February 22, 2009

Shut it Down! Boycott the Racist Rag! No to the New York Post!!!

When the New York Post decided to combine its editorial opposition to the Obama Administration stimulus bill with an unrelated news story about a pet chimpanzee mauling its owner, no one laughed. When the Post's editorial staff followed up with more racism couched as an "apology" the NJ-based People's Organization for Progress decided enough was enough.

The suggestion that folks were either "too thin-skinned" or "too stupid" to get the joke was itself an extension of the earlier racism, POP decided at our weekly general membership meeting on February 19. On Saturday, February 21, a picket line at the intersection of Broad and Market Streets in Newark publicly called the Post out on their racism (see Star Ledger article, Newark group Boycotts N.Y. Post, by Chanta L. Jackson with photos by POP member Christian E. Gales for additional coverage).
"Shut it down! Boycott the Post!!! Boycott Racism!!!" People's Organization for Progress members and supporters chanted at the intersection that is the heart of Newark's downtown shopping district. As POP stalwarts distributed leaflets to shoppers getting off buses, the popular  sentiment was probably best represented by questions about how a major newspaper could get away with a cartoon advocating assassinating the president, as well as calls to defend Barack Obama.
POP's Saturday picket in Newark follows the Thursday demonstration at the New York Post's main offices on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, called by New York City Councilman Charles Barron, and endorsed by Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, NYC, State Senator Bill Perkins, State Assemblywoman Inez Barron,  Viola Plummer of the Women for Obama, Monica Moorehead of the International Action Center, and representatives of the Committee to Eliminate Media Offensive To African People (CEMOTAP), the December 12th Movement, NAACP-Jamaica Queens, Harriet Tubman Collective, Black Men's Movement, and many others.
This struggle demands further attention as many radicals, revolutionary nationalists, and anti-racist agitators find ourselves in the unique position and novel situation of defending a U.S. president.

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February 19, 2009

Victory at the University of Tennessee!

[Fire on the Mountain is thrilled to bring you this first-hand account of a major victory for the student movement--and the labor movement--this one in the University of Tennessee system. It's from the keyboard of Nelson Hawkins of the sorely missed Pottawatomie Creek blog. One note for non-residents of the Hog & Hominy State: the union mentioned, United Campus Workers--CWA Local 3865, has taken on the difficult challenge of organizing in a right-to work state where public employees have no formal right bargain collectively.]

It reminds me of a story an old friend would tell. He was a Black minister in the south; very involved in the freedom movement. In his later years he visited an enemy, a local racist who wound up in jail. The next day the man died. When asked about the coincidence, the preacher replied, 'I had no idea my prayer was so powerful.'
This was the response of a Knoxville area minister who had helped plan Tuesday's prayer vigil to stop layoffs at the University of Tennessee when he learned Wednesday that UT President John Petersen had just resigned.

Yesterday around 2:30 PM, Knoxville time, the Vice Chair of the University of Tennessee’s Board of Trustees sent an email to staff and faculty announcing Petersen had resigned, and that the media would be notified shortly. Petersen had been working without a contract since last summer, and was currently undergoing a five-year review that by all accounts had not been going well.

Petersen’s resignation comes after months of mounting protest over proposed higher education budget cuts in Tennessee. As the economy has imploded, tax collections in the state have evaporated; after all Tennessee does have the most regressive tax structure in the US with no income tax whatsoever, a very small capital gains tax (the Hall tax), and the highest sales tax at nearly 10% with no exemption for clothing and only a 1% exemption for food. As a result, public higher education in Tennessee faced a 15-20% cut in public funding.

In the past three weeks alone students and campus worker kept Petersen constantly on the defensive:

January 27, 2009. Students with UTK’s Progressive Student Alliance and the broadly-left based Students for a Just University met with Petersen and requested he sign a petition aimed at Gov. Bredesen calling for tax reform and active work on the part of decision-makers to secure Federal Stimulus funds to offset budget cuts in higher education. A media spokesperson for Petersen was quoted in the largest newspaper in TN saying he would not sign the petition prior to the meeting. All local TV stations, some TV in Nashville, radio and print media from across the state covered the event with a noticeably pro-student bias.

January 28, 2009. Nearly 300 campus workers and students rallied at the UT Law School demanding that state and university officials do all they can to secure Federal Stimulus money for TN higher education and use other state means to offset higher education layoffs.

February 9, 2009. Over 400 students, campus workers and our allies held a mock funeral for higher education, a march with posters and coffins ending at the State Capitol mere moments before Gov. Bredesen delivered his “State of the State” address. This was held with the informal state-wide Coalition to Save Our Schools, whose Nashville contingent had held an earlier march there.

February 17, 2009. Nearly a dozen Knoxville area and campus ministers held a prayer vigil with three dozen or so campus workers, students and supporters calling on Petersen and the UT Board of Trustees to do all in their power to offset layoffs. The ministers then lead the delegation to Petersen’s office where they attempted to present the letter to him. All TV media in Knoxville was present, and the story was played by affiliates in Nashville and possibly elsewhere in the state. On one station the reporter even claimed that Petersen had refused to meet the clergy, although he had not even been present.

Certainly other factors contributed to his resignation: Petersen’s ouster of a somewhat popular administrator on the Knoxville campus, a well reported falling out between Petersen’s wife and a major, multi-million dollar donor, his regular use of UT’s private jet to travel to Chattanooga and Nashville (both within a 3 hour drive), and a series of articles in the Knoxville News Sentinel (itself prompted by agitation from United Campus Workers members) exposing top level administrative pay, benefits and an over-budget renovation of Petersen’s campus offices.

Yep, Petersen had one foot on the banana peel, but many were struck by how fast it happened. The U's public relations folks offered as an official rationale that he should leave now, so that the administrators who have to handle this year’s budget cuts will be in place prior to July 1 when the cuts must be made.

Oddly enough, newspapers across Tennessee are today reporting that due to the economic stimulus package, higher education may see its funding restored to 2006 levels, which will result in a funding increase!

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The Occupation Will Not Be...Erm, Scratch That

Students--students I know personally!--are occupying Kimmel Hall at New York University. This is a sentimental moment for an old codger. The first building I ever occupied was an NYU library, forty years ago last fall.

But don't worry, I'm here to neither to wax nostalgic nor to offer advice from the vantage point of my advanced years ("Barricade? You call that a barricade?. Why, a cub scout pack could..."). I wanna give a shout out to the folks from Take Back NYU and their allies from other area campuses for their gutsy action.

Their demands can be found on their website, along with some useful info for the skeptical and self-righteous: they've been trying to negotiate with the administration for several years; the financial transparency they are demanding might have saved NYU from dropping $50 million on Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, their calls for the university to serve the community and promote social justice show that this is not mere self-serving.

In particular, by making demands explicitly in support of the Palestinian people, which will draw no small amount of flak from Zionists at NYU and elsewhere, they are taking an important step in breaking the hold of the Israel lobby on the cultural and political life of this country. It keeps the heat on, as Hampshire College takes furious fire for its recent decision to divest itself of stock in corporations with major ties to the Israeli military.

The easiest way to support the occupation if you are in NYC is to find when solidarity demos are scheduled and attend! If you can, watch the website for calls to mobilize if a bust seems imminent. I hope today to get hold of some other NYUers from my era (especially ones who didn't get turfed out and actually graduated) to see if we can crank up some alumni support.

[h/t for the title to Isaac Silver]

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February 7, 2009

Comrade Valentine’s Day slogans for 2009

Updated 2/8: Swedish translation added
Updated 2/9: German translation added
Updated 2/10: Spanish translations added

Proletarians! Peasants! Oppressed People! Fighters For Freedom & Justice Everywhere!

1. Let Us March Resolutely Forward, Rank In Rank, Under The Heart-Shaped Crimson Banner of Comrade Valentine!

2. Thoroughly Repudiate All Right Idealist Lines Which Mystify And Commodify Love And Desire!! Thoroughly Repudiate All Undialectical Ultra-“Left” Lines Which Claim That Love And Desire Undermine Class Solidarity!!

3. Temporary Setbacks Like Proposition 8 in California, US of A, Cannot And Will Not Stem The Tide Of History And The Mighty Forward Motion Of LGBTQ People Advancing Toward Equality And Liberation!!!

—Freedom Road Socialist Organization /
Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad

[Swedish version, courtesy PH, 2/8/2009]

Proletärer! Bönder! Förtryckta Folk! Frihets- och Rättvisekämpar Världen Över!

1. Låt Oss Marschera Framåt, Sida vid Sida, Under Kamrat Valentins
Röda, Hjärtformade Baner!

2. Slå Tillbaka Mot Alla Höger-idealistiska Linjer Som Mystifierar Och
Kommodifierar Kärleken Och Lusten! Avvisa Alla Odialektiska
Ultra-"Vänster"-linjer Som Hävdar Att Kärlek och Lust Underminerar

3. Tillfälliga Bakslag Som Proposition 8 i Kalifornien, U.S.A., Kan
Inte Och Kommer Inte Att Hindra Historiens Flod, HBT-människornas
Mäktiga Framåtskridande Mot Slutlig Likaberättigande Och Frigörelse!

[German version, courtesy Einde O'Callahan, 2/9/2009]

Proletarier! Bauern! Unterdrückte!
Kämpferinnen um Freiheit und Gerechtigkeit überall!

1. Lasst uns entschlossen nach vorne marschieren, Reih' an Reih'
unter der blotroten Fahne des Genossen Valentins!

2. Verwerft gründlich alle rechten idealistischen Linien,
die Liebe und Sehnsucht mystifizieren und zur Ware machen!!
Verwerft gründlich alle undialektischen "links"-radikalen Linien,
die behaupten, dass Liebe und Sehnsuch die Solidarität der Klasse

3. Vorläufige Rückschläge wie Antrag 8 in Kalifornien, USA,
können und werden nicht die Flut der Geschichte und
die mächtige Vorwärtsbewegung der LSBRQ-Menschen
in ihrem Vormarsch zur Gleichheit und Freiheit eindämmen!

[Spanish version, courtesy sks. NB: There is a second Spanish translation in the comments section below, courtesy Bruce!]

Obrer@s! ¡Campesin@s! ¡Oprimid@s!
¡Luchador@s por la Libertad y la Justicia en Cualquier lugar!

1) ¡Marchemos Adelante Bajo la Bandera Escarlata del Camarada Valentín!

2) ¡¡Repudiemos Absolutamente Todas la Líneas Derechistas e
Idealistas, que Falsifican y Mercantilizan al Amor y al Deseo!!
¡¡Repudiemos Absolutamente Todas la Líneas Ultraizquierdistas y
Anti-Dialécticas, que Sostienen que el Amor y el Deseo Socavan la
Solidaridad de Clase!!

3) ¡¡Tropiezos Temporeros como la Proposición 8 en California, EE.UU., No Pueden y No Podrán Detener la Histórica Marea y el Gran Empuje de la Gente LGBT Hacia la Igualdad y la Liberación!!

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February 3, 2009

The Other Lesson of the Greensboro Sit-Ins

This week marks 49 years since the Greensboro, NC, sit-ins, the historic protest which launched the Black Freedom Struggle in this country onto a new trajectory. Next year we will see a lot of celebration of the courage of the four students who first sat down at the Woolworth's lunch counter and of the chain reaction it set off. Or at least I sure hope we will.

I wrote such a tribute myself, yesterday. (You can read it pasted in directly below the fold.) In the course of refreshing my fading memory, via Google, to complete the task, I found another facet of the Greensboro story. It's one I had never come across, and one that will, I think, resonate with anyone who has spent much time in the activist trenches.

Many of us know the story of how four students on February 1 became dozens and by February 4, hundreds, as students across North Carolina and the South girded to emulate them and launch the wave of struggles that finally killed Jim Crow.

The other side of the story has to do with the five months it took to crack the management at Woolworth's and S.H. Kress and the rest of the Greensboro power structure.

The multiplication of protesters in that first week is now at the heart of the legend. But that level of activity was hard to sustain, especially as the students' demands remained unmet and white hostility grew more intense.

Franklin McCain and Joseph McNeil remained part of the organizing core from Day One. McCain recalls:

What people won't talk (about), what people don't like to remember is that the success of that movement in Greensboro is probably attributed to no more than eight or 10 people. I can say this: when the television cameras stopped rolling and we didn't have eight or 10 reporters left, the folk left. I mean, there were just a very faithful few. McNeil and I can't count the nights and evenings that we literally cried because we couldn't get people to help us staff a picket line.
I don't know about you, but I can recall lulls in more than one campaign for justice when fatigue, frustration, setbacks and doubt had me in tears. When it happens again, and it will, I hope I remember to draw on this part of the lesson of Greensboro, not the audacity and the courage of the students, but the dogged persistence of the core they built.

[This is a piece I posted at the left-liberal DailyKos website, yesterday, February 2, after reading a post there entitled "The day the music died - 50 years ago tonight" about the plane crash at Clear Lake, Iowa that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper.]

The Day The '60s, Our '60s, Began: 49 Years Ago Today

Nothing to do with rock and roll. Nothing to do with JFK.

It has to do with what happened in Greensboro, NC, the day before, February 1, 1960. Four young men, Ezell A. Blair Jr., David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, and Franklin McCain, went to the lunch counter at the Woolworth's department store near the school where they were underclassmen, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

The four sat down and awaited service. They ignored Woolworth's policy of serving food only to African-Americans who remained standing or took it elsewhere. They defied North Carolina law and the Jim Crow culture which pervaded, indeed defined, the South of the United States. The four sat, unserved, from 4:30 in the afternoon until management closed the store, early, at 5:00.

You can find much written that dates the decade of upsurge, promise and change we call the Sixties from that day.

I'll argue for the next day, February 2, 1960, 49 years ago today.

That's the day that really counts, because that morning David Richmond, Joseph McNeil, Ezell A. Blair Jr., and Franklin McCain went back to the lunch counter at the Greensboro Woolworth's and sat down. So did 21 other young men and four young women from traditionally Black schools in the area.

The next day, February 3, 63 of the 65 seats at the Woolworth's counter were occupied and on February 4 a sit-in began at S.H. Kress, another department store, and the protesters had been joined by three white students from Woman's College. At the same time racist whites in increasing numbers gathered to heckle and harass the disciplined and determined protesters.

On February 7, Black students in Winston-Salem and Durham, NC held sit-ins at lunch counters. On February 8, Charlotte, NC. On February 9, Raleigh, NC.

It took five long months before the Greensboro establishment caved in and ended segregation in dining facilities. Once the original burst of enthusiasm and defiance passed, it was a long hard slog for the ones who started it and the small core that had formed in the struggle. McCain recalls:
McNeil and I can't count the nights and evenings that we literally cried because we couldn't get people to help us staff a picket line.
But even as they undertook the long painful battle to bring the victory home, their example had spread the tactic of sit-ins to hundreds of localities, including solidarity protests at chain stores in the North and West. Even more important, their action in sitting down at that counter, and returning the next day had spread the determination to smash Jim Crow and fight for justice to the hearts of millions.

And the Sixties, our Sixties, were underway.

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