Category Archives: Anti-slavery

A Flag; a Violent MAGA Family; a Brick through the Window!

I’ll get to the punch line soon, since this is part two of a two-part mini-horror story of a neighbor’s 41-year-old MAGA son, the actual son’s 63-year-old MAGA-mean mom, and alas, the 41-year-old son’s 39-year-old brother. And then the lot of them under the roof of a 63-year-old stepfather who has “US Navy retired” on his Facebook account, as well as every single post about on-line Texas Hold’em. [Part One! Your Right Ends with My Right to Might]

The offending sign:

They are not what David Graeber said, “We Are the 99 Percent.” They are making three retirements, getting social security (times two), government (tax payer funded) Medicare, free VA, and they sold a house (obscene inflated price) in California, and have come to Oregon because this coast is almost “We Are the 99 Percent White” homeland of Sundown Laws. Their house on our street is the largest and newest built right on the dunes overlooking the bay. Cheap compared to Simi Valley. They banked the rest for their glorious days as racists on the coast of Oregon.

You know, criticize students, teachers, journalists, local elected officials, the road department, Portland in general, Democrats, anyone with a green button on, and, well, not exactly connoisseurs of our incredible Hatfield Marine Sciences Center.  For them, spending money at a spendy restaurant in Newport, chipping in a $7 tip, and lording over some subservient waiter is their way of “rubbing elbows with the poor people.”

I know the types because I have talked with others around here — Californians from Orange County, Semi Valley and the like. The ones who for decades have cursed the Mexicans, the Guatemalans, the African Americans, the Koreans, the Armenians, the Sikhs, the Indians, the Chinese, and on and on and on. You know, in places named Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Diego, those all-American English proper nouns.

The single thread I have attempted to help students understand is that we are as individuals what we individually… do, say, eat, drink, watch, read, dream, hope for, act upon, see, smell, hear, hold true, protect, believe, perform, learn, value, preserve, who we valorize, what we consume, build, and write. Collectively, well, one can imagine as a society or culture or nation that we might also have  all of these “what we …” to reflect upon whether we are good people or bad people, takers or leavers, kind or cruel, pacific or warring, COLLECTIVELY.

Ways of Thinking - Feudalism is very much alive

More on the MAGA deplorables in a moment.

Having lived in some interesting places – Bisbee, Tucson, Sierra Vista, El Paso, Albuquerque, Spokane, Seattle, Portland,  Vancouver, and then many other places in foreign lands —  I understand the concept of those who have and those who have nothing or barely nothing.

I understand (know closely) those in crisis, those with bad families, those who have been abandoned by the most important people who should have been there for them – mother, father, sister, brother, uncles and aunts, extended families. I know the directionless mindset of young people who join gangs, use drugs, commit violence,  and are on a war-path toward self-destruction. I know the deep thread of trauma inflicted upon people, and how that stays for life, an ever-lasting series of lamentations, self-analyses, and self-doubts and self-loathing, to just name a few.

It doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to know bad hombres when you see them. It doesn’t take the niece or the sister of a Trump Character to know the lack of worth and the insult to humanity a guy like him reflects.

Did Hitler have adverse childhood experiences? Does it matter? Trump? Cheney? Bush? Kissinger? Milton Friedman? Colin Powell? Madeline Albright? Obama? Clinton? Biden? Every single billionaire and every single millionaire?

You know, I have a neighbor here, next door, from Arizona. Husband and wife. They hate Glendale, hate the republican Red State politics, hate the criminal ex-pardoned-sheriff Joe. They are here, and alas, they bought a lot, and built on it a manufactured home. The kind that comes in two parts. You know it from the long line of cars on the freeways with “extra wide load” pilot cars sandwiching them. A nice one with a foundation and it looks like a from-the-ground-up-with-footings house.

The deal is they (no one) can get a traditional mortgage for a trailer or park home or manufactured home. But, that billionaire Warren Buffet made some cool billions by financing mobile homes, using a balloon payment system, and his scheme (one of thousands) caused many (millions) to pay exorbitant fees, interest rates, and many-many homes were repossessed, like yesterday’s Pontiac Grand Am. Then, old Warren inflicts another layer of making money — on the used (repossessed) manufactured home market. This is the scheme of misanthropes, those that make the Forbes 1000 List, those that end up on Obama’s economic transition team. Or Trump’s. Or Biden’s.

The neighbors are nice, but alas, they are voting for Biden-Harris, and even that action conjures up fears, so much so they are afraid to put out a legal, everyday “Vote for Harris-Biden 2020” yard sign. Other neighbors want that same sign up, but fear retaliation.

I know many people living in many countries, including many in Europe, and they are sort of looking at this country from a telephoto lens, and really have not idea how bad, how messed up, how fearful, how spineless Americans are. Sure, they want USA to bomb Iran, bomb North Korea, bomb Venezuela, bomb China, bomb Russia, bomb liberals or bomb MAGA’s, but in reality, this country is all show and all bravado with a few tens of millions of psychopaths with guns running around (driving big trucks) with the red-white-and-blue dangling near the tailpipe.

Show up here on the coast a dark-skinned Italian, Frenchman, Greek, Spaniard, well, you get the picture. A deep swarthy tan, even for a so-called white man or woman, well, that’s a suspect epidermis. REALLY.

I used to work outside a lot, ride a bike for 50 miles in a day, and had dark black hair and a goatee. Sure, the hair on my arms bleached out, but still, in Idaho, in 2001 when I first ended up in the Pacific Northwest, from El Paso, one day in Idaho, while taking guests around, I was asked if I was a Heb – Jewish? Asked if I was an Arab? And asked if I was a Mexican?  I am not kidding. First, you have to deal with the fact being any of those – Jewish, Arab and Mexican – I still think is legal. But then, the undertone, the very concept of questioning who I am, based on nationality (or maybe ethnicity, because you can be any racial member in all three camps – Arab, Jewish and Mexican.

File:American corporate flag.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Deplorables 2001. Deplorables in 1980 bombing innocents in Central America. Deplorables rah-rah Bush and Nixon and Bombing them All Back to the Stone Age. And, those who work for these deplorables, well, some can call them Eichmann’s or Little Eichmann’s like Ward Churchill called many of those working in the World Trade Center. People who work for the masters, the paymasters, the schemers, the grifters, the snake oil salesmen, the high risk loan sharks, PayDay loan sharks, all those used car salesmen who eat the potato salad at the Sunday School brunch, and on Monday, sell another car with saw dust inside the transmission casing or hawk an SUV that once floated around NOL after Hurricane Katrina. Faulty air bags, faked VW emissions, cracks in the O-ring for the NASA Space Shuttle, fissures in the metal containing the nuclear rods at Three Mile Island. You know, all those people, who, unfortunately, have been lumped into “We Are the 99.”

We can say they were duped by the money, made a Faustian Bargain, drank the Kool-Aid, were bought out or sold out. Brainwashed by Capitalism … or greed. Sell their mothers down the river, because something bad in their lives turned them. Excuse/ excuse/ excuse.

I can’t go there now, or even years ago when the slogan began, We Are the 99.” I was pepper sprayed by Seattle Police during Occupy Wall Street. Many of those in the “99” ended up on the message boards and comments sections telling us that we deserved to be pepper sprayed, or what did we expect, or that there are other ways to make our point other than marching peacefully.

So, yeah, no, not part of any “We Are the 99.” Closet racists? Misogynists? Believers in the lie that all faculty at colleges and universities are elitists?

I was not brought up in privilege – my old man was an airman in USAF and then got into the Army as a Warrant Officer. Yes, I got to live overseas, travel overseas, be with relatives in Scotland, England, Ireland and Germany, but we are not talking about anything past lower-middle class. [Of course, there are plenty of psychological studies and cognitive theses on how Americans conflate their abilities, inflate  their actual economic standing, and frame their own narratives around the bastards of the world. Imagine, dirt poor people in Appalachia relating to silver-spooned, poor-hating, accent-mocking, disabilities-deriding, excon-slamming Trump or Bush or Nixon or Reagan.]

Did I strike gold? Well, I was in that time period in 1975 when a state college education was dirt cheap, and the state university in Tucson was progressive, made tons of allowances letting dudes like me major in science, English, journalism – all at the same time, semester to semester. Electives were anthropology [got to do the Garbage Project, garbology, with William Rathje];  marine biology [got to be a diver in Sea of Cortez with incredible professors who had a slew of marine species named after them]; poetry and creative writing [got to be a hanger on at the University of Arizona Poetry Center and all the writers who came through to the university];  journalism [got to get paid reporting for the then daily Wildcat newspaper, a wholly independent newspaper not under the thumb of the journalism department]. We broke stories on the veterinarian school paying for dogs (stolen) for ghastly experiments with ballistics; and broke the story on the football coach scamming refunding unused airline vouchers for his own slush fund. I even got to take a special topics class with W. Eugene Smith, the photographer. We got the Center for Creative Photography and the Ansel Adams slides. I did a first-person series on homelessness in Tucson, and I learned community journalism working on the lab paper, The Tombstone Epitaph. I got to party with Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Bly, Denise Levertov, and even had beers several times with Lee Marvin. I got the chance to ride my motorcycle as an extra in C.C. & Company, with Joe Namath and Ann Margaret. And, much-much more by the time I was 20 years old.

A measure of an adult is not the size of his or her bank account, for sure, and alas, 43 years later, I am still lower-middle class, having had a life of part-time gigs threaded into a multi-variant quilt. Some of my friends are/were tenured professors, semi-successful novelists, and a millionaire or two here and there.

The bulk of my life has been teaching in places like El Paso and Las Cruces and Tucson, Spokane, Seattle and Vancouver.

The measure of some can be grasped through the quality of their living, their life philosophy and for some, an education inside and outside the hallowed walls of university life. I took education by the horns, got the paid TA-ship for one master’s (in English) and got another almost free ride getting another master’s in urban and regional planning. Learning is and was something you can do outside of a college, but a good college and good students and a vibrant campus and community life, no one can replace. They can bullshit you into thinking everything taught and learned in school is easily learned in the real world, but the problem is the real world is not our house, and the real world is the paymaster. A real education is life-long learning, a community of service learning, and one where curriculum is morphed, special projects encouraged, across disciples are the norm, and the liberal arts the foundation.

As many have said, I should/could write many books on my life and on what I have seen in so many other people’s lives. : ACAB Anti Cop Stop Police Brutality Protest Statement Garden Flag for Outdoor House Porch Welcome Holiday Decoration, Fit Chritmas/Birthday/Happy New, 3x5ft : Garden & Outdoor

I take radical action seriously, and I know – knew from an early age – the system is rigged for the rich, and that in this country, at least, the majority of people are colonized and co-opted by the complex forces of capitalism as it plays out as predatory, penury, parasitic, usury, sociopathic and ablaze with the profits privatized and all the external costs to us, society, and to the environment, socialized. A society that doesn’t do a drum beat around the tenets of something like War is a Racket and one that has no grasp of that the same fellow, General Smedley Butler, thwarting a military coup against FDR by a group of businessmen, none of whom got “hook-line-and-sinkered” for the crime, well, that society is delusional and infantilized.

I have studied human nature, have been in developing countries, under developed countries and what might be termed as third world countries. I understand the overt corruption of a place like Mexico, where cops-politicians-rich-narcos have laid siege on the people, on the indigenous ones, on teachers and land reformers and environmental defenders. The duplicity, the complete global thuggery of the USA – all those systems of exported extortion, pollution, hostage taking, maiming, theft, fraud, and grifting, again, make the narcos look like school bullies. Right, tales of a few tens of millions Economic Hit Men, thanks John Perkins!

There is something totally hardened by the Yankee and Rebel  –

In 1923, the British novelist D.H. Lawrence offered a grim assessment of America and Americans: “All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.”

Lawrence’s observations of the American character did not draw upon deep wells of direct personal experience. When he wrote those lines, he had only been living in the United States for a bit more than a year and had spent much of that time among artists and the literati. But he was neither the first nor the last to make such an observation. Nearly 50 years ago, surveying both the wreckage of the 1960s and centuries of archives, the brilliant historian Richard Hofstadter acknowledged that “Americans certainly have reason to inquire whether, when compared with other advanced industrial nations, they are not a people of exceptional violence.”

The general strike that didn't happen: a report on the activity of the IWW in Wisconsin

Here, David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years. He was one of several who helped coin the “We Are the Ninety-Nine Percent.”

Well, one of the things that I discovered in researching my book is that the kind of debt crisis we’re experiencing now, being a real debt crisis, which is a debt crisis that affects ordinary people, debts between the very wealthy or between governments can always be renegotiated and always have been throughout world history. They’re not anything set in stone. It’s, generally speaking, when you have debts owed by the poor to the rich that suddenly debts become a sacred obligation, more important than anything else. The idea of renegotiating them becomes unthinkable. In the past, though, there have been mechanisms, when things get to a point of real social crisis, that have always existed. And they vary by the period of history. In the ancient Middle East, often new kings would simply declare a clean slate and cancel all debts, or all consumer debts, commercial debts, between merchants were often left alone. The Jubilee was a way of institutionalizing that. In the Middle Ages, there were bans on interest taking entirely. There have been many mechanisms. [Counterpunch]

Now how is Graber’s untimely death Sept. 3, 2020 related to the misanthropes across the street who not only exhibit the middling middle class from California hatred of Muslims, hatred of liberals, hatred of education, hatred of book learning, hatred of the arts, hatred of discourse, hatred of debate, hatred of countervailing beliefs, hatred of evolution, hatred of most sciences, hatred of multiculturalism, hatred of youth/color/polyglots/indigenous people.

Every week there is a new yard gnome, a new seasonal flag up – you name the Hallmark celebration, this family puts them all up, during those “correct” calendar spans. They wear sports team clothes, they shop at Walmart, they plant plastic flowers, they have a yippy little dog, they don’t own a bicycle, kayak, canoe, anything to at least prove they are part of the walking species. They don’t walk. Both have hobbled gaits, and at 63 they seem and act like dinosaurs from an Archie Bunker episode.

What takes the cake is that they, as I said in the first part, took down a smallish placard/sign from our property, at our front door. The son did the stealing, age 41, and the mother the next day out and out told me “my son would never do that.”

This is America, the nation of liars and thieves and infants. So, the sign was gone, I caught him in the act, I tried to stop him with my words, and he slinked into his mother’s house at 10:40 pm. All the lights were out.

You see, they were looking at this sign, and not only were they bubbling over with rage, they were talking about it. Somehow, this sign represents everything they are against. Steal a sign from the neighbors.

Ahh, but that just was part one. Now, two days later, we get a bang on the door. Nothing like having to utilize your 2nd amendment rights. Startled, well, I thought maybe this guy was back on a rampage. I saw a Sheriff deputy.

Well, this same boy, at 7 pm, according to two witnesses, threw a large garden cement paving stone into my passenger side window. The witness called the cops. The cop asked if I wanted to report this as a crime. The cop photographed the interior, the paving stone, and then took the stone. He also called for back-up. He told me a neighbor and visitor witnessed the brick being thrown through my window. Of course, on the little Metro, I had the same sign on the back window.

This is it for America, in a nutshell. This is not Covid-19 stir crazy. This fellow has a history of booze and 24-hour drinking at mom’s place. I found this out later. The other son also has issues with going off the wagon. This is the reality of these Trumpies, 39, 41 and two 63-year-olds. Big screen TV I can see every time I go outside. The talking heads of the 24/7 Hate TV, Big Brother Hannity and Fox and Friends Hate TV stars.

But you see, these deplorables were deplorables way before this greasy man got into the White House. Seething against the Latinos and Blacks. Seething against the wildfires (blaming the democrats for those). Seething against the high cost of living, and seething that they were passed up on the time line the day they were born.

Trauma informed care means understanding where people are in their addictions, their mental crises and their involvement in the criminal injustice system. Not about blame or expecting people to meet some “normal” level of functioning, but meeting them there at the trauma and going from here to be an inspiring and helpful case manager.

But when the shoe is on the other foot – the neighbor committing an act of violence (yes, a brick or rock through a car window right outside your home is a symbolic threat to a person’s body) or the politician thieving or the president raping – well, the victim cannot always be so holistic and understanding of those perpetrators’ childhood, juvenile, teen, young and old adult traumas as rationales for bad behavior.

One brick, a few hundred dollars later, then cops who give citations but do not take people to jail because of Covid-19. Guys that are white met by white cops. Lies, excuses, etc. The deputy said this perpetrator was saying, “Come on, aren’t you guys part of the blue lives matter? Come on, what I did was for you.”

There you have it. Me threading the needle, since I know for sure policing has been a giant racist and punishment and sadistic thing in US society. I know if the perp had been a dark person, a BIPOC, then, one backtalk move, and that person would be in cuffs.

Instead, the deputy said this guy was all over the place, was trying to coddle up to the cops, and that he was smelling of booze and that his job was to disarm the individual’s uneven demeanor by de-escalating things.

And, the bottom line is I am told to exercise my 2nd amendment rights, have the gun/guns ready, “and, if any trouble happens on the property, wink wink …,” well, those are the words of cops.

Oh, and they recommended to get a no-stalking order filed at the court, so a judge can meet with me via phone to determine if this one guy, the 41-year-old, will be hit with a court order to stay away from me. For each member of the family, we’d have to file individual stalking orders.

This is America, the hard, cold shallow/sallow America. The California Here You Come America. The Fox News America. The seething white racist America. The Americans who hate welfare while they scoop up all the welfare from their mercenary service (sic) in the US Navy, while getting social security, while getting Medicare and VA benefits, and maybe this fellow, the 41-year-old, he too is on government assistance – unemployment and possibly developmentally disabled before age 18?

I have friends all over the world who think the United States is something completely than it is. They consume so much Holly-dirt, and they maybe smart and read the elites and Ivy League mostly white books on this or that angle in America. Their take on things – because the Ivy Leaguers and Elite Coastal Lizards – have no real sense of how bad the country is, how tough the soul of the white nation is, how quickly the nation of immigrants will turn into a nation of haters.

The paperwork for the no stalking order is absurdly long. Then, the conference courtroom swearing in. All the other no-stalking cases up first – violent spouse or ex-boyfriend. Nothing like listening to all these cases of violence, threats, etc. to get a person re-traumatized. That’s what was on the docket — my case and then women who were in fear for their lives because of violent ex-spouses and ex-boyfriends.

So, get this – in the USA, now, I have a temporary no-stalking order, and the guy will be served soon, which means, you guessed it, more escalation of his testosterone, etc. More of the MAGA might makes right stupidity? That’s one possible scenario. The order goes to a level, according to the judge,  of this fellow not being allowed in my field of vision, which makes it, err, problematic for him, since the house’s stoop overlooks the same road we share.

All the nonsense like –

You will have the opportunity to ask the judge to stop the stalker from:

Following or monitoring you,
Threatening you,
Talking or writing to you (by mail, phone, text, email, or social media),
Interfering with or damaging your property,
Coming near you in public or on private property, and
Showing up at your work, home, school, or daycare facility.

Someone may be stalking you when they:

Follow you,
Conduct surveillance on you,
Appear uninvited at your home, work, or school,
Makes unwanted phone calls or sends unwanted emails or texts,
Leave objects for you,
Vandalizes your property, or
Hurt your pet.

Like I said, I have had an interesting life. Worked as a police reporter and was even threatened as a newspaper journalist by both Sheriff deputies and a local policeman in Bisbee, Las Cruces and El Paso. For publishing too much on the PD/Sheriff. Got to hang out in Chihuahua City and on a couple of ranchos outside the city with some mean hombres – both college educated (MBA and JD) in the USA, but then, also politicos with ties to the cocaine trade. Been in small towns in the south, and up north in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Utah and Arizona.

The Euro’s and Aussies and Kiwis know nothing about how warped and dysfunctional this country under white banking and war rule is. Imagine, that defective set of genes then moving into 1990 and the 2000s. Complete monsters like Zuckerberg and Bezos, the entire Fortune 5000 captains of industry, the sports team owners, Hollywood, from sea to shining sea.

The MAGA thing is real, not just some kneejerk against the orange monster/menace/accused pedophile/accused rapist. Yet, there are so many Americans willing to give the GOP the benefit of the doubt, so many Ellen’s and Karen’s giving Bush Baby the benefit of the doubt. This is the caliber of both sides of the political manure pile.

You’re 77 and Joe Biden and, bam, the slippage, big time. Then the felon, the grifter, the complete imbecile, Trump, 74. Two accused rapists, two rotten men, and one, Biden, living some fabled set of lies, the plagiarist in the Senate and VP. Then the habitual thief, Trump, lying as a tool, incompetent, and believe it or not, dumber than dirt, making Bush Junior look like Stephen Hawkins.

One hundred and fifty-one, the two of them, combined imbecility and lies and entitlement. Both racists, both lovers of the exceptionalism that is the huge American lie. Imagine, having five leaders, 30 years old each, running for president? Imagine that. “Article II, Section 1, Clause 5 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for holding the presidency. To serve as president, one must: be a natural-born U.S. citizen of the United States; be at least 35 years old; resident of the US for at least 14 years.”

This is the quality of MAGA, and many of them are old, Christians, sure, and they in any other time in history would not let their daughters come home with a greasy man like Trump for a date, let alone for candidacy for son-in-law. Not exactly all-American virtuous guy. No Norman Rockwell guy. No Norman Vincent Peele kinda dude.

Yet, their televangelists and pulpit punchers are all degenerates, and the country – little do the Euro visitor knows this – is steeped in magical thinking, protective angels, strong belief in papa in the head office guiding the poor and even educated people on what to think, say, mouth, and hear around what it means to be American.

So it goes, these neighbors, the quasi-restraining order (for a stranger, no less – not even work related). People of two generations hating blacks, hating gays, hating people with disabilities, hating the environment, hating hating and more hating.

A rock through the window, and what’s next? What will happen when the Black Lives Matter signs go up? When will they bring out their guns and ammo? When oh when will that restraining order come to the rescue? After two more pavers are thrown into our vehicles’ windows? Gunshots over the house, threw the window or at us?

This is the Trump-Land, and the same scum were there during Clinton (I went to a gun show in Texas and they were selling embossed bullseye targets with Chelsea, Bill and Hillary faces on them. Nixon? Democratic Convention in Chicago? School busing? How many are dead in Ohio? Black Panthers? Which red-baiting McCarthyite went on to, well, advise Mister Queens New York?

Flag for the Black Panthers (Black Panther Party) : vexillology

This is how the sausage was made in America with that secret ingredient always back into the ground up mix–

400–500 years ago, Europe’s unwanted social outcasts and religious extremists began relocating to Virginia and Massachusetts. Grateful crowns back in London, Amsterdam and Strasbourg rejoiced as their most ungovernable and unwanted subjects self-exiled to the new world. There, waste people and pilgrims set about recreating the same intolerance they sought to flee. Puritan Christianity was so intolerant that they were unable to coexist anywhere – neither with their own kind back in the old world, nor with the natives of the new.

These first settlers thought the Inquisition ended too soon and eagerly sought to reproduce it – burning heretics and accused witches, perpetuating the cruel and unusual medieval tortures discarded by their European forebears, and forcing abused wives to wear the scarlet letter. Women and children had no rights; men were vicious tyrants. Colonial promoter Richard Hakluyt back in England neatly summarized the first settlers’ goals in 1585: “The ends of their voyage are these: to plant Christian religion; to trafficke; and to conquer.”  Abel Cohen

Great Debate: Should it be a crime to burn the American Flag? – The Crimson

Oh, those in the One Percent and then the others, in that 19 Percent Group

U.S. has highest level of income inequality among G7 countries

I’ll go with Michael Parenti on this accord — the richest 85 families own as much wealth as the lower 50 percent of the world? Bullshit. Those misanthropes own a hell of a lot more than anything the 3.5 billion people on earth might collectively “have.” No comparison:

Regarding the poorest portion of the world population— whom I would call the valiant, struggling “better half”—what mass configuration of wealth could we possibly be talking about? The aggregate wealth possessed by the 85 super-richest individuals, and the aggregate wealth owned by the world’s 3.5 billion poorest, are of different dimensions and different natures. Can we really compare private jets, mansions, landed estates, super luxury vacation retreats, luxury apartments, luxury condos, and luxury cars, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in equities, bonds, commercial properties, art works, antiques, etc.— can we really compare all that enormous wealth against some millions of used cars, used furniture, and used television sets, many of which are ready to break down? Of what resale value if any, are such minor durable-use commodities? especially in communities of high unemployment, dismal health and housing conditions, no running water, no decent sanitation facilities, etc. We don’t really know how poor the very poor really are. — Michael Parenti 

And so I get a rock through my car window, get to go to court to file a no stalking order, and await yet more American mean as cuss reactions as the Black Lives Matter and Ecosocialist signs go up . . .  Of course, after I have to purchase and install closed circuit surveillance cameras. Yep, MAGA Mutts for Trump 4.0.

What does it mean if the US flag is upside down? - Quora

The post A Flag; a Violent MAGA Family; a Brick through the Window! first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Time for a New Revolution

As the presidential election draws near both contestants make fatuous appeals to America’s near-sainted Founding Fathers and that almost sacred scroll known as the Constitution. History has seen more than its share of distortion. Myths and misconceptions have sprung up that many people now take as fact. However, historical interpretation must be based on evidence, which in many cases is either lacking or contradictory. Myths are powerful because they say things people want to believe. History does matter, which is why people in power put so much energy into controlling it. To talk of elitist power today as something new and forget its roots and actually praise the oppressors as spokesmen for liberty and treat their imposed laws under the constitution as admirable achievements is to forget actual real history and fall victim to ruling class propaganda and ideology. When people are asked the question “What is democracy” many will respond with the example of the American republic, its institutions permitting supreme power to be in the hands of the people. But democracy implies something very much more than the widest possible franchise and equal voting rights. It means that the people should have complete control over the administration of social life. It presupposes at the very outset the ownership by the people of all the means of life. If people do not have control of the production of the social wealth then contrary to popular conviction existing republics no more encapsulates democracy than did monarchies.

Hailed as the birthplace of democracy, the 1787 Philadelphia Convention was nothing short of a coup to ensure a “revolution of gentlemen, by gentlemen, and for gentlemen” as one historian described it. The Philadelphia Convention was little more than the the capture of political power by the rich section of colonial society and the Constitution designed to protect private property, to prevent interference with its ownership by the majority of the people. In short, the Constitution was designed to perpetuate the rule of the rich minority. The proceedings of the Convention in Philadelphia were conducted in secret. The general public was not privy to the debates and discussions, as it was for their social betters to decide and determine the new nation’s future.

The ensuing war of independence did not establish a truly democratic government. It did not significantly change the structure of American society but rather, it reinforced the political, economic, and social divisions between classes in the Americas. Despite the pretensions of being “enlightened” – sweeping aside monarchy, aristocracy and the established church – the new republic was never designed to be anything other than an oligarchic state. The Constitution constructed an array of political institutions of checks and balances, motivated by a paranoid fear of populism and suspicion of central government power. Ensuring a suffrage of only white, property-owning men, the new United States of America was controlled by an economic elite possessing considerable wealth. The founders of America held an estimated net worth (in today’s dollars) ranging from $20 million to $500 million. Probably they were all in the top 0.1 percent of the wealth distribution. Much of their wealth (as in the cases of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison) was in the form of slaves. So the political system reflected the interests of property-holding white men such as themselves. Slavery was permitted to flourish for 77 years after the Constitution was ratified and a substantial majority of the population was denied suffrage for over a century. They kept in place a system that was, by any reasonable definition, never a democracy.

It is an inconvenient truth for “libertarians” that the proposals for a minimalist government grew out of the South’s need for human bondage and from the desire of slave-holders to keep the federal government so constricted as to be unable to abolish slavery. That is why many Founding Fathers icons – the likes of Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and the later incarnation of James Madison – were slave owners who understood the threat to slavery posed by democratic ideals.

Fifty-five men — landed gentry, ne’er-do-well merchants and prosperous lawyers — defined the government under which Americans live. Extending political power to the people was never on their agenda. The Founding Fathers substituted the abstract principles that “all men are created equal” and that power is derived from “the will of the people” by adopting the practice where “the people”, non-property owners, women and, of course, slaves were excluded. Those architects of the Declaration of Independence built a system of government based on the division of power that would guard against any excesses of popular democracy.

As they were not themselves in the majority, the rich feared that the less well-off could vote to take away their property, so arrangements restricting the franchise and indirect election were incorporated into the Constitution to keep power out of the hands of the majority. The president was to be an elected monarch. Having two different chambers of Congress, a Senate and a House of Representatives, placed an obstacle to simple majority rule. There are 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. 51 Senators can block the majority rule. Moreover, Senators were elected for six years instead of the two for which Representatives are elected. The electoral college to elect the president operates intentionally in opposition to majority rule in this same way. In a system of electing the President by mere simple majority, a candidate or party could win by appealing to 51% of the voters. The electoral college serves as a partial safeguard against those who might be able to win the national popular vote.

Those who argue that the Founding Fathers were motivated by high-minded ideals ignore the fact that it was they themselves who repeatedly stated their intention to create a government strong enough to protect the “haves” from the “have-nots”. They gave voice to the crassest class prejudices, never hiding their concern was to thwart popular control and resist all tendencies toward class “leveling”. Their “checks and balances” were chiefly concerned with restraining the peoples’ power and maintaining their own. The true genius of the Founding Fathers was their promise to all Americans that – if they would support the revolution – then they, their social betters, would agree to create an entirely new social order.

Most of the population consisted of poor freeholders, tenants, and indentured hands (the latter trapped in servitude for many years). In order to survive, a typical family often had to borrow money at high interest rates and was caught in that cycle of rural indebtedness which today is still the common fate of agrarian peoples in many developing and undeveloped countries. It tends to cause a community-oriented culture to arise on farms or in small towns. Their concept of independence was associated with inter-dependence and cooperation, all for the common good. Women worked with men, families traded labor and livestock. In this culture of mutual concern and shared obligation working people took care of one another. They held common standards, completely different from the values of a market-driven, commercial approach to life.

The wealthy class of merchants, lawyers, bankers, and plantation farmers followed a completely different way of life — every person for him or herself. In the capitalist world-view of the wealthy class, the community was merely a system of exchange between producers and consumers, the moneyed and the toilers. The holy of holies for the merchant was the market. Government was to be controlled by elites or “social superiors” who decide what is best for the “common” people. Its role was to protect private ownership and ensure that the market system runs smoothly. This requires that the government use force if necessary to protect private property and the rights of capitalists over workers.

The fourth president, James Madison, warned of the perils of democracy, saying that too much of it would jeopardize the property of the landed aristocracy. “In England,” he observed, “if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure.” Land would be redistributed to the landless, he cautioned. Without the rich exercising monopoly privileges over the commons, the masses would be less dependent on elites like them.

Edmund Randolph, America’s first attorney general, said, “Our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our constitution.”

Alexander Hamilton derided “pure democracy.” At the Constitutional Convention he declared: “All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and well born, the other the mass of the people. The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government.”

James Madison, “father” of the Constitution, wrote in The Federalist Papers 10: “Democracies have ever been … incompatible with … the rights of property…[because they threaten] the unequal distribution of property.”

The new Constitution put property rights ahead of human rights. It established a republic in which the courts protected the privileges of the minority. It need not have been that way. Other voices were silenced.

James Cannon, Christopher Marshall, Timothy Matlack, and Thomas Paine (author of The Rights of Man and the only one of these men who is well known) formed a group dedicated to gaining political participation for landless laborers, artisans, tenant farmers and others whom the upper class wished barred from involvement in government. To the radicals, independence looked like a chance to make their ideals into realities so that for the first time those without affluence would finally have influence in government.

A Council of Safety drew up the interim Pennsylvania Constitution. Adopted on September 28, 1776, this document established Pennsylvania’s official title, the “Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It provided for annual parliaments in which neither voting nor holding office would be subject to any property qualification. Politicians would be limited to four terms and judges appointed by the legislature for seven-year terms and removable at any time.

The Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 excluded all of the characteristics of British rule, replacing the position of governor with an executive council of twelve members who were to be elected directly by the people. It also rejected a bicameral legislature (a legislature with two houses), because it resembled the British Parliament’s House of Lords and House of Commons: “Just as there was no need for a representative of a King, for we have none, so could there be no need of senates to represent the House of Lords, for we have not, and hope we never shall have, a hereditary nobility.”

Many wealthy property owners reacted with horror to the Pennsylvania Constitution. They described it as an “absurd Constitution,” “a mob government” where the enfranchisement of the poor would lead to a situation where the “rabble… will vote away the Money of those that have Estates.”

Some, such as Thomas Young, did try to push for a provision in the state constitution limiting how much property any one person could own, leading to a redistribution of wealth. In the new and free Pennsylvania, declared teacher and mathematician James Cannon, “over-grown rich Men will be improper to be trusted.”

“An enormous Proportion of Property vested in a few Individuals is dangerous to the Rights, and destructive to the Common Happiness, of Mankind,” read one proposed passage for the new constitution, “and therefore every State hath a Right by its Laws to discourage the Possession of such Property.”

These radical measures, however, were narrowly defeated and removed by the more conservative members of the drafting body.

Similar progressive constitutions were adopted in some other states.

Upon the founding of the Vermont Republic in July 1777, a constitution, modelled upon Pennsylvania’s, was adopted that gave all freemen the vote even if they owned no property. Slavery was banned outright, and by a further provision existing male slaves became free at the age of 21 and female slaves at the age of 18. Not only did Vermont’s legislature agree to abolish slavery entirely, it also gave full voting rights to African-American males.

The first article declared that “all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety,” echoing the phrases in the Declaration of Independence. The article went on to declare that because of these principles, “no male person, born in this country, or brought from over sea, ought to be holden by law, to serve any person, as a servant, slave or apprentice, after he arrives to the age of twenty-one Years, nor female, in like manner, after she arrives to the age of eighteen years, unless they are bound by their own consent.”

The second article declared that private property ought to be subservient to public use. This established the basic principle of social property prevailing over private individual property in Vermont.

The primary legislative authority was to be exercised by a single assembly with members elected for one term. A twelve-member Supreme Executive Council would administer the government. Judges would be appointed by the legislature for seven-year terms and removable at any time. All approved legislation would take effect only at the next session of the Assembly, so that the people of the state could assess the utility of the new law. The President was to be elected by the Assembly and Council together. The Continental Congress, however, refused to recognize the independence of Vermont or even allow it to be represented.

The revolution of the small farmers and artisans re-surfaced soon after the War of Independence with Shays’ Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. And then the real class nature of the new America was revealed in its stark brutality. 

Daniel Shays was from Massachusetts and had joined the Continental Army. When he went home in 1780, he found himself in court for non-payment of debts. He was not alone in being unable to pay off debts, and began organizing for debt relief. In 1786 people joined together and marched on the Worcester courthouse to block the foreclosure of mortgages. The Shays’ Rebellion was put down by a mercenary army, paid for by well-to-do citizens.

As described by a historian, “the uprising was the climax of a series of events of the 1780s that convinced a powerful group of Americans that the national government needed to be stronger so that it could create uniform economic policies and protect property owners from infringements on their rights by local majorities… These ideas stemmed from the fear that a private liberty, such as the secure enjoyment of property rights, could be threatened by public liberty — unrestrained power in the hands of the people.”
 The Whiskey Rebellion of 1791-94 was a response to a federal tax on whiskey that closed down small producers. It was crushed by a militia led in person by two Founding Fathers, President George Washington and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Washington later went into the whiskey-distilling business himself and became one of the largest producers in the nation.

The post Time for a New Revolution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

We Need a New National Anthem

As we celebrate the 244th anniversary of our nation’s Declaration of Independence, in the midst of demonstrations and protests against systemic racism and police brutality of African-Americans, it is time to consider replacing our national anthem with one more suitable to the values and priorities of the United States in 2020.

There are many important reasons to discard “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our national anthem right now. Not only is it nearly impossible to sing, but it was composed in 1814 by a slave-owning lawyer who prosecuted cases against abolitionists, and it only became our national anthem in 1931, when lynching of African-Americans was all too common and decades before the Civil Rights Movement.

Francis Scott Key, a wealthy lawyer from a plantation-owning family, was attempting to negotiate the release of an American prisoner on a British warship as a British squadron attacked Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor on September 13-14, 1814. He owned a number of slaves and held racist views of African slaves.  In a July 1, 2016 article by Christopher Wilson in the Smithsonian Magazine, Key is reputed to have said that Africans in America were: “… a distinct and inferior race of people, which all experience proves to be the greatest evil that afflicts a community.”

Key’s family’s wealth was largely due to slave-owning, and his support of slavery extended to his prosecutions of abolitionists, some for merely having anti-slavery pamphlets, as well as his recommendation to President Andrew Jackson that Jackson nominate Key’s brother-in-law Roger Taney to the Supreme Court.  Jackson, himself a slave owner and notorious now for his racist views, especially of the Native People whom he persecuted and mass-killed, had Taney appointed to the Supreme Court. It was Taney who wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision of 1857 which said that all people of African descent, free or enslaved, were not United States citizens and, therefore, had no right to sue for their freedom in federal court. In addition, he wrote that the Fifth Amendment protected slave owners’ rights because enslaved workers were their legal property.

As for Key’s poem/anthem, the third verse of “The Star Spangled Banner” contains these racist lines: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:/And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Not only do these lines mock slaves, but they are ironic because, while Key was composing these lines, it is possible that black slaves were trying to reach the British ships in Baltimore Harbor. They knew that they were far more likely to find freedom and liberty under the British Union Jack than they were under the American “Star-Spangled Banner.” In fact, abolitionists later ridiculed Key’s words during his lifetime by saying that America was truly the “Land of the Free and Home of the Oppressed.”

So, today, we need a national anthem which is not only singable, but which is not written by a racist, anti-abolitionist slave owner as African-Americans still struggle for equality and justice.

Here is my suggestion: use the first verse/chorus of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and a second verse which I humbly offer:

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island,
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.

Neither skin color, nor religion,
Nor ethnic background, wealth, nor gender,
Should  block equality, justice, or freedom,
‘Cause this land was made for you and me.

George Floyd’s Killing and Its International Repercussions

George Floyd’s killing and its international repercussions: Part 1

Part OnePart 2 here

The gruesome killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 25 May 2020 has given rise to an unprecedented campaign against police brutality in the United States, and in turn has acted as a fuse for a worldwide uprising against racism and inequality. Floyd’s killing triggered massive demonstrations in more than 350 cities in the United States and around the world, and has probably started a movement that goes well beyond the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and may prove to be a turning point in human history.

What is remarkable is that those who have taken part in those massive demonstrations are not all black and ethnic people, but they have been joined by millions of white people who are ashamed of the legacy of slavery and are determined to help their fellow human beings to achieve the dignity and equality that they deserve. They know that a society that is built on exploitation, discrimination and inequality diminishes us all.

George Floyd was arrested, handcuffed and pushed faced down to the ground while Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, pressed his knee on his neck for almost nine minutes, despite the fact that Floyd kept saying that he could not breathe, until his body became motionless.

Clearly, the policeman’s behaviour was not the case of a “bad apple”, but was typical of the militaristic and high-handed manner in which the  US police treat all US citizens, but predominantly African-Americans and other ethnic groups.

Derek Chauvin did not act alone, but while Floyd was being choked to death, a second and a third officer held him down, while a fourth officer prevented bystanders from intervening.

Floyd’s murder was the fourth time in recent months that an unarmed innocent black man had been murdered by white policemen in Minnesota. In none of those previous cases were the policemen responsible for the murders punished.

In the United States the laws generally favour policemen. All a policeman has to say is that the victim had threatened him, so he or she had to be shot, and the law protects the policeman. They can even say that the victim had resisted arrest, and again they are covered by law.

To provide just a simple example of the grotesque disparity between the behaviour of the US police and police forces in other democracies, it is enough to point out that on average every year US police forces kill between 1,000 and 1,400 people, nearly half of them blacks.1 However, in the United Kingdom the average number of people killed as the result of a police shooting is three.2

The figures for the rest of Europe are also similar to those in Britain. In all European states the figures are in single digits.3 In other words, the US police shoot dead more people on a single day than police in different European countries kill in a whole year.

Of course, a part of this huge disparity is due to the fact that most Americans have access to firearms while in Europe and other democracies the possession of firearms is strictly controlled. That is an important issue that needs to be addressed in a democracy and in a law-abiding country.

In any country that is run on the basis of the rule of law, the citizens should rely on their police forces to protect them rather than act as armed militia for their protection which results in a situation as in the United States.

However, we must sadly confront the fact that the United States is still a racist society. The entire economy of the American South was dependent on slavery, and culturally still many white people regard black Americans if not as slaves but at least as inferior citizens. Various civil rights movements since 1960s have tried to bring about some fundamental change but, despite some improvements, the curse of racism has not yet been lifted.

Apart from the legacy of racism, black and ethnic minorities provide a ready scapegoat for the economic and social problems that afflict the society. Added to these factors is a fear of the white majority that soon they will lose their privileged status. Recently white populations in many parts of the country have lost their majority. In some parts of the Southwest, Hispanic Americans outnumber non-Hispanic Americans, and in Washington D.C., the nation’s capital, African-Americans form a majority, as they do in many other US cities.

As a result, the white population is in a state of panic. They fear that in 20 years the United States as a whole will be a nation with a majority of non-white people. This is part of Trump’s appeal to his White Supremacist base who hate the thought of being in the minority. Many of them would like the black and brown and non-Christian people to disappear or at least be kept down.

When President Trump bans travel from six Muslim-majority countries or refers to some racist thugs as “very good people” it is not surprising that his followers follow the lead of the president and regard blacks, Latinos, other ethnic groups and Muslims as inferior people to be shunned and persecuted.

It is often not realised that even some of those who fought against slavery during the Civil War believed that black people had to be sent back to “their countries”. They argued that it was easy for some British abolitionists to call for an end to slavery because they did not have to live with them, as most slaves lived in British colonies and very few of them actually lived in Britain, while Americans had to live with their former slaves after abolishing slavery.

It is important to remember all this in order to understand the depth of hatred and extreme violence against the black and ethnic groups in the United States. So, what we are witnessing is a revolution which requires not only the change of a few laws or “defunding the police” but a complete transformation of the attitude of those who have had the culture of racism ingrained in them.

Most people are unaware of the extent of the crimes associated with slavery. Although some form of slavery had existed from the beginning of human history, with the rise of European powers and the need for cheap labour in the New World, slavery assumed industrial proportions, involving millions of people being grabbed and uprooted from their homes and shipped across the world to work in inhumane conditions on plantations.4

The largest slave trade in history was carried out by Europeans, mainly to serve in the New World. Before it was over, tens of millions of Africans would be killed for the profit of white colonialists. White colonialists armed with superior weapons would invade some African countries, pull young men and young women out of the embrace of their loved ones, put them in chains and transport them to the other side of the world to be sold as slaves. The “voyages of discovery” were not as benign as they have been made out, but were money-making enterprises with the natives and black slaves paying the biggest cost.5

A main reason for the high death toll among the slaves was the tidal wave of war and desolation that the slave trade unleashed in the heart of Africa. While both Europe’s and Asia’s populations nearly doubled between 1600 and 1800, Africa’s population dropped from 114 million in 1600 to 107 million in 1800.6

Some scholars estimate that some 30 to 60 million Africans were enslaved. Out of those captured Africans, between 12,000,000-15,000,000 survived the ordeal of forced migration to become plantation labourers in North and South America and the Caribbean.

There was a 50% mortality rate among new slaves while being gathered and stored in Africa, a 10% mortality rate among the survivors while crossing the ocean, and another 50% mortality rate in the first “seasoning” phase of slave labour. Overall, some scholars estimate a 75-80% mortality rate in transit and among the survivors.7

In order to get an idea of the way the slaves were treated on plantations one has to read Charles Dickens’s “American Notes” which provide the details of what he saw with his own eyes during his trip to the United States. He quotes some advertisements published in some US newspapers for recapturing the slaves who had fled:

‘‘Ran away, a negro man named Henry; his left eye out, some scars from a dirk on and under his left arm, and much scarred with the whip.’

‘One hundred dollars reward, for a negro fellow, Pompey, 40 years old.  He is branded on the left jaw.’

‘Ran away, a negro woman named Rachel.  Has lost all her toes except the large one.’

‘Ran away, Sam.  He was shot a short time since through the hand, and has several shots in his left arm and side.’

‘Ran away, my negro man Dennis.  Said negro has been shot in the left arm between the shoulder and elbow, which has paralysed the left hand.’

‘Ran away, my negro man named Simon.  He has been shot badly, in his back and right arm.’

‘Ran away, a negro named Arthur.  Has a considerable scar across his breast and each arm, made by a knife; loves to talk much of the goodness of God.’

 ‘Committed to jail, a man who calls his name John.  He has a clog of iron on his right foot which will weigh four or five pounds.’

‘Detained at the police jail, the negro wench, Myra.  Has several marks of lashing, and has irons on her feet.’

‘Twenty-five dollars reward for my man Isaac.  He has a scar on his forehead, caused by a blow; and one on his back, made by a shot from a pistol.’

‘Ran away, a negro girl called Mary.  Has a small scar over her eye, a good many teeth missing, the letter A is branded on her cheek and forehead.’

These are just a few examples of many more that he quotes. These horrendous facts and figures must bring tears to the eyes of every decent person.

It is time to look at history as it was, be brave enough to admit and condemn historical injustices, make sure that we move forward with a different attitude and celebrate our common humanity.

Former US President Jimmy Carter issued a statement shortly after George Floyd’s killing and nationwide demonstrations. What he said must act as a wakeup call to all of us:

‘… As a white male of the South, I know all too well the impact of segregation and injustice to African Americans. As a politician, I felt a responsibility to bring equity to my state and our country. In my 1971 inaugural address as Georgia’s governor, I said: “The time for racial discrimination is over.” With great sorrow and disappointment, I repeat those words today, nearly five decades later. Dehumanizing people debases us all; humanity is beautifully and almost infinitely diverse. The bonds of our common humanity must overcome the divisiveness of our fears and prejudices….’8

Photo on top
John Raphael Smith: Slave TradeSlave Trade, print on paper by John Raphael Smith after George Morland, 1762–1812; in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (RP-P-1969-83)

For ‘George Floyd’s killing – Part 2’, click here

  1. See David Leonhardt, “The Persistence of Police Killings, New York Times, May 29, 2020. According to this source the number of police killings by year in the U.S. are: In 2013: 1,111; 2014: 1.059; 2015: 1.103; 2016: 1,071; 2018: 1,143; 2019: 1,099.
  2. See Statista: “Number of fatal shooting by police in England and Wales from 2004/05 to 2018/19”. Corresponding figures for UK from 2012/13 to 2018/19 have been: 0, 0, 1, 3, 6, 4. 3.
  3. For a comparative list of killings by police in different countries see: “List of killings by law-enforcement officers by country” at Wikipedia.
  4. David Keys, “Details of horrific first voyages in transatlantic slave trade revealed”, The Independent, 17 August 2018.
  5. See “The true legacy of Christopher Columbus: ‘Western Civilisation,’ George Monbiot.”
  6. “Death Toll from the Slave Trade: The African Holocaust”, World Future Fund.
  7. David Stannard, American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World (Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 317-18.
  8. See “Statement from Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter

The Black Animal

Recently, during a meaningful conversation about the effects of racism and colonization with a friend he mentioned that he did not understand why people of colour seemed to want to be categorized as victims. To support this argument he cited the great misdeeds and evil that was visited upon his ancestral Scottish people. Indeed, the Scots were abused by the Empire. “However,” my friend continued, “they continued fighting and never fell into becoming the victims of the horrors that were visited on them.” He continued to expound on this and although every fibre of my being was screaming that he was wrong, a part of my brain was also thinking about the rationality of this argument. What he said “sounded reasonable”.

My feelings about the stress that people of colour face is reflected deeply in my poetry and my writing. However, I have never allowed victimhood to be a part of my narrative. I envision that victimhood comes from a place of weakness and when I look at the majority of people of colour in my country and the small Canadian town I live in, I do not see weakness. So why did this reasonable-sounding argument, feel so fundamentally wrong? Instinctively I knew that this position was not tenable, but the argument was reasonable.

In my upcoming book, A Sliver of a Chance, I wrote a poem called “Animal”. It was inspired by a picture of an Australian Aboriginal man, dressed in Western clothes and chained to a tree. You can see the discomfort he is in largely written on his face. The poem “Animal”, is not from this poor wretch’s point of view. It is from the person who had him caught and bound to the tree. That was the answer to my question. Bound up within that person was a belief, so insidious and profound that, upon realising it, I was visibly shaken to my core.

I decided to put my theory to the test and went back to read accounts of the horrors visited by the British upon the Scots. There is no denial, they were brutalized. All manner of horrendous atrocities were visited upon them. They were disenfranchised, suppressed and repressed. They were forced from their homes by landowners, to make way for sheep. The potato famine that blighted the Highlands in the 1840s brought yet another wave of clearances and emigration and disenfranchisement. Yet, try as I might, I found one thing missing. One crucial, yet fundamental aspect of their suffering. There is no denying that there was cruelty, but it was visited by one man upon another; and, in fact, a Scot eventually became King of England.

Now, armed with this knowledge, let us turn our attention to people of colour. I have no doubt, dear reader, that you have already discerned the direction of my argument. But, bear with me a while as there is one more point left to make. Before we delve into the reason why the experience of the Scots under the British thumb differs vastly from that of people of colour we must understand religion. Specifically, Christianity. Or at least a specific version of Christianity.

I have often wondered how people who claimed to follow Christ could reconcile the violence visited on other people. Simplistically put, religion did play a role where one side felt the other subscribed to a bastardized version of the ‘real religion’ and therefore were not rightfully under the protection and mercy of the crown that believed in the ‘real religion’. However, what about our poor Aboriginal man tied to a tree? Or the slave dragged from his homeland, bought and sold, whipped and slaughtered for a period of over 200 years? Or the East Indians, whose country was raped and pillaged of all its riches while it’s people were pressed under the British boot? Didn’t the Bible say that it was necessary to bring the word to every human being? Well, yes it did!

To every Human being!

The definition and categorization of these two words would become the line drawn between the rulers and the ruled. These words would be used to justify untold cruelty across the globe in the name of religion. They would be used to defend and rationalize unspeakable horrors upon people of colour, Aboriginals and Indigenous peoples across the globe. It’s easier to defend compelling an animal do the hard work after all precedent was set with horses, camels, cattle and other beasts of burden. These sub-humans from the African plains, on the Indian continent and in the Americas were exactly that. They looked human, and could even be trained to act somewhat human, but, in reality, they were not. This meant that using them for slave labour was an act of mercy; a Christian thing to do. Of course, it was understood that Biblical promises were not meant for them, but this was a moral and ethical argument, not an economical one.

Therein lies the difference. The British thought of the Scots as mortal enemies. They hated them and brutalized them but there is no indication that they ever thought of them as less than human. On the contrary, a Scot would eventually sit on the British throne.

Finally, I felt that while the argument my friend made sounded reasonable, it was not. However, there is one final consideration. Many of the systems in North America, like policing, healthcare, justice, business and banking were created on the specific needs and requirements of one particular type of people. While over the ensuing years, people of colour can now interact with these systems, some of the intrinsic prejudices that represent the founders and the foundation of these systems still exist. These historical biases, preconceptions and bigotry are oftentimes so subtle as to be easily missed. For example, the racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations, and false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites still haunts the halls of medicine.

What we all need to understand is that people of colour are not downplaying the historical violence that may have been visited upon other races. What they are saying is that while that is now in your past, they are still struggling against those prejudices today. Negative assumptions are still being made and acted upon because of their colour. This is a distinction worth making and it is a wrong that must be made right.

BrianSankarsingh is an accidental poet who, for many years, was standoffishly embroiled in social and political commentary; and who has now decided to maddeningly scream his message from whatever rooftop he can find. You can reach him at: moc.sregornull@rohtua.

Will the GOP Die Where It Was Born?

Charles Sumner canned over his anti-slavery speech

When the likelihood of a person’s death increases on the day of his or her birth, this is called the “birthday effect.” An unimaginative term, it is not derived from obscure mysticism or divine occurrences beyond one’s control, but rather the practicality that the occasion can bring increased feelings of stress and depression, and that birthday celebrations can lead to fatal accidents. But the English language has no term for someone who is born and dies in the same place, whether it be a town, house or hospital. Neither is there a succinct way to describe an entity, like a social club or political party, whose demise occurs in the same locality it came to life.

This is unfortunate because such a term may soon be applicable to the Grand Old Party should the Republican-led upper chamber of Congress fail to convict President Donald Trump of at least one article of impeachment. To be clear, the party will not suddenly disband, leaving a void to be filled by a mish-mash of sure-footed hardliners, when-they-feel-like-it moderates and opportunistic libertarians; the “R” beside an elected official’s name will remain. Since the party will have strayed still further from its roots, however, with that “R” being one of the few vestiges of its old self, to portray the likely result of this impending affair as just another symptom of the party’s internal rot would be to severely understate its significance.

The birth of the Republican Party, likewise, cannot be marked in absolute terms. Formally, it began in a rural Wisconsin schoolhouse during a town meeting in March 1854. The first statewide convention to nominate candidates for public office under the Republican name was held in Jackson, Michigan three months later. Also noteworthy is the party’s first national convention in Pittsburg in February 1856. But the GOP really grew into a political powerhouse as a result of a bloody assault on the Senate floor of an unabashed Massachusetts abolitionist by the hand of a staunchly pro-slavery representative from South Carolina. This, of course, became known as the caning of Charles Sumner.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act, having passed the Senate in March 1856, was taken up by the House in May of that year. Effectively a repeal of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state while banning slavery north of the 36° 30` parallel, the act allowed for popular sovereignty to determine whether the two Midwestern territories would become free or slave states.

In his two-day “Crime against Kansas” speech, Sumner denounced the legislation as a “rape of a virgin territory,” arguing for the immediate admission of Kansas as a free state. The senator made pointed personal accusations against Andrew Butler, a co-author of the act and the cousin of Preston Brooks, the South Carolinian who would later approach a seated Sumner and proceed to give him “about thirty first rate stripes,” as Brooks later wrote, inflicting brain injuries severe enough to keep Sumner out of the Senate for the next three years.

Brooks’ assault, for which he was arrested, convicted, and fined, “was of critical importance in transforming the struggling Republican Party into a major political force,” historian William Gienapp observes. As the caning nestled itself into the public consciousness above and below the Mason-Dixon line, Sumner became somewhat of a martyr for abolition while the Republican Party took in many Free Soilers, northern Whigs, Know Nothings and even some fleeing Democrats, presenting itself as a beacon of sorts for those who had been on the fence regarding the existence of slavery in a rapidly expanding nation.

Prior to this, the GOP’s early years were precarious, Gienapp notes, as it was “anything but clear initially that Republicans would become a permanent fixture in the two-party system.” In 1855, the party did not exist in eight states. Launched into the next year’s presidential election by the matched themes of “Bleeding Kansas” and “Bleeding Sumner,” however, it was on the rise. Secretary of State William Marcy predicted the caning would cost Democrats 200,000 votes. When the ballots were counted, Republican nominee John C. Fremont fell two states short of winning the Electoral College. President-elect James Buchanan, a Democrat, won every state that would later secede from the Union.

“The most effective deliverance made by any man to advance the Republican Party,” Pennsylvania Rep. Alexander McClure reflected, “was made by the bludgeon of Preston S. Brooks.” The caning was by no means the sole factor in the rise of the Republican Party, of course, but it widened the cultural rift between the industrial, Republican-friendly North and the agrarian, Democratic-dominant South that had been growing more pronounced in the 1840s and 1850s.

In the North, Sumner’s speech was sold to millions, and the senator was supported in rallies from Cleveland to Providence. “Has it come to this, that we must speak with bated breath in the presence of our Southern masters?” the New York Evening Post asked. “Are we to be chastised as they chastise their slaves? Are we too, slaves, slaves for life, a target for their brutal blows, when we do not comport ourselves to please them?”

In the South, it was Brooks who was idolized. The South Carolinian was merely trying to restore the dignity of the Senate, the Richmond Enquirer editorialized, and thus his attack was “good in conception, better in execution, and best of all in consequences.” Some southerners thought Sumner exaggerated his injuries to gain sympathy. Brooks received hundreds of new canes in the mail, and southern lawmakers wore rings made from the splintered remnants of his old cane – fragments that were “begged for as sacred relicts [sic],” as Brooks wrote to his brother. When Brooks resigned to allow his constituents to either endorse or condemn his conduct through a special election, voters sent him right back. The town of Brooksville, Florida is named after him, as is Brooks County, Georgia.

These starkly dissimilar reactions, historian David Donald notes, made it clear that “something dangerous was happening to the American Union when the two sections no longer spoke the same language, but employed rival sets of clichés” to describe the caning. Southern Chivalry – Argument versus Club’s, artist John L. Magee’s depiction of a faceless Brooks, cane raised, standing over an exposed Sumner, quill in hand, remains a captivating visual in many American history textbooks to this day. Indeed, the nature of the attack – a singular, vivid, brutal and unprecedented moment in the “world’s greatest deliberative body” – seemed destined to be an omen for what became all but certain upon the election of the nation’s first Republican president four years later: the formation of the Confederacy.

The current Republican commander-in-chief acquired his position and has sought to secure it partly by assuming a disturbingly genial relationship with those who still proudly wave the battle flag whose ideals the GOP once aimed to eliminate. Along the way, he has been emboldened by a collection of adoring voices amplified by one major (and a few up-and-coming) 21st century equivalents of the Richmond Enquirer’s editorial page. Republicans frequently gripe about the supposed loss of civility in politics if they suspect that a breach in congressional decorum has occurred rather than engage with the merits of the legislation being debated. Two Oklahoma state senators have drafted a bill to name a section of Route 66 after the president. House GOP leaders handed out ‘MAGA’ hats to its members after his election win; one Missouri congressman proudly stuffs fake $45 Trump bills in his suit jacket pocket. Lastly, and most chillingly, not only do Republican voters think more highly of Trump than Abraham Lincoln, but of those who approve of Trump’s job performance, 62 percent say there is absolutely nothing he could do that would make them change their minds, all but guaranteeing that they will vote to extend his time in office.

This aspect of Donald Trump’s presidency adds an ironic subtext to the deterioration of the GOP over the years should the Senate fail to convict him. If an acquittal on both charges is indeed the outcome, then the party effectively makes a choice for which there is no atonement: it will have cemented its disregard for good-faith governance in the national political arena that became prominent more than a half-century ago through the Southern Strategy, that reared its head with the “Newtspeak” of the 1990s, and that has surged again in recent years by inviting all sorts of mischief and malevolence.

About half the country will find no fault with this decision because about half the country speaks a different language. They will continue to donate their time and money to Republican causes, and enough of their children will grow up to do the same. They will continue to consume soundbite-friendly narratives and struggle to identify misinformation that preys upon intellectual vulnerabilities. Lawmakers who call themselves Republicans will still cast their votes in favor of sound policy every once and awhile, but this will be in spite of the party to which they belong, not because of it. In a future where anything goes, the GOP will continue to fulfill its purpose: to exist, everything else be damned.

But make no mistake: If the GOP allows Trump to remain in office, the stain on the cherished fabric of our nation will be indelible, whether or not that other half wants to see it. As a result, the party will have become no different than Preston Brooks’ cane the moment he raised it high on the Senate floor: no longer an instrument of good.

Reverse Logic: No ‘God Bless America’ But Damn America for Its Deeds

It’s as if a moral and cultural bomb has been detonated now that this guy tweets and says things not allowed in school. I have youth in my ‘behavior room’ saying stuff right from the president’s mouth. These words and statements we do not allow children to say in school. Racist and sexist and anti-disabilities things, we don’t tolerate but the president is spouting off these horrendous statements. I’ve already got my hands full with young people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities that put them in the behavioral and defiance categories. With Trump, my caseload of high school youth spouting off hate and racist comments is skyrocketing. – said a social worker/counselor at a very big high school near Portland, Oregon

So the beat goes on, as Americans try and handle the boorish and perverted nature of a billionaire (sic) with some absolutely shady and possibly felonious history. He’s an easy mark, really, Trump, and he is not the president of the USA, in any sense of the George W way, if you barely delve into the voter fraud deployed by his conservative, wacko-Zio-Christo henchmen. Simple facts, and I guarantee, if I brought up these facts as a teacher to my youth as a social worker, and if they went back to mamma or papa or my bosses, I would get sacked.

Because, liberals only pout and pucker their mouths and touch their cheeks in abhorrent shock when something slightly right of their middle of the road sensibilities get ruffled.

This country is in the 17th Century, in many ways in the Dark Ages, when it comes to almost EVERYTHING, and our voting, vaunted in the minds of our own leaders as the number one system in the world, well, it’s as corrupt and flawed as can be on many levels, the least not of which is teaching all children that politics is not for them or bad and to stay un-involved with City Halls and State Legislatures.

Greg Palast has covered all sorts of the shenanigans of this country’s most recent voting crimes:

Unlike the rest of the world, the U.S. and the [local] sites are not swift at all to publish the votes that never get counted or the votes that they rejected. It’s huge — the number of provisional ballots in this election will number in the several million … the number of rejected absentee ballots will number in the several million.

Keep in mind that chance of your vote spoiling — that is, you cast it but it doesn’t get tallied — is 900 percent higher if you’re black then if you’re white. And that’s the [U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’] statistical analysis.

So, in that case, we’re looking at… from the experience of looking at the Arizona numbers, previously — and I can go back, there are other purge numbers, and provisional ballots — there is little doubt that Arizona is basically decided not by votes but by votes not counted, or the people turned away from the polls or purged from the voter rolls.

Same with North Carolina. Michigan. North Carolina … without question Michigan, without question Arizona, without question Florida. Probably — I don’t want to go out, because I’m looking at preliminary numbers — I would say probably North Carolina, and possibly Ohio. And, of course, we haven’t looked at Minnesota yet. But I don’t think there’s any question in these states. Pennsylvania.

This is how this country rolls, though, with Botoxed on-the-air non-news deliverers confused, lusting after Hell-fires in the night, clicking tongues about the most innocuous things, absolute reflections of education – journalism-communications schools – gone really bad at the colleges they supposedly attended. Plus, the detritus that is the Democratic party, Hillary lovers, spouting absurdities around Russia changing-affecting-influencing-making the election of this, what appears to be, a fourth-grade reading grade level New Yorker to the US presidency. All this misdirection and miseducation plugging up the emotional-intellectual and religious pipe work that is the collective American toilet system of consumption.

This high school social worker and I talked about two of my youth on my caseload, and in the end, the many youth he is working with, well, young white boys, fidgeting and twitching, they are not all there, so to speak. All these burgeoning yearly populations of special needs youth, creepily vapid and vacant – and this is coming from me, someone who’s worked in prisons, recovery centers, homeless programs, memory facilities, day programs for adults with significant developmental disabilities.

Get into the bowels of our school system, of how wrecked many youth are, and how many are teetering on disaster or criminal injustice interludes, and, well, we have to wonder what exactly is in the water, Marge? What is in those skyscrapers full of Cheetos and those billions of ounces of Coco Puffs and lake-size vats of Red Bull?

To say that Trump is Bandito Numero 45 is as absurd as saying Bush was voted in legally as The 43rd Made Man, yet I have people yammering away – some on DV and Counterpunch – saying, to “get over it . . . the American people have spoken and voted in this Mafia-connected Donald!” And, the power of voter suppression to put in some racist, thug, pro-war, anti-social services, pro-tax theft for the elite senators and representatives guy named The Donald? Do we spend time asking that one?

Bishop William Barber, II: Yeah, I’m very concerned that while we should focus on the Russian hacking, but that we’re missing that the greatest hacking of our system was racialized voter suppression. Let me give you some numbers for your audience.

Eight hundred and sixty-eight. That’s the number of—the number fewer, that we had 868 fewer voting sites in the black and brown community in 2016, black, brown and poor community.

Twenty-two. Twenty-two states passed voter suppression laws since 2010. That’s where 44 senators were represented, over nearly 50 percent of the United States House of Representatives. And at least 16 or 17 seats in the Senate—rather, in the House, probably would not be where they are partisan, if it was not for voter suppression.

Today is 1,562 days—1,562 days since the Supreme Court gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now, Strom Thurmond only filibustered the Civil Rights Act of ’57 for one day. This Congress, under McConnell and Ryan, has filibustered fixing the Voting Rights Act for 1,562 days. We talk about Trump winning in Wisconsin by 20,000 or 30,000 votes. There were 250,000 votes suppressed in Wisconsin. In North Carolina, we had over 150 fewer sites doing early voting.

So it is amazing to me that we’re having a conversation about Russian hacking, but we’re not having a conversation about racialized voter suppression, which is systemic racism, which is a tool of white nationalism, which is a direct threat to our democracy.

Yet, this country is flummoxed daily with the false flag shooting in Vegas, with the impending three months of unfettered mass consumption, as Homo Retailopithicus charges those neurons to feed the financial shekel collectors in this country of service workers and shoppers.

In Salem, recently, I was one of five male social workers in a group of 60 female social workers. It’s clear I am in the business with broken people, and I was only one of two men speaking up, and confronting the sexism and some really loopy thinking by several Trump female social workers.

We have 16 to 21 year olds, in foster care, and my job is to connect them to school, connect them to their own untapped abilities, to show them life outside of homelessness or the drudgery as burger flipping. There’s a hell of a lot more that we do, and in any given week, there’s some real life changing things I precipitate. Way outside any rotten feel-good TED Talk mumbo-jumbo. Real life saving stuff, too.

So, one of the more senior social workers tried to put her racist, sexist, fourth grade Trump spin/logic to work – the state is tracking our youth who now, over a twenty year span, are in larger numbers working in their teens. This yahoo stated, “It’s because of our great president Trump. He’s helping Oregon’s economy.”

Well, Oregon’s economy has been on turbo charge for five years, and there are hard, toiling jobs in logistics – warehouses – that need backs and brawn. Lots of part-time and temp jobs. And, those 111 people moving into this place a day, well, they need their Krispy Cremes and Carl’s Juniors like the rest of US of Israel. Plus, the world of foster youth is filled with financial obligations, in the legal arena, debts tied to charges and crimes, and in many cases, they owe for bad debts just trying to survive. Some owe child support. Plus the school debt load, is that a real great prospect in young people’s lives, a college degree to serve lattes? The cost of rentals in Portland area are akin to San Francisco’s, so, just to take a shit and burn a bagel and lay out a twin mattress costs big time. If Trump indeed has anything to do with youth in Oregon opting to work in greasy fast-food joints over choosing to go to community college to be pharmacy techs or welders, it would be his ilk’s anti-education, anti-smarts, anti-trades mentality that pushed them into minimum wage hell. Of course, I pointed this out, and my fellow female social workers, many of whom are Hillary Lovers, they gave me as big of a stink eye for confronting this senior social worker as I would have gotten if I had told them how criminal Clinton and Obama are.

This is the magical and see-hear-speak no evil thinking that has taken over the white race in the whiter liberal camp, and it has decayed youth from the inside out. Truly. White social workers go on and on about LGBTQI and sex trafficking, but they nary say a word against the pigs-cops murdering black and brown people or the evil that surrounds them and is them in the form of the industrial military complex.

America murders daily, nanosecond by nanosecond, and we have to talk about which restroom is appropriate for this or that self-identified young person.

It’s the Rachel Maddow and Oprah Winfrey Effect, and the Marvel Comic Hollywood Effect, and the denuding of adult thinking and adult action that comes from a society that is perpetually hooked to the IV drip of college/pro sports-Disney-All-You-Can-Eat-Buffalo-Wing Mondays and Thursdays. It’s the very seed gone weedy from years of mind control by Madison Avenue and the perversions of lies as truth, make-believe as history, a red-white-blue belief that there is some hard-assed Rambo God looking over the USA.

Even the Trump haters can’t rise to the occasion and shake out the crows eating the eyes of our youth from the thrushes that represent a country that is afraid of its own shadow, its own bankers, its own police force and its own military.

Trump, right:

David Cay Johnston: Well, Donald Trump is not at all who people think he is, and I’m very surprised that conservatives are embracing him. For example, Donald’s most famous building, the Trump Tower, instead of building it as a steel girder building, he chose to build it out of concrete, a 58-story—he says 68 stories—a 58-story concrete building built by a company called S&A Concrete construction. And who owned [S&A] construction? “Fat Tony” Salerno, the head of the Genovese crime family in New York, and Paul Castellano, the head of the Gambino family. Trump used the same company for other projects that he built, even though they were more costly than using steel girder construction.

When he tore down the Bonwit Teller building to make way for the Trump Tower, he had about a dozen union house wreckers on the site and about 150 Polish workers, all of them illegally in the country, who he paid $4 to $5 an hour and who did not have hard hats. And Trump claimed in a lawsuit that he had no idea that these workers were there in any way other than an appropriate way. And a federal judge mocked him, pointing out that they were easy to spot because they were the ones who had no hard hats.

Donald’s personal helicopter pilot, Joseph Weichselbaum, was a convicted major cocaine and marijuana trafficker whose criminal case landed before, of all people, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, Donald Trump’s sister. Now, Judge Barry recused herself, but she also, in the process, made every other judge in the federal system aware of the sensitivity of this particular case.

And in addition, Donald Trump has been found in the past repeatedly to have not paid people he owed money to. It is a standard business practice of his. He has let people think that he fixed Wollman Rink in Central Park for free. He was paid $10 million, but some of his contractors were never paid, because he told them this was a public service project. And he’s been sued innumerable times for racial discrimination of his businesses. He’s been found to have engaged in racial discrimination. He’s not at all who he appears to be.

Which is an understatement and the defining characteristic of ALL corporate heads, ALL politicians who self-identify as money-groveling products of the interlinked (matrix of) lobbies that get perfectly good Christian and Orthodox Jews to turn into prostitutes for the war-toxin-structural violence Kingpins.

Think hard about the absurdity of a Putin Pushing the Levers of All Those Ballot Boxes. Think of that, and the continual attack on his dictatorial nature, and how great those Pussy Riot freaks are in the scheme of things. This is from a country of perversion – drone joystick killers, flyovers during football games, false flag operations and PBS propaganda shows on Vietnam and America’s Illegal War on Vietnam. Putin as the bad-guy, controlling leader. From a country that hired Obama, this multi-million dollar tin soldier for Wall Street. This is a country based on Thugs, Big Time Criminals and Little Men, and one steeped in the Little Eichmann Syndrome, and a population in Battered Spouse Syndrome with this Trump in High Crimes Office. Stockholm Syndrome, and Little Big Man, all wrapped up in this is god’s country Prozac psychosis.

There’s white racist DNA running through the synapses of his or her brain tissue. They will kill their own kind, defend the enemies of their kind or anyone who is perceived to be the enemy of the milky white way of life.

— Jeremiah Wright

I’m listening to Wright now, on Bill Moyers’ show, and goddamn it, we need this person in the role of leader of whatever religious pot this country has to throw our spirituality into to stir up and throw onto the warring leaders of our United States of Corporations.

This is the big hole in America, in that female Trump supporter social worker down in Salem, thinking Trump is supreme, God-blessed, rather than the rodent breeder that he seems to be, nothing but a cartoon, a jumping tweeting thing, a brand or product of the lowest common denominator, denigrating any notion of honoring a smart mind, a sound body, and a confident spirit.

One big hole where youth are put into segregated classrooms when things go south; where teachers are one paycheck away from ditching that profession and selling Mary Kay products; where the entire administrative systems in cities-counties-states are staffed by bureaucrats who could squeeze the last tear out of a rotting onion.

I am faced with workers, careerists, and those like me, social workers, who have a professional turn-over rate higher than NFL second-string quarterbacks. This role we play is like a marionette play, jumping to the bureaucrats’ sadistic numbers game, statistics combing, bean counting and data mining. Hedges, Truthdig:

These armies of bureaucrats serve a corporate system that will quite literally kill us. They are as cold and disconnected as Mengele. They carry out minute tasks. They are docile. Compliant. They obey. They find their self-worth in the prestige and power of the corporation, in the status of their positions and in their career promotions. They assure themselves of their own goodness through their private acts as husbands, wives, mothers and fathers. They sit on school boards. They go to Rotary. They attend church. It is moral schizophrenia. They erect walls to create an isolated consciousness. They make the lethal goals of ExxonMobil or Goldman Sachs or Raytheon or insurance companies possible. They destroy the ecosystem, the economy and the body politic and turn workingmen and -women into impoverished serfs. They feel nothing. Metaphysical naiveté always ends in murder. It fragments the world. Little acts of kindness and charity mask the monstrous evil they abet. And the system rolls forward. The polar ice caps melt. The droughts rage over cropland. The drones deliver death from the sky. The state moves inexorably forward to place us in chains. The sick die. The poor starve. The prisons fill. And the careerist, plodding forward, does his or her job.

What do we tell the school counselor, the advisers, the teachers, and what role do we have as the villagers in It Takes a Village, as uncles and brothers and grandsons and fathers and nephews?

Here I am in Spokane, visiting my 21-year-old daughter, who is working as a coffee barista, living now on her own, $600 a month studio apartment in an old part of town inside a 1920 house cut into threes as apartments.

I ran down the hotel hallway looking for coffee, and there’s convention rooms, and lo and behold, a six-hour training, “Building Self-Regulation in Children with Autism, ADHD, or Sensory Disorders.” This is a common scene these days in my field, and in attendance are parents, I can see. This is the new normal, Sensory Processing Disorder, Sensory Integrative Dysfunction, Sensory Integrative Dysfunction. SPD, SID, ADD, ODD, ADHD, an unholy alphabet soup created by the pesticide society we have invented. Plastics in milk, fumigants in burgers, hormones in cheese, glysophate in bagels, and an entire organic chemistry dictionary’s worth of things killing the womb, sucking the sanity of our unborns’ central nervous systems.

As we know, the evil chickens of military-chemical-prison-financial-surveillance-legal-energy-big ag/big pharma-education have come back to roost. There’s no way of getting around that! Rev. Wright:

And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian decent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese decent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African decent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them in slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing “God Bless America.” No, no, no. Not “God Bless America”; God Damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God Damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!

The Power of Truth, Love, and Justice Now

In early February, my 7th grader and I took a walk to our local coffee shop for a conversation. About what, I had no idea. A father-and-son visit to our neighborhood coffee shop had been a tradition of ours since he was around 9 years old: every now and then, when our busy family schedule would permit, I would treat us both to a drink – a mocha for me usually, and for him a hot chocolate or, as he grew older, a chai – and we would talk about whatever was on his mind. A middle class parenting luxury built on leisure time and disposable income.

I quickly learned to let him set the agenda, and then engage with whatever degree of seriousness he brought to the topic. Sometimes I was able to anticipate his choice of subject; sometimes his declared interest was startlingly unexpected. Over the years, topics had ranged from the extremely heavy (“Can we talk about genocide, Dad?” he had inquired on one occasion and, on another, “What is ‘rape’?”) to the comically complicated (“Can I be a polytheist and be Jewish at the same time?” he once asked his non-Jewish, secular father).

This time, I expected my son wanted to talk about politics, specifically, the newly installed presidency of long-time icon of post-industrial capitalism, Donald Trump. As we walked to the coffee shop, Trump was entering into the third week of his presidency. There already had been mass protests against the new administration’s efforts to shut down the country’s international refugee program, protests against intensifying deportations of immigrant workers, against misogyny and sexism, against a new officialdom that would weaken public supports for working people, environmental protections, education, and access to health care. The phrase “Trump’s America” had become a commonplace in the mass media, to the indifference of some Americans, to the delight of many, and to the horror of many more.

I was a bit surprised, therefore, to discover that what my son wanted to talk about most was race and racism. His primary interest was not who now held official power but why racism was such a persistent obstacle to the goal of equality. He understood, he said, “that race is a made up thing,” and yet knowing that fact “doesn’t seem to make it go away.” He proposed that we read a book together. Something non-fiction “on the subject of race, civil rights, and equality,” was his preference. He made it clear he wanted to understand better the history of race and racism in the United States.

“Race is a pretty big topic,” I exhaled, after a long, thoughtful breath. I was mulling possible choices, and feeling daunted by the problem of identifying just one book, accessible to a middle schooler no less, that would allow us to explore the history of race and racism in our country. Then, thinking about recent political news, I asked him “Do you know who Frederick Douglass was?” “No, I don’t,” he replied. “The current president of the United States may not either,” I observed wryly, and explained how, just a couple of days before, Trump had awkwardly used the present tense in a strikingly vague public remark about the famous ex-slave and abolitionist (who died in 1895): “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice,” he had said.

Trump’s comments, delivered at the start of Black History Month, were widely interpreted as evidence the nation’s chief executive had no idea who Frederick Douglass was. “That’s pretty weird,” the 7th grader assessed. “I mean, I didn’t know who Frederick Douglass was until you told me, but I’m in middle school.” We talked about how it’s okay to admit you don’t know things, and about how some things are important enough that everyone should have some knowledge of them. We returned to a theme of a few previous coffee shop conversations – that history is an important dimension of the present – and decided that Frederick Douglass should be on our reading list. This would be our little act of rebellion against official forgetting.

What my son and I didn’t know at the time of our initial conversation was how much, and how clearly, Frederick Douglass would speak to us of the present. Over the two and a half months that followed, as we read and discussed our way toward the final page of his Narrative, we found ourselves confronted, over and over, with the vitality and relevance of what Douglass has to say. It wasn’t just the two of us talking about Douglass’s narrative, a couple of white, middle class people chatting in the abstract about an artifact of black history. Douglass spoke to us of our country, unsettled us in the quiet and comfort of the local coffee shop. He spoke to us about who and how we need to be, now.

Voice and Property

The first thing one notices about the Narrative is Frederick Douglass’s voice. “He’s such a great writer, Dad,” my son repeatedly enthused over the course of our readings together. Douglass’s eloquence and clarity were astounding, he explained, because he had been enslaved from birth through young adulthood. “That he can write like that, when he wasn’t supposed to, after all they did to him …”

My thirteen-year old loves reading and is enamored of language, word play, and storytelling. For his bar mitzvah a few months prior to our reading of Douglass, he had written a d’var Torah (a commentary on a passage of the Torah) in which he retold the story of Abraham and Isaac from Isaac’s perspective, revealing from within the canonical story about faith another tale, one of domination, betrayal, and abuse of authority. He had, in other words, recently developed a commitment to, and appreciation for, amplifying the unheard and the silenced. He understood immediately what Douglass was doing with his Narrative. As I read aloud from the text, my son heard the sound of defiance, of liberation. He heard an Isaac telling his own story.

Douglass’s voice is strong, and his strategy to expose the moral abomination of slavery is to attend, through his personal testimony, to all of the forms of dominance and degradation it employs. Douglass speaks bluntly of slavery’s emotional violence. The very first paragraph detains the reader with the fact that Douglass doesn’t know his own birthday or age. “[T]he larger part of slaves know as little of their ages as horses know of theirs,” he writes. And in the first couple of chapters Douglass takes time to describe the material conditions of enslavement. He itemizes, for example, the food and clothing allowances for the enslaved: 8 lbs. of fish or pork and 1 bushel of cornmeal per month per adult; 2 shirts, 1 jacket, 2 pants, one pair of stockings and one pair of shoes per year. Children who did not work in the fields were given no shoes, stockings, pants, or jacket. “Children from seven to ten years old, of both sexes, almost naked, might be seen at all seasons of the year.”

He draws his readers’ attention to the life of the enslaved child. One can discern here the intersection between Douglass’s own experience as a piece of property, on the one hand, and the economics of slaveholding in the United States on the other. Whereas other countries in the hemisphere replaced their slave population – the way a factory owner replaces worn out machine parts – through importation of newly enslaved Africans, the United States banned the international slave trade in 1808 and so, at the time of Douglass’s writing, the country’s slave population was maintained mostly through births. Children born into slavery represented a renewal or replacement of fixed capital, to use the language of economics. Logically, when children are conceived as things, as inputs useful for the accumulation of wealth, it is not normal human development that is required to reach their potential, but instead a process of thingification. Birthdays are thus irrelevant. Or, more to the point, the elimination of birthdays, of the annual ritual of celebrating the individual life and its progress, becomes necessary. Similarly, clothing for the child is an investment input that makes limited economic sense prior to the age of productivity.

We spoke a bit – as odd as it might seem, it feels right to include Frederick Douglass in that “we” – about how the emotional brutality of slavery stunted the development of not just the individual but the entire community. Much of our first conversation centered on this passage in particular:

It is a common custom, in the part of Maryland from which I ran away, to part children from their mothers at a very early age. Frequently, before the child has reached its twelfth month, its mother is taken from it, and hired out on some farm a considerable distance off, and the child is placed under the care of an old woman, too old for field labor. For what this separation is done, I do not know, unless it be to hinder the development of the childʹs affection toward its mother, and to blunt and destroy the natural affection of the mother for the child. This is the inevitable result.

Douglass presents this organized assault by the propertied class on the parent-child relationship as evidence of the immorality of slavery. But this is no mere sociological observation on his part. This is personal. He tells us he has no knowledge of his own father, and little memory of his mother, who labored until her death a dozen miles away from where he spent his early childhood. What is most powerful here – a power I could see in my own child’s reaction, and feel in my own parent’s heart – is how Douglass voices the experience, from within the otherwise silenced position of the child, from the dark inside of a system of economic subjugation: “Never having enjoyed, to any considerable extent, her soothing presence, her tender and watchful care, I received the tidings of her death with much the same emotions I should have probably felt at the death of a stranger.” Isaac denounces his bindings.

A voice from within the machinery of enslavement – this is what Douglass brings to discussion of the history of racism in the United States. Our reading sessions, and our reflections, became premised on the recognition of Douglass’s as an improbable voice that, against all odds, was not suffocated forever under the reifying weight of a racist economic system, the way countless others were. As our conversations continued, Douglass recounted to us tales of the life of the enslaved on Colonel Lloyd’s Great House Farm. Chapter three of the Narrative opens with a description of Lloyd’s prize fruit garden and the temptation it represented for the enslaved, who were “severely whipped” if suspected of even trying to take fruit. This passage is followed by a description of Lloyd’s horses, which “were of the finest form and noblest blood,” and how Lloyd would beat the horses’ enslaved caretaker for any perceived inattention to the horses’ needs.

I pointed out to my son that the combined, and likely desired, effect of Douglass’s stories was to illustrate the place of the enslaved person within the master’s estate. The slave was property, but of dramatically lesser value than a garden, and of much lesser value than a horse. Both the garden and the horse were possessions of great prestige, and required constant care and attention, of a sort the master himself was not willing or able to provide. The master was proud of his garden and his horses. Meanwhile, his treatment of the enslaved person was uniquely punishing and arbitrary.

Then, we read the final anecdote of the chapter: Colonel Lloyd owned so many afro-descendant people laboring on so many farms that he did not recognize them all, and many of them did not recognize him. And thus one day, Lloyd happened upon “a colored man” and interviewed him about who was his master and whether he was treated well. The man replied that Colonel Lloyd was his master and “No, sir,” Lloyd did not treat him well. Speaking this truth resulted in Lloyd ordering him chained and sold to a Georgia trader, “forever sundered from his family and friends, by a hand more unrelenting than death.”

“What is this story about?” we asked ourselves. Separation. A stripping away of relationships. A purging from the “thing” of emotional attachments. A cruel punishment to be sure, and, once again, undeniable evidence of the rank sociopathy of slavery. But punishment for what? At its heart, the story is about voice – about the fate of voice under the dominion of a particular regime of property. Asked to speak the truth, the unsuspecting slave does precisely that, and in doing so violates the logic of property that governs the master-slave relationship. The slave was entrapped by the master in an act of public speech, an attempt to speak of justice. The master’s response was a re-assertion of the process of thingification. Property has no voice. That power is reserved for the propertied.

This is not the only place where Douglass focuses his readers’ attention on the silencing of voices by the political economy of his America, of our America in the mid-19th century. In chapter two, when Douglass discusses at length the songs of the enslaved, that very same problem of voice, of the erasure of voice, and therefore of truth and of public appeals for justice, resonates with the clarity of a bell. “To those songs I trace my first glimmering conception of the dehumanizing character of slavery,” he tells us. “The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience.” And then he adds, “Crying for joy, and singing for joy, were alike uncommon to me while in the jaws of slavery.” And yet, he notes, even in the northern states there are those “who could speak of the singing, among slaves, as evidence of their contentment and happiness.”

Douglass seems to use music to teach that the problem of voice extends to the ear. Whose voice? Whose ear? The Narrative is an act of public speech, directed at the nation. We were delighted as we imagined Colonel Lloyd’s angry, threatened, disapproval. But the most important truth, as with the banishment of Lloyd’s truth-telling slave, was that even though a voice may be heard, it must be listened to in order to matter. Douglass wants his readers to hear the inner life of the property relationship. Not the voice of the haves, but of those who have been had. He speaks to his readers directly about hearing the slave’s voice as evidence of injustice, entered in the public record and evaluated: “The singing of a man cast away upon a desolate island might be as appropriately considered as evidence of contentment and happiness, as the singing of a slave; the songs of the one and of the other are prompted by the same emotion.”

My son’s interest in music, an omnivore’s appetite for all things musical, made it important to spend some extra time with this. Although Douglass does not explicitly mention minstrelsy – a popular form of entertainment at the time of his writing, in which white men blackened their faces with grease paint and sang and danced their mockery of slaves –his discussion of music is clearly a counterpoint to minstrelsy’s stereotyping of the enslaved as happy and simple-minded. We talked about those racial stereotypes and their long historical shelf-life, of Disney’s absurdly upbeat slave song “Zip-a-dee-dooh-dah” from Song of the South (which won an Academy Award in 1947, more than a hundred years after the publication of Douglass’s Narrative) and how you can catch a glimpse of our country’s racial history in the smiling face of Aunt Jemima making the magical promise of labor-free meals to American consumers. American history is littered with this kind of racial ventriloquism.

We talked as we read, surreally sipping our coffee-shop drinks alongside Douglass. We practiced listening and looking carefully, to better hear and see our country’s racial history. We listened to Odetta’s haunting deep-toned rendition of the traditional lullaby “All the Pretty Little Horses,” and talked about the injustice recorded in the lyrics. The master’s baby is promised “all the pretty little horses” while another child – the baby of the enslaved mother who sings the master’s child to sleep – suffers the absence of its mother. Odetta’s version of the lyrics sings of separation, emotional devastation, and the slave child’s voice: “Bees and butterflies/Picking on his eyes/ Poor little thing is crying Mammie.” We noticed that many versions of the song exclude that troubling stanza. Whose voice and whose ears, indeed.

Separation. If my son and I could have spoken to Douglass, across all that separates us, we would have had to confess that the emancipation of the enslaved is remembered in America today with little real grasp of the social and emotional abjection systematically visited upon African American communities by generations of economic and political elites. We would have had to inform him that, in this country that speaks so proudly and loudly of freedom, that there still is no national celebration of the abolition of slavery. Overwhelmingly, whites are hardly even aware of Juneteenth celebrations in African American communities. We would have to acknowledge that we were discussing oppression from a place of comfort. Separation, Frederick Douglass might answer back, is a strategy of the powerful.

The 7th grader and I discussed at length about how the abolition of slavery only changed the law, and that abolishing the culture and relationships organized originally around the economics of slavery is a longer, slower, more fraught undertaking. About how our society hasn’t shed a political economy in which some of us are “less than.” About how voice is still mostly a power of the propertied.

My son and I spoke to each other in the guiding presence of Douglass’s voice as we slowly made our way through the Narrative. We were confronted with questions, not all of them immediately about race. How does one begin to understand the long, cold shadow cast by slave-holding practices across our nation’s history? What forms of silence govern us now? What kinds of separation punish and contain unauthorized voices? Whose voices are absent from the public conversation? Who is listening to the nation’s Isaacs?

Resistance, Past and Present

We realized, as we read, that Douglass had written a story of origins – like a superhero origin story, but rivetingly real. As the story unfolded, Douglass learned to read and write, resisted the will of his masters, physically battled a slave-breaker, eventually committed himself to his own liberation, and finally escaped to the north and became a vocal opponent of slavery. The Narrative, in other words, tells the genesis story of his voice, of the public power of his truth telling and activism. We realized we were, in a sense, holding Douglass’s “super power” in our hands, all the while reading about how it got there.

The superhero analogy is mainly meaningful for how it doesn’t fit. To be sure, Douglass presents plenty of villainous behavior, including whippings and murder, brutal working conditions, denial of food and clothing and health care – conduct that he describes, aptly, as evil. But what organizes that behavior is not an evil mastermind, as the comic books would have it. The organizer is a system of exploitation, and the relationships that system imposes on human potential. The powers the hero develops are not super human, but grounded in the basic, civic skills of reading and writing, and in the cultivation of relationships of love and solidarity. Unlike superhero stories (and, frankly, a broad spectrum of popular entertainment), in Douglass’s account what is wrong is more far-reaching and systemic than we would like to believe. Meanwhile, the power to right what is wrong is more within our grasp than we would like to admit.

What was wrong with America in the mid-19th century was profoundly wrong. In chapter four my son and I encountered horrifying descriptions of murders of black people by white people, murders that were not prosecuted partly because slaves had no legal status to serve as witnesses. “I speak advisedly when I say this,” Douglass reports, “that killing a slave, or any colored person, in Talbot county, Maryland, is not treated as a crime, either by the courts or the community.” Infamously, the U.S. Constitution accounted for slaves as three-fifths of a person, for the purposes of system maintenance (i.e., calculating political representation and taxation), and categorically denied citizenship to non-whites. Douglass indicts the legal system and a dehumanizing culture. “It was a common saying, even among little white boys,” he tells us, “that it was worth a half-cent to kill a ‘n—–‘ and a half-cent to bury one.” Law and culture and economics conspired villainously against black Americans.

Something electric arced between past and present when we read these passages in the Narrative. “To be accused was to be convicted, and to be convicted was to be punished, the one always following the other with immutable certainty,” Douglass told us. My son made an immediate connection between the murders of three different slaves known to Douglass and the litany of African-Americans brutalized by the authorities in recent years, victims of violence whom Black Lives Matter activism has effectively made into household names: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and, gut-wrenchingly, on an on. We could feel the righteous anger in Frederick Douglass’s description of the murder of Demby by Colonel Lloyd’s overseer, Mr. Austin Gore. We could hear “Say his name!” and “Black Lives Matter!” in Douglass’s voice, one hundred and seventy-two years back. In the quiet comfort of our local coffee shop, the many silences of our country’s history, past and present, were roaring in our ears.

Douglass describes a systemic and relational evil. In chapter five Douglass recounts his first taste of the possibility of a life different from the plantation when he is sent to a new owner in Baltimore, and meets Mrs. Auld: “And here I saw what I had never seen before; it was a white face beaming with the most kindly emotions.” But in chapter six, he observes the corrupting power of the economic order on what had felt like a promising relationship: “That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon.” Douglass describes slavery as “irresponsible power,” a corrupting force that debases both master and enslaved. Mrs. Auld’s most laudable qualities are destroyed by the master-slave relationship: “the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.”

We returned to this insight – that the way a society is organized can shape human character and possibility – throughout our conversations with Douglass. We talked about how our relationships are molded by forces and structures that came before us, by roles into which we are pushed by institutions and economics, by demands imposed and forms of authority that must be negotiated with, like it or not. We talked about the ways we are possessed by the past – about how people still talk about “dialing” the phone, when nobody has dialed a damned thing in decades; about the dead hand of centuries of slavery hanging similarly on the steering mechanisms of our country. I felt a fleeting despair (What exorcism can expunge such possession?), but when I asked how do we abolish those vestiges, my son responded without hesitation: “White people need to learn that they aren’t superior to anybody.”

Learning is important action. As we read of the origins of Frederick Douglass’s voice, we began to see that learning was, in fact, an important part of Douglass’s response to what was wrong with America. After his move to Baltimore, Mrs. Auld’s efforts to teach Douglass (who was around 8 years old at the time) the alphabet and writing were discovered by her husband and immediately forbidden. “If you teach that n—– how to read,” Douglass quoted Mr. Auld as reasoning, “there would be no keeping him.” As a result, Douglass resolves (in his first deliberate act of resistance) that he would learn how to read. “From that moment I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom.”

Education, the great equalizer; knowledge as power; learning sets us free. All comforting notions for an already comfortable middle class reader, and an educator, like myself. Comforting and familiar also for my son, a student. It would be easy to accept education as the answer to what is wrong, past and present, and I suspect that this is precisely how Douglass’s Narrative is read by many Americans – as an individual’s progress through adversity, raised up and out of subjugation by his own wits and dedication to self-improvement.

But my son and I sensed there was something more to Douglass’s story. The most immediate object of Mrs. Auld’s fury – after Douglass’s literacy had been forbidden – drew our sharp attention. “Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper,” Douglass observes. Reading (and eventually writing) certainly allowed Douglass to escape some of the logic of the master-slave relationship. Nonetheless, I argued in our discussion of the passage, it was not just reading that was off limits to the slave. Douglass was denied the events and perspectives of civic life. The public arena was fenced off, policed. No voice, no ear for the slave.

This partition between white and black America is underscored by Douglass’ mention of The Columbian Orator, a book Douglass states he “got hold of” and read covertly “at every opportunity.” This book is one of a couple of texts from the public arena that Douglass references in chapters seven and eight (the second being an anti-slavery poem by the Quaker abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier). After a little research, I discovered that the Orator was a widely used schoolbook (especially in the north) that taught civic virtue through eloquence, public speaking viewed as a mode of moral action fundamental to democracy. It contained, among other texts, public speeches by George Washington, first president of the republic, and an anti-slavery dialogue between a master and a slave concerning the slave’s freedom. Douglass’s newspaper habits and auto-didactic civic education (through a book he “got hold of”) were studied violations not only of the master-slave relation but of the very boundaries constructed, by race and property, around citizenship in the United States.

So, yes, learning was critical to Douglass’s journey to freedom. He wasn’t breaking out, though – he was breaking in. He was knowingly trespassing in the public arena. He was negating separations imposed by official power, not retreating into the privacy and individualism of self-help. He studied the newspaper, and he appropriated a civics reader, but he also sought to develop proficiency in reading and writing by “making friends of all the little white boys whom I met in the street.” With these children Douglass engaged in public dialogue about slavery – “You will be free as soon as you are twenty-one, but I am a slave for life! Have not I as good a right to be free as you have?” he argued to an audience of his peers. He reports that “they would express for me the liveliest sympathy.” Voice and ears convened around issues of common concern. His transgressions were relational: A counterpower to the politics of separation.

These were “poor white children in our neighborhood.” My son noted that these children probably also had a limited experience of freedom because of their poverty. He argued that, because they were children, they were also deprived of rights until reaching adulthood, a fact of social life that Douglass explicitly recognized. (For his 7th grade history project my son had been reading Janusz Korczak, an early advocate of children’s rights who was killed by the Nazis at Treblinka, and so children’s subordination and exclusion from public life was on his mind.) Douglass experienced real solidarity with these kids: “It was to those little Baltimore boys that I felt the strongest attachment.” There is no voice, we learned from Douglass, without ears. There is no public arena without relationships. Relationships – that is where power is defined.

Love and Citizenship

Douglass tells us his first attempt to escape was a group effort. He had shifted from an earlier personal, even internal liberation (“I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact”), to a collective and solidarity-based orientation. This meant defining freedom in a different way. Freedom was no longer an individual objective: “I was no longer willing to cherish this determination alone. My fellow-slaves were dear to me. I was anxious to have them participate with me in this, my life-giving determination.”

Their plan discovered, Douglass and his co-conspirators are jailed. In describing their predicament and treatment, Douglass emphasizes the group over individual experience. “The fact was, we cared but little where we went, so we went together. Our greatest concern was separation.” Douglass uses the word “separation,” or some variant, five times in the space of three paragraphs. Domination versus resistance: “Their object in separating us was to hinder concert.” We thought back to the slave-owners’ practice of separating mother and child, and my son noted that the opposite of separation appears to be love, in Douglass’s telling. He focused my attention on Douglass’s language when describing his earlier efforts to create a school: “The work of instructing my dear fellow-slaves was the sweetest engagement with which I was ever blessed. We loved each other.”

Little wonder that, after escaping north, Douglass dedicated himself to the liberation of others. We asked ourselves now, as we finished reading the Narrative, just as we had asked before, “What is this story about?” Over the course of our studies with Douglass, the theme of separation had been voiced many times, a bright thread woven through his text. Separation of parent from child, separation of slave from community, separation of white from black, separation of those who make liberation a common cause. Relationships caught in the gears of the social order.

Douglass cultivated relationships alternative to those imposed by a system that literally banked on his silence. He stubbornly insisted on access to the public sphere, for himself and others. He developed civic skills denied by the system, and used them to promote systemic change. Entangled in the systemic villainy of America’s 19th century political economy, these were Frederick Douglass’s responses. The story of the emergence of his voice is a story of resistance to reification, of a refusal to be reduced to a mechanism of the status quo. Telling the story was itself a public act of resistance.

Frederick Douglass’s flight to freedom, we decided, was a carefully planned invasion of the public arena. Born into slavery, he refused his legally assigned status as someone else’s property. In effect, he expropriated himself. Fenced off from citizenship, denied full and equal belonging to the national community, he cut a hole in the fence, shouldered his way in, and demanded recognition of his truths and their relevance to the public interest, to justice. He was, in the parlance of today’s debates around immigration (every deportation a separation), an illegal.

Importantly, he did not think of his freedom as a flight into the private pursuit of individual happiness. His Narrative is all the evidence required to appreciate this. In his text Douglass becomes an “I” who speaks publicly among equals, his readers a nation of “thous,” voice and ears gathered together in defiance of the prohibitions and separations of the existing order. His voice convokes, speaks to, new relational possibilities. Which is to say, Douglass “does” citizenship in a way different from most of us, who accept all kinds of atrocity and exclusion, as long as our own back yard is unaffected. A citizenship that abides separation, versus his politics of love.

Here we were, generations later. Douglass had us wondering, questioning. Who profits from defining freedom as private happiness instead of engagement with the public good? Who among us labors without a public voice? What kinds of relationships define us as a nation? What kind of citizens are we now?

On the final page, we couldn’t help but notice how Douglass signed off. Not just “sincerely,” but also “faithfully relying upon the power of truth, love, and justice – and solemnly pledging my self anew to the sacred cause.” One hundred and seventy two years later, Douglass addressed himself to the kind of citizens we need to be now. Committed to a different kind of power, arising from relationships defined by truth, love, and justice. Able to hear, even in (especially in) the quiet comforts of our personal freedom, a din of silences all around.

Caribbean Reparations Movement Must Put Capitalism on Trial

Why is the reparations movement in the Anglophone Caribbean not putting capitalism on trial in its campaign to force British imperialism to provide financial compensation for its industrial and agricultural capitalists’ enslavement of Africans? To what extent is capitalism such a sacred spirit or god whose name should not be publicly called in order to avoid attracting its vindictive and punishing rebuke? Are the advocates of reparations truly convinced that British imperialism’s payment of financial compensation for the enslavement of Africans would end the economic marginalization of the labouring classes who are toiling under capitalist regimes throughout the region? Why are we willing to place racism or white supremacy in the dock but not its creator – capitalism?

On 17 December 2007, the United Nations’ General Assembly passed a resolution that made March 25 the annual commemorative International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This day should be used as a rallying point by people of good conscience to press the former major slaving states such as Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Holland, Portugal, Russia, Spain and Sweden to pay reparations for their participation in the economic exploitation and racist dehumanization of enslaved Africans. The General Assembly’s initiative is an acknowledgement of the over fifteen million Africans who landed in the Americas and the over thirty million captives who died during the process of catching and delivering them into the Holocaust of Enslavement.

Capitalism and Slavery in the Caribbean

A key goal of all yearly progressive remembrance activities in the Caribbean and elsewhere should be to educate or remind people of the fact that capitalism was the primary force behind the extraction of the labour power of enslaved Africans. Of equal importance is the need to etch into the consciousness of the public that white supremacy or racism was simply an ideological tool used by the capitalist enslavers and various European states to morally justify the enslavement of Africans. Racism was deployed by these early capitalists and their respective national states to mask the purely economic motivation behind the development of an enslaved labour force.

In the seminal and classic book Capitalism and Slavery that was written by the late historian and statesman Dr. Eric Williams, he states that the brutal, exploitative and exacting labour condition of white indentured workers served as the template for the institution of African enslavement or slavery:

Here then is the origin of [African] slavery. The reason was economic, not racial; it had not to do with the color of the laborer but the cheapness of the laborer…. The features of the man, his hair, color and dentifrice, his “subhuman” characteristics so widely pleaded, were only later rationalizations to justify a simple economic fact: that the colonies needed and resorted to [African] labour because it was the cheapest and the best. This was not a theory; it was a practical conclusion deduced from the personal experience of the planter.1

Williams asserts that slavery, as “basically an economic institution,” gave birth to racism. He further states that “Unfree labor in the New World was brown, white, black and yellow; Catholic, Protestant and pagan.” Racism or white supremacy is now an autonomous system of oppression that intersects with patriarchy and capitalism to create differing degrees of labour exploitation within the ranks of the working-class.

The point that should be centred in the minds of revolutionaries and radicals in the Caribbean is that capitalism, the architect of racism, is still negatively impacting the lives of the working-class descendants of enslaved Africans as well as the societies that were built by their exploited labour. The late revolutionary, organic intellectual and historian Dr. Walter Rodney convincingly argues and documents in his ground-breaking text How Europe Underdeveloped Africa that capitalism was the main contributor to the stagnation of Africa’s economic development (see Chapter 4 – “Europe and the Roots of Africa’s Underdevelopment – To 1885).

Rodney’s indictment of capitalism and its retardation of the potentiality of the greater portion of humanity (the labouring classes) should be duly noted by the reparations activists or advocates who are playing footsie with capitalism:

… the peasants and workers of Europe (and eventually the inhabitants of the whole world) paid a huge price so that the capitalists could make their profits from the human labour that always lies behind the machine. That contradicts other facets of development, especially viewed from the standpoint of those who suffered and still suffer to make capitalist achievements possible. This latter group are the majority of [humanity]. To advance, they must overthrow capitalism; and that is why at the moment capitalism stands in the path of further human development. To put it another way, the social (class) relations of capitalism are now outmoded, just as slave and feudal relations became outmoded in their time.2

Dr. Hilary Beckles, Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, has written an excellent and easily comprehended book, Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide. It is a must read for people who would like to understand the basis of the claim for reparations from Britain for its role in the enslavement of Africans and genocide against Indigenous peoples in the Caribbean.

Unfortunately, Britain’s Black Debt has placed the misbegotten child of capitalism – racism- on trial, but not the inherently exploitative and soul destroying parent – capitalism. If we are going to throw the book at capitalism for chattel slavery, we are morally and politically obligated to do the same for the wage slavery of capitalism under which the Caribbean working-class is currently being exploited.

Caribbean States and Reparations

Today, we are witnessing the unconscionable, but politically understandable behaviour of the neocolonial states in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in divorcing their call for reparations from measures aimed at throwing capitalism into the cesspool of history. These member states of CARICOM are all committed to the implementation of social, economic and political policies that have enshrined capitalism in the region.

They are interested in reparations as a way to deal with their balance of payment, budgetary and development challenges as seen in the call for debt cancellation, technology transfer and a formal apology and not statements of regrets in this regional body’s Ten Point Action Plan for Reparatory Justice.

While these governments are acting like capitalism was not the real culprit behind the economic exploitation of enslaved Africans, progressive civil society groups and individuals who are advocating for reparations should not be silent or conveniently forgetful of this historical fact. We should expect the liberal petite bourgeois or middle-class reparations advocates to not indict capitalism. Their class interests and aspirations are totally immersed and dependent on the continued existence of capitalism. The petite bourgeois elements, unlike the labouring classes, display high levels of class consciousness and the former group tends to allow its class interests to guide its thoughts and actions.

However, radical and revolutionary reparations activists and supporters have no business not putting capitalism on the stand in their activism and general public education initiatives. As political activists who are committed to ending inequity and exploitation that are rooted in the social, economic, political and cultural structures of society’s principal institutions, they should know that capitalist economic relations and practices are a major source of oppression.

As such, they ought to educate the public on the reality that the capitalism that exploited the labour of enslaved Africans is the same capitalism that exploited them as wage slaves after the end of slavery. Capitalism is still exploiting Caribbean workers and taking the lion’s share of the profit that comes from the labour power of the working-class.

CARICOM’s ten-point reparations proposal is implicitly using the societies in the global North as the model of social and economic development. The mature capitalist societies in North America and Europe are characterized by widespread income inequality and concentration of wealth as well as the political marginalization of the working-class. How can such societies in good conscience serve as the standard of social, political and economic development for the Caribbean?

Reparatory Justice for Social Transformation and Dual Power

In the Caribbean, the revolutionaries and radicals must advance a reparations agenda that demands Britain/Europe’s financial compensation for the economic exploitation and racist dehumanization of enslaved Africans. It has been estimated that Britain’s reparations payment to Africans in the Caribbean would be in the region of £7.5 trillion.3 The £20 million paid to the enslavers of Africans after the 1838 abolition of slavery in the British Empire would be worth about £200 billion in today’s currency.4

The proposals below ought to be a part of the Caribbean reparations movement’s programme and be seen as a part of the general class struggle. The neocolonial Caribbean states do not need the immediate payment of reparations to undertake some of these demands. The social movements in the region must organize around these demands as a part of a dual power strategy or infrastructure of dissent or anarchist transfer cultures:5

Promote labour self-management and economic democracy: The governments in the Caribbean must capitalize national and regional Worker Self-management and Entrepreneurship Funds from allotments out of the respective annual national budgets. These funds would be controlled by progressive civil society forces. These financial resources would be used to finance and support worker cooperatives and other labour self-managed companies as well as the work of the support organizations and structures that are necessary to ensure the viability of the workers’ ownership, control and management of their workplace.

It would be the duty of the revolutionary and radical organizers to ensure that a critical mass of the worker-cooperators embrace labour self-management as a part of the class struggle and the fight for socialism. The worker’s democratic control of the workplace combined with popular assemblies would be the laboratory or training ground for the self-management of the future stateless, classless and self-organized (communist) society.

Include labour self-management in school curriculum: The governments in the Caribbean should restructure the curriculum and place at its centre knowledge of the oppressive nature of chattel slavery and wage slavery as a system of labour extraction and exploitation. Of equal importance is the strategic need to adequately educate the students in primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions about workers’ control, ownership and management of the workplace.

Further, the students would be equipped with the knowledge, skills and attitude to collectively self-manage worker cooperatives and other worker self-managed companies. We must challenge the public education curriculum that prepares learners, at public expense, to work in capitalist enterprises. The worker self-management ideas and practices should be integrated throughout the curriculum.

Develop comprehensive land reform programme: According to  Tony Weis in the paper “Restructuring and Redundancy: The Impacts and Illogic of Neoliberal Agricultural Reforms in Jamaica”:

Jamaica’s landscape still bears the scars of the most ferocious form of agricultural production ever devised, as plantations kept their vice-like grip on the best land after Emancipation in 1838, with all subsequent distribution programmes only ever acting on the margins of these inhumanly constructed yet sacrosanct institutions.6

The preceding state of affairs is essentially the situation in the rest of the Anglophone Caribbean.

The governments in the Caribbean must undertake a comprehensive land reform programme that puts flat, arable land in the hands of the labouring classes. Enslaved Africans and indentured South Asians and the Indigenous peoples worked the land and their descendants must now exercise stewardship and control over it.

In order for them to take land out of the capitalist speculative market and to end the idea of the ownership of land by individuals, these governments must create the legislative framework for the establishment of community land trust (CLT). CLT are structures that are used to protect land from the rise or fall in the value of land based on speculation or the whims and fancies of capitalist demand and supply of land and housing. The access to land should be based on the right of collective use or usufructuary rights and not the right of private ownership. Each generation should be the steward of land and not its owners as under capitalism.

Create a cooperative housing programme: The condition of a large proportion of the housing stock in the Caribbean is an assault on human decency, especially for those who live in urban squatter settlements or overcrowded, ill-repaired housing in urban and rural communities. The state must create national funding programmes to support the development and maintenance of cooperative housing by the people through their organizations.

Cooperative housing is a way to engender popular, democratic and collective control and management over the housing by the people who live in these units and to undermine the idea of housing as a tradeable commodity. The members of cooperative housing would have security of tenure but would not be able to pass on the property to their heirs.

Establish working-class friendly labour laws: The system of chattel slavery in the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas was a very vile form of labour exploitation. The slave masters did not simply exercise power over the labour power and the fruit of the labour (profit) of the enslaved African workforce. These capitalists also owned the enslaved Africans.

The brutal legacy of exploitation of African workers continued after Emancipation in 1838. In the Anglophone Caribbean of today, progressive organizations ought to develop broad national and regional campaigns to force these neo-colonial governments to create worker-friendly labour laws that make it easier for workers to join or form trade unions. Severe or prohibitive fines must be levied against employers who violate the rights of workers to form or join trade unions. It is hypocritical of governments to demand reparations from British imperialism for slavery, while facilitating the exploitation of workers through laws that are titled against the power of workers in the workforce.

The rate of unionization is very low in the Caribbean and it must become a priority of progressive social movement organizations, socialist organizations, the revolutionary petite bourgeoisie and trade unions to push for legislation that will give workers a greater level of bargaining power in the workplace-based class struggle.

Establish popular, democratic and horizontal assemblies of the oppressed: The revolutionary and radical forces in the Caribbean’s reparations movement must work with other progressive forces throughout society to establish a federated system of popular, democratic and horizontal assemblies of the oppressed. These assemblies would function as the direct democratic structures of political self-management that seeks to approximate the communist self-organizing concept of “the administration of things and not the governance of people.”

The assemblies would be the local, regional and national organs through which the labouring classes discuss, plan and determine their economic and social priorities. The masses would implement their main concerns through their alternative and oppositional institution as well as organize and impose them on existing and domination economic, social, cultural and political institution. In this contestation for power, the peoples’ organizations would use all available and ethical means to advance their liberation.

Perry Mars documents in his book Ideology and Change: The Transformation of the Caribbean Left that a section of the The Left in the Caribbean has a tradition of using or advocating the deployment of assemblies to connect with the people:

What these parties have in common is their strong advocacy of what are called variously ‘people’s parliament’ or ‘people’s assembly’ representing mass democratic participation in grass roots self organizations.7

Further, The Left sees assemblies as political instruments that compensate for the fact that the liberal capitalist democracies in the region are not responsive or represent the needs of the people. Assemblies should not be used as consultative or information-sharing bodies by nationalist and socialist revolutionaries or radicals.

These political assemblies are supposed to be proactive and positive structures that familiarise the people with the idea and practice of shaping all decisions that impact their lives. Mars notes that in the Caribbean:

The problem with the ‘people’s assembly’ is that the implementation does not necessarily eliminate the tendencies towards political centralization and elitism as far as leadership of the movement is concerned.8

From the period of chattel slavery to the current period of neo-colonial flag independence, the Caribbean labouring classes have yet to exercise substantive power over the political institutions that govern their lives. A system of popular assemblies with the capacity to challenge the authoritarian liberal capitalist democracies for power would be one of the best expressions of reparatory justice in the Caribbean.


The struggle for reparations in the Caribbean should become a site of the class struggle and organizing the people for socialism or communism. Capitalism must be put on trial for aiding and abetting the enslavement of Africans and genocide against the Indigenous peoples.

The proposals that are outlined above for adoption by the Caribbean reparations will not become a reality in the absence of national campaigns that organize the people into their self-organized class-based and other popular organizations. We are seeking to build a counterhegemonic force or alternative power bloc to contest the existing forces of domination and to advance the long-term struggle of putting them out of business.

The neo-colonial governments have jumped in front of the reparations bandwagon and are trying to set the agenda. It is incumbent on the popular forces to organize the people in order to wrest the agenda setting initiative from the state and impose their programme of action on the state through the organizing of the labouring classes and other oppressed groups within its ranks.

It is critically necessary for the organizers who are organizing the people from below to do everything possible to utilize all available opportunity to build the capacity of the oppressed to challenge and undermine the existing white supremacist, patriarchal and capitalist political order. It is for this reason that a dual power strategy must build the embryonic economic, social and political structures of the future socialist society, while engaging and contesting the existing institutions of power.

It is in this light that the development of worker self-management over their workplaces and the establishment of a system of popular assemblies as the seat of working-class political power becomes necessary. The reparations movement can play an important catalytic role in helping to ideologically prepare the people for the completion of the Second Emancipation in the Caribbean and the rest of the Americas.

  1. Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, (London: Andre Deutsch, 1964), 18-19.
  2. Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1974), 10.
  3. Hilary Beckles, Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide, (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2013), 175
  4. Ibid, 144.
  5. Jeff Shantz, Re-thinking Revolution: A Social Anarchist Perspective, Philosophers for Change. Shantz is opposed to using the concept “dual power” but his preference for “infrastructure of dissent” or “anarchist transfer cultures” is not a variance with a dual power strategy that focuses on self-organization of the working-class and oppressed identity groups within that class.
  6. Tony Weis in the paper “Restructuring and Redundancy: The Impacts and Illogic of Neoliberal Agricultural Reforms in Jamaica”, Journal of Agrarian Change, 4, no. 4, (October 2004): 463.
  7. Perry Mars, Ideology and Change: The Transformation of the Caribbean Left, (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998), 113.
  8. Ibid, 113.