Archive for the 'Shaping the New Economic Era' Category

On the Imminent Danger of Anybody-But-a-Republican(ism)

December 16, 2011

Does anybody remember “Anybody but Bush” (or “Anyone-but-Bush)? As we ramp up into the next election cycle, many are beginning to rally around the “Anybody-but-a Republican” flag, and as we do so amidst an epic mix of multiple and intertwined and uncharted crises, some of us are asking ‘What did Anybody-but-Bushism get us?’

A quick review reveals that it got us such “progressive victories” as 3 wars, the deportation of 1 million migrants, the secret transfer of $7.7 TRILLION in loans to failed banks, the shredding of the US Constitution, a sharp acceleration of the police state-militarization within the US borders,not to mention a continuation of many of the worst policies of the Bush era.

War, militarism, anti-immigrant policies, enabling corporate greed and corporate domination of our lives, destroying basic rights,building a police state-this is the essence of Bushism, Republicanism and other isms that constitute the worst of our time. Obama did not just “inherit” these failed Bush policies; He’s expanding and perfecting them to protect the citizens that selected Bush and “elected” Obama, corporate citizens.

There’s no better foreshadowing of the perceived need of the 1% minority to close ranks and “protect” their interests from the 99% majority than Obama’s shocking reversal of his stated intention to veto the  defense bill authorizing for the first time in US history, the possibility and likelihood of the secret and indefinite detention of US citizens on US soil.

Already, recent developments in England may preview the ways in which the same federal and local authorities trying to destroy Occupy Wall Street will start the process of morphing an Occupy rally or action into a “belligerent act” of “terrorism” resulting in the swift arrest and disappearance of US citizens by the Pentagon.

In the face of the “disaster” and drastic crisis of civil liberties we face, it’s important to consider how, in our desperation to defeat Bush, we may have created the very conditions for the distortion or even the destruction of the enterprise of “Hope.” Beware: the election year siren’s song of “Anybody-but-a Republican”ism is beginning anew, and ringing louder than the sound cannons at an Occupy rally.

Before the breathtakingly “dangerous” announcement of measures that will, in the words of Human Rights Watch (HRW) President Ken Roth, turn Obama into “the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law,” (Roth and HRW also called Obama’s decision a “A Historic Tragedy for Rights“), we should interrogate and undertand the imminent danger posed by Anybody-but-a-Republican(ism); Doing so is urgent, especially when consider that constitutional law professor Obama’s savaging of the Constitution reflects how national and global elites are feverishly preparing for the serious possibility of the Great Depression signalled by International Monetary Fund President Christine Lagarde’s rather stunning statement that our current global economic situation resembles “exactly the description of what happened in the 1930s, and what followed is not something we are looking forward to.”

As should be obvious to all but the “party faithful”, Obama, the”leader of the free world” and the 1%er interests that define him are doing in the US what more nakedly repressive “leaders” and 1%ers across the planet are doing:  preparing,arming themselves legally, politically (i.e. the Obama deception) and militarily (as in arming against your own citizenry ala Egypt, Greece, Chile, India, China, Mexico, Russia, ad infinitum) for the crisis that looms, the crisis that Obama and other global corporate and military elite know is coming much better and far deeper than the rest of us do.

Given this situation, we must look soberly at whatever value is left in our degraded vote, our increasingly hollowed-out citizenship after the  unholy alliance of corporations, the Supreme Court, the corporate media and other powers ate them. For what little it’s worth (i.e. the vote of corporate citizens matters billion$ more than yours) your vote should be backed up by a moral force greater, a justification smarter than the new Anybody-but-Bushism: “voting for the lesser of two evils.”

If that’s all you’re basing your vote on, then maybe you need a break from living in that 1%er-ruled electoral sewer  and should instead try climbing up and marching onto the dignity of the streets, meeting people, organizing people, Occupying, and, most importantly, looking for less polluted political horizons as if your , our future depends on it-because it does.

Those horizons are there if you allow yourself to end the  indignity of forcing your wild mind and big heart into the solitary political confinement controlled by corporate overseers; the indignity of a mental dungeon that tortures you by making you lie to yourself, forcing you to repeat mantra-like the words “the second term will be better,”; the indignity that reduces you to creating fantastic, mythological excuses for why Obama is not heralding a newer, friendlier-faced equivalent-or worsening- of the very policy evils you fear and loath in Republicans.

Hope is still there-if you put your mind and heart to work without ceasing to find them beyond your current political horizons. Seek and ye shall find…

Move Your Money, Save the World

November 5, 2011

If you travel the world and spend even a little time among the world’s poor majority, and if you witness or, God forbid, if you are touched by the ravages-massified death, barbaric suffering, destruction of culture, fantastic levels of inequality and poverty-you cannot but reach the diamond hard conclusion that will save us from further devastation: that those responsible for this epic calamity-namely Big Global Finance as symbolized in “Wall Street” -are guilty of genocide and the greatest crimes against humanity. Viewed from this perspective, the rapid and, now, inevitable decline of the United States and the “American Dream” is a pulling away Oz-like of the curtain and smoke disguising this greatest evil of our time.

What more reason than this to take from the hyper-rich and give back to the poor? Here’s how.

 

The #Occupy Anthem: “The System is About to Die, Hella Hella Occupy!”

November 3, 2011

Video captures Oakland youth , majority of whom are working class, non-white students chanting what is the national anthem of the black, latino and asian and other youth that are, indeed, in the movement that executed the historic shutdown of the Port of Oakland. Share or sing this with someone next time they say that “there are no “people of color involved in the Occupy movement.”

Bank of America’s Fee Cancellation: Major Victory Signals Maturing of #Occupy Movement

November 1, 2011

Today’s announcement by Bank of America that it would drop its $5 debit card fee represents nothing less than a victory for the #Occupy movement, a victory on many fronts and on many levels. This is especially important when we consider that one of the primary  criteria defining movements is the ability to define and secure victories.

First and foremost, the Bank of America debit fee announcement represents a victory for the communities and groups that have been organizing around banking issues for some time. Groups like Alliance for a Just Society, and organizers behind both the online petition demanding BofA rescind the fee and the “Bank Transfer Day” scheduled for later this week got a major boost and channeled popular energy to secure this win for us all.

Today’s announcement is also critical because it shows the power people really do have over even the most powerful among us-namely the banks and financial institutions that dominate life as we know it. They are vulnerable to us. The fact that Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, SunTrust and Regions banks also announced that they were canceling their plans to increase debit fees is nothing if not a testament to the people power taking hold in the U.S. Not only are we saving ourselves millions of dollars in another unnecessary display of super greed, but we are also starting to show that we may be able to save the country-and the world- from the workings of the super greedy financial institutions.

Another development, perhaps the most critical, reflected in today’s announcement by BofA has to do with how the #Occupy movement is growing into a sea of movement-building that simultaneously feeds and draws from the streams and rivers of other movements, in this case the economic justice movement. In addition to powering and pushing the work of groups fighting the bank fees, the #Occupy movement is also nourishing the work planned or envisioned by other groups. For example, those behind the “Move Your Money” campaign to get people to take their banking out of the big banks and into credit unions and other, more community-oriented financial institutions are getting a major boost from the zeitgeist of the #Occupy moment.

Bank of America and the other banks capitulation to popular demands offers a small, but important example proving to ourselves that we can fight and win against the most powerful, that we can discipline the banks and other institutions and align them with the needs of the majority. We have taken a step towards reaching what Clausewitz called the “culminating point of victory.” As in war, the spiritual value of winning in political activism will be determinant in ending the class warfare against the poor, the war against the 99% by the 1%.

Occupy Oakland and the “Post-Racial” Repression of the Obama Era

October 26, 2011

While President Obama was telling the small crowd at a $7500-a-plate fundraiser in San Francisco that “Change is possible,” Pooda Miller was across the bay trying to get her plate back from the Oakland Police Department. “They came, pulled out rifles, shot us up with tear gas and took all our stuff,” said Miller, at an afternoon rally condemning the violent evacuation of more than 170 peaceful, unarmed Occupy Oaklanders by 500 heavily-armed members of the Oakland Police Department and other local departments yesterday morning.

With a long metal police fence separating Miller and other members of Occupy Oakland from their confiscated items—tents, water, food, clothes, medicine, plates—and now possessed by the police, Miller grabbed a big blue and white bullhorn that looked like it was almost half of her 4-foot, 5-inch frame. “Give us our stuff back! It don’t belong to you!” yelled Miller, who also expressed relief that her baby was not camped out with her that morning.

The sound of Miller’s ire shot across the protective masks of all of the officers standing at alert on the other side of the metal police fence, but her loudest, most acidic anger was saved for the baton-wielding officer who, like herself and other officers, was a young African-American woman.

“Who are you serving?” screamed Miller at the top of her high pitched voice, turned raspy from hours of denouncing. “You’re being used. You’re getting paid with our tax money to put down your own people! Why are you doing this to your own people?”

Miller’s questions about the role of race in the policing of Occupy Oakland points to what is and will continue to be the larger question in Oakland and other U.S. cities where former “minorities” are becoming majorities: What does it mean when those charged with defending elite interests against multi-racial and increasingly non-white activists are themselves multiracial and non-white? The ongoing protests, mayor recall, phone calls, emails and other pressure and pushback of Occupy Oakland are no longer aimed at cigar-smoking white men. They are aimed at a power structure in Oakland whose public face looks more like Miller and other non-white protesters.

Miller and others are calling for the recall of Jean Quan, who made history as Oakland’s first Asian-American mayor (full disclosure: Quan’s daughter is my Facebook friend); and they are complaining about the use of excessive police violence authorized by Interim Chief Howard Jordan, an African American. Such conflicts between former minorities are becoming the norm in what more conservative commentators call the “post-racial” era ushered in by the election of Obama.

Quan and Jordan are in the throes of dealing with a police department plagued by officer-involved shootings and killings, corruption and other crimes—crimes that have forced a federal consent decree to reform the department, after officers were convicted of planting evidence and beating suspects in West Oakland. Taking her cue from the Obama campaign of 2008, Quan announced Jordan’s appointment at a public safety forum titled “Creating Hope in the Community.”

Many like Miller and other Occupy Oaklanders are having second thoughts about what feels like the affirmative actioning of policing and state violence. Others, like Ofelia Cuevas of the University of California’s Center for New Racial Studies, see the workings of a not-so-21st-century pattern of policing and power.

“Having people of color policing people of color is not new,” said Cuevas. “This was part of policing history in California from the beginning. In the 1940s, while the federal government was interning Japanese Americans in camps, officials in Los Angeles were starting to recruit black police officers as a way to decrease police brutality.”

Cuevas noted that big city mayors like Quan or Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa are, by electoral and structural necessity, required to act like any of their predecessors, who headed up police forces that attacked, surveilled and even killed those perceived as a threat to the establishment. The Bay Area police’s violent modern history stretches from OPD’s assault on the Black Panther Party—which was founded just blocks from the center of Occupy Oakland, re-named Oscar Grant Plaza—to the killing of Grant, a young black man shot in the back by a transit police officer at a nearby train station.

“Being mayor is being pro-police. They perceive that it’s their job to crush what they consider threats to the status quo,” said Cuevas.

Regardless of who is Mayor or police chief, keeping the status quo is the last thing that Gaston Lau, a 21 year-old english major at University of California, Berkeley, sees as an option. “[Quan’s] support for this amount of police brutality here is ridiculous,” said Lau, who held a placard that said “Down, Down with Jean Quan.”

“The future power struggles are not just going to be about fights between one race and another,” said Lau. “They’re mostly going to be about class, which is a big part about what the whole Occupy movement is about.”

Lau is hopeful that the movement will inspire younger Asian Pacific Islanders to engage with the issues of the Occupy moment, but worries about the generational conflict such a political engagement entails. “Some older Chinese might see having one of our own as mayor as a source of pride, but we need to help them understand how Quan and police act against us.”

Despite the internal and external challenges posed by multicultural powers putting down multicultural movements, Lau is, like his Occupy Oakland peers, undeterred. Clashes between Occupiers and Oakland police continued into last night as protesters tried to reclaim the park and police met them with tear gas. The movement has vowed to continue attempting to return to the space. “Whether or not the mayor is Asian,” Lau said, “when she acts against the people, then we will respond as the people.”

El tiempo está a favor de buenos sueños (Time is on the Side of Good Dreams)

October 15, 2011

Gazing @ the bright red map that is today’s #Occupiedworld, mobilizing w millions of like-spirited humans, breathing in the sigh of gratitude for our heroines & their children, I am reminded that we would not be here were it not for the parents, the teachers, the mentors and, most especially, the martyrs whose breath still inspires (as in “take in spirit”) that which many had already relinquished to the Powers That Be , Real Hope.

 

 

El tiempo está a favor de los pequeñosde los desnudos, de los olvidados.

El tiempo está a favor de buenos sueños

y se pronuncia a golpes apurados.

Interview: Occupy Wall Street, an Open Source (ing) of US Politics?

October 14, 2011

This interview with Sonali Kolhatkar of Uprising Radio is quite fresh. Seasoned and most wise activist-writer-thinker, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and I had the better part of an hour to anayze and explore the history, strategies and potential of the #OccupyWallstreet movement. I especially enjoyed delving into the fresh ground linking open source technology, anarchist thought and practice and the great traditions of left organizing and thought. As always, Sonali’s breezy-smart interview style succeeds in drawing out the marrow of the OWS matter. This is one of the better interviews I’ve been involved with on this issue. Check it out!

(you can also click listen to it directly right here )

Occupy Wall Street Must End the Dictatorship – of Corporations

October 6, 2011


Our Berlin Wall is breaking. The furious waves of marchers in yesterday’s Occupy Wall Street mobilization have cracked the dark marble and teflon walls protecting the Dictator of our age: Big Corporations.

While baffled Teapartyers, Democrat-leaning progressives and most of the media ignored, ridiculed and then fought the nascent movement, the forces of Occupy Wall Street won a stunning ideological victory over the US Dictator. The history that allegedly ended after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marches on on Wall Street and on Main Streets throughout the United States- and the world- of 2011. The heavily-buttressed and beatified idea that Wall Street-the fortressed embodiment of Big Corporate Control of our land, our sea, our air, our country and even our DNA- is invincible just got Occupied.

Though the unprecedented popularizing of the “Wall-Street-as-US-Dictator” meme implicit in the movement’s message is growing and impressive, the real success of Occupy Wall Street, the great struggle of our crisis-ridden lives will be defined by one thing: definitively ending the Dictatorship of Big Corporations. Put another way, the real human beings that make up the citizenry will have to destroy the fake Citizenship of the non-persons that control Republican and Democrat, Obama and Boehner alike.

Failure to fundamentally alter Wall Street’s control of our political, economic and personal lives will lead to even greater devastation of real citizens. The good news is that we in the United States have finally started recognizing, naming and fighting back against the power behind a White House, a Congress, a Pentagon and an entire political and economic system beholden to fantastically rich and powerful corporations controlled by less than 1% of the population.

The history of the future will record how the Occupy Wall Street movement began informally after many of us stood by and watched as the great martyr of our times, Citizen Troy Davis, was denied his fundamental rights, was denied life itself; Historians will document how we watched and grew in anger as Corporate Citizens like the GEO group and other prison construction firms that profit from warehousing Davis and other Death Row inmates suck up all the rights of our citizenship- and none of the responsibility.

Whether they profit financially from the death penalty or from manufactured and unnecessary wars or whether they destroy the Gulf of Mexico or the earth’s climate, Corporate Citizens face no death penalty for their crimes. Only we human citizens do.

Like dictators, Big Corporations act with an unfettered arrogance and a dangerous impunity that profits from death, from war, from poverty and from the destruction of the planet itself. Many of us in the immigrant rights movement see the will to protect the powerful at the expense of the weak in how the Obama Administration jails more than 400,000 poor immigrants a year all the while not making a single banker serve serious time for what should be called ‘Economic Crimes Against Humanity.’

Occupy Wall Street represents a Great Awakening to the need to rescue our free speech and other democratic spaces humiliated by Big Corporations that the Supreme Court protects legally; that the police protect physically; that the media protects culturally and that White House and Congress protect politically.

Like the powerful social movements that are reshaping the Arab world, Latin America and even Israel, Occupy Wall Street must build enough power to avoid the multiple and often carefully disguised attempts by corporate interests to divert and water down our insurgent energy.

While the first line of Wall Street’s defense of its dictatorship is the more openly right wing, hard-line approach of trying to downplay and attack Occupy Wall Street thru any and all physical, political and media means, the next stage of defense will be subtler- and Democrat-led: try to divide and coopt the movement. Among the principal means will be the attempt to align and define the Occupy Wall Street movement by identifying it with the Democratic party and the Obama Administration. Already, the White House has started deploying Treasury Secretary -and Wall Street insider-Tim Geithner to create some sort of wedge between President Obama and Wall Street.

Obama allies in the progressive, immigrant rights, civil rights, environmental, labor and other movements are already trying to do what they did during the our last insurgent moment, the anti-Bush era: channel the insurgent energy into support for Democrats in the elections, in our case the 2012 elections. Failure to recognize these more subtle machinations of the corporate dictatorship will be fatal to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Key to recognizing these machinations is the urgent need and willingness to expose the disturbingly deep connections between the Obama Administration and the dictators of Wall Street. Any attempt to revive the thoroughly dead American Dream that does not detail how the Wall Street-heavy Obama Administration’s economic, military, immigration, environmental and other policies have destroyed the dreams of millions should be deemed questionable, at best.

Reviving Hope and Change will require nothing less than swiftly -and surgically-separating them from an electoral system corrupted by the Corporate Dictator that thoroughly controls both the Democrats and the Republicans. For the moment, real Hope and Change, (i.e. the kind that does not cost a billion dollars of Wall Street and other money to promote)-have returned to their rightful place in the streets and hearts of marchers and those hungry for justice.

Like those courageous souls who tore down the Berlin Wall or the wall of silence surrounding Tahrir Square, we must have the courage to confront the dictatorial menace of our time. In our case, the menace is neither communist nor a blatantly totalitarian dictator. Rather, it is a “Citizen” that none of us voted into office, but who all of us are becoming indebted to and imprisoned by. Before doing the urgently necessary work of (Re)Occupying -and redefining-our Citizenship, let us take a moment to Occupy our breath and take in our Great Awakening as we continue and expand the fight of and for our lives.

White Nationalist Anger and Violence: A Preview of Even Greater Anti-immigrant Violence?

August 10, 2009

https://i0.wp.com/1.bp.blogspot.com/_eQFMSrewFec/R5tmWA7LUjI/AAAAAAAABac/9uJWfK3IKFM/s320/hate1.jpg

Though its primary subject is the rise of violent white nationalism, this important article by Eric Ward and our friends at Imagine 2050 has indirect and seriously bad implications for the not-so-distant immigrant future.

I say this because I think and fear that recent developments- the acidic anger seen during the Sotomayor hearings, the deadly absurdity of the “birther” frenzy in the media and the outbreak of violence seen in the health reform debate- preview what will likely be even greater levels violence we will see during the immigration debate, if and when Obama and the Democrats decide to move forward with their proposal.

Given what I believe anyone traveling throughout the country sees and hears-that immigrant violence grows exponentially- we should begin preparing on how to deal with the more open anti-migrant warfare that those invested in promoting false ideas of immigrant criminality are working towards.

I say “even greater levels of violence” only because the violent cat of anti-migrant violence has already been let out of the white nationalist bag: spikes in anti-Latino, anti-migrant hate crimes, increased murders and only God knows how many unreported cases there are; The overwhelming number of hate crimes, especially those targeting the most vulnerable, undocumented have been perpetrated without ever being documented. And we can only imagine what it’s like in most places in the country, places that have never created systems to document such crimes as in Los Angeles, where we will likely see those systems diminished by budget cuts. I fear that such a situation make the anecdotal descriptions of violence I encounter with unrelenting intensity throughout the country a preview of things to come.

Beyond building and saving existing hate crime reporting infrastructure, by far the most important thing the immigrant rights movement can do is stop the debate from including any more legislation that directly or implicitly reinforces the constitutionally dangerous notions of immigrant criminality.

In other words, in an environment in which visual, verbal and physical anti-migrant violence has gone viral, there should be a moratorium against ANY AND ALL LEGISLATION PREMISED ON DANGEROUSLY FALSE NOTIONS OF THE IMMIGRANT AS CRIMINAL NEEDING AND DESERVING PUNISHMENT FROM THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Such notions only further legitimate similar notions proferred by pols -Republicans and Democrats-, mainstream media and the racial extremists whose ideas they give a platform to.

We no longer need to give extremists and their ideas a platform by legitimating them thru “tradeoffs”, “compromises” and with toxic talk of more enforcement and punishment. There has to and is another way: stop. Regardless of whether the messenger advocating for more punitive policy is Republican or Democrat, Minuteman or “immigrant advocate”, anyone promoting even more punitive legislation (don’t we have enough punitive laws as it stands?) should be called out for fomenting policies premised on dangerous ideas of immigrant criminality that enable further violence against immigrants and others.

If hate crimes are any indicator, the idea that comprehensive immigration reform will do anything to diminish hatred is proven painfully wrong by the broken bones, bruised faces and cracked ribs of the citizens and residents attacked for their appearance. Hate crimes against migrants are rapidly rising worldwide. Just imagine how vast the toxic sea of violence against migrants in the US is.

There is another way and it begins at the border between policies that equate immigrants with criminality and those that don’t.

Silencing the Breakers of Silence: UN Durban II Conference Threatened by Conflicts

April 21, 2009

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND Before asking him about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s controversial speech here at the followup to the U.N.-sponsored World Conference Against Racism (Durban II), I first gave Nobel prize-winner, Elie Wiesel, my thanks. I thanked him not because of his condemnation of an opening speech in which the Iranian president called the holocaust a “dubious question”; I thanked holocaust survivor Wiesel because he provided us with one of the main slogans for combating past and recent racism in the United States: “No Human Being is Illegal.” After he shook my hand and after I offered, in the most Spanish-inflected French possible, my gratitude on behalf of the Central Americans who first launched the “No Human Being is Illegal” campaign back when the United States denied them political asylum and refugee status in the 1980’s, Wiesel smiled and reminisced,”Yes, I gave that term to the Sanctuary movement. It was wrong to deny them (Salvadorans and Guatemalans) (legal) status. I was happy to support the cause.”

As one who dedicated a significant part of his adult life to the cause of Central Americans, meeting Wiesel served as a deeply personal reminder of the profoundly serious issues being discussed here. But as one dedicated to the global movement for migrants rights, which has, in many countries, also adopted his elegantly simple coinage, I’m also gravely concerned about how the focus on Ahmadinejad and the boycott of the Geneva conference supported by Wiesel, the United States and the powerful minority of countries backing the Israeli government is distracting the world from one of its most urgent facts: the exponential rise in xenophobia, hatred and racism around the world, especially following the exponential decline in economic stability triggered by the global greed and corruption centered in the United States.

Were Iran, Israel and other players involved in this display of geopolitical drama not so viscerally divided, someone attending the conference might reach the conclusion that their high-profile conflicts are a subterfuge designed to mask over and disguise the most damaging and deadly racial and ethnic consequences brought on by the depredations and failures of western governments – and the “blue eyed bankers” in the U.S. and other countries recently denounced by Brazilian President Lula and others.

Speaking with some from among the thousands of passionately committed and very smart participants from around the globe attending Durban II, I couldn’t help but hear the grave disappointment and even anger at the damaging, even catastrophic effect that both the the boycott and President Ahmadinejad’s speech are having on issues discussed throughout the conference.  For example, lost in the global media’s almost exclusive focus on Ahmadinejad’s speech and on the walkout by a small minority of mostly white Western diplomats, are concerns of the overwhelmingly non-white majority attending the conference, attendees like Yousif Aboh.

“These conflicts (around the speech and the boycott) only help governments like Sudan’s to continue racist practices that push people out, that starve people and that attack and kill people,” said a very somber Aboh, who works with Darfur Peace and Development, a non-governmental organization which is the only Darfuri-led organization still operating in Darfur. “I’m here to get support for the people still living a great crisis in Darfur- people without food and water because of discrimination-and these kinds of controversies make my work difficult to impossible because many in the media don’t want to talk about anything else except Israel and Iran.”

Aboh and others attending Durban II also expressed deep disappointment at the Obama Administration’s decision not to attend the conference.  Non-attendance was roundly condemned as a very dangerous act that communicates the wrong message to racists, xenophobes and genocidal governments around the world. “Their (the Obama Administration) not attending tells governments like Sudan’s that their dangerous racist policies are not a priority,” said Aboh, who also condemned the government of Iran for its support of the Sudanese government.

For his part, Khalil Shahabi, an economist at the Tehran-based Insitute for Sceintific and Political Research, agreed with Aboh about the Obama Administration but also defended the Iranian government against Aboh, Wiesel and other critics, “Our President is the only head of state to come. It’s important that he tell the world about how Israeli racism kills innocent people in Gaza, including fifteen percent who were children.” When I asked him about the Iranian President’s statements about the situation in Palestine, Wiesel told me he thought Ahmadinejad had done “dishonor to his people, who have such a rich history. What arrogance he has to come here to a UN conference on racism only to express such hatred.”

Largely lost in the largely simplistic media coverage of both the conference and the speech by President Ahmadinejad were the more nuanced discussions taking place inside and outside the stately halls of the U.N. For example, Norway’s Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, delivered a speech indirectly criticizing Iran, Israel and the United States. “We who have made a point of defending freedom of expression cannot opt for non-attendance as a strategy, leaving the floor to precisely those who hold opposite views” said  Støre  “We will not surrender the floor of the United Nations to the extremists.The President of Iran has just exercised that human right. He did so – I believe – in a way that threatens the very focus of this conference.”

Such an inauspicious start to an event of such global import inspires fears; fears that the specific conflicts involving only a few of the world’s many actors may detract from communicating the powerful spirit motivating most of those attending the Durban II conference. This spirit was best captured by Wiesel, when he said many years ago, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Mo(u)rning in El Salvador

March 26, 2009

The Nation.

A young supporter of FMLN presidential candidate, now president-elect, Mauricio Funes. RODRIGO ABD/AP

Roberto Lovato

March 26, 2009

In Izalco, El Salvador, an idyllic but very poor village nestled under the gaze of the great volcano of the same name, I asked Juliana Ama to help me understand how the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the guerrillas-turned-political-party, had managed to triumph over the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) in the presidential election on March 15, ending the right-wing party’s twenty-year reign. Ama guided me to a dusty, football field-size dirt lot adjacent to a church. The 61-year-old schoolteacher said nothing at first, staring meditatively at a round spot blackened by a campfire or some burnt offering. Then she said simply, “It’s our dead.”

Her explanation lacked the revolutionary bravado and the análisis político heard from chain-smoking former guerrilla commanders and Facebook-using radical students in San Salvador, the capital. Instead, she threw open her arms and said, “Most of the people killed in the Matanza [the Great Killing] are buried here.” Before us lay the remains of many of the 20,000 to 30,000 mostly indigenous Pipil-Nahuat killed in January 1932 on the orders of military dictator Maximiliano Hernández.

In slow, measured speech, Ama, one of a tiny fraction of Salvadorans who identify themselves as indigenous, explained how indigenous peasants like her great-great-granduncle, the peasant leader Feliciano Ama of Izalco, and others from the western coffee-growing part of El Salvador rose up against deadly poverty, stolen land and other abuses in Depression-era El Salvador, only to be brutally slaughtered.

“We’ve organized commemoration ceremonies on this spot since 2001,” said Ama, as she pointed at the darkened patch on the lot. “People who can’t remember and are silent are people who are submitted (sumisos). Those ceremonies made it normal and acceptable to be open about the loss of long ago, the loss that still lives with us. Nothing like this was ever possible before, and I think that the ceremony made it possible for people to start being more open about political feelings too.”

My initial reason for visiting Izalco during the country’s presidential election season was that I’d learned of ARENA’s defeat in the Izalco mayoral race in January–the party’s first defeat since it was founded in 1981 by Roberto D’Aubuisson, who also founded El Salvador’s notorious death squads. The death squads, backed by the right-wing military government, were responsible for killing many of the 80,000 people who died during the bloody civil war of 1980-92.

The FMLN’s recent victory in small, neglected Izalco–after campaigning on a message of change backed by a coalition of Catholics, students and evangelicals–had political analysts buzzing about how it might herald a national trend in the lead-up to the historic presidential election. Even some ARENA loyalists I interviewed quoted D’Aubuisson’s prophetic maxim: “The day we lose Izalco, that day will be the end of the party.”

In Izalco it became clear how Ama’s explanation of the FMLN’s victory aligned perfectly with the central lesson of revolutionary political warfare that some former Salvadoran guerrilla commanders told me they’d learned in Russia, Vietnam and other Communist-bloc countries in the 1960s and ’70s: the spirit of the people matters most. The power that broke the chain of oligarchies and military dictatorships that shackled El Salvador for 130 years was the will of the people to break their silence.

Few embody this will to break the silence like Mauricio Funes, the FMLN candidate and the first leftist elected president in the history of El Salvador.

Funes, a 49-year-old former journalist, rose to prominence in no small part thanks to the democratic space created by the signing of the peace accords ending the war in 1992. Until then, the seventy-year rule of oligarchs and dictators made freedom of expression a rarity. My first memories of Funes are as the talk-show host and commentator my family in San Salvador would listen to in the late ’80s as they huddled around a small, battered black-and-white television set during their lunch breaks.

As the grip of state military-run television loosened in the postwar period, Funes became the country’s most popular TV personality in his role as host of Entrevista al Dia (Interview of the Day), El Salvador’s equivalent of Meet the Press.

Hosting al Dia, on which he grilled and debated left- and right-leaning guests with his famously mercurial intelligence, helped to make Funes a symbol of the openness ushered in by the signing of the peace accords. After losing every presidential race since laying down its arms to become a political party in 1992, the FMLN embraced change. With the help of people like Funes’s mentor Hato Hasbun–a sociology professor who worked closely with the six Jesuit priests killed by the military during the FMLN offensive in 1989–the party finally recognized that putting up presidential candidates who were former guerrilla commanders or wartime opposition leaders might not be the best strategy for winning over an electorate trying to overcome the war’s painful legacy. The party chose Funes, who was neither a combatant nor a member of the FMLN during the war.

In doing so, the former guerrillas gave their party a much-needed upgrade that allowed them to use the FMLN’s legendary organizational capacity (during the war, the US State Department called the FMLN one of the “best organized” and “most effective” people’s movements in Latin America in the last fifty years) to meet the political requirements of the media age. And as a Jesuit-influenced intellectual, Funes also gave the FMLN–an organization with many leaders who were themselves profoundly influenced by liberation theology and first organized in Christian base communities–some ideological comfort.

When I interviewed Funes on the night of his victory, in the restaurant of a San Salvador hotel, the first thing he did was echo the thinking of one of those who courageously broke El Salvador’s silence. “Now we need a government like the one envisioned by [Archbishop of El Salvador] Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who, in his prophetic message, said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor. Paraphrasing Monseñor Romero, I would say that this government should have a preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions.”

Like almost every Salvadoran I spoke with after Funes’s victory, the candidate said he wished a deceased family member, in his case his brother killed during the war, was with him to share the moment.

And like Juliana Ama, he too rooted his victory in the legacy of silence and struggle from Izalco: “Our history–what happened in 1932, the poverty of the ’70s that caused the armed conflict in the ’80s and the state in which many in the countryside like Izalco still find themselves today–these can be explained fundamentally by the unjust distribution of wealth, the use of the government to support the process of concentrating wealth.”

After talking with Funes at the hotel, I went to the Escalon neighborhood, where those who have benefited from the concentration of the country’s wealth live and do business behind the big, heavily guarded walls of gated buildings and fortressed mansions. For reasons I don’t know, but imagine have something to do with poetic justice, the FMLN decided to hold its massive victory celebration that Sunday night on Escalon Boulevard.

The neighborhood was also where the FMLN launched its offensive on San Salvador in 1989. After the demise of Communism put in doubt the survival of Latin American revolutionary movements, including El Salvador’s, the FMLN made a strategic decision to bring its guerrilla army of young men and women and older adults, some of whom had little to no combat experience, into the capital, leading to some of the bloodiest battles of the war.

I walked along the crowded blocks of the Escalon with my good friend Joaquin Chávez, a fellow in the NYU history department, who founded the first Central American studies program in the United States with three other colleagues and me. Passing by Citibank and Scotiabank, OfficeMax, McDonald’s and other corporate buildings on the Escalon never felt so exhilarating. The major difference was the hundreds of thousands of boisterously happy, red-shirted, mostly poor children, youth and families waving homemade red-and-white FMLN flags.

For his part, my bookish, bespectacled historian friend Joaquin, who had lost many friends and family members during the war, was initially pretty academic about what the electoral victory meant.

“The origins of the war were not ideological. What brought on the armed struggle,” began Joaquin, whose current research looks at the role of intellectuals in the origins of the war, “was the reaction of various groups to the repression of the state. If the government had allowed fair elections in 1972 and 1977, there would have been no war.” His voice started to crack slightly with emotion. “And that’s what makes tonight so hope-inspiring: it makes possible a political transition through legal and electoral means.”

Watching the wave of thousands of mostly young FMLN supporters walk, sing and dance as they held handpainted signs with messages like Misión Cumplida: Compañeros Caídos en La Lucha (Mission Accomplished: Compañeros Who Fell in the Struggle), Joaquin reminisced, not as the accomplished historian but as the former guerrilla leader: “I remember being here on Seventy-fifth Street (during the 1989 offensive) to pick up the bodies of dead and injured young combatants. They were the ages of these kids walking here now.”

He continued: “Tonight I feel like they didn’t die for nothing. Spiritually, it feels like a weight has been taken off of you, where you feel the absence of those who initiated these processes. This is an explosion of happiness and a celebration of rebellion, a triumph of the 1932 rebellion of Feliciano Ama and the indigenous people.”

Back at the empty lot, near the blackened patch of dirt that is ground zero of revolutionary El Salvador, Juliana Ama pondered the escape from silence her country had begun. Despite the threats the commemoration ceremonies provoked, she said, “our ceremony is not intended as a political act. It is first and foremost a spiritual act. We have no choice; we can’t remain and suffer in silence.” Her eighth-grader son, Alex Oswaldo Calzadia Chille, stood solemnly nearby.

Asked what he thought the political turns in his country portended, the rather reticent, dark-skinned 14-year-old star student, soccer forward and drummer at the Mario Calvo school responded with an unexpected forcefulness. “I’m Pipil (Indian). Feliciano Ama, he’s my family and was killed defending the land against the government, like many people do today.” As if he’d been waiting for the opportunity to speak even more, he declared, “My family voted for the FMLN because they wanted change.” His intense brown eyes alive with the energy one imagines his rebellious ancestor had, Alex added, “When I’m old enough, so will I.”

Must See Moyers Interview: Mike Davis on “De-globalization,” the Socialist Option and the Role of the U.S. Left

March 22, 2009

Mike Davis, photo by Robin Holland

If we lived in a world in which depth of thought-regardless of political orientation- was publicly recognized and rewarded, my friend and companero (a word he loves), Mike Davis, would have a movie about him called “A Beautiful Mind” (hopefully a better-made, well-acted and ardently personal-is-political version.) One of less than a handful of inspirations for my own preferential option for the Militant Word, Mike is the author of more books than I have time to name here (Late Victorian Holocausts & City of Quartz are among my favorites).

I can think of few thinkers whose depth of analysis, way with words and serious conviction rise to the moment of crisis we face. This interview with Bill Moyers gives Mike the ample space needed for us to appreciate his thought, short of actually reading him.Trust me: you can’t leave listening to Mike without reconfiguring your synapses in some way. Besides introducing concepts like “de-globalizaton,” one of the most interesting things about the interview, which, BTW, Bill conducts nimbly, is that Mike let’s out the lesser-known optimism lurking in his socialist heart. Must Watch Television. Really. Enjoy.

R

Daring to Change: Exclusive Interview with El Salvador’s President-Elect, Mauricio Funes

March 18, 2009

A Conversation With Mauricio Funes

by Roberto Lovato & Josue Rojas

March 17, 2009

On March 15, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) became the first leftist party to clinch a presidential election in the history of El Salvador. By 10 pm, it became clear to Salvadorans and to the world that the former guerrillas had ended more than 130 years of oligarchy and military rule over this Central American nation of 7 million. In the streets, thousands of red-shirted sympathizers chanted “¡Si Se Pudo!” (Yes, We Could), while they celebrated the victory of the FMLN’s Mauricio Funes.

Funes captured 51 percent of the vote, to 49 percent cast for Rodrigo Avila of the Nationalist Republican Alliance party, which had been in power for twenty years. Though Funes, a former journalist, is the best-known Salvadoran on his country’s TV networks, he is little known outside the region. Thanks to a collaboration between The Nation and New America Media (NAM), reporters Roberto Lovato and Josue Rojas had the opportunity to interview El Salvador’s next president on the night of his election. What follows is an excerpt from this interview with Funes, who addressed numerous issues: the meaning of his presidency, El Salvador’s relationship with the United States, immigration and other domestic and foreign policy concerns.

Immigration has become one of the defining issues of the US-El Salvador relationship. How will your administration’s approach to this issue differ from that of the outgoing Saca administration?

The fact that we’re going to rebuild the democratic institutions–enforce the constitution and make of El Salvador a democratic state that respects the rule of law–is the best guarantee to the United States that we will significantly reduce the flows of out-migration. Salvadorans who leave to go the United States do so because of the institutional abandonment, the lack of employment and dignified ways to make a living. This forces them to leave in search of new possibilities in the US. It’s not the same for us to ask the US government to renew TPS [temporary legalization] without a Salvadoran effort to avoid further migration flows, as to do so from a position in which we have undertaken efforts to reduce the migration flows.

What’s the first message you’d like to send to President Obama?

The message that I would like to send to President Obama is that I will not seek alliances or accords with other heads of state from the southern part of the continent who will jeopardize my relationship with the government of the United States.

Opinion polls in El Salvador indicate that large majorities of its citizens reject key policies that define, in many ways, the relationship between El Salvador and the United States, specifically CAFTA, dollarization and the Iraq war. What will your approach be to these issues?

We can’t get mixed up in repealing CAFTA…nor can we reverse dollarization, because that would send a negative message to foreign investors, and then we’d be facing serious problems because we wouldn’t have enough investment to stimulate the national economy.

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What do you think the United States government should be concerned about with regard to El Salvador at this time?

To the degree that we do our part, which is to rebuild our productive capacity and to create a coherent social policy that improves the quality of life, there will be fewer reasons to leave for the US and we’ll reduce migration flows. And that should be a concern for the US.

Where will the effects of the transition in power be felt most immediately?

We’re going to change the way we make policy. And one of the most significant changes is that we will no longer have a government at the service of a privileged few. And we will no longer have a government that creates an economy of privileges for the privileged. Now, we need a government like the one envisioned by [Archbishop of El Salvador] Óscar Arnulfo Romero, who, in his prophetic message, said that the church should have a preferential option for the poor. Paraphrasing Monseñor Romero, I would say that this government should have preferential option for the poor, for those who need a robust government to get ahead and to be able to compete in this world of disequilibrium under fair conditions. This government implies a break from traditional policy-making. Now, what we’re going to do is put the government and the structure of the state at the service of the Salvadoran people–the totality of the Salvadoran people–but fundamentally, of that great majority who are oppressed and excluded from the country’s social and economic development. [The people who for] not just the last twenty years but for last 200 years or more have not had the possibility of participating in the formation of public policies. A government like the one I’m going to create will give them the protagonist’s role, which, until now, they have not ha

Upload Real Change: What Activists Must Learn From the Obama Campaign

November 19, 2008

A cover story I wrote for this month’s issue of Colorlines Magazine highlights what the Obama campaign can teach us the urgent necessity of combining offline (actual streets, communities) with online organizing. While we may or may not want to support Obama’s policies, we should study closely the epoch-making deployment of technology to advance political ends. Hope you like it. R

Issue #47, Nov/Dec 2008

Upload Real Change

By Roberto Lovato

WHILE CRISSCROSSING CRACKED STREETS to knock on the rickety doors of rundown row houses in Philadelphia’s 14th Ward, Liza Sabater also found herself crossing the overlapping lines of political and technological history late last spring as she canvassed for Barack Obama’s campaign.

“I got to spend some time with these Puerto Rican mechanics—guys most people wouldn’t expect to have Internet access,” said Sabater, an Afro-Puerto Rican technologist who blogs at culturekitchen and The Daily Gotham. “But there—among the wrenches and jacks—were their cell phones and handheld devices they use to surf the Web.”

Sabater, who helps nonprofits use technology to further their missions, canvassed in Philadelphia with her two sons and coordinated work in the 14th Ward with three Latino volunteers from the Obama campaign. She saw in the mechanics’ mobile devices proof of her belief that “the ‘digital divide’ is a crock when we realize that laptops and desktops aren’t the only ways to access the Web.” But was the Obama campaign reaching these mechanics on their cells?
•••
As they write future narratives of Obama’s astounding rise, historians will likely foreground how skillfully the “change” candidate maneuvered around the racial, geopolitical and economic terrain of our crises-ridden time. Lost in the background of most of these narratives will be how Obama, the former community organizer, took what he learned about mobilizing working- and middle-class residents on Chicago’s South Side and combined it with the stuff that actually wins elections: money, organizing and technology.

Obama’s campaign for the White House deployed in unparalleled ways Web. 2.0 tools—the set of technological developments that turned the World Wide Web into the ubiquitous, mobile, wireless and interactive Web we use today. As this issue of ColorLines went to production in late August, Obama’s Web site, Mybarackobama.com, was as interactive as any online social networking site. More than 10 million people had signed up at the site, and the campaign had raised millions of dollars. The Web site was the centerpiece of an online and offline political strategy that defeated the Clintons—one of the most powerful Democratic political dynasties—and, in the process, Obama took community organizing to new territory as he redefined the practice of electoral politics in the United States. Whatever the election results, Obama’s campaign demonstrated that it’s possible—and necessary—to go online and move people to action offline.

Sabater, who was born in New York’s El Barrio
neighborhood and raised in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, was one of the many who responded to the campaign’s appeal. She is still fascinated by how Obama’s team fused state-of-the-art media and technology with the community organizing that the candidate learned in poor communities. Yet while she thinks community-based organizations can learn from the online organizing methods innovated by the Obama campaign, she also sees reason for concern in the cracked streets of Philadelphia.
Sabater noted, for example, that although her fellow Obama campaign volunteers were by definition “Latinos,” it was a poor decision on the part of the campaign to send three middle-class Chicanos from the west coast to a predominantly working-class, Spanish-speaking, Puerto Rican neighborhood.

“When my colleagues told me ‘we don’t speak Spanish’ and couldn’t interact with the people, I saw the interface problem,” said Sabater, adding, “I saw the disconnect between the online and offline strategies, both of which are focused on middle-class people. Nobody’s reaching out and targeting these working-class communities of color with technology. They don’t think that the mechanics and maids use technology or vote.” The Obama campaign fell through the cultural cracks in the street, while members in the community fell through the technological cracks of the campaign’s Web strategy.

“The (Obama) campaign created a fantastic interface for people to join the campaign,” Sabater said. “But it didn’t do as well in reaching people who don’t have laptops and whose technology is primarily their cell phones. There’s an age and class and race gap.”

Sabater saw these gaps while trolling the same streets canvassed in a previous era by W.E.B. Du Bois, who went door-to-door documenting how railroad tracks in Jim Crow Philadelphia served as a wood-and-steel color line dividing poor, politically disenfranchised Black neighborhoods from wealthier white neighborhoods where electoral participation was encouraged and expected.

Today, Sabater and others concerned with poor communities must prepare for similar but perhaps more nuanced racial, political and economic divisions in the city of brotherly love and other urban areas. If left to the folks who ran the Obama campaign, equity and freedom may well depend on which side of the silicon and fiber optic tracks a person lives on. If activists take to heart the lessons of this last presidential campaign, though, we might just see what political changes can happen among poor people when we combine media and technology with street-level political organizing beyond elections.
•••
Anyone dealing with what are traditionally defined as “racial” or “social justice” issues (housing, labor, criminal justice, immigration, LGBT, women’s issues, etc.) will have to figure out the “interface” problems identified by Sabater and others like U.C. Berkeley’s danah boyd. A digital anthropologist, boyd caused considerable controversy when she wrote a paper in 2007 positing that MySpace was more working-class than Facebook, which she says tends to cater to older, more elite social networkers.

Whether we deploy MySpace or Facebook, those
of us committed to pursuing the possibility of bottom-up democracy in the digital age will also have to confront
the same kinds of issues Benjamin Franklin identified in Philadelphia. Back when newspapers began their long reign as the defining medium of politics, Franklin wrote: “Those who govern, having much business on their hands, do not generally like to take the trouble of considering and carrying into execution new projects. The best public measures are therefore seldom adopted from previous wisdom, but forced by the occasion.” But one definitive difference between Franklin’s age and ours is the degree to which our economy, our government and politics, and even our culture are for better and for worse being fundamentally reconfigured by media and digital technology.

The need to deploy media and technology as a force on those who govern is a daily concern for Chris Rabb, a Philadelphia resident, entrepreneur and founder of the popular political blog Afro-Netizen. Of particular concern to Rabb is the urgent need for Black, Latino and other communities to use media to flatten the deeply entrenched political pyramids built by the large national Black and Latino nonprofits born in the waning decades of the industrial age in the United States. Many of these nonprofits, he says, center power in Washington, D.C., at the expense of the majority of Blacks and Latinos who are far from the Beltway.

“Hierarchies in Black and brown communities are as bad as in any other community,” said Rabb, who also consults with nonprofit organizations about how to make media and technology a component of their core strategy. “There’s so little power that people hold on to power as long as they can. Blacks are the most urban, overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning community in the country, but we have the least democracy. Black politicians last forever, and lots of our [nonprofit] organizations tend to be run by people who stay there for life.”

Rabb thinks the stunning accomplishments of the Obama campaign mirror the ways in which technology gives communities the capacity to self-organize on a scale never before seen.

“We need to study the Obama movement,” he asserted. “They weren’t the first to use the media in this way, but he came along at that precise moment when the technology had matured, when the audience of media users had reached critical mass.”

To illustrate his point, Rabb mentions the Jena 6 movement, which, he said, used media and technology to alter the game of “ethnic” politics. Initially ignored by the mainstream media and major civil rights organizations, as well as by traditional leaders, bloggers concerned about the Jena 6 case, like Color of Change’s James Rucker and Rabb, took their case directly to the community by using the Web.

By combining Web 2.0 tools—blogs, MySpace, and other social networking sites and interactive websites— with traditional media like radio and newspapers, the more youthful organizers of the Jena 6 movement made it politically impossible for mainstream Black leaders like Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and NAACP leaders to ignore the cause. The tech-savvy organizers gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars on the Web, and in the process, they informed, engaged and activated constituents. Similar media and generational dynamics can be found in the immigrant rights movement.

Policy people at the National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Forum and the majority of large Latino and immigrant rights organizations were in the throes of defensiveness before the onslaught of the Sensenbrenner immigration bill, which sought to criminalize the undocumented. One jaded policy analyst told me at that time that the Republicans “are going to push Sensenbrenner through—and there’s nothing we can do.” Apparently, someone forgot to communicate the analyst’s resignation to the local and regional grassroots groups who used media and technology to organize the largest simultaneous mass mobilizations in U.S. history in 2006.

Like those organizing the movement in support of the Jena 6, the local and regional networks at the core of the immigrant rights movement also deployed a number of media tools to bypass the lethargic hierarchies of the larger Washington-based groups. Many in the media focused their coverage on better-funded and (mainstream) media-savvy groups in the Beltway who rallied behind different versions of the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill, which, in its “bipartisan tradeoff” combined legalization with some of the most punitive immigration proposals in U.S. history. Left out of this coverage was the galaxy of organizations opposed to McCain-Kennedy.

In the face of such a limiting of the political debate around immigration, local and regional activists combined old-school media with a big “M” (television, radio, bullhorns and butcher paper) with new-school media with a small “m” (MySpace, text messaging, cell phones, radio, video and YouTube). Suddenly, mainstream media outlets were forced to cover the political messages that Latino teens were sending with their cell phones in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and in rural Oregon.

While the mainstream media’s immigration coverage remains in its default position of focusing on the larger, better-funded national immigrant groups in Washington, activists like Sabater are combining online and offline organizing to influence the political process around and coverage of immigration and other issues that strongly impact Latinos. Sabater joined other bloggers to form the Sanctuary, a bloggers’ hub that combines information-sharing with offline activism. Members of the Sanctuary developed a survey of the presidential candidates and received coverage by CNN and other media outlets who usually interview only the National Council of La Raza and other large Latino organizations when it comes to “Latino issues.” At a time when political theorists like Manuel Castells tell us that “media is the space of politics,” the old rules just don’t apply, and that can be good news for poor communities of all colors.
•••
Regardless of the election outcome, Rabb, Sabater and others see valuable lessons in how the Obama campaign positioned itself to benefit from the epic self-organizing movement enabled by Web 2.0. It’s especially critical for activists (and everyone else, for that matter) to learn how the Obama campaign used its Web site,
Mybarackobama.com. More than 10 million people signed up at the site, and 1.5 million of those donated money. At the site, the campaign provided volunteers and organizers with campaign literature, virtual meeting spaces and other resources. Even viewers who might have been skeptical of Obama as a candidate or those not interested in electoral politics couldn’t help but be a bit curious. At every turn, the site insisted on interactivity. In August, a huge banner on the site stated: “Who will be Barack’s VP? Be the First to Know. Sign Up Now.” Below it was the “make a difference” banner with ways to volunteer and find local events, and then, of course, there was the “Obama Map”—where a few clicks and the inputting of zip codes got Americans tuned in to groups supporting Obama in their neighborhoods. Indeed, by the time Obama’s party gave him the official nomination in August, journalists and historians were already pointing out how the multimedia-genic Obama fit well with the media of his time as did Kennedy at the dawn of the age of television.

“The next step of activism is for grassroots groups to connect online and offline organizing like Obama did, but targeting working-class people,” said Sabater. “And the first step is for us to learn how our communities use their media and to engage them on their own terms.”

Rabb agreed. “The big question is whether activists for social justice can make the leap from what an organizer candidate did in the presidential cycle to the kind of organizing needed at a time when media and technology are so central to the work of government and power,” he said.

Rabb believes that groups who are organizing communities need to prioritize breaking down the barriers that separate media from their programmatic work. “It’s the very nature of organizing to want to reach audiences on race, class, immigration and other issues” he said, adding, “People have to get with the fact that media’s not replacing but complementing and enhancing their ability to do more with less, to achieve better and greater outcomes.”

Roberto Lovato is a writer with New America Media based in New York City.

What Will Obama do About Terror Incognita: Immigrants and the Homeland Security State?

November 17, 2008

Before anything, my apologies for not notifying you about my hiatus. I was in China and thought I’d be able tp post from there-and I was wrong. In any case,I’m back and ready to deal. Best, R.

Check out this must-read issue of the NACLA Report on the Americas, which looks at something we’ve been looking at for some time: how immigrants are being used to build up the national security state. The impetus for the issue was this piece, which I wrote for Political Research Associates several months ago and which turns out to be one of the more widely circulated and read pieces I’ve written. NACLA and I revised, amended and shortened the PRA piece for publication now. As the immigrant rights movement and those concerned with human rights search for measures of President-elect Obama’s commitment to immigrant rights, issues discussed in this still-quite-relevant analysis might provide a good starting point. If Obama fails to do something in short order about stopping the terror wrought by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, that should give more than a few of us a clear signal of his willingness to continue the bi-partisan support for the the machinery of death and destruction. We should at that point end the Latino honeymoon in short order.

Over the course of this longest of campaigns ever, I’ve interviewed several of Obama’s and the Democratic party’s operatives, more than a few of whom told me -off-the-record- about dealing with the raids through “executive orders” in which the President simply calls for an immediate end to the ICE raids. While that would be a welcome start towards returning us to the problems of the pre-9-11 period, I have serious doubts about the willingness of the Obama operatives and the Democrats to deliver. I hope I’m really, really wrong about this one. Really wrong. Veremos. In any case, do read the NACLA issue as it touches on things we’ll still be facing after January 20th. R

Building the Homeland Security State

by Roberto Lovato

Lost in debates around immigration, as the United States enters its greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, is any sense of the historical connection between immigration policy and increased government control—of citizens. Following a pattern established at the foundation of the republic, immigrants today are again being used to justify government responses the economic and political crises. Consider, for example, the establishment in November 2002 of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the largest, most important restructuring of the federal government since the end of World War II.1 The following March, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was dismantled and replaced with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency under the newly established DHS. ICE’s rapid expansion—16,500-plus employees and near $5 billion budget—quickly transformed it into DHS’s largest investigative component, accounting for more than one fifth of the multibillion-dollar DHS budget. ICE is also the second-largest investigative agency in the federal government, after the FBI, responsible for enforcing more than 400 statutes, and is arguably the most militarized federal entity after the Pentagon.2 Not long after its inception, ICE began to wage what many advocates have called a “war on immigrants.”

Beginning in fall 2006, ICE launched a campaign of workplace and home raids aimed at “getting tough on immigrants.” Thousands of heavily armed ICE agents were deployed in these high-profile raids designed, we were told, to find and deport undocumented immigrants. Since 2006, hundreds of thousands of immigrants have been detained in jails that constitute the fastest-growing part of the prison system in the country. The speed with which the militarization of migration policy took place left many questions. Why, for example, did the Bush administration move the citizenship-processing and immigration-enforcement functions of government from the more domestic, policing-oriented Department of Justice to the more militarized, anti-terrorist bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security? Most explanations view this transfer, and the relentless pursuit of undocumented immigrants that it enabled, as a response to the continuing pressures of angry, mostly white, citizens. Widespread fear and xenophobia following the September 11 attacks, together with the “anti-immigrant climate” fostered thereafter by civic groups like the Minutemen, Republican politicos, and media personalities like CNN’s Lou Dobbs, we are told, has led directly to the massive new government bureaucracy for policing immigrants. The Washington Post, for example, told us in 2006 that the rise of the Minutemen and their armed citizen patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border was “credited with helping to ignite the debate that has dominated Washington in recent months.”3

But while many can believe that there were ulterior motives behind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, few consider that there are non-immigration-related motives behind ICE’s Al Qaeda-ization of immigrants and immigration policy: building a domestic security apparatus, one made possible by multibillion-dollar contracts to military-industrial companies like Boeing, General Electric, and Halliburton for “virtual” border walls, migrant detention centers, drones, ground-based sensors, and other surveillance technology for use in the Arizona desert that was originally designed for Middle Eastern war zones. Not to mention the de facto militarization of immigration policy through the deployment of 6,000 additional National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border; thousands of raids across the country; and the passage of hundreds of punitive, anti-migrant state and federal laws like the Military Commissions Act, which denies the habeas corpus rights of even legal residents who are suspected of providing “material support” to terrorist groups.4

This is not to say that public pressure from the anti-immigrant right played no role in the Bush administration’s immigrant crackdown. And another interpretation of the increased repression against immigrants is articulated by journalist David Bacon, who posits that the crackdown is purposefully meant to trigger an immigrant-labor shortage, which will eventually enable the government to establish the migration policy it’s been pushing for all along: a temporary guest-worker program.5 While that is surely part of the government’s response, such conclusions fail to explain why the government needs to deploy its military might to deal with gardeners, maids, and meatpackers. Such explanations fail to consider how reasons of state, the logic of government, figure heavily in the Bush administration’s historic and massive government restructuring. By framing such militaristic measures as targeting noncitizen immigrants makes it easier for citizens to swallow the increased domestic militarism inherent in increasing numbers of uniformed men and women with guns in their midst. As David Cole put it in his Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism (The New Press, 2005): “What we are willing to allow our government to do to immigrants today creates a template for how it will treat citizens tomorrow.” Constant reports of raids on the homes of the undocumented immigrants normalize the idea of government intrusion into the homes of legal residents.

In order to understand how and why ICE now constitutes an important part of the ascendant national security bureaucracy, we must first look at the intimate relationship between national security policy and homeland security policy. In July 2002, the Bush administration introduced its “National Strategy for Homeland Security,” a document that outlines how to “mobilize and organize our Nation to secure the U.S. homeland from terrorist attacks.” Two months later, the administration released the more geopolitically focused “National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” whose purpose is to “help make the world not just safer but better.” September 11 provided the impetus to create a bureaucratic and policy environment dominated by security imperatives laid out in two of these documents, two of the most definitive of our time, which outline strategies that “together take precedence over all other national strategies, programs, and plans”—including immigration policy, which receives considerable attention, especially in the section on homeland security strategy.

By placing other government functions under the purview of the national security imperatives laid out in the two documents, the Bush administration enabled and deepened the militarization of government bureaucracies like ICE. At the same time, immigrants provided the Bush administration a way to facilitate the transfer of public wealth to military-industrial contractors through government contracts in a kind of Homeland Security Keynesianism. The role of the private sector is also made explicit on a DHS webpage called “Information Sharing and Analysis,” which says that the department “is responsible for assessing the nation’s vulnerabilities” and that “the private sector is central to this task.”

Such dealings are provided for in the two Homeland Security strategy papers, which call for DHS to “establish a national laboratory for homeland security” that solicits “independent and private analysis for science and technology research.” This materialized in ICE’s budget, which has resources for research and development of technologies for surveilling, capturing, detaining, and generally combating what politicos and Minutemen alike paint as the Malthusian monster of immigration. Immigrants not only justify but make possible such massive state expenditures—at great human cost.

*

Shortly after the September 11 attacks and the creation of DHS, the Bush administration used immigrants and fear of outsiders to tighten border restrictions, pass repressive laws, and increase budgets to put more drones, weapons, and troops inside the country. Government actions since 9/11 point clearly to how the U.S. government has set up a new Pentagon-like bureaucracy to fight a new kind of protracted domestic war against a new kind of domestic enemy, undocumented immigrants.

In the process of restructuring the immigration bureaucracy, national security concerns regarding threats from external terrorist enemies got mixed in with domestic concerns about immigrant “invaders” denounced by a growing galaxy of anti-immigrant interests. This should not have come as a surprise: In times of heightened (and often exaggerated) fears about national security, immigration and immigrants are no longer just wedge issues in electoral politics; they transform into dangerous others who fill the need for new domestic enemies. Immigrants can provide the rationale for expanding the government policing bureaucracy in times of political crisis, economic distress, and major geopolitical shifts. At a time when less than 18% of the U.S. population believes it is living the American Dream, according to one poll, the state needs many reasons to reassert control over the populace by putting more gun-wielding government agents among the citizenry.6

A brief look at historical precedents for this kind of government anti-immigrant action yields the conclusion that this instrumentalizing of immigrants to build up government policing and military capabilities is, in fact, a standard practice of the art of statecraft. The historical record provides ample evidence of how national security experts, politicians, elected officials, bureaucrats and other managers of the state have used immigrants and anti-immigrant sentiments and policies as a way of normalizing and advancing militarization within the borders of the United States.

Long before the Patriot Act, DHS, and ICE, policies linking immigrants to the security of the country formed an important part of U.S. statecraft. Like many of the newly established countries suffering some of the political and economic shocks of economic and political modernization in the late 18th century, the fledgling United States and its leaders needed to simultaneously consolidate the nation-state established constitutionally in 1787 while also maneuvering for a position on a global map dominated by the warring powers of France and England. Central to accomplishing this were immigrants, who provided both a means of rallying and aligning segments of the populace while also legitimating massive expenditures toward the construction of the militarized bureaucracies meant to defend against domestic threats to “national” security, threats that linked external enemies, real and perceived. In response to the devastating effects of economic transformations, thousands of French, German, Irish, and other immigrants led uprisings like the Whiskey Rebellion and Shay’s Rebellion, which were viewed as threats by elites, especially the Federalists.

In the face of both popular unrest and competition for political power, and in an effort to consolidate the state and the globally oriented mercantile and pre-industrial capitalist economy, Alexander Hamilton and then president John Adams did what has, since their time, become a standard operating procedure in the art of U.S. statecraft: build the state and insert its control apparatus in the larger populace by scapegoating immigrants as threats to national security. The period before and after the passage of the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts, which gave Adams, the father of the national security state, unprecedented powers. Fearful of Jacobinism’s influence, Adams secured the authority to unilaterally deport any immigrant he deemed a threat to national security. According to historian John Morton Smith, the internal security program adopted by the Federalists during the Adams administration “was designed not only to deal with potential dangers from foreign invasion . . . but also to repress domestic political opposition.”7 In this context, immigrants became the domestic expression of the threat represented by the French Jacobins, the subversive threat of the early 19th century. Indeed, the modern use of the word terror first enters the language when Edmund Burke gazed across the English Channel and, in his Thoughts on the Prospect of a Regicide Peace (1796), used it to describe the actions of the Jacobin state. Burke’s conservative U.S. cousins then adopted the term and applied it to French-influenced immigrants and others considered subversive.

Another major buildup of the government policing apparatus took place during the Red Scare of 1919. The U.S. government faced several economic and political pressures, including the end of World War I, the demobilization of the army, returning troops, joblessness, depression, unemployment, and growing inflation. The precarious situation gave rise to increased elite fear of Jewish, Italian, and other immigrant workers in the era of the Bolshevik revolution and an increasingly powerful, and militant, labor movement. Socialists, Wobblies, and other activists staged 3,600 labor strikes involving 4 million workers, many of whom were led by and were immigrants. Government and big business had to watch as fully one-fifth of the manufacturing workforce staged actions.8 Massive organizing by Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association and race riots in northern cities further stoked elite fears.

Like other national governments of the period—and in contrast to today’s era of outsourcing—the United States had begun intensifying the centralization of functions formerly carried out by the private sector, including keeping labor and other dissidents in check. In the words of Regin Schmidt, author of The FBI and the Origins of Anti-Communism in the United States (Museum Tusculanum Press, 2000): “In response to social problems caused by industrialization, urbanization and immigration and the potential political threats to the existing order posed by the Socialist Party, the IWW and, in 1919, the Communist parties, industrial and political leaders began to look to the federal government, with its growing and powerful bureaucratic organizations to monitor, and control political opposition.”

FBI historian John A. Noakes concludes that “the domestic unrest during this period presented the Bureau of Investigation the opportunity to expand its domain and increase its power.”9 Major expansion of the state through the building of new bureaucracies (Bureau of Corporations, Department of Labor, Federal Trade Commission, etc.) and bureaucratic infighting for government resources and jurisdiction turned the largely immigrant-led unrest into an unprecedented opportunity for A. Mitchell Palmer and his lieutenant, J. Edgar Hoover, who just five years after the scare went on to serve as the director of the Bureau of Investigation, later to become the FBI, where he became the most powerful nonelected official in U.S. history.

During the raids, thousands of immigrants were surveilled, rounded up, and deported during the Red Scare’s Palmer Raids. In what sounds like a precursor to the current ICE raids, local police and federal agents collaborated around immigration. According to FBI historian Kenneth D. Ackerman, in his Young J. Edgar: Hoover, the Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007): “Backed by local police and volunteer vigilantes, federal agents hit in dozens of cities and arrested more than 10,000 suspected communists and fellow travelers. They burst into homes, classrooms and meeting halls, seizing everyone in sight, breaking doors and heads with abandon. The agents ignored legal niceties such as search warrants or arrest warrants. They questioned suspects in secret, imposed prohibitive bail and kept them locked up for months in foul, overcrowded, makeshift prisons.”

Sound familiar? Ackerman concludes: “Almost 90 years later, today’s war on terror exists in an echo chamber of the 1919 Red scare.” It was in the era of the Red Scare that talk of establishing a border patrol began, after Immigration Service authorities were overwhelmed by the tasks demanded of them after the United States entered World War I in 1917. “Thus,” concludes Joseph Nevins in Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the “Illegal Alien” and the Remaking of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (Routledge, 2001), “the roots of the U.S. Border Patrol are to be found not only in concerns about unauthorized immigration, but also (and perhaps more so) in a preoccupation with matters of national security as related to the boundary.”

During the Great Depression, Mexicans in the United States were scapegoated for the economic hard times, as public xenophobia for the first time turned against them (having previously been fixated on the Chinese and “undesirable” Europeans). According to historians Francisco E. Balderrama and Raymond Rodríguez in their history of this program, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s (University of New Mexico Press, 1995), calls to “get rid of the Mexicans” resulted in the INS’s Mexican repatriation program (1929–37), which, like today’s war on immigrants, relied heavily on warrantless mass raids and arrests—which “assumed the logistics of full-scale paramilitary operation,” according to a history of the program—with detainees routinely held incommunicado before being shipped off to Mexico. According to California’s Apology Act for the 1930s Mexican Repatriation Program, passed in 2005, about 400,000 U.S. citizens and legal Mexican residents were forcibly removed in California alone; nationwide, an estimated 2 million people of Mexican descent were forcibly relocated to Mexico.

Complaints of INS abuse were legion, and a 1932 government commission on the matter concluded: “The apprehension and examination of supposed aliens are often characterized by methods [which are] unconstitutional, tyrranic and oppressive,” as quoted in Decade of Betrayal. The program represented the INS’s entry into the national security realm. This was cemented in 1940, when the Roosevelt administration transferred the agency from the Labor Department to Justice, home of the FBI. Indeed, Roosevelt, who a year later would begin detaining and interning Japanese Americans en masse, played a key role in framing immigration and the border as a national security issue. In the context of World War II, this often centered on keeping out “enemy aliens,” and as Nevins notes, for this reason, the Border Patrol personnel was almost doubled and played a role in the war, managing enemy alien detainment camps and helping defend the east coast. Again, we see the ways in which immigrants—in this case Japanese and Mexican immigrants—provide the state with the means to circumvent laws designed to protect the people from their government.

*

As shown in the examples from U.S. history, immigrants provide the state with ample excuse to expand, especially in times of geopolitical and domestic crisis. During the post-revolutionary period, the pursuit of alleged immigrant subversives led to the massive funding of the Navy and to the expansion of state power through laws like the Alien and Seditions Acts. Similarly, the crisis following the end of World War I led to the creation of the FBI and to unprecedented government repression and expansion embodied by the Palmer raids. Viewed from a historical perspective, it is no surprise that the government should respond to the geopolitical and domestic crisis in the United States with expanded government power and bureaucracy. Rather than view the placement of ICE under DHS as solely about controlling immigrant labor or about political (and electoral) opportunism disguised as government policy (both are, in fact, part of the equation), it is important to connect the creation of ICE and its placement under DHS to the perpetual drive of government to expand its powers, especially its repressive apparatus and other mechanisms of social control.

From this perspective, the current framing of the issue of immigration as a “national security” concern—one requiring the bureaucratic shift toward “Homeland Security”—fits well within historical practices that extend government power to control not just immigrants, but those born here, most of whom don’t see immigration policy affecting them. One of the things that makes the current politico-bureaucratic moment different, however, is the fluidity and increasing precariousness of the state itself. Like other nation states, the United States suffers from strains wrought by the free hand of global corporations that have abandoned large segments of its workforce. Such a situation necessitates the institutionalization of the war on immigrants in order to get as many armed government agents into a society that may be teetering on even more serious collapse as seen in the recession and economic crisis devastating core components of the American Dream like education, health care, and home ownership.

Perhaps the most salient difference between today’s security state and those of the past is the central importance of the private sector. And unlike the previous periods, the creation of massive bureaucracies superseded the need to surveil, arrest, and deport migrants. Today, there appears to be a move to make permanent the capacity of the state to pursue, jail and deport migrants in order to sustain what we might call the migration-military-industrial complex, following Deepa Fernandes, Targeted: National Security and the Business of Immigration (Seven Stories Press, 2007). Several indicators make clear that we are well on our way to making the war on immigrants a permanent feature of a government in crisis.

Multibillion-dollar contracts for border security from DHS have created an important new market for aerospace companies like General Electric, Lockheed, and Boeing, which secured a $2.5 billion contract for the Secure Borders Initiative, a DHS program to build surveillance and other technological capabilities (see “Barricading the Border”).10 That some saw in 9/11 an opportunity to expand and grow government technological capabilities—and private sector patronage—through such contracts, can be seen in DHS’s “national laboratory for homeland security.”

Like its predecessor, the military-industrial complex, the migrant-military-industrial complex tries to integrate federal, state, and local economic interests as increasing numbers of companies bid for, and become dependent on, big contracts like the Boeing contract or the $385 million DHS contract for the construction of immigrant prisons.11 Like its military-industrial cousin, the migrant-military-industrial complex has its own web of relationships between corporations, government contracts, and elected officials. Nowhere is this connection clearer than in the case of James Sensenbrenner, the anti-immigrant godfather, who sponsored HR 4437, which criminalized immigrants and those who would help them. According to his 2005 financial disclosure statement, Sensenbrenner held $86,500 in Halliburton stocks and $563,536 in General Electric; Boeing is among the top contributors to the congressman’s PAC (Sensenbrenner also owns stocks in the Olive Garden restaurant chain, which hires undocumented workers.)12 The current war on immigrants is grounded in the need to build and maintain massive policing bureaucracies like ICE and DHS. The immigrant-rights movement must clearly understand this if it is to succeed in its strategies for the right to migrate, the right to work, and the right of migrants to share the fruits of their own labor.


Roberto Lovato is an associate editor with New America Media. A New York–based journalist, he contributes frequently to The Huffington Post and The Nation.


1. This article is a revised, updated version of “One Raid at a Time: How Immigrant Crackdowns Build the National Security State,” which appeared on publiceye.org, the website of Political Research Associates, in March.2. “Special Report: Homeland Security Appropriations for FY 2005 (House & Senate) and California Implications,” the California Institute for Federal Policy Research, September 16, 2004.

3. Alec MacGillis, “Minutemen Assail Amnesty Idea,” The Washington Post, May 13, 2006.

4. “Militarizing the Border: Bush Calls for 6,000 National Guard Troops to Deploy to U.S.-Mexican Border,” Democracy Now!, May 16, 2006.

5. David Bacon, “The Real Political Purpose of the ICE Raids,” Dollars & Sense, January/February 2007.

6. “The American Dream Survey 2006,” Lake Partners Research, August 28, 2006.

7. John Morton Smith, “President John Adams, Thomas Cooper, and Sedition: A Case Study in Suppression,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 42, no. 3 (December 1955): 438–65.

8. Todd J. Pfannestiel, Rethinking the Red Scare: The Lusk Committee and New York’s Crusade Against Radicalism, 1919–1923 (Routledge, 2003).

9. John A. Noakes, “Enforcing Domestic Tranquility: State Building and the Origin of the FBI,” Qualitative Sociology 18, no. 2 (June 1995): 271–86.

10. Martie Cenkci, “At Technology’s Front Line,” Air Force Outreach Program Office, Outreach Prospective 5, no. 4 (Fall–Winter 2006): 10–11.

11. Alexandra Walker, “Sensenbrenner: Immigration Profiteer,” The Real Costs of Prison weblog, October 5, 2006.

12. Roberto Lovato, “Sensenbrenner Under Fire—Does Congressman Profit From Undocumented Labor?” New America Media, October 6, 2006.

Infomercials, Hatemercials and the Multi-mediagenic Presidency: GRITtv Panel Analyzes Elections & Media

October 31, 2008

http://a5.vox.com/6a00cd970c86034cd500fa967c8fb50002-500pi

This was a fun and informative panel. Always-thoghtful host Laura Flanders gets her guests -the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg, Chris Rabb of Afronetizen and mois- to spill the media beans on this breathtaking political moment. Don’t miss a minute!

R

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What to do Before and (If Necessary) After the Election is Stolen

October 27, 2008

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When I hear the fear of first-time voters like 21-year-old Bertha Barrios, I hear the voice of a generation raised beneath the specter of questions about our last two elections.

“This is my first presidential vote,” says Bertha, a Salvadoran American college student who was holding her 2-year-old son, Joshua, while we spoke. “But, sometimes, I don’t feel like voting. Last time, a lot of people voted and it was for nothing. Bush wasn’t supposed to win [in 2000]. I remember the whole Florida vote scandal … They stole that election and the news reports make it seem like they want to do it again.”

Harkening back to the stories she’s heard about elections held under the military dictatorship that ruled El Salvador in the 1980s, she said: “In El Salvador, the right wing somehow would miraculously always win, and that seems like what they want to do here.

“So, what’s the point of voting if it really doesn’t count at the end?” she asks, her voice taking on the tough tones of her Salvadoran-Watts accent.

I was at once startled and pleased at the healthy and unhealthy dose of cynical wisdom I heard coming from someone I’d known since she was an 11 year-old soccer dynamo. Her pointed question and comparison turned what was supposed to be my reported piece about youth fears of fraud and suppression into an opinion piece about something many of us are feeling increasing urgency about: the serious possibility that the presidential election may be stolen – and what to do before and (if necessary) after the election is stolen.

Recent polls showing a possible Obama landslide give Bertha and other voters some confidence. Me too. According to New York University media studies scholar Mark Crispin Miller – who is teaching a course this semester called “How to Steal an Election” – it’s harder to steal elections if there’s not a tight race.

But the flurry of reports coming out about numerous irregularities already seen in and around voting booths across the country leave open the possibility that millions of votes may not be counted in this presidential election. And John McCain and the GOP’s repeated attacks on voter-registration organization ACORN as a group that is “destroying the fabric of democracy,” seem to indicate that the diversionary BIG LIE required to cover-up and legitimate the illegitimate is in place.

A report in the New York Times found that in some states, including battleground states, for every new voter registered two other voters have been removed. Colorado, a state experiencing rapid and huge population increases, has seen more than 100,000 voters erased from its rolls. Reports from other states of suppression and fraud involving computerized voting systems, voter purges, unreasonable demands for voter documentation and other methods mean one thing: all of us must prepare to prevent and fight this.

Failure to fight voter suppression and fraud means more than just another lost election; it means that Bertha’s and other future generations may give in to the political resignation that the Salvadorization of our political system portends. And, so, given that the third strike of a questionable election will essentially institutionalize suppression and fraud, given that our inaction will communicate that we as a people are willing to accept whatever powerful interests impose on us, here are some things we must start planning—and doing—immediately:

1. Push for Major Turnout and Deliver a Historic Blowout: Experts say that large turnouts and a wide margin between candidates make fraud and suppression more difficult because of the number of votes that must be manipulated and erased. Large turnout and overwhelming victories also communicate to big political and economic interests our passionate desire to change our political system, including our maligned electoral process.

2. Monitoring on the Day of the Elections: Don’t just take your vote to the polls, take your cameras, notepads and cell phones so that you can document and report any irregularities you experience or see. Local and national election monitoring groups like Election Protection (1-866-OUR-VOTE), the country’s largest election monitoring operation, have set up systems for anyone to report irregularities.

3. Study Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004: Studying the irregularities of and responses to these two elections provide us with the best case studies of what to look for and, if necessary, how not to respond (i.e., just sit back and watch the election get stolen your TV set).

While we must work unceasingly to make sure that as many people as possible vote and that these votes are counted, we must also prepare for the possibility that irregularities seen in 2000 and 2004 (and already this year) will rear their ugly heads. Failure among all but a few of us to contest and protest the questionable results in 2000 communicated our willingness to accept not just stolen elections, but also anti-democratic behavior in the Executive Branch: the legitimation of torture, corporate and government secrecy coupled with decreased privacy and rights among the citizenry, the militarism in Iraq and, increasingly, within the borders of the country.

Given that we live in an era fraught with threats to democracy, we must, unfortunately, also prepare for the worst by responding with:

1. General Strike: History teaches us that nothing strikes fear into the hearts – and pocketbooks – of the powerful like people stopping business as usual. In the event of a stolen election, local and national work stoppages, school walkouts, protests, and other actions communicate to the government, to corporate interests, to Bertha and to the world that we will fight the decimation of democracy. If they haven’t already, labor unions, political organizers, bloggers and individuals should coordinate a global effort so that business stops, not just in the U.S., but also around the world. Even without a strong labor movement, the immigrant rights mobilization of 2006 – the largest simultaneous marches in U.S. history – proved that you can make a powerful statement simply by not showing up to work and marching instead.

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2. Study the Florida Experience and Learn: We should study how, with a few notable exceptions, the Democrats allowed themselves – and our political future – to be dragged into the abyss of illegitimacy.

3. Foment Any and All Non-Violent Action: – As our country starts taking on the economic and political characteristics of El Salvador and other “Third World” countries that protested U.S. policy, our colossal crisis means we may have to start emulating their methods of protesting electoral and malfeasance: vigils, protests, hunger strikes, office takeovers (ie; government buildings), boycotts and other non-violent means.

Viewed from the historical perspective running from 2000 to the present – the view of Bertha Barrios’ generation – this election may, indeed, actually fit that clichéd slogan about this being the “most important election of our lives” not because we may elect Barack Obama, but because we must restore some semblance of integrity to our political process- and to ourselves.

Waaaaassup! Then & Now: Tragicomic TV Ad Adds Political Riff to Old Budweiser Ad (Funny)

October 24, 2008

For full effect, check out this “classic” Budweiser ad and and then the one that follows:

After taking a moment to wipe the halcyon from your mental screen as you reminisce about them Good Ole days when down-to-earth multinational corporations simply exploited popular culture for profit, check out this video from the age of supra-national corporations exploiting EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE for SUPERPROFITS:

And, if you cannot access via youtube you can go to huffpost here to find it.

“The Dramatic Equivalent of the Collapse of the Soviet Union”: Historian Hobsbawm Predicts New Age of Mixed Economies

October 22, 2008

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Looking for some wisdom in the funk-filled mist of the Democrat’s fog and the smog of the Republicans? If so, then please do listen to this scintillating BBC interview with one of the pre-eminent cartographers of our global past, Eric Hobsbawm.

Even when he delivers bad news (ie; , “..in the 1930’s the net political effect of the Great Depression was to strengthen the right” ..but there’s much potential good too!), 91 year-old Hobsbawm makes you feel that urgent need to dust off your history books. His often startling thoughts about such issues as the possibility of a new era of mixed economies, the “rediscovery of Marx,” and other quite relevant matters are worth the 14 minutes of your consciousness. The return on mental investment is a safer, more profitable use of your time than devaluing your mind with the inanities of many public and corporate media outlets here in the U.S., many of whom are largely concerned with reproducing the excruciatingly strained apologies for the bankrupt economic and ideological system we inhabit. So, please do check it out here.

Bretton Woods II? Time to (Re-) Interrogate -& Challenge- Big Capitalism

October 20, 2008

Pyramid of Capitalist System

We have entered an era in which 60, 70 and even 85 year-olds are coming out of retirement to find the work they need simply to survive.

Such reports will sadly and surely multiply as the disintegration of economic, political and social life as we know it proceeds. Without a doubt, the root of such sad reports is to be found in the depths of this most recent crisis of capitalism we find ourselves in. For the Lead Political Cheerleaders of Big Capitalism like French President Nicolas Sarkozy to find themselves forced to defend not just deadly economic policies, but capitalism itself, should give us pause; Pause so we think about how we may insert human values into this most vulnerable moment in political and economic history; Just listen to the loud thump of the ideological sandbags “Sarko the American” has to put up to before the abysmal pressures facing capitalism itself:

“Le laissez-faire, c’est fini,” Sarkozy said. “The financial crisis is not the crisis of capitalism. It is the crisis of a system that has distanced itself from the most fundamental values of capitalism, which betrayed the spirit of capitalism.”

Doesn’t that first phrase –“Le laissez-faire, c’est finii”- roll off the tongue in a wonderfully sublime way? It graces the palate with much more good taste and reality than those vomit-inducing war chants like the pathetic calls to “Eat Freedom Fries instead of French Fries!”, no? Sarkozy, who doesn’t much like poor, migrant and colored folks in la Belle France or in greater Europe, has also moved to organize a top-down global response through what some are calling a Bretton Woods Conference II, one that includes leaders of G-8 and other industrialized countries whose mission is nothing less than to salvage and reconfigure capitalism. Such a crisis-laden meeting carries with it great danger and opportunity if we consider that the first Bretton Woods conference established the International Monetary Fund and many of the primary instruments of the global economic domination that forced 60-70 and 80 year-olds throughout the post-war “Third World” to seek work to simply survive.

Time to do what we did during the battle of Seattle: confront big capital and confront them frontally, forcefully and globally through as many means as possible. I myself am not at this time advocating violent means, however. But looking at elderly people like my parents coming out of retirement and gazing at the babies coming out of the dark womb of their tender past must drive us to consider and exercise any and all non-violent means to alter the course of current history.

Every student knows that Roosevelt only agreed to the New Deal after looking at and listening to the loud calls coming from the radical below So, let us meditate deeply on the opportunity, while being vigilant of the dangers “our leaders” are preparing to foist on us in their own efforts to survive. We forget their fear and vulnerability at our own risk; Doing so will keep us on the path of the same sheepish lot that allowed elites to steal not 1, but 2 elections. So, let us also join the armies of the planet that are, according to this piece from the Times UK, re-arming themselves with Das Capital & other writings of Karl Marx as well as other tools with which to analyze and influence the New Direction from the bottom-up. And don’t let the Pavlovian, anti-Marxist conditioning of our decadent system close you off to what are still thought-provoking and critically important resources that can help us give shape to whatever the new era portends. Our ability to analyze and critique capitalism must inform our own policies and political actions if we are not to move beyond the economic, environmental and spiritual devastation wrought by Big Capital and its political cheerleaders.