April 2007 Archives

Chicago's Little Village Raided by Immigration

Immigration Raids Spark Early Protests
by Race Wire: The Color Lines Blog


An immigration raid in Little Village in Illinois this week is being called one of the worst.

Troopers stormed into a shopping plaza Tuesday toting guns and pointing at families of people to get down. The Chicago Tribune reported April 25:

U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald's announcement Wednesday of federal charges against 22 people linked to a $2 million fake-ID operation in Little Village was intended to promote the closing of a breach in national security.

But in a sign of the electric atmosphere that surrounds immigration reform and a planned rally downtown next week, Fitzgerald defended the raid against charges that it was heavy-handed and designed to intimidate those considering taking part in the rally.

While Spanish-language radio programs crackled with calls expressing outrage and anxiety over the daylight raid, in which agents with high-powered rifles questioned dozens of customers and workers at a shopping plaza, a group of immigrant advocates crowded into Fitzgerald's office to confront him at his news conference.

"I can assure everyone that the arrests had nothing to do with the rally that's upcoming," Fitzgerald told them. "There is a great debate going on in our country about the immigration situation. This case is not about that debate."

Chicago's Mexican community Little Village is not buying it.

Neighborhood residents and local activists, however, saw the action in the heart of Chicago's Mexican community as an attempt to intimidate people in advance of a planned May 1 march to Daley Plaza in protest of recent federal raids nationwide. Word of the Tuesday raid quickly spread through the neighborhood, with organizers of next week's march arriving with ready-made signs, drums and megaphones. The crowd closed the intersection of 26th Street and Albany Avenue for hours, chanting in a semicircle as Chicago police directed traffic away.

Naomi Wolf's article from the Guardian below outlines how closely the U.S. is following in the footsteps of fascism. Wolf provides a clear and compelling link between history and the contemporary moment. A glance at some of the statistics around the American gulag (see Bureau of Justice Statistics charts below) reminds us that the U.S. continues to actively criminalize large and particular portions of its population. The U.S. has invoked, as Wolf argues, "a terrifying internal and external enemy," and it continues to contract private paramilitary militia who are "immune from prosecution" to supposedly secure Iraq and "protect" New Orleans by firing on "unarmed civilians in the city."

In 2005, over 7 million people were under some form of correctional supervision.
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Correctional Surveys (The Annual Probation Survey, National Prisoner Statistics, Survey of Jails, and The Annual Parole Survey) as presented in Correctional Populations in the United States, Annual, Prisoners in 2005 and Probation and Parole in the United States, 2005.

In 1997, 9% of the black population in the U.S. was under some form of correctional supervision compared to 2% of the white population and over 1% of other races.
Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics Correctional Surveys (The National Probation Data Survey, National Prisoner Statistics, Survey of Jails, and The National Parole Data Survey) as presented in Correctional Populations in the United States, 1997. Prisoners in 2005 and Probation and Parole in the United States, 2005.

"Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps"
By Naomi Wolf

The Guardian
Tuesday 24 April 2007

Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down: the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took certain activists into custody.

They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy - but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree - domestically - as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government - the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens' ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors - we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don't learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of "homeland" security - remember who else was keen on the word "homeland" - didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.

It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable - as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.

Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a "war footing"; we were in a "global war" against a "global caliphate" intending to "wipe out civiMambí Maestration". There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned. But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes, is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and without national boundaries in space - the globe itself is the battlefield. "This time," Fein says, "there will be no defined end."

Creating a terrifying threat - hydra-like, secretive, evil - is an old trick. It can, like Hitler's invocation of a communist threat to the nation's security, be based on actual events (one Wisconsin academic has faced calls for his dismissal because he noted, among other things, that the alleged communist arson, the Reichstag fire of February 1933, was swiftly followed in Nazi Germany by passage of the Enabling Act, which replaced constitutional law with an open-ended state of emergency). Or the terrifying threat can be based, like the National Socialist evocation of the "global conspiracy of world Jewry", on myth.

It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of course it is. I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the nature of the threat is different in a country such as Spain - which has also suffered violent terrorist attacks - than it is in America. Spanish citizens know that they face a grave security threat; what we as American citizens believe is that we are potentially threatened with the end of civiMambí Maestration as we know it. Of course, this makes us more willing to accept restrictions on our freedoms.

2. Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal "outer space") - where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, "enemies of the people" or "criminals". Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders - opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists - are arrested and sent there as well.

This process took place in fascist shifts or anti-democracy crackdowns ranging from Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to the Latin American coups of the 1970s and beyond. It is standard practice for closing down an open society or crushing a pro-democracy uprising.

With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has its gulag now. Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced they would issue no information about the secret CIA "black site" prisons throughout the world, which are used to incarcerate people who have been seized off the street.

Gulags in history tend to metastasise, becoming ever larger and more secretive, ever more deadly and formalised. We know from first-hand accounts, photographs, videos and government documents that people, innocent and guilty, have been tortured in the US-run prisons we are aware of and those we can't investigate adequately.

But Americans still assume this system and detainee abuses involve only scary brown people with whom they don't generally identify. It was brave of the conservative pundit William Safire to quote the anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller, who had been seized as a political prisoner: "First they came for the Jews." Most Americans don't understand yet that the destruction of the rule of law at Guantánamo set a dangerous precedent for them, too.

By the way, the establishment of military tribunals that deny prisoners due process tends to come early on in a fascist shift. Mussolini and Stalin set up such tribunals. On April 24 1934, the Nazis, too, set up the People's Court, which also bypassed the judicial system: prisoners were held indefinitely, often in isolation, and tortured, without being charged with offences, and were subjected to show trials. Eventually, the Special Courts became a parallel system that put pressure on the regular courts to abandon the rule of law in favour of Nazi ideology when making decisions.

3. Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a "fascist shift" want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America's security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad. In Iraq, some of these contract operatives have been accused of involvement in torturing prisoners, harassing journalists and firing on Iraqi civilians. Under Order 17, issued to regulate contractors in Iraq by the one-time US administrator in Baghdad, Paul Bremer, these contractors are immune from prosecution

Yes, but that is in Iraq, you could argue; however, after Hurricane Katrina, the Department of Homeland Security hired and deployed hundreds of armed private security guards in New Orleans. The investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill interviewed one unnamed guard who reported having fired on unarmed civilians in the city. It was a natural disaster that underlay that episode - but the administration's endless war on terror means ongoing scope for what are in effect privately contracted armies to take on crisis and emergency management at home in US cities.

Thugs in America? Groups of angry young Republican men, dressed in identical shirts and trousers, menaced poll workers counting the votes in Florida in 2000. If you are reading history, you can imagine that there can be a need for "public order" on the next election day. Say there are protests, or a threat, on the day of an election; history would not rule out the presence of a private security firm at a polling station "to restore public order".

4. Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini's Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China - in every closed society - secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens' phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about "national security"; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

5. Harass citizens' groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four - you infiltrate and harass citizens' groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 "suspicious incidents". The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track "potential terrorist threats" as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as "terrorism". So the definition of "terrorist" slowly expands to include the opposition.

6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a "list" of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America's Transportation Security Administration confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela's government - after Venezuela's president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens.

Professor Walter F Murphy is emeritus of Princeton University; he is one of the foremost constitutional scholars in the nation and author of the classic Constitutional Democracy. Murphy is also a decorated former marine, and he is not even especially politically liberal. But on March 1 this year, he was denied a boarding pass at Newark, "because I was on the Terrorist Watch list".

"Have you been in any peace marches? We ban a lot of people from flying because of that," asked the airline employee.

"I explained," said Murphy, "that I had not so marched but had, in September 2006, given a lecture at Princeton, televised and put on the web, highly critical of George Bush for his many violations of the constitution."

"That'll do it," the man said.

Anti-war marcher? Potential terrorist. Support the constitution? Potential terrorist. History shows that the categories of "enemy of the people" tend to expand ever deeper into civil life.

James Yee, a US citizen, was the Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo who was accused of mishandling classified documents. He was harassed by the US military before the charges against him were dropped. Yee has been detained and released several times. He is still of interest.

Brandon Mayfield, a US citizen and lawyer in Oregon, was mistakenly identified as a possible terrorist. His house was secretly broken into and his computer seized. Though he is innocent of the accusation against him, he is still on the list.

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can't get off.

7. Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don't toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile's Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not "coordinate", in Goebbels' term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically "coordinate" early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Bush supporters in state legislatures in several states put pressure on regents at state universities to penalise or fire academics who have been critical of the administration. As for civil servants, the Bush administration has derailed the career of one military lawyer who spoke up for fair trials for detainees, while an administration official publicly intimidated the law firms that represent detainees pro bono by threatening to call for their major corporate clients to boycott them.

Elsewhere, a CIA contract worker who said in a closed blog that "waterboarding is torture" was stripped of the security clearance she needed in order to do her job.

Most recently, the administration purged eight US attorneys for what looks like insufficient political loyalty. When Goebbels purged the civil service in April 1933, attorneys were "coordinated" too, a step that eased the way of the increasingly brutal laws to follow.

8. Control the press

Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 30s, East Germany in the 50s, Czechoslovakia in the 60s, the Latin American dictatorships in the 70s, China in the 80s and 90s - all dictatorships and would-be dictators target newspapers and journalists. They threaten and harass them in more open societies that they are seeking to close, and they arrest them and worse in societies that have been closed already.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says arrests of US journalists are at an all-time high: Josh Wolf (no relation), a blogger in San Francisco, has been put in jail for a year for refusing to turn over video of an anti-war demonstration; Homeland Security brought a criminal complaint against reporter Greg Palast, claiming he threatened "critical infrastructure" when he and a TV producer were filming victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. Palast had written a bestseller critical of the Bush administration.

Other reporters and writers have been punished in other ways. Joseph C Wilson accused Bush, in a New York Times op-ed, of leading the country to war on the basis of a false charge that Saddam Hussein had acquired yellowcake uranium in Niger. His wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as a CIA spy - a form of retaliation that ended her career.

Prosecution and job loss are nothing, though, compared with how the US is treating journalists seeking to cover the conflict in Iraq in an unbiased way. The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented multiple accounts of the US military in Iraq firing upon or threatening to fire upon unembedded (meaning independent) reporters and camera operators from organisations ranging from al-Jazeera to the BBC. While westerners may question the accounts by al-Jazeera, they should pay attention to the accounts of reporters such as the BBC's Kate Adie. In some cases reporters have been wounded or killed, including ITN's Terry Lloyd in 2003. Both CBS and the Associated Press in Iraq had staff members seized by the US military and taken to violent prisons; the news organisations were unable to see the evidence against their staffers.

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. Pinochet showed Chilean citizens falsified documents to back up his claim that terrorists had been about to attack the nation. The yellowcake charge, too, was based on forged papers.

You won't have a shutdown of news in modern America - it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth. In a fascist system, it's not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can't tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

9. Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as "treason" and criticism as "espionage'. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of "spy" and "traitor". When Bill Keller, the publisher of the New York Times, ran the Lichtblau/Risen stories, Bush called the Times' leaking of classified information "disgraceful", while Republicans in Congress called for Keller to be charged with treason, and rightwing commentators and news outlets kept up the "treason" drumbeat. Some commentators, as Conason noted, reminded readers smugly that one penalty for violating the Espionage Act is execution.

Conason is right to note how serious a threat that attack represented. It is also important to recall that the 1938 Moscow show trial accused the editor of Izvestia, Nikolai Bukharin, of treason; Bukharin was, in fact, executed. And it is important to remind Americans that when the 1917 Espionage Act was last widely invoked, during the infamous 1919 Palmer Raids, leftist activists were arrested without warrants in sweeping roundups, kept in jail for up to five months, and "beaten, starved, suffocated, tortured and threatened with death", according to the historian Myra MacPherson. After that, dissent was muted in America for a decade.

In Stalin's Soviet Union, dissidents were "enemies of the people". National Socialists called those who supported Weimar democracy "November traitors".

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year - when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 - the president has the power to call any US citizen an "enemy combatant". He has the power to define what "enemy combatant" means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define "enemy combatant" any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin's gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo's, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually - for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. "Enemy combatant" is a status offence - it is not even something you have to have done. "We have absolutely moved over into a preventive detention model - you look like you could do something bad, you might do something bad, so we're going to hold you," says a spokeswoman of the CCR.

Most Americans surely do not get this yet. No wonder: it is hard to believe, even though it is true. In every closing society, at a certain point there are some high-profile arrests - usually of opposition leaders, clergy and journalists. Then everything goes quiet. After those arrests, there are still newspapers, courts, TV and radio, and the facades of a civil society. There just isn't real dissent. There just isn't freedom. If you look at history, just before those arrests is where we are now.

10. Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency - which the president now has enhanced powers to declare - he can send Michigan's militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state's governor and its citizens.

Even as Americans were focused on Britney Spears's meltdown and the question of who fathered Anna Nicole's baby, the New York Times editorialised about this shift: "A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night ... Beyond actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or any 'other condition'."

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act - which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch's soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias' power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini's march on Rome or Hitler's roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere - while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: "dogs go on with their doggy life ... How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster."

As Americans turn away quite leisurely, keeping tuned to internet shopping and American Idol, the foundations of democracy are being fatally corroded. Something has changed profoundly that weakens us unprecedentedly: our democratic traditions, independent judiciary and free press do their work today in a context in which we are "at war" in a "long war" - a war without end, on a battlefield described as the globe, in a context that gives the president - without US citizens realising it yet - the power over US citizens of freedom or long solitary incarceration, on his say-so alone.

That means a hollowness has been expanding under the foundation of all these still- free-looking institutions - and this foundation can give way under certain kinds of pressure. To prevent such an outcome, we have to think about the "what ifs".

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack - say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani - because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

What if the publisher of a major US newspaper were charged with treason or espionage, as a rightwing effort seemed to threaten Keller with last year? What if he or she got 10 years in jail? What would the newspapers look like the next day? Judging from history, they would not cease publishing; but they would suddenly be very polite.

Right now, only a handful of patriots are trying to hold back the tide of tyranny for the rest of us - staff at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who faced death threats for representing the detainees yet persisted all the way to the Supreme Court; activists at the American Civil Liberties Union; and prominent conservatives trying to roll back the corrosive new laws, under the banner of a new group called the American Freedom Agenda. This small, disparate collection of people needs everybody's help, including that of Europeans and others internationally who are willing to put pressure on the administration because they can see what a US unrestrained by real democracy at home can mean for the rest of the world.

We need to look at history and face the "what ifs". For if we keep going down this road, the "end of America" could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before - and this is the way it is now.

"The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands ... is the definition of tyranny," wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

· Naomi Wolf's The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot will be published by Chelsea Green in September.

Imus Controversy & the Responsibility of Critical Pedagogy


The Minnesota Daily
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
By Trica Keaton, Rose Brewer, David Chang, Roderick A. Ferguson and Karen Ho

The following statement is endorsed by numerous University faculty members.

Why weigh in at nearly the 11th hour on Don Imus when it appears that everything has already been said and done? As faculty, our students - particularly young black women most immediately debased by his remarks - look to us for insight and leadership, indeed, ways to address and inhabit everyday racism and sexism of this nature. In many ways, the brunt of the "Imus affair," and the inevitable and painful mocking that typically accompanies such events, will be effectively borne by them and other young women of color on predominately white campuses throughout this country. It is our responsibility, then, to voice our views so that they may know, fundamentally, that Don Imus' racist and sexist comments - unworthy of repetition - are not just another Michael Richards or Mel Gibson moment to be eventually forgotten or dismissed. Nor are his words merely an unfortunate reflection of our time. This was no unconscious slip of the tongue, a mimicking of misogynistic hip-hop lyrics, or "humor-gone-wild," as the media would have us believe.

To suggest as much is to assume racial pluralism in our society, to assume that all groups have enjoyed the same power and privileges, that race and gender have played no role in our human relations and institutions, and that, ultimately, Imus simply expressed what could be an "equal opportunity" attack. No. Imus' brand of insult is symptomatic of much more profound issues in our society, which is why these "shock jock" attacks will continue. Though the subject is avoided like the plague, minimized in its importance, or glossed as urban cultural pathologies, race interlocked with gender has been made to matter in our society, since its inception, and "the Imus affair," if nothing else, exposes just how very much this remains true.

But what of the humor? Are not those remarks somewhere or somehow funny? To be thought of as humorous, these statements need to have a social referent; they need to resonate with a group's understanding of the world and be recognized as an applicable (though exaggerated) description. Otherwise, the audience would be too confused to laugh, incapable of understanding what the joke was about and who was being made fun of. It would, then, be random, unintelligible, and frankly, not funny. For Imus' comment to be a joke, it must link up with an underlying cultural belief. That is, for Imus to be funny, his insult-humor needs to, at some level, resonate with a cultural assumption inherent in our society about black women and who they are purported to be.

But let us not forget to whom Imus was talking. The assumed listeners to his bratty screeds and snickers are not black women or women of color. And, let us not forget what he told those listeners about themselves, which was the subtext of his comments. He said, "You have power. I'll model that power for you, because your power and my power are the same - it is the power to define others, the power to debase black women as physically deviant sexual commodities, and the power to laugh together as we exercise that power." Besides, "we hear worse statements everyday in the black community," says this power and a public eager to believe it. This conveniently ignores, however, that the denigration of people of color and women did not begin with them. But power relies upon manipulation to exist, and manipulation relies upon consent.

Now, in the aftermath of Imus' outrageous comments, people of color, especially black women, are answering Imus with righteous anger and brilliant insight. Yet, to raise those voices automatically invites both hate and accusations of "political correctness," that label applied to anyone who seeks to call into question a status quo. "Diversity fatigue" becomes increasingly its twin brother in these debates, the idea that white Americans are tired of hearing people of color supposedly complain about discrimination. If a backlash ensues, well, we are to blame, rendering us its architect, not its object.

But, if we say nothing, treat this "affair" as one pedagogical moment or yesterday's news, then we miss a rich opportunity to exercise our authority not only to identify our insult (rather than have it done for us), but also to assert that anti-racism cannot be the responsibility of people of color alone. In the final analysis, Imus' inexcusable comments touch more than the Rutgers women's basketball team. They touch us all. In the spirit of coalitional politics, then, we protest and challenge the racist misogyny of Imus' remarks not merely as faculty, but also as human beings.

The following University faculty and additional faculty endorse this statement:

Rose Brewer, Professor of African American and African Studies

Hakim Abderrezak, Assistant Professor of French and Italian

Patricia Albers, Professor and Chair of American Indian Studies

Nancy 'Rusty' Barceló, Vice President and Vice Provost for Equity and Diversity/Educational Policy and Administration

William O. Beeman, Professor and Chair of Anthropology

Colin R Campbell, Associate Professor of Pharmacology

Bianet Castellanos, Assistant Professor of American Studies/Chicano Studies/American Indian Studies

David A. Chang, Assistant Professor of History

Ananya Chatterjea, Associate Professor of Theater Arts and Dance

Brenda Child, Associate Professor of American Studies/American Indian Studies

Susan L Craddock, Associate Professor and Chair of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies

Evelyn Davidheiser, Professor and Director of the Institute for Global Studies

Jigna Desai, Associate Professor and Director of Asian American Studies/Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies

Kale Bantigue Fajardo, Assistant Professor of American Studies/Asian American Studies

Roderick A. Ferguson, Associate Professor of American Studies

Katherin M. Flower, Department of Sociology

Njeri Githire, Assistant Professor of African American and African Studies

Kamisha Hamilton Escoto, Postdoctoral Associate of Health Policy and Management

Karen Ho, Assistant Professor of Anthropology

Leola Johnson, Associate Professor and Chair of Humanities and Media and Cultural Studies at Macalester College

Trica Keaton, Assistant Professor of American Studies/Institute for Global Studies/African American and African Studies

Josephine Lee, Associate Professor of English/Asian American Studies

Richard M. Lee, Associate Professor of Psychology/Asian American Studies

Enid Lynette Logan, Assistant Professor of Sociology

Elaine May, Professor of American Studies/History

Lary May, Professor of American Studies/History

Keith A. Mayes, Assistant Professor of African American and African Studies

Louis Mendoza, Professor and Chair of Chicano Studies

Kevin P. Murphy, Assistant Professor of History

David Noble, Professor of American Studies

Jean O'Brien-Kehoe, Associate Professor of History/American Indian Studies

Alex Pate, Assistant Professor of African American and African Studies/Novelist

Jennifer L. Pierce, Associate Professor of American Studies

Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor and Chair of American Studies

Paula Rabinowitz, Professor and Chair of English,

David Roediger, Professor of History at University of Illinois

Gilbert B. Rodman, Associate Professor of Communication Studies

Abdi Ismail Samatar, Professor of Geography

Simona Sawhney, Associate Professor of Asian Languages/Literatures

Earl Scott, Professor and Chair of African American and African Studies/Geography

Shaden Tageldin, Assistant Professor of Cultural Studies/Comparative Literature

Klaas van der Sanden, The Institute for Global Studies

Harry Waters Jr., Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance at Macalester College

Eric D. Weitz, Professor and Chair of History

Margaret Werry, Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts and Dance

John S. Wright, Professor of African American and African Studies/English

Virginia Tech Media Frenzy: Local & International Responses

One of my freshmen sent me this along with the following comment: "This comic pretty much sums up everything." As you can see, my student is extremely astute. I only wish the media could be as intelligent and perceptive.

In their article, "Virginia tech bloggers: approach and confirm or link and disclaim?", Cybersoc.com takes a good look at the tactics journalists have been using to manipulate youth into providing interviews, their opinions, and their online chats regarding the Virginia Tech incident.

Spiegel Online International has an article entitled, "European Press Reactions: Blaming Charlton Heston." The excerpts from press responses throughout Europe all appropriately target U.S. "gun laws," or lack thereof.

Feasting on Notions of Racial Fixity

Tony Blair of England

Nikolas Sarkozy of France: "My new Kärcher works really well."
In 2005, Sarkozy, a candidate for French prime minister, said he would clean up the cités (housing projects) in the suburb of La Courneuve with a "Kärcher," an industrial cleaning machine.

German Army Officers

The traditional news media this week was like Black History Month but all in one day except this time there weren't the usual token classical liberal waves to a supposed homogeneous "Black culture" where every Black "hero" is portrayed as an exception: the one who overcame or pulled up her imaginary bootstraps despite economic forces.

Pablo Picasso Cités (projects) in Nanterre, West of Paris
Pablo Picasso Cité.jpg

Today the NY Times featured an article by David Reif ("Battle Over the Banlieues") on the housing projects (or cités) outside of Paris and Nikolas Sarkozy's infamous anti-youth, anti-immigrant discourse, particularly his affection for the word "scum" when referring to French sub-Saharan African youth.

The BBC featured a report on a German army officer "caught on tape" where an instructor told a soldier to imagine, "You're in the Bronx, a black van pulls up in front of you and three African-Americans get out and start really insulting your mother... act!".

Besides, of course, the Don Imus debacle (as if we'd expect anything less from someone whose notoriety is based on racialized, gendered and classed notions of difference), today the Guardian featured an article reporting that Tony Blair "claimed the spate of knife and gun murders in London was not being caused by poverty, but a distinctive black culture."

Most interesting and disappointing was the feedback of some members of the general public who commented on columnist Claudia Webbe's response to Blair. What drew the most ire to Webbe's "A Kick in the Teeth from Tony Blair" was the subtitle of her article: "The black community carries no blame for the violent crime that afflicts it - no matter what the prime minister says." Click here for the article and feedback.

"The New SDS" by Christopher Phelps

| 1 Comment


The Nation
16 April 2007

For the full article, click here.

To read BERNARDINE DOHRN's 4 April 2007 response to "The New SDS," see below my comments.

Christopher Phelps is an associate professor of History at The Ohio State University at Mansfield. For those of us who are interested in the cultural construction of youth, interesting to note in Phelps's article on the new Students for a Democratic Society is his discussion of the kind of social issues the new SDSers are trying to tackle. His observation that "most SDSers would have an easier time defining 'heteronormativity' than corporate liberalism" reminds us as educators that our students often discover their political voice in college.

Once youth get into our college classrooms it is important for us to dissuade our expectations that they're coming from high school with all the critical social links ready to engage complex social theories. More importantly, Phelps's observation reminds us that if we just slap students with a book on race or an academic article on sexuality, the material itself is not enough to help them generate the kinds of important links and affiliations we want them to make.

College educators need to devise creative ways in the classroom to help our students become critically literate, which entails creating and utilizing *active* critical pedagogy for the college classroom; it is important for college educators to design classroom strategies and activities that help students make connections across lines of power experientially and intellectually simultaneously. We can't relegate this sort of "lesson" planning or "prep" to the realm of secondary school teaching; creative planning belongs in our classroom repertoires as well. Reading, analyzing, and writing a critical paper cannot be the only modes of instruction and processes for learning--it is imperative that college educators at all levels (undergraduate and graduate) become curious about their students, about what their students know and want to know. And, if we are open enough to listen and watch, we are, then, obliged to prepare diverse modes of learning that will meet and challenge that curiosity.

Youth need help detaching from more bourgeois sentiments because, as Phelps helps us to see, their education has left them without the critical awareness skills necessary to deconstruct or even identify "corporate liberalism," or more broadly, class hierarchies and their connections to social issues of race, gender, and sexuality. The latter are easier as isolates for most people whether young or old. Examining these issues in connection to class hierarchies and global capitalism helps to break down the neoliberal notion that culture, politics and the economy exist within "discrete spheres of social life" (Mambí Maestra Duggan, The Twilight of Equality?).

-Mambí Maestra Arrastía


The Nation

Christopher Phelps has written a timely but ultimately disappointing article about the vibrant and growing student movement [The New SDS (April 16, 2007)]. He transforms the tough challenges of movement-building into a set of tepid formulas about what not to do. The new wave of student activism in America and around the world is a hopeful development worthy of our active participation and respect. Yet Phelps focuses on the sectarian divides of the MDS generation rehearsing old political grudges or offering simplistic “lessons? from the New Left, rather than highlighting the steps forward and the common ground between radical organizers.

Our points of convergence (young and old, organizers and activists) are numerous, including the need to strive for participatory democracy and non-exclusion, resist the savage US wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, fight brutal poverty and gluttonous wealth here and globally, act to end catastrophic climate change, racial injustice and patriarchal power, and reject the permanent so-called war on “terror? in toto. Phelps would have benefited from more attention to what led to coordinated anti-war actions on 60 campuses last month, and to the new SDS diverse political campaigns ranging from getting military recruiters out of high schools and off campuses to anti-sweatshop coordination, from opposition to police violence against the community to protest when war criminals speak, from support for Assata Shakur and the new Panther 8 defendants to fights for universal health care – radical youth organizing is broad and deep. This is the power and the inspiration of a vast, left umbrella network with variety and vigor.

Phelps stereotypically characterizes me as a “celebrity? while the male ideologues are described by what they say about politics. I object. Who knows why any speech or article is well received? At the SDS conference at Brown University in Spring 2006, it seemed that the political substance of my talk was what generated the positive response from students: the urgent needs to reject the framework of US military and economic empire, to forge active opposition to white supremacy and grapple with the issue of multiracial organization, and to reckon with the importance of direct action to organizing and educating. I intentionally ignored the challenge to debate the issue of what killed SDS 38 years ago and who was right when, in favor of exploring what we all can do, in solidarity, now. Building bridges between issues, finding points of convergence, and creating an independent radical movement resonates across generations. The last thing the new SDS needs is patronizing elders wagging their fingers with cautionary tales.

-Bernardine Dohrn

"The Democrats after November" by Mike Davis

New Left Review 43
January-February 2007

For the full article, click here.

FROM THE ARTICLE: Was the November 2006 midterm election an epic political massacre or just a routine midterm brawl? In the week after the Democratic victory, partisan spinmeisters offered opinions as contradictory as those of the protagonists in Rashomon, Kurosawa’s famously relativistic account of rape and murder. On the liberal side, Bob Herbert rejoiced in his New York Times column that the ‘fear-induced anomaly’ of the ‘George W. Bush era’ had ‘all but breathed its last’, while Paul Waldman (Baltimore Sun) announced ‘a big step in the nation’s march to the left’, and George Lakoff (CommonDreams.org) celebrated a victory for ‘progressive values’ and ‘factually accurate, values-based framing’ (whatever that may mean). [1] On the conservative side, the National Review’s Lawrence Kudlow refused to concede even the obvious bloodstains on the steps of Congress: ‘Look at Blue Dog conservative Democratic victories and look at Northeast liberal gop defeats. The changeover in the House may well be a conservative victory, not a liberal one.’ William Safire, although disgusted that the ‘loser left’ had finally won an election, dismissed the result as an ‘average midterm loss’.

Idris Goodwin, Playwright & Musician


My friend Idris is an educator and artist who received his BFA from Columbia College and his MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago. Recently, Idris was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts grant to finish work on two productions: Shut Mouth Karaoke, which includes facilitated writing from college students based on song lyrics, and Pluto: An Opera, which was an official entry in the PAC/Edge Festival. Idris was on HBO Def Poetry in February where he recited his poem, "What is They Feedin Our Kids" in which he jokes and challenges nutrition's racialized and classed elements.

Check out a sample (my favorite of his rhymes, "Ebonix") from Idris's latest CD:
Download file

-Mambí Maestra Arrastía

Kevin Coval, Poet


Kevin Coval is a close friend who lives and will probably always live in Chicago. His last book, Slingshots (A Hip-Hop Poetica), was published on EM Press in 2005 and the book is already in its third printing. The reason the book has done so well is that its main audience, youth, have internalized the poems, rhymes, and "chaikus" Kevin writes. Kevin is white and Jewish and wrestles with issues of self, other and difference in his non-fiction essay writing and poetry. Live, he uses performance to illustrate the way in which words have subjective and objective personal and social meaning, intent and purpose. On the page, his expository writing might define a new form: the critical lyrical essay, perhaps much in the style of Eliot Weinberger's "What I Heard about Iraq." Kevin juxtaposes Judaism against racialized conceptions of white and dark so as to help youth critically address complex issues of bias and difference in their own lives as they engage emotionally charged social issues. Kevin's work encourages youth to avoid the temptation of commodification inherent in cultural appropriations. Instead, he tells youth to tell the stories that are in front of their noses, to call out the cultural and economic crimes they see enacted in their names, and to cross boundaries toward each other with humility and integrity.

Important is the contribution Kevin makes to critically looking at the role of whiteness in hip-hop. Kevin does what Gwendolyn Brooks encouraged: he writes about the story in front of his nose. He doesn't try to write like a gangsta, which he too fraid to be; he doesn't try to write like anyone he is not. Kevin uses a hip-hop poetics to tell his own story about his life and to expose political criminalities and the criminalization of culture. In doing so, Kevin highlights hip-hop's form, shape, and history; a history embedded in 1970s post-industrial economic representations by Blacks and Latin@s in the South Bronx and then nationwide. Like they did, Kevin uses hip-hop as a call and a response to contemporary events and the contemporary socio-cultural, political, and economic conditions that produce these events.

-Mambí Maestra Arrastía

"Charter Organizing on Union's Agenda" by Aaron Chamners & John Meyers

In Catalyst Chicago, April 2007

With help from its national and state affiliates, the Chicago Teachers Union is planning a push to organize charter school teachers.

The American Federation of Teachers, which recently won teacher support to unionize seven charter schools in Florida, has sent national representative Rob Callahan to Chicago to spearhead the charter outreach campaign. (In addition to Florida, the AFT has organized charter school teachers in Maryland, New Jersey, New York State, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. New York City’s local, the United Federation of Teachers, runs two charters.)

Noting that teachers at some charters have “reached out? for union help, Callahan notes, “Unions don’t organize workers, workers organize unions.?

Initial steps in Chicago will include admitting charter teachers to union-run professional development programs, including the union’s touted National Board certification prep program, called Nurturing Teacher Leadership. The union will also ask charter teachers to join in a letter-writing campaign designed to pressure state legislators into passing school funding reform.

Callahan declined to identify the charter schools in which organizing efforts will initially be focused. But the union would extend its reach furthest by targeting the operators of multiple campuses, such as United Neighborhood Organization, Youth Connections and Chicago International Charter Schools. More than half of the approximately 900 Chicago charter school teachers and instructional aides work for these three operators.

Elizabeth Evans, executive director of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, declined to comment on the organizing but notes that charters and unions share a long and often collaborative history, including charter endorsement from Albert Shanker, the late former AFT president.

Still, Evans says that charter school teacher contracts show a dash of progressivism. In New York, she notes, teachers work longer days at the union-run charter high school.

State law prohibits teachers in Chicago charters from being part of the same collective bargaining agreement as teachers in regular CPS schools. But the union could organize teachers under separate agreements with individual operators, says CTU’s Springfield lobbyist, Pamelyn Massarsky. A master contract that applies to all charters could also be forged, she notes.

“It’s a fairness issue,? Massarsky says. “Teachers in Illinois, as public employees, are entitled to collective bargaining, and we intend to step in and do that for them.?


"L'Étranger" by Patricia J. Williams

Obama 1.jpeg

The Nation
5 March 2007

For the full article, click here.

FROM THE ARTICLE: "American identity is defined by the experience of the willing diaspora, the break by choice that is the heart of the immigrant myth. It is that narrative of chosen migration that has exiled most African-Americans from a substantial part of the American narrative--and it is precisely his place in that narrative that makes Obama so attractive, so intriguing and yet so strange."

"'Sago' Overwhelms Boiler House Audience
by Peter Okun
29 March 2007
Intermountain News

Elkins -- One year ago this past January, twelve men lost their lives in a coal mine at Sago, a short drive from Elkins. We all know that story— or do we? We read about the Sago mine disaster in our local newspapers, and we watched it unfold on the TV news. But what story did we see and whose words did we hear? Who actually got to tell the story of Sago? Whose voices got to speak— whose voices were left out? And how can we recover those left-out voices?

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