Category Archives: violence

Escalation in Portland

If there is a point at which we realize we are taking our lives in our hands by just going downtown and marching in the streets, this might be it.

Last night a man was shot to death near the Justice Center in downtown Portland, where protests have been taking place every night for over three months. Details are still coming in, but it appears the deceased was a heavily-armed member of the far right. Another member of the far right was just arrested this morning in the working class Portland suburb of Milwaukie. He was arrested for having fired into a crowd the day before with live ammunition, apparently, in a separate incident from the killing at the Justice Center.

For those of you who might just be tuning in here, I’ll try to set the stage.

Prior to Trump, prior to the pandemic, Portland was a city experiencing multiple crises, as with many other cities across the country, but perhaps more so. Between the last two censuses Portland lost more than half of its Black population due to gentrification, a phenomenon known to many as ethnic cleansing. During that time, Portland also achieved #1 status in the nation in terms of the numbers of Black people killed by the police, per capita. Portland also achieved the status as the most rent-burdened city in the country, as determined by the cost of rent relative to the average income of renters in the city. For many comfortable homeowners living in the hills of west of downtown and shopping in the malls of Beaverton, the reality that they were living in a city that was experiencing multiple acute crises may have passed them by. We live in a very divided city, in so many ways. Just take a day-long walk down Burnside Boulevard from the hills west of downtown to the desolate trailers in outer southeast, and you’ll get the picture of the class structure of this society.

Prior to Trump, prior to the pandemic, groups like Don’t Shoot PDX and a multiplicity of other networks focused on police brutality, institutional racism, gentrification and the unaffordability of housing for most Black and working class people were active on the streets, online, and in electoral politics. While the state government is dominated by the interests of big landlords, like the Democratic Party everywhere, in local government on the city and county levels, increasing numbers of solidly progressive people have been getting in, in the city council as well as among elected officials in the judicial branch, such as the District Attorney who just dropped the charges of so many protesters who have been arrested over the past months.

Long prior to Trump, Portland was a hotbed of conflict between fascists and antifascists, between militant believers in white supremacy and militant antiracists. As with cities like Minneapolis, there is a lot of history to this conflict. The streets of Portland, as with the streets of Minneapolis and other cities, were contested ground. Oregon was founded as a white homeland, and Portland was a national home to organized racism for a long time, until relatively recently, and the supporters of these groups have not all moved to Idaho.

The combination of Trump’s election and the social forces he continually strives to unleash, the pandemic, the growing numbers of blatantly racist police murders across the country, the economic crash, the apparent withdrawal of any more real help from the federal government, and the complete incompetence and/or captured-by-the-landlords nature of the state authorities in Oregon and elsewhere, have altogether created a massive powder keg. Add to that a tremendous increase in gun sales over the past several months across the country, very much including Oregon. Add to that wannabe vigilantes speaking at the Republican National Convention, and real vigilantes in Wisconsin being praised by the president, with the blood still fresh on the streets of Kenosha.

OK, stage-setting over.

It’s always been mythology that in the USA the First Amendment gives people the right to peacefully protest. It’s always been mythology that when people commit acts of civil disobedience, such as marching or sitting down in the street, that they will generally be gingerly carried off with one cop taking each limb, carrying the arrested to an awaiting vehicle, and carefully placing them inside it. It’s always been mythology that when there are two opposing groups of protesters, the police are there to act as a neutral party to keep them from hurting each other. Under certain circumstances, peaceful protests go off without a hitch, police escort marchers in the streets, and they keep protesters from killing each other, but there’s nothing predictable about any of these things going that way. In fact, most often, they don’t go like that at all, in Portland, or in most US cities.

And yes, most US cities are Democrat-run, as Trump is so fond of pointing out. There are reasons for that. Unfortunately, these Democrats, like their Republican counterparts, are largely also wealthy landowners, such as Mayor Ted Wheeler, and/or politicians paid off by corporations, incapable of doing anything more than mouthing progressive slogans while they screw the entire working class over and over again with their actual actions. And what is especially telling is that in these progressive hotbeds, the police forces are full of unaccountable human rights abusers and members of the far right, and most of each city’s budgets goes to them every year. And despite the fact that these police departments are constantly losing lawsuits brought against them by the citizens they kill and maim, their killer cops not only almost never go to prison, but they almost all keep their six-figure jobs as our armed protectors.

While it is mythology that there’s anything like a set of rules to adhere to for proper protesting etiquette, to avoid getting attacked by police or fascists, for example, or to get positive media coverage, or any media coverage at all, it is true that there are general tendencies in a given country at a given historical moment in terms of how things will go the vast majority of the time. And to the extent that it was generally the case that you didn’t used to have to worry about people shooting at each other with live ammunition at protest rallies in front of a federal courthouse in the center of a city in this country a few years ago, this expectation is increasingly not valid.

Whoever shot the heavily-armed member of the far right downtown last night, the context was that other members of the far right were spraying crowds with gunfire, a massacre of protesters had just been committed in Wisconsin by a member of the far right, and hundreds of beefy white people with big flags throughout downtown Portland were involved with vehicular assaults on pedestrians and other vehicles, and lots of people were spraying each other with bear mace, hitting, and kicking each other.

Although no one has been killed by a politically-motivated left-winger or anarchist in the United States in decades to my knowledge, while members of the far right kill us regularly at this point, if it indeed is the case that this man was killed in the course of a conflict with a counter-protester, this really shouldn’t come as any surprise. Many people we might broadly define as antifascists embrace armed self-defense and do shooting practice regularly, from Anti-Racist Action to the John Brown Gun Club, and new groups like that seem to be forming daily, along with neighborhood associations forming for people to defend one another from the coming waves of evictions.

Knowing that the police are either unwilling or unable to effectively police events such as the Trump Cruise and ensuing urban combat that we saw last night, given that going downtown to protest, whether you’re protesting in a way that the authorities deem to be “peaceful” or “violent,” you are risking your life by being there.

Of course, you’re also risking your life every time you cross a busy street, or ride your bicycle down one. And when you’re in a crowd of enthusiastic, community-minded protesters from all walks of life, of all ages, catching up with each other, playing music, shouting at the mayor, and taking over the streets, it’s easy to feel invincible. At least for me it is. It’s easy to rationalize away fear, and perhaps for some of us more than others, easy to feel like these bad things can’t possibly happen to me. But if they happen more and more often, people start to change their orientation.

Standing on the precipice we’re all standing on right now here in the USA, my mind delivers me historical parallels, as a sort of desperate measure, trying to make sense of it all. I’m not sure how relevant any of them are, but any of them might be. There are too many different factors that go into creating the future.

But at least in retrospect, some things seem clear. Retrospect is good like that. The massacres at Kent State and Jackson State, along with so many more killings by the authorities of Black radicals especially, in no small part gave rise to networks such as the short-lived Black Liberation Army and the Weathermen. Developments like these tend to reinforce the maxim that violence is made inevitable through the suppression of more peaceful means.

Similarly, in Northern Ireland there was a civil rights movement, that sought equality for the oppressed Catholic minority in the Occupied Six Counties. The movement was consciously modeled after the civil rights movement in the US. Like its counterpart in the US, it was met with tremendous violence, which ultimately took the forms of racist pogroms in 1969, the burning of hundreds of homes by anti-Catholic mobs, a massive propaganda campaign of fake news brought on by the authorities, vilifying the largely Catholic movement, and ultimately a massacre of movement organizers by British troops. All of these events of 1969 and 1970 ultimately led people to conclude that peaceful marches were not working if they would just end in massacres. And this understanding gave rise to the armed resistance movement that followed, which in turn gave rise to a conflict that took the lives of thousands of people over the following quarter century.

There are those examples of fires being fueled by the authorities. Then there are other examples, when governments with intelligent leaders who know they’re in a race against time act decisively. A somewhat random example that comes to mind is how at the end of the Second World War, after years of a terrible occupation that involved a famine and many thousands of deportations and executions, with many more shipped off to work as forced laborers, after the Netherlands was liberated by Allied forces from Canada, the US, Poland and elsewhere, but also in no small part including by Dutch resistance forces as well, the first thing the government did when it came back from exile was collect all the guns that were now all over the country. They were desperately concerned that after all these years of Nazi occupation, there could be terrible conflict in society between those who resisted in some form, and those who collaborated to one degree or another. If there were to be such conflicts, they wanted to make sure that they did not involve firearms.

My orientation is admittedly Eurocentric. I’ve spent most of my adult life somewhere between North America and Europe, and much less of it anywhere else in the world. One of the guests I interviewed for one of my livestream shows/podcasts recently, an Argentinian anarchist and professor at the University of Massachusetts, Graciela Monteagudo, says the fascist comparisons aren’t so relevant, that the divisions in US society and the incompetent, corrupt state ostensibly at the helm of it are much more like a typical kleptocratic banana republic than a well-oiled fascist fighting machine.

Either way, if there is a point at which we realize we are taking our lives in our hands by just going downtown and marching in the streets, this might be it. What comes next, I don’t know that anybody knows – I sure don’t. I only know a little, mostly selective tidbits about what has happened before. The time and place we’re in now is not like those other times and places, however. It’s new, and in so many ways, as they never tire of pointing out in the news, unprecedented.

Anti-racist Uprising in Minneapolis infiltrated by Extreme-right Holligans

Reportage from Minneapolis — The city of Minneapolis is where it all began. It is where the last drop fell on the surface of a proverbial overflowing lake, causing the dam to burst, consequently starting to destroy the foundations of the empire.

A death of just one single man can, under certain dreadful circumstances, put into motion the entire avalanche of events. It can smash the whole regime into pieces. It can fully rewrite history, and even change the identity of a nation. It can… although it not always does.

George Floyd’s death became a spark. The city of Minneapolis is where the murder occurred, and where the ethnic minorities rose in rage.

But it is also where white extreme right-wing criminals, and some even say, entire regime, perpetrated the uprising, kidnapped what could have become a true revolution and began choking legitimate rebellion by a stained duvet of nihilism and confusion.

Here, we will not speculate. We will not point fingers at “deep state” or some multi-billionaire families, and to what extent they have been involved. Let others do this if they know details. But this time, I simply came to listen. And to pass to the world what I discovered first hand and what I was told.

This time I simply went to Franklin Avenue and Lake Street, both in Minneapolis.

I spoke to Native American people there. To those who joined forces with the African-American community during those dangerous days after May 25, 2020. To people who dared to defend their neighborhoods against brutality, against  white gangs, which came to loot, infiltrate, and derail the most powerful uprising in the United States in modern history.

*****

Bob Rice is a Native American owner of Pow Wow Grounds, a local entrepreneur, and a ‘community protection organizer.’ His legendary café is located on Franklin Avenue. During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been reduced, for the time being, to a takeaway business, but even as such, it is enormously popular among the Native Americans, as well as others.

At the back of the cafe is huge storage, full of food. Everyone hungry, in need of help, can simply come here and take whatever he or she needs.

We grab some freshly brewed coffee from the shop and take it to the public benches outside.

Author with Bob Rice on Franklin Avenue

Bob Rice then begins his story:

There has been police brutality for a very long time, against people of color. Not only talking about Minneapolis but in all these other places, since the 1991 Rodney King incident. Things were boiling and building up – leading to a big blow up.

And all this discrimination did not start here; it came centuries ago from Europe.

After the George Floyd murder, I wanted to show solidarity. Native Americans were experiencing an even higher degree of persecution than Black people. We had to stand together. I went down to the site of the murder of George Floyd, in order to support protests.

For a while, we talked about the mass media in the United States, an official and even some ‘independent one,’ and how it quickly and violently turned against the left, as well as against those who have been daring to expose endemic racism in the United States.

But soon, we returned to the events that took place here, in May and June.

I noticed the presence of strange elements right from the start. I was watching guys breaking windows. At about 6 am, the morning after, I traveled down to South Minneapolis.  There were piles of rocks in front of the rioters.  Flash hand grenades.  I kept on moving around the areas and kept on seeing rocks. I noticed the Minneapolis Umbrella Man, dressed all in black, with mask and black umbrella and black hammer smashing things – at the end being stopped by black guys. People were walking out of the store with car parts, and I thought, “why stealing those things”? These guys didn’t seem to be as part of the protest. I started moving and going away from the area, thinking that these guys would burn down stores and places soon. I even called up my insurance company the following morning to see if my policy covers civil unrest. That night they burned a lot of stores – auto stores, liquor stores, all types of businesses. I thought that if we do not do something ourselves to protect our neighborhoods, they will burn down all of our areas, too.

From what I saw, I couldn’t tell you who these guys were, but they were not from here.

So, we put up our protection zone calling out people on Facebook. We became the Headquarters of protection of Native American businesses and nonprofit organizations, as well as banks, shops, investment properties, etc. all belonging to the Native American community around here.

I noticed there were Caucasian people, driving cars very slowly with no license plates, yelling racial slurs out of the windows. We formed a human shield, chain, along Franklin Avenue, to protect ourselves and our people.

At a high point, about 300 people were protecting the area all night long for about eight days in a row. It had to be done, because here we had people from all over, including Wisconsin, descending on us — we had white supremacist group Proud Boys here. They arrived wearing masks. We had young white kids – 16 and 17 years old — coming from Wisconsin, looting liquor stores.  We caught them. Obviously, they came out here because they thought it was an exciting thing to do.  They didn’t even know where they were – this area is very dangerous with drug dealing and gang violence at night. Lucky, they got caught by us.

And the coverage? I wanted to know whether these events, in the heart of Native American neighborhoods, were described in depth by media reports.

Bob Rice replied readily:

There was no media reporting on these matters – mass media blamed everything on the Black Lives Matter movement.  When liquor stores and tobacco shops were on fire, no police or fire trucks were around. Then the National Guard took over – using tear gas.

 Mr. Rice sighed, still in disbelief:

 Just incredible how our so-called President has done all the mess going and even made it worse!

*****

Robert Pilot, Native Roots Radio host, drove me for days all around the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, explaining what really took place on both Franklin Avenue and Lake Street.

George Floyd Murder Site

But before, we visited an provisory, impromptu monument where the murder of George Floyd took place. There were flowers, graffiti, works of art; there was grief, and there was solidarity. Native American people clearly supported the plight of the African-Americans.

The area was safe; it was well organized. People of all races came here to pay tribute to the murdered man, and centuries of atrocious history of the United States.

As we drove, Robert Pilot explained:

Native American neighborhoods armed themselves after the Floyd murder. But not only that: economic hardships ensued after the murder; food banks have come up.  The Pow Wow Grounds used to be a food distribution deport but ended up becoming a food bank for anyone to donate and get what they need.

Protesters were everywhere; the young generation got fed up.  So different from other murders. The last straw was the murder of George Floyd. Four years earlier, in 2016, Philando Castile, an African American man, got murdered by police. He had worked in a school cafeteria. His murder was broadcast live on Facebook. It was a buildup. 10,000 people protested on 38th Street and Chicago in Minneapolis – the site of the murder of George Floyd. Combination of racial and overall frustration.

 We drove by burned stores, services, gas stations. Everything was resembling a war zone, and in a way, it was.

If you are there, things are extremely raw, emotional. It is not like analyzing things from a distance from the comfort of one’s home.

Robert continued explaining, as we drove by block after block of the Middle East-style combat destruction:

There is a small percentage of African American people as compared to White Americans.  We need allies, too. We have to support each other. Signs everywhere in my neighborhood, ‘Black Lives Matter.’

Some young white people have woken up. They see the truth. The opinion of the masses is moving to the left; they are feeling fed up with what is happening around them and what it is that the country is doing to the world because of oil.

What is interesting is that there is a protest every single day, which is something new and mind-blowing. The media is misreporting, minimizing the enormity and magnitude of protests, CNN, MSNBC, etc.

Robert Pilot is not only a radio host, but he is also a teacher:

White teachers are still teaching history; they are teaching it to black and Native American kids! Political standing of my students – a few are engaged, but definitely not all. Perhaps 10 percent of people are engaged and doing the work for 90 percent.

The white guilt now and then… But many of us feel: You should stand behind us and with us but not in front of us. Revolution is happening in that sense. Everything is changing since protests are happening.

Not everyone likes the changes; definitely not everyone. The establishment is fighting back, trying to survive, in its existing, horrid form.

Robert Pilot concludes:

Generally, Black and Native Americans are together, supportive of each other.

It is symbolic that the Native American movement started on Franklin Avenue, where protests began in 1968. We would never burn down our own stores like grocery stores and hospitals. Why should we?

But we had to mobilize and stop members of the KKK and Proud Boys type of guys.

 *****

We drive some 100 miles north, in order to meet Ms. Emma Needham – a young Native American activist. Emma was kind enough to bring traditional medicine from her area. We met halfway at the Sand Prairie Wildlife Management Area.

Before our encounter, along the highway, we are surrounded by true ‘Americana’: endless open spaces, half-empty highways, more than 100 car-long cargo train pulled by two monstrous engines, while pushed by yet another one. We pass by St. Cloud Correctional Facility – an ancient-looking prison that bears the resemblance of some massive medieval English mansion surrounded by an elaborate system of barbed wires and watchtowers.

Trump Shop in the sticks

In one of the towns along the road, there is a big makeshift market selling posters, T-shirts, and other memorabilia, all related to the current President. It is called Trump Shop. Big banners are shouting at passing cars: “Trump, Make America Great Again,” “Trump 2020 – No More Bullshit,” and “God, Guns & Guts Made America. Let’s Keep All Three”.

Ms Emma Needham, young activist and write

Emma is a storyteller, a writer. She is an intelligent, outspoken, sincere, and passionate person:

Where we were, we did not see a lot of white men with masks attacking, but what we did see were two young white kids, around 16, from Wisconsin, looting a liquor store which was run by Native Americans.

I stayed over Friday and Saturday nights around the Indian American Cultural Center in Minneapolis. On Friday night, within half a mile to a mile in all directors, we could see and hear the riots and looting. There were gunshots, helicopters hovering all around us. But nobody came to rescue us.

On Saturday night, we could see white people on Jeeps, waving flags, cruising around the neighborhood. “The white kids from Wisconsin were there, it appeared to me, opportunistic grabbing whatever was available.

Majority of those who came to protest and loot were outsiders, not from the neighborhoods. It does not make sense for people in Minneapolis to burn down and loot stores they rely on.

I wanted to know whether the Native Americans and African-Americans were helping each other in that difficult hour?

Emma did not hesitate:

There was big solidarity between Black people and Native American people; there was empathy.

It has been lifelong degradation for many of us growing up poor and severely marginalized in reservations, but we had never seen anything like this, so close to what resembled a war.

Those of us who were down in North Minneapolis those nights – Friday and Saturday – could not find words to describe what was happening. But we had a strong sense that what has been happening to us Native Americans was happening to Black Americans, too – 400 years of surviving in a system of oppression. Enough is enough! Shared horrors – same for both groups!

I asked whether everything changed, and this is a new beginning for the nation? As many, Emma did not sound overly optimistic:

A black American female artist once said, ‘I love my white friends, but I don’t trust you because I know when the time comes, you need to choose your skin color. You count on the freedom and safety which you have. Whether you make that conscious decision or not, it will be there for you.

*****

On my behalf, Robert Pilot asked Brett Buckner, his fellow radio host, and an African American activist, whether he could confirm that the majority of rioters were whites and not from the community. He replied:

I would say so. Based on police reports and accounts from the community members, most of the damage was done by outsiders. Unfortunately, their actions will cause our community pain for years and even decades to come.

*****

Before I finished writing this report, “Umbrella man” got ‘identified.’

On July 29, 2020, Daily Mail wrote:

Masked “Umbrella Man” who was seen smashing windows of Minneapolis AutoZone that was later burned to the ground during George Floyd protests is identified as ‘Hells Angels gang member with ties to white supremacist group’… The Star Tribune reported the 32-year-old man has links to Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood, a white supremacist gang based in Minnesota and Kentucky.

He was one of many, but the most notorious one. Looking at his photos when in action, he was bearing a striking resemblance to ‘ninja’ looking rioters — right-wing hooligans – who were unleashed in order to bring chaos to Hong Kong, people who have been supported and financed by Western governments. I know, because I work in Hong Kong, since the beginning of the riots. Coincidence? And if not: who really ‘inspired’ whom?

*****

Before I left Minneapolis, Robert Pilot and his wife Wendy interviewed me on their Native Roots Radio. What was supposed to be just 30 minutes appearance ended up being a one-hour event.

They showed me their city and their state, sharing sincere feelings and hopes, unveiling suffering of both African American and Native American communities.

This time, I traveled to the United States in order to listen. But I was also asked to talk, and so I did.

During the interview, I took them to several parts of the world, where black people still suffer enormously, due to Western imperialism and corporate greed. The world where Native people of Latin America, Canada, as well as other parts of the Planet, are brutally humiliated, robbed of everything, even murdered by millions.

We were complimenting each other. Our knowledge was.

I am glad I came to Minnesota. I am thankful that I could witness history in the making.

I am also delighted that I observed solidarity between the African American and Native American people. For centuries, both went through hell, through agony. Now, they were awakening.

Minnesota is where the latest and very important chapter of American history began. But I also went to Washington, D.C., Baltimore, New York City, Massachusetts. I witnessed protests, anger, despair. But there was also hope. Hope, despite tear gas and riot police, lockdowns, despite mismanaged COVID-19 and increasing poverty rates. Something was ending, something unsavory and brutal. Whether this could be considered a new beginning was still too early to tell.

In Minnesota, I chose to see events through the eyes of Native Americans, people who were here ‘forever,’ to whom this land used to belong. People who were exterminated by the “new America,” by European migrants, in a genocide that claimed roughly 90% of the native lives. These were people who were robbed of their culture and their riches. I am glad; I am proud that I chose this angle.

True peace, true reconciliation can only come after history as well as reality are fully understood, never through denial.

Now, both African Americans and Native Americans are speaking, and the world is listening. It has to listen. At least this is already progress. These two groups are forming a powerful alliance of victims. But also, an alliance of those who are determined to make sure that history never repeats itself.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook (a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

White Allies For Black Lives Matter

We’re now emerging from an intense period of racial justice protests that began after the killing of George Floyd. It was exhilarating and pride-inspiring to witness the multitudes in the Lehigh Valley (Pa) who “took it to the streets” on behalf of racial equality, especially the waves of Black and white young people. According to the Pew Research Center, some 15 million adults participated in the protests which makes it the largest movement in American history. In terms of interracial composition, three times as many whites as Blacks participated and the percentage of Hispanics was higher than that for Black people. Further, so many young people participated that it could be rightly characterized as a generational revolt. But, will these events remain a historic “moment” or the start of an ongoing liberation movement?

After an interminable and unconscionably overdue response, we saw significant white allyship and we finally realized that white people must listen to Black voices and be accountable. However, in that vein, a key question remains: which voices should white allies heed? As Black activist Eric Jenkins reminds us, no organization speaks for all Black people and some Black-led organizations are totally disconnected from the lives of the Black working class. As Jenkins notes, some traditional Black organizations are even leery to accept white activists lest it disrupt their relationship with the dominant white power structure.

So, should white allies listen to the voices of the “go-along to get-ahead” types, like the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), composed of 55 members? The late Bruce Dixon, an editor at Black Agenda Report, characterized the CBC as part of the “Black Political Class,” whose first allegiance is enabling the 1% to rule, a class to which most Black Americans do not belong. “Blackness,” here, is just an image brandished to banksters, military contractors and corporate interests.” As Dixon asserted, CBC takes its marching orders from the Democratic Party and obscene gobs of cash donations from white corporate sponsors in exchange for safe Congressional seats, cushy lifestyles and undeserved status. Aside from rhetoric, they do nothing to advance the interests of 40 million Black citizens,

Should we listen to the Black voices those attempting to co-opt and neuter the system transforming potential Black Lives Matter by diverting it simply into voting for Democrats. As a Facebook friend recently wrote, “The Democratic Party is now “An upper-middle class party that’s singing ‘We Shall Overcome’ fifty years too late.”

Or, rather, should we be attentive to Black voices in our midst who echo the powerful legacy of social and political transformation derived from Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Paul Robeson to W.E.B. DuBois, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Audre Lorde to more recent voices like bell hooks, Margaret Kimberley, Keenanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Mary Hooks? Their work strongly suggests they would all advocate a gradual merging of BLM demands like “Stop Killing Black People,” ending mass incarceration (one in three Black boys can expect to be locked up during their adult lives) and abolishing institutional and cultural racism with demands to dismantle capitalism in all its predatory forms. The aforementioned social justice activists knew that a reckoning with America’s history of racism and economic injustice can never be realized without joining both sets of demands.

For example, as Martin Luther King matured as a leader, thinker and radical activist, be became openly anti-capitalist (and anti-U.S. imperialism). In a speech to his staff in South Carolina, just one month before his assassination on April 4, 1968, Dr. King spoke approvingly about the new and dynamic young radicals in the movement who understood that “only by structural change can current evils be eliminated because the roots are in the [capitalist] system rather than in men or in faulty operations…they all understand the need for direct, self-transforming and structural transformation. This may be their most creative collective insight.”

Finally, meaningful change will only come about when tens of thousands of people are willing to engage in large-scale civil disobedience and risk arrest in the revolutionary tradition of Dr. King. Is there any doubt that were he alive today he would be all about grass-roots organizing and planning another rally for the indefinite occupation of Washington, DC. This type of movement is the worst nightmare for those who own and rule the country. Doing anything less than attempting to bring their apparition to life would be wasting a convergence of favorable factors that may not appear again.

Tear Gas Ted has a Tantrum

If the Portland Police decide they need to start killing protesters, the mayor has just justified it in advance.

The liberal landed gentry dripping with multi-generational wealth and entitlement, as represented by Tear Gas Ted Wheeler, has made a pronouncement: the good folks trying to burn down the police station there in outer east Portland the other night were guilty of “attempted murder,” as twenty defenseless, though heavily-armed, police officers inside cowered and shivered and called their mothers to say their last words before meeting their terrible fates. I made the last part up, but he did say the attempted murder part, and there were twenty heavily-armed cops inside the building at the time of this latest attempt to take the building. He also referred to the police inside the building as “trapped,” although they could easily have rolled up their garage door and exited, guns blazing, at any moment. Maybe their riot gear would have gotten a little burnt, but they would have made it out OK from the looks of it. Unlike Tear Gas Ted, last month was not the first time in my life I’ve ever been to a protest that got messy, so I have some familiarity with these things.

I’ve long been a very cowardly anarchist, preferring to play music at protests and write articles about them, rather than throwing projectiles and setting fires. I have too many friends who have been killed, badly wounded, or sentenced to years or decades in prison because of carrying out actions like these, to want to participate in them myself. I make no illusions about it – I stay back from those situations because I don’t want to face the consequences myself.

But, having said that, some of the folks in Portland throwing those projectiles and setting those fires listen to my music and follow me on Twitter, and they already know how much I appreciate their efforts and admire them in general. As the shrill noises coming from foolish people like our mayor grow louder here and across the country, distinguishing between so-called “violent” and so-called “nonviolent” protesters, with the latest line of alleged reasoning being that any white people participating in efforts to destroy or take over a police station must be provocateurs, and if they’re not provocateurs then they must be trying to usurp center stage away from a Black-led movement, let me be one more voice to point out the following, whether or not the media takes notice: none of this discourse is new, and no one needs anyone’s permission to burn down a police station.

A little recapitulation of recent and less recent history seems very much in order here, for context. Much has been said in alternative and corporate media in recent months about the racist history of policing in the United States, about the history of slave patrols, and about white mobs who committed massive and terrible massacres, killing hundreds of Black people and burning down thousands of buildings in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and so many other similar horrors. Much has been said about many other such atrocities committed by racist white mobs, as well as the even more tremendous atrocity of institutional racism, in all the many forms this has taken since and before the Civil War. It would be impossible to overstate how important it is that these things are being talked about, particularly if all this talk might actually lead to fundamental changes.

But the history of policing in the United States is not just about racism. This fact is being innocently ignored by people who don’t know much about history, or have just learned about slavery, but have never heard of the labor movement – or it’s being deliberately obfuscated by people who do know about history, and are intentionally using that knowledge to do exactly what the social construct of race was designed to do in the first place: to divide us from one another, and to set up a caste system through which we can then see ourselves as superior or inferior to other members of our society, to pit us against each other through impossibly unfair contests, with one side forced through unspeakable, daily brutality to work for free, with everyone else forced to compete with them or starve trying.

The standing armies of police forces in Boston, Lowell, Lawrence, New York, Paterson, Chicago, Milwaukee, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and so many other cities across the United States were not primarily there to police the Black population specifically. They were there primarily to serve the interests of landlords and industrialists – to serve the capitalist class. To keep the enfranchised enfranchised, and to keep the disenfranchised disenfranchised. This process involved committing acts of violence against a vast array of members of the working class on a daily basis, for centuries. Certain types of people have always been especially targeted for beatings, torture, exile, death, trumped-up criminal charges, trials with kangaroo courts, and filling the ranks of these people have been anyone who has dared to speak up for the interests of the suffering working class of this country, of this state, and of this city.

Oregon was founded as a white homeland, with exclusion laws both on the books and actively enforced. The state did not have a significant Black population until the labor shortage during World War 2. But Oregon most definitely was a class society, with the Timber Barons and real estate speculators on one end, and those hapless people living short and brutal lives in the timber camps or working in the mills on the toxic Willamette River on the other. And were there police? You bet. What were they doing? They were attacking anyone trying to organize any kind of serious resistance against the savagely unequal and exploitative status quo.

The police beat people with truncheons in Portland for speaking on the sidewalk. They savagely assaulted people for marching on the streets. They did their best, on a city level and ultimately, with the formation of the national police force known as the FBI in the early twentieth century, on a national level, to destroy the radical labor movement. This was their first and primary enemy. They lynched union organizers, hanging them under bridges. They fired into crowds of protesters, killing many, in repeated cases across the country. The paramilitary, anti-union and virulently racist American Legion burned down union halls in Portland and across this country.

And did everyone among the working class in Portland and other cities in the US take all this lying down? No, some did not. They fought back. The Industrial Workers of the World organized campaigns of resistance. Not just organizing workplaces, publishing newspapers and carrying out free speech campaigns, but they organized riot squads. These brave fighters for this proudly, self-consciously intersectional union movement physically attacked boat loads of scab workers on the Willamette, and drove them out of the city. They physically attacked the railroad bulls who had been constantly beating and intimidating organizers who traveled by hopping freight trains, in order to get the bulls to back off.

A lot has changed over the intervening century since those times, of course. The country now is more unequal than it has been since that period, but the labor movement is anemic, and doesn’t have any riot squads anymore. After destroying the radical labor movement with a concerted campaign of terror, arson, mass arrests and deportations a hundred years ago, the FBI moved on to destroy other radical social movements, and they’re still at it today. They love it when members of current social movements or remnants of past social movements, in some cases, argue with each other, and the argument over violence vs. nonviolence, and which forms of oppression social movements should focus on most, and how to have a truly ecumenical social movement, how to make real change – all this is very important, and none of it is new.

In the past few months an uprising began, in Trump’s extremely failed state, in the midst of an out-of-control pandemic, sparked by a classically horrible, racist police murder in Minneapolis.

There have been other horrible, racist police murders captured on film in recent years. ICE has been kidnapping children and never returning them to their parents. A year ago there was a racist massacre committed by a white supremacist in El Paso, with 23 dead. There are, unfortunately, any number of horrendous events that could have set off this uprising, including several other vicious, racist police murders that were committed in the days preceding George Floyd’s murder. It may be that the murder was particularly spectacular in its brutality, but leaving Michael Brown, Jr’s body in the hot sun for hours after he was killed in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014 is offensively gruesome to a possibly similar extent, and then there are those cages they’re putting the children into in Texas.

As supremely horrible as the constant killing of Black people by police is, this reality was not the only relevant context in which to put the uprising that began at the end of May. It also began with mass unemployment and mass uncertainty about the future, where 1 in 4 children in the country are going to bed hungry, with tens of millions of people dependent on unemployment checks that often never arrive or have just been cut off, with tens of millions of renters facing the specter of their own eviction and the evictions of many of their neighbors. The society was in multiple states of crisis before the pandemic hit – crises which, as always, have class and race intimately intertwined. If most of those people in Portland facing eviction might be white, it’s only because most of the Black population was already forced to leave the city because of the forces of gentrification represented by people like the mayor, and represented by the last mayor of Portland, not to mention the governor, and the liberal gentrifier-in-chief in the White House prior to the billionaire, during whose tenure our rents in Portland doubled.

The Portland police are, statistically, with the statistics sliced in many ways, one of the most racist, murderous police forces in the United States. But it is also the police force that is presiding over the rapid gentrification of the city, that sweeps the encampments of the evicted, the armed representatives of the corporations and banks increasingly taking over the city, who are always protecting the opposing side in any demonstration anyone has ever been to. They are a violent gang bent on repression in the name of plutocracy. And many people know this – it’s kind of obvious.

So when people accused of being “outside agitators,” but who were somehow simultaneously present in every city in the country at the same time, spent several days smashing up downtown Portland, they were not committing acts of violence. They were destroying corporate property, and property of the forces of state violence. Property of the very corporations, and their armed defenders, who are actively causing such misery, imprisoning us on ridiculous charges, killing us, or “just” making us move back in with our parents or go get a second or a third job, and ruining any hopes that so many of us in this society might have once had for a decent future.

Oh, but you say there was an independent store damaged, too? Advice to the capitalists: if you want people to know you’re an independent business, don’t buy a fancy building in the most expensive part of downtown and call it One World Trade Center. People might mistake you for an evil capitalist, who knows why. In any case, this destruction of corporate property and police stations is what got people’s attention in the first place, along with taking over highways and bridges – not the people standing in parks with signs, making speeches.

And now, with the voices of the wealthy, liberal elite and some of their allies denouncing what they call “violence” and “attempted murder” on the part of the young people intent on liberating this city of its occupying army that they call the Portland Police Bureau: while I don’t speak for the folks who were at the police station in question the other night, the murderers are your police force. This is well documented. The attempted murderers include the yahoo who drove a truck into protesters just, what, two nights ago? The attempted murders are every eviction your thugs carry out and every tent encampment they destroy in the interests of your real estate speculator friends. Any system that does those things is a violent, brutal, murderous system that is desperately crying out to be destroyed. If you don’t want your police stations to be burned down, one thing you can do is heed the will of so many of your constituents and abandon them. Hand in your badges and your guns to the Youth Liberation Front or Black Lives Matter, whichever you want. I’m sure no one will need your help figuring out what to do with the building, either — whether it becomes a squat, a garden, or just an artistic pile of burnt-out rubble – which would, in any case, like the broken windows, plywood and spray paint adorning most of downtown, be very good for the property values around here, which are way, way, way too high.

US: Crimes against Humanity at Home and Abroad

Photo Credit:  Albert Eisenstaedt

This month marks the second year since former President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, announced to the world a campaign promoted by a group of Latin American writers and academics to declare August 9 as International Day of US Crimes against Humanity. Appropriately the day is to remember the second nuclear bomb dropped in 1945 on Nagasaki, Japan that came just three days after the first nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Imagine how depraved and cold-blooded the then Democratic President Truman could be to find that he had incinerated 150,000 people on one day and turned right around and did it again in Nagasaki instantly killing 65,000 more human beings. US historical accounts love to turn truth on its head by saying how many lives those nuclear bombs saved when Japan was already defeated before the bombs were dropped after 67 Japanese cities had been leveled to the ground by relentless US aerial fire bombings.

The people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sacrificed as an exclamation point on a proclamation to the world announcing the arrival of the US as the world’s new pre-eminent super power. It also served as an example that the US would commit any murderous crime of any proportion to maintain that imperial position of dominance and they have demonstrated that to be true time and time again. Even now in decline the US has never apologized for this unnecessary crime because that could convey a sign of weakness and a step back from a policy of nuclear blackmail held over the nations of the world. Obama had the chance to do that in the final year of his presidency when he had nothing to lose in a 2016 visit to Hiroshima. Instead of apologizing to the people of Japan or easing tensions in the world Obama, in eloquent fluffy double talk, said, “Mere words cannot give voice to such suffering. But we have a shared responsibility to look directly into the eye of history and ask what we must do differently to curb such suffering again.”

The responsibility for the majority of suffering in the world was then, and continues to be, on an imperialist policy and its inherent neoliberal engine that violently throttles the ability of countries to develop in a way that would bring health and prosperity for the benefit of their majorities. In the end it is an unsustainable system that only benefits a sliver of privileged society.

The US crimes against humanity did not begin or end with the dropping of the nuclear bombs on Japan. As militant civil rights leader Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (formerly H. Rap Brown) pointed out years ago, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” Since its inception the US has been ingrained with a motor force of violent oppression against everyone and every country that stood in the way of its expansion for control of resources and its entitlement to limitless accumulation of vast wealth for a few.

The original thirteen colonies that rebelled against England were not motivated solely by being taxed without representation but more for the restrictions that King George had placed on the unbridled greed of the white settlers to expand and steal the lands of the indigenous nations and communities and to establish a system of slavery which was the main source of capitalist accumulation especially for the southern colonies. At the time of the revolution close to 20% of the population consisted of Black slaves.  Slavery actually ran contrary to British Common Law so the only way the emerging class of landowners in the colonies could flourish was to secede from the British Empire. In doing so it established a pivotal component of the original DNA of the United States; structural racism as a means to justify any level of discrimination and oppression with a deeply embedded belief in the inferiority of any race not white and Christian. The cries of Black Lives Matter in the streets of all the major cities and towns of the US today are a resounding echo of resistance that comes from the plantations and the slave ships that came from Africa.

The genocide of indigenous people in the US was its initial crime wave against humanity as it expanded westward destined by God to exercise their Manifest Destiny. The early history of this country is littered with hundreds of massacres of the original caretakers of the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And that crime continues to this day with Native Americans suffering from the highest infection rates of Covid-19 in the country as a direct result of government neglect and broken treaties that keep the reservations in grinding poverty including in many areas where there is not even running water.

On July 21 Congress passed a $740 billion military appropriations bill, the biggest ever, and $2 billion more than last year. The United States spends more on national defense than the next 11 largest militaries combined.  A well intended but feeble attempt by sections of the Democratic Party to cut 10% of the budget to go to health and human services failed because ultimately funding the 800 US military installations that occupy territory in more than 70 countries around the world takes precedence over something so basic and human as subsidized food programs. Meanwhile approximately 20% of the families in this country are struggling to obtain nutritious food every day just as one example of the growing social and health needs.

Wars and occupations are expensive and that money goes right down the drain. It does not recycle through the economy; rather it is equipment and operations meant to destroy and terrorize, and the only part of it that is reused is the militarization of police forces in the US who are geared out in advanced equipment for the wars at home not even normally seen in theaters of war abroad.

When Obama took over from Bush junior he vowed to end the war in Afghanistan and instead left office with the unique distinction of having had a war going every day of his 8 years in office. He launched airstrikes or military raids in at least seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan and Trump came in and did not miss a beat and has carried the war of death, destruction and destabilization of Afghanistan into its twentieth year. The Pentagon knows that the days of outright winning a war are over and relies now on hybrid wars that are perhaps even more criminal. It is now wars of attrition with proxy and contract armies, aerial bombardment, sabotage of infrastructure that turns into endless wars, the intent of which is to make sure that a country is imbalanced, exhausted and does not become independent or develop and use its resources for the benefit of its own people.

This, of course, is not the only type of criminal warfare in the Empire’s arsenal. Economic sanctions are just as much a crime against humanity as military attacks. No one should ever forget the 10 years of the US orchestrated UN sanctions against Iraq in the 1990’s that were responsible for the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children.  Primarily through executive order Trump has put some sort of sanctions on around one third of the countries of the world ranging in severity starting with the 60 year old unilateral blockade of Cuba for the crime of insisting on its sovereignty just 90 miles away, to the sanctioning of medicines and food to Venezuela causing the deaths of 40,000 people, the outright stealing of billions of dollars of their assets out of banks, and organizing coup plots against the democratically elected President, Nicolas Maduro.

Now the chickens have come to roost with Trump sending shadowy military units of federal agents into cities like Portland, Seattle and other cities like it was a military invasion of some poor country, barging in uninvited not to bring order and peace but to brutalize, escalate and provoke people in the streets who for months now have been demanding real justice and equality. The combination of the failure of the Trump Administration to confront the pandemic with any sort of will or a national science based plan, the existing economic crisis with its glaring separation of wealth and the endless murdering of people of color as normal police policy has exposed the system like never before. The growing consciousness of a majority of the US population that now seem to be getting that there has to be fundamental change will be the catalyst for real change to happen. It will not come from a government that does not reflect their interests but only through a unity of struggle will we be pointed in a direction that will push US crimes against humanity, at home and abroad, to become a thing of the past.

Free Joy Powell!  America’s Political Prisoner for Fighting Police Brutality

If you protest against police brutality in America, you are definitely going to get brutalized by the police.  And lately, federal marshals, homeland security, ICE officers, and assorted militarized federal goons and thugs will pile on.  If you led a movement against police brutality in Rochester, NY in 2006, like Rev. Joy Powell did, you will be set up on felony burglary and then murder charges, and spend a long time in prison—doing very hard time as a female, African-American, political prisoner.  It’s important to make sure Rev. Powell’s story is out there, because she was in the forefront of the black effort to protest this most lethal form of white supremacy, and as the only political prisoner jailed for directly fighting police brutality, is paying dearly for it.

Joy Powell recently wrote about the killing of George Floyd:

We live in a system which blatantly displays “White Justice and Black Laws” with random killing of Black and Brown people based upon the color of their skin. . . [T]he world is enraged after the traumatic news aired of an unarmed black man named George Floyd being brutally murdered by a Minneapolis officer named Derek Chauvin who strangled him to death as his knee pressed in this unarmed victim’s neck while George was handcuffed on the ground.  This evil and diabolic murderer didn’t treat George Floyd with dignity and humanity. . . [It] has me disgusted and totally vexed.  We’re pushed to the brink and forced to protest.  It’s really happening;  it’s called “CIVIL UNREST”!

Rev. Powell knows all about the lack of dignity and humanity of the police.

Powell is in solitary at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women—harassed by guards, and, typically for prisoners, especially political prisoners, denied medical treatment for diabetes and asthma.  Born in 1962, she grew up in bad conditions in Rochester, NY, and started young, dealing drugs, for which she was jailed at the Albion Prison—where she was raped and then stalked by a corrections officer.  In spite of that trauma, she came out determined to devote her life to advocating for the mentally ill and then organizing protests against violence.  By 2002, this included the lethal violence of the Rochester Police Department.  By then a Pentecostal pastor, Powell organized demonstrations criticizing the police when six people died in police custody and when a man was beaten to death.  The police beat a mentally ill black man to death, and then they “maced, beat with billy clubs, stomped and arrested” those who tried to intervene to prevent his death.  It was all on tape, but not only did the police go unpunished, they were commended by the police department and the mayor.  All this sounds very familiar.   It certainly is to Joy Powell.  She has recently written:  “African-Americans are subjected to the harshest laws. The color of my skin seems to be the only crime:  racial profiling comes to white supremacist minds.”  The harshest punishment was definitely meted out to Powell.

Powell’s activism against police brutality and racism resulted in her being framed for serious crimes.  The Rochester PD had warned her she was a “target.” She was not to get away with speaking out “against corruption, police brutality, and police justifications,” as the Jericho political prisoner organization put it.  She was set up:  falsely charged with burglary in 2006, and convicted—getting 16 years—and then, in 2011, convicted of killing a man back in 1992, given 25 years to life, with no credible evidence and witnesses who later admitted to lying.  She will be eligible for release in 2022.

That is, she will if she survives that long.  It’s been reported that at Bedford Hills Prison, women with corona virus symptoms are housed virtually on top of each other in isolation.  After two weeks, they’re released into the general population.  There’s no widespread testing; each prisoner gets one disposable mask.  At Carswell “Medical” Prison for Women in Ft. Worth, there have been at least 500 cases.  One of the women politicals I’ve written about, Red Fawn Fallis, in for resisting the pipeline poisoning of indigenous lands, has been transferred to Dublin (California).  But fellow Native-American prisoner Andrea Circle Bear was not as fortunate.  She died of the virus at Carswell, after delivering her baby.  Earth Liberation Front (ELF) political transgender Marius Mason was also transferred, to Danbury (Connecticut), but not Aafia Siddiqui.  Siddiqui is a victim of horrific injustice, tortured as an alleged Muslim activist, and is still at Carswell, serving her 86-year sentence as a “terrorist.”  All political prisoners should immediately be released.

As Joy Powell said in her recent statement on Floyd’s murder:  “My people came here in shackles and chains, yet nothing has changed.  It remains the same. . .  They maced a 9-year-old girl and busted a 75-year-old man’s head open in Buffalo.”  In Powell’s own Rochester NY, her struggle continues and the response is still brutality.  In July of 2018, 16 people were arrested at a Black Lives Matter Rochester march.  The marchers were met by Rochester riot police with “guns, batons, and helicopters” and with no mainstream press coverage.  In June of this year, after yet another violent police response to their George Floyd rally, the Rochester BLM released a statement criticizing the RPD’s “disregard for our basic humanity” and insisting the city of Rochester must “divest from police and invest in our communities.”  The dissent goes on and so do brutal police riots.

As of the end of June, at least 10,000 protesters have been arrested.  And as ever, police certainly do not spare women when it comes to their brutality—many, many videos can be seen online where women are knocked down, held down, maced at close range—very young women and women from the Wall of Moms in Portland.  And also as ever, black women can count on special attention from police as they defiantly protest against faceless, heavily armed storm troopers.  In early July, in Des Moines, protest organizer and African-American Jasmine Johnson, 19, was charged with “criminal mischief.”  She told of two officers holding her handcuffed arms while she said to them:  “Let go.  I have handcuffs on.  I can’t do anything.  You’re holding me too tight and it hurts.  Let go of me!”  According to Des Moines’ BLM, law enforcement “became violent” at that demonstration.  They tackled a woman, while other protesters tried to push away the cops.  And they put two black women in chokeholds—one of them was then slammed up against the side of a van, causing her injury.  Such police violence is way too common.

Another egregious example is the experience of Miracle Boyd, a black 18-year-old activist, a recent high school graduate, who is an organizer for Chicago’s Good Kids Mad City.  She advocates defunding the police and using the money to help black and Latinx communities.  She has also worked against gun violence and poverty.  On July 20th she was filming the cops’ violence at a rally to protest the Christopher Columbus statue.  She was filmed when she was punched in the face by an officer—the blow knocking out several of her front teeth.  She’d been recording the violence around her where the CPD struck at least 32 people with their batons, some on the ground when being hit.  After the incident she got hate mail, racist messages and threats, all of which blamed her and thought she deserved to be punched.  Boyd said, at a news conference, that she was attacked by the CPD, “who value a supremacist statue over my life, safety and well-being.”  Her lawyer, Sheila Bedi, a law professor from Northwestern, says the officer was using “lethal force” illegally.  They want him fired, and Boyd is bringing a civil lawsuit.  The social media visibility of the incident, as with other filmed violent incidents, means that perhaps at least some of these police crimes might face punishment.

The Black struggle against the lethal force unleashed by white supremacy to keep them in line dates back to slave patrols, but in terms of more recent movements, the Black Panther Party was very important, and very dangerous as far as the government was concerned.  The Black Panthers, begun in 1966 (over 50 years ago!), demanded an end to police brutality and had armed patrols to ensure it.  According to the BPP’s Safiya Bukhari (another female political prisoner), the Panthers’ “10 Points” featured “an end to police brutality and murder of blacks” and “black men freed from jails.”  The US systemic white supremacist government has not lost that fight yet.  Famed political prisoner—until she escaped to Cuba—Assata Shakur, member of the BPP and its underground military wing, the Black Liberation Army, clearly saw that their enemy was, as Shakur said in her Autobiography (1984), “the capitalistic, imperialistic oppressors.”

The Panthers put their analysis in the global context of American imperialism abroad.  Truths about capitalism and imperialism cannot be admitted by the US, because of the necessity of maintaining the Big Lie of America personifying freedom, equality and democracy.  So when Julian Assange tore back the curtain to reveal the true nature of the US war to “help” the people of Iraq with the revelation of the “collateral damage” tape, it had to be quickly contained and those responsible for the truth-telling harshly punished.   Similarly, when the tape of George Floyd’s murder was widely broadcasted, the corporate government and media tried to contain and co-opt the horrible truth of unchecked police violence, and has now moved to forcibly suppress the anti-racist/anti-government protesters.

As Joy Powell puts it:  “Unity, shame and fear, has moved in weeks what centuries couldn’t.  Acknowledgement is power.”  There’s hope in that recognition.  Assata Shakur talked of “political, social and economic oppression” of black people.  And then “where there is oppression, there will be resistance.”  So many black women political prisoners have fought white racism—from anarchist Lucy Parsons in the 1870s, to Communist Claudia Jones in the 1950s, and SNCC’s Diane Nash, MOVE’s Janine and Janet Africa and the Black Panther women of the 1960s and 70s—and now for BLM.  BLM’s politicals include the jailed (in 2016) Jasmine Richards from Pasadena, and Sandra Bland, who was quite possibly murdered in a Texas jail in 2015. All political prisoners must be freed—this is even more urgent as prisoners confront the corona virus.

And Rev. Joy Powell, jailed for exposing police brutality, is one who should be released.  It was good to see that the Black is Back Coalition, in advertising their August conference, pictured Joy Powell with Mumia Jamal, Sundiata Acoli and Mutulu Shakur; she was there with all the black male political prisoners, many in jail since the age of the Black Panthers. The Coalition argues that during this latest uprising, it would be a good time to free all these prisoners.  Joy Powell’s statement on the uprising is moving:  “We need love, peace and the police abuse to cease! . . . THE GIG IS UP IN 2020, like thunder we sing!  No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police!”  She wants to be free—to have justice.  She wonders—as do the protesters in Seattle, Portland, NYC, Des Moines and Rochester—“why can’t I exercise my first amendment right of ’free speech’?”  In Powell’s case, she wants to exercise her right “without being set-up, and beaten, with trumped-up charges, a couple of wrongful convictions and a 6’ by 8’cell.”  She’s the only political prisoner jailed directly for fighting police brutality.  Free Joy Powell!

Human Rights Defenders: Palestinian Eyewitness Testimony of the Execution of Abdul Fattah al-Sharif by Israeli Soldier, Elor Azaria

As illegal Jewish settlers increase their attacks on Palestinian civilians in the occupied city of Al Khalil (Hebron), the people of the Palestinian city continue to mount a campaign of popular resistance.

One of the channels of resistance is Human Rights Defenders, “a grass-roots, non-partisan Palestinian organization, working to support nonviolent popular resistance through popular direct action and documentation of human rights violations committed by the Occupation.”

To understand the situation in Hebron better, I spoke to Badee Dwaik, head of ‘Human Rights Defenders’, Raghad Neiroukh, a journalist, and Flora Thomas, a British solidarity activist.

The conversation included another member of HRD, Imad Abu Shamsiyah, the courageous activist who filmed the murder of a Palestinian young man, Abdul Fattah al-Sharif.

On March 24, 2016, Israeli army medic, Elor Azaria, killed al-Sharif in cold blood in Hebron. The Israeli army later claimed that al-Sharif, and another Palestinian, tried to stab an Israeli soldier.

The murder was rightly dubbed ‘extrajudicial execution’ by human rights organizations. Under international pressure, Israel tried Azaria in court, sentencing him to eighteen months’ imprisonment, but eventually released him fourteen months later, to be received as a hero by many Israeli politicians, his family and ordinary people.

I asked Abu Shamsiyah about the events that took place on that day, when he had personally witnessed and filmed the execution of the Palestinian young man.

“It was about 8 o’clock in the morning and I was having coffee with my wife. I heard the sound of shooting outside, very close to my house,” Abu Shamsiyah began.

“I immediately went out to see what was going on, and my wife followed me. She brought the camera with her.

“I found out that a person was lying in the street. He was wearing a black t-shirt and trousers.”

“I saw that there was also another person on the ground. I moved my camera to capture him on film and noticed that he was bleeding from his face.”

“I observed a few Israeli soldiers approaching one of the people on the ground; they were very close to me.”

“I realized that Abdul Fattah al-Sharif was a Palestinian only when I saw an Israeli soldier kicking him.”

“When the Israeli soldier kicked him, al-Sharif moved both of his legs and his hands; and I captured this with my camera.”

“At that moment, my wife started shouting, saying: ‘Haram, haram,’ and tried to help the wounded young man.”

“When the soldiers heard her screams, they noticed our presence in the street. So they forced us to leave the street; they chased us away.”

“I went home but I began to think of another way to continue filming. I climbed on to the roof of a neighbor’s house and resumed filming the execution.”

“I saw an Israeli ambulance arriving in the area, but it didn’t go towards al-Sharif; instead, it went towards the other person who was still lying on the ground. Only then, I realized that the other person was, in fact, an Israeli soldier.”

“So I zoomed in the camera to capture a better image of the soldier, who (looked as if) slightly injured. The ambulance gave him first aid and treated him, while they denied any treatment to al-Sharif and the other wounded Palestinian.”

“They carried the Israeli soldier into the ambulance; I zoomed in again, and he was already standing; as I said before, he was (clearly) only slightly injured.”

“The ambulance began to turn around to leave the area. It was then that I heard the sound of one of the soldiers loading his gun. He got closer and closer to where al-Sharif was (still lying down). When he was about one meter away, he pointed the gun at al-Sharif’s head.”

“Al-Sharif did not pose any threat to the soldier, whose name was revealed later in the media to be Elor Azaria. It was Azaria who shot the wounded Palestinian in the head.”

“I was still filming, and one of the Jewish settlers, who noticed me, told the soldiers about me. One of the soldiers turned towards me and ordered me to leave the area, but I was already leaving because I had filmed the entire scene.”

“I immediately went to the ‘Human Rights Defenders’, where I uploaded the video and many people watched it.”

“Israeli soldiers kill Palestinians in cold blood, while accusing Palestinians of trying to stab soldiers.”

Following the incident and, throughout Azaria’s trial, Abu Shamsiyah and his family experienced much harassment by the Israeli army for revealing the truth that Israel wishes to keep hidden: the brutality of its soldiers, and the intrinsic relationship between the occupation army and the illegal Jewish settlers.

Speaking to Abu Shamsiyah four years after the tragic death of al-Sharif, the Palestinian activist remains steadfast in his belief that the ongoing Israeli human rights violations must be exposed. His voice conveys determination, not hesitation nor fear.

‘Human Rights Defenders’, like many other Palestinian groups, continues to channel and guide the popular resistance of the Palestinian people in Hebron and many towns and villages across Palestine. They are a testament to the resolve of Palestinian society – brave, steadfast and unbroken.

All Confusion and Contradictions in Trump’s Apocalyptic America

In front of White House

Americans are angry. I suspected they would be, but I got confirmation that they are, all over the place: in Miami, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Minneapolis, New York, and Boston. Basically, everywhere I went, while “taking pulse and temperature” of this country where I used to live, cumulatively, for more than a decade, I felt frustration and bewilderment.

“What is your job?” Shouted an African-American lady, right in the middle of the Union Station in the nation’s capital. Obviously, it was a rhetorical question, as she almost immediately answered her own query: “There are no jobs!”

Mr. Floyd got murdered by perverse, sadistic police officers. The economy is collapsing, at least for the poor and the middle class. The COVID-19 pandemic is like a rollercoaster, up and down, up and down, with no end in sight.

People are confused, while the government is increasingly aggressive. Much of the so-called “progressive media” is suddenly not behaving progressively at all. Racism is sometimes fought against with brand new types of racism. Anti-racist movements get periodically infiltrated by the extreme right-wing groups, as I witnessed in Minneapolis.

The U.S. government is basically confronting countries like China, Venezuela, Russia and Iran. Not just verbally, but militarily. And the reason why our world is not in the middle of WWIII, yet, is because of tremendous restrain and wisdom of the U.S. adversaries.

*****

At home, no jobs, no coherent policy on how to fight against the COVID-19; no national unity in the moment of disaster.

What I have been witnessing so far were some jerky, inconsistent moves on the part of the governments (the federal and the state ones), as well as the ensuing confusion, complimented by half-hearted, and patchy solutions. Quite the opposite of what I experienced in Asia, be it in socialist China and Vietnam, but also in the far from the socialist nations such as Thailand, South Korea, the Philippines.

Just a quick reality check, and it becomes clear that the U.S. system already failed, squarely and patently: 30 million people out of jobs since the pandemic began. Three million infected, and probably, by now, much more. Over 130.000 U.S. citizens lost their lives. Of course, it all depends on how the total number of victims is calculated. Still, no matter how it is done, even if the lowest numbers are correct, the United States is the most affected country on Earth, which is an absolute shame, considering that it is still one of the richest.

The Trump Administration is, of course, aware of all this, and just a few months before the Presidential elections, it is desperately searching for someone else to blame for this enormous national disaster. The President and his men are frantically pointing fingers in all directions: from China (P.R.C.) to the World Health Organization (WHO). From the Communist Party of China, from President Maduro to the U.S. state governors and those very few “disobedient” members of the mass media who still dare, at least occasionally, to challenge the official narrative.

Conspiracy theories are abundant. Demonstrations and protests are taking place all over the nation. In New York City, the murder rate is up. Sirens are howling. People are uttering clichés. “Follow the money,” I hear everywhere.

Who is to blame? Inept regime? Monstrous outdated capitalism? Corporatism? Shitty education system? People don’t now. While ‘false prophets’ are thriving.

Government, mass media, as well as a great majority of the so-called ‘progressive’ media (do not confuse it with left-wing media, which hardly exists in the United States, anymore), are blaming socialist China, as they are blaming Russia, Iran, and other independent-minded countries.

*****

This is clearly a political fight. The pandemic is there, of course, but for the White House, it is nothing else other than background noise and stench. On all fronts, the U.S. regime is fighting for its survival. Trump is clashing with various foreign countries, those which have a real, left-wing ideology.

Much is at stake. The survival of the entire repulsive system is now in question. If this terrible scheme collapsed, the whole world would rejoice; it would benefit. But the majority of North Americans would lose. Even those who like to paint themselves as ‘progressives’ or ‘different’ or “also victims”. And so, there are thousands of conspiracies aimed at discrediting the fury which followed the killing of Mr. Floyd. There are countless theories about the origins of the pandemic, as well as its management, or, more precisely, mismanagement.

For both the Trump and his Democratic Party opponents, it is now absolutely essential to discredit morally and socially much more successful countries like China, Russia, even Cuba.

Monstrous propaganda tsunami has been unleashed in the United States, but also the U.K. It is unprecedented and overwhelming. Alternative voices are silenced. Censorship, even amongst the so-called ‘alternative’ Western publications, is becoming bulletproof. And it all happened literally overnight. While my essays used to be reprinted just 2-3 months ago by at least 20 major outlets in the United States and Canada, now it is at most five which dare to publish me. My internationalist, unconditionally left-wing angle did not change at all. But true colors of the U.S. and Canadian “progressive” and “independent” media got exposed. Simultaneously, my work has been gaining great support in non-Western countries. This says a lot about the situation!

Back to Trump. He is attacking foreign countries, horrified that people could notice how optimistic and compassionate some other nations are. And how nihilist, over-rated, empty and depressing is the United States.

He is also antagonizing those who are now bringing down statues of Western bigots, genocidal cadres, slave owners, and conquerors.

He is clearly soiling his pants.

In the same breath he is smearing the health officials, who dare to paint bleak (read: realistic) picture, and urging him to put people’s interests above those of the economy, particularly the private sector.

On July 8, 2020, even pro-regime CNN reported:

Five months into a still-raging pandemic that has killed more than 130,000 Americans, the long-simmering tensions between President Donald Trump and the health experts who staff his government have escalated from private griping to shrugging disagreement to now open dispute.

The result, people at those agencies say, is a new sense of demoralization as they continue their attempts to fight a once-in-a-generation health crisis while simultaneously navigating the whims of a President who has shown little interest or understanding of their work.

That Trump does not trust nor follow the advice of experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease specialist, is hardly new. The President has not attended a meeting of his coronavirus task force in months, and recently its sessions have been held outside the White House, including on Wednesday at the headquarters of the Department of Education. Fauci was told to participate in the meeting remotely by videoconference, preventing him from participating in a midday task force press briefing…

Precisely, nothing new. Except that even CNN, one of the mouthpieces of the empire, is finally noticing!

*****

It is all about spreading nihilism, on both domestic and foreign fronts.

China is getting attacked in the most extreme, unreasonable, and even bizarre fashion by both President Trump and his team, but also by their adversaries. After winning the fight against the COVID-19, the P.R.C. has been blamed for virtually everything, from withholding data, negatively influencing the WHO, and even for the manufacturing of the virus in one of its laboratories based in Wuhan, and then spreading it to all corners of the world. “Chinese Virus,” the White House has been calling it, while no one knows yet for certain, where it actually really originated. Naturally, Beijing and entire China have been indignant.

None of the U.S. government accusations have been proven. Allegations after allegations have been ridiculed by the U.S. medical, scientific community, and often by the academia. But the administration already went too far, and it is clearly unable to stop its own attacks anymore. Trump ignores ridicule, hoping that his macho, vulgar and provincial rhetoric would appeal to certain group of uneducated, extremist part of the population, and win him the second term.

Even some individuals related to the U.S. diplomatic community in China, such as Tzu-i Chuang Mullinax and Roseanne Freese, are voicing disagreement with the official White House narrative.

Analyzing the uprising which followed the murder of Mr. George Floyd (who happened to be COVID-19 positive), I spoke to dozens of Americans of all races and social standings. The majority of them have been outraged by the government’s handling of the epidemy and the unrest. Not one person that I spoke to actually blamed China or any other foreign country, directly, for the dire situation in the United States.

Minneappolis burning

Anti-Chinese rhetoric is clearly a political football played by both Republicans and Democrats. The same goes for the anti-Russian sentiments, including belittlement of the Russian foreign aid sent to the United States, at the very beginning of the pandemic.

The strategy of the U.S. government is simple; some would say primitive: “Whatever terrible is happening inside the country, just counterattack and blame everything on the political opponents, and if you can’t, attack the foreign countries; China, Russia, even Iran or Venezuela. Or smear the United Nations agencies, like WHO.  Guide insults to all corners of the world, but also don’t forget to send the battleships.”

There is much that is going wrong in the U.S., very, very wrong. Tents with homeless people could now be spotted all around the downtown Washington D.C. The White House has been converted into a fortress. And while millions of American people are marching, protesting against the endemic racism and discrimination, the K.K.K. and its affiliates like Proud Boys, are burning cities and infiltrating legitimate anti-racist demonstrations (something that I will soon be addressing in my essays).

Images are apocalyptic. The situation is explosive.

This is one of the most dangerous moments in world history. But, shockingly, not much is being written about the urgency and threat which our planet is facing!

• Originally published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook (a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences)

Revolutionary Group Dynamics: How Minorities Influence Majorities, from Group Complicity to Collective Creativity

Orientation

From the macro to the micro

When it comes to stereotypes of the masses of revolutionary people, the masses have built barricades that look like forts which they hide behind, armed with guns. But if we trace the behavior of masses back far enough to pre-revolutionary situations, masses become groups. In order to understand how masses of people become a revolutionary force, we first need to understand how groups, small groups of ten to twenty people, become revolutionary. By revolutionary I don’t mean that groups consciously advocate for revolutions. By revolutionary I mean that people in the group understand the science of how minorities in groups can influence majorities to change, no matter what the contents.

Who is to blame when groups go wrong?

The most typical responses people give when groups fail to meet their expectations are to:

  • blame the leaders;
  • blame stigmatized, obnoxious individuals.

For example, at a staff meeting, staff members will say to each other “the leader should have done this or they should have done that”. Psychological analysis of the leaders is in no short supply. The leader is a narcissist, a control freak, an alcoholic or a dictator. Another common strategy is to target members of the group that are stigmatized in some way. They are deemed as recalcitrant, needy, talk too much, talk too little, don’t listen, are unrealistic, are cynical, depressed or inarticulate. Usually people will say to each other, “if only the stigmatized people would get fired, transferred, get sick or find another job, everything would be fine”. But everything wouldn’t be fine. Most groups will unconsciously produce the following to do the work for the majority of people:

  • more bad leaders;
  • more stigmatized individuals.

From by-standing to complicity

However, there is a third possibility. Let us assume a group has sixteen people. It has two leaders and two particularly obnoxious members, leaving twelve other members. How is it that two leaders and two stigmatized individuals can control twelve other people? Why don’t those twelve other people take control of the situation, challenge the leaders’ faults publicly and shut up the obnoxious individuals? After all, its twelve against four. Why don’t those who appear as bystanders jump into the fray? Why are they putting up with a miserable situation? That is one of the subjects of this article.

Groups of human beings are not machines. They are composed of individuals with free will who can coordinate, cooperate, obey or leave a group. Because groups become “alive” as they function over time, the truth is that in groups, there are no neutral bystanders. Every member of the group is either actively or passively producing expansion or contraction of the group’s power. Those twelve people are complicit in whatever happens in the group, for better or for worse.

My experiences in groups:

Blaming leaders and stigmatized individuals

I have been in groups most of my life. From the age of seven to the age of twenty I played in pick-up baseball and football games. During the same window of time, I endured 12 years of Catholic education in grammar and high school where I was taught by nuns and brothers. For the first 13 years of my life I blamed leaders and obnoxious individuals for group problems. My understanding of groups changed when I became involved with radical political groups.

Awakening to complicity

In my twenties I participated in Men’s Liberation Collective, a radical psychiatry group, community and in a council communist political group. In those groups I learned about Wilhelm Reich and his theory of mass complicity.  In my early 40’s I worked as a group counselor for an organization called Men Overcoming Violence. This was a 40-week program which met once a week to help men gain communication skills so as to not resort to battering their partner. I worked in group settings in two half-way houses in San Francisco.  I spent about eight months in what I would now call a cult, a left-wing political psychology group. Beginning in 1989 and for the next 27 years, I taught psychology courses at universities and community colleges, including classes in group dynamics and mass psychology. These classes ranged from eight to 40 students. Throughout those years my appreciation of group complicity was a key to understanding why rebellions in groups don’t occur more often. It was both revealing and frightening.

Theories of groups

Reactionary theories

The earliest years of social psychology in the 2nd half of the 19th century were dominated by political reactionaries who hated groups. Taine, Le Bon and Sighele had never forgotten what the masses did during the French Revolution. For them the whole (the group) was less than the sum of the parts (the individual). In other words, something degenerative happened to individuals when they joined a group. Without any empirical research they characterized groups as childish, criminal, beastly, savage, irrational, impulsive, blood thirsty, primitive, cruel and fickle. Despite the lack of scientific research behind these pronouncements, this stereotype is a staple of mass media today, with the “looting” mantra splashed across the headlines, whenever a natural disaster or a social uprising appears. For them Lord of the Flies depicts what happens in groups without strong leaders.

Leftist theories

At the other extreme on the left, whether they are anarchists, communists or social democrats, they all believed that the working-class in masses was heroic. All workers had to do is was overthrow the capitalists and their kind, gregarious and cooperative tendencies would come to the fore. For them the whole (the group) is more than the sum of its parts (the individuals). Major social change only comes about through mass action. The challenge is to awaken in the masses confidence they have the numbers to take over the world. The problem these leftists were unwilling to face is that workers are conflicted about what to do in a revolutionary situation and they can be turned into fascists with the right kind of political manipulation such as used by Goebbels and Hitler.

Mass complicity theory of Wilhelm Reich

When I was first starting out in the early 1970s on my radical political journey, Wilhelm Reich was required reading for being a situationist communist. I read every book of his that was translated into English. Reich was the only psychologist whose theories were more sexual than Freud’s. He had a theory of character armor which explained that working class people didn’t rebel more because they had character armor in their bodies that prevented them from having good orgasms. For Reich, good revolutionaries were bodily unarmored and had good orgasms. I never had a problem with orgasms, but I investigated Reichian therapy to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I spent three years in Reichian therapy.

Typically, either leftists don’t know about Reich or if they do know about him, they refer to the Mass Psychology of Fascism and then say he went crazy. It’s fair to say that the last fifteen years or so of his life Reich did go around the bend, but he never lost his insight into the mass complicity of the masses in the situations we were in. Reich once said that there never could have been a Hitler if there wasn’t a little bit of Hitler in a whole lot of people.

Reich was at his best at criticizing the masses from a left-wing point of view. He argued the fascist rulers were much smarter than communists because they knew mass psychology. He demonstrated how mass complicity works in his books “Listen Little Man” and “the Murder of Christ“.

How Minorities influence majorities—from complicity to power

Let us return to our group of sixteen people: two leaders, two stigmatized individuals and twelve members who are complicit. In our Men Overcoming Violence group, we taught men communication skills so that they don’t batter their partners. In our group we gave our members an opportunity to shape the direction of the group in terms of when we met and how consecutive the meetings were. Since part of the mission of Men Overcoming Violence was to communicate in a non-violent way, we were open to the men practicing this as group members in our program, not just on their partner.

On one occasion, a group member – I’ll call him Antonio – complained that 40 weeks in a row with no break was too much. Men needed a Saturday off now and then where there was no meeting. For the rest of this article, I will use this example to show how group members moved from passive members who were complicit, to members assuming some power as to what the direction of our group would be.

At the end of our two-hour Saturday meeting we allowed 15 minutes of time for members to meta-communicate about how the meeting went and how the program was going for them. It was here that Antonio first brought up the problem of meeting every single Saturday.  The following italicized headings are the steps necessary by which a minority in a group can impact a majority. When minorities impact and change majorities the group has gone through a revolutionary process.

Perseverance

Antonio made a proposal both to all members of the group and to the group counselors that we should have some breaks between meetings. He made his pitch to a dead silent reception. Mistakenly, Antonio interpreted this as a sign that no one liked his idea. Dejected, he didn’t say any more. But what Antonio didn’t realize was that group silence can mean many things besides rejection. It can mean some members were not paying attention. It can mean they were paying attention but were apathetic and don’t care. It can mean that some members want to think about it. It could also mean they agree with Antonio’s proposal but are afraid to speak about it publicly because they are afraid to speak publicly about anything. They might agree but withhold saying anything about it because that would violate subgroup norms, whether they be race or class customs.

So, the first skill Antonio needed to cultivate in moving the group from complicity to power was perseverance. Antonio had to bring up his proposal more than once. People needed time to get used to it and those who didn’t agree would have time to think about how they could rebut it. If Antonio brought his claim up repeatedly, he gave the message that he was determined, and he was not giving up easily. In private, we counselors encouraged Antonio not to give up and to try to pitch it again, which he did.

Rhetorically compelling

It was not enough that Antonio repeats himself. He had to make his position rhetorically compelling. Aristotle argued that there were four considerations in being rhetorically successful. The claim has to be logical, meaning the person had to have their facts straight and there must be a tight relationship between the facts or the reasons and the claim. The argument also has to come from a reliable source, whether as a primary or secondary source. The third consideration is that the argument was not just rational. It had to have heart and it had to show imagination. In Antonio’s case part of his evidence needs to be something like – he can go to a ballgame with his son on the Saturdays he has off. The last ingredient in being rhetorically compelling is that the claim has to be timely. There has to be a necessity to the claim. There has to be an urgency such that if something is not done now it may be too late. Why is it now or never?

Then the counselors and the rest of the group criticized Antonio’s claim. We told him that the claim had to be specific about how often and in what sequence he expected these breaks to occur. It wouldn’t do to simply say “let’s take a break when the group feels like it”. The breaks needed to be built into our institutional setting. His claim had a pathological (emotional appeal) because he talked about all the places he would go with the time off. His source was good since he was a respected group member who did his work and participated in the program. The timing of the argument was not good. We had only held three meetings, so members had not been ground down by the wear-and-tear of the group in order to make his appeal compelling. Had he brought it up after 10 or 12 meetings in a row, he might have had a better reception.

The rest of the group members and the counselors discussed Antonio’s claim and we decided if we went along with Antonio’s pitch the best time for breaks would be every eight weeks, because that was when we allowed new members to come in. We told the group that if they agreed to take a break it would need to be every eight weeks. However, it wasn’t just the counselors’ decision. It was still up to the group.

Find allies and get them to commit to a public agreement

Even if you persevere and repeat yourself and even if Antonio had followed all four of Aristotle’s criteria of logos, ethos, pathos and kairos, he is only one person in a group of 16. His claim can be dismissed by the group members, whether to themselves privately or to other group members on personal grounds such as these. Antonio is:

  1. heroic but unrealistic;
  2. a rebel and a troublemaker;
  3. a victim of a psychological disorder and has a need for attention; and,
  4. just an extroverted personality.

Antonio needed to find allies. How did he do this? He got the phone numbers of the members whom he senses might be sympathetic to his claim because of what he knows about them and talks to them between the meetings. It is not enough to get them to be sympathetic over the phone or privately in person. It has to be public. I remember as an adjunct faculty member, I would bring things up at faculty meetings. Other teachers would listen politely, but nothing would be said or done. Then after the meeting, a couple of adjuncts would come up to me and say how much they appreciated what I said. I thought to myself “why in the world didn’t you say anything when I was making an appeal in the meeting”? Finding allies to change the direction of a group means asking them to make a commitment to speaking in public before and after you make your pitch. It means verbalizing their own reasons at the time.

How many allies do you need? It is a mistake to think you have to convince all or even half the members. You just need to have enough to make an impression that you are a political force within the group to be reckoned with. What that means is that the majority will be affected by your presence and your views will be taken into consideration even if they are not discussed. In a group of sixteen, three or four people is enough. In other words, about 20-25% of the group.

Anticipate the objections of the majority and rebut them

Between meetings, Antonio drew up on paper three columns. In the first column he put the names of the people he thought would be opposed to his proposal. In the middle column, in bullet form, he listed their objections. In the last column he rebutted their objections, as much as he could, and committed his arguments to memory. When he made his proposal at the next meeting, he said something like, “I know there are significant objections to my proposal. Some of you may feel that it drags the program out even longer than it already is. Others may feel like having two weeks off with no group structure might cause a relapse to being violent. Well, I thought about that and here is my answer”.

He didn’t name the people who might object, he simply named the objections. That kept those members from being put on the spot and less likely to be defensive. He didn’t pull out the paper and read it. That would be perceived as being too lawyer-like and might be a turn-off. He also didn’t name every possible objective because that would be overkill. He could save those objections if he needed them for another round of group discussion. Anticipating objections and rebutting them like this will build up his credibility: “Wow, Antonio has really thought about this. He’s done his homework. He’s serious” these members might think to themselves.

Be Flexible

None of these group members will want to follow the proposal of someone who seems rigid or fanatical. Even if Antonio is right about everything, it is better to intentionally give ground on the little issues. People are far more willing to work with you, if they feel that you are dialectical and can go back and forth on an issue and concede points. Antonio did do this and we think this is one reason he was able to keep his allies.

Present your message so that it appeals to the whole of the group

As much as possible, try to make the claim as an appeal to the interests of the group as a whole. In Antonio’s case, he suggested to one of the counselors that his proposal would be welcomed by counselors so they would get a break too. He also argued that this would be better for the men who enrolled in the problem long after Antonio’s cohort graduated. Of course, there is Antonio’s self-interest involved. However, as much as possible, if there is some part of the proposal that appeals to wider interests, it might have a better chance of passing.

Seize spatial seating advantages on the day of the meeting

It is very important that if there is any flexibility in the seating arrangements that Antonio take full advantage of them. If the tradition of the group is for everyone to be seated (including the counselors) it will be too much for Antonio to stand to make his proposal. But if it is possible to stand without it seeming weird as the act of standing commands more authority than sitting.  In addition, Antonio had three allies. On the day of his presentation he made sure that each of his allies were evenly spread out so that they could see each other and interpret others’ body language. Also, if they were spread out, they appear to be independent voices rather than as part of a clique. One ally spoke before Antonio, and one spoke after Antonio. They all gave different reasons for wanting the break every eight weeks.

Present your message so that is part of a plan

Since the counselors already suggested that they would go along with Antonio if the breaks were every eight weeks, the structure was set. However, he still had to convince the rest of the group. Would the eight-week break proposal go into effect immediately or would it be gradual? Since some group members were not convinced that extending their program an extra five weeks was a good idea, Antonio suggested that they try two breaks in the next 16 weeks and then revisit the proposal.

Having a plan also means having an articulated division of labor as to who will do the work, a timeline for each step to be taken as well as some measurable indicator of whether the proposal was a success or not. Antonio and his allies agreed to write up a questionnaire at the end of the 40-week program and ask members on a scale of one to ten how successful the proposal was. The questionnaire also included essay questions, asking what group members did with their time off, and whether they had any violent incidents during that time.

Meta-communicate: reveal the steps you took to move the majority to other group members

Antonio’s methods should not be kept secret by Antonio and his allies. Antonio should reveal all the steps in this article to his fellow group members so they too could try to influence the majority of the group on other issues. In this way, the twelve formerly complicit members of the group move to become active minorities so that the group maximizes its collective creativity by making all members capable of transforming the group. In this way, leaders would be reduced in stature because the seat of creativity will be the group rather than the leaders.

Conclusion

All members of a group are always co-responsible for what happens to it, whether we like it or not. Most of the time most members in groups are dragged along in the galleys of groups unaware of what is happening, stupidly blaming leadership or annoying individuals for what happens in the group while doing nothing about it. But it doesn’t have to be this, as this article tries to demonstrate. Complicit members can become active minorities who demand that majorities come to life and maximize their resource basis through collective creativity of the group. To do that is to revolutionize group dynamics.

• First published in Planning Beyond Capitalism

“Optimism of the Will”: Palestinian Freedom is Possible Now

In a recent TV discussion, a respected pro-Palestine journalist declared that if any positive change or transformation ever occurs in the tragic Palestinian saga, it would not happen now, but that it would take a whole new generation to bring about such a paradigm shift.

As innocuous as the declaration may have seemed, it troubled me greatly.

I have heard this line over and over again, often reiterated by well-intentioned intellectuals, whose experiences in researching and writing on the so-called ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict’ may have driven some of them to pessimism, if not despair.

The ‘hopelessness discourse’ is, perhaps, understandable if one is to examine the off-putting, tangible reality on the ground: the ever-entrenched Israeli occupation, the planned annexation of occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, the shameful Arab normalization with Israel, the deafening silence of the international community and the futility of the quisling Palestinian leadership.

Subscribing to this logic is not only self-defeating, but ahistorical as well. Throughout history, every great achievement that brought about freedom and a measure of justice to any nation was realized despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

Indeed, who would have thought that the Algerian people were capable of defeating French colonialism when their tools of liberation were so rudimentary as compared with the awesome powers of the French military and its allies?

The same notion applies to many other modern historic experiences, from Vietnam to South Africa and from India to Cuba.

Palestine is not the exception.

However, the ‘hopelessness discourse’ is not as innocent as it may seem. It is propelled by the persisting failure to appreciate the centrality of the Palestinian people – or any other people, for that matter – in their own history. Additionally, it assumes that the Palestinian people are, frankly, ineffectual.

Interestingly, when many nations were still grappling with the concept of national identity, the Palestinian people had already developed a refined sense of modern collective identity and national consciousness. General mass strikes and civil disobedience challenging British imperialism and Zionist settlements in Palestine began nearly a century ago, culminating in the six-month-long general strike of 1936.

Since then, popular resistance, which is linked to a defined sense of national identity, has been a staple in Palestinian history. It was a prominent feature of the First Intifada, the popular uprising of 1987.

The fact that the Palestinian homeland was lost, despite the heightened consciousness of the Palestinian masses at the time, is hardly indicative of the Palestinian people’s ability to affect political outcomes.

Time and again, Palestinians have rebelled and, with each rebellion, they forced all parties, including Israel and the United States, to reconsider and overhaul their strategies altogether.

A case in point was the First Intifada.

When, on December 8, 1987, thousands took to the streets of the Jabaliya Refugee Camp, the Gaza Strip’s most crowded and poorest camp, the timing and the location of their uprising was most fitting, rational and necessary. Earlier that day, an Israeli truck had run over a convoy of cars carrying Palestinian laborers, killing four young men. For Jabaliya, as with the rest of Palestine, it was the last straw.

Responding to the chants and pleas of the Jabaliya mourners, Gaza was, within days, the breeding ground for a real revolution that was self-propelled and unwavering. The chants of Palestinians in the Strip were answered in the West Bank, and echoed just as loudly in Palestinian towns, including those located in Israel.

The contagious energy was emblematic of children and young adults wanting to reclaim the identities of their ancestors, which had been horribly disfigured and divided among regions, countries and refugee camps.

The Intifada — literally meaning the “shake off” — sent a powerful message to Israel that the Palestinian people are alive, and are still capable of upsetting all of Israel’s colonial endeavors. The Intifada also confronted the failure of the Palestinian and Arab leaderships, as they persisted in their factional and self-seeking politics.

In fact, the Madrid Talks in 1991 between Palestinians and Israelis were meant as an Israeli – American political compromise, aimed at ending the Intifada in exchange for acknowledging the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a representative of the Palestinian people.

The Oslo Accords, signed by Yasser Arafat and Israel in 1993, squandered the gains of the Intifada and, ultimately, replaced the more democratically representative PLO with the corrupt Palestinian Authority.

But even then, the Palestinian people kept coming back, reclaiming, in their own way, their importance and centrality in the struggle. Gaza’s Great March of Return is but one of many such people-driven initiatives.

Palestine’s biggest challenge in the movement is not the failure of the people to register as a factor in the liberation of their own land, but their quisling leadership’s inability to appreciate the immense potential of harnessing the energies of Palestinians everywhere to stage a focused and strategic, anti-colonial, liberation campaign.

This lack of vision dates back to the late 1970s, when the Palestinian leadership labored to engage politically with Washington and other Western capitals, culminating in the pervading sense that, without US political validation, Palestinians would always remain marginal and irrelevant.

The Palestinian leadership’s calculations at the time proved disastrous. After decades of catering to Washington’s expectations and diktats, the Palestinian leadership, ultimately, returned empty-handed, as the current Donald Trump administration’s ‘Deal of the Century’ has finally proven.

I have recently spoken with two young Palestinian female activists: one is based in besieged Gaza and the other in the city of Seattle. Their forward-thinking discourse is, itself, a testament that the pessimism of some intellectuals does not define the thinking of this young Palestinian generation, and there would be no need to dismiss the collective efforts of this budding generation in anticipation of the rise of a ‘better’ one.

Malak Shalabi, a Seattle-based law student, does not convey a message of despair, but that of action. “It’s really important for every Palestinian and every human rights activist to champion the Palestinian cause regardless of where they are, and it is important especially now, ” she told me.

“There are currently waves of social movements here in the United States, around civil rights for Black people and other issues that are (becoming) pressing topics — equality and justice — in the mainstream. As Palestinians, it’s important that we (take the Palestinian cause) to the mainstream as well,” she added.

“There is a lot of work happening among Palestinian activists here in the United States, on the ground, at a social, economic, and political level, to make sure that the link between Black Lives Matter and Palestine happens,” she added.

On her part, Wafaa Aludaini in Gaza spoke about her organization’s – 16th October Group – relentless efforts to engage communities all over the world, to play their part in exposing Israeli war crimes in Gaza and ending the protracted siege on the impoverished Strip.

“Palestinians and pro-Palestinian activists outside are important because they make our voices heard outside Palestine, as mainstream media does not report (the truth of) what is taking place here,” she told me.

For these efforts to succeed, “we all need to be united,” she asserted, referring to the Palestinian people at home and in the diaspora, and the entire pro-Palestinian solidarity movement everywhere, as well.

The words of Malak and Wafaa are validated by the growing solidarity with Palestine in the BLM movement, as well as with numerous other justice movements the world over.

On June 28, the UK chapter of the BLM tweeted that it “proudly” stands in solidarity with Palestinians and rejects Israel’s plans to annex large areas of the West Bank.

BLM went further, criticizing British politics for being “gagged of the right to critique Zionism and Israel’s settler-colonial pursuits”.

Repeating the claim that a whole new generation needs to replace the current one for any change to occur in Palestine is an insult – although, at times, unintended – to generations of Palestinians, whose struggle and sacrifices are present in every aspect of Palestinian lives.

Simply because the odds stacked against Palestinian freedom seem too great at the moment, does not justify the discounting of an entire nation, which has lived through many wars, protracted sieges and untold hardship. Moreover, the next generation is but a mere evolution of the consciousness of the current one. They cannot be delinked or analyzed separately.

In his “Prison Notebooks”, anti-fascist intellectual, Antonio Gramsci, coined the term “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

While logical analysis of a situation may lead the intellect to despair, the potential for social and political revolutions and transformations must keep us all motivated to keep the struggle going, no matter the odds.