Category Archives: Students

Neo-Liberal Academia and the Death of Education

Recent cases of personal information collecting for corporate interests highlight the urgency of revisiting the topic of higher education in its connection with the corporate sector and the government. We ought to reconsider at least some aspects of the complex web of the contemporary “education industry” and its social implications. Understanding how contemporary (Western) education works (or doesn’t work) can contribute to raising the awareness of the general population as to the scale of the problem, and making a change, no matter how small.

What’s the problem?

Why should one be concerned with the way the system of (higher) education works? Although the manifold issues related to the contemporary system of higher education in the West (primarily in the US) cannot be summarized in one word, one phrase does capture the most important problems: corporatization of universities.

This process is not new. It follows the more general tendency of applying “neo-liberal” policies, “business logic” and “market principles” to virtually all spheres of our private and public lives. Higher education—and, in particular, the humanities as the main focus of this essay—seem to be one of the latest victims of the all-penetrating (neo-liberal) capitalist ideology. The application of this ideology in academia has resulted in a couple of significant changes over the past decades, primarily in the US and the UK, but the rest of the world is catching up. These changes have diminished to quite a significant degree the very idea of education in the sphere of the humanities, its meaning and its purpose.

Higher costs

The costs of higher education have skyrocketed. According to some sources, the cost of acquiring a university education in the US has increased 1,120% over the last three decades, and even more if compared with the 1960s and 1970s. It is hard to find any relevant economic justification for this, and in reality, one can show that the rising costs of higher education have a very negative general economic and social implications. However, what makes no sense from the perspective of the economic interests of the general population or the society as a whole makes perfect sense if viewed from the perspective of class warfare.

The effects of the rising costs of higher education are very real—students are trapped by huge debts created by extensive borrowing in order to be able to pay for unattainably high tuition costs. In such a situation, they cannot afford to spend time on extracurricular activities or get engaged in social activism; in other words, they cannot afford to work against the system. Borrowing huge amounts (to pay for what should be free to them) teaches them an important lesson about the system in which they are supposed to live: one must be obedient, accept the rules of the game, get a degree and try to find a “good” job so that they can start paying back the loans. This ideological instrument turns out to be very effective—it helps the system to replicate and expand. It is not difficult to see a very conservative ideological framework behind this logic. It basically says “conform to the way the system works” (i.e. to the “markets” as a new version of secular gods), “don’t question, don’t try to change anything” (since that’s “unrealistic” or even socially “irresponsible” behavior). In continental Europe, where the institutions of higher education are still predominantly publicly funded, class and culture wars are fought differently (but that is a topic for another essay). Instead of individual’s intellectual capabilities, personal motivation and readiness to invest a lot of time and energy in learning, deep pockets and obedience become much more decisive factors of the overall study success.

The growth of the university administration

Higher costs are accompanied by the changing academic culture and the institutional functioning of universities. The role of the faculty and students in governing the university has declined to a remarkable degree. Faculty members are increasingly expected to be obedient executors of the policies designed by the university managers. The corporate-like university management (presidents, vice presidents, provosts, deans, vice deans, etc.) has grown significantly, both in size and in power. In many cases these managers come from very different worlds (e.g. the entertainment industry, politics, financial institutions, etc.) with little or no understanding of what education or university is all about. But they (supposedly) know what the “real world” looks like, and that seems to be sufficient qualification for the positions of the university bosses.

One of the results of this is that the faculty members are becoming administrators—instead of focusing primarily on (real) research and teaching, they are often overwhelmed with “assessment” forms, meaningless meetings and other corporate-like administrative duties that are often not only useless but actually directly counterproductive. Contemporary US academia resembles, in many ways, the late Soviet bureaucracy—an ever-increasing number of forms and procedures mask the lack of any real content.

Market-oriented “education”

The question that is usually asked when education is discussed is, “What do the markets need?” Today, education is understood as training for doing a particular “business.” Many “solutions” that are proposed to the problem of contemporary education fail precisely because they accept this very same “business metaphysics” as the ultimate horizon of meaning. New programs are designed and justified in front of university managers based on the “needs” of the “markets.” But we rarely pause to examine the logic behind this reasoning.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with training for particular jobs (unless, of course, that training is for the aggressive war industries, harmful financial speculations and the like). The problem is that this is precisely what education is not. Education should not be about our ability to fit into the existing, pre-given systems. Education should never be simply training. This is what made higher education, at the dawn of modernity, different from the medieval guilds, where one could obtain training, but without education. University education is about inquiring into the broader context and theoretical principles of things, it is about questioning the very framework of the system and the society as a whole. Doing something that “the markets” expect us to do, although necessary up to a point, is essentially a bizarre enterprise. Why should we do what “the markets” tell us? Who says that what they tell us is good, necessary or meaningful? Who says that this or that is a real problem that we need to “fix”? Maybe there are more pressing issues to address? Well, without (real) education, we will never know.

Asking simple questions like these is already enough to expose the highly ideological nature of today’s concepts of education and of the “real world.” Expert-oriented training (which also often suffers from its low quality, for the reasons listed below) is not what higher education—especially in the humanities—is all about. By limiting the scope of thinking, research and practical engagement, “the markets” (i.e. the leaders of the corporate sector) become the “agenda designers,” the “trendsetters,” those who determine the problem to be fixed and how to fix it (with somewhat predictable outcomes). To further ensure that problem-solving remains within this market-driven framework, one needs to call upon the “experts” and the obedient mainstream media to “explain” to the (already indoctrinated) general audience what the problem is and what the solutions are. This strategy effectively prevents alternatives views, issues and solutions from penetrating the (mainstream) public discourse.

The consumer-type of “education”

In neo-liberal academia, students are increasingly being treated as customers/consumers. The logic they are trained to absorb is that they “pay” for a certain “product” or “service.” Applied to higher education, that “product” is the diploma or certificate, not education or knowledge. Obtaining real education and knowledge is not the same, not even similar, to going to a supermarket or a restaurant where we are supposed to be “satisfied.” Education implies hard work, challenging situations, dissatisfaction, frustration, creativity, initiative, dedication and much more. The results of this consumer-centered “education” are the well-known phenomena such as grade inflation and low learning outcomes, accompanied by an increase in all possible services on campuses (sports halls, coffee shops, entertainment rooms, etc.), except those that have something to do with (real) education.

Related to this is the broader issue of the impact of technological advancements and the broader cultural shift that has accompanied it. It has been evidenced now that when we read from our laptops, cellphones, tablets and other screens, we memorize and understand less than when we read from old-fashioned (paper) books. In addition, the sense that all information (mistaken for knowledge) is readily available to us diminishes careful reading, analysis and thinking about what we read. To paraphrase Baudrillard, more and more information seems to result in less and less knowledge and understanding. This is not an argument against technology; it is merely an argument about many of the side effects of the way we use it, with elements having a direct, detrimental impact on our reading and thinking culture, both vital for (good) education.

The culture of “safe spaces” and political correctness

This issue is intimately linked with the “consumer-centered” ideology. Since students are treated as customers, there is a tendency to keep them “safe” from anything that can potentially be “harmful” or cause “distress.” This means that students are exceedingly kept from exposure to different ways of thinking, different types of information and different values. This is literally killing education. When the consumerist logic is taken to its extreme, and applied to all spheres of our lives, it results in students being encouraged to advance the anti-intellectual discourse in which “I feel like…” is a sufficient argument against all the points of view, arguments and values that they “feel” they don’t like. More and more classrooms begin to resemble the one from the famous Modern Educayshun video. The culture of “trigger words” and politically-correct speech becomes the stage on which the play of education is staged. This spectacle is often called “progressive” and “liberal.” The true name for this is not progressive, left or liberal, but a sad, anti-intellectual performance of the late consumerist era. The paradox is that when many of these “liberal” or “leftist” circles (primarily in the US) advocate political correctness, “safe spaces” and other supposedly noble and progressive ethical postulates, they, in fact, advocate a secularized fundamentalist worldview (some of which is so brilliantly captured in Nikki Johnson-Huston’s essay “The Culture Of The Smug White Liberal”).

The persecution of professors is a part of these crusades launched against freedom of speech and freedom of thinking. It becomes not all-too-uncommon to find cases of tenured professors being fired for simply speaking their mind, for expressing views that are considered “problematic” or “unacceptable.” This brings to memory the darkest episodes of totalitarian systems.

The public discourse and, even more tragically, academia, are thus often hopelessly caught between religious-fundamentalist oppressiveness (called the “right”) and secularized fundamentalism, both very oppressive.

Consequences

Neo-liberal academia, in some of its features, seems as a return to the pre-modern types of training, when a student would enter a guild to penetrate a particular interest group, learn a skill and then conform to the market demands. This understanding of education is fundamentally different from the humanistic idea of education, with its stress on theory, analysis of principles, critical and free thinking (which means thinking without any pre-determined purpose or constraints).

Following the business/market logic as the ultimate criterion in education is harmful. The reality is that at this point the neo-liberal logic of global corporate capitalism (with its disregard for the ecological and humanitarian crises for instance) is driving the world toward its ultimate destruction. Designing university curricula to conform to this logic is therefore nothing short of contributing to the destruction of the world.

What’s the solution?

Contrary to the present tendencies, one can think of a different form and meaning of higher education. Its primary role should be to question everything, especially widely accepted views and values, everything that has become “normality.” Its role should never be to make people fit into existing models. A meaningful system of higher education should, in my view, offer three key elements:

(1) Systematic, in-depth knowledge of a particular field or discipline. This is supposed to make students future experts/professionals in their respective fields. This is what the “training” is about, and this is a necessary, yet, alone, insufficient element of good education.

(2) Critical thinking and social responsibility. We should educate students to question and change the existing ideological frameworks and social and political institutions every time they do not meaningfully contribute to the society, and especially when they become harmful. The goal of (serious) education should not be to prepare students to fit into the (corrupt) system; the goal should be to prepare them to change the system and the markets, to make them more humane and meaningful.

(3) Personal growth. This dimension of education, which once upon a time was considered vital, has almost completely disappeared from academia. Education and the growth of one’s knowledge should not be a “job” divorced from one’s personality, from who we are. Education should be about activating our individual creative potentials, it should be pleasurable, adventurous, it should make us better persons. It should allow us to reach who we can be, beyond the demands and limitations of the currently existing power structures.

We should not let capitalism make us forget who we are as human beings.

I Went to Flagstaff for a Commencement

What is explained can be denied but what is felt cannot be forgotten.

Charles Bowden

What do you say, at age 61, as I am rubbernecking the constant superficial, seedy, consumer-caked world now as someone considered a major failure – a few dozens jobs, mostly sacked from, and a few dozen careers, and, I am slogging away at a homeless shelter trying to save myself from the constrictor of capitalism, that strangulating system that gets us all complicit in the crime, making us all little Eichmann’s in this murder incorporated killing, complicit in the hyper exploitation of man, woman, child, ecosystem?

Consumerism as a psychological wedge to allow for the synchronized event horizon of finance-government-surveillance-media-military to work on the masses as a suffocating fog pumped out across the globe by an elite bent on total dominance.

We can jump onto the global stage and see the battering truth:

Diagnosing the Empire with Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD)

Western culture is clearly obsessed with rules, guilt, submissiveness and punishment.

By now it is clear that the West is the least free society on Earth. In North America and Europe, almost everyone is under constant scrutiny: people are spied on, observed, their personal information is being continually extracted, and the surveillance cameras are used indiscriminately.

Life is synchronized and managed. There are hardly any surprises.

One can sleep with whomever he or she wishes (as long as it is done within the ‘allowed protocol’).

Homosexuality and bisexuality are allowed. But that is about all; that is how far ‘freedom’ usually stretches.
Rebellion is not only discouraged, it is fought against, brutally. For the tiniest misdemeanors or errors, people end up behind bars. As a result, the U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any other country on Earth, except the Seychelles.

And as a further result, almost all conversations, but especially public discourses, are now being controlled by so-called ‘political correctness’ and its variants.

But back to the culture of fear and punishment.

Look at the headlines of the Western newspapers. For example, New York Times from April 12. 2018: Punishment of Syria may be harsher this time.

We are so used to such perverse language used by the Empire that it hardly strikes us as twisted, bizarre, pathological.

It stinks of some sadomasochistic cartoon, or of a stereotypical image of an atrocious English teacher holding a ruler over a pupil’s extended hands, shouting, “Shall I?”

Carl Gustav Jung described Western culture, on several occasions, as a “pathology”. He did it particularly after WWII, but he mentioned that the West had been committing terrible crimes in all parts of the world, for centuries. That is most likely why the Western mainstream psychiatrists and psychologists have been glorifying the ego-centric and generally apolitical Sigmund Freud, while ignoring, even defaming, Carl Gustav Jung.

The reality is, though, most of the revolutionaries like myself in this cesspool of capitalism have to slog ahead in the belly of the beast, without the rarefied air of being an international journalist like Andre Vltchek. The reality is most of us know that when 11 million babies under age two die of treatable maladies each year, or when bodies are shot through and extremities are shattered by the sadism that is the Gestapo-Apartheid “state/religion” of Israel, we push through the fog of rapacious consumerism and consort with our deep empathy for our brothers and sisters under the thumb of despotic regimes like USA, Russia, Israel, China, India, et al.

Because, now, no matter the level of melanin in a collective people’s skin or the desperation of the people, the globe has been infected by a virus called Capitalism-Finance-Unfettered Exploitation.

Exploitation is a pretty tame word for what I am hinting at: destruction, annihilation, extinction. As is the case with me, a rant percolates from the bowels of the commonness of my life, the microcosm of traveling from point A to point B. What happens in Vegas happens in New York City. What unfolds in little town USA is unfolding in San Fran.

Whatever it is, here I was, back in Arizona, first Phoenix, the cancer, the cancer, and then up to Flagstaff, oh that place before white man invasion sacred healing cloud island peaks. Arizona, as I’ve written extensively, is where I cut my teeth as a small town newspaper reporter, learned directly the value of radical conservation, became a brother in arms for Chicanoism, tried my hand at diving and helping bring across refugees of the proxy wars of USA in Guatemala, etc.

I’ve written poetically about the place – here and there, and have inserted the value of those formative years into almost everything I’ve written, taught, done in my 48 years since coming to Arizona young, 13:

Wrestling the Blind, Chasing Apache Horses, and Unpacking the Vietnam War – (September 4th, 2013) or page 12, Cirque

But this most recent trip, a weekend, I went to celebrate my 22-year-old niece’s matriculation, with bachelor of science degree, from Northern Arizona University. The old days when I was young, 19, and a journalist, and then, activist, like quicksilver in my brain, taking over not only my senses, but memory. Many of us saw the writing on the wall 40 and 50 years ago – this barely inhabitable place (a place of migration for Papago and other indigenous people’s), with a blitzkrieg of outsiders plowing the desert and eventually corralling the Colorado River into brackish canals to feed the malls and mayhem of winter baseball leagues and out of control military complex tax cheats. Three state universities, and then this new cheater, University of Phoenix . . . headquarters for the bizarre U-Haul . . . dry mothball arenas for the USA’s killing flying machines. Odd as hell place, with the likes of Edward Abbey running amok. I hear now Noam Chomsky is visiting prof at U of A in Tucson.

Humans build their societies around consumption of fossil water long buried in the earth, and these societies, being based on temporary resources, face the problem of being temporary themselves.

— Charles Bowden, Killing Hidden Waters

I kind of think of Charles Bowden from time to time, who was a reporter and novelist living in Tucson and covering the Southwest and northern Mexico. When I go into the desert, after looking at some shell of a rag that we now call daily newspapers, I feel this guy’s haunting – now dead going on four years:

When he got a hold of a story, he wouldn’t let it go, said former Citizen copy editor Judy Carlock. He had a very generous heart and a lot of compassion … he didn’t mince words.

The way I was trained up, reporters went toward the story, just as firemen rush toward the fire. It is a duty.

He was compelled to work; he had to write … in vivid imagery and concrete detail, Carlock said. Every Monday morning, the (Citizen) city desk would come in to find a long, brilliant masterpiece they had to find room for in the paper.

He lived at full tilt, fueled on caffeine and nicotine, said Carlock. Bowden had stopped smoking about two years ago, Carroll said, and was lifting weights, working on that second wind in his life.

He was no saint, but he was true to himself, said Carlock. I think he secretly relished being thought of as a rogue.

This amazing ecosystem, with syncopated Native American tribes and amazing Mexican communities turned into a wheezing series of six-lane freeways and spiraling communities for the infirm, the emphysemic and the insane.

It’s really difficult to find a place to start.  Sedona and the vortices? Flagstaff, from one-horse town to bedroom (climatically cooler but fire prone) to Phoenix? The 365 days a year fire pit danger, as heat comes earlier, rain disappears quicker, and the landscape is peppered with suburbia’s faux Mexican-Italian-Spanish-Greek designs as the ubiquitous 20-mile caravans of cars and trucks push the hot tunnel of air which is Arizona?

As a former newspaperman, I am compelled to read the dwindling local news anywhere I go, even five and dime advertising things, or corny local monthlies, and so just a few minutes with the Arizona Republic show me where the mass delusion, mass magical thinking and mass ignorance get set in. But, compelling, the stories slugs or ledes:

• Border Patrol punk who murdered 16 year old for throwing rocks, and the jury convicting him of involuntary manslaughter gets hung

• Animal abuse claims against the Havasupal Tribe’s section of the Grand Canyon – you know, animal lovers saying the pack animals used to ferry the tourists into the Canyon are treated like shit (abused) . . . . oh those do-gooders, just how many of them are animal-free product users . . . how many of them know how every stitch of clothing, every chemical smeared in their lives, every product of the modern age are placed in their realm with millions of rats, mice, dogs, and apes murdered for that consumer entitlement . . . ?

• PK12 teachers on the march for wage increases, class size reductions, more counselors, more money for staff and support personnel . . . and yet many of these Arizona scallywags want them to eat shit

• Flagstaff keeping homeless people from living – camping – on public property through ordinances from hell

• A great female representative from the state wanting dreamer children – undocumented – out of the Copper State, more of the same Trump et al giving children the boot while Trump’s monster wife calls for no more bullying

• God in the classroom, a civics literacy bill, more report cards for schools (to fail them so the charter schools get more easy pickings), and this drive for charter (for- profit, hedge-fund lined) schools to take from the public coffers and teach absolute shit

• More gigantic housing developments planned in the Sonora desert without any water delivery plans, without any water!

• Raytheon Missile Systems breaks ground on an expansion of its Tucson facility – 2,000 more Little Eichmann’s added to the already large 10,000 workers designing, testing, manufacturing and delivering via Amazon dot Com killing systems to include Tomahawk missiles and this new Stormbreaker small diameter bomb

• Mexican-American female columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper bashing the possibility of socialist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador making it as president of Mexico . . . “he’s a Hugo Chavez-style authoritarian tropical messiah who would turn Mexico into another Venezuela”

• The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community building lavish baseball stadiums for professional teams like the Diamondbacks

• HBO plans to debut John McCain documentary on Memorial Day – “John McCain; For Whom the Bell Tolls”

• soda or sugar taxes outlawed in the state
• non-English contracts will be voided in all insurance transactions, and beyond

• Abortion patient questions are now mandatory

Oh the compounding blasphemy. If this were a thematic essay, well, here are the components:

• Wanton excess in the state, with brand new, freshly washed expensive SUV’s, power cars, pick-up trucks

• Endless strip mall after strip mall and faux Spanish colonial kitsch and after faux Hacienda kitsch which propels the dribbling consumerism of 24/7 Superstore Grand Openings

• Zero tribute to the peoples of the real Arizona – Chemehuevi, Chiricahua, Cocopa, or Xawitt Kwñchawaay, Dilzhe’e, Apache, Havasupai, or Havasuw `Baaja, Hopi, Hualapai, or Hwal `Baaja, Maricopa, or Piipaash, Mohave, or Hamakhava (also spelled Mojave), Navajo, or Diné, Southern Paiute, Akimel O’odham, formerly Pima, Quechan, or Yuma, San Carlos Apache, Nné – Coyotero, or Western Apaches, Tewa, Tohono O’odham, formerly Papago, Southern Ute, White Mountain Apache, Ndé – Coyotero or Western Apaches, Xalychidom, or Halchidhoma, Yaqui people, Yavapai, or Kwevkepaya, Wipukepa, Tolkepaya, and Yavepé (four separate groups), Zuni, or A:shiwi

• Redneck clashing with wimpy liberal clashing with snowbird clashing with old Mafia clashing with Hispanic-Latino/a clashing with senior citizen Trump lover clashing with new money clashing with the Raytheon mentality clashing with the endless cancer spur that is Arizona

• My old stomping grounds, now despoiled by in-ground pools, putrid man-made lakes, endless track homes like carcinoma, endless twisting cul-de-sacs where minds end up mushed up in mojito-ville

• Hatred, man, the Trump way, McCain way, Goldwater, putrid former Maricopa County Sheriff and Minutemen militias on the border, and the Gestapo Border Patrol and the rot which is a state in the union emblematic of red state loafers and the hard-working people like those teachers

• A college, NAU, broken by a president who cheats faculty and luxuriates in the money thrown her way and the attention the local yokels give her

• Students fighting this female NAU president Rita Cheng who wants cuts to all sorts of important programs (in the liberal arts) so she can court those wanton criminal corporations and alt-right Koch Brothers

• The graduation I went to was embarrassing, dead, nothing in the way of speakers, controlled by this president, and was ten times more lackluster than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Sunday meeting

• Peter Principle of incompetents rising, as in the case of Rita Cheng and thousands of movers and shakers (sic) that run the state

• The inarticulate middle and upper classes of society exemplified in Arizona

• A state with more sun per year with nary a solar panel in sight

• The rotten belief that infinite growth, infinite in-migration, infinite giveaways to the corporate leeches will lead to prosperity

• The Caucasian and other Whitey people’s insipid Trader Joe’s-Dutch Brothers-Bed, Bath and Beyond systematic lobotomizing of the masses

• Sprayed-on lawns and Astroturf backyards scattered around the desiccating real lawns throughout the entire Phoenix and Tucson metroplexes

• Daily reminder of the old adage of “who the fuck thought white people and their poodles settling in Arizona made any sense”

• Like anywhere else, Arizona has no worthy newspaper of note anymore, and the news is not to be seen in the light of day

I’ve always said, that one slice of life is a microcosm, that splice onto one of the big fat four-hour reels of 70 mm movie film depicting the universality in the absurdity of being Homo Sapiens under the thumb of money changers, militaries and grand exploiters. Example: One shit-hole sugar cane fucker and his sibling (Fanjul Brothers) and his fucking family destroying the lives of thousands of slaves, upsetting the natural world, and sending the sweet sting of death to millions. One fucking family owning billions of dollars and billions of people and draining the Everglades. Something along those lines – just look at history of rubber, gold, oil, wood, fruit, minerals, raw labor, animals.

This arithmetic is as clear as the day is long, in a world where this time, the so-called now time, is bereft of no logic, no ethics, no depth of knowledge, no truth except the rubbery huckster kind. While NAU had zero commencement speakers for all five graduation sequences, we now have to read about a world of Rex Tillerson — that son of a bitch lying, thieving, fossil fuel thug — now at a graduation for a military institute (what the fuck are we still living in a world of military academies – sic).

You can’t make this shit up in a work of fiction:

In a commencement speech at Virginia Military Institute, the camera-shy former secretary of state gave his most public remarks since President Donald Trump ousted him from the White House in March.

“As I reflect upon the state of American democracy,” he told the Class of 2018, “I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity.”

Tillerson’s emphasis on integrity echoed his parting words to colleagues at the State Department in March. Then he went even further:

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”

Tillerson’s time in Trump administration was marked by tension. He reportedly called the president a “moron” eight months before he was fired and replaced by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But the oil industry veteran has yet to directly criticize Trump. His speech, which began with a discussion on the globalized economy and stressed “the value of friends and allies,” is the closest he has come to attacking Trump’s rhetoric and “America First” policy.

This from the moronic Huffington Post. Alternative realities, sure, Mister Exxon. The reality of propping up dictators, of hiring murderers to take over land, of stealing oil from any number of countries, and the complete environmental despoilment created by the great Exxon-Shell-Chevron-You-Name-It soul and soil eating machine. Imagine, this guy’s a thug, Tillerson, who has no concept of realities, except his thuggery, and a billionaire mentality. Yeah, Exxon and the alternative reality of climate change and the bullshit destruction of the earth from fossil fuel burning. What great record this keynote speaker Tillerson has, and, in the end, he’s as ballless as the lot of the millionaires\billionaires, afraid to criticize the deviant, stupid and reckless Trump.

Where do these people come from? Which DNA-warped womb do they exit from? Which felonious family raised them? Which two-bit schools educated them? Which insane people hire them and then promote them?

A two-day trip back to Arizona is like a two-year LSD trip, floating around with mushrooms on the tongue daily, as bottles of mescal run through the veins. I am telling you, when you get out of your routine – I am a social worker in a veterans’ homeless shelter, where the word “chaos” describes the totality of my time there, daily – and this rushing hot wave of air sucks the oxygen from the lungs for a minute or two. Arizona is California is Oregon is Washington . . . .

And exactly what is the US of A, with so much junk, so much materialistic droning, and yet, poverty is growing, big time, and the fear of the future in terms of no one achieving affordable housing and clean public transportation and free education and decent jobs is like us all whistling as we walk past the graveyard which is Western Capitalism.

Arizona, like any other state, is defined by the kleptomaniacs in government, on boards, in corporations and in the political class. Arizona is defined by a schizophrenia of faux opulence and real indebtedness and our fellow citizens struggling, dying, really, in a world that is upside down when it comes to clean air, clean water, real medicine, and affordable life.

Arizona is the mix of Eastern seaboard accents and southern twangs and amazingly mean people who are in it for themselves, for their backyard in-ground pools, for the 6,000 square foot Barcelona- style triple-decker home. We are talking about leathery skin from all the sun and leathery pools of empathy in the hearts and minds of most Arizonans.

Yet, here I am, 61, wishing my niece good tidings, as she embarks on the journey of medical school applications, and then, what? What world is it we have to give or anoint our children with? I am flabbergasted at the stupidity of the NAU graduation, the bloodlessness of the speakers, the lack of verve, the paucity of an event that for many has cost a pretty penny in debt for parents and children alike.

I end with 2011 commencement speech at Olympia’s Evergreen State College, Angela Davis:

Commencement speakers frequently assume that their role is to encourage graduates to go out and conquer the world. The task I have set for myself is much more modest. I want to urge you to be able to retrieve and sort through and rethink and preserve memories of your time here, which may very well turn out to be the most important period of your lives. Like the philosopher Walter Benjamin, I emphasize the past as the key to your future.

And so as you move on, some of you will go to graduate school, right? Some of you will find jobs. Unfortunately, some of you may not find jobs. Some of you will make families, some of you will engage in activism, some you will be involved in cultural work, and there are all kinds of permutations and combinations of all of these. But I would like you to periodically stop and reflect about the extent to which your lives were radically transformed by your experiences here. And I hope that you will have courage to draw upon the education you have received here from your most challenging professors, as you try to imagine more equitable ways of inhabiting all of our worlds. If you continue to think and act in the tradition of your college you will respect all of the inhabitants of our environments, and not simply assume that the environment must be preserved for the sake of future human generations, but rather for all the future generations of plant life, future generations of all animal life.

How do we extricate ourselves from enduring hierarchies, class, race, sexual, religious, geopolitical? This question, I think, is the question that needs to be posed. Posing that question is the mark of educated human beings. So I might then ask you to think about education as the practice of freedom. Education is the practice of freedom. And so freedom becomes, not an imagined condition in the future, not the set of achievements that will fulfill some desire, but rather an unrelenting, unending, collective effort to reconstruct our lives, our ways of relating to each other, our communities, and our futures. Congratulations to The Evergreen State College class of 2011.

Role Of Youth In The Coming Transformation

The eruption of youth protests over gun violence in schools and other issues is another indicator that the 2020s could be a decade of transformation where people demand economic, racial and environmental justice as well as peace. Students who are in their teens now will be in their twenties then. They will have experience in how protests can change political culture.

Some view the youth awakening in these protests as reminiscent of youth movements in previous generations, others are less optimistic. We cannot predict the role this generation will play, but throughout the history of mass movements, youth have been a key factor by pushing boundaries and demanding change.

One of the slogans in the actions against gun violence is “adults failed to solve the problem.” The truth is, as many youth are aware, those currently in power have failed on many fronts; e.g., climate change, wealth disparity, racial injustice, never-ending wars and militarism, lack of health care and more. These crises are coming to a head and provide the environment for transformational changes, if we act.

Beware of Democratic Party Co-option

One of the challenges youth, and older, activists face is the Democratic Party. Democrats have a long history of co-opting political movements. They are present in recent mobilizations, such as the Women’s March and March for our Lives, which both centered on voting as the most important action to take.

Big Democratic Party donors, like George and Amal Clooney, provided massive resources to the March for Our Lives. The corporate media covered the students extensively, encouraged attendance at the marches and reported widely on them.

As Bruce Dixon writes:

It’s not hard to see the hand of the Democratic party behind the tens of millions in corporate contributions and free media accorded the March For Our Lives mobilization. 2018 is a midterm election year, and November is only seven months away. The Democrats urgently need some big sticks with which to beat out the vote this fall…

Democratic politicians see the gun issue as an opportunity for the ‘Blue Wave’ they envision for 2018, even though the Democrat’s history of confronting gun violence has been dismal. When Democrats controlled Congress and the presidency, they did not challenge the culture of violence, confront the NRA or stop militarized policing that is resulting in hundreds of killings by police.

Ajamu Baraka writes:

Liberals and Democrat party connected organizations and networks have been quite adept at getting out in front of movements to pre-empt their radical potential and steer them back into the safe arms of liberal conformism.

Indeed the history of the Democratic Party since its founding as a slave-owners party has been one of absorbing political movements and weakening them.

For this new generation of activists to reach their potential, they must understand we live in a mirage democracy and cannot elect our way out of these crises. Our tasks are much larger. Violence is deeply embedded in US culture, dating to the founding of the nation when gun laws were designed for white colonizers to take land from Indigenous peoples and control black slaves.

When it comes to using the gun issue for elections, the challenge for the Democrats is “to keep the public anger high, but the discussion shallow, limited, and ahistorical,” as Bruce Dixon writes. Our task is to understand the roots of the crises we face.

Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes this in her new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. The culture of violence in the US goes beyond the horrific shooting in schools to the militarization of our communities and military aggression abroad. The US military has killed more than 20 million people in 37 nations since World War II.

One step you can take in your community is to find out if there is a Junior ROTC program in your local school and shut it down.

Potential for Youth to Lead in Era of Transformation

One of the reasons we predict the 2020s may be an era of transformation is because issues that have been ignored or mishandled by powerholders are becoming so extreme they can no longer be ignored. Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report writes the gun protests present an opportunity to highlight all the issues where Democrats (and Republicans) have failed us.

Youth are already involved, often playing leadership roles, in many fronts of struggle.  Rev. Jared Sawyer, Jr. writes that when racial violence arose at the “University of Missouri in recent years, student athletes and scholars united in protest, prompting the administration to take action. Organizations like Black Youth Power 100 have arisen in the wake of police” violence against black people. Youth are on the front lines of the environmental movement, blocking pipelines and carbon infrastructure to prevent climate change. Youth are leading the movement to protect immigrants from mass deportation.

This week, Hampton students took to the streets over sexual violence, housing, food and other problems on campus. Students at Howard University started HU Resist, to “make sure that Howard University fulfills its mission.” They are in their third day of occupying the administration building.

At March for Our Lives protests, some participants saw the connections between gun violence and other issues.  Tom Hall reported that those who “attended the rally had far more on their minds than gun control and the midterm elections—the issues promoted by the media and the Democratic Party. Many sought to connect the epidemic of mass shootings in American schools to broader issues, from the promotion of militarism and war, to poverty and social inequality.” Youth also talked about tax cuts for the rich, inadequate healthcare, teacher strikes, the need for jobs and a better quality of life. He noted those who attended were “searching for a political perspective,” and that, while it was not seen from the stage, opposition to war was a common concern.

Robert Koehler writes: “This emerging movement must address the whole spectrum of violence.”  He includes racist violence, military violence, mass incarceration and the “mortally sinful corporate greed and of course, the destruction of the environment and all the creatures.” What unites all of these issues, Koehler writes, is the “ability to dehumanize certain people.” Dehumanization is required to allow mass murder, whether by a single gunman or in war, as well as the economic violence that leaves people homeless and hungry, or for the violence of denying people necessary healthcare and to pay people so little they need multiple jobs to survive.

Movements are Growing, Now How Do We Win?

We have written about the stages of successful social movements and that overall the United States is in the final stage before victory. This is the era of building national consensus on solutions to the crises we face and mobilizing millions to take action in support of these solutions.

Protests have been growing in the US over the past few decades. Strong anti-globalization protests were organized under Clinton to oppose the World Trade Organization. Under the Bush administration, hundreds of thousands of people took the streets against the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. The anti-war movement faded under the Obama administration, even though he escalated US militarism, but other movements arose such as Occupy, immigrant’s rights, the fight for 15, Idle No More and black lives matter. Erica Chenowith posits that current youth activists “did their first activism with their moms. It’s a quicker learning curve for kids.”

At present, large drivers of mass protests are reaction to the actions of the Trump administration and the Democrats using their resources to augment and steer anti-Trump anger into elections. To prevent what happened to the anti-war movement under President Obama, people will need a broader understanding of the root causes of the crises we face, not the shallow analysis provided by the corporate media, and will need to understand how social movements can be effective.

To assist in this education, Popular Resistance is launching the Popular Resistance School. The first eight week course will begin on May 1 and will cover social movement theory – how social movements develop, how they win and roles people and organizations play in movements. All are welcome to participate in the school. There is no cost to join, but we do ask those who are able to donate to help cover the costs.

For more information on the school and to sign up, click here. Those who sign up will receive a weekly video lecture, a curriculum and an invitation to join a discussion group (each one will be limited to 30 participants). People who complete the course can then host the course locally with virtual support from Popular Resistance.

The next decade has the potential to be transformative. To make it so, we must not only develop national consensus that issues are being mishandled, that policies need to change and that we can change them, but we must also educate ourselves on issues and how to be effective. We have the power to create the change we want to see.

A Few Thoughts on the “March for Our Lives”

In yesterday’s New York Times, regular op-ed contributor David Brooks heaped effusive praise on last Saturday’s March for Our Lives. Brooks wrote:

I have to say, I loved the gun-control march I observed  last Saturday in Washington. The crowd was good-hearted, gracious, diverse and welcoming… Everybody kept underlining their faith in our democratic system, that voting is the way to make change…Of course some of the student speakers were grandiose and pretentious. Most of us were like that when we were 18.

Brooks is sometimes described as ‘the liberals’ favorite conservative,” perhaps because of his erudition and seeming reasonableness. In truth, Brooks has invariably condemned political activism while remaining oblivious to structural and class realities in this country. What this pompous moralizer and the Democratic establishment share is fear that this youth-led, increasingly inclusive protest movement can’t be cooped and contained by “vote, vote, vote” mantras, working within the two-party status quo or bought off with free food. They already see students of color standing in solidarity with Parkland while simultaneously linking that shooting with systemic violence in Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

If, as promised, their courageous campaign continues, it will quickly encounter the system’s recalcitrant resistance to any serious changes. And if a critical mass of students begins seeing the connections among violence, racism, injustice, capitalism and Washington raining death on people abroad, the MSM will abruptly cease its fawning approval. Many of us recall how quickly the liberal establishment turned on Dr. King the moment he gave voice to these same connections.

Finally, most of us older folks didn’t come to radical politics through our formal educations or the good fortune of being red diaper babies. In fact, R,W & B diapers were the norm. Instead, we stumbled through a process that, looking back, included naive liberal actions and expectations. For example, we knew the U.S. attack on Vietnam was immoral but had yet to fully grasp that it wasn’t a “mistake.” That it was only one inevitable consequence of a vile economic system and was preceded and followed by countless other covert and overt interventions.

We learned some hard lessons, not the least of which was that we’d been lied to our entire lives. At the time I recall seasoned activists sharing their experiences, pointing us toward information sources and above all, being infinitely patient with us.  I sense that’s a critically important role for us in the days ahead.

Marching for the Democrats: Another Farce on Washington?

They called in [Roy] Wilkins; they called in [A. Philip] Randolph; they called in these national Negro leaders that you respect and told them, ‘Call it off.’ Kennedy said, ‘Look, you all are letting this thing go too far.’ And Old Tom said, ‘Boss, I can’t stop it, because I didn’t start it.’… And that old shrewd fox, he said, ‘If you all aren’t in it, I’ll put you in it. I’ll put you at the head of it.’…

Malcolm X on the 1963 “Farce on Washington”)

Liberals and Democrat party connected organizations and networks have been quite adept at getting out in front of movements to pre-empt their radical potential and steer them back into the safe arms of liberal conformism. Before resistance to the election of Donald Trump could be developed into a radical rejection of the neoliberal order, the new alignment of ruling class forces that coalesced around the candidacy of Hilary Clinton launched a pre-emptive strike against Trump with the two-fold objective of preventing him from governing and ensuring that opposition to Trump did not take on an anti-system character.

A similar thing happened after the 2006 massive marches of undocumented migrant workers that had a militant anti-capitalist component. It was quickly marginalized and transformed into something called “immigrant rights” with the highest demand being a demand to become legalized settlers. Then, on the 50th anniversary of the historic 1963 March on Washington when Black people were still experiencing the devastating and disproportionate impact of the capitalist crisis of 2007-08, members of the Black Mis-leadership class warmly welcomed the first Black president to join in the day’s festivities ensuring that the gathering would be devoid of any meaningful politics.

Unfortunately, for the young people who sincerely want to understand and confront gun violence, the opportunism of the democrats made these students and their pain easy targets to advance the agenda of the democrat party that sees this issue as one that will advance their electoral agenda.

While the democrat party and liberals pretend to respect and celebrate the young people, they know that the narrow focus on largely irrelevant gun control reforms like more background checks, banning certain ammunition clips, and sale of assault weapons will do nothing to confront what Dr. King referred to as the deep malady at the heart of U.S. culture that makes it so fundamentally violent.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, points out in lavish detail on the subject in her new book Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment.  She reminds the reader of the central role of violence and the reason why the second amendment was seen by the ruling elite of the U.S. settler state as a fundamental right, second only to freedom of speech. She argues that the gun control and the normalization of violence was essential to how white nationalism, racialized dominance, and social control through systematic violence operated in the U.S. It was the method in which white settlers appropriated Native land and controlled their massive enslaved population.

So the young people will need to understand that this normalization of violence is reflected in the social institutions, values, and ethical framework of their society. The violent, white male shooters that are now turning their guns on the society at large are not an aberration but a logical, almost inevitable consequence of a culture in which people are degraded and de-humanized as instruments for others pleasure and exploitation, made into things, through what Dr. King called the process of “thingingfication.”

A respectful engagement with these young people is one in which you struggle with their understanding of the terms of their culture, its history and reality. We must be honest with them and help them to understand the role of violence not only as a cultural product but as the main instrument that created their nation.  That violence is systemic to the system and history of their settler-colonial nation and for the maintenance of the U.S. empire.

Judging from some of the statements, many of these young people are close to making the right connections. That it is the “thingingfication” of the racialized “other” that more people cannot see the moral contradiction between the concern for gun violence in the U.S. and their continued support for U.S. militarism abroad.

Radical politicization means that they and the public at large come to terms with the fact that the arms industry and the proliferation of arms/weapons is not just a problem domestically but that it is a billion-dollar industry in which representatives from both parties are implicated. And if the NRA is a terrorist organization, what does that make the arms industries and the U.S. state?

However, as long as those young people are ensnared by the morally challenged liberal democrats, their ideological development will be arrested, and a few will emerge as “new leaders” given salaries, awards for being in the struggle for two weeks and will become weapons used to block authentic radicalization among their constituency.  That is how hegemony works.

Fredrick Jameson reminds us of the lesson that these young people will have to learn that they will not learn from their liberal benefactors: “The lesson is this, and it is a lesson about systems: one cannot change anything without changing everything.”

So, it was a good week for both bourgeois parties. The democrats didn’t get called out for their collaboration with Trump and the republicans on the budget. The Trump folks have more ammunition to use to mobilize their supporters in opposition to what they will frame as efforts to violate the constitution and take away their guns and give more power to a repressive government. Even the intelligence agencies benefited from the week’s events with attention being shifted away from the FBI scandal that is threatening to blow the cover off of official criminal activity to undermine the electoral process, not by the Russians, but unelected forces in the U.S. state.

But for those of us from the colonized Black and Brown zones of non-being, we can never allow ourselves to be distracted by the diversionary and accommodationist politics of the latest carefully crafted spectacle, especially one that proports to be advancing a superior moral politics.

We must always remind ourselves that some can march with the confidence that “their” government might be trusted with regulating weapons and protecting their lives but that the protection of our fundamental human rights rest with our ability to defend our collective rights, and no one else.

Through our painful lived experiences, we understand and must live by the insight provided by our dear brother, James Baldwin, who counseled us that we must be vigilant when our oppressors speak of morality and the sanctity of life:

The “civilized” have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their “vital interests” are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death; these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the “sanctity” of human life, or the conscience of civilized world.

Distraction can be deadly, let’s us get and stay woke!

Enough Is Enough: If You Really Want to Save Lives, Take Aim at Government Violence

It is often the case that police shootings, incidents where law enforcement officers pull the trigger on civilians, are left out of the conversation on gun violence. But a police officer shooting a civilian counts as gun violence. Every time an officer uses a gun against an innocent or an unarmed person contributes to the culture of gun violence in this country.

— Celisa Calacal, Journalist

Enough is enough.

That was the refrain chanted over and over by the thousands of demonstrators who gathered to protest gun violence in America.

Enough is enough.

We need to do something about the violence that is plaguing our nation and our world.

Enough is enough.

The world would be a better place if there were fewer weapons that could kill, maim, destroy and debilitate.

Enough is enough.

On March 24, 2018, more than 200,000 young people took the time to march on Washington DC and other cities across the country to demand that their concerns about gun violence be heard.

More power to them.

I’m all for activism, especially if it motivates people who have been sitting silently on the sidelines for too long to get up and try to reclaim control over a runaway government.

Curiously, however, although these young activists were vocal in calling for gun control legislation that requires stricter background checks and limits the kinds of weapons being bought and sold by members of the public, they were remarkably silent about the gun violence perpetrated by their own government.

Enough is enough.

Why is no one taking aim at the U.S. government as the greatest purveyor of violence in American society and around the world?

The systemic violence being perpetrated by agents of the government has done more collective harm to the American people and our liberties than any single act of terror or mass shooting.

Violence has become our government’s calling card, starting at the top and trickling down, from the more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans by heavily armed, black-garbed commandos and the increasingly rapid militarization of local police forces across the country to the drone killings used to target insurgents.

Enough is enough.

The government even exports violence worldwide, with weapons being America’s most profitable export.

Indeed, the day before thousands of demonstrators descended on Washington DC to protest mass shootings such as the one that took place at Stoneman Douglas High School, President Trump signed into law a colossal $1.3 trillion spending bill that gives the military the biggest boost in spending in more than a decade.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Here we have thousands of passionate protesters raging, crying and shouting about the need to restrict average Americans from being able to purchase and own military-style weapons, all the while the U.S. government—the same government under Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton and beyond that continues to act as a shill and a shield for the military industrial complex—embarks on a taxpayer-funded death march that will put even more guns into circulation, and no one says a thing about it.

Why is that?

Why does the government get a free pass?

With more than $700 billion earmarked for the military, including $144.3 billion for new military equipment, you can expect a whole lot more endless wars, drone strikes, bombing campaigns, civilian deaths, costly military installations, and fat paychecks for private military contractors who know exactly how to inflate invoices and take the American taxpayers for a ride.

Enough is enough.

You can be sure this financial windfall for America’s military empire will be used to expand the police state here at home, putting more militarized guns and weapons into the hands of local police and government bureaucrats who have been trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

There are now reportedly more bureaucratic (non military) government civilians armed with high-tech, deadly weapons than the U.S. Marines.

While Americans have to jump through an increasing number of hoops in order to own a gun, the government is arming its own civilian employees to the hilt with guns, ammunition and military-style equipment, authorizing them to make arrests, and training them in military tactics.

Among the agencies being supplied with night-vision equipment, body armor, hollow-point bullets, shotguns, drones, assault rifles and LP gas cannons are the Smithsonian, U.S. Mint, Health and Human Services, IRS, FDA, Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Education Department, Energy Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing and an assortment of public universities.

Seriously, why do IRS agents need AR-15 rifles?

Enough is enough.

Remember, it was just a few months ago that President Trump, aided and abetted by his trusty Department of Justice henchman Jeff Sessions, rolled back restrictions on the government’s military recycling program to the delight of the nation’s powerful police unions.

Under the auspices of this military “recycling” program, which was instituted decades ago and allows local police agencies to acquire military-grade weaponry and equipment, more than $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies since 1990.

Ironically, while gun critics continue to clamor for bans on military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets, expanded background checks, and tougher gun-trafficking laws, the U.S. military boasts all of these and more, including some weapons the rest of the world doesn’t have.

In the hands of government agents, whether they are members of the military, law enforcement or some other government agency, these weapons have become routine parts of America’s day-to-day life, a byproduct of the rapid militarization of law enforcement over the past several decades.

Over the course of 30 years, police officers in jack boots holding assault rifles have become fairly common in small town communities across the country. As investigative journalists Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz reveal, “Many police, including beat cops, now routinely carry assault rifles. Combined with body armor and other apparel, many officers look more and more like combat troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Although these federal programs that allow the military to “gift” battlefield-appropriate weapons, vehicles and equipment to domestic police departments at taxpayer expense are being sold to communities as a benefit, the real purpose is to keep the defense industry churning out profits, bring police departments in line with the military, and establish a standing army.

It’s a militarized approach to make-work programs, except in this case, instead of unnecessary busy work to keep people employed, communities across America are being inundated with unnecessary drones, tanks, grenade launchers and other military equipment better suited to the battlefield in order to fatten the bank accounts of the military industrial complex.

Thanks to Trump, this transformation of America into a battlefield is only going to get worse.

Get ready for more militarized police.

More police shootings.

More SWAT team raids.

More violence in a culture already drenched with violence.

Enough is enough.

You want to talk about gun violence?

According to the Washington Post, “1 in 13 people killed by guns are killed by police.”

While it still technically remains legal for the average citizen to own a firearm in America, possessing one can now get you pulled over, searched, arrested, subjected to all manner of surveillance, treated as a suspect without ever having committed a crime, shot at and killed by police.

You don’t even have to have a gun or a look-alike gun, such as a BB gun, in your possession to be singled out and killed by police.

There are countless incidents that happen every day in which Americans are shot, stripped, searched, choked, beaten and tasered by police for little more than daring to frown, smile, question, or challenge an order.

Growing numbers of unarmed people are being shot and killed for just standing a certain way, or moving a certain way, or holding something—anything—that police could misinterpret to be a gun, or igniting some trigger-centric fear in a police officer’s mind that has nothing to do with an actual threat to their safety.

Enough is enough.

With alarming regularity, unarmed men, women, children and even pets are being gunned down by twitchy, hyper-sensitive, easily-spooked police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, and all the government does is shrug and promise to do better.

Killed for standing in a “shooting stance.” In California, police opened fire on and killed a mentally challenged—unarmed—black man within minutes of arriving on the scene, allegedly because he removed a vape smoking device from his pocket and took a “shooting stance“.

Killed for holding a cell phone. Police in Arizona shot a man who was running away from U.S. Marshals after he refused to drop an object that turned out to be a cellphone. Similarly, police in Sacramento fired 20 shots at an unarmed, 22-year-old black man who was standing in his grandparents’ backyard after mistaking his cellphone for a gun.

Killed for carrying a baseball bat. Responding to a domestic disturbance call, Chicago police shot and killed 19-year-old college student Quintonio LeGrier who had reportedly been experiencing mental health problems and was carrying a baseball bat around the apartment where he and his father lived.

Killed for opening the front door. Bettie Jones, who lived on the floor below LeGrier, was also fatally shot—this time, accidentally—when she attempted to open the front door for police.

Killed for running towards police with a metal spoon. In Alabama, police shot and killed a 50-year-old man who reportedly charged a police officer while holding “a large metal spoon in a threatening manner.”

Killed for running while holding a tree branch. Georgia police shot and killed a 47-year-old man wearing only shorts and tennis shoes who, when first encountered, was sitting in the woods against a tree, only to start running towards police holding a stick in an “aggressive manner.

Killed for crawling around naked. Atlanta police shot and killed an unarmed man who was reported to have been “acting deranged, knocking on doors, crawling around on the ground naked.” Police fired two shots at the man after he reportedly started running towards them.

Killed for wearing dark pants and a basketball jersey. Donnell Thompson, a mentally disabled 27-year-old described as gentle and shy, was shot and killed after police—searching for a carjacking suspect reportedly wearing similar clothing—encountered him lying motionless in a neighborhood yard. Police “only” opened fire with an M4 rifle after Thompson first failed to respond to their flash bang grenades and then started running after being hit by foam bullets.

Killed for driving while deaf. In North Carolina, a state trooper shot and killed 29-year-old Daniel K. Harris—who was deaf—after Harris initially failed to pull over during a traffic stop.

Killed for being homeless. Los Angeles police shot an unarmed homeless man after he failed to stop riding his bicycle and then proceeded to run from police.

Killed for brandishing a shoehorn. John Wrana, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, lived in an assisted living center, used a walker to get around, and was shot and killed by police who mistook the shoehorn in his hand for a 2-foot-long machete and fired multiple beanbag rounds from a shotgun at close range.

Killed for having your car break down on the road. Terence Crutcher, unarmed and black, was shot and killed by Oklahoma police after his car broke down on the side of the road. Crutcher was shot in the back while walking towards his car with his hands up.

Killed for holding a garden hose. California police were ordered to pay $6.5 million after they opened fire on a man holding a garden hose, believing it to be a gun. Douglas Zerby was shot 12 times and pronounced dead on the scene.

Killed for calling 911. Justine Damond, a 40-year-old yoga instructor, was shot and killed by Minneapolis police, allegedly because they were startled by a loud noise in the vicinity just as she approached their patrol car. Damond, clad in pajamas, had called 911 to report a possible assault in her neighborhood.

Killed for looking for a parking spot. Richard Ferretti, a 52-year-old chef, was shot and killed by Philadelphia police who had been alerted to investigate a purple Dodge Caravan that was driving “suspiciously” through the neighborhood.

Shot seven times for peeing outdoors. Eighteen-year- old Keivon Young was shot seven times by police from behind while urinating outdoors. Young was just zipping up his pants when he heard a commotion behind him and then found himself struck by a hail of bullets from two undercover cops. Allegedly officers mistook Young—5’4,” 135 lbs., and guilty of nothing more than taking a leak outdoors—for a 6’ tall, 200 lb. murder suspect whom they later apprehended. Young was charged with felony resisting arrest and two counts of assaulting a peace officer.

This is what passes for policing in America today, folks, and it’s only getting worse.

In every one of these scenarios, police could have resorted to less lethal tactics.

They could have acted with reason and calculation instead of reacting with a killer instinct.

They could have attempted to de-escalate and defuse whatever perceived “threat” caused them to fear for their lives enough to react with lethal force.

That police instead chose to fatally resolve these encounters by using their guns on fellow citizens speaks volumes about what is wrong with policing in America today, where police officers are being dressed in the trappings of war, drilled in the deadly art of combat, and trained to look upon “every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.”

Remember, to a hammer, all the world looks like a nail.

We’re not just getting hammered, however.

We’re getting killed, execution-style.

Enough is enough.

When you train police to shoot first and ask questions later—whether it’s a family pet, a child with a toy gun, or an old man with a cane—they’re going to shoot to kill.

This is the fallout from teaching police to assume the worst-case scenario and react with fear to anything that poses the slightest threat (imagined or real).

This is what comes from teaching police to view themselves as soldiers on a battlefield and those they’re supposed to serve as enemy combatants.

This is the end result of a lopsided criminal justice system that fails to hold the government and its agents accountable for misconduct.

You want to save lives?

Start by doing something to save the lives of your fellow citizens who are being gunned down every day by police who are trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

You want to cry about the lives lost during mass shootings?

Cry about the lives lost as a result of the violence being perpetrated by the U.S. government here at home and abroad.

If gun control activists really want the country to reconsider its relationship with guns and violence, then it needs to start with a serious discussion about the role our government has played and continues to play in contributing to the culture of violence.

If the American people are being called on to scale back on their weapons, then as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government and its cohorts—the police, the various government agencies that are now armed to the hilt, the military, the defense contractors, etc.—need to do the same.

It’s time to put an end to the government’s reign of terror.

Enough is enough.

Millions of Students Demand “Never Again” to Gun Violence

Over a million students and allies walked out of classes in the U.S., from Maine to Hawaii, and elsewhere in the world on March 14. Ten days later, March 24, hundreds of thousands of defiant marchers flooded the streets in Washington, D.C., and at more than 800 places on every continent except Antarctica. What might they do next?

Many surviving Parkland students are becoming familiar faces in D.C. Politicians hear from them regularly and some respond positively. They have captured the nation’s attention with their soaring speeches and emotional chants at what is being described as “sibling marches.”

They are protesting the killing of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They gathered on street corners, in downtowns, gyms, football fields, auditoriums, and elsewhere. The first events typically took 17 minutes to honor those who were murdered.

This was the largest wave of protests in American history, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. This show of strength reveals a political awakening by youth. “Welcome to the revolution,” said one student.  “We need to turn this moment into a movement,” said another, which some call the #Never Again Movement.

Since the 1999 Columbine shooting, 187,000 students have experienced a shooting. “Many are not the same,” added the Washington Post.

Three groups gathered in different cities here in semi-rural Sonoma County. A March for Our Lives group took to the center of our small-town Sebastopol (population 8000) and another at Courthouse Square in Sonoma County’s capital Santa Rosa. It was organized by Moms Demand Action and the Sonoma County Junior Commission on Human Rights.

Some vets and active duty military persons attended the Sebastopol gathering and spoke against assault weapons.

The Love Choir led singing at the Sebastopol action. They wore shirts saying “Peacetown USA.” Their lyrics included the following: “I’m going to lay down my sword and shield. We’re going to study war no more.” A popular chant was “We shall not be moved.” One sign read “Liberty, Not Death for My Grandchildren.”

The town of Sonoma was the site of another rally, in its Plaza. Fourteen students from Sonoma Valley High School traveled to D.C. to join the March 24 action there.

“Make safe schools a priority” was the goal of the Santa Rosa gathering. It offered student speakers, opportunities to pre-register to vote, and other options for concerned citizens of all ages to become involved with advocacy.

Signs such as the following were held: “Books Not Bullets!” “Love Kids, Not Guns.” “Send Prayers to the NRA.” “We Adults Have Failed Our Young People.”

One student held a sign bearing 17 blood-red hands and the message “How Many More!” A student wore a t-shirt that read “Young and Powerful.”

Politicians Support Students

California Congressman Jared Huffman met with nearly 1000 students and adults the day after the first large march. “There is a lot of evidence right now about the power of young voices,” he said. “Many of us have been beating our heads against the wall of gun reform for years and getting nowhere. These young people are stepping up and speaking so eloquently. They are changing the country.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) has been meeting regularly with high school age activists. He urges them to dig in for a long fight, “like the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements.”

Sebastopol Mayor Patrick Slayter attended both rallies in his town. He supports greater gun control and was heartened by the student activism.

“This fits in with the history of the country. The way change is made is the bottom up,” said History Professor Nolan Higdon of Cal State East Bay.

“These kids are all right,” a Chronicle headline reports the day after the first march. Between 1990 and 2004 92 million Americans were born. They represent the largest generation in history, becoming 1/3 of the U.S. population this year. That’s a lot of votes.

“It’s going to look scary to politicians,” said Rebecca Schneid,16, editor of the Parkland student newspaper. The U.S. may be at the beginning of a new, rapidly growing movement. It could grow and change history dramatically.

The New York Times quoted senior Ally Sheehy as saying, “The ‘children’ you pissed off will not forget this in the voting booth.  We are a force to be reckoned with.”

“How disgusting and broken our political system is right now in America,” added senior David Hogg, a survivor of the recent Parkland massacre.

Organizers demand tighter background checks on gun purchases and a ban on assault weapons, like the one used in the Florida bloodbath.

A small number of pro-gun demonstrations have also happened, especially in rural areas. Some have chanted “NRA is the only way.” Arguments and scuffles have broken out between the two sides.

Conservative supporters of guns organized smaller, competing rallies this weekend in places that include Helena, Montana, and Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, in a Pennsylvania town each classroom now has a 5-gallon bucket of stones.

Student leaders vowed to continue walkouts April 20th, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting in Colorado. They plan to continue direct actions, register young people to vote, lobby legislators, and even run for office.

Many students walked out of classes in the l960s to protest the American Wars on the People of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. My generation was a leader in ending those wars, as this generation can lead us to stricter gun laws, and thus fewer school and other mass shootings.

By walking out, today’s students may have initiated a massive movement for change, including more even than the importance of dealing with guns—at a time when the U.S. desperately needs change and new leadership.

We adults have failed to provide safety for our young people.

The Children’s Crusade (Against Early Death by School-Shootings)

Everyone except the NRA and Donald Jr. thinks it’s a beautiful sight. These high school students, so many of them (have you noticed?) extraordinarily articulate, marching to demand changes in gun laws and mental health care so that they don’t have to fear for their lives in math class.

It’s natural to refer to this movement poetically as a Children’s Crusade (although that episode in the thirteen century did not end well). I think of random Bible verses. “And a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6) and Jesus’s comment that you have to become like a child to enter heaven (Matthew 18:3). There’s lots of poetry in this moment.

I’ve been a college professor for over thirty years. I have been surrounded weekly by 18 to 22-year-olds. I see how they change. Used to be that half the guys in my classes had earrings. This is rare now. Used to be one or two nerds would bring a laptop to class. Now they all have them. Used to be they were much less tense about their futures and more prone to take courses for intellectual pleasure than job market concerns. I am more than the average 62-year-old man aware of the conditions faced by modern youth, even if my students comprise a highly privileged sampling. And I fear for their futures, for many reasons.

To see so many high school students who could be my students soon throwing their hearts into this movement moves me. Like Occupy Wall Street did. Like the Sanders campaign did. Like Black Lives Matter does. Like #MeToo does. The excruciating element is this: these kids are not demanding some concept of economic justice, or engaging in “identity politics” other than the identity politics of wanting to survive puberty and become adults eventually. This would seem to be the very minimal human demand from a decent society.

Children are saying, very eloquently and indignantly: it should not be legal for psychos to buy assault guns to kill us. But legislators cling to the Second Amendment, the Constitution, rights, freedom. (You know how free high schools feel today?)

One of my favorite journalistic pieces by Marx involves a Hyde Park demonstration in 1855 in which about 200,000 of London’s proletariat turned out to protest new laws about pub hours. This issue involved the power of the Anglican church over public morals, and wasn’t directly connected to the struggle between worker and employer. But Marx suggested that even something so seemingly marginal could be the spark to provoke a revolution. You never know. There is no linear inevitable pattern. High school students’ outrage could spark Mao’s proverbial prairie fire. Oh god may it be so.

Full of blood and energy, these teens rage against the stupidity of the gun culture that’s been at the center of U.S. life since the first Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth with their muskets and shot their first Wampanoags, praising God. The movement’s identity is life itself, the right to grow up. It’s beautiful in that.

When I was in college, a member of a New Left communist group, we opposed gun control on the grounds that the people will need to be armed to confront the state, eventually. At that time the idea that a youth-driven movement towards some form of gun control was inconceivable. The insanity of gun culture already clear in the early ’70’s has much deepened since, and now the freedom not to be shot is coming to supersede the freedom to shoot.

So fitting that high school students are fired up on this cause and that many seem to understand the corporate causes of mass shootings. May their raging hormones drive ongoing activism in all causes for peace and justice.

Ending Public Access to Military Style Weapons

When troubled youth Nikolas Cruz picked a fight with a classmate who was dating his ex-girlfriend he was expelled from high school. Three days later he bought an AR-15. The gun dealer reportedly suggested an accessory to make the rifle fully automatic. Anger prompted Cruz to show up at the Parkland, FL school on Valentine’s Day and fire 160 rounds, slaying 17. For doing little to launch follow-up intervention, let’s blame the school administration.

Police reportedly responded 39 times to circumstances at the home where Nikolas lived after the deaths of both his parents. Let’s blame the local authorities for not considering this behavioral pattern worthy of greater attention.

Let’s blame Donald Trump for undoing even the minor preventive measures three previous presidential administrations had put in place. Note NRA support for Trump’s election was $30.3 million.

The FBI learned a person with this name had used social media to announce intention to become a school shooter. Though they had little power to apprehend Cruz and receive millions of such alerts, let’s blame the FBI for inaction.

The school maintained an armed security guard who didn’t challenge Cruz. We could blame him for not intervening.

Cruz was a member of his high school’s junior Reserve Officer’s Training Corps that promotes young persons’ interest in weapons. Let’s blame the ROTC.

Cruz evolved as a racist. We need to confront this country’s slave owning Founder’s constitutional justification of chattel slavery and argument that – as they held dominion they must be racially superior. We need to confront the legacy and posture of every holder of public office since that time that has not taken a public stance to correct this historic falsehood. It was the assassination of President Lincoln – the peacemaker who sought to bind up the nation’s Civil War’s psychological wounds – that allowed a fateful shift to punishment of the South for the Civil War. This, in turn, launched the South’s resentment measures, Jim Crow and the deep racism that has, ever since, held this country in its grip.

It may surprise the reader to learn that in the first 45 days of 2018 there have been 18 gun incidents in our schools, 8 of them involving wounding or death. The United States is unique at generating such statistics. We can no longer assume it is safe to send children to school in the morning.

There is a raging debate whether the nation’s 3-million teachers should be armed with handguns. What have we come to? In our watch, national pride has become national shame.

The response to this most recent mass killing has been predictably outrageous. House Speaker Paul Ryan defensively referenced the 2nd Amendment, asserting this was not the time to threaten citizens’ constitutional rights. Donald Trump declared sympathy for the victims and their families but avoided mentioning guns.

Hillary Clinton favored improved gun controls but that only funneled campaign money to opponents. With few exceptions, for decades the response to these tragic events by the makers of our laws has been what I must characterize as, “Blah, blah, blah.” The lobbying and contributions from gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association corrupt our officeholders.

In its 2008 landmark decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Washington, DC ban on hand guns – implemented to reduce city gun deaths – violated Dick Heller’s 2nd Amendment right to keep a gun in his home for self defense.

But we know Supreme Court decisions are invariably political-party-based interpretations of the Constitution. The majority five in this decision were all Republican appointees – loyalists to the party most resistant to stricter gun laws.

Embedded in the decision are these positive notes. “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever for whatever purpose.” Protected weapons are those “in common use” while those not protected are those which are “dangerous or unusual.”

The Court’s political bias ignores history. Lacking a national army during both the American Revolution and the Civil War, George Washington, then Abraham Lincoln, summoned state militias to serve. Southern colonies had demanded the 2nd Amendment in order to bear arms against potential rebellion by their slaves.

All these “blamings” are intended distractions favoring the greedy gun industry and immoral NRA. Despite a history of instability, Nikolas encountered no difficulty in purchasing an automatic rifle and sufficient ammunition for multiple murders. Let’s level the blame on Congress for decades of failure to pass legislation confronting the national proliferation of military-style weapons that are repeatedly used to kill the innocent, particularly our children.

There are more guns than people in this country. A substantial number of these are designed for the sole purpose of killing people. It is time to not only confiscate all military-style weapons but to make their possession a serious felony.

Thousands of Students Protest Gun Violence

Sonoma County, CaliforniaDriving through small-town Sebastopol on March 14 toward the Senior Center, this 73-year-old noticed groups of young students with signs gathering on downtown street corners and waving to motorists. These active participants in direct democracy joined thousands who walked out of schools across the U.S. and the world, organized by the Women’s March Youth branch.

As I got closer to the students, a variety of feelings, thoughts, and memories emerged. Tears of appreciation began to drip from my eyes, as I learned why they were protesting.

Then I smiled at them and flashed the peace sign, as I used to during the active 1960s. I eventually resigned my U.S. Army officer’s commission to join the marches that finally helped end the American wars on the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Spending a short time in jail, before being released — since I was merely expressing my First Amendment freedom of speech — was worth it.

I’m proud of our middle and high school students, as well as others, for non-violently standing up to defend their generation against those who continue to shoot innocent youth and others in Florida and elsewhere. “Lives matter more than guns. Enough is enough!” were  among the signs.

Many teachers and administrators supported students wanting to join the brief marches. California Rep. Mike Thompson created a video, which schools are showing, where he encourages students to “stand up and speak out” against gun violence.

Each event had its own character. The Sebastopol rallies were relatively dignified and many protestors had taped their mouths. All corners of Santa Rosa High, in contrast, were full of students waving signs, chanting, and expressing a call to action and a show of force.

An estimated 500 students, about a quarter of Santa Rosa High’s student body, joined the walkout. In nearby Petaluma around 2000 students from a dozen schools walked out. Some wore bright orange #Never Again shirts, a prominent hash-tag, according to the daily Press Democrat.

Nearly all of the 1300 students at Sonoma Valley High School gathered with signs such as “I should be writing my term paper instead of my will” and “Never Again!” Some waved the American flag and shouted things such as “It’s time for the next generation to take over!”

The Sunridge 8th grade class (Sebastopol) arranged this memorial in front of their school before heading down to Main Street to participate in a 17 minute moment of Silence. (Photo: Bill Shortridge)

My feelings eventually ranged from a mixture of sadness—because these students needed to protest—to appreciation for their bravery against those who threaten the Earth’s future.

“Too Young to Protest? 10-Year-Olds Beg to Differ” headlined a March 14 New York Times article. “It started last month as a writing exercise on the 1963 Birmingham Children’s Crusade, when more than 1000 students skipped school and marched to demand civil rights,” the article began. So the current marches have also been a history classroom.

“The classroom assignment mushroomed into a plan—hatched by 10-and-11-year-olds—to stage a little civil disobedience of their own,” the article notes.

“We Won’t Let the N.R.A. Win” headlines another Times article, written by three New Jersey high school students. “The killings of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida may be the massacre that finally gets federal and state governments to enact common-sense gun control laws,” the students commence their article.

They remind us, “That should have happened after Columbine. It should have happened after Virginia Tech. It should have happened after Sandy Hook. But it didn’t. The Stoneman Douglas School is where our generation draws a line.” So they imagined and then created what some organizers describe as the National School Walkout.

17 is the number of students and staff killed at the Florida school. Many of the events were scheduled for 17 minutes.

“March for Our Lives is not just one day,” the students conclude. “We must all stand with Stoneman Douglas students and say, ‘Never again.’ This isn’t about being aligned with one political party or another. This is about protecting this nation’s children.”

The American Civil Liberties Union helped train some students in their direct actions. The creation of a sense of community was among the marches’ goals.

Meanwhile, a series of violent threats have been scrawled on campuses, including at Santa Rosa High in Northern California.

“We are the future of this country, yet we can no longer assume we are safe from mass shootings in our schools. Nor can we assume our elders will protect us,” the students write.

When I arrived at the Sebastopol Area Senior Center, I spoke with other elders about the issues these youth raise. We agreed that we should support their leadership and join these brave “first responders.”

“Eloquent young voices, equipped with symbolism and social media savvy, riding a resolve as yet untouched by cynicism,” is how the New York Times described the rallies.

In Lower Manhattan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined a die-in at Zucotti Park, the former home of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

“Hey-hey, ho-ho, the N.R.A. has to go,” students chanted as they marched to the D. C. Capital steps. They were met by members of Congress, the most popular of whom seemed to be Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Stay tuned for at least two more nationwide protests on March 24 and April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine murders, as students continue to gather steam and define their movement.