Showing posts with label Racism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Racism. Show all posts

Friday, May 09, 2014

Jackson Rising: An Electoral Battle Unleashes a Merger of Black Power, the Solidarity Economy and Wider Democracy

Photo: Closing session of Jackson Rising

By Carl Davidson

Jackson,MS - Nearly 500 people turned out over the May 2-4, 2014 weekend for the ‘Jackson Rising’ conference in Jackson, Mississippi. It was a highly successful and intensive exploration of Black power, the solidarity economy and the possibilities unleashed for democratic change when radicals win urban elections.

The gathering drew urban workers and rural farmers, youth and the elderly, students and teachers, men and women. At least half were people of color. About 50 were from the city of Jackson itself, and most were from other Southern states. But a good deal came from across the country, from New York to the Bay area, and a few from other countries—Quebec, South Africa, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

The major sponsors included Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Praxis Project, Southern Grassroots Economies Project, US Solidarity Economy Network, and the US Social Forum. Funding came from Community Aid and Development, Inc., Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Coalition for a Prosperous Mississippi, Fund for Democratic Communities, Ford Foundation, Wallace Action Fund, Surdna Foundation, and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

But to grasp the meaning and significance of this meeting, a step back to see how it began—and why it almost didn’t happen—is required.

The conference was the brainchild of Jackson’s late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba and one group of his close supporters, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) soon after he was elected on June 4, 2013 and had placed his people in a few key city positions. They had initiated the conference, which was then endorsed by the city council, to help shape and economic development plan for the city and the outlying Black majority rural areas, known as the ‘Kush.’--hence the name of the overall project, the ‘Jackson-Kush Plan.’

Chokwe Lumumba was rooted in the Black revolutionary organization, the Republic of New Afrika (RNA), which claimed the Black majority areas of several states in the Deep South. He was one of its leading members, and a widely respected civil rights attorney. The RNA also had an economic outlook, a form of cooperative economics through the building of ‘New Communities’—named after the concept of ‘Ujamaa’, a Swahili word for ‘extended family,’ promoted by former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere. The new mayor connected this core idea with the long-standing role of cooperatives in African American history, the experience of the Mondragon coops in Spain, and the solidarity economy movement that had emerged and spread from the Third World in recent decades. Together, all these ideas merged in the mayor’s project, ‘Cooperation Jackson.’

Lumumba’s election had taken Jackson’s political elite off guard. Making use of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to run as an independent in the Democratic primary, he defeated the incumbent and forced a runoff. Given that Jackson is an 80% Black city, he then won overwhelmingly. So when he died suddenly of heart failure Feb 25, 2014, with his supporters in a state of shock, his opposition moved quickly to counterattack. The MXGM, the Peoples Assembly and other pro-Chokwe groups now had two tasks, trying to get Chokwe’s son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba, elected mayor while continuing to plan the conference, but with city support on hold.

Lumumba, 31 years old, lost to Tony Yarber, 46% to 54%. Chokwe Antar received over 65% of the Black vote, but the turnout had dropped. The Yarber team immediately moved to fire all the Choke sympathizers from city government, and tried to sabotage the conference. Local rightwing web publications attacked it as “thinly veiled communism.”

A Tale of Two Cities

What is behind this antagonism? Jackson is indeed a tale of two cities, on the cusp of two competing visions. Given its demographics, any mayor is likely to be Black, but what that can mean is another matter. Just driving around the city gives you a quick glimpse of the problem. While the largest city in the state and the Capitol, replete with major government buildings, the city is eerily quiet and empty. There are a few upscale areas, but also large areas of older, wood-framed housing of the unemployed and the working poor. There are huge fairgrounds, but little in the way of basic industry.

So two paths emerged. One was neoliberal, and aimed at exporting as much of the Black poor as possible, in order to open up wider areas from gentrification attracting the better-paid servants of the businesses that served government. The other was progressive, the Jackson Cooperation plan, which aimed at growing new worker-owned businesses and new housing coops that worked in tandem with the Black farmers of the ‘Kush.’ It also stressed democratized city services, while creating new alternative energy and recycling startups and also taking advantage of the city’s position as a major regional transport hub. It’s a conflict not unique to Jackson and shared by many cities around the country. Here’s the four points summing up ‘Cooperation Jackson’:

  • Cooperation Jackson is establishing an educational arm to spread the word in their communities about the distinct advantages and exciting possibilities of mutual uplift that business cooperatives offer.
  • When Mayor Chokwe Lumumba was still in office, Cooperation Jackson planned to establish a “cooperative incubator.” providing a range of startup services for cooperative enterprises. Absent support from the mayor’s office, some MXGM activists observed, a lot of these coops will have to be born and nurtured in the cold.
  • Cooperation Jackson aims to form a local federation of cooperatives to share information and resources and to ensure that the cooperatives follow democratic principles of self-management that empower their workers. We’ve always said “free the land,” observed one MXGM activist. Now we want to “free the labor” as well.
  • Finally Cooperation Jackson intends to establish a financial institution to assist in providing credit and capital to cooperatives.

The conference project thus found itself in the eye of a storm. But with luck and some judicious tactics, one key figure, Jackson State University President Carolyn Meyers, decided to stick with MXGM and allowed the conference to continue its plans on her campus, using the huge Walter Patton Center and two classroom buildings. A last minute fundraising blitz pulled in enough resources to squeeze through and make it happen.

Opening plenary: John Zippert, Jessica Gordon Nembhard, Ed Whitfield, Kali Akuno

When the hundreds of registered participants poured into the huge hall Friday evening and saw it filling up, one could sense the excitement and rising spirit of solidarity amidst diversity. The opening plenary keynote speakers included Jessica Gordon Nembhard of the US Solidarity Economy Network (SEN), Wendell Paris of the Federation of Southern Coops (FSC) Land Assistance fund, Cornelius Blanding, Special Projects Director of the FSC, Ed Whitfield of the Southern Grassroots Economies Project based in North Carolina, and Kali Akuno of Jackson’s MXGM.

Gordon-Nembhard started off. A professor at John Jay College in New York, she recently published Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, a groundbreaking study on the topic.

“Courage is a word I had to use,’ she explained. ‘Everywhere I turned, from the early efforts of free Blacks to buy others in their family out of slavery, to the Underground Railroad, to burial societies and other clandestine forms of mutual aid; it took courage to motivate all these cooperative forms of resistance to slavery and white supremacy, from the beginning down to our own times.”

She gave the example of Fannie Lou Hamer in the battles in Mississippi in the 1960s, well known as a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. “But do we know her as a coop member, a group that sustained her when she was denied an income. As Ms. Hamer put it, ‘Until we control our own food, land, and housing, we can't be truly empowered.’”

Wendell Paris who, as a young SNCC worker mentored by Ms. Hamer, continued the theme: “Land is the basis for revolution and it is important for us to hold on to our land base." He described the workings of the Panola Land Buyers Association in Sumpter County Alabama. “Freedom isn’t free. In the training to run coops successfully, you learn more than growing cucumbers. You learn organizing and administration, the training ground for taking political offices.”

At different times during introductions, or even in the remarks of speakers, the chant, ‘Free the Land!’ would rise from the participants, accompanied by raised fists. This came from the RNA tradition, referring to an older battle cry of self-determination for the Black areas of the Deep South. It clearly still had resonance, and was often followed with ‘By Any Means Necessary!’

The opening session was closed out by comments from Ed Whitfield and Kali Akuno. “All successful enterprises produce a surplus,” said Whitefield, "and our empowerment runs through retaking the surplus we have created, and putting it to uses that best serve us. We're not here making excuses. We're here making history. As long as we accept the current economic structures and approaches to development that flow from those structures and paradigms, we can’t get out of bondage.”


"It's an uphill climb here in Mississippi,” added Akuno. “The Republican Tea Party government we have on a state level is not in favor at all of what we're trying to push through cooperative development. There was a bill supporting cooperatives that they killed earlier this year. On a municipal level, we are looking to transform all of the procurement policies of the city, all of the environmental regulations and standard policies within the city, and particularly all of the land-use policies in the city, that will support cooperatives. On the more practical side, we are launching a new organization from this conference called Cooperation Jackson, and it is going to be the vehicle by which all of the follow-through is going to be carried out.”

But the municipal battle, Akuno concluded, would be difficult, given the neoliberal, repressive and pro-gentrification policies of the new team in charge.

All the items presented by the opening speakers expressed the common theme of the conference organizers—Political power in the hands of the Black masses and their allies, then anchoring and using that power to shape and grow a cooperative economic democracy that would serve the vast majority. It was both a tribute to Chokwe Lumumba and an expression of his vision. Winning it, however, would not come easy.

The next day, Saturday, was a different story. Here space was opened up for more than 30 diverse workshops, spread out over three time slots, with two more plenary sessions. Topics included the influence of Mondragon, community land trusts, Black workers and the AFL-CIO, the communes in Venezuela, mapping the solidarity economy, coops on a global scale, waste management and recycling, working with legislatures, and many more. No one report can cover them all, but here’s the flavor of a few.

Mondragon and the Union Coop Model.

What were the nuts and bolts of Spain’s Mondragon Coops (MCC), and how could unions serve as allies in creating similar enterprises in the U.S.? This was the question posed at an excellent workshop with three presenters: Michael Peck, the U.S. representative of Mondragon; Kristen Barker of the Cincinnati Union Coop Initiative; and Dennis Olson, of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Peck began with a brief overview of MCC and its 120 coops and their accomplishments. The key point: In MCC, workers own their labor, but rent their capital, rather than the other way around. “But sometimes," he noted, "you can tell more about something by look at one of its failures than all its successes."

He was referring to the fact that a major MCC coop, FAGOR, which made kitchen appliances, recently closed down. “The housing market in Spain and Europe collapsed, and without new homes, new appliance sales sink Plus there was tough price competition from Asia.” MCC had carried FAGOR for several years, but could no longer justify it. Despite anger, “the vote of the workers to close it was unanimous.” In the regular world, the workers would get their pink slips, and be on the street.

But Mondragon was different. “MCC first set up a solidarity fund with every worker donating 1.5% of their salary, adding up to some 15 million Euros,” he explained. “This was to cushion the transition. Then it worked to reassign all the FAGOR workers to other coops, which it has now accomplished for the large majority.” Peck added that Mondragon would continued creating new coops both in Spain and around the world, and the true test was not that some would eventually close, which was natural, but what happened when they did.

Kristen Barker, right, at Our Harvest Coop

Kristen Barker then gave the workshop an enthusiastic account of how a small group in Cincinnati, armed with only a few good ideas, had over four years moved to a point where three substantial coops were opening in the city and several more were in the works.

“We were really inspired when we heard of the agreement between Mondragon and the United Steelworkers,” said Barker. “Our effort also stands on the shoulders of the Evergreen Coops in Cleveland. To date, Evergreen has launched three co-ops, Evergreen Laundry, Ohio Cooperative Solar that offers energy retrofits and solar panel installation, and Green City Growers that grows high end lettuce for hotels and restaurants in Cleveland. They have dozens of potential cooperatives in the pipeline. We are partnering with the major players of this initiative including the Ohio Employee Ownership Center for our unique project."

The first three coops in Cincinnati, Barker added, were Sustainergy, a building trades coop to retrofit buildings to better environmental standards; the Cincinnati Railway Manufacturing Cooperative, which will make undercarriages for rail cars, and partnered with both the United Steel Workers and the local NAACP; and Our Harvest, a food hub coop which starts with local farms and takes their produce to a central site for packaging and marketing. It’s partnered with the UFCW union and other agricultural groups. Dennis Olson explained how the UFCW was particular helpful in connecting growers through the distribution centers to the unionized grocery chains, as opposed to Wal-Mart.

“We only had a small study group to start—some community organizers, some Catholic nuns, a few union people,” concluded Barker. “But we did a lot of research, made partners and got the word out in the media. Soon we had more people calling with more ideas, like coop grocery stores in ‘food desert’ areas, jewelry makers’ coops and so on. We started getting some interest from the city, and now things are taking off.”

Starting Coops in Jackson and the ‘Kush’

This session was chaired by John Zippert of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. He started with an excellent short summary of ‘Cooperatives 101,’ but quickly turned to drawing out the workshop participants on their concerns. Most were Black women from Jackson—one was interested in whether an African hair care products and services was possible; another wanted to start a coop of home health care workers. One man from Memphis said he had a small business distributing African products to small Black stores in the surrounding states, but he was getting on in years. How could he turn it into a coop that would live after him? Everyone shared ideas and legal options

As the session ended, I ran into Ben Burkett, a Black farmer locally active the Indian Springs Farmers Association, part of the ‘Kush.’ I knew he was also president of the National Family Farm Coalition, but asked him more about his local operation.

“Well, I don’t do cotton anymore, not much cotton in Mississippi these days,” he explained. ‘I do many vegetables, and sweet potatoes are a good crop. But it’s one thing for a farmer to grow and dig sweet potatoes. It’s quite another to have the equipment to scrub them, cut them into French fires, and then bag and store them, while getting them quickly to your markets. That’s where the value of the coop comes in. We can pool our resources for these things, and it makes a big difference. We’d be in bad shape without the coop.”

Waste Management, Recycling and City Politics

The politicss of garbage was the main topic here. Chaired by Kali Akuno, this workshop gave the most insight into what was going on in Jackson as a new and backward regime was replacing that of Chokwe Lumumba. “Waste Management serves the city poorly,” said Akuno. “It often ignores our neighborhoods. It does no recycling; it dumps the waste in a landfill in a small city to the North of here, gives them a payment, and that’s the end of it.”

Akuno explained they had a different plan. Since a large part of the city budgets deal with services like these, they wanted to break them into smaller pieces so local contractors or coops could bid on them, then recycle the waste into a revenue stream. In addition to helping the environment and employment, it would keep the money circulating locally.

“Another piece was setting up an incubator to foster the development of cooperatives,” Akuno added. “The government can’t run the co-ops. It won’t build them, but it can set the table. For most of the past 20 years, even though there has been a succession of black mayors, 90-95 percent of contracts to people who don’t live in Jackson. It was all about hiring people in Jackson.”

“Now everything is going to be a fight,’ he added. “Even if your plan is reasonable and sustainable, it won’t matter if it’s stepping on the wrong toes.”

Saturday also included two mealtime plenary sessions, one, at lunch, featuring the diverse organizations taking part, and the other, at dinner, giving everything an international dimension.

The lunch plenary included Omar Freilla of Green Workers Cooperatives, Steve Dubb of the Democracy Collaborative, Michael Peck of Mondragon USA, Ricky Maclin of New Era Windows, and Saladin Muhhamad of Black Workers for Justice and MaryBe McMillian, Secretary Treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.

“Community cooperatives,” said Steve Dubb, “can be considered part of a long civil rights movement that fights for both racial and economic justice. For example, Dr. Martin Luther King in the last year of his life helped launch the Poor People’s Campaign for an Economic Bill of Rights. The return of cooperatives to the movement, as illustrated by what’s happening here, is a welcome development.”

MaryBe McMillian stressed the importance both of labor and the concentration of forces in the South. “Why organize in the South? Because what happens in the South affects the entire nation." Speaking for Black workers, Saladin Mummamad added, ‘We need power not just democracy; we need power that shapes what democracy looks like. When plants shut down workers, should seize control and turn them into cooperatives.”

The evening session started with a tribute to Chokwe Lumumba by his son, Chokwe Antar Lumumba. “We are victorious because we struggle. I'm not afraid of the term revolutionary. We need to be as revolutionary as the times require. Free the land! The struggle my father started is not over, but only beginning. It continues, by any means necessary.”

Also featured were Francoise Vermetter of Chantier in Quebec, Pierre LaLiberte on the International Labor Organization in Switzerland, Mazibuko Jara of AMandela! Magazine in south Africa, Elbart Vingwe, Organization of Collective Cooperative in Zimbabwe, Omar Sierra, Deputy Counsel General of Venezuela-Boston, and Janvieve Williams-Comrie, Green Worker Coops in the U.S.

"Freeing the land has given our people a new sense of belonging," said Omar Sierra, of Venezuela. “Chokwe Lumumba extended his solidarity to us in a time of need. Our people are saddened by his passing, and will not forget him.”

William Copeland, a cultural organizer from Detroit. Summed up the spirit of the crowd: “These presentations demonstrate the international significance of the Black Liberation Movement and Southern movement building.”

On Sunday morning, those who hadn’t had to leave early for the airport, gathered in a large session of the whole that closed out the weekend. One after another, people stood up and testified to how their consciousness had been altered by their discussions and new experiences over the weekend. Emily Kawano of the Solidarity Economy Network made the point of understanding that the projects ahead, while including coops also reached beyond them to other forms, such as participatory budgeting, public banks and alternative currencies. Finally, at an auspicious moment, an African American women rose and in a strong church choir voice, began singing an old civil rights anthem, “Organize, organize, organize!” Everyone was on their feet, hands clapping, fists raised, and interspersing ‘Free the Land! with the chorus. It couldn’t have had a better closing moment.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Purge the Tea Party, Save Democracy

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

It's time to take the gloves off and purge the Tea Party. I'm sure we can fit extortion and obstruction of the Constitution into 'high crimes and misdemeanors' and get the ball rolling with Articles of Impeachment--which, you know, isn't limited to something done to Presidents. If not that, we need to prepare now to expunge them at the polls in 2014.

Not a single decent or progressive thing is going to get through Congress until we do.

I'm not even talking about their racist shenanigans on the Mall last week, demagogically trying at a vets' rally to blame Obama for shutting down the WW2 Memorial they had shut down. Nor the anti-Muslim tirade and waving of the Confederate flag as they marched on the White house.

That was simply reactionary farce. More sinister was their action in the House early this month when they changed the rules, stripping every Member of Congress on one of their rights, and handing it over only to Rep. Ed Cantor 'or his designee." It was exposed on the House floor by Rep. Chris van Hollen (D-MD). According to CNN reporter Jake Tapper Oct 14, quoting van Hollen:

"Under the Rules of the Hous Standing Rules of the House so only Cantor or his designee could bring up Senate bill for a vote. I am told that we never played with this Rule when we were last in Majority and we are looking into the earlier history of this matter. In other words, they shut down the government and then changed the House Rules to keep it shut down.'"

In other words, the GOP-dominated House Rules Committee just told 434 House members to sit down and shut up, and that they had no rights the Tea Party was bound to respect.

To the rest of us, the clear message is that they don't give a damn it the economy is wrecked and the working class suffers. They want to destroy the first Black Presidency at any cost, even if it means going against their Bankster backers on Wall St for a spell.

We need to put the heat on the offices of every Member of Congress, of either party, left, center or right. Strangle this proto-fascist maneuver in its crib. Don't give them an inch, or we'll regret it further down the line. Rather than 'compromises' like cutting Social Security or Medicare, now is the time for steel backbones and fierce organizing.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Gun Control and the Lesser Known Reasons for the 2nd Amendment

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

I'm a 2nd Amendment guy from a semi-rural area of Beaver County in Western PA. Most folks around here have guns, but my guess, judging from the debate in our local paper's letter's page, is that most of them are also reasonable on gun control, not to mention horrified by the latest school slayings.

None of the Amendments in Bill of Right is absolutist dogma, including the 2nd Amendment. A line has to be drawn somewhere, unless you want to insist of anyone's 'right' to own Bazookas or Stinger shoulder-fired missiles that can readily take out tanks, helicopters or jetliners taking off from the airport.

Where do you want to draw it? I say ban these military capacity weapons and their large magazines, but keep our deer rifles and shotguns--for those of sound mind who want to keep them. I'm also for thorough  registration, full background checks-all to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, those convicted of violent crimes and those under 'orders of protection' regarding domestic violence.

But waging the 'gun control' debate often misses a deeper question that need to be highlighted. The main purpose of the 2nd Amendment, when it was adopted, had little to do with deer or varmint hunting or individual home defense.

The 'well-regulated militia,' in the eyes of many of the Founders, was for several purposes: putting down slave insurrections, seizing land and destroying threats from native peoples, and defending local governments, usually pro-slavery, against the possible 'tyranny' of a federal government that might become inclined against slavery.

In our modern age, this purpose carries over among our rightwing populists. A good number of them, to read their blogs, want military-style weapons as 'defense' against Black or Mexican 'hordes', or a government 'too left' to their liking. A handful of them have been brazen enough to state this openly on a few talk shows, but only rarely.

It remains, however, the main reason the NRA core leadership and others of their ilk insist of their right to weapons with a military-scale capacity. That's the real reason behind what seems to be the unreason and stubbornness you heard at the NRA's press conference.

I have no fear whatsoever of 'hordes' of people of color; however, I do worry about those who do, especially if they're organized in modern-day 'militias.' Finding a compromise will be tougher than it seems, and this bit of hidden backward thinking is one of the key obstacles. But all of us with any sense have got to put our shoulders to the wheel.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

'Lazy' People, Voting Rights and Republicans Caught with Their Pants Down

Our march on Harrisburg, PA to protest voter suppression.

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

Sometimes Republicans just can't help themselves. Put a little heat on them, and they blurt out the truth, showing what they're really thinking.

The latest case in point: The retrograde Pennsylvania 'Voter ID' law was rejected today, Oct. 2, at least in part, by a state judge, Robert Simpson, allowing people to vote normally at least on this Nov. 6. The decision was a victory for labor, the NAACP, retiree groups and all who care about defending civil rights and liberties.

The main author of the bill, State Rep Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), however, chimed in with this comment:

"Justice Simpson's final decision is out of bounds with the rule of law, constitutional checks and balances for the individual branches of state government, and most importantly, the will of the people. Rather than making a ruling based on the constitution and the law, this judicial activist decision is skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the commonsense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID."

Yes, you heard that right. This guy thinks those objecting to this bill are 'the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic.'  And all of us here in Western PA not fresh out of the pumpkin patch know exactly who he thinks he's talking about. When Gov. Romney went over the top in a recent closed session with his upper crust friends talking about a 47% of the population who wouldn't 'take responsibility' for their lives, I thought things had pretty much hit bottom in the racist dog whistle department. Little did I know!

Metcalfe has done us all a favor in self-exposing the racist mindset behind this GOP voter suppression effort, and revealing exactly why they thought that, if implemented, it could tip the state to Romney. Now they've been monkey-wrenched, at least for the time being.

But here's an interesting thought. I'm not a constitutional lawyer, even though I've studied it some. Where does it or our state voting laws suggest, anywhere, that lazy people or people with a hampered work ethic, don't have the same right to vote as energetic workaholics? 

The wealthy have best be careful here. As the saying goes, most people work for their money, but a few people are able to let their money work for them. They can laze about, enjoying the good life of the idle rich. There's a slippery slope here they may want to avoid for the future.

Carl Davidson is a member of Steelworker Associates. He lives in Western Pennsylvania and writes for, the website of the 12 CD Progressive Democrats of America.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

'We're Fired Up!' - Protestors in Harrisburg Vow to Defeat GOP Voter Suppression Law

Photos by Bill Allen

By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue

Nearly 500 people gathered on the steps of Pennsylvania's State Capitol in Harrisburg on the hot afternoon of July 24 to deliver a warning to the GOP-dominated legislature-all their efforts to suppress the right to vote will be met with stiff resistance.

The rally was organized by the NAACP, trade union, women's and church groups. Its tarrget was the GOP's so-called 'VoterID' law, which may forbid nearly nine percent of the electorate, from voting in November.

"Do you want to know where the voter fraud has occurred? I'll tell you right now where the vote fraud has occurred?" declared Rep. Ron Waters (D-Philadelphia). "It occurred when the people who wanted to disenfranchise the many 758,000 who are already registered to vote but do not possess a PennDOT-issued Photo IDs. They want to make sure that this is a way to get the candidate of their choice elected."

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Saturday, April 07, 2012

April 4 Vigil Vows to Fight GOP on Voting Rights

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HB 934 Exposed as ‘Modern-Day Poll Tax’

By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue

About 80 labor and civil rights activists, together with a few elected officials, gathered at dusk at the Beaver County Courthouse April 4 for a candlelight vigil. The somber but militant event commemorated the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and protested the current efforts of rightwing PA Republicans to block citizens from voting in 2012.

mlkrally 008 "They're declaring war on us," said Lynwood Alford of the Beaver County Labor Council and the Minority Coalition. 'Taking away our voting rights is taking away the little power we have in the fight for survival."

Lynwood repeated the refrain several times as he introduced new speakers. The vigil was also sponsored by the Lawrence County Labor Council, SEIU Local 668, and the Beaver County NAACP. The 12 CD Progressive Democrats of America also endorsed the vigil, and turned out a good-sized contingent.

The target of everyone's anger was the passage into law of HB 934 last month, the so-called 'Voter ID Law'.

"We plan to challenge this as a new version of the unconstitutional 'poll tax,'" explained a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union to the crowd. "They claim that a state driver's license or state ID is free. But since the new homeland security rules, you have to have a legal copy of you birth certificate. May people don't have one, and there is a charge for getting one, and you have to appear personally, also a cost.

"Many older people were also born at home, and never had a birth certificate. Also, if you are living in an assisted facility for the elderly, all of your old bills with old addresses are no longer legal backup ID. So this does have all the undue burden of a poll tax."

mlkrally 019 Mike Scarver, International PAC Coordinator of the United Steel Workers, tore into the entire nationwide GOP effort as anti-union and anti-worker.

"Who are the main groups registering new voters", he asked? "The League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the unions. But now in Florida they want to make it so that if your forms aren't turned in 48 hours, you're up on a felony for voter fraud. One union teacher registered her seniors on a Friday, but Monday was Memorial Day, and offices were closed. So she turned them in the next day. Not good enough, says Florida, they're a day late. Now she's hit with felony voter fraud charges. With this kind of stuff going on, what do you think is going to happen to volunteer voter registration efforts? Make no mistake about it. This is an attack on all of us, especially our unions."

"Our right to vote is precious," added County Commissioner Joe Spanik. "It's an outrage, and we have to fight it with all we've got."

Other speakers included Congressman Mark Critz, Willy Sallis, President of Beaver County NAACP, and Kathy Jellison, President of SEIU Local 668. Kim Villella, a Baden resident running for State Senator against Republican Senator Elder Vogel, who voted for the bill, spoke about the difficulties nursing home residents will have with this new voting restriction.

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"Something has to change," said Rev. Kevin Lee, also and IBEW member, at the close. We have to find a way to mobilize the energies of a new generation." As everyone was lighting candles, the NAACP's Mtume Imani followed by recalling her own experiences at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,' then led everyone in singing the civil rights anthem, 'Ain't Going to Let Nobody Turn Us Around." It captured the spirit of the gathering as it dispersed, newly informed and energized.

Eric Hoover, Vice-President of the Beaver-Lawrence Central Labor Council, closed the program by reminding everyone of the importance of standing together.

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tragedies, Crimes and Trayvon Martin

How Newt Played the ‘Race Card’ Against Obama’s Decency

By Carl Davidson
United Steel Workers Blog

Every so often an outrage happens that lights up the sky, like when lighting strikes at night, and all of a sudden everything previously hidden in darkness and shadow stands out in sharp, bright relief.

The murder of Trayvon Martin was such an event, even though it took a while for the rolling thunder of its full impact to spread across the country. Slowly at first, and then in greater leaps, the news media, after being nudged, picked it up.

I have one quarrel with most of the reports and statements. This was not so much a tragedy as a crime. It was an old-fashioned lynching dressed up with modern-day ‘gun rights’ being exercised in today’s gated communities.

But put that to the side. Most everyone now has dutifully called it a tragedy, called for an impartial investigation to ‘get to the bottom’ of it and see that ‘justice is served.’ Even President Obama finally spoke up, with the proper caveats against prejudging “current investigations,’ but adding that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon, a point he made to show empathy with the Martin family.

Then we have our former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, who, after deploring the tragedy, came up with this attack on Obama in an interview with Sean Hannity:

“It’s not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified no matter what the ethnic background," Gingrich said. "Is the President suggesting that if it had been a white who had been shot that would be ok because it didn’t look like him?"

"That’s just nonsense dividing this country up. It is a tragedy this young man was shot," Gingrich continued on Hannity's show. "It would have been a tragedy if he had been Puerto Rican or Cuban or if he had been white or if he had been Asian-American of if he’d been a Native American. At some point we ought to talk about being Americans. When things go wrong to an American, it is sad for all Americans. Trying to turn it into a racial issue is fundamentally wrong. I really find it appalling.”

Newt, I have news for you. There’s something truly appalling here; in fact it stinks to high heaven. But it’s not Obama, and if you want to see the source of it, look in the mirror.

Gingrich fancies himself an historian, even something of an expert on the Civil War and its aftermath. He should then know something about lynching. If so, he would know that when the Reconstruction governments were overthrown, the KKK terror started in South Carolina by lynching nearly as many poor whites as Black Freedmen. The aim was to deeply drive home the wedge of the original ‘Southern Strategy’ aimed at dividing the working class in the South and elsewhere.

But as lynching rolled on over the decades, tens of thousands of Blacks bore the brunt of it. Anti-Lynching laws, also for decades, were promoted mainly by Blacks and a few radical allies, while white reactionaries blocked them.

There is nothing colorblind about lynching. It never ceases to amaze me when Republicans claim to be colorblind lovers of Dr. King, while being ‘appalled’ at what they consider the main racists in high places, who are the African Americans supposedly ‘playing the race card.’

The trade union movement over the years has paid some high tuition to learn that mutual respect among nationalities is not rooted in being ‘blind’ to each other’s distinctiveness. Solidarity with a white top and a Black bottom simply doesn’t get the job done.

But the race card is indeed being played against us. It’s been constantly played by those who would keep us under their thumbs, from Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 up to a ‘gated community’ in Stanford, Florida. If you want to see it in action, for starters, watch Fox News or the GOP campaign any day of the week—then to oppose it, gather up some friends to attend a ‘Justice for Trayvon’ rally and work to defeat every candidate and incumbent of the party of the ‘Southern Strategy’ in November.

Read more!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

‘We Are One—And Ready to Fight Back!’

Beaver County Union & Community Activists

Hold April 4th Solidarity Rally at Courthouse


By Carl Davidson and Tina Shannon
Beaver County Blue

Even though thunderstorms and downpours had swept through Beaver County all afternoon, close to 200 concerned citizens showed up for a candlelight vigil in front of the Beaver County Courthouse on Monday evening.

"Are you fired up?" shouted Roni Hamiel of SEIU Local 668 headquarters in Harrisburg, "Are you sick of this mess? The rich are getting richer and we're struggling every day, barely getting by. We want fairness, we want our bargaining rights, and we want a decent future."

Photo: Commissioner Joe Spanik at Vigil

Local members of SEIU 668 spearheaded the vigil, with others joining in to organize a broadly supported event. Throughout PA, events scheduled around the anniversary of Dr. King's assassination were organized by CLEAR (Coalition for Labor Engagement and Accountable Revenues). CLEAR is a coalition of public and private sector unions involved in protecting labor rights and public services from impending budget cuts.

"We are standing beside you in solidarity," said Willie Sallis, president of the Beaver County NAACP, from the podium. "Not behind you, but beside you. We are partners in this struggle."

Read more!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Racism Is Anchored in More Than Bad Ideas

Note from CarlD: An old friend on mine, who blogs at, recently criticized me for being 'confused' about racism, not understanding that conditions had changed for Black Americans and that racism, primarily as attitudes held by whites, was receding, and that I was missing the importance of class. You can read his argument on his blog, but here is one of my replies:


George, I assure you, I don't find anything about a people of a society 'immutable.' Everything changes in time, including people, although as Mao Zedong once put it, rather than change, 'some people die first.'

And as someone who marched 250 miles through Mississippi in 1966, I'm quite aware of the changes that have been wrought even there, especially by harsh and bitter struggles.

But one thing still in need of change is that the 'equality' won in our society still has a white top and a Black bottom, and a white blindspot persists in a large majority of our population in their inability to see it, or if they do, commit themselves to do something about it. Visit any prison or jail, and it will hit you in the face.

I base my views not only on history books, but my social practice today. I live in Raccoon Township, Beaver County, in Western PA. In 1960, it was the most proletarian county in the whole country, and I grew up here, and know more than a little about class. Most of my relatives worked in the mills, and a few of them died there.

Raccoon is 99 percent white, and even the one percent isn't Black. It's more than 90 cent 'white' workers, and I worked this area in the election. When I set up a PDA voter registration table at the township fair, complete with Obama literature, the first message I got an elderly woman was that I was a disgrace, a 'traitor to my race'. Views were more mixed after that, especially among the young. In the end, we got a large minority of voters for Obama, 48 percent, mainly because of the newer and younger workers.

So yes, racism as personal 'attitude' can change. When we went door to door and confronted it, we took the union's line and told people if they had racist fears to 'sit on them, vote your interests, not your prejudices.' It worked fairly well, but not well enough with a good number.

They continue to cling to these 'attitudes' for a reason, namely because there is a social basis for them, which is a Marxist way to look at ideas and attitudes, and this is the heart of my argument with you. As low-income and distressed as workers are in my township, every one of them knows that if they go into Aliquippa, where only Blacks live now, the conditions are far worse. And the Blacks in Aliquippa know, even if they could afford the mortgage on a very modest old house in Raccoon, of which there are plenty of empty ones, and that housing discrimination is illegal, they would look elsewhere rather than put up with the grief they would suffer from those who want to cling to segregated conclaves, however modest they many be.

Is this special status or privilege or inequality or whatever you want to call it in the class interest of my working-class neighbors in Raccoon? No it is not. Not any more than a worm on a hook is in the interests of a fish.

But it is the anchor for their self-defeating 'attitudes' and the secret of the bourgeoisie's rule over them. White identity politics is what imprisons them from seeing their own class interests and the need for solidarity with all the exploited and oppressed. And challenging the structures and policies that identity or 'system of attitudes' rests upon, however difficult, is the key element of our eventual victory.

Read more!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Unbounded Media Mogul Hypocrisy

A poor habit of mine is falling asleep with MSNBC on the tube, which would then wake me early, around 5-6am. That's how I got interested in Don Imus.

Well, this AM I woke to his replacement, who I hadn't known before, an LA talk radio jock named Larry Elder.

Good grief. The 'antiracist' hypocrisy of our media moguls knows no bounds.

Elder is an African American, self-described as a 'Republitarian.' He has what he calls his 'posse' of two women sidekicks, one Dominican American, one white, making the team a mini-Rainbow Coaltion, of sorts.

I'll admit, there was no racist or sexist locker room banter.

What I got was much worse.

I got three solid hours of hard chauvinism against immigrants, defense and apologies for police brutality, attacks on those who criticized the LA cops for shooting rubber bullets into a May Day rally because they didn't 'equally' criticize marauding gangs of Black youth attacking young white women last Halloween, relentless opposition to any kind of affirmative action, calls for purging many minority youth from California universities because their admission was unfair to whites and Asians, a discussion of how immigrant rallies were unjustified because immigrants had zero problems of any sort other than those of their own making, and that the main cause of Black children not doing well in school was their family. The cure? The children's grandmas' needed to whip them with switches at an early age to do their homework. Last but not least, hard-line support for Bush's war in Iraq and the need to expand it throughout the Muslim world.

I kid you not. This is how MSNBC's producers 'make amends' for racism.

I don't know if Elder will be a permanent feature on MSNBC or not. But talk about the need to beware of the unintended consequences of what you wish for... Read more!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Virginia Tech, Imus and Curve Balls

Photo: Don and Dierdre Imus

By Carl Davidson

The universe throws curve balls at us, now and then.

It seems to want to wake us up, and teach us lessons in impermanence and interconnectedness.

Take the killings at Virginia Tech.

A strange, quiet young Korean man, Cho Seung-Hui, writer of tortured and violent plays and screeds, makes his own solipsistic martial arts-gangsta video of himself, and sends it to the media, in the course of slaughtering 32 people, then himself.

The media sensationalizes it. MSNBC ratings go through the roof as its images are repeated, to millions and millions, then all the networks join in the frenzy. As expected, other troubled youth respond, in copy-cat fashion, often only with words, and scares shut down numerous classes across the country. At the same time, discussions of 'healing' gets underway.

Talk show commentators are having a time of it. I hear both liberal and conservatives alike carry on about 'looking in the face of evil' and trashing the notions of illness and therapy. Rush Limbaugh and one caller on his show go on about how the Korean youth is an 'America hater,' 'suicide bomber,' and simply evil. Retired FBI guys talk about 'training' students to be able to respond better, and hiring tougher 'security.' People debate police tactics, censorship and guns.

Then a British paper goes to a tiny hut in Korea, and a reporter talks to the boy's grandparents, who say he was a bad kid and 'deserved to die' for his sins.

But the grandparents also reveal the poverty of his parents as they immigrated to the U.S. Most important, they reveal their grandson was diagnosed early with autism, but the poverty all around prevented them from doing much about it, either in Korea or here.

Autism is recently growing with unusual speed in the US. Parents, rich and poor, are desperate for help, since dealing with an autistic child is often beyond any couple, however well off.

One radio personality, Don Imus, takes up their cause. He helps grow their organization for families of autistic children, and raises millions. His wife, an environmentalist, believes toxins, perhaps in vaccines, are partly to blame, and demands independent research. Wealthy pharmaceutical companies and the Wall Street Journal counter-attack, smearing the couple. But Imus is relentless, and blasts away at their money-grubbing and lies. Largely through his efforts, a compromise measure, offering some relief, gets through Congress, but he pushes on for more substantive solutions, and raises millions more.

Now the effort has stopped, or is at least severely reduced. Imus, as we well know, also indulged in racist, sexist and chauvinist commentary and locker-room 'jokes,' repeatedly, and finally went too far. He realized it, blamed himself and tried to make amends. He promised changes in his show, but accepted whatever he got, saying he had dished it out long enough, now it was his turn to take it.

But a groundswell wanted more. They wanted his show shut down, period, and it was. Many people declared victory over racism and sexism, and to a degree, it was. The media moguls preened about their new-found responsibility and the need for change.

At least until 32 people died at Virginia Tech.

Now we have a new wave of violence in media, and Imus is old news, history.

And we have a new wave of blame, and a new staking out of moral ground against evil.

But you can make a good case that untreated autism, rooted in poverty, was the root cause of what happened at Virginia Tech, however terrible the consequences and the suffering visited on those who didn't deserve it in the least, just as the Rutgers women didn't deserve it in the least.

The whole thing reminds me of Thich Nhat Hanh's long poem, 'Call Me by My True Name.' It's about looking deeply, in the poem, about a Thai sailor, and his raping and killing Vietnamese boat people. It's too long a story to retell here, but do yourself a favor and read it, or better yet, listen to it sometime.

But given this latest curve ball, I think I'll wait a bit before declaring either Don Imus or Cho Seung-Hui, connected in this curious way, to be evil, or at least, in the case of Imus, who's still with us, beyond public redemption. Read more!

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