Archive for November 2011

Cornel West: OWS Has Changed Public Discourse

“There’s been a shift in public discourse towards truth and justice,” said Black public intellectual Cornel West, “the truth about corporate greed, the truth of escalating poverty, the truth about obscene levels of unemployment and, we hope, the truth about arbitrary military power abroad and arbitrary police power at home.” Dr. West, who recently relocated from Princeton University to New York’s Union Theological Seminary, lamented unquestioning African American allegiance to Barack Obama, despite the First Black President’s pro-corporate policies. “Our precious Black brothers and sisters are so desperate, so scared,” he said. “We’ve got lackluster, milquetoast leadership that doesn’t want to tell the people the truth.”

Stop-and-Frisk Action in Sean Bell Precinct

Twenty people were arrest at the Queens, New York precinct in the neighborhood where Sean Bell was killed in a fusillade of police bullets, five years ago. About 200 people took part in the demonstrations, according to “Stop Stop-and-Frisk” leader Carl Dix. “What’s been needed is mass resistance,” said Dix. “The New Jim Crow is meeting some new freedom fighters.” The group holds a citywide Day of Student Action Against Stop-and-Frisk on December 2, spearheaded by a contingent from Columbia University.

Uhuru Joins POP in Newark

The International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement sent delegations from Philadelphia and Washington, DC, to join demonstrations for jobs, peace, equality and justice organized by the People’s Organization for Progress – or POP – in Newark, New Jersey. Uhuru Movement leader Diop Olugbala said the same tyranny of corporations and banks that exists in Newark also prevails in Philadelphia, Washington and every other major U.S. city. POP has been holding daily protests for five months.

Mass Demonstrations Planned for Chicago

The United National Anti-War Coalition, UNAC, is determined to hold mass demonstrations in May against meetings of NATO and the wealthy G-8 nations, in Chicago, despite government plans to put severe limitations on protests. UNAC spokesperson Chris Gavreau says the feds are categorizing the meetings as “National Security Events.” “I believe that means they are declaring the rules on civil liberties and the right to protest are off the table,” she said. UNAC demands the right to protest the G-8’s “austerity cutbacks and other horrors” and NATO’s “bombing of Libya, the occupation of Afghanistan and new outrages all over the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.”

Every Armed American Must Leave Iraq

Despite the Obama administration’s claims that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will be complete by the end of the year, “the State Department seems to be planning to leave 16,000 personnel in Iraq,” including “8,000 armed military contractors, or mercenaries,” said Raed Jarrar, a Washington-base Iraqi-American journalist and political analyst. He points out that 16,000 men is the equivalent of an Army division. “There are no other examples of an embassy this size anywhere in the world.”

U.S. Public Opinion Counts for Nothing

All that the so-called congressional SuperCommittee had to do, if it really wanted to cut the deficit properly, according to University of Massachusetts political scientist Thomas Ferguson, “was listen to public opinion.” Polls show “by over 2 to 1, Americans want higher taxes on the rich, and they don’t want cuts in Social Security and Medicare.” So, what did the Democrats do? “They begin by offering cuts in Social Security and Medicare,” said Prof. Ferguson. “Popular opinion plays almost no role in what these guys decide to do.” By elevating deficits over job-creation, U.S. politicians “are discrediting the whole political system.”

California Prison Strikers Said to Commit Suicide

Three inmates who took part in hunger strikes against California’s high security confinement practices were found dead, apparent suicides. Isaac Ontiveros, of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, said the deaths point out the need to “call solitary confinement what it is: torture.” Classically, said Ontiveos “torture is used to cause despair…to create a climate of profound and disorienting uncertainty.”

Derivatives at Root of Banking Problem

The very existence of $600 trillion-plus in derivatives, most of them held by “about six banks,” represents a grave threat to the global financial system, said Karanja Gacuca, a member of the People of Color Working Group of the Occupy Wall Street movement, in New York City. Banks are hoarding money, refusing to make job-producing investments, because “if any of these six banks defaulted, the effects to the economy would be catastrophic,” said Gacuca, whose background is in finance. The entire world’s gross annual product is only about $64 trillion. “Some of those banks have to fail. I really don’t see how we get out of this.”

Occupy Movement is Making Clear Demands

“I’ve been to 16 occupations and at every one I’ve heard the same thing: get money out of politics,” said Arun Gupta, who helped found The Occupy Wall Street Journal and is covering the national occupation story for Salon and Alternet. “It is a message about extreme concentration of wealth and power, and that wealth is used to dominate the political system. There is a very clear demand of what people do want.” Gupta concedes that many Occupiers still think in “moralistic terms, like greed,” despite the fact that “the laws of capitalism impel the corporations towards buying the system…. It’s probably the greatest return on investment you can get.”

Wealth, Not Deficit, is the Problem

“The truth is, we don’t have a deficit problem,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers, an organizer with Occupy DC, encamped at Washington’s Freedom Plaza. “We have the wealth in this country to meet our needs, but our government is not willing to take that revenue from the rich and major corporations.” Occupy DC  HYPERLINK ""held hearings on the so-called congressional SuperCommittee’s mandate to make vast cuts in federal spending. Of the ten biggest contributors to the 12 senators and representatives on the panel, six are mega-banks, one is Microsoft, and the other is the huge corporate law firm Skadden, Arps.

Black Chicago Gears Up for Housing Push and NATO/G-8 Meetings

Under the umbrella of Occupy the Hood, Chicago Black activists are “focusing on tasks in our communities that have been neglected for so long,” said veteran organizer Pat Hill. She acknowledged that, these days, corporate media tend to pay more attention to Black activism when the “Occupy” label is attached. The next community offensive is called “Homes for the Holidays,” to tackle the housing crisis in Black neighborhoods. Then, in the spring, local activists will join with national organizations to confront simultaneous Chicago meetings of NATO and G-8, the organization of the world’s wealthiest nations. “We are actively involved in that, and intend to exercise our First Amendment rights” in the face of heavy security measures.

The Hood and Occupy Boston Didn’t Mix Well

Some Black activists who attempted to collaborate with Boston’s OWS outfit came away less than satisfied. Jamal Crawford, of the city’s Occupy The Hood umbrella, cited the Boston OWS’s “leaderless structure,” “lack of foundational principles,” and “lack of organization” – as well as “abundant” white privilege and instances of racism – for failure to forge a working relationship. “The question has never been, Can Black people navigate in a white world, because that’s something we’ve been doing,” said Crawford. “The real question has been, Can white people navigate in a Black world – and that remains to be seen.” Crawford, however, credits OWS headquarters in New York with having been “very supportive of Occupy The Hood.”

Occupation Has Energized Oakland Black and Brown Movement

“This current moment has opened up a lot of opportunities for us to get more resources, in terms of new people who are really motivated,” said Robbie Clark, a housing activist with the Oakland-based non-profit Just Cause. “A lot of organizations are willing to come together about how to win some concrete demands, especially around bank accountability, workers rights and immigrant rights.”  Clark said “people are learning from how the Occupiers have been able to engage masses of people” – even if those masses are not necessarily Black and brown. The Occupiers have also learned from local activists of color, said Clark. “This movement around economic equality can be traced back to Reconstruction: 40 acres and a mule.”

Under Obama, Rule of Law Crumbles

“The president can commit murder whenever he wants,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, citing the string of U.S. and allied assassinations that have marked the past year of Barack Obama’s presidency. “This is the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize, and now he believes he can launch drones all over the world,” said Ratner. “This [Libya] is about the sixth war that Obama is involved in, and it looks like he is more of a warlike president than almost anybody we’ve ever had.” In the current era, all U.S. ware are waged in pursuit of global hegemony – and, specifically, to corner oil supplies. “We have to end our support for militarism, just as Dr. (Martin Luther] King said.”

BAR’s Dr. Jared Ball explores the cooptation of Hip Hop, not just by media moguls and commercial marketers, but by the U.S. State Department – “a situation where hip-hop is turned against itself and, indeed, the world.”

Black Is Back Coalition Holds National Conference

“We’ve got to uproot this system, so that our people can live,” said Omali Yeshitela, chairman of the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations, at a conference in Philadelphia that marked the groups second year of operation. Yeshitela recalled that, back in the autumn of 2009, when the new coalition decided to stage a march on the White House, lots of Blacks “were upset that we would challenge of Negro president.” The coalition has tried “to create a new trajectory for the African Liberation movement.” Membership in the Black is Back Coalition, Yeshitela told the crowd, “is something that will enhance what you do” in your usual political work, “not hurt what you do.”

Peoples Organization for Progress Supports OWS

“This system cannot deliver a decent quality of life for our people,” said Larry Hamm, president of People’s Organization for Progress (POP), at the Black Is Back Coalition conference. POP, a coalition affiliate, is statewide grassroots organization in New Jersey. POP supports the Occupy Wall Street movement. “Yes, there are contradictions,” said Hamm. “But, as long as I read that the captains of finance and industry hate what they are doing, we will support it.” Hamm reminded the conference that POP launched daily demonstrations for jobs, education, housing and peace back in June, before there was an OWS movement. The protests, in Newark, are set to last for at least 381 days, the duration of the 1955 Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott.

Historic Church Joins POP Protest

Newark’s Bethany Baptist Church, which this weekend celebrated its 140th anniversary, marked the occasion by joining with POP’s daily demonstrations. “I like the idea of partnering with other organizations,” said Bethany’s Rev. William Howard. “There is no more critical question than meaningful employment for our community. So many of our young people are criminalized at an early age and unable to pursue conventional employment.” Rev. Howard is a former president of the National Council of Churches.

Occupation Movement Has Made Politics as Usual “Trivial”

The Occupation movement “has established for tens of millions of people that it is finance capital and Wall Street that are at the very core of the economic and social problems we face in this country,” said Tony Monteiro, professor of African American Studies at Temple University, in Philadelphia. “The Occupation has such moral authority that it has, literally, taken the Tea Party out of the news, and has made politics as usual trivial to millions of people,” said Monteiro. “It has the potential of animating and bringing militancy to the labor movement, and to forcing Black people to come out of the stupor we are in as a result of confusion about Obama and bourgeois politics.”

Churches Seek to Withdraw $1 Billion From Big Banks

“If our New Bottom Line Coalition can move a billion dollars,” said Rev. Ryan Bell, of Hollywood Adventist Church, in Los Angeles, “then not only does that make a fiscal impact on the banks, but to accumulate a billion dollars worth of transfers you’ve got to get a movement. And that’s what’s afoot right now.” The New Bottom Line Coalition is an umbrella of 1,000 faith-based organizations. Rev. Mario Howell, pastor of the Antioch Church Family, in the San Francisco Bay area, said churches are also pressing local governments to divest from the Bank of America and other behemoths. “If you don’t,” he said, “we’re going to remember you when it comes time to vote again.”

Banks “Swindled” Residents of Mostly Black City

Protesters braved a snowstorm to demand that New Jersey’s attorney general prosecute lending agencies for overpricing housing in Irvington, a 95 percent Black city of 60,000. “Price-fixing is a crime” and the banks that colluded in the crime are “swindlers,” said David Hungerford, of the Coalition to Save Our Homes. The coalition demands that banks be prosecuted and forced to reduce the principle on mortgages by the amount of the over-pricing.

Police Crackdowns Only Fuel Oakland Occupation

A protester who was shot with a rubber bullet while peacefully “just taking some pictures” of police in Oakland, California, said “the movement grows every time the police come down on us; I don’t know why they haven’t learned that, yet.” Scott Campbell added, “If there is one thing that Oakland is known for, it’s police violence.”

Was Protest Really a “General Strike”

“From my perspective, nothing about the situation in Oakland fits or is generally thought of as a general strike,” said Melvyn Dubofsky, professor emeritus of sociology and history at the University of New York, at Binghamton. Most Oakland residents went to work or school on the day protestors called for a general strike. Prof. Dubofsky said “there is no agreed definition” of what constitutes a general strike, but that historically, general strikes involve whole sectors of industry or entire cities and “were called or directed by the local labor unions.” In the final analysis, “the test is whether they achieved their objectives,” he said. Dubofsky is author of The State and Labor in Modern America.

The Occupation is Not a White Thing

“When racist stuff comes up in the larger movement, we’re first to respond to it,” said Andrew Hoyles, of the People of Color Working Group at Occupy Wall Street, in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. One problem is that media seek out “a white face, oftentimes a white male,” to interview. “That’s a struggle. The issues that people of color face didn’t start with college debt.” It’s very important, Hoyles said, “that Black people in America start to see Occupy Wall Street not as a white issue. It’s very much their issue.” The 99% “aren’t just educated white men in debt; it is the ones who have continuously been the first to be fired and the last to be hired.”

UNAC: Economic Justice and Peace are Inseparable

“The effort to end U.S. interventions abroad, to end NATO attacks against nations that are attempting to fight back against the banking elite, are incredibly strengthened by the fact that a real economic justice movement is forming” in the U.S., said Chris Gauvreau, of the United National Anti-War Coalition. UNAC is organizing protests at a summit of NATO and simultaneous meeting of the G-8 nations in May, in Chicago.

Occupation Puts Dems “In a Pickle”

“As far as I can tell,” said Doug Henwood, editor of Left Business Observer, the ramifications of the Occupy Wall Street movement have not yet entered the consciousness of “the market. They don’t perceive it as more than a curiosity, at this point.” The Democratic Party is another matter. “Some of the Democrats are in a pickle,” said Henwood. “It’s a party of capital that has to pretend, for electoral reasons, that it’s not.” If the Democrats embrace Occupation issues, “it would be good electoral news for them, but their paymasters don’t want them to do that.”

Protesters are Learning About Real Homelessness

“The people who are now part of that movement are now understanding what it means for the people who were already living on the street,” said Jeremy Rosen, policy director for the National Law Center on Homelessness, in Washington. “Things like, how are we going to stay warm, and where are we going to use the bathroom.”

Jared Ball, BAR editor and columnist: White demonstrators at Occupation events should cease using “slave” and “slavery” metaphors that distort history.

Glen Ford, BAR executive editor: Thousands of federal prison inmates are eligible for early release on crack cocaine convictions.

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