Tag: method

Eyeless in Gaza (they want to keep us that way)

My wife and  I were going to bed that night, when one last check on the news reported the Freedom Flotilla massacre.  Suddenly, we were wide awake, in shock and horror.  Transfixed.  We talked, noting that Huffington had a long piece, then a few minutes later only a snippet from the AP.  We despaired that this was going to get covered up by the media, blacked out, with only the Israeli military’s accounts of their victimization at the hands of terrorists:  “Every [activist] that approached us wanted to kill us … I had to fight against quite a few terrorists who were armed with knives and batons,” says a wounded captain in Haaretz.

I finally went to bed, but my wife spent the rest of the night weeping.

Round 1

Imagine our surprise next day when we started reading the coverage.  The NY Times gave it top front-page billing, as did other press.  In the shock of the moment — even with most quotes coming from the IDF — the coverage was damning of Israel.  The most wrenching image — at least to me — was from the NY Times, Echoes of Raid on ‘Exodus’ Ship in 1947, with the story of the 1947 Exodus, desperate Jewish refugees trying to break the British blockade to get into Palestine.  The connection was relentlessly driven home, the poor and desperate bridging the centuries in pain.  What went wrong?

Making a difference

Stephen King, in one of his books on the field of horror fiction, was asked about the political import of all the 50’s movies that featured scary monsters created from radioactive fallout.  King’s response was that there was no politics at all.  Spooky radioactive stuff was simply part of the public consciousness, a throw-away, and the question was simply whether the monster should be a sea creature or an insect or a giant lizard.

Today, if you look at popular movies for the past 40 years, there is a constant theme that if you know evil government secrets, the government will kill you.  If you expose a secret military operation, the military will kill you.  If you can reveal corporate wrong-doing, the corporations will kill you.  If you know of illegal police operations, the police will kill you.  Government officials, corporate officials, military officials, are all routinely portrayed as ruthless seekers of profit and power who will stop at nothing to achieve their ends.

Jaws.  A local government leaves people exposed to a giant ravenous shark rather than hurt the local tourist business.  This was a shock?  Did people react to Jaws with, “No, we can’t imagine them doing something like that”?  No.  Of course not.  The exciting part was whether the heroes could kill the shark before it ate them.

Now there’s this oil leak

The left leaps into action.  The oil companies are evil.  The government is corrupt.  Obama is a tool of BP.  So fucking what?

And then there were none

… now that [healthcare reform is] the law, they’re using it to limit coverage by private insurers.

An obscure part of the law allows states to restrict abortion coverage by private plans operating in new insurance markets.  Capitalizing on that language, abortion foes have succeeded in passing bans that, in some cases, go beyond federal statutes.

… Before the overhaul became law, five states had limits on private insurance coverage of abortion — Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Abortion rights supporters are concerned that the list is growing as a result of the new federal law.

Associated Press 05/16/10

Great bait-and-switch #1 of the past year was the healthcare reform debacle.  Public option, public option, yay!  Yes, the Stupak/Nelson abortion restrictions were bad, but a public option bill was so important that it was worth Stupak/Nelson.  Oh whoops, no public option?  Bummer, but what’s a poor liberal to do?

Now Jobless Next Homeless breaking through

Despite the system trying to project an aura of unflinching omnipotence, I believe it is actually extraordinarily sensitive, even fragile.  Thus it took 10’s of 1,000’s of dead in Vietnam to bring down Lyndon Johnson, but Bush went psychotic over there being any pictures of coffins coming home from Iraq.

Likewise, they greatly fear the images of the homeless.  It’s fascinating how many Republicans have voted for extensions.

But the Democrats tried hard to bury the lack of a Tier 5 for unemployment benefits (benefits beyond 99 weeks).  Any one of “our” good liberals could have made news by addressing the issue.  Obama could have talked about the country’s commitment to the victims of the depression.  Instead, the headlines all bragged that Congress had extended benefits, they were going to take care of the long-term unemployed, yakked about benefits to the end of this year, yay Congress.  No details.  This was deliberate, to prevent us from building momentum to help the 99’ers (those about to lose their benefits after the 99 week max).

to Hell with the Middle Class

Based on the responses to my post last week “Organize the Unorganized?” it must have struck some nerves.  For better or worse.  I gave an extremely brief look at some of the history of organizing the unorganized, dynamics among craft workers, unskilled industrial workers, the unemployed and welfare recipients, successes and failures, problems of social leverage, etc.

Some announced, as though it were news, that organizing the unorganized was hard.  (Could that be why they’re unorganized?)

Others picked up on what I was saying and were eager to work in terms of class.

Then there were those who were offended at the words “organizing” and “poor” appearing in the same post.

… organizing “the poor” depends first and foremost upon becoming “the poor.”  Otherwise, it’s just one more case of salvationist liberals coming in as tourists, to tell the proles how to better live like liberals.


You can’t organize a group you aren’t already a member of. As a poor person, I am sick to death of meddling middling middles hand wringing about the poor only to blame us when shit hits the fan (think of all the moaning about undeserving people getting home loans). Unless you are one of us, then perhaps skipping the condescension and following the first rule of being an ally is best- shut up, listen, learn.

Organize the Unorganized?

After posting last week Boots Outside the Box, which argued that the poor MUST be organized, I got a few comments to the affect that the poor COULDN’T be organized.  Too demoralized.  Too vulnerable.  No leverage.  It’s a worthy question, and one that has a long history.

Another commenter posed the question in terms of middle-class organizing VERSUS organizing the poor.  My response:  there is no versus.  The question is, what is the relationship between them?

Since the poor are largely unorganized, I think it appropriate to respond in terms of organizing the unorganized.  Which also has a long history.

Back when dinosaurs stalked the earth …

Karl Marx introduced two terms — the Reserve Army of Labour (or Industrial Reserve Army) and the Lumpenproletariat.  The reserve army was considered part of the working class, either suffering temporarily from unemployment, or part of the never-as-yet employed, which capital could employ as needed.  The lumpenproletariat was considered a criminal class of petty hustlers, smugglers and prostitutes, recruitable by the bourgeoisie to be used against the working class.

Boots outside the box

There are moments I keep going back to.  One is the run-up to Bush’s invasion of Iraq.  The demonstrations were incredible, propelled at electronic velocity through the internet and into the streets around the world.  Per Wikipedia:

“According to the French academic Dominique ReyniĆ©, between January 3 and April 12, 2003, 36 million people across the globe took part in almost 3,000 protests against the Iraq war.”

And where are the snows of yesteryear?  Same place as the demonstrations.

From time to time, I’ve talked about the “we,” and the question of how the blogosphere can be transformed — or not transformed — into so-called boots on the ground.  I’ve answered the question, how do WE stop fascism, with, first we have to develop the we.  When bold proclamators expound that WE must do this, WE must do that, WE must bend the politicians and their running dog lackeys to our progressive will, I’ve responded with, “Who is the WE?”

But I suspect that there’s some smart-ass out there saying, hey, you keep asking the same damn question, how about YOU giving us an answer?  No, I’m not now announcing that I’ve come up with the answer to who is WE.  Would that I were.  But I do want to give it a bit of a rassle.  See where it goes.

Jane Hamsher revisited

“I am Oz, the Great and Terrible. Who are you, and why do you seek me?”

“I am jeffroby, the Small and Meek. I have come to you for help.”

“What do you wish me to do?”

“Keep to your principles.  Before the healthcare bill passed, you quoted a poll that said, “A full 79.7% think it’s ‘important’ or ‘very important’ that the health care bill contain no restrictions on abortion coverage, and 82.3% think that any member who casts a vote to restrict abortion coverage should face a primary.  You approved.  Now I beg you to use your power to make it happen.”

“Why should I do this for you?” asked Oz.

“Because you are strong and I am weak; because you are a Great Wizard and I am only a little blogger.”

Or so it felt.

The great and terrible wizard, of course, is Jane Hamsher.  An often principled and occasionally courageous progressive.  On March 10, she came out in favor of primarying any Democrat who voted for a healthcare bill containing Nelson or Stupak anti-abortion language.  I was impressed.

Fascism — There is a point of no return

It’s ironic that teabaggers are now raising the cry of American Exceptionalism.  The term has a long history, generally along the lines of U.S. as a beacon of Democracy, young, free, blessed by God.  The Communist Party USA in the 1930’s re-defined the term to claim they could achieve socialism peacefully, paving the way for their accommodation with Roosevelt.  The teabaggers are today re-defining it again as America having the right to rule the world, unrestrained by treaty, law or human decency.  America uber alles, you might say.

They have the audacity to call Obama a fascist, even as a U.S. rep at a teabagger rally proclaims in Huffington Post:

“Fill this city up, fill this city, jam this place full so that they can’t get in, they can’t get out and they will have to capitulate to the will of the American people,” he said.

“So this is just like Prague under communist rule?” the Huffington Post asked.

“Oh yeah, it is very, very close,” King replied. “It is the nationalization of our liberty and the federal government taking our liberty over. So there are a lot of similarities there.”

Earlier, King implored the crowd to bring the nation’s capital to a sort of paralysis. Warning, erroneously, that the health care bill would fund abortion and fund care for 6.1 million illegal immigrants, he demanded that concerned citizens “continue to rise up.”

Will you still love me tomorrow?

I am left off-balance by the contradictions.  Winds of change are blowing.  Creating a Facebook page for the Union of the Unemployed Thinktank was a wrenching experience.  It grew quickly to 183 members, and now it is pretty quiet.  Little leverage, and the main Union of the Unemployed acting director Rick Sloan can have a wonderful article in Huffington Post that mentions his position with the IAM but not a single peep about the Union of the Unemployed that he ostensibly heads.  I carry two things with me from the experience.  First, jobs CREATION, not jobs ENCOURAGEMENT, is what we have to be demanding at every point.  Second, I am a lot less patient with bullshit.  Perhaps that is a character flaw.  I am very far from being okay.

Oh yeah, I mention contradictions.  Winds of change.  Demonstrations for jobs are starting to pop up like springtime daisies.  New organizations are forming.  The Bull Moose Movement in New York.  An unemployed council in Oregon.  Bart Stupak and Blanche Lincoln are being challenged.  The emperor has no clothes, details at 11.  There is now a steady patter of “primary them all.”  Contradictions.  The Full Court Press is not benefiting from this.  That’s okay.  We are starting to see something like movement.

Union of the Unemployed — what organizing looks like

I’ve been unemployed since July 2008.  My tech job was outsourced to the Philippines.  The week before that, my wife had been forced out of her job in retaliation for having reported sexual harassment at one of Wall Street’s leading regulatory agencies.  I was intrigued when she showed me an article on AlterNet telling about a newly formed Union of the Unemployed formed by the IAM.  I joined online.

Then I set out trying to figure out what I had gotten myself into.  The union is organized into 6-person Cubes.  One could communicate to everyone within a Cube, but all other communication had to be done one-by-one from the membership links.  As for what the union was fighting for, the emphasis was on excoriating Jim Bunning for holding up unemployment extensions (which Democratic Party dallying made possible).  While there were references to IAM press releases supporting jobs creation, the actual agenda was to support the bill whose heart was giving tax breaks to small businesses so as to encourage them to create jobs (the lowest paying jobs).  There was no link for contacting the union.

Toward a psychology of activism

An ordinary beautiful San Francisco day in 1979.  Home from work, flicked on the tube, the announcer droned that the jury had just convicted ex-cop Dan White of manslaughter for the carefully planned murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.  People were gathering at the Civic Center.

I immediately hopped in my car and headed downtown, parking several safe blocks from the scene.  Thousands were gathered before the Civic Center steps, mostly silent in stunned vigil.  The prosecution had horribly botched a slam-dunk case.  Many thought deliberately botched.  A nervous line of cops surrounded the building, and 13 police cars were parked alongside the mall across the way.

Nothing happened.  The crowd swelled.  One man began tugging on a parking meter along the sidewalk.  Its moorings loosened, he kept rocking it until the meter came free.  He took the meter and smashed in the windshield of one of the cop cars, then ran for the cover of the crowd.  The crowd only watched.  The police only watched.

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