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Fifty Years: Remembering Medgar Evers
by John R. Salter, Jr.
May 28, 2013
Medgar Evers was assassinated on June 12, 1963 by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith, who was convicted of the crime three decades later in 1994. This 50th anniversary tribute was written by Evers’ friend and fellow organizer John R. Salter, Jr. for Against the Current, where it will appear in the forthcoming issue #165.
We are also posting this on a week that is now noteworthy for another event in Jackson, Mississippi, the May 21 primary victory of Chokwe Lumumba for Mayor. Lumumba, a founding member of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, ran as a candidate of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party on a platform of upholding human rights and strengthening the organization of Jackson residents, particularly the Black and working class majority, through the formation of People’s Assemblies. In the last issue of Against the Current (#164), Robert Caldwell spoke with Chokwe Lumumba about his campaign and how it fits into the larger community initiative of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement’s “Jackson Plan”–read it here.
Around 2 AM, September 1, 1961, my spouse Eldri and I crossed the Mississippi River into the Magnolia State’s Closed Society. We were both in our mid-20s. Married a few weeks before at Superior, Wisconsin, where I had done an academic year of college teaching, we had come directly from my home town of Flagstaff, Arizona. We were headed to private and all-Black Tougaloo Southern Christian College, just north of Jackson, where a teaching position awaited me. A sociologist, I also had a fair amount of grassroots organizing under my belt and, before long, was to have much more.
At that point, the State of Mississippi was very close to police state status. With its sanguinary history, expanded and dominated by the post-1954 white Citizens’ Councils of America (“State’s Rights and Racial Integrity”), it was a total and pervasive segregationist complex, backed up by legions of white “lawmen” and white vigilantes. African Americans, almost half the population, were kept “down,” deprived of the right to vote or demonstrate, and mostly lived in or close to poverty. Most whites either supported the system or remained silent.
I came to know Medgar Evers, Mississippi Field Secretary of the NAACP, very well from 1961 to his death. Early after Eldri, and I arrived at Tougaloo, I was asked by an activist student, Colia Liddell (later to become Colia Liddell Lafayette Clark), if I would be the Advisor to the newly developed North Jackson Youth Council of the NAACP. Very small at that point, it was the only youth council in Jackson and environs. Of course, honored, I accepted. Not long thereafter, I become a member of the board of directors of the Mississippi NAACP, and, still later, as we entered a period of dramatic turbulence, chairman of the strategy committee of the Jackson Movement. I worked with Medgar closely. And I always had tremendous respect for him.
There was a significant strain of Choctaw Indian in his family background. I, myself, am one-half American Indian (Abenaki and Mohawk) — and that was only one of a number of bonding factors that quickly developed between us.
Born in Newton County in 1925, he served in the European Theatre during the Second World War, was educated at all-Black Alcorn A&M, and in 1954 became the first NAACP Field Secretary in the history of the state. He wasn’t really an organizer; was sort of a lone wolf who traveled lonely and mighty dangerous trails. He kept the few dissidents that existed in the state together in little groups that did as much as they felt they could do; persuaded people to attach their names to pioneer civil rights lawsuits; investigated and tried to publicize the many atrocities which occurred each week. And, on orders from the National Office, he sold NAACP membership cards.
Medgar was a very stable, very cool person. The only time that I ever saw him break down came in the Fall of 1961, at an evening dinner session of the annual convention of the Mississippi NAACP — in the “Negro” Masonic Temple on Jackson’s Lynch Street. It was first time we had met him — and I was much impressed by his cheerfulness and optimism. The police were parked outside and, inside, the delegates from the scattered, and generally moribund NAACP units around the state, had finished giving their reports.
Medgar got up and began to speak on the matter of Clyde Kennard of Forrest County who, a year or so before, had been spirited off to the penitentiary on the trumped-up charge of receiving stolen chicken-feed — all of this stemming from Kennard’s several attempts to enter all-white Mississippi Southern at Hattiesburg.
As Medgar talked on about the Kennard case, his voice shook and, in what was obviously deep sorrow and frustration, he wept openly. With one accord — and with many others weeping by this time — all arose and began singing “We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” When the song was over, Medgar continued, outwardly calm.
The Evers family lived under constant threat of violence. In late September 1962, James Meredith became the first African American to enroll at any previously all-white Mississippi educational institution — Ole Miss at Oxford. And, in the end, that took 30,000 Federal troops and Federalized National Guardsmen.
A Victory for Lumumba in Jackson!
by Robert Caldwell
June 5, 2013
For background on the mayoral campaign in Jackson, Mississippi and how it fits into the “Jackson Plan,” see this interview the author conducted with Chokwe Lumumba prior to his electoral victory.
Lumumba and campaign supporters celebrate the primary victory (Photo: “Elect Chokwe Lumumba” Facebook page)
Chokwe Lumumba’s mayoral victory on Tuesday, gathering 85% of the general election vote, signals a step forward for the Jackson Plan and for Black Liberation. Lumumba is considered one of the most progressive candidates ever to be elected mayor of a major city in the United States. The victory propels the one-term city councilman, co-founder of Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) and longtime chairman of New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO) to the head of Jackson city government. But this forward progress will face obstacles, even before Lumumba’s July 1 inauguration.
As Mayor, Chokwe and his allies will have to make use of “political openings that provide a broader platform for a restoration of the ‘commons,’” to create more public infrastructure and services, and seek opportunities toward a localized “democratic transformation of the economy,” as their Jackson Plan outlines.
During the Democratic Party primary runoff election, local business, Republican Party, and white elites backed his opponent Jackson Lee. Lumumba was outspent by more than 4-1 by his primary opponent as well as the target of vicious attack ads. Despite the challenges, Lumumba stayed focused on issues of economic justice, democracy, and the underlying causes of Jackson’s social problems. At the same time, he ran not as a radical, but as a mainstream candidate. Despite that, he was attacked repeatedly by his opponents in an attempt to sever him from his base, including charges that he is not really a member of the Democratic Party because of his criticism of corporate Democrats and his membership in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
In the general election cycle, which culminated on Tuesday, June 4, ruling elites failed to support any of the no-name independent candidates against Lumumba. Now they will be divided over whether to support the newly elected mayor and/or finding ways to isolate and undermine him. Whether or not they try to play friend or enemy to Lumumba, these same forces will most assuredly work against most of the initiatives of the Jackson Plan. So, while the victorious election signals political openings, it also places Chokwe in the hot seat.
During the course of the campaign, Chokwe brought together a wide range of constituencies that agreed on a progressive vision of a more just and equitable Jackson. The campaign drew upon certain broadly democratic themes: “the people must decide,” “a Jackson that works for all of us, not just the few,” and “One City, One Aim, One Destiny.” No doubt the local forces of capital and white supremacy will attempt to twist these concepts and use these words against him over the course of his term.
An important component of the citywide organizing effort is the “People’s Assemblies”–grassroots leaders from across the city that have been working together with Lumumba to build a people-centered policy agenda. Assuming the People’s Assemblies continue to be built, their capacity to push the political process from below and defend any advances will be critical to posing limits on what the reactionary forces can accomplish in their effort to undermine Lumumba and the Jackson Plan.
This election victory represents important opportunities for the Black Liberation and socialist movements, but it also poses significant challenges. How will the People’s Assemblies be able to give meaningful input to policy decisions but remain autonomous from the new mayor’s short-term political exigencies? Will Chokwe be pressured into adaptation and integration within the Democratic Party power structure? To what extent will he continue to vocally defend political prisoners like Mutulu Shakur and political exileAssata Shakur? And to what extent will he continue to voice concerns about international issues like justice in Palestine and solidarity with Bolivarian movement in Venezuela?
There are many open-ended questions that, in the end, “the people will have to decide.” A strong grassroots movement supportive of Chokwe will be necessary, but insufficient to push the agenda along. An even stronger grassroots movement intent on holding the new mayor (and the rest of city government) accountable and the building and expansion of institutions, like the People’s Assemblies and workers organizations outlined in the Jackson plan, will be necessary to generate significant progress over the next four years.In a press release, Chokwe admits that he and his team face challenges ahead, but believes “[they] are up to the task before [them].”
This weekend, on Saturday, June 8, attendees at the Left Forum in New York are encouraged to attend a discussion of Chokwe Lumumba’s election and MXGM’s the Jackson Plan. This should be one of many upcoming opportunities to learn what has transpired so far and think about how the lessons can be applied to where we live, work, and organize.
As a resident of New Orleans, Robert Caldwell worked with Chokwe Lumumba on People’s Hurricane Relief Fund. He is a member of Solidarity who splits his time between Dallas-Fort Worth and his native Louisiana.
The Heroism of Bradley Manning
WE KNOW ABOUT heroes of social justice and liberation who come “organically“ from the movements: Nelson Mandela. Rosa Parks, Ella Baker and Martin Luther King, Jr. Eugene V. Debs. Chico Mendes. Bernadette Devlin McAliskey. Heroes of grassroots resistance in Palestine, in the Philippines, in Central America and so many other struggles, those with names we know and so many more we don’t.
Then there are those heroic individuals who seem to come out of nowhere, perhaps influenced in some ways by the atmosphere of dissent but with no indication that they ever were, or intended to be, part of an organized movement let alone symbols of it. That’s who Bradley Manning seems to be, pretty much an ordinary guy with ordinary human qualities and problems — who didn’t check his moral compass at the door when he signed up for the military.
Maybe he was indirectly influenced by the example decades earlier of Daniel Ellsberg, who revealed the “Pentagon Papers” with their revelations of the lying fraud behind the United States’ war in Vietnam. Maybe not. In any case, you can and should read the statement of this hero here.
Because of the political and judicial climate at the time of Daniel Ellsberg’s revelations, Richard Nixon’s attempt to destroy his life didn’t succeed. It’s different in the age of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. As Chris Hedges writes, “Manning will surely pay with many years – perhaps his entire life – in prison. But we too will pay. The war against Bradley Manning is a war against us all.”
Hedges is right, of course. Self-interest as well as basic morality and human decency demand that the antiwar and civil liberties movements stand in solidarity with Bradley Manning as well as with Wikileaks, which published his revelations after mainstream corporate newspapers’ cowardly refusal to be the primary recipients.
In its bloodlust, the government – that’s the Obama administration – won’t accept Manning’s statement of responsibility exposing him to 20 years prison, but will press the ridiculous charges of “aiding the enemy,” “espionage” and “computer crimes.” Manning had no contact with “the enemy,” didn’t spy for anyone and hacked into no government computers. Doesn’t matter.
For background on the case, you can read Hedges’ Truthdig article, and follow developments and offer support through Manning’s defense committee website. There’s another comparison worth thinking about: What made Bradley Manning behave differently from the flyboys he saw on the video in their Apache helicopter, gunning down civilians on a Baghdad street and then returning to incinerate a van (including kids) who were trying to assist the wounded victims?
Those guys weren’t necessarily cynical psychopaths when they joined the military. Nor were those who have raided village homes in Afghanistan, shot the men, raped teenage girls and burned the bodies to hide the evidence. We don’t know when and why they shed their moral compasses, or how many of them will return to become violent abusers or PTSD-afflicted human time bombs. The military and the government have every reason to keep us from finding out any time soon. The truth would expose too much about what these wars have done to our society as well as those we’ve pulverized with our smart weapons and stupid leaders.
Decades from now when it’s too late, there will be studies that provide considerable detail like Nick Turse’s new book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. Right now, we need the heroism of Bradley Manning and more like him to lift the information blackout. That’s why the system is determined to crush him and anyone else who might follow his example of ordinary, and extraordinary, heroism.
This statement was written for the Solidarity Political Committee by David Finkel. The author is not to be confused with the Washington Post reporter (referenced in Bradley Manning’s statement) who embedded with U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Earth Day – Its Legacy and Our Future
by Paul Prescod, for the Political Committee
[This article was written by Paul Prescod for the Solidarity Political Committee. For information on the April 20 Ecosocialist Conference in New York City, please see their “call to conference” here. A statement by Solidarity’s Ecosocialism Working Group on the Superstorm Sandy disaster is online at the Webzine, as well as an announcement by Nick Davenport of the “Ecosocialist Contingent” here.]
EARTH DAY BEGAN on April 22, 1970 as an environmental teach-in modeled after those on the Vietnam War, initiated by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson in response to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill. It had resonance because there was a vibrant environmental movement that had been developing. The date was deliberately chosen because it was not during students’ exams or spring break, and 20 million activists participated. Streets, parks, auditoriums, and college campuses were the sites of protests against environmental degradation.
Another important figure related to this was Tony Mazzocchi, a labor leader who took the lead in building strong ties between the union movement, including his own Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers, and the environmental movement. Mazzocchi was heavily influenced by Rachel Carson, whose famous book Silent Spring brought to light the dangers of pesticides and chemicals in our lives.
The modern environmental movement came out of the activism of the 1960s, a product of the politicization and activity that was taking place on a mass scale in the United States globally. Most environmental regulations and legislation that are worth anything today are a result of this movement. It also gave rise to the environmental justice movement, which focuses on environmental issues in communities of color.
For many activists, the awareness of the effects industrial capitalism was having on the environment was integrated with the consciousness that had developed on a number of issues. Struggles of African Americans, feminism, gay liberation, and resistance against imperialist wars were all part of the atmosphere.
This environmental consciousness must be developed again, for today we face a truly planetary crisis. In many different areas of ecology we are fast approaching several tipping points that are unalterable on a human timescale. Ultimately it is up to the populations affected to make Earth Day resonate beyond April 22nd and to build a society that respects ecological limits and addresses real human needs.
With Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather incidents there is a growing awareness that climate change is already here, and it’s real. The movement against the Keystone pipeline showed its force on February 17th with the largest demonstration against climate change this country has ever seen, although the result still hangs in the balance.
As the fracking industry in the country develops, so does the resistance of the communities whose land and water are being destroyed. Globally there are even more inspiring examples of resistance on these fronts.
Melting, Drying Up and Drowning
Climate change is perhaps the most urgent crisis, whose effects are clearly already being felt around the world. The record-breaking U.S. Midwest and plains drought last summer, and the “super storm” Hurricane Sandy, have demonstrated the seriousness of this issue. Extreme weather of all kinds has made its mark across the world. Arctic sea ice had a record melt in the summer of 2012 and scientists are seriously contemplating whether an Arctic without ice in the summer will be a reality within as few as 5-10 years.
Scientists have generally considered an increase in global temperature of two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) as the point where control of climate change will be out of human hands. (So far, the temperature increase is already 0.8 degrees C.)
This temperature increase would correspond to cumulative carbon emissions of about one trillion metric tons. If business as usual continues we are set to hit that mark in 2043, just 30 years from now. The real goal should be to stay well below this mark, at around 750 billion cumulative metric tons of carbon. In order to avoid this mark we have to decrease our rate of emissions by 5.7 % per year. To put it another way, the International Energy Agency recommends that 80% of the remaining fossil fuel reserves stay put in the ground.
Contrary to many predictions, the financial crisis has not led to a decline in carbon emissions. Emissions did drop by 1.4% in 2009, but only to spike up by 5.9% in 2010. The widely predicted onset of “peak oil” production also will not come to the rescue: Increased global coal production, tar sands and fracking are being enthusiastically pursued by governments and energy corporations. These sources contain enough carbon to push the planet far over the temperature tipping point if they were to be burned.
The effects of climate change go beyond rising sea levels and more unpredictable weather. Extreme weather, floods, and droughts will change the way farming is done around the world and could set off catastrophic food security crises in Africa and Asia. Staple foods could double in price by 2050 as a result of all this.
Many regions around the world can expect to experience declines in crop and livestock production. Agriculture is simply not flexible enough to adjust to such massive climate swings occurring within a few decades.
As disastrous as it is, climate change represents just one of many ecological crises currently underway. The acidification of the oceans is a direct result of climate change, and even small changes in acidity can cause a huge change in sea ecology. Species extinctions now taking place are on par with other periods of mass extinctions in geological history. Dead zones in oceans are being caused by nitrogen pollution, fueled by its use in chemical fertilizers.
A dramatic loss in freshwater supplies is also occurring, leading to a push for the global privatization of water. Dams, irrigation, destruction of forests, and artificial tree plantations all play a role in disrupting natural water cycles. The depletion of the ozone continues, as well as the destruction of the rainforest. Of course all of these ecological factors interact with and influence each other, making precise predictions about their future development difficult.
Economy and Environment
All this is taking place amidst a global economic crisis that does not show many signs of letting up. The usual rhetoric by world leaders of encouraging economic growth raises serious problems when considering the ecological devastation this “growth” has caused, and the limits that we are pushing up against.
This situation brings many challenges for environmental activists. The economic crisis has brought alarming rates of unemployment, declining wages, erosion of the social safety net, and a more precarious mode of living for many people. Faced with these very real and overwhelming problems, long-term environmental crises will be hard to bring to the forefront of peoples’ concerns. The old ” jobs vs. the environment” card will undoubtedly be played by the energy industry against any threat to its profits.
Socialist activists should be sensitive to this issue and be able to offer up solutions and alternatives. Clearly, the massive infrastructure changes that would be needed to create a truly sustainable society would require equally massive numbers of new jobs. New industries could be accompanied by trainings and employment for workers previously employed in carbon-based energy industries. The various alternative energy sources that do exist, and how they could be utilized, needs to be pointed out. The system of capitalist production is based on limitless growth, continuous consumption, planned technological/psychological obsolescence, and constant expansion. A high level of planning and cooperation would be needed to seriously address the ecological crisis. This planning simply cannot be dictated by the laws of private profit if it is to be meaningful or effective. The political leaders of all the worst polluting nations have utterly failed to come up with any type of plan to limit climate change or avoid any of the other crises.
It is revealing that in the last presidential election neither Mitt Romney nor Barrack Obama mentioned climate change even once in their debates (in fact, none of the journalists even asked!). Instead they fought over who was more supportive of the coal industry. Obama did begin talking about climate change after the election, but this is primarily to satisfy the Democrats’ voting base and because the movement around the Keystone XL Pipeline made it an issue he could no longer ignore. Except when there’s some current disaster, the mainstream news networks are still largely silent on the issue.
It goes without saying that the Left needs to be heavily involved around these issues. On April 20th an Ecosocialism conference will be held in New York City at Barnard College, involving the collaboration of several socialist organizations. This is a step in the right direction going forward and hopefully will help in refining our analysis of the crisis and what we can do about it. Surely this should be an issue at the center of attention of all generations fighting for a real chance at a future.
Sequestration: Crisis by stealth
For the moment we are talking about the Sequestration crisis, just the latest of what president Obama himself called many manufactured crises in his inauguration speech. Though it may seem like he is distressed by the perceived gridlock on Capitol Hill, the actual agenda for the long series of bought-off Congresses and corporate-friendly presidents is moving along quite nicely. Across the board discretionary spending cuts amounting to $85 billion have taken effect as of March 1 and will need to be absorbed by the end of the fiscal year on September 30. A total of $4 trillion in cuts are mandated over the decade so far.
To be sure, this “crisis” is not a crisis at all for the president and the congress, since they’ve been intending to see these cuts enacted in some form all along. As Jeffrey Sachs observed in his recent Financial Times op-ed: “The administration is now vigorously blaming the Republicans for the pending cuts. Yet the level of spending for fiscal year 2013 under the sequestration will be nearly the same as Mr Obama called for in the draft budget presented in mid-2012.” Of course, the president won’t be entirely pleased until Congress legislates authority to agency heads to redistribute and prioritize spending, but that will be as easy as the last – or the next — continuing resolution to keep the government operating. Not a problem.
This is really a continuation of the now-permanent campaigning that consumes Washington’s politicians. Virtually all federal legislation has taken on a public relations character, a contest between party spin doctors for points toward the next election. The supposed “fiscal cliff”, off which no sane politician would dare jump, has been neatly turned into the new plateau. Instead of dramatic congressional debates or presidential addresses, we see campaign speeches lamenting the failure of bipartisanship followed by the president treating Republican leaders to dinner at the luxurious Jefferson Hotel in D.C. One supposes having the dinner hosted in-house would have been a bit rich after cancelling the White House tours for American school children on account of the sequestration cuts. By the way, to watch the ABC Evening News with Diane Sawyer, we might guess that these school children are facing the worst of it.
So what will the sequestration really cost America’s working and poor folks? Estimates vary widely, but none of it is good for the 99%, and all of it is good for the 1%. In a nation of TV addicts, crises take on a surreal character: our political storms are like our weather reporting. The reporters breathlessly describe the storm of the decade or the century, or more like the month, devastating to millions. But typically most viewers “escape” the worst effects, as the trees happen to fall on neighbors’ cars, or the power goes out in another neighborhood; all of it will be restored sooner than later by those trusted companies and contractors who apply good old American ingenuity and know-how to end the crisis, and private enterprise hums along. Of course, odds are that everyone will be affected by a crisis sooner or later, but the sense of security, knowing that American commerce will fix the problem and keep the economy working, is enough to sooth all nerves.
According to the Congressional Budget office, GDP growth would be 0.6% slower under sequestration, and Austin Goolsbee, former chairman of Obama’s economic advisors, told Congress that the impact of the sequester would “put us back in the circumstance where growth is not fast enough to shrink the unemployment rate.” In other words, not enough new jobs would be created to keep up with new workers entering the job market, and unemployment rates would again rise as the mid-term election campaigns get under way. Incidentally, a key part of the electoral calculation is the new demographics. One thing will certainly happen before then: passage of immigration reform. Latino voters put Obama over the top in 2012. Republicans would like to have a bipartisan reform under their belts as they enter the midterms, so they can claim a remedy to fix the rising unemployment that disproportionately hurts Latinos in lower paid jobs.
The effects of sequestration will not appear to be catastrophic to those still with jobs – somewhat like an overdone weather report – unless you are the one affected personally. The FT explains: “[M]any federal agencies plan to handle the cuts by sending staff home, without pay, for one day a week or fortnight. Such workers will not show up as unemployed because official jobs data include anybody who did any work in the past week. Nor will figures for hours worked or average earnings fall as a result of such lay-offs because the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect those numbers for the salaried federal workforce.” As usual, the effects are wider than reported, but the crisis quickly recedes from the newscasts and the brief attention span of public consciousness.
The next “crisis”? Recently government economists have begun to point out that the legislation making tax cuts permanent has been a major factor in a further trillion-dollar shortfall. It just so happens that the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission, designed to market cuts in Social Security and Medicare, has come up with another trillion or two in savings. Expect the eventual “grand bargain” among Republicans and Democrats to be something like the shared sacrifice we’ve been promised by Democrats all along, chief spokesman among them, president Obama. But if all goes according to the usual formula, Republicans will demand a revised tax code, “giving up” favored loopholes in exchange for lower rates (a net lower tax bill, of course); and Democrats will trade off “small but fair” cuts in “entitlements” (what was a cut in cost-of-living increases could now include a raised retirement age for Social Security; Medicare rates will rise but so could the age of eligibility to match longer life spans, etc). If true to form, Obama’s Democrats will offer their concessions at the beginning of negotiations before even being asked to give them up, showing us all what decent sports they are.
The real crisis is systemic and politically unsolvable. The Fed, like the European Central Bank, will continue its “quantitative easing infinity” (another term for printing money because they have no other answer); corporations will be forced to continue to shake out, eliminating or absorbing competitors, lowering costs and shedding jobs; banks, reluctant to extend credit to businesses in a shaky economy, are looking more to currency speculation and higher yields on money they lend to debt-saddled governments; and the 99% will continue to bear the burden of bankers’ debts gone bad, the decimation of labor institutions, a drastically lower standard of living and dismantlement of the social safety net, in short the end of the New Deal.
As we publish, Europeans were shocked to hear that the citizens of Cyprus will have a substantial portion of their bank savings deposits stolen (“taxed”) by the government to qualify for billions of euros in bailout funds for their failing banks. After Greece and anticipating Italy, the Germans and Finns (the two highest rated European economies) especially are worried that politicians can no longer be relied upon to impose the worst of austerity measures in failing European economies, and that the financial system faces complete collapse. No longer confident that governments can buy off the total debts of their banks with privatizations, more taxes and cuts in pensions and wages, now almost half the losses will be directly withdrawn from the bank accounts of ordinary citizens. The sales pitch is that depositors can take the tax bite or face total losses when the banks go under. As it is, the run on the Cypriot banks is likely to spread as other European investors realize their own governments don’t have the cash to guarantee their bank deposits either. The Irish prime minister, currently serving as rotating chair of the European Union Council (heads of government), told Russian TV that Italy, next in the bailout line, “is too big to be saved and too big to fail.” There is no plan B. Meanwhile, in a corporate state as culturally hegemonic as the United States, the consequences of this crisis will be visited on the working class mostly by stealth. But sooner or later, all of us will be affected by the storm’s effects, and the catastrophe will be unfixable.
Conclusion? There is a choice. Either we accept the looting and pillaging, dysfunction and mendacity, of the corporate class as they destroy the system that feeds them, or the 99% can make the capitalist system dysfunctional on its own terms, by stopping payment of the debts of the rich and demanding the fruits of our own labor. Tell that to your neighbor next time there’s a storm.
Warren Davis is a long-time labor activist living in the Philadelphia area, recently most active in the Occupy movement and the struggle against austerity. He joined Solidarity in 1987.
The Politics of Austerity, Occupy and the 2012 Elections
A Solidarity Pamphlet
by Marc Aaron, Warren Davis, Dianne Feeley, David Finkel & Kit Wainer
Download the PDF here.
AT THIS MOMENT, the central issue facing our society is how to respond to the deepest crisis of global capitalism since the 1930s. Unfortunately, we won’t be hearing a substantive debate about this in the 2012 elections. The Democratic and Republican parties both favor austerity — in short, making working-class people pay to bail out the corporations and get capitalism back on its feet.
Austerity means sacrificing the wealth and the rights of the working class (i.e. jobs, wages, pensions, housing and public services) in order to preserve the wealth and the rights of banks, large corporations, and those few families who live off profits and interest (i.e. capital).
More than that, austerity asks us to lower our hopes and expectations of a decent life for our families and communities. And it seeks to transform political and economic institutions in order to be sure that workers and governments will remain “disciplined” into the future.
Those of us who would prioritize human needs and democracy over capitalist profit and corporate power do not have a political party capable of mounting a serious challenge to austerity in the electoral arena. Yet the dramatic emergence of the Occupy movement proves that there is widespread opposition to austerity, as well as deep frustration with the narrow “choices” offered by our legislative and electoral system.
The Occupy movement transformed the political landscape. Young people rejected rising inequality and the bipartisan consensus on bailouts for bankers, proclaiming “We are the 99%.” And Occupiers have refused to be coopted by the Democratic Party or confined by the boundaries of conventional legislative politics. Occupy struck a powerful chord, bringing hope that inequality and corporate power can be checked by a rising mass movement.
Along with the Occupy movement, we’ve seen the magnificent actions of young immigrants, proclaiming themselves “Undocumented, Unafraid and Unapologetic” in the face of the Obama administration’s escalation of deportations beyond the horrible levels that occurred under George W. Bush.
The racist murder of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed African-American teenager, by a vigilante “neighborhood watch coordinator” who wasn’t immediately arrested, has created a mass outpouring of anger and demands for justice, not only in Florida but across the United States and even internationally.
As November looms closer, however, activists in unions, Occupy and social justice movements will face intense pressure to devote their collective political energies to the reelection of president Obama and to Democratic Party electoral campaigns.
In this pamphlet, we argue against falling in behind the Democrats. As socialists, we suggest that the main task facing Occupiers, union militants and social justice activists is not to elect Democrats but rather to sustain and intensify Occupy’s bold challenge to the bi-partisan consensus behind austerity.
We are not going to focus here on how individuals choose to vote in November. We are concerned, rather, with how activists in a wide range of movements can most effectively channel their energies to challenge austerity and the corporate-dominated two-party system.
In our view, this will require not only building the Occupy movement but also taking its spirit and approach, and the audacity of immigrant youth who are coming out of the shadows, into the multitude of organizations, networks and communities that collectively provide a base for the radical transformation of American politics.We believe it is possible for the movements to build on the success of Occupy, the heroism of immigrant youth and the rage over Trayvon Martin’s murder. It’s an opportunity to build mass actions which go beyond symbolism to directly and materially disrupt the project of austerity — and to develop forms of organization with the capacity to put the corporations and the far right on the defensive, whatever the outcome of the elections.
Presentations from Solidarity’s educational conferences at New York University… including Paul Street, David McNally, Adriana Mulero, Gloria Mattera, Gilbert Achcar, Cinzia Arruzza, Charlie Post, Adaner Usmani, Bill Zoda, Glen Ford, Normahirim Perez, Christy Thornton, Steve Downs, Vivek Chibber, Penelope Duggan, Lalit Clarkson, Jonah McAllister… [mouse over the following selections and click to choose]
Members and friends of Solidarity in Philadelphia meet regularly to discuss and organize our activities. If you are interested in learning more about Solidarity and what we do, let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org