January 29, 2007

Why Kids Still Enlist…and Some Alternatives

Last week I posted a piece about this topic at Fire on the Mountain, and it was cross-posted at Daily Kos. I got several thoughtful responses that got me thinking more systematically, and here’s some of what I came up with.

The students I counsel come from poor or working class neighborhoods, under-resourced schools and over-stressed families. For many reasons, most of them are not high achievers academically. This is not at all to say that they aren’t bright, especially when you take in to account what we in the ed biz call ”multiple intelligences”—spatial, visual, physical/kinesthetic etc. Many are classified in special education, due to minor or major learning disabilities or emotional problems, and even the regular education kids I see are mostly not cognitively oriented to book-learning but to hands-on stuff. Nobody but the US military is banging on the doors to get access to them; they don’t have a lot of options..

Most of the conversations I’m recounting here occur in the context of one-on-one or small group counseling sessions, where I as a social worker am charged with helping students consider their futures in terms of their own values, strengths, resources and goals. This is obviously very different from a classroom or hallway presentation and discussion on the military or any other topic. It allows for a deeper dialogue where I can only respond to them honestly as who I am with my history and values. It would be phoney for me to feign “objectivity,” or “neutrality”—kids really don’t like that-- and not probe a comment that seems problematic, or not give an honest opinion when asked. At the same time, I believe it would be ethically wrong for me or any adult staff working with kids to preach at them or lay heavy trips and manifestos on them, which can stifle the young person’s own self-reflection and clarification process.

Some of the special ed kids have reported pitches from recruiters (to whom they’re sometimes steered by desperate parents) about special help in getting their diplomas, or being sent to boot camps where they’ll get high school diplomas, but I haven’t been able to track this down. I don’t know if there’s some conscious targeting of special ed kids to as recruitment numbers head south.

Living in a War Every Day

My students have few illusions about the US government and its motives. But they’re very willing to believe that other countries and peoples hate “us” because that jibes with their lived experience of hostility and anger all around them. Even those young people drawn to the military don’t see themselves as going somewhere to save other people or spread democracy. That’s not in their values hierarchy. They’re too worried about their own survival and they have reason to be. Their most compelling motive is to avoid getting killed on the streets of Harlem or East New York or the South Bronx, or rotting in jail.

And they do value protecting their families and friends, which is another pull toward the military. Some will still say that Saddam Hussein blew up the World Trade Center, “so we had to go get him.” That Big Lie technique works very well and is hard to combat.

Many of my students have little experience of peace and the possibility of living without constantly watching your back. Some will even say they feel like they’re living in a war now; kill or be killed is just the natural order of things. Within this frame they do articulate clear ethical standards. One student told me that he had re-considered his interest in the military after reading about the GIs charged with murdering a family in Mahmoudiyah. “I knew about the fighting and killing,” he said. “I don’t have a problem with that. But it’s the executions that got me. ‘Cause what if I don’t wanna go along with it? Then they could execute me too.”


As for alternatives…Some students would do well in a college setting with a lot of structured supports, mentoring, and part-time work so they won’t feel totally dependent and infantilized. They want to be supporting themselves financially and contributing to their families. I haven’t figured out how they can get that, except if they go to a college where I know some supportive professors and student activists.

For those who actually can’t hack college’s academic demands, or who just are emotionally not ready for it, learning a trade that will utilize their talents, hold their interest and pay decently would be a good option.

The NYC Department of Education in its infinite wisdom has closed most of the vocational high schools. However, due to one of the great and under-appreciated people’s victories of the 20th century, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the kids with serious enough learning disabilities can get free training and placement assistance in occupations like building maintenance, cooking, barbering, welding etc.

Unfortunately, some of the trades where my students could shine do have somewhat exclusionary policies. For example, many of the craft unions which were forced by affirmative action to admit women and people of color, now demand that apprentices obtain an associates degree as part of reaching the “master” level. Carpenters, plumbers and electricians require grades and scores on statewide mathematics exams that are difficult for educationally under-privileged students to attain. I wonder whether these are really necessary to perform the trade (I had a plumber uncle who amazed architects and engineers because he executed the most duct and pipe systems without blueprints and measurements—just by eye) or just serve as gatekeepers against non-white people. Other trades, such as welding, give a licensing exam which is totally hands-on rather than pencil and paper, and therefore more accessible to many of my students.

Students Seeking Peace

While dealing with external needs and demands, some students do actively seek inner peace, and struggle against living in negativity and anger—often through religious faith or focusing on some compelling activity where they can get into a “flow” state.” One young woman whose rage at an abusive and emotionally immature mother left her often unable to concentrate on school told me that she had taken up knitting at a cousin’s suggestion. “Now when my mother comes and yells at me I can keep knitting and not get into it with her—I just kinda listen and keep knitting. It’s addictive! I wanna do it all the time.”

Read more!

January 28, 2007

New Reports from the World Social Forum-Nairobi [24-25 January, 2007]

[These are the latest reports from two folks from the agricultural US Midwest who are delegates at the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. The reports are done quickly and show it, but that gives a real flavor of things so editing and rewriting is minimal. Online communication with Nairobi is shaky, but we can try to get them questions if readers submit them in the comments section.

Note: Additional material by the other delegate has been added to the first two reports from the Nairobi World Social forum, here and here. ]

24 January

I'm learning some, not a lot but something, about Africa.

One theme seems to be relatively constant among people we have talked with, both at the WSF and on the street in Nairobi. The governments do not serve the people. A Black bourgeoisie, or elite, replaced the white colonialists, and ran neo-colonial regimes, in every case. The only country/leader we have heard people talk about in a different way has been Kenneth Kuanda of Zambia. He addressed the Opening Ceremony of the World Social Forum, and in our delegation meeting that night, a North American questioned why--wasn't he neo-colonialist too? The African women present from Uganda and Kenya passionately explained that, to Africans, he had at least accomplished a stable government and that he allowed the government reins to be passed from himself to a predecessor by losing an election--two things they are very uncommon in Africa. Their view was that, without some level of stability and democracy, it is even more difficult to solve the bigger economic and social issues.

When I ask people "What happened to the liberation movements?" they say that "they turned into governments," and turned on the people. It appears that the percentage of the populations actually engaged in, or transformed by, the liberation movements was much smaller than I realized. There is a higher level of consciousness among the people of southern Africa, at least based on the people we met from South African and Mozambique as compared to the Kenyans and Ugandans. The Kenyans and Ugandans we are traveling with remind us of African-Americans in the pre-Civil Rights era South. They are self-effacing and subservient too much of the time, especially in relation to whites. We've actually discussed this with a couple of the Kenyan women, and they agree that there was no real cultural revolution among the grassroots people during the overthrow of colonialism, and that many, many vestiges of colonialist culture and practices have remained.

There is also, as among African Americans in the United States, a generation gap. One of the Kenyan activists in our delegation said that her parents were probably aware of Amilcar Cabral, but she and her siblings were not. Everyone in our delegation was impressed with the high percentage of youth that were involved in the WSF, especially from Africa, but also from around the world. I had a good conversation with two 20-year-olds, a woman and a man, from Nairobi, during the lead-up to the march and protest against EPAs, "EconomicPartnership Agreements" between African nations and the European Union. They were part of a large delegation of all kinds of people, including but not only young people, wearing red t-shirts proclaiming "Stop, Think, Resist (EPAs)!" Limited Internet access has prevented me from checking out their website, but I will do so later. These two young people said they were part of a youth organization called ACORD (the R and D stand for Research and Development). They seemed very knowledgeable about the neo-liberal trade regime, structural adjustment, debt, etc. The mission of their NGO is to educate young people on neo-liberalism, though I was unable to get a clear understanding of methods. They said they had 115 youth volunteers and 35 staff, with an office in a building in downtown Nairobi, in an area where I was told many government buildings are located. They seemed eager to learn about Amilcar Cabral and the liberation movements from the '60s when I talked with them about that, writing down his name, and exchanging e-mails with me so we could pursue the discussion further.

I focused on Cabral in conversations because his writing on nation-building in the context of countries created not by the Africans but by the European colonialists was important, years ago, in my own coming to agree that there is an African American nation, despite the dispersion and other problems related to the classic criteria for a nation. I believe these writings and experiences might still be very relevant to African movement builders, as well as to India and other similar places where there are large numbers of separate tribes or indigenous groups, different languages, etc., who have been forced together into a common socio-political state structure that now must be challenged and overthrown because it is supporting neocolonialism.

There did appear to be some effort during the WSF to highlight and teach revolutionary African thinkers. Tents were named Amilcar Cabral, Franz Fanon, etc, and there were workshops that I did not get to attend on Franz Fanon. I do not remember seeing mention of Nkrumah, though there may have been. As part of the overall positive effort to "gender the WSF," there were also tents and workshops about some African women revolutionaries that I do not know and did not get the chance to learn about, but should do so in the near future.

I believe I will learn a lot more, at least about Kenya and Uganda, during the second part of this trip.

25 January

A few more highlights from the WSF:

Poor Kenyans continued to protest the cost of the WSF, and as they got inside, eventually for free, also the costs of the food. The main food tent just inside the main gate was run by a hotel corporation owned by the Kenyan Minister of the Interior, who had been a torturer during colonial rule and remains a significant repressive force. Costs of food and beverages were more than twice the norm for comparable offerings. By the morning of January 24, a large group overran this tent, "nationalized and socialized" it, turning the food over to poor people and children. The Peoples Parliament of Kenya held the Poor Peoples' Social Forum in a park in downtown Nairobi, and sent an eloquent spokesperson to the Social Movement Assembly to present their resolutions--a good platform against neo-liberalism. But you probably already know this from the more mainstream press, and we did not manage to learn where this assembly was being held and check it out.

The WSF 2007 leadership, speaking from the mikes during the Assembly of the Social Movements, spoke about how NGOs are frequently conduits of neo-liberalism from below. Samir Amin said we need to go on the offensive, not just resist in defense against imperialism. The Peoples' Settlement Network from the slums of Nairobi said the movement needs to place an end to corruption as a central plank in our platform.

The IVth Social Forum on Sexual Diversity met throughout this WSF, and many people, including the Kenyans who are part of our delegation, made much note of this movement, including the number of openly gay WSF participants, as expressing great possibilities for eventually challenging patriarchy and authoritarianism. Their official statement called on all social movements to struggle to decriminalize sexual conduct in all countries, and committed to organizing the LGBTQ communities to participate in future actions and activities of the WSF.

The Labor Assembly proclaimed "Workers need the social movements, the social movements need the workers!" They determined to create a permanent international network for a different international economy that would consist of both trade unions and social movements. The main players in this assembly were the Italian and French labor movements (at least some part of them), the Brazilian CUT, and also the NTUI from India. This movement would focus on both formal and informal workers, men and women, etc.

I do believe that the US Social Forum may offer a good opportunity for revolutionaries within US labor to organize significant activities bringing together, at a minimum, some of the unions with the workers' centers and other manifestations of organization among the 90% of workers who are not in unions. And possibly to make some inroads in the US on this whole idea that workers need the social movements and vice versa.

Read more!

January 27, 2007

Today In DC: This One Counts!

[Some thoughts on the current conjuncture, triggered by reading the FRSO/OSCL statement,
"Deepen the Struggle to Defund the War"]

Who here hasn’t felt the momentum and intensity growing as today’s demonstration against the occupation of Iraq drew closer? I think this reflects many people’s sense, perhaps unconscious, that we are in a very unusual situation. In fact, popular mobilizations right now have the potential to have far greater impact than they might normally.

Briefly, the powers-that-be in the US are finally starting to face the fact that they are in a box--they can’t afford to leave Iraq and they can’t afford to stay in Iraq. And they can’t find anyone with a relatively painless plan to get them out of the box. The dilemma is reflected in the new Congress, where the Democratic majority wants to appear strongly anti-Bush, anti-escalation, even anti-war, but is unwilling—so far--to take decisive action to bring the troops home.

With no program for ending the debacle claiming big momentum so far, it’s up to us, the people of this country, to take the initiative. Our demands will be heard, because they cannot at this point be subsumed into or co-opted by mealy-mouthed, half-stepping, hidden-agenda-laden political projects. If we mobilize broadly and struggle intelligently we can shape in significant degree how this issue gets debated, resolved and brought to a close.

How do we come to be in this interesting conjuncture?

The wholesale rejection of the Republicans in November, fueled more than anything else by a rejection of the war and occupation, created a set of expectations in broad sections of the people that now things would have to change. These expectations were further fed by the dumping of Rumsfeld and the media ballyhoo around the Iraq Study Group report, a complex and worthless plan aimed mainly at covering Bush's ass while it steered him toward a draw-down of troops.

But as the year ended, the Dems showed no signs of doing anything substantive toward ending the war, and Bush was treating the report with evident scorn, increasing popular unease.

Then three things hit hard within a ten day span. First, the botched execution of Saddam (a reminder that the "goal" of dumping him was a worthless one). Second, the death of the 3000th US troop.

Finally, Bush's announcement of "the surge." November’s "anti-war" majority in the 2006 elections had somehow morphed into an escalation in practice. This galvanized broad sentiment that something must be done to stop him and start ending the occupation.

All of this has put the Congressional Democrats in a bind. Their plan was to do the "First 100 Hours" thing of spending January passing popular legislative gimmes, and let Iraq slide as long as possible. Instead, they have been forced to face the issue squarely and watch their big legislative program rendered a sideshow. Now they, along with many Republicans in Congress, are scrambling to figure out what to do.

As argued above, their confusion reflects the confusion in ruling class circles, where the ugly truth can no longer be ducked. The high and mighty cannot afford the catastrophic defeat of leaving Iraq and all that lovely oil and the global power a hand on that spigot carries with it. But they can't afford to stay and become global pariahs while their crisis of legitimation at home deepens and their military rolls toward the breaking point. Finally, like Congress, they have no unity on a way forward.

In such a situation the role of the people becomes key, and our ability to shape the course of events greater.

Let me draw three conclusions from this rough-hewn analysis.

First, this is a time for unstinting activity. However successful January 27 turns out to be, people must redouble anti-war activism at a local level. It would be most desirable if United for Peace & Justice (UFPJ) or a "supergroup"-style coalition like the one assembled at the call of US Labor Against the War in Spring 2006 were to put out a call for an Iraq Moratorium. One day a month where millions of people do something, as much as they are individually prepared to do, against the war, even if that's just signing a petition or calling a Congressional office. Collective actions like vigils or teach-ins are better, militant actions like high school blowouts or building occupations better still (though here clarity around why some person or institution is a target is particularly important).

Second, the target at the moment is Congress. The current situation, with various proposals being floated and entered as bills, is okay for a few more days, but there is a grave danger that "bipartisan compromise" will produce only toothless non-binding resolutions. Never mind holding Congressional feet to the fire, we must run a blowtorch across their soles, demanding a cutoff of funds for the occupation and/or a binding termination of the war powers act or a similar constraint on continuing the occupation. The militant campaign being waged in Scaramento to force Representative Doris Matsui (D) to do the right thing is one impressive model for such an effort.

Third, any resolution of this before 2009, which would be a delay for which history will not forgive us, will involve a final confrontation with the Bush administration. Though not yet the most likely scenario, a real rather than symbolic Congressional stand—be it rescinding war powers or defunding or something else--would doubtless become a Constitutional crisis, as the Preznit refuses to comply. Things could move very quickly toward impeachment, resignation, a "health crisis" or some other resolution if a majority gels in ruling circles that the guy is simply too great a liability to have around for another two years. That said, the main focus at present must remain on Congress and on the demand to end the occupation and bring the troops home now. Slogans and organizing around impeachment help prepare the terrain for a showdown as Bush and his regime grow more isolated, but we still have to win the immediate battle to get to that one.

There’s more to be said on tactics, outreach, slogans and other vital questions, but I have a 5:15 ayem bus to catch...

Read more!

January 24, 2007

Why Kids Enlist--Still!

Counter-recruitment continues to be an important part of the over-all struggle against the occupation of Iraq. If this kind of organizing is to be effective, we who are doing it need to understand why kids enlist. In my experience, rhetoric about the “poverty draft” is far too simplistic. So I’d like to share some of the complex and contradictory dynamics that I’ve observed a social worker in a New York City high school--dynamics that lead kids to enlist even though each and every one of them knows there’s a deadly war on.

One big issue is that kids see they need discipline and structure. They know they haven’t internalized a lot of good work habits and they need external controls and incentives. And they’re right about that.

Due to the white domination that pervades the school system--unequal distribution of educational resources, the Eurocentrism of curricula, etc.—working class youth of color often reject, consciously or unconsciously, much of authority exerted over them as racist and hypocritical. Therefore many kids wind up not internalizing some skills and work/study habits that they actually could put to their own ends. By 18 or 19, many of these youth want to make up for this lack of development and they see the military as a way to do this.

A very self-aware and smart young African-American man told me, “I don’t think I’m ready for college. I think I need to go into the Army for a couple of years until I get it together.” This young man had figured out that he was smart enough to get into college but lacked some planning, system-negotiating and time-management skills and might have difficulty passing college courses. He sensed that unlike George Bush, a Black kid from the Bronx wouldn’t be given second chance at college if he screwed up. And he thought the military would drill good work habits into him and help him grow up.

Another aspect of the military’s appeal is controlled violence. Most of my students have experienced a good deal of violence in their communities, and sometimes in their homes. The idea of being paid to be on the trigger-pulling end of the gun with social sanction is a powerful lure. The US military knows this very well—hence the ads with the jeeps and “running a two-million dollar machine.”

The promise of skills training and employment options is another pull. One practice session for the PSAT’s can be all it takes to send an under-prepared young person looking for a way to avoid the whole college admissions process. Here it is helpful to point out that before the military gives you access to any really interesting job training, they make you take a test and you have to score high.

I don’t know if anyone has systematcally studied the enlistment rate of youth who’ve been through the foster care system, but I’ve observed a particular appeal here. For kids who’ve never felt they belong anywhere and are used to bureaucratized collective environments, the military not only levels the playing field—because nobody belongs there any more than you—but it actually gives them up a leg up, because they’re use to coping with regimented environments.

One young man who’d been in group homes and foster homes since the age of 6 spoke longingly of the military as something you could really feel you belong to. After we talked over all the reasons why it appealed to him, and I acknowledged the legitimacy of the needs he was expressing (to belong, challenge himself, serve some cause bigger than himself), he finally concluded that the military could be a good thing if you didn’t have to go to war.

Read more!

Report from the World Social Forum-Nairobi [23 January, 2007]

[This is the second in what Fire on the Mountain hopes will be several reports from two folks from the agricultural US Midwest who are delegates at the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. The first report is here. The reports are done quickly and show it, but that gives a real flavor of things, so I am not editing or rewriting them even though the folks there requested it. Online communication with Nairobi is shaky, but we can try to get them questions if readers submit them in the comments section.]


Today was a good day, this morning we went to the La Via Compasina conference and heard farmers from all over the Global South speaking about the oppression that is happening to farmers everywhere. Person after person stood and spoke about the struggles that was happening in their communities, it sounded like the same struggles happening everywhere for women, small farmers and landless people. The agenda of the capitalist, coperations, some governmental agencies, the world bank, international monetary funds and the wto agenda is to smother the small farmers and instill the food system of the capitalist agenda, they will not leave any food security for any people the world except for the rich.

GGJ had a workshop where several speakers lifted up 5 types of work that is going on in the US, Project South, Southwest Workers Union, USAS, Malcom X, Southwest Organizing Project, I am sure their mission statements can be found on the web for details of their work. Then we broke up into small groups, I choose racism and S. went to Labor, I think. I immediately raised white skin privilege, even though the question was framed: Can we get rid of racism in a capitalism world system (or close to that)


We understand that maybe 46,000 people initially registered for the WSF in Nairobi, but not all paid, so there may be closer to 40,000 in attendance? Some Kenyans have been protesting the cost that keeps out some of the poor the WSF is supposed to be all about. On the second day, one group of them got hooked up with some South Africans, who huddled with them, and then came out as a group, singing liberation songs, and walked right on through the gates, catching the police by surprise.

The Kenyan police presence throughout the WSF has been very weird. There have also been people inside the WSF protesting the cost of the food from the vendors inside. Reports, not confirmed in the local press, are that some people even got arrested for crashing the gates, or disrupting the food courts. The organizers of the WSF say they have to charge something to pay all the expenses because they had no government support and little private support, compared with previous WSFs.

There is definitely a "market" atmosphere here, with many of the NGOs selling items, as well as providing information, at their booths. Makes good fundraising sense, but the whole structure is just not as conducive to political learning and conversation as I had hoped.

There are LOTS of Africans here, at least a majority, maybe 2/3 or 3/4 of those present. And there are LOTS of workshops and booths where most of the Africans present are participating in programs organized by relatively prosperous NGOs. The ones I have seen tend to feature various African communities making cultural and informational presentations demonstrating their plight due to the rulers, the climatic conditions, the poverty, etc, etc, etc. Combined with general appeals for support, and in some cases promotion of campaigns against this or that intrusion of capital or for this or that reform.

My hope is that the Africans are developing some horizontal relationships, and that there are more revolutionaries here than just the handful of South Africans (and some other La Via Campesina-affiliated peasants from Mozambique) that I have met so far. But that's not clear.

La Via Campesina (LVC) launched an African front here yesterday in its global campaign for agrarian reform. It had already been launched Latin America, and will be launched in Asia later this year. Over 100 African peasants participated in this launch, maybe 12 of them spoke from the platform throughout the day, regarding the struggles for land reform on this continent.

There is a MAJOR women's rights component to the struggle for land reform and the agrarian struggle in Africa. For the most part, despite constitutions that may declare otherwise, under customary laws and actual practices, the men own the land and control the product, while the women do most of the work. So many of the African farmer activists are women, organizing and demanding women's rights as well as land rights.

I was able to make a small contribution when the facilitator of one session posed the question: How do we tie together all this issues and struggles? Imperialism and corporate control of agriculture? Dumping? Land reform? Credit? Women's rights? I weighed in more or less as follows:

They do call it MOTHER Earth, after all. There is a big connection in human history between the rise of patriarchy, private property (many peasants believe the land should be a common good), and the whole concept of man's domination over nature - that's mother nature, women. If we are to build a movement that successfully challenges imperialism, authoritarianism, and efforts to dominate nature in a way that is going to end the planet if we don't change it, then feminism must be one of the hearts of that movement. I truly believe there is a feminist cultural component that is essential to our movement.

And most of La Via Campesina's practices really have that, especially the Misticas, which come from the women and the peasant movements of Latin America. Every meeting is opened and closed with some sort of Mistica, this time with indigenous maize seeds from Chiapas. With a lighted candle standing in the seeds, representing the first light of humanity emanating from the continent Africa, the motherland of humanity. An Asian woman was handed a candle, it was lit from the mother candle, and she walked to the east. A European woman lit her candle from the mother candle and walked to the north. A Latina woman lit her candle and walked to the west. And they came back together in solidarity.

On the other hand, too many of the men with La Via Campesina, and myself as well until I realized what was happening, left the session for too much of the time that some of the women were presenting. Don't get me wrong. There were women in leadership roles the whole session, but a portion of the session focused solely on women's rights issues, and that's when too many of the men did leave.

We have been able to hook up several more Kenyan farmers, both women just getting into farming at the basic community level, as well as Kenyan coffee growers, who are meeting with LVC this morning as I write. LVC, hopefully including the Kenyan farmers and some of our delegation, are joining with Kenyans organized by Oxfam in a protest march to the European Commission headquarters here in Nairobi. We will be protesting the EPAs, Economic Partnership Agreements, which are European free trade deals with African countries. We'll join them and send more later.

The Grassroots Global Justice workshop "Yes, There Is a Movement in the Belly of the Beast" was good. Only a handful of non-US folks participated, but they included a revolutionary from South Africa that I had a short conversation with. He had been part of the ANC more many years, in exile, in the underground, etc., and was very disillusioned with the government's direction. He is now part of "the social movements" that are challenging the government. He himself is clearly a revolutionary socialist. I had hoped to have a more in-depth conversation after the workshop but that did not happen. They are challenging the SACP to break more with ANC but are not yet successful in that regard.

Grassroots Global Justice presentations were made by Jobs with Justice on labor, LIFF (Miami Workers Center) and Tenants & Workers United on economic justice, Asians for Environmental Justice out of Oakland on environmental justice, Project South and a young woman from Malcolm X Grassroots on racial justice, and youth from Southwest Organizing Project and from USAS. There were small group discussions and report backs on what the WSF means to our struggles. During those discussions, there were some challenges raised around the need for more direct revolutionary involvement in the process to counter the domination of the NGOs.

It's not enough to talk about another world being possible unless we also talk about what the world must be like in order to be sure it is a better world. And also, strategies to get there. Hopefully, the US Social Forum in Atlanta this June can have a little more of that. Grassroots Global Justice is inviting organizations and grassroots movements to join in the planning of the USSF by constituency/theme and by region. Hopefully, we can help strengthen the presence of the movements against patriarchy, including LGBTQ, and the rural/farm and food movements, as well as labor and oppressed nationalities.


For more insight on the upcoming US Social Forum (Atlanta, June) check out Badili Jones article here.

Read more!

January 23, 2007

Black NJ Organizes Against the War [Part 4]

[I just received this exciting report from a friend who attended the anti-war conference originally announced here two weeks ago.]

It's two-and-a-half days later and I’m still amazed. I can't get over what POP achieved in Newark this past weekend! Scores of community organizations came together for the "People's Peace Conference — The U.S. War in Iraq and Our Communities." This African American-led event drew more than 400 registered participants. The theme of the conference, "Breaking the Silence: The Grassroots Speak" put it clearly in the spirit of the historic, April 4, 1967 speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence."

Though the call originated in and was aimed toward the Black community (People's Organization for Progress was the initiator, along with Rev. William Howard of Newark's Bethany Baptist Church), the turnout included folks from the Latina/o community, veterans and military families, gang-bangers, youth and students, as well as white labor union and anti-war activists and a crewl of the usual Left movement types. The organizations signing on as sponsors ran the gamut from the NJ Black Issues Convention, and the Mothers of Murdered Sons and Daughter (MOMSAD), to Street Warriors, Inc., and the Almighty Latin Kings & Queens Nation to the Alan Reilly/Gene Glazer Chapter of Veterans for Peace, and Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) chapters from Bergen and Essex counties, to several area Black elected officials, and, of course, New Jersey Peace Action, a key early sponsor. Participation was more than half African-American with white activist making up the majority of the rest. There were also representative of the Asian-American, Arab, Latina/o and other communities of color.

The true spirit of this event is best captured in the statements of participants, during and after the fact:

• This is not a one-time event, We've gotta bring this war to an end, we can't have this conference and be satisfied.

• 21 hospitals have been closed across NJ. This is clearly because of money being spent on that war instead of here at home.

• The US wants to divide Iraq into three or four parts. Is this because they want rights for the Kurds, religious freedom for the Shi'ite population? No, the United States want to divide Iraq so it can't stand up to US imperialism!

• It felt like the '60s in here today!

• This conference wasn't just about ending the war (there will be more wars, other wars), the People's Peace Conference became about social transformation.

And this WAS a transformative event! As the chairman of POP's Anti-Street Violence Committee confided to me, "You know I had questions about this peace activism. For me, the real war is the violence our young people are being subjected to, getting hit with, in the streets. But Saturday's conference, I felt the spirit. I saw 400 committed anti-war warriors who knew what time it is, who understood that the money being spent on weapon systems sent to Iraq is precisely the same money that's needed for our hospitals and schools, for after-school activities for our youth, for drug-rehab programs, to rebuild New Orleans!"

Determined that this not be a "one-time" event, participants planned a continuations committee to hold the coalition together to build a massive state-wide march for peace and justice in Newark later this year. A March 27 follow-up meeting is scheduled. This was one among the resolutions passed at the final plenary, that also included 1) Opposition to Troop Increases, 2) Demands to Redirect War Funds to Domestic Needs, 3) Bring the Troops Home Now, 4) Impeach George W. Bush, 5) Prosecute George W. Bush for War Crimes, 6) Cut Funding for Iraq War, 7) Support Gulf Coast Residents Efforts to Rebuild and the Right of Return, and 8) War Monies and Profits to be Immediately Redirected for National Healthcare, Affordable Housing for All, and Jobs with a Living Wage.

One intriguing "after-action" observation reflected the strengths of the People's Peace Conference and evidence why social transformation has to be the overarching goal. As the conference closed, Nell Sanders, a powerful young African-American musician, drummed us out of the final "speak-out" session. A comment, "People were in awe of little sister Nell… folks are not used to seeing women drummers, powerful women drumming," pointed out both the broadness of the gathering and unfinished issues like male-supremacy and patriarchy that need to be to be addressed in the future.

To a considerable extent, this was a "stealth conference". The organizing committee did plenty of media outreach but newspapers like the Star Ledger (Newark and Essex County's primary daily) and almost all broadcast media decided it was a non-event. They all received multiple press releases and it was definitely in their day-book. No one covered it, except for the local CBS affiliate. To put this in context, two weeks or so back the Star Ledger felt that Larry Hamm was an important enough political figure to warrant two pages of copy. Though Larry repeatedly mentioned The People's Peace Conference during the interviews, it never made it to the paper, either in that article or in news coverage. Apparently an African American-led anti-war effort is such a non-sequitur that the editors at the Ledger neither heard nor understood what Larry was telling them.

There are other lessons to be drawn and contradictions to be addressed by POP and others who aim to move forward from this event. A number of "foreign student" organizations, as well as the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association from Rutgers-Newark and The Almighty Latin King Nation took active part, a first step in reaching out and including Latina/o and immigrant communities. Given the increasing reliance of the Pentagon on recruitment from these communities, we must build on this foundation.

Amiri Baraka was one of the final speakers at the afternoon session. He urged representatives to build similar events and activism throughout the state. As POP chairman Larry Hamm put it, "When we can build not just conferences throughout NJ, but weekly picketlines of 1,000 at military recruitment centers in every major municipality of the state, then we will have a movement that can't be ignored."

Similarly, we need to be able to replicate this Newark conference in Raleigh-Durham and Rocky Mount, in Detroit and Chicago, in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, in Kansas City and Saint Louis, in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Antonio, in every urban center with a non-white majority.

Read more!

January 22, 2007

Time Owes FRSO/OSCL Royalties!

Erk and Eric too.

[h/t progressivepix from the Leftist Trainspotters list]

And for those who to whom the other logo is a mystery, that'd be Freedom Road Socialist Organization / OrganizaciĆ³n Socialista del Camino para la Libertad.

Read more!

January 21, 2007

Report from the World Social Forum-Nairobi [21 January, 2007]

[This is an initial report from two folks from the agricultural US Midwest who are delegates attending the 2007 World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. If they flag in reporting over the next few days, Fire on the Mountain will post some material they wrote on the plane from NYC to Nairobi with background on their participation.]


Hello, this is A. sharing my experiences in Nairobi, Kenya and at the World Social Forum.

Yesterday was a bit confusing--we had a hard time finding the La Via Compasina tent and getting a program but finally we did. We ended up being really tired because of the walking around, but it was wonderful in another way seeing all the people from around the world and lots of Black participation. There were over 1200 workshops being presented on any given day, a little overwhelming of course. My strategy was to stick to food sovereignty, small farmer and landless related workshop, mostly go with the La Via Compasina program and to try anc peek in on Grassroots Global Justice, and the US Social Forum.

Ag missions held a workshop on 1/21 on strategies for food soveriengty , and it went really well. S gave an excellent presentation, outlining the history of National Family Farm Coalition and Missouri Rural Crisis Center, highlighting some of their victories and strategies.

I got my hair twisted by some young Kenyan friends I met here in Narobi, Diana Kamidi, Pemimah Adeyo, Abigael Kigasha and Monica Yhienma. Diana comes from a dairy farm family, and does varies things, including braiding hair to make money. I have collected their contact information for further communication. One of the young ladies had a degree in nutrition but she said her expertise was dairy farming, her parents owned a dairy farm so she was interested in what we were doing here and would like to come to the US to teach Swahili. I think I will invite them to the GGJ reception tonight.


A short post.

There are not nearly as many people, or as much energy, as in previous WSFs. A very wide diversity of people, of course, but generally dominated by NGOs and various forms of reformist politics. The only socialism I've run across so far was the "Socialism from Below" group, a Trotskyist group that had some people here. I attended briefly a session on "Socialism in the 21st Century" in the Amilcar Cabral space. Given my significant appreciation of Cabral from back in my study days, I was very disappointed to hear nothing but very superficial talk about the working class, socialism, communism, what they are, the fact they to get there we need an international revolutionary organization, but NOTHING about how to get there. Mainly the Trotskyist group was represented. There were about 29 people there, and only two women, neither of whom spoke.

The delegation from La Via Campesina (LVC), however, is kickass. We finally found their tent and hooked up the Kenyan and Ugandan peasants who are part of our delegation with them. They immediately welcomed the Kenyan farmers into their Action Planning meeting (one of 3 units at work during the WSF), which they hoped to have a focus on Kenyan farmers. It was an interesting dynamic, in that the Kenyans are fairly isolated from farmers in the rest of Kenya, as well as from revolutionary, activist politics. The Kenyans did come forward with some ideas for an action, but tended to be cautious about what can we pull together by Friday, whereas the LVC activists are quite experienced in knowing how to reach out and make things happen even in new territory.

The Kenyans and Ugandans did return for the LVC delegation meeting at the end of the day today, though they had nothing to say, but it was a good sign they returned. LVC meetings are always translated into English, Spanish, and French, plus today, special translation to one person from Indonesia and another in an African dialect. The LVC delegation is about 30 people plus another 30, including our group of about 10, joined in the meeting. Farmers from several African countries, though previously no Kenyans. From Europe, especially France. From Latin America. From Indonesia and Nepal. From the US. The Brazilians brought in the Minister for Racial Equality from the Lula government who spoke about their 0f hunger policy and the new efforts at racial equality. Very impressive to see a woman Minister of Racial Equality speak, and then be thanked and acknowledged by the woman leader of LVC.

Two other short tidbits for now:

I ran into some people from, I believe it was, GWIU (General Workers Independent Union), or something like that, from South Africa. Their t-shirts proclaiming that democratic, worker-controlled unions make workers STRONG caused me to stop and talk with them. They had broken from COSATU some years back, but claim they are now 15,000 strong and in negotiations to rejoin COSATU. Anyone else know about them?

The Kenyan Government Workers union delegation talked with us for some time. One leader, in particular, talked about trying to run for parliament. He would represent the poorest slums in Africa, but said he had not yet been able to convince voters there that he, a worker, could represent them better than the incumbent who has never been poor and lives miles away in the rich man's zone in Nairobi. He said the people are overwhelmingly focused on "can you give me some money or some food", in one form or another, which he cannot do but the incumbent can do. Until people get at least two meals a day, it's hard to get them to vote using the brain rather than the stomach, he said. He hoped to eventually turn this around by working with young people to develop a generation that could use their brains.

Too tired to do more now.

Read more!

January 20, 2007

Take Five--Points Toward a Summation of the 1st Annual Blogging Against White Supremacy Day

[Take Five. Every Friday, Fire on the Mountain picks a category and lists five cool things in it. It's up to you, dear reader, to add your own in the Comments section. Just click on the word "comments" at the bottom of the piece and you're off to the races.]

Okay, so this is kind of low road. I didn’t have a topic (like political James Brown tunes a few weeks ago) conveniently thrust before me by the world, and I wasn't having much luck casting about for ideas—five kinds of dental floss? five cool episodes of My Mother The Car?

At the same time I have been feeling a little unsettled that the first annual Blogging Against White Supremacy Day came and went without any summation. This is, I know, in keeping with the short shelf life of stuff on the Internet but I get old school about this sort of thing. When a project of some political importance is undertaken, there should be some summation. What follows is not that summation, but one guy’s ideas about what happened and how to look at it. Others should please chip in. (The most complete set of links to participating blogs is at Pottawatomie Creek, the blog where the original call went up.)


1. Quantitatively, I count twelve or thirteen bloggers who put up something privilege–related between the 14 and the 17th. (A few who signed up to do it don’t seem to have actually posted at the time.) In addition there were a bunch of interesting comments, especially on the better-established blogs. While I knew most of those who participated, there were a couple of gratifying discoveries, and I trust others had that experience.

2. Most of the posts can be slotted (or forced) into a few broad groupings (leaving out Lauren’s inspired choice of an Audre Lorde poem and CelticFire’s graphic).

Historic documents: Haisanlu, LeftSpot and me

Reflections on Dr. King’s role and his holiday: Bolivariano Roja, the indefatigable LeftSpot, EightOneUnderRedStar

Aspects of white supremacy today: Yolanda (twice). Lefty Henry, John, Modern Pitung

Personal reflections: Jesse on hipness and white supremacy in Santa Cruz and Nelson H on having a White Citizens Council skeleton in the family closet.

[I personally found these last the most interesting and most thoughtful. They were also the most in the diary spirit which blogging still carries from its origins, a spirit which is more personal and less instrumental that most political blogging.]

3. Ya gotta organize. As Mao says, without a general call the broad masses cannot be mobilized. Nelson H issued such a call. But Mao goes on to call for going deeply into the work in a few places to make breakthroughs. As above, this isn’t how Teh Internets work in general, but we aren’t average netizens; we are, most of us, revolutionary socialists, and we know a few things about organizing which may be applicable in situations like this.

For example, uniting with the advanced to win over the intermediate. Two places where more effort, I would argue, would have been richly repaid occur to me immediately. One is Stan Goff’s interesting and well-trafficked Feral Scholar. Even more important, I would argue is the young feminist/womanist of color patch of the blogosphere. Folks like Yolanda and Zooey are steady blogging about white (and male) privilege and the intersectionality of oppressions, never mind a particular day, and coming up with some really interesting stuff.

4. Overall, I thought the first Day of Blogging Against White Supremacy went pretty good and I hope folks are primed to keep addressing these issues over the coming year. Keep your eyes open to develop links and ties with others you come across over the next 12 months who address these questions, so we can start the 2008 BAWS push with a cohort at least triple what we wound up with this time.

5. As I’ve been mentioning every chance I get, The Cost of Privilege: Taking on the System of White Supremacy and Racism, the fantastic new book by Chip Smith and a small research and writing team, will be out within weeks. Along with it will come a new website for the book, which promises to deliver some “value added” for folks who visit it. Right now, I’d like to ask each person who blogged on BAWS Day for permission to add a link to their contribution. If you say “yes,” it’ll spare me chasing you down one-on-one to solicit you.

(Okay, so 5 is not a point of summation. Sue me.)

Read more!

January 19, 2007

Forget "The Jungle." Read Upton Sinclair on Iraq!

Upton Sinclair has been catching a little ink lately—I should say a few pixels—behind the 100th anniversary last year of his most influential work, The Jungle. I was just forcefully reminded of another work of his with even greater resonance for folks on this list.

A novel he wrote in 1919, entitled Jimmie Higgins, came up in the course of a debate about the anti-war movement on the Maoist Red Flags blog, hosted by the worthy burningman. Turns out the whole book is downloadable for free.

Whew. What a timely sucker it is, for a work fast approaching 90.

The hero (and my namesake), Jimmie Higgins, is a workhorse rank and file member of the Socialist Party in the teens of the last century. To cut to the chase, he enters the US military during WW1 and his unit winds up in the far north of European Russia as part of a US expeditionary force trying to crush the Russian Revolution.

Jimmie meets some Bolsheviks in Archangel. He agitates among his fellow soldiers for ending the US intervention (shades of Iraq Veterans Against the War).

Caught by the brass, he is imprisoned (Lt. Ehren Watada) and tortured (Abu Ghraib) including being subjected to the "water cure" (waterboarding without the plastic), to make him give up names of those working with him.

He resists and is court-martialed, denied his basic rights, snarling in reply:

Ask Colonel Nye there! Didn’t he say "To hell with habeus corpus—we’ll give them post-mortems."

Finally Jimmie Higgins is broken, though he never gives up a single name:

And so it was that Jimmie finally escaped from his tormentors...being a beast he only suffers the pain of the moment. He does not know that he is going to suffer to-morrow nor worry about it. He is no longer one of those who "look before and after and pine for what is not." He is a "good doggie", and when you pat him on the head he rubs against you and whines affectionately.

(Is this not the shameful story of what has been done to Jose Padilla in our name?)

Even as Jimmy Higgins sinks to this less-than-human state, his work has confounded his torturers. On the day after his court martial, posters appear on the base:

"Do you know the true reason your armies are here? Are you willing to die to compel the Russian people to accept your ideas of government? Are you willing to have your comrades tortured to keep the facts from you?"

Word and debate spread among the troops—and beyond:

These same questions were being asked in the halls of Congress back home. Senators were questioning the right of sending troops into a country against which war had never been declared and others were demanding that they be immediately withdrawn. And this news also reached the men and increased the danger.

(The Appeal for Redress)

Upton Sinclair was no great writer, but he was passionate and prolific. This book’s power comes in part from the fact that it is barely fiction. Jimmie Higgins was written and published in 1919, while it wasn't until June of that same year that the 5000 US troops of the so-called Polar Bear Expedition, after a grim ass-kicking by Red Army troops and General Winter and after angry protests back home, were finally pulled out of Russia.

And in part that power comes from the fact that, in many ways, Upton Sinclair could have cranked it out over the last three months.

Read more!

January 15, 2007

White Privilege Through Lenses Red & Black

This blog entry is my response to Nelson Hawkins' General Call, issued last week over at Pottawatomie Creek, for bloggers to take the occasion of the Martin Luther King holiday to "Blog Against White Supremacy." I was thrilled.

For one thing, I've been doing some of that myself, in part to promote a splendid new book: The Cost of Privilege: Taking on the System of White Supremacy and Racism is due out by the end of this month. There's a rudimentary website here which will, I understand, be bulking up with an order form and much cool content in days to come. I'd advise bookmarking it.

For another, some of those who've pledged to blog are new to me, tweaking my curiosity, and some, like the one-woman wrecking squad of white supremacy, Yolanda Carrington over at The Primary Contradiction, are guaranteed to have some intriguing insights to offer. Collect 'em all! (Centrally linked at Nelson's site, I assume).

Now to cases. This is going to be an explicitly Red entry. I am going to excerpt, with only minor commentary, what I consider the most important section of veteran US communist Nelson Peery's autobiographical Black Fire. It's short but very rich.

Let me set the stage. Peery is a GI in a segregated unit, occupying the Philippines after the defeat of Japan in 1945. He is contacted by a couple of white CP members who urge him to help get the Black troops into building the "Home by Christmas" movement, a campaign which will thwart the drive by US capital to start a war with the socialist USSR.

I could feel the surge of adrenaline and the hackles began to rise. White folk look out of their blue eyes at the world and they see only a reflection of themselves. They don't see that there is a white army and there is a black army and they are equal only on payday.
The whites, in the military as in civilian life, would ask us to unite with them on issues that concerned them a lot and us a little. They would never unite on issues that concerned us a lot and them a little.
Peery has just spent chapters detailing racist violence and other outrages perpetrated against the Black troops by both the white brass and Klan types in the ranks, as well as the omnipresence of G-2 Army intelligence snooping around for unrest in Black units.
Yes, we wanted desperately to go home. But the men could not be convinced that the way home lay through mutiny.
And here the importance of the long memory of the African American community, that most valuable of survival mechanisms, is subtly shown. Peery refers to lessons learned from a mutiny thirty years before as the US finished a decade and a half of combat to consolidate its occupation of the Philippines.
The last Black regiment to try that in the Philippines spent the next twenty years cleaning white soldiers' toilets at Fort Benning. The white soldiers were glad they didn't have to work the "sugar run" and most of them figured it proper that blacks clean their toilets anyway.
Now, having laid out the contradiction in the starkest terms, Peery brings it back to the human level.
The white communists I had known were dedicated to the struggle against discrimination. The problem was, they seemed to think we would become equal if they individually treated us as equals. They had to get the sheriffs and the generals to do that too. Instead, they constantly preached to the believers. We were too sophisticated to go for that.

Now it was my turn to size up my comrades and get my thoughts together. How can you tell a person he is being strangled by an evil he is too decent to see? It was sad and frustrating and insurmountable.
And here, to thump the editorial lectern briefly, is the enormous value of the development of white privilege theory. It gives the "decent" white folks a set of lenses ("They Live"!) with which they can see--and try to figure out how to deal with--the contents of Peggy McKintosh's "invisible knapsack."

But the true kicker in this short section of Black Fire (pages 296-298) is yet to come. Peery (who has hooked up with the red-led guerillas of the Hukbalahap and is giving them aid) finishes his risky meeting with the two.
Watching them walk back through the company area, I felt more than understood something new. For the first time I got a muddled and disturbing sense that the merger of antifascism with communism had produced two kinds of Communists. Communists had led the fight against fascism in Europe. The anti-Fascist war was the practical side of the European and American Communist movement. In the euphoria of victory they were emerging as the social vanguard of their nations.

In Mindanao, in Alabama, in Rhodesia and Brazil and Shanghai and Calcutta, the war had just begun. Freedom, national freedom, the self-determination of nations, the unity of the colored colonial peoples--this was the new war. The tactic of one brand of communism was the struggle for peace. for the other, the task was preparing for war.

Too schematic? 20/20 hindsight? A big leap from white privilege in an Army camp to a global perspective? No doubt, no doubt. But these insights have flavored my thinking since I first read them when comrade Nelson Peery's book came out over a decade ago. I hope you find them as intriguing as I do.

Read more!

January 12, 2007

Great New Chant!

My friends Martha & Gary report that they "came up with a chant at the demos last night that was quickly taken up by the crowd and seemed to reflect the current zeitgeist. Might prove useful for signs, press ops, and such on Jan. 27 demo."

Stop the money! Stop the war!
What the hell is Congress for?
Spread it, y'all!

Read more!

Take Five: Songs Against The Occupation

[Take Five. Every Friday, Fire on the Mountain picks a category and lists five cool things in it. It's up to you, dear reader, to add your own in the Comments section. Just click on the word "comments" at the bottom of the piece and you're off to the races.]

Hey, this Take Five is a natural. W has just opted for escalating the war in defiance of public opinion, of the brass (sweating over the damage the “new way forward” will do the military), of the new Congress (where the Dems are being forced to deal with the war instead of their First 100 Hour “gimme” list) and of the world (even Bush’s poodle, Tony Blair, is withdrawing troops).

It’s war over the war now, folks. And the soundtrack is being cut as we fight. Here are five I’ve been listening to a lot.


The Price We Had To Pay—Charley Anderson

Take Five isn’t a “Best Of…”, but I challenge anybody: name a better song to come out of this war. Cut by a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, and told from the point of view of a returned combat vet, it moves me to tears, or at least toward them, every time I hear it. The cut is playable (maybe even downloadable?) near the bottom of the left hand column of the homepage at the Bring Them Home Now! website, and it’s a very rough recording. Listen anyhow. More than once.

Girl At The March—The Spunk Lads

This is an anomaly here. It isn’t Iraq-specific, though it references the gigantic global mobilization to stop the invasion in February, 2003. Done by Liverpudlian punk, erm, legends, the Spunk Lads, it too combines the political and the personal—the urgency of the great march and the jolting and inspiring effect a single fellow demonstrator can have.

Ain’t Going Back Again--Peace Machine

Dennis Kyne is a veteran of the first Iraq War and a stone activist, in particular around depleted uranium--DU. This song is as timely as they come—watch what happens as National Guard units and reservists are told, forget all those promises, they’re gonna be shipped back to the Sandbox. This song has been in the top 100 for months at Neil Young’s utterly amazing compilation of 1138 (and counting) independent anti-war songs. Give “Ain’t Going Back Again” a vote there.

Halliburton Boardroom Massacre—David Rovics

Rovics is a fine and prolific songwriter, and left as hell. Plus which he puts tons of his stuff up for anyone to download (make a donation, eh?). I could pick a dozen, two dozen songs from his work over the last few years, but I decided to go with this because David chose to make it the title tune of his most recent CD. It’s interesting in this company, because the song’s protagonist is an Iraq vet, like Charley Anderson, and hit by DU poisoning (see Peace Machine above). By me, the well-composed lyrics still lack the power that comes from experiencing the real thing, but the violence fantasy the title references speaks to me loud and clear, and I suspect will to all but the most Gandhian among us.


I went back and forth on including this because only the first verse directly references the war, but decided it’s a definite yes. The title munition in that first verse takes out a high school grad who enlists for the same reason as Rovics' guy:

He ain't really a killa though, takin' a lotta risks
This is what a poor person do for a scholarship
He turned around and got a face full of hollow-tips
But don't be mad, he died for the flag.
Yeah, I know, “hollow points” shows his frame of reference is Hip-Hop Nation, not Anbar Province, but the next two verses make a sharp critique of two poisonous masculinist behaviors—playa and thug-- that connect to the combat macho of the first verse. And the end is just as grim.
We made for more, we die for less,
When you starvin' in the ghetto, I'ma write the rest
See my girl think I'm hard, and my Momma think I'm hard
But when I'm all up in the dark, I just fall on my knees.

There's mine. Kick in one or two of yours.

Read more!

January 11, 2007

Black NJ Organizes Against the War [Part 1]

January 20 will see a most important anti-war conference in New Jersey and I have been unable to find much information about it on the Internet. Therefore I am taking the liberty of posting here what info I was able to dig up as a resource for activists--not just folks in NJ, but anyone who might go "Hmmm" at the idea of a grassroots, Black-initiated and Black-led anti-war conference. Go, thou, and do likewise!

It will be split into three posts. The first, this one, is the press release describing the event, driven in the main by the People's Organization for Progress, a splendid outfit which has been organizing in North Jersey around police brutality and other community issues for decades now, and which has taken a firm stand against the occupation of Iraq. The second is the rather striking list of sponsoring organizations. The third is the schedule of the conference itself.


"The People's Peace Conference on the U.S. War in Iraq and Our Communities" sponsored by The Peace Coalition will be held Saturday, January 20, 2007, at the Rutgers School of Law, 123 Washington Street in Newark, New Jersey. The conference program will start at 9:00 a.m. and end at 5:00 p.m. Registration for the conference will begin at 8:00 a.m. The conference is open to the general public and admission is free.

The theme of the conference is "Breaking The Silence: The Grassroots Speak." The Peace Coalition is the organizer of the conference. The coalition is made up of ninety-four (94) organizations that have decided to become sponsors of the conference. It is composed of a broad spectrum of activist, human and civil rights, community, religious, civic, student, labor, peace, media and other grassroots groups.

"The Peace Coalition has three basic demands around which the conference is being organized. We want an immediate end to the war, the troops brought home now, and the money being spent for the war to be redirected toward domestic needs," POP chairman Lawrence Hamm stated.

"One of the main purposes of the conference is to educate the community about the relationship between what is happening with this unjust war and what is happening in our communities. We will discuss the relationships between the war abroad and repression at home, and increased military spending and decreased spending for domestic programs and how this is affecting our communities," stated Rev. William Howard, Pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Newark.

"The war is affecting every person in this country. Everyone who wants peace should attend this conference. Hopefully, the conference will show ordinary people what they can do to bring this war to an end," said Annette Alston, President of the Newark Teachers Association.

"I would especially encourage African Americans, Latinos, and other people of color to attend. We must also make our voices heard on this issue. Just as Dr. Martin Luther King spoke out against the war in Vietnam we must speak out against this unjust war in Iraq," stated James Harris, State President of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP.

"It is our collective hope that the conference will produce an action agenda that can organize and mobilize our communities to bring about the kind of pressure needed to help bring this war to a quick end," said Jerry Harris, President of the New Jersey Black Issues Convention.

Some of the members of The Peace Coalition include (but are not limited to) the People's Organization For Progress (POP), Board of Deacons of Bethany Baptist Church, NJ State Conference NAACP, General Baptist State Convention of NJ, Newark Teachers Association, NJ Human & Civil Rights Association, Mayor Wayne Smith of Irvington, Assemblyman Craig Stanley, NJ Peace Action, NJ Millions More Movement Coalition, Black Women's History Conference, Mothers of Murdered Sons & Daughters (MOMSAD), New Jersey Black Issues Convention, New Jersey African-American Political Alliance, The Black Ministers' Council of New Jersey, Association of Black Law Students at Rutgers-Newark School of Law, Martin Luther King Committee of Elizabeth, Clinton Hill-South Ward Improvement Association, South Orange-Maplewood Martin Luther King Holiday Committee, Women In Support of the Million Man March (WISOMMM), Black Telephone Workers For Justice, NJ State Industrial Union Council, WBAI Radio, and City Belt magazine.

The conference program will include morning, midday, and afternoon convocations, workshops, a plenary assembly for voting on resolutions, and a speakout session that will give participants an opportunity to express their views on the war to the whole conference.

More than 50 activists, grassroots organizers, religious leaders, and elected officials will serve as speakers, presenters, and workshop panelists at the conference. The workshop topics include, The War and our Rights, The Impact of the War on Our Communities, How Do We Stop the War in Our Streets, The Role of Religious Institutions in Ending the War, Building the Student Anti-war Movement, Preventing Future Wars of Aggression by the United States, and How Do We End the War in Iraq.

Guest speakers and panelists will include among others Rev. William Howard, Pastor, Bethany Baptist Church, Lawrence Hamm, Chairman, People's Organization For Progress, Annette Alson, President, Newark Teachers Association, James Harris, State President of the NJ State Conference of the NAACP, Jerry Harris, President of the New Jersey Black Issues Convention, Congressman Donald Payne, author and activist Amiri Baraka, and Madeline Hoffman, Executive Director, NJ Peace Action.

"We hope that the outcomes of the conference will include major anti-war protests, voter registration drives and economic sanctions campaigns that will take place in the state during the next few years," Hamm said.

The conference is also being dedicated to the memory of Damu Smith, an African American peace activist, who founded Black Voices for Peace. Mr. Smith, suffering from cancer, died last year. Towards the end of his life he campaigned for an end to the U.S war in Iraq.

"We are trying to uphold the legacy of Damu Smith by increasing African American participation in the peace movement through this conference," Hamm said.

For registration and additional information interested persons can call (973) 801-0001.

Read more!

Black NJ Organizes Against the War [Part 2]

[Note: all these nifty pictures are by POP member Jon Levine, who's archived a lot of the shooting he's done for the group in recent years.]

This is the genuinely impressive list of sponsoring organizations and individuals who make up the Peace Coalition, which is sponsoring the July 20 conference. Please take just a minute to run your eyes over the list--it'll do your spirits good.


SATURDAY, JANUARY 20, 2007 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.

People's Organization For Progress (POP),
NJ State Conference NAACP,
General Baptist State Convention of NJ, Inc.,
Board of Deacons of Bethany Baptist Church,
Newark Teachers Association,
NJ Human & Civil Rights Association,
Mayor Wayne Smith of Irvington,
Assemblyman Craig Stanley,
Association of Black Law Students at Rutgers-Newark School of Law (ABLS),
Martin Luther King Committee of Elizabeth,
NJ Peace Action,
Enough Is Enough Coalition,
NJ Millions More Movement Coalition,
Black Women's History Conference,
Mothers of Murdered Sons & Daughters (MOMSAD),
WBAI Radio,
City Belt,
New Jersey Black Issues Convention,
New Jersey African-American Political Alliance,
Clinton Hill-South Ward Improvement Association,
Street Warriors, Inc.,
CWA Local 1037,
South Orange-Maplewood Martin Luther King Holiday Committee,
Mt. Teman A.M.E. Church,
The Black Ministers' Council of New Jersey,
Teaneck Peace & Justice Coalition,
Women In Support of the Million Man March (WISOMMM),
Boycott Crime Committee,
Anti-Lynching Campaign,
Ras Baraka Civic Association,
Kidnapped African Descendants (KAD),
Reconstruct Economics for African Liberty (REFAL),
George Tillman Civic Association,
Black Telephone Workers For Justice,
Coalition For Peace Action,
School of African Philosophy,
Veterans for Peace-Chapter 21,
Africa Newark International, Inc.,
My Father Knows Best,
National Action Network-NJ Chapter,
Harlem Tenants Council,
United Youth Council,
Antiracism Committee-Unitarian Society of Ridgewood NJ,
Cuba Solidarity-NY,
Peace & Justice Committee-Unitarian Society of Ridgewood NJ,
Morristown Peace Vigil,
Northern New Jersey-National Organization for Women (NOW),
Onyx Society,
American Students of African Descent Association (ASADA),
Nubian Queendom,
International Youth Organization,
Central Jersey Coalition Against Endless War,
Rev. Malachi D. Rountree Ministries,
New Black Panther Party-Newark NJ Chapter,
Justice For Michael Anglin Coalition,
Parents Advocacy & Service Academy (PASA),
December 12th Movement,
NJ Solidarity - Activists for the Liberation of Palestine,
National Black Independent Political Party,
The Essex Green Party,
Socialist Party of New Jersey,
National Organization For Women of New Jersey,
Secondary Parent Council of Newark,
Striving Together Equals Progress (S.T.E.P.),
Rutgers-Newark National Lawyers Guild,
Black Cops Against Police Brutality (B-CAP),
Quest Ink, Inc.,
NJ Labor Against War,
Dr. Benjamin Chavis Muhammad & The Hip Hop Summit Action Network,
Urban Issues Institute,
Central Ward Family Support Center,
Brotherhood Academy, Inc.-Essex County,
B.T.Kwanzaa Group-Roselle NJ,
Social Responsibility Committee-Central Unitarian Church,
Martin Luther King Association-Columbia HS,
NJ State Industrial Union Council (IUC),
Jersey City Peace Movement,
International Action Center,
Troops Out Now Coalition,
Unitarian Church of Montclair,
NJ State Council of Urban League Executives,
Stop Shootin', Inc.,
Organization of African American Unity,
Jamel Holley Civic Association,
National Action Network, Inc.,
International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia Abu Jamal,
National Million Woman March,
Interreligious Foundation For Community Organization (IFCO)/Pastors For Peace,
The Civic Formation, Inc.,
National Association of Kawaida Organizations (NAKO),
Centro Hispano-Americano of Plainfield,
Join Another Mother In This Effort To Save Lives (J.A.M.E.L.),
NJ Chapter-The World Can't Wait



Read more!

Black NJ Organizes Against the War [Part 3]

The two other posts under this heading should have given you the general idea of the conference. This simply let's those thinking of attending know what to expect.





10:00 - 12:00 P.M. WORKSHOPS:








12:00 - 12:30 P.M. LUNCH SERVED





4:30 - 5:00 P.M. CLOSING REMARKS

Read more!

January 10, 2007

Little Big Reds

This post began as a comment made in response to an earlier post, Belgian Reds Now "Smallest of the Big". I am elevating it to full post status for two reasons. First, the original came out around the holidays and I think may have missed some potential readers for that reason. Second, this is a valuable look at how the Belgian Party of Labor (PTB, as it is generally known) made an electoral breakthrough last year.

I am fortunate in having had ludok belgium, a longtime PTB activist, first write the original report, and then offer to respond to further questions about how the party made its breakthrough. This comment came in response to a query about how party activists developed the program that won them two seats and the pivotal position in the Hoboken municipal council in Antwerp, which is split between the bourgeios parties and the fascist Vlaams Belang. It is a valuable report on a campaign of meticulous work and summation in a mainly working class area.

ludok belgium's report

1. At a first stage the party members of the municipality stipulated the possible subjects for the inquiries. These were grouped in topics. These were - work in my neighbourhood - affordable neighbourhood - more opportunities for young people - safe neighbourhood - healthy neighbourhood . At each topic five proposals were added and you could make also yourself other proposals. For example under "work in my neighbourhood" were the proposals: .
  • jobs for youth
  • more workplaces in the municipality
  • not temporary but fixed jobs
  • right to early retirement
  • create more employment by less hours work with conservation of remuneration
  • other proposal
People were asked choose or make a proposal for each topic.

2. A beautiful leaflet was printed. Then inquiries were done. In that municipality there is a doctor practice of the Party, called 'medicine for the people'. We asked in the first place the patients and the sympathisizers to fill in the inquiry. There were 1500 answers in Hoboken and 1000 in Deurne. We looked which three proposals were most indicated. On these quoted problems, the party then searched for an answer. For example on the complaint that the electricity and the gas were too expensive, our answer was the establishment of a municipal energy company to control the price.

3. With our answers on the quoted problems we made a beautiful leaflet. This we put in the PO boxes of people. Afterwards we did house visits to ask people to vote for us with this program. We visited first people who had filled the inquiry in. Afterwards we visited other people. We wanted to obtain as many positive answers as there were votes necessary--the necessary number of votes to gain our aim of seats. The number of real votes correlated well with positive answers obtained on the question: will one vote for the party? This was 1850 persons in Hoboken.

Read more!

January 8, 2007

La Raza, White Privilege and the "Hippie Question"

On New Year's Day, I hailed the forthcoming book The Cost of Privilege: Taking on the System of White Supremacy and Racism. Until they get a website up to promote the book, I hereby declare Fire on the Mountain the official unofficial publicist for this most important work.

One thing I want to do is to draw attention to the ways, overt and insidious, that white privilege has affected people's resistance to the capitalist system and the ruling class in this country.

This post reprints a 1969 document from New Mexico. From today's Santa Fe, no doubt it will look as quaint as a chamber pot. It was written at a time when Chicana/o activists had initiated an armed struggle to defend and reclaim land that was theirs under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, a formative battle in the rising movement of La Raza.

It was also a time when young white people started surging out of the suburbs and cities to places like Vermont and New Mexico, to chill and pursue a lifestyle closer to the earth. These two social movements collided, and here's what it looked like from the point of view of El Grito del Norte, one of the most important publications of the rising Chicana/o movement. For all the years intervening and the changes since, there are notes in here that ring as true as they did, that will spark anger and shame as surely as they did on the day they were written.

The words "white privilege" are never mentioned here, but the article displays a deep and rich critique of the actual mechanisms of privilege and of the invisibility of those mechanisms to those who are given the privileges.

Newcomers and Old Struggles

...After talking with many people, EL GRITO has come to some conclusions about the Hippie Question.

The first one is this: Any violation of anybody's civil rights is a threat to everybody. If the police are today arresting Hippies when they have committed no crime, they can arrest you tomorrow--in the same way.

The second one is that teaching hatred of human beings must be fought against. We can hate injustice or oppression or lies, and we must fight--maybe even kill--people guilty of these crimes against humanity. But to teach hatred of people based on the way they dress or their religion or whatever it is--this is dehumanizing and dangerous. La Raza has had enough experience of this, not to become guilty of it to others.

The third one is a message to the Hippies, or Longhairs, especially those who are thinking of coming to New Mexico. It is a message offered in a spirit of humanity and truth-telling.


The basic message is: PLEASE DON'T COME! At least not now. Stop and THINK about a few things you may not have heard about or thought about.

Think about the fact that, as much as you reject your middle-class Anglo society and its values, you are still seen here as gringos, Anglos. Think about the 120-year old struggle by chicanos and the even older struggle by by Indians to get back land stolen from them by Anglo ranchers and their Anglo lawyer buddies. Think about what it means for a new influx of Anglos--no matter how different their purpose from those others--to come in and buy up land that the local people feel to be theirs and cannot afford to buy themselves. Think about the fact that a real estate agent in Taos reports having sold almost $500,000 worth of land to longhairs.

Think, on the other hand, about how people have sometimes reacted to Hippies who get welfare payments and food stamps. Even though this takes nothing away from poor Raza people, they have felt resentment. It seems like a false representation, when the Hippie involved can get money from home or a decent job if necessary.

Think about the water problem. Longhairs usually come from the big city, not knowing that water here is precious and often hard to get. They see a stream and wash their feet or dishes in in. Hey! That's our drinking water. We are used to being abused, ignored, scorned--but that's too much.

Think about not only the land and the water, but the culture. Longhairs come, often deliberately unwashed and ungroomed in their rebellion against a sterile, hypocritical middle-class society. They don't see that, for the Spanish-speaking people, cleanliness is a weapon of cultural self-defense against the oppressor. It is not a symbol of hypocrisy, but of the little pride and self-respect left to them, preciously guarded. So is conventional sexual morality: the tight-knit family is everywhere a source of strength and unity against a hostile environment. Longhair values might sometimes be better--but they cannot be imposed. Especially when you are not joining the struggle of the people against the oppression which is the source of many Raza values.

Think about the educational advantages that you often have--whether you wanted to have them or not. You can come here and start a little business, and you will often succeed where Raza people fail (or would not even try). "Son muy vivo," Raza people say--the hippies are very bright. It is often true, it is not your "fault" but it is important to remember how many times the Anglo's education and technology helped to make him a successful oppressor. If you say "I've come to learn from the People," excuse us if we sometimes remember: that's what the Anglos said when they came to the Sierra Nevada, learned from us how to mine, and then drove us out, even murdered us.

Think about yourself, and just how clear you are about rejecting your own society's values. Recent events here have shown that, when things get heavy, the longhairs sometimes act very much like the society they have fled. When a hippie woman in Taos was raped by a chicano youth (because the chicanos don't understand free women and because they have been taught not to see hippies as human beings), the longhair men called the cops--THE COPS. In another case the longhair went out and shot the chicano for supposedly raping "his" woman. And he got off, with a hung jury.

Think about this: the longhair has opted out. Most of the chicanos and Indians have no option--except revolution. People here cannot flee to islands of peace in a nation of horrors, this is their nation. It cannot be said too often: there is a long, hard political and economic struggle in these beautiful mountains, a struggle for land and justice. That struggle calls for fighters and supporters, not refugees with their own set of problems. You may see the scenery and relief from an oppressive America. We see a battleground against oppression.

Think about this: if you (rightly) condemn your own society, your own culture, so strongly--why not go where it is, and change it? And if your answer is "I can't" or "I won't," then think about what this answer implies--and whether you are then a person needed by the people here, who can be useful here.

Now, finally, please think about this: if you must come, wait a while. Wait until things cool off for longhairs, wait until the speed freaks have (hopefully) left, wait until the longhairs who are already here can develop a better climate--if they can. While you wait, READ and LEARN about this part of the country. Read what has been done to the people here by the white man; find out why they see Kit Carson and all those other frontier types as murderers--not heroes; find out what the U.S. Forest Service and Smokey the Bear represent here. Don't just put on a long skirt and think that you understand "the Indians"; too many rich tourist ladies do that too. Learn Spanish, learn about the everyday culture, hang around some poor Spanish-speaking families. Learn about the tradition of courtesy, and why you must not presume on it. Learn some humility; look in yourself for unconscious arrogance and selfishness.

Ask yourself, what do I know? Do you know how many Mexican-Americans there are in this country? Do you know that in terms of education and jobs, they are worse off even than the Blacks? Can you imagine what it is to speak one language as a child and then suddenly be dumped into a classroom where another is enforced on you--and fall behind in class, and then be told you are stupid?

Can you see the difference between being poor and being without money? Can you go to a demonstration by poor people and let them run it in their way, and not impose your style as did some longhairs in Santa Fe recently? Can you show respect for another people's culture and not be disrespectful simply because that's the way you feel toward your own culture? Can you in other words, do some hard thinking?

If you think, you won't come. Not now. And when you do come, come as a revolutionary.

El Grito del Norte, July 6. 1969
reprinted in "Tierra O Muerte: The Land Belongs to the People"
(A Radical Eduction Project pamphlet, 1970)

If there is sufficient interest, I will post the follow-up article from El Grito del Norte, "No Parking on people's Earth" (March 28, 1970)

Read more!