Archive for the ‘Civil Rights’ Category

Still judged by the color of their skins

January 16, 2017

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech said he hoped that his children would be judged by the content of their characters and not the colors of their skins.

martin.luther.king.jrMore than 53 years later, this is still a dream.

As Michelle Alexander has written, mass incarceration of black Americans, many of them for drug offenses and other victim-less crimes, has provided an excuse to disenfranchise black voters in some states and deprive them of protection of civil rights laws everywhere.

As Greg Palast has documented, Republican state governments systematically cancel black and Hispanic voter registrations for bogus reasons.   And as Black Lives Matter points out, black people are sometimes killed by police or gun-toting whites without justification, with no consequences to the shooter.

And, as I have written before, old-fashioned racial discrimination in jobs and housing, which supposedly was outlawed under the civil rights laws, still exists today.  That is the main subject of this post.

Testers find that sellers, lenders and employers will favor the less qualified white person over the more qualified black person.

With all the talk nowadays of government favoritism toward African-Americans, I don’t think there is any rational white American who would want to trade places with them

Statistical disparities between races may have some non-racist explanation.  But the examples I’m going to mention, and which I listed in a previous post, are set up so as to rule out any non-racist explanation for the biases.

  • A group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania sent out 6,500 letters to professors at the top 250 universities in the USA.  The letters were identical except for the names of signers – Brad Anderson, LaToya Brown, Depak Patel, etc.  The white men got on average a 25 percent better response than white women or blacks, Hispanics or Asians, and that was true even when the professor was female, black, Hispanic or Asian.  Professors at private universities were more biased than those at public universities, the study found; the humanities professors showed the least bias; the business professors the most.
  • A sociologist at Northwestern University sent out four groups of testers in Milwaukee—whites and blacks, some of which listed criminal records on their job applications and some that didn’t, but otherwise were made to be as identical as possible.  The whites with criminal records had a higher chance of success than blacks with clean records.
  • racism-in-a-resume-92ebdafd521c4b23b83023db292f4f40Researchers for Abdul Lateef Jameel Poverty Action Lab sent out nearly 5,000 applications in response to more than 1,300 help-wanted ads.  They were divided into high- and low-quality applications, each with an equal number white- and black-sounding names.   The well-qualified whites got good responses, but the well-qualified blacks got 50 percent fewer.
  • Researchers at Harvard Business School found that white hosts were able to charge 12 percent more on average that black hosts for Airbnb rentals for virtually identical properties at similar locations.
  • The Department of Housing and Urban Development sent out 8,000 pairs of testers, one white and one black, Hispanic or Asian, to look for places to rent or buy in 28 cities.   More than half the time, they were treated the same, which is good.   But in many cases, the minority potential renter or buyer was asked to pay more, shown fewer units and/or charged higher fees than the white renter who had come by a few hours before.
  • The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston sent out pairs of testers to buy houses in eastern Massachusetts.  They, too, found that black and Hispanic buyers were on average charged more and offered less than white buyers.

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The day after Christmas

December 26, 2016

When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart.

==Howard Thurman

The Moral Movement in North Carolina

December 23, 2016

I had planned to write a post about the Forward Together Moral Movement in North Carolina, led by the Rev. William J. Barber II, and how the movement brought black and white people together to elect Ray Cooper as a progressive Democratic governor of North Carolina.

I had second thoughts after the Republican majority of the North Carolina state legislature met in emergency session to strip the incoming governor of various powers that the outgoing Gov. Pat McCrory had.

But my final thought was that this was not the end.   In the U.S. political system, there are two forms—money power and people power.   People power wins in the long run so long as the people don’t give up.

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Election 2016 endgame: reflections

November 29, 2016

I have been concerned for years about the rigging of election results, including—but not limited to—voting machine tampering.   That is why I am in favor of an audit and/or recount in the current Presidential election.

Source: NBC News

Source: NBC News

I do not think there is any realistic possibility of changing the announced election results.   This would require the discovery of discrepancies in all three recount states—Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania—large enough to change the result, and all this before the Electoral College meets on Dec. 19.

What I hope will come out of the audit / recount will be an improved process for national elections—at a minimum, a paper record and a routine audit to verify the paper record.

I didn’t vote for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.   I am not pleased that Trump is President, but I am opposed to going to extraordinary lengths to keep him from taking office, such as trying to persuade members of the Electoral College pledged to Trump to violate their pledges.   I am more concerned with the integrity of the process than which of two candidates won.

On the other hand, I do not care at all whether the recount process undermines “confidence” in Trump’s supposed mandate.  Confidence is to be earned, not granted automatically.

∞∞∞

It would be unfortunate if the audit / recount process diverted attention from all the other ways in which the election process is and has been rigged.

Greg Palast

Greg Palast

An investigative reporter named Greg Palast has been reporting on vote rigging for years.  One method is the infamous CrossCheck system, whereby somebody who has approximately the same name as somebody in another state is assumed to be the same person, and the name is removed.

We the people don’t know if voting machines were tampered with.  We do know about CrossCheck.

As Palast notes, the names that are checked are almost always common last names of African-Americans or Hispanics.  Here’s how he said CrossCheck affected the current election:

Trump victory margin in Michigan: 13,107

Michigan Crosscheck purge list: 449,922

Trump victory margin in Arizona: 85,257

Arizona Crosscheck purge list: 270,824

Trump victory margin in North Carolina: 177,008

North Carolina Crosscheck purge list: 589,393

Source: Greg Palast | Investigative Reporter

It’s too late to give back the voting rights that were stolen in this year’s election.   The best that can be hoped for is to fix things for the future.

It’s too bad that the Obama administration did not see fit to investigate this.   I don’t hope for anything from Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s choice for attorney-general.   Ending this corrupt and illegal system will depend on citizen activists working on the state level.

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Did Trump owe his win to vote machine hacking?

November 21, 2016

Hat tip for the video link to Joseph Cannon.

Donald Trump got more votes than predicted by exit polls.  Was the problem the exit polls?  Or was it hacked electronic voting machines?

We’ve known for a long time that electronic voting machines can be easily hacked.

We know that in 12 states, Trump’s excess votes exceeded the margin of error.  There were four states—North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida—in which the Clinton won the exit poll and Trump won the vote count.  If Trump had not carried those four states, he would have lost.

Is this proof that Trump supporters stole the election?  No, but it is circumstantial evidence that needs to be investigated and explained.  It should not be let drop.

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Time for another Reconstruction?

October 14, 2016

Black people in the South were liberated during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War.   It was followed by a white backlash and the Jim Crow era, in which most of their newly won rights were taken away.

Then came the civil rights era of the 1960s and 1970s, which the Rev. William J. Barber, leader of the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina, calls a second Reconstruction.  Another white backlash attacked the gains from that era.

wbarber-3rdreconstruction978-080708360-4Rev. Mr. Barber says it is time for a third Reconstruction.   Like the first two, he said, it requires fusion politics—blacks and whites working together for the common good.   The backlash succeeds only when they are divided.

To see what he means, take a look at the Constitution of North Carolina, originally drafted in 1868 and retaining much of its original wording.  It is a very progressive document, even by today’s standards.

It states that not all persons created equal and have the right not only to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but to  “the enjoyment of the fruits of their own labor.”

It guarantees free public education as a right.  It states that beneficent provision for the poor, the unfortunate and the orphan is among the first duties of a civilized and a Christian state.   It guarantees all the rights in the U.S. Constitution and eliminates property qualifications for voting.

All these provisions are the result of Reconstruction.  North Carolina’s present Constitution was drafted at a constitutional convention immediately following the Civil War.   The 133 delegates included 15 newly enfranchised African-Americans and 18 Northern white men (so called carpetbaggers).

It was ratified by a popular vote in which 55 percent voted “yes”.   As a result, more African-Americans were elected to public office in North Carolina in the following period than at any time since.

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Moral Mondays and the new fusion politics

October 13, 2016

A Bible-believing black minister in North Carolina is the leader of a new movement called that has brought tens of thousands of people of different races, creeds and backgrounds into the streets in support of social justice.

He is the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, N.C.  Firmly rooted in the African-American church tradition, he brings together people of all races and many creeds.

wbarber-3rdreconstruction978-080708360-4I read about his work in his new book, THE THIRD RECONSTRUCTION: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics and the Rise of a New Social Justice Movement.

He wrote that the histories of Reconstruction following the Civil War and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, which he calls the Second Reconstruction, show that black people achieve their goals only through “fusion politics”—white and black people working together for their mutual benefit.

In 2005, soon after being elected president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, he joined with Al McSurely, an experienced white civil rights activist, to organize a meeting of a broad cross-section of reformers in the state—advocates of education funding, living wage, health care, affordable housing, environmental justice, immigrant justice, criminal justice reform and many others.

He had each group draw up its goals on a big sheet of butcher paper and then, on another sheet, list the obstacles to achieving those goals.

The goals were diverse, but the obstacles were the same—North Carolina’s state government and the corporate interests that controlled it.

This was the birth of a new movement called HKonJ, which stands for Historic Thousands on Jones Street, the location of the state legislature in Raleigh.  Each year they bring together a People’s Assembly, which hears testimony of victims of injustice and speakers about how injustice can be remedied, and then closes with a sermon and prayer.

Then they march on the legislature to make their voices heard.  Because they represent such a large cross-section of North Carolinians, it is hard to dismiss what they say out of prejudice against a particular group.

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Newton Knight and the free state of Jones

September 6, 2016

I read THE FREE STATE OF JONES: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War by Victoria Bynum after seeing the movie, “The Free State of Jones,” which I liked, in order to see how much of the movie is based on fact.

freestateofjones.bynum.amazon-fsojThe movie dramatized the true story of Newton Knight, a white Mississippi farmer led a guerrilla revolt against the Confederacy during the Civil War, and was never captured or defeated.

He took his grandfather’s slave as a lover and became the patriarch of an interracial community which continued to exist down tinto the middle of the 20th century.

Victoria Bynum’s book begins with the origins of the families who fought in the Knight Company.  In colonial times, they lived in the backwoods of the Carolinas, and opposed rich plantation owners in the political struggles of those times.

Racial lines were not drawn so strictly in those days as later, and some sons of poor white indentured servants felt they had more in common with black slaves than with slave owners..

During the American Revolution, many wealthy planters such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were rebels, and many poor backwoodsmen were Tories.

After the Revolution, many backwoodsmen migrated into the lawless frontier region that later became the states of Alabama and Mississippi.  They endured great danger, hardship and isolation, particularly the women, but rejoiced in being their own masters.

Slaveowners adopted, taught and enforced a rigid ideology of racism. to a degree previously unknown, Bynum wrote.

Anybody with “one drop” of Negro “blood” was considered black.  White men had a duty to preserve the chastity of white women, lest white “blood” be contaminated.  This was supported by a religious practice that condemned dancing, alcohol and sensuality.

No doubt the slaveowners sincerely believed in these things, but they served a function of keeping the black slaves isolated and preventing them from joining forces with whites.

But, according to Bynum, not all white people followed the accepted code.  Some enjoyed feasting, dancing and drinking, sometimes among black companions.  Some preferred charismatic, revival meetings, sometimes led by women, to the stricter and more authoritarian religion.  There were those who became lovers across the color line.

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Populists vs. liberals in American history

August 16, 2016

One of the main things I’ve learned from reading American history is that political alignments in the past were very different from what they are now, and that, prior to the New Deal, “populists” and “liberals” were rarely found in the same party.

By “populist,” I mean someone who defends the interests of the majority of the population against a ruling elite.  By “liberal,” I mean someone who takes up for downtrodden and unpopular minorities.

3080664-president-andrew-jackson--20--twenty-dollar-billAndrew Jackson, the founder of the Democratic Party, was a populist.  He gained fame as the leader of a well-regulated militia, composed of citizens with the right to keep and bear arms, who defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans and who fought for white settlers against Indians in what later became the states of Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

He was regarded as a champion of poor workers, farmers and frontier settlers.  In an epic struggle, he broke the stranglehold of the financial elite, as represented by the Second Bank of the United States, on the U.S. economy.   Jacksonians fought for the enfranchisement of property-less white people.

In standing up for the common people, Jackson denied any claims to superiority by reason of education and training.  He defended the spoils system—rewarding his political supporters with government jobs—on the grounds that any American citizen was capable of performing any public function.

Jackson was a slave-owner and a breaker of Indian treaties.  He killed enemies in duels.  He was responsible for the expulsion of Indians in the southeast U.S. in the Trail of Tears.   He was not a respecter of individual rights.   He was not a liberal.

This was opposed by almost all the great New England humanitarian reformers of Jackson’s time and later.  They were educated white people who tried to help African Americans, American Indians, the deaf, the blind, prison inmates and inmates of insane asylums.  Almost of all them were Whigs, and almost all their successors were Republicans.

They were liberals, but not populists.  Like Theodore Parker, the great abolitionist and opponent of the Fugitive Slave Law,  they despised illiterate Irish Catholic immigrants in his midst.  Poor Irish people had to look for help to the Jacksonian Democratic political machines.

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Abortion rights and Planned Parenthood

May 29, 2016

pro-life-journalism-1400

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abortion-funnies-1600

Source: Ampersand.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a dangerous radical

January 18, 2016

In his lifetime, Martin Luther King Jr. was a hated and feared radical, with reason.  Many of those who honor him today today were, or would have been, violently against him had he lived.

J. Edgar Hoover regarded him as a dangerous Communist, much as Hoover’s successors regard the #BlackLivesMatter movement today.

117tzz-aust-79He is remembered today by many as a nice man who thought that people should be judged as individuals and not by race, and that black people should not engage in violent protest.  He is honored by the kind of people whom he fought in his lifetime.

What’s forgotten is his call for radical social and political change, his advocacy of labor rights and his unconditional opposition to war.

king.racial.progressHe advocated economic justice as well as civil rights. and spoke almost as often in union halls as in churches.  His “I Have a Dream” speech was given at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs (my emphasis) and Freedom.  Dr. King was murdered in Memphis, Tenn., while on a mission to support striking garbage collectors.

He turned against President Lyndon Johnson, the greatest presidential champion of civil rights since President Grant, because he could not be silent in the face of war and massing killing in Vietnam.

The best way to honor Dr. King is to oppose the things that he opposed and to do the things that he did.

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Justice and Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy”

January 9, 2016

Bryan Stevenson’s  JUST MERCY: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014) tells of a broken criminal justice system with little justice and less mercy for poor people, juveniles, minorities and the mentally ill and the mentally retarded.

He is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, based in Montgomery, Alabama, which provides lawyers to indigents and to people who have been denied adequate legal representation.

Stevenson and the other EJI lawyers have freed people who have been convicted of crimes they did not commit.  They also have argued for mercy for abused children, the mentally ill and the mentally retarded who have been tried and punished, sometimes with death sentences or life sentences, as if there were no mitigating circumstances.

We are all broken people in one way or another, Stevenson wrote.  None of us deserves to be judged on the basis of the worst thing we have ever done.  All of us, not just poor and abused people, are in need of mercy and mitigation.

Just Mercy weaves together three themes.  One is the story of Walter McMillan, a black man sentenced to die for a crime he obviously could not have committed, and Stevenson’s six-year struggle to prevent his execution and prove his innocence.

Another is the story of the EJI and the other individuals, both black and white, whom Stevenson has defended, not always successfully.

The third theme consists of facts and figures on the flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system—racial disparities, lack of adequate legal representation of poor people, sentencing of juveniles as adult offenders, harsh treatment of the mentally ill and mentally retarded, punishment of poor mothers who suffer miscarriages and are treated as murderesses.

Stevenson successfully argued before the Supreme Court that it is “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution for a juvenile to be sentenced to death or to life imprisonment without parole.  Yet, he said, the intent of this decision is often thwarted by judges sentencing juvenile as adults to a term of imprisonment equal to their life expectancy.

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Why do African-Americans still honor JFK?

December 23, 2015

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I have long been puzzled by why so many African-American families have portraits of John F. Kennedy in their homes in a place of honor alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.?

President Kennedy was a hesitant and lukewarm supporter of civil rights, which is better than nothing.  If you wanted to honor a white champion of civil rights, why not honor Abraham Lincoln or even Lyndon Johnson?

The historian and writer Vijay Prashad asked this question of an African-American friend and social justice warrior when he was living in Providence, Rhode Island.

Alice Hicks has two pictures on the wall of her living room: portraits of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. [snip]

I remember Alice, even as she struggled with her own health, coming to meetings, sitting down and quietly fulminating about problems, or being on the street at a press conference or demonstration.  She was a pillar of strength. 

Each time I went to pick her up at a meeting, and as I waited for her to get her things or to get me something to drink (which was part of her obligatory kindness), I stared at the portraits.

One day, casually, I asked her why she had a picture of JFK on the wall.  I could understand the King picture, but not that of a man who had not given King and his movement the kind of support necessary.  And besides, I said, it was LBJ who pushed Congress to pass the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

She smiled at me, ready to indulge my impertinence.  “Of course President Johnson did those things.  And those acts were important.  But were they enough?  What did they get us?  This … ”   Her weak arms opened expansively to encompass not only her living room but her neighborhood, her world.

“President Johnson gave us something.  I accept that.  But it was Dr. King and President Kennedy who allowed us to dream.  President Johnson’s real gift was not even a pale shadow of those dreams.”  [snip]

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Union membership as a civil right

October 7, 2015

A new bill—the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy Act, aka the WAGE Act—would make the right to join a labor union a civil right.

Workers who are fired or discriminated because they are union members would have the same rights as workers who suffer racial or sex discrimination.

This would be a big change.  It would give individual workers a much stronger legal position than under existing labor law—in some

2.unions&sharedprosperityLabor union membership has been steadily declining—not, in my opinion, because American workers are satisfied with their wages and working conditions, but because they fear retaliation from employers.

Without the union voice, wages (adjusted for inflation) are stagnant and inequality is increasing.  If everybody who wants to join a labor union could do so without fear, I think this could turn around.

The WAGE Act was introduced by Senator Patti Murray, D-WA, and Rep. Robert C.  “Bobby” Scott, D-VA.  It was co-sponsored by Bernie Sanders and has been endorsed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The middle class is the middle 60% of income earners

The middle class is the middle 60% of income earners

The bill has virtually nil chance of getting through Congress this year.  A similar bill introduced last year by Rep. Keith Ellison, D-MN, and John Lewis, D-GA, failed.  But it’s only by keeping the issue on the public agenda that this right can be won.

Firing an employee for union membership is at present an unfair labor practice under the National Labor Relations Act.   The best that an employee can hope for from the NLRB is reinstatement in the job and partial back pay years later, and the odds are against even that.

Under the WAGE Act, employees would have the right to sue in court and ask to be put back to work with no loss of pay or benefits while the case is pending.   If they won the case, they would get triple back pay, while the employer could face a $50,000 fine—$100,000 if it was a second offense.

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Blaming the victim: Ahmed the “hoaxer”

September 23, 2015

Ahmed Mohamed is a ninth-grader in Irving, Texas, who assembled a home-made electronic clock to impress his engineering teacher.  His English teacher thought the electronics assembly looked like a bomb.   Despite his attempts to explain, he was questioned by police, taken away in handcuffs and suspended from school for three days.

Ahmed Mohammed

Ahmed Mohamed

Do you think he was a victim of prejudice and injustice?  A lot of people who post on the Internet would disagree with you.  They say:

  • Ahmed Mohamed intended people to react the way they did, in order to get publicity and discredit people who hate Muslims.   He was a 14-year-old mastermind who knew the adults would react without thought or common sense.  He is to blame, not them.
  • Ahmed Mohamed’s dad, Mohamed El-Hassan Mohamed, is the leader of a small Sufi congregation.  When Florida pastor Terry Jones held a mock trial of the Koran in 2012, he appeared to defend it.  Being a high-profile Muslim is looking for trouble.
  • Ahmed Mohamed was not a genius, and his clock was nothing special.  It may have been reassembled out of a disassembled existing clock.  He does not deserve all the attention he is getting, which makes him a fraud.

This is typical of what happens when there is an uproar over apparent injustice to a member of a minority group.  Thousands of people counterattack by changing the issue from what happened to the character of the alleged victim.  They search the Internet for any information that can be used against the victim.

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Why Americans need labor unions

September 5, 2015

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During the past 40 years, the productivity of American workers has continued to increase but their wages (adjusted for inflation) have barely increased at all.

Labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan, in his new book, Only One Thing Can Save Us, says this is because corporate America has decided that it doesn’t want highly-skilled, well-paid workers; it wants low-paid, replaceable workers.

1.UnionsCPS_fig11

The middle class is the middle 60% of income earners, between the top and bottom 20%

Many evils flow from this.  Working people and the middle class have take on more debt in order to buy homes, pay for higher education or maintain their material standard of living.

Bankers and financiers find it more profitable to invest in debt than in the production of goods and services.

This results in the financialization and hollowing-out of the U.S. economy.

Geoghegan thinks the one thing that can save us is a labor union movement strong enough to win wage increases sufficient to keep up with the increase in the production of wealth.

This will give working people and the middle class enough buying power to generate a real economic recovery.

It will enable them to pay down debt.  Shrinking the debt industry will free up money to be invested in producing real goods and services.

Labor union contracts will make it harder to lay people off at will.  This will give employers an incentive to invest in training to make their workers more productive, which union apprenticeship programs can help with.

With more Americans earning good incomes, tax revenues will increase and governmental budgets will be more in balance.  With fewer jobs being shipped overseas, the U.S. trade deficit may shrink.

A politically powerful union movement will bring American politics into balance.  The USA will have both a left wing and a right wing rather than, as at present, only a right wing.

He advocates reforms to strengthen labor unions, including:
1.  Making union membership a civil right.
2.  Allowing members-only unions without NLRB elections.

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Does any one group speak for black America?

August 19, 2015

One big mistake that white people, especially white liberals like me, make is to anoint some particular group of African-Americans as representatives of all black people.

In the case of people like me, it is naivety and jumping to conclusions.  In other cases, it can be cynicism, a way to divide and rule.

When representatives of #BlackLivesMatter seize a podium, spectators not only have no way of knowing how many black people they represent, they have no way of knowing how many supporters of #BlackLivesMatter they represent, because #BlackLivesMatter is a movement and a Twitter account, not an organization.

I don’t know how representative the guy in the video is, either.

I presume that many or most black people are up in arms about the many times unarmed black people are killed by police.  I presume that many are concerned about Social Security, minimum wage and other issues.   The fact that one group concentrates on one of these issues doesn’t mean the others are unimportant.  There ought to be room for different groups, different priorities and different approaches.

LINKS

Black Lives Matter and The Failure to Build a New Movement by Douglas Williams for South Lawn.

A Short Follow-Up to the Previous Post on Black Lives Matter by Douglas Williams for South Lawn.

What No One Is Saying About the Killings of Blacks in America by Benjamin A. Dixon.

Dear #BlackLivesMatter: We Don’t Need Black Leadership by R.L. Stephens II for Orchestrated Pulse.

A Future for Workers: A Contribution From Black Labor, executive summary of a report by the Black Labor Collaborative.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

#BlackLivesMatter and its critics

August 18, 2015

I’ve always taken to heart the Theodore Roosevelt quote about how the man struggling valiantly in the arena deserves more credit than the critic sitting in the grandstands.

I hesitate to criticize the #BlackLivesMatter movement for the same reason I hesitated to criticize the Occupy Wall Street movement, because, whatever their flaws, they’re struggling valiantly in the arena and I’m the critic in the grandstands.

blacklivesmatterB8NekWhat both groups have in common is that they are protest movements, not political movements.  They exist to call attention to injustice.  They do not seek political power to correct injustice themselves.   I do not criticize them for that.

I’m a liberal middle-class white man, and I am righteously indignant about the routine indignities and occasional mortal danger suffered by poor black people at the hands of police.   But abusive police behavior is not something I think about all the time.   #BlackLivesMatter keeps me from forgetting.

I’m not saying that all police are bad, or that white people are never mistreated by police.   I’m saying that the threat of being mistreated or killed for no good reason by police is not something I have to consider in my daily life, and it is something that black people can’t afford to forget.

John Dewey once said that you don’t have to have the knowledge of a shoemaker to know that your shoe doesn’t fit.   #BlackLivesMatter, unlike Occupy Wall Street, does have specific demands, but I think the movement’s importance is in never allowing the American public—the white American public—people like me—to forget how, so to speak, the shoe pinches poor black people.

thetalk_363_275The way #BlackLivesMatter does that is through its continuing protest demonstrations, but, more much importantly, its documentation of police misconduct through the social media.

Occupy Wall Street never had a formal organization, just people who wanted to join in, and the same is true of #BlackLivesMatter.    It means that individuals can do whatever they see fit in the name of the movement, and there is no central authority with the power to tell them to stop.

The shutdown of Bernie Sanders’ speeches evidently was the action of a few individuals rather than a decision of the leadership.  But, as a matter of strategy, it does make sense for a protest group to concentrate on those who might respond to their protest rather than those who most certainly won’t.  Bernie Sanders did respond.

The best result #BlackLives Matter can hope for is that the powers that be respond to their protest.  But so long as it is merely a protest movement, other people make the decision as to just what that response will be.   Somebody else will have to take the responsibility for turning #BlackLivesMatter goals into law.

LINKS

Who Really Runs #BlackLivesMatter? by Ben Collins for The Daily Beast.

Black Lives Matter and the Failure to Build a Movement by Douglas Williams for South Lawn.

Right Now #BlackLivesMatter Is Wasting Everybody’s Time by Oliver Willis.

How Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter taught us not to look away by Nicholas D. Mirzoeff for The Conversation.

Why BLM Protesters Can’t Behave by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Thoughts on marriage and gay marriage

July 5, 2015
The last statement presumably was on June 24, 2015

The last statement was on June  24, 2015 (not August)

Hat tip to Tiffany’s Non-Blog.

There are lessons in this chart for people who advocate social change, and that is to never think that electing a particular politician is enough, and especially to never settle for the lesser of two evils.

I respect the gay rights movement for pressing relentlessly for social change and especially for withholding support for politicians who do not support their agenda.

The labor movement can learn from this.  Of course the gay rights movement had an easier task because its goals do not threaten any powerful monied interests.

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Why haven’t poor black people done better?

May 24, 2015

I recently re-read My People Is the Enemy, a 1964 book by a white lawyer named William Stringfellow, who’d spent the previous seven years providing legal services in a poor neighborhood in Harlem.

He wrote about black people in New York City were barred from decent jobs, were denied credit and were  harassed by police.  This couldn’t go on much longer, he wrote.  Things were about to blow—which, in fact, they did.

about.race_nfcrpq8yMT1smopzxo1_500But as I read the book, I was struck by what was missing.  He didn’t give any example of an unarmed black person being killed by police.  He didn’t give any example of police cruising up and down the streets and arresting young black men for trivial reasons or not reason at all.

He wrote about how a young black man found life in the Rikers Island prison more comfortable than the slum he came from.  He had a clean cell, nourishing meals and access to a gym and a library.  That’s a far cry from the hellhole of violence that Rikers Island is reported to be today.

Which raises the question:  Why is it, in spite of all the civil rights laws and all the social pressure against  racist language and behavior, that things haven’t gotten better?

My answer is that things have gotten better, much better, but only for a certain segment of the black population—what W.E.B. DuBois called the “talented tenth”.

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What could a new kind of labor movement be?

April 10, 2015

Sam Seder’s interview of Thomas Geoghegan is about 45 minutes long. 

The rest of the running time is a repeat.

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Thomas Geoghegan says American labor needs a new strategy, which would include the following.

  • The right to join a labor union or engage in labor action should be a civil right.
  • Workers should have the right to form unions that represent only their members, instead of a government-determined bargaining unit.
  • On the other hand, unions should strive for works councils in big organizations, which would represent all the employees and not just the union members.

American labor unions have been unable to stop “right to work” laws from being enacted in state after state—even in Michigan.

only_one_thing_can_save_us_finalThese laws forbid labor-management contracts in which an employer hires only labor union members, or requires new employees to pay dues to a union.  Yet, by law, the union contract must cover all the employees in the bargaining unit, regardless of whether they join or pay dues.

Thomas Geoghegan wrote in Only One Thing Can Save Us that it may not be possible to stop right-to-work from becoming national law.  To the average person, it doesn’t seem right that they should be forced to join an organization or make payments to it against their will.  And as fewer and fewer people have any experience with unions, the counter-argument becomes harder to make.

But if unions lose that battle, as well they might, all is not lost.  It is much easier to make the case for the right to join a labor union if there never are any circumstances in which union membership is compulsory.

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Why I am ‘politically correct’ (up to a point)

February 6, 2015

quote-let-me-never-fall-into-the-vulgar-mistake-of-dreaming-that-i-am-persecuted-whenever-i-am-ralph-waldo-emerson-227115

Whenever I hear someone say in a belligerent tone that he or she is “politically incorrect,” I take it to mean that the person is about to say something offensive or vulgar, and that anybody who criticizes is a timid conformist.

There are words I don’t use—”nigger,” “kike” and “faggot”—that are the language of murder.  They are the vocabulary of lynch mobs hanging black people, Cossacks conducting pogroms against Jewish villages, homophobes beating people sometimes to death.

bus_stop_colorFor that matter, I refrain from using words such “redneck.”  It originally was a derogatory term used by the Southern elite for men who worked all day in the hot sun, which is certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

If I want to be treated with courtesy, I extend courtesy in return.  I make a reasonable effort to avoid giving offense.   I expect in return that other people not take offense when no offense is intended.

Being polite doesn’t mean that I self-censor what I say.  It means that I try to think of ways of saying what I have to say so that other people will listen, and that I listen to what they have to say in return.

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I’ve been called “racist” a few times during my life.   This didn’t shut me up..

I said I don’t deserve to be called by the same word that is used for Klansman and or Nazis.  I was told that this was not what was meant.  “We are all racists,” the other person would say.

I don’t agree, but I stopped taking offense.  If the meaning of “racist” is “average insensitive, ignorant white guy,” it probably applies.  But then another word is needed for the likes of David Duke.

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Women on the Internet are subject to terrible abuse, including threats of rape and dismemberment, especially when they express a pro-feminist point of view.

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Dr. King, the NAACP and the FBI: an untold story

January 22, 2015

Life is a comedy for those who think, a tragedy for those who feel and an open book to those who read.          ==Peter Lee.

It’s long been known how the FBI wiretapped Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how J. Edgar Hoover regarded King as a pro-Communist subversive.

This morning I came across a review by a blogger named Peter Lee of a book, Devil in the Grove, which tells the opposite side of this story—how the NAACP co-operated with J. Edgar Hoover’s anti-Communist drive in return for the FBI’s investigation of Ku Klux Klan killings in the Deep South.

American Communists were among the strongest and most dedicated supporters of labor rights and civil rights from the 1920s on.  That is why, although small in numbers, they rose to positions of influence in labor unions and civil rights organizations.

Thurgood Marshall

Thurgood Marshall

During the start of the Cold War, labor unions such as the United Auto Workers and civil rights organizations such as the NAACP purged their ranks of Communists.  Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP lawyer who successfully argued before the Supreme Court that segregated schools were unconstitutional, was in the forefront of the anti-Communist struggle.  Marshall later became the first black Supreme Court justice.

I don’t think this was necessarily opportunism.  There was a legitimate question of dual loyalty.

Communists worldwide in the 1930s supported a Popular Front against fascism, then after the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939 switched instantly to opposition to the “imperialist war,” only to change back just as quickly when Hitler’s troops invaded the USSR.

I’ve been anti-Communist all my adult life, and I still am.  The problem with anti-Communism during the Cold War was not that opposition to Communism was wrong, but that people like me allowed it to override every other moral and political consideration.

Dr. King did not make that mistake.  He spoke out against U.S. intervention in Vietnam.  His most trusted white adviser, Stanley Levison, was once a key financial supporter of the American Communist Party, although, unbeknownst to the FBI, he had ceased to participate in the CPUSA after 1957.

So the FBI wiretapped him, with the knowledge and support of John and Robert Kennedy, and worked to undermine him, while Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP leadership stood aside.

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The Preacher, the Black Cardinal and the Grand Inquisitor by Peter Lee on China Matters.  The title of the review refers to Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall and J. Edgar Hoover.

The FBI and Martin Luther King by David J. Garrow for The Atlantic (2002).   Background information on the FBI investigation.

Martin Luther King Jr. on nonviolence

January 19, 2015

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We Americans honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of our national heroes, but the only thing we remember that he stood for is that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skins.

That’s important, of course.  But many of us tend to forget his strong advocacy of economic justice and, even more, we forget his strong commitment to nonviolence, or rather mass defiance as an alternative revolutionary violence.

I am not a pacifist, as Dr. King was.  I do not believe that war is always wrong.  But the stronger reason is that I do not have the moral strength to following his teaching.  I am unable to live up to the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels to love my enemies, resist not evil and do good to them that hate me.

The amazing thing about Dr. King was that he was able, for a short time, to persuade large numbers of Americans to fight without violence and to win.

Considered purely pragmatically, the nonviolent techniques of struggle advocated by Gene Sharp and practiced by Saul Alinsky have been at least as successful as revolutionary violence.

Alinsky’s career in particular is evidence that successful use of nonviolent techniques did not require Christian love or the turning of the other cheek.

My impression is that many black Americans today regard Malcolm X as a more manly role model than Dr. King.  Yet Dr. King made governors and presidents bow to his will, while Malcolm X’s struggles were mostly with other African-Americans.

This statement is not completely fair to Malcolm X, because he was murdered when his work had only just begun while Dr. King was struck down after he had accomplished most of what was in him to do.

But the fact remains that the Black Panthers and other advocates of armed struggle were much more easily crushed than the followers of Dr. King.

The power of oppressive elites is the power to compel obedience.  Their power ceases when the oppressed cease to obey.  I admit that’s easy for me to say when I’ve never put myself at physical risk in any struggle, nonviolent or otherwise.  But I believe it’s true.

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Reflections on the meaning of Ferguson

December 5, 2014

TomTomorrow2014-12-03polliceshootings

The killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., was no different from a lot of other cases in which armed white men have shot and killed unarmed black men, or armed police officers have killed unarmed civilians.  If you’re looking for reasons why this incident rather than another was the trigger, the answer probably doesn’t like in a detailed study of the incident itself.

There’s a proverb about how one final straw, added to a load, will break a camel’s back.  The answer as to why the camel’s back was broken probably doesn’t lie in a microscopic examination of that one particular straw.

The significance of Ferguson is less in the facts about Ferguson itself as in the pattern which Ferguson represents.  If you want to know what I mean by the pattern, click on this and this and this and this and this.

If I were black, I think I would see these events in the light of Goldfinger’s Rule – Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.

The linked articles described incidents that differ in circumstances and mitigating factors, but there are a few common themes:

  • The fear that many white people (not just police officers) have of black people.
  • The insistence of many police officers on instant compliance with orders (not just by black people) and their quickness to use force against perceived disobedience and disrespect.
  • Lack of training both in fire discipline and in non-violent means of defusing situations.

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