave, in remembering that 5:30 AM picket line said,
We were thinking about a nation-wide “Vote No” movement on the contract. We did not think strike action was in the picture at all… We thought an anti-contract demonstration could possibly spearhead a significant rank and file opposition, a “Vote No” to the contract.
Bulk workers were so angry at the meagerness of the proposed contract and what they saw as their national union leadership’s “sellout” that over ninety percent refused to go to work that morning and for the next four days the Jersey City postal plant was effectively shut down with Dave Cline and the rest of the Good Contract Committee in the leadership.

The Bulk Jersey City wildcat strike lasted from July 21-25, 1978 in an attempt to nullify the tentative national contract agreement between the various postal unions and the USPS. The conflict spread till eventually 4,750 postal workers were on strike nationwide. The Richmond, California bulk center was effectively shut down almost as long as the Bulk in Jersey City. There were two or three day walkouts in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia and sporadic walkouts or protests in Chicago, Allentown, Pennsylvania, Kearny, New Jersey, Miami, and Los Angeles at other bulk mail centers. After the strike was broken, 125 workers were fired, 130 were temporarily suspended, 2,500 received letters of warning, the union memberships did not ratify the proposed settlement, and an arbitrated contract settlement was imposed.

The 1978 wildcat strike was the largest strike of federal employees since the massive 1970 walkout of 173,000 postal workers during the creation of the USPS and the institution of federal employee collective bargaining. The 1978 Bulk wildcat strike was not surpassed in size among federal employees until 11,500 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) struck in August 1981.

Dave Cline was one of the Bulk workers who was fired and never got his job back. A vigorous three year amnesty campaign was successful in restoring many strikers to their jobs, but Dave was one of a few denied reinstatement because of his leadership role in the wildcat. Dave eventually got another job as a toll keeper for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) where he was an active steward and a valuable member of the bargaining committee of TWU Local 510, which represents Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) employees working at the MTA bridge and tunnel tollbooths and the three metro area airports for many years.

Dave Cline is a true hero of the working class. We remember him and honor him for his long and outstanding role as a leader in the veterans, labor and anti-war movements. Dave Cline ¡Presente!

The quotes from Dave Cline were taken from an interview with him on April 20, 2007.

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Dave Cline: Rank & File Rebel, Part 2

[This poem by Sean Ahern, a comrade of Dave's in the battles with the US Postal Service and the postal union leadership, comes out of a long close connection born in struggle. The "Clarence" referred to in the 6th stanza is the late Clarence Fitch, for whom the New York/New Jersey chapter of Vietnam Veterans Against the War is named. More about Dave, Clarence and what Sean is writing about can be found in the excellent documentary film, Another Brother. Other posts under this heading are here, here and introduced here.]


I remember
Strong arms and shoulders
That pulled the cops off me
More than once
At GPO almost 30 years ago.

I remember the picket lines
In January and July
And flying chairs in Union meetings.

I remember the Editor
On Grove Street
Beating out
Sparse prose that meant something
On that selectric
For the leaflets and newspapers
That we hand cut and pasted and argued over
Using the three draft method
All night long.

I remember
That big old twelve string
Pounding out the blues.
I still have those Leadbelly, and
Robert Johnson tapes you made
For me.

I remember the basso voice
That filled my kitchen
And scared my little girl
And he cried with her
And for himself
"Don't sweat it Dave,
She's just a baby
You didn't mean no harm"
"She's afraid of me"
He grimaced, angry with himself

Thirty years ago
We fought hard,
Drank hard
Loved hard
Played hard
Too hard for our own
He flew by too fast
With war wounds that
Never really healed
I was 12 years junior
Who saw the scars
On the outside
But not
The ones on the inside.
I didn't get it
That you and Clarence
Left a war in Vietnam
For a war a home
With no chance to heal
The drink and drugs
Eased pain and caused more
I thought it was a
All part of the good fight and
Good times
Until Clarence shook his head
And asked me
"How can you just stop?"

I wish I could have been
A better friend to you both.
But life pulled me away.

DC, Drum major
For peace and freedom
Pounding out a beat
From Vietnam to Iraq

There beat a mighty heart
DC, Big brother
A diamond in the rough

Goodbye old friend
Warrior for peace
I remember so much more
And carry on
Thinking of you
With love

Sean Ahern

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Dave Cline: Rank & File Rebel, Part 3

[This poem, which looks at Dave Cline's whole life, starts with his role in the postal struggles of the '70s. It appeared at this site once before, in the comments section on the piece I wrote the day Dave died. I think it deserves broader distribution. Other posts under this heading are here, here and introduced here.]

A Tribute to Dave Cline
(by an old companero, Martin Zehr)

The union hacks in postal called him a "chronic malcontent";
And how right they were.
Never giving up the fight, never conceding defeat.
The work he did is our legacy,
The vision he held our hope.
A future without him is left missing a link,
The chains he sought to break are weaker for his work.

Stand fast vets!
Honor the combatants for justice,
The malcontents who strive for better,
March ceasely forward for humanity,
Fists raised in defiance
rifles pointed to the ground..
End the ceaseless slaughters,
stop the bloody carnages.
Dave's work is done,
much work remains.

Dewey Canyon III is the memorial
That negates all the lies,
Like the fire within Dave,
Formed from the anger of GIs
Never willing to surrender.

Chronic malcontents in their own time,
Never satisfied while others died,
Organizing for a better world,
Leaving it for us to carry it on..

The Russian poet, Tyutchev wrote:
"Blessed is he who visited this world
In moments of its fateful deeds:
The highest Gods invited him to come,
A guest, with them to sit at feast
And be a witness of their mighty spectacle."

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November 7, 2007

The Lighter Side of November 7th

Hit the computer this morning to find that John over at It's No Accident had stirred himself from a way-too-extended blogging lull to write a superb short piece in observation of the 90th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. "Jeez Louise," I thought to myself, "I should do something on this today, too."

Cut to a scene of the Road To Hell Paving Company hard at work.

Two things undermined my good intentions. One was the press of work on the Iraq Moratorium, November's third Friday Moratorium Day is now only nine days off. The other? Well, John wasn't the only one to hymn the October Revolution (it's a calendar thing, don't worry about it) today and some of the others I read were pretty deadly--rhetorical, sanctimonious, unconvincing. I feared I might do no better.

Email to the rescue. My friend David from the Bay Area just sent me a link to this hysterical video clip from the '80s movie Radio Days.

I could argue that the clip's an unconscious tribute to the pervasive influence of November 7, 1917 on everything that has happened since, but why stretch? It's about communism and, by me, either we laugh about some the unrealistic expectations and real shortcomings of the world-changing current that ripped into history on that day 90 years ago or we lose the perspective necessary to do it better next time.

If this intro has you worried that I've posted something inappropriate for such a solemn occasion, you may well be right. So read John's piece tonight and watch this tomorrow.

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November 1, 2007

"As The Iraqis Stand Up..."

Whew. It's been a month since I posted anything here. I apologize to FotM's fans. Furthermore, I promise you both that it won't happen again. While I feel a certain compulsion to ramp back up with something deep or lofty, I decided that this 23 second clip of U.S. troops training the Iraqi Army might lighten your day in a difficult period. It took me four or five viewings before I stopped laughing all the way through.

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October 3, 2007

I Saw The Best Rock & Roll Band In The World Tonight

That'd be the Mekons, and I wouldn't argue that they are TBR&RBITW these days, but they sure as hell were at the end of the 1980s. It'll take me a while to internalize the show, so this is more of a quickie introduction for those of you who are going "Cripes, what's old Jimmy on about now?"

I will say it was a sobering little experience. I mean the Mekons aren't an actual fulltime rock band now, but an ensemble which re-aggregates every once in a while for a quick tour to keep the franchise alive. This time they are pumping a new album, Natural.

The thing is that they performed the entire show sitting down on chairs arranged in a semi-circle, facing the audience. This kind of emphasized the fact that the tour also commemorates their 30th anniversary. They got together in Leeds in '77, part of the first flowering of Brit punk rock. Thirty years is a long fucking time. I have no idea who The Best Rock & Roll Band In The World is these days, haven't since Sleater-Kinney peaked almost a decade ago, but it's short odds that everyone in it was born after the Mekons were formed.

Oddly for a band whose good live shows have always outnumbered the bad 'uns by at least 2 to 1, the best YouTube clip I found to post here is not a live cut, but one of a few actual music videos the Mekons ever made. It manages to convey the sloppy intensity of the band's live shows.

Is it walking the walk of their literary Marxism, or their semi-anarcho approach to the world, or their secret desire to emulate the Grateful Dead? I dunno, but the band has apparently extended its blessings to fans and let them post a good couple dozen live shows as audio files for listening and downloading. To experience the Mekons at the peak of their powers, you might want to check out the version of "Amnesia" in this 1969 show. Just click that link. See the light gray box at the top of the big window? Scroll down to cut 13 and click on it. Should stream right out of your computer's speakers.

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October 2, 2007

John Mellencamp: "Jena"

I can't figure out how to mount John Mellencamp's new song about the case of the Jena 6 here, as I've done recently with stuff which people have posted on YouTube.

So you'll just have to take my word. You really want to click on this link and watch the video and listen to "Jena." In fact, you want to listen twice. It was just posted today, almost as soon as the video was finished (though the album it's on won't be released for a while yet). A lot of people will be trying to stream it and the second iteration should be smoother.

I go back and forth on John Mellencamp a lot, but alway wind up at the same conclusion. No matter how much the sentimental dishonesty of a "Small Town" or the flaccid bombast of, say, "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." may irritate me, sometimes he nails an idea or a feeling so hard that you think it'll never move again.

Though he's rightfully noted by lefties for his class consciousness and material support to striking workers and family farmers, I find his work most interesting when he tackles race in this country. And not just the obvious stuff. "Pink Houses" should be required listening in any study group session about why there's no mass revolutionary movement in the US. And sometime check out his arrangement of the Drifters' momentary escape from the city, "Under the Boardwalk" which he transports directly to the rural Midwest on mandolin strings and a loose chorale. Brilliant.

But enough on ol' John's strengths and weaknesses. Go listen to "Jena."

Oh, yeah, he has superb taste in album titles.

[h/t Rock 'n' Rap Confidential email list]

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September 25, 2007

Brecht and Life: Two Poems [updated]

Here for your consideration are two short pieces by the German communist playwright, Bertolt Brecht.

I had been going to include death in the title of this post, because I decided to write it on Sunday, while I was at the memorial service for Annette Rubinstein, a personal hero, but in reading the two pieces, I realized they are really about something else. That something is what my friend Kathy Chamberlain calls the question of "how to be in the world."

I've have posted four pieces here at FotM in recent weeks about Dave Cline who died recently (and there's one more coming, for sure). The first one I crossposted at the left liberal DailyKos site, where several comments referred to this Brecht piece:

In Praise of the Fighters

Those who are weak don't fight.
Those who are stronger might fight
for an hour.
Those who are stronger still might fight
for many years.
The strongest fight
their whole life.
They are the indispensable ones.

That's from the version of The Mother that Brecht did with composer Hans Eisler in 1931.

While it is true, and provides a concise reminder of what we have lost with Dave's death, it also sets the bar a little higher than most of us are going to be able to reach.

So I was very glad that the cover of the little memorial book at Sunday's event for Annette featured another Brecht fragment:

Everything Changes

Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your latest breath.
But what has happened has happened. And the water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again.

What has happened has happened. The water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again, but
Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your latest breath.

Annette, who loved Brecht, was particularly partial to this poem, saying that in it Brecht has "succeeded in summing up the law of dialectics."

I don't know about that, but dialectical it is.

Yet as we know from our own experience, and from recent developments in cognition theory, fresh starts aren't always so easy to make.

But it's worth trying. And if it can help us make contributions like Dave and Annette did (and Bill Davis and Gideon Rosenbluth, and other fighters we have lost recently), it's worth trying hard...

UPDATE: I have revised the translation of "Everything Changes" to keep it materialist and not just dialectical.

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September 22, 2007

Black NJ Stands In Solidarity With Jena 6

The case of the Jena 6 has finally been forced to the surface in the political life of the United States. On Thursday, September 20, the media had no choice but report on the arrival of tens of thousands of protesters, almost all African American, in the small, majority-white Louisiana town of Jena (pop. 2971).

Let me underline just how remarkable this is. With no coverage in the mainstream media, no advertising, no celebrity concert, none of it, an army of Black people schlepped hundreds and, in many cases, thousands of miles on very short notice to a rural Louisiana town where six Black youths face the cracker version of justice that not so long ago held unchallenged sway in the South.

Another development brought this home to me the same day—right across the Hudson from me, in Newark, NJ. Folks from the People’s Organization for Progress knew that few from North Jersey would be able to make the long trek to Louisiana, and decided they had to at least call a rally in solidarity with Jena in Newark on Thursday.

Like most POP rallies, it started with a dozen people or so arriving a little early to get things set up and, again as usual, soon grew to 40-45. But it didn’t stop there, as it sometimes does. As lunch hour arrived, and people poured out of the downtown government and business offices, it became clear that many were wearing black. And they flocked to the POP rally, excited to learn that something was going on they could participate in. Hard-hatted workers from a nearby construction site joined the throng.

Then the junior high school classes started to arrive, their teachers seizing the opportunity to teach the history of racism and segregation in real and urgent terms, High school students seemed to find their own way to the rally, without benefit of teachers. The 500 signs that POP had optimistically printed up were gone in the first half hour. Those brought by the NJ section of the National Organization of Women went as well. Labor union contingents showed up with their banners.

Rally organizer Larry Hamm and others who spoke from spoke from the steps of City Hall found themselves addressing a crowd of over 1200 people. And a word about those speakers: organizers gave priority to young men and women who represented their classmates. Politicians and others had to wait their turn.

And politicians there were. Even Newark’s mayor, Corey Booker, felt compelled to show up and try to get his face on the evening news. Appearing at this kind of event, unless his people have organized it, is hardly normal behavior for Booker. This is a man who built his campaign chest from wealthy donors around the country by presenting himself as what we might call “post-Black” and, in particular, by attacking public education and fronting for voucher-promoting school privatizers.

This case has sparked the biggest outpouring of Black concern, anger and protest since Katrina, and it has spread though the Black nation via media like Black talk radio, and through the Internet and the blogosphere. Those black clothes I mentioned that folks were wearing in Newark on Thursday—that happened in cities and towns across the country. We can only count it a loss that there are so few organizations like POP, capable of taking the many thousands who decided to wear black last Thursday and galvanizing them into powerful protest to defend the Jena 6.

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September 19, 2007

Dave Cline Part 4: Good-Bye, Bro...

Dave Clines's remains get cremated tonight, after a viewing and brief memorial service in Jersey City. I'll probably wind up with a bunch of vets from all over sleeping on my floor afterwards. Seems like a lot of people want to come and show their respects

Today I am posting a video of a speech Dave gave during the historic Walkin' To New Orleans protest of veterans and Katrina survivors in the spring of 2006. There are a number of other speeches of Dave's up on YouTube, but this one makes it crystal clear just how much we have lost. Please watch it.

In this brief talk, his voice ravaged by days of chanting and cadences while we marched, Dave give a matter of fact recounting of how the March came to be. In a few short minutes, he shows the depth of political understanding and grasp of how a movement has to address everyday folks that he had developed oin decades of struggle. Watching, we can understand how he did so much to build the vets and military families component, the spearhead, of the anti-war movement. He shows in practical terms the real ties that exist between the anti-war movement and other struggles, like the Black movement in the South, and how those ties can be built on if people only show a willingness to do the work. And his delight at the end, where he shows what he learned in the meetings we held with Black churches every night along the march route--man, Dave never stopped learning...

Gordon Soderberg, a New Orleans-based vet who was on the March the whole way, shot this footage and quicly cut and posted it on YouTube at my request. Gordon pointed out to me in an email that this was the only speech Dave gave in the whole week of the March:

David did not do long speeches. He was always direct and to the point. This was his only speech in public during the March. I was at every stop except at the churches, Stan Goff and Ward Reilly would be able to confirm. During the planning of the march David stated the this was for IVAW members to lead and find their public voices. VVAW and VFP were there for support and transportation not the limelight.
And this highlights still another important role Walkin' to New Orleans played. It was, to that time, the largest gathering where Iraq War vets came together for more than a few hours at a demonstration or meeting. The bonding that went on as we moved through the shattered Gulf Coast was an important step in the evolution of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

[For those, like me, who are reading everything we can in order to, at one and the same time, come to grips with Dave's death and seal the lessons we learned from him in our brains, here are a couple of links you might want to track down.
  • One of IVAW's founders, Mike Hoffman, pays a moving tribute to Dave's role as midwife to the IVAW at the organization's website.
  • Dave's hometown paper, the Jersey Journal, published a respectful obituary.
And to learn more about Marchin' To New Orleans, and Dave's role in it, you could do worse than look at "Spearpoint," the summation by Stan Goff. Dave and Stan were the two who did the most to make it happen.
If you have other links to suggest, please post them in the comments.]

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September 18, 2007

Dave Cline, Part 3: The First Memorial

[photo by celticshel]

Friends, comrades and those who who may never have known Dave Cline, but want to pay tribute to a great fighter for peace, freedom and justice, can attend Dave's viewing and memorial service in Jersey City, NJ:
Tuesday, September 18, 2007 Viewing 6 pm-9 pm
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 Viewing 2 pm-4 pm, 6 pm-8 pm
Memorial Service 8 pm - 9 pm

Mc Laughlin Funeral Home
625 Pavonia Ave
Jersey City, NJ 07306
(201) 798-8700
This is far from the last memorial for Dave , to be sure.

More significant, it's not the first. That took place in Washington, DC on Sunday morning, as members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans For Peace and VVAW were released from the DC jails after their arrests in the Die-In protest at the Capitol steps on September 15.

Vietnam-era vet and longstanding friend of Dave's Pat McCann tells the story:
200+ of us got arrested beginning at 4pm EST on the US Capitol steps. 192 of us were booked at a US Capitol Police station in SE. Most of us spent 3-5 hours in handcuffs on the buses, then 9 - 10 hours in processing lockup. As I write, my wrists are still swollen and numb from the plastic handcuffs (which many of us eventually found our way out of). Who cares, I'm pumped! They have picked up a rock, only to drop it on their own foot. Like the youth of Soweto in 1976, we have only been emboldened by the experience!

We raised hell in that lockup! We criticized ourselves for being too cooperative when busted, and made immediate steps to correct that early mistake. Our militance rose decibels by the hour. When they told us to be silent, we laughed and chanted. When they told us to sit, we stood.

After we were busted, IVAW went through the crowd raising $100 bail for each of their members who were arrested. Half of the national leadership of both IVAW and VFP were still in lockup at 4 this morning, 12 hours after we were busted.

I have never experienced such a learning curve in my life as I did these past 15 hours. We militantly resisted the police, strategized, and built community. We know now what we will do the next time we are busted in a mass way. We will develop mass responses from those who weren't busted to support those who were. Today was historical, and we have every intention of spreading our experience. 2006 was a year where mobilization turned to resistance; 2007 is the year to deepen the resistance! As a first step, we need to develop nationwide reports of what went down in the US Capitol Police processing center in SE DC.

Dave Cline, past president of VFP (2001 - 2007) and national organizer for VVAW, passed, the night before our night in lockup. As I head down with others to the Vietnam Memorial Wall to hold the first of what will be many memorials to him, I can think of no one who has contributed more to the US movement for peace. Dave, we know that you are proud of us for wasting no time to fill the tremendous void that you and Bill Davis have left! We miss you so much, but are so happy at where you helped to bring us in our movement.

Letting it go here; the tears flow again. As Rev. Yearwood of the Hip-Hop Caucus said yesterday, "Let's go get them."

Nuff luv and respect to all, P-Mac

This photo, by longtime vet activist Bill Perry, shows the gathering at the Wall that the freed protesters and their supporters held in Dave Cline's honor.

And Thomas Brinson, of VFP Chapter 138, Long Island, who spent the night in jail with Pat and took part in the Sunday morning memorial, was moved to write this afterwards:


The circle of us war veterans and supporters
Stood solemn in tattered grief in a circle on the dewy lawn
Opposite the poignant point of the long and deep black stone V
Marking all the lost veterans from one other distant unnecessary war

Most of us had just been released from fourteen-and-a-half hours
Of bureaucratic harassment by storm trooper US Capitol Police
For exercising the rights that many of us once ideally had thought
We were fighting to preserve in far-off foreign places such as the
Rock Pile, Anbar Province, Central Highlands, Tora Boro, Iron Triangle
Where Dave, our just passed brother yesterday morning,
Had brutally fought and been mortally wounded forty years ago

We were each sharing our tearful remembrances of Dave,
Valiant Veteran Activist, each of us touched in our own way
By memories of his tireless service to all victims of war anywhere
When a portly US Park Ranger told us we were unauthorized to do so
Since we were conducting an illegal political rally
Because one of us was carrying a Veterans For Peace flag
We respected her instructions to move away from the Wall
To finished our impromptu memorial service for Dave

As we finished our somber file along the Wall of engraved stone
Each of us touching a name as Dave had sung about
In his raspy, tear-seasoned voice while in East New Orleans
On the Veterans and Survivors Gulf Coast March he had organized
High-booted motorcycle cops confronted us and sternly ordered
We fold up the Veterans For Peace flag or be again arrested

I broke away from the group engaging the just-following-orders cops
Looked up at the three-warrior statue of us in our long-ago lost youth
Followed their heart-stricken gaze of bewildered grief at all our names
Saluted Dave, the latest addition to that black corridor of needless death
Thanked him for clearing away the stormy skies with his strong spirit
As he finally escaped the emaciated hull of his skin-and-bones body
So we his brothers and sisters could march in the bright sunlight
Of a new day for the never-ending struggle for peace with justice

September 17, 2007
Long Beach, NY

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September 17, 2007

Remembering Dave Cline: Part 2

This blog is going to be all Dave Cline for a while. I start by posting the incredibly moving tribute to Dave by Nancy and Charlie Lessin, co-founders of Military Families Speak Out. This puts meat on the bones of what I started to lay out here at FotM on Saturday when I heard the news of Dave's death:

Dave Cline will someday, in a better world, stand recognized as one of the great figures in the history of the United States since the Second World War.
The next two posts will highlight the first memorial to Dave--one so steeped in the struggle to end the occupation of Iraq Dave would have laughed--and one on an aspect of his life that has not been commented much so far, the time he spent as a militant rank and file union activist, who helped lead the "Battle of the Bulk" wildcat strike against the U.S. Postal Service in the late '70s.

A Death in the Family

We received word early on the morning of September 15th that Dave Cline had passed away at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey the night before. We are saddened beyond words to lose this extraordinary hero, warrior for peace, and friend.

We first met Dave before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in January, 2003, when the drumbeats for war were getting deafening. Dave was the president of Veterans For Peace, and he invited Military Families Speak Out to march with the Veterans For Peace contingent in a national demonstration in Washington, D.C. opposing a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

MFSO had formed just two months before, in November, 2002. We were at that time a small group of military families with loved ones already on their way to the Persian Gulf, or being prepared in various ways for deployment. The Veterans For Peace contingent included Vietnam Veterans and Veterans from other conflicts. They had signs calling out President Bush and Vice President Cheney as chicken-hawks who had never served in combat but were all too happy to send our children, our loved ones and another generation into a war on false pretences.

As we marched, Dave led us in cadence that spoke to us in a very special way:




Military Families Speak Out and Veterans For Peace became a family that January, and we have never been apart since. For this, we have Dave Cline to thank.

Dave brought Military Families Speak Out into the planning for a Veterans For Peace event in Washington, DC called “Operation Dire Distress”, to take place at the end of March, 2003. As it turned out, Operation Dire Distress took place about a week and a half after the bombs began dropping on Baghdad. Operation Dire Distress ended up being the first national event protesting the U.S. invasion of Iraq. While many other groups seemed to suffer a set-back in organizing once hostilities began, Operation Dire Distress helped Veterans For Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War and Military Families Speak Out move forward strategically and together, without missing a beat, to build our voices as Veterans and Military Families speaking out to separate “support for our troops” from “support for the war,” and to urge an end to a war we had hoped would never have started.

Dave Cline’s phone number was entered in our ‘speed dials;’ and his counsel, advice, vision and strategic sense helped MFSO grow during those first months of hostilities and beyond. On July 2, 2003, when George Bush uttered his infamous “Bring ‘em on!” in response to a reporter’s question about the presence of an armed Iraqi resistance, we were on the phone with Dave Cline in a heartbeat. With Dave and others we formulated a response, a campaign to challenge Bush’s statement and the U.S. military occupation of Iraq. As George Bush was saying “Bring ‘em on,” we said, “Bring ‘em home!” Out of these conversations grew the Bring Them Home NOW! campaign in August, 2003. This campaign planted a pole for the peace/anti-war movement and the country as a whole; as the months and years went by, more and more have moved to this position.

Dave Cline continued to be a large part of the heart and soul of the movement to end the war in Iraq. He supported Military Families Speak Out in more ways than we can ever express. On the painful first anniversary of this unjust and unjustifiable war, VFP, MFSO and others went to Fayetteville, North Carolina to hold a “Support Our Troops – Bring Them Home NOW” rally. Dave’s new set of cadences included a special one for Military Families Speak Out:


With all due respect to those who have led cadence during demonstrations over the years and across the country, no one could do it quite like Dave. His voice would echo in our ears; now and for all time it will echo in our hearts.

In July, 2004 at the Veterans For Peace Conference in Boston, Massachusetts we stood proudly with Dave Cline and other members of Veterans For Peace and Military Families Speak Out as the eight founding members of a new organization – Iraq Veterans Against the War – held their first press conference. Dave was there at the beginning of that organization as well, and shared advice, counsel, vision and strategic planning with IVAW as it grew into the powerful organization it is today.

There is so much that Dave Cline helped to accomplish, building the movement for peace and justice over the years, across the country and around the world. We are so thankful that Dave Cline came into our lives when he did. His wit and wisdom helped guide the formation of Military Families Speak Out and our growth from 2 military families in November, 2002 to almost 3,700 today. We thank Dave for the inspiration, guidance and love that he gave to us, and to so many others.

Rest in Peace, Dave Cline!
With Gratitude and Love - In Peace and Solidarity,

Nancy Lessin and Charley Richardson
Co-founders, Military Families Speak Out
September 16, 2007

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