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Soccer vs the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics by Gabriel Kuhn

By Andy Hedgecock
Morning Star (UK)
March 25th, 2019

A timely and entertaining read on the history and development of the ‘beautiful game’

THERE is a widely accepted idea that football emerged from working-class culture, went through a golden age as the people’s game and then sold its soul to Sky, Adidas and Coca Cola.

But Soccer vs the State, Gabriel Kuhn's lively and painstaking examination of the sport’s hidden history and competing cultures, reveals a more complex narrative.

The book is full of surprises. In the early 19th century football was played by future captains of industry and administrators of empire, though this changed in the 1880s when professionalisation attracted young men seeking an escape from factory work. With professional players came working-class crowds keen to watch their mates.

Another revelation concerns women’s participation — we are currently witnessing a revival, not a genesis. Women participated in medieval village matches and were excluded only when public schools appropriated the game.

There was renewed interest in women’s football in WWI and in 1920 Dick, Kerrs Ladies from Preston beat St Helens Ladies before a record crowd of 53,000 at Goodison Park. The response of the FA was to introduce a ban, not lifted until 1971, and to encourage international prohibition of women players.

Kuhn highlights the tension football provokes between workers and bosses on every continent, using archived pamphlets, manifestos, interviews and news clippings and a complex picture emerges of a Jekyll-and-Hyde sport.

There is evidence of it being a counter-revolutionary activity fostering greed, corruption, sectarianism and nationalism but there are also examples of teamwork on the pitch promoting working-class solidarity. An example is the late Aboriginal activist Charlie Perkins, who said that the Greek and Croatian soccer teams of Adelaide were the first groups to recognise him as a person.

The book provides fascinating snippets of information on activism, racism, anti-fascism, corporate influences on accessibility, bigotry and internationalism yet the author’s impressive archive and interview-based research, and his rich and varied presentation of information, is slightly compromised by the book’s structural flaws.

The thematic similarity of some chapters leads to repetition of ideas and makes it hard for readers to refer back to specific information and narratives. But Kuhn offers a cornucopia of anecdotes, facts, life histories and extracts to create a fragmented yet fascinating picture of a sport facing profound risks and possibilities.

This new second edition covers the development of feminist clubs, the contribution of ultra fans to the fall of Mubarak in Egypt and the impact of the Fifa corruption scandal and it is an invaluable resource at a time in which football risks destruction by the greed of club owners and their corporate partners.

At the same time it celebrates the game’s potential for building social cohesion and alternative forms of community.

Soccer vs the State is published by PM Press, price £15.99

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How Childless Adults Are Secretly Protesting for American Parents

By Patrick A. Coleman
March 8th, 2019

Family planning expert Jenny Brown argues that the declining American birth rate is a push back against unrealistic economic expectations thrust on mom and dad.

The US birth rate is at its lowest point in three decades and sliding. The population shrinks daily even as the private sector struggles with a labor shortage and politicians promised GDP growth incompatible with a contracting workforce. Though they rarely get credit for it, parents grow the economy by raising the kids who wind up participating in it. When adults opt out of parenthood en masse — there’s a fine example of this in Japan — economies sputter and stall. So it behooves both policymakers and private sector leaders to consider why Americans in prime child-bearing years are opting out of procreation. And it turns out there are some concrete and fairly obvious answers.

The economic strain of parenthood has increased. The social strain of parenthood has increased. The professional strain of managing multiple incomes has increased.

Jenny Brown has watched both these trends and family planning trends. As a National Women’s Liberation organizer, Brown led the campaign to make the “morning-after pill” available over-the-counter and discovered that couples were putting off having children not out of disinterest but out of fear. They understood the difficulty of providing for and educating a child in a hyper-competitive culture. They understood they would receive minimal government support. They were making informed decisions to either not have kids or to have fewer kids. The un-childing of America was underway. 

In her new book Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work, Brown documents this phenomenon and posits that until the government starts supporting families with social programs that help make child rearing easier, adults will eschew parenthood and parents will skip the second or third kid. Fatherly spoke with Brown about this emerging dynamic and what fathers can do to navigate what is, in a literal and figurative sense, a confounding labor market.

I want to make sure that this gets represented accurately. You’re arguing, essentially, that because the American government doesn’t provide meaningful support for parents, we’re seeing a decline in birth rates, which you’re calling a birth strike. How did you come to that conclusion?

We were involved in a campaign to get the morning-after pill over the counter and we talked about how difficult it is to have kids. Many of the members of our group had had one and we’re stopping because they didn’t have access to paid leave, or the amount of time off that they had was laughable — maybe a week or two weeks. They had health insurance issues, trouble paying just for the birth. Even when they had insurance there were a lot of other costs involved. Then there was paying for after school and summer programs and just the exhaustion of working eight hours a day, at least, and then coming home and trying to have a family life. They just decided they couldn’t handle having a second.

What about the women who didn’t have kids?

Many of us didn’t have kids but wanted them. We were facing financial instability and inflexibility by employers and the cost of childcare. In other countries, there are subsidies or wraparound services or very long paid leaves. But we were mostly taking unpaid leave. And then we started to see the headlines about the birth rate going down and that’s when we made the connection.

So, when it’s harder to raise kids, people have fewer kids. Makes sense. And you’re certainly right that America subsidizes parents a great deal less than most developed nations. Why do you think we’re so reluctant to help American parents when it’s clear they need more help?

Well, I’m not sure it’s reluctant. At least on the part of just ordinary people. But I do think it’s reluctance on the part of the employers.

After World War II, the sexist ideal was to have a family wage. That meant that one breadwinner would support the family. They would support the children and a spouse who made it their full-time job to do the care work in the family. And so that was 40 hours a week to support a family. Now it takes 80 hours or more a week to support a family. But employers have not added anything for that family care job.

Employers now get 80 hours, at least, of labor so there’s less eagerness on the part of couples to do additional domestic work. That resonates with me, but I wonder if there’s a solution. 

For the unionized section of the workforce, there used to be an idea that the employer’s paycheck had responsibility over what is possible in a family. In our group, we say rather than the family wage we need a social wage. That’s the European term or all of these programs that cover everyone, including long paid leave, long vacations, health care, child care, and elder care. We have to reckon with what happened in America. We had a system. That system is gone but it wasn’t replaced with another system.

That system has traditionally been understood as “bad for moms.” But it strikes me as pretty damn bad for dads as well. What is the advocacy role for fathers here?

Men worry about the economic situation. They worry about healthcare, child care, and housing. The same pressure is applied. So the birth strike is definitely not just something that women are deciding. It’s something that couples are deciding. We’re in a different situation than the 50s because dads are really doing tremendously more. They see all of the same things that women see when they’re doing care.

With that visibility that fathers have, and those higher stakes, will that help?

I think creates the possibility for more political cohesion when parents go to make these demands.

If the difficulty of parenting is leading to a decline in birth rates, that will ultimately affect the GDP and shrink eligible employees. It looks like the private sector is working against it’s best interests. What’s the deal? Do they just not get it?

Well, for the last 20-years they have been getting away with it. Until recently families have been taking these burdens on themselves. They have been paying out for the child care and struggling and enlisting grandparents to fill in the gaps. We sort of blame ourselves. We figure well, you know, we knew what we were getting into when we had kids and so we’re just going to have to make do. We don’t see it as a system which is reliant on our labor as parents doing the very careful and important job of raising the next generation.

I think a lot of parents feel that isolation.

There’s an ideology that goes along with this where it’s really all on the parents. You are responsible. It’s almost as though kids are a luxury item as opposed to the next generation of our society. And because we blame ourselves we haven’t been able to create the political pressure to, you know, get Amazon to pay taxes so we can have a child care system in this country. Because if an individual employer says, okay, we’re going to have six months paid family leave they’re suddenly at a competitive disadvantage. So it’s very hard for employers to do that.

And so it seems clear we need a government-wide solution. But, right now, so many politicians are talking like social welfare programs are somehow evil. Can we get past that?

Well, we should look at solutions we’ve already had in this country. During World War II we needed women in the workforce. Suddenly. We were able to come up with childcare centers and extensive support. Also, we already have the equivalent of an allowance for children. If a parent dies Social Security gives income replacement so that the child will not be destitute. We have a system, you just have to die to get it. Still, socialist programs are not all that alien from things we’ve done in the US.

I’m watching President Trump shadow box with the idea of socialism in front of roaring crowds. Do you still think that’s true?

I think the fact that people are now complaining about socialism is a sign that we actually have made politicians understand these programs are politically viable in the US. They’re reacting to that political viability by denouncing it.

What’s the breaking point going to be?

By pushing forward this idea that we’re on the informal birth strike, people will start to get a sense of just how bad it’s gotten. It’s not just an individual issue. This is something we need to have a collective solution so our kids don’t have to go through this.

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Why Toledo Just Gave Legal Rights to Lake Erie

By Nicole Javorsky
March 1st, 2019

Lake Erie provides drinking water for 11 million people, and an unusual tactic to protect it was just adopted in Toledo, Ohio: On Tuesday, Toledoans passed the “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” in a special election, with 61 percent voting yes on a ballot measure that could allow citizens to sue polluters on behalf of the lake.

“This is the first in the nation in terms of rights-of-nature law being adopted by a municipality over a certain ecosystem, and I think it’s the beginning of more things to come in that area,” said Thomas Linzey, executive director and chief legal counsel for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which helped local activists draft the bill.

The ballot measure will amend the city’s charter to establish that Lake Erie has the right to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve.” The goal of giving the lake legal rights, Linzey said, is for activists to be able to do “a survey of who’s the biggest polluters into the lake” and then bring lawsuits “to stop that pollution,” he said.

“This is the first in the nation in terms of rights-of-nature law being adopted by a municipality over a certain ecosystem.”

Runoff pollution is a major cause of Lake Erie’s algae blooms, which can make water toxic to fish, wildlife, and people. This kind of pollution occurs “when rainfall washes fertilizer and manure spread on large farm fields into streams that flow into Lake Erie,” according to the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Past problems with Lake Erie’s water quality prompted organizers to think about new ways to safeguard it. Back in 2014, the City of Toledo issued an advisory for residents not to drink municipal water after chemical tests found unsafe levels of an algal toxin. The toxic algae bloom left 110 people sick and nearly half a million without tap water. Ohio even declared a state of emergency.

“For three days in 2014, we lost access to our drinking water, and we didn’t see any action come out of that,” Markie Miller, an organizer for Toledoans for Safe Water, told CityLab. “We wanted to do something for ourselves.”

The concept of giving rights to nature originates, at least within the U.S., from an article by Christopher Stone published in 1972 in the Southern California Law Review, “Should Trees Have Standing?—Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects.” Since then, the idea has gained traction internationally. In 2008, Ecuador became the first country to recognize rights of nature in its national constitution. And in 2010, Bolivia’s legislative assembly passed the “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth.”

The basic principle is that of legal standing: Under the U.S. Constitution, to have standing, one needs to show direct injury to oneself caused by some entity, and there must be some redress, or remedy, that can be found in court. Activists hope that with these new rights, Lake Erie will have standing in court without needing to demonstrate injury to a human.

The U.S. Clean Water Act addresses point-source pollution, from a confined and discrete source. But a significant percentage of what plagues Lake Erie is diffuse, non-point-source pollution, such as excess fertilizers from agriculture and urban stormwater runoff.

The fact that Toledoans endorsed such an unusual means to combat pollution reflects an understanding that current regulations aren’t sufficient, said Madeline Fleisher, senior attorney in the Environmental Law & Policy Center’s Columbus office. “The citizens of Toledo are clearly and rightfully frustrated. I understand why they’re trying novel approaches to try to get those issues addressed.” (As is common in local special elections, turnout in Toledo’s was low; just shy of 9 percent of registered voters cast ballots.)

The proposal has been contentious. The board of elections in Lucas County (whose seat is Toledo) voted to block it from the ballot in the November 2018 election. After several months of debate, the board ultimately voted in December to add it to the February special election because of an Ohio Supreme Court decision, as the Toledo Blade reported. One board member said he still believed the measure was “on its face unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

Opponents of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights are concerned about the costs of litigation for farms and businesses. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation already pledged its support for a lawsuit farmer Mark Drewes filed in the Federal District Court for Northern Ohio Wednesday, challenging the constitutionality of the bill.

“Farmers want and are working toward improving water quality, but this new Toledo law hurts those efforts. Mark Drewes understands this, and it’s Farm Bureau’s job to back his important actions on behalf of Ohio farmers,” the executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau, Adam Sharp, said in a statement.

The suit contends that the measure violates federal constitutional rights, including equal protection and freedom of speech. Additionally, it argues that the bill of rights violates Ohio state law in several ways. For example, it contends that Toledo as a local government cannot override the Ohio state governing structure of Lake Erie, since the Ohio Department of Natural Resources governs the lake under state law.

“One of the biggest challenges that the [Lake Erie] Bill of Rights will have is moving from vision to enactment,” said Cinnamon Carlarne, an Ohio State University law professor. “That is part of a larger conversation trying to advance the role that law plays in protecting ecosystems for a variety of reasons—not the least of which is that we are as humans fundamentally dependent on them.”

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Health Care Revolt -- Reflections on Democracy and Medicine

By Gregory Stevens
The Medical Care Blog

February 28, 2019

A book lying idle on the shelf is wasted ammunition.”
– Henry Miller, The Books in My Life (1952)

The Medical Care Blog is home to many strong opinions.  In the last year, contributors have written ferociously about the political determinants of health, highlighted the per-mile cost of President Trump’s wall in numbers of children who could gain health insurance, and referred (with rather appropriate snark) to our health care system as the “Ford Pinto of the world”.  And last month, with Medicare-for-All breaking into the news cycle amid false claims of socialism, I tried to write with clarity about this important movement.

The common thread among these posts is the connection between politics, power, and medicine.  This same thread runs throughout a provocative new book: Health Care Revolt: How to Organize, Build a Health Care System, and Resuscitate Democracy–All at the Same Time by Michael Fine (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2018).* A family medicine physician, community organizer, and former state public health commissioner in Rhode Island, this is Dr. Fine’s third book on reforming the health care system.  It’s also his best.

A Marketplace…Functioning As Intended

The U.S. health care system is not much of a “system”.  It is a marketplace of private companies selling degrees of financial protection from the costs associated with receiving health care from mostly unrelated health care providers and hospitals.  The government provides additional financial protection for people whom the private market has failed (i.e, Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP).  It is not surprising that Medicare was the federal government’s first entry into health care; the private insurance industry saw them as bad risks, so when Medicare was under debate in the 1960s, only about half of older adults had any coverage.  A similar argument about why Medicaid exists can be made for the poor (a population with high costs, but few resources).

Where Dr. Fine advances our thinking is by helping us acknowledge that the private market is, in fact, functioning perfectly at doing what it is supposed to do: maximizing profit.  Few would be surprised to learn that health insurance and health care are two of the most lucrative industries in the U.S.  A 2018 report from the White House Council of Economic Advisors, for example, notes that health insurance company stocks have increasingly outperformed the S&P 500 by a considerable margin.  The report also notes that health insurers made about $100 in gross profit for every $400 in premiums (a 25% gross profit rate, which is high).

Endangering Democracy

Referring to the health care system as a “wealth extraction system”, as Dr. Fine does, is not that far from the truth.  What else could we call a $48,512 hospital bill for a cat bite?  The challenge, however, is the risk that this wealth accumulation poses for policy-making for the public good.  If more wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals and health care conglomerates, this wealth can be used to tip the scales away from the best use of public funds.  We all know the influence of wealth in politics, but the influence invades many levels of health care.  For example, ProPublica has detailed how companies use their wealth to essentially bribe major insurance brokers.

The absence of power among those stripped of wealth is perhaps more disturbing. As Dr. Fine argues, health care is an essential service in a democracy because a healthy citizenry is necessary for the participation of individuals in the democratic process. Democracy suffers when people are too distracted by competing priorities, such as finding adequate food, to pay attention to politics. If people are too busy managing their uncontrolled diabetes and struggling with the costs of insulin, voting can become an afterthought, not a priority.  And if people are simply too demoralized to vote by this struggle, the public process of democracy fails.
Elsewhere, the term financial toxicity is being used to describe the effect of medical debt on health.  Perhaps we also need to talk about the toxicity of medical debt on democracy.

The Revolt

Dr. Fine invites us to revolt in several ways.  All of them involves grassroots action, rarely looking to elected officials to be the principle drivers of change.  This is empowering, because it enables us to recognize our own power.  But it is also scary to recognize that changing the system falls on our shoulders.  He gives examples of how to proceed, a few of which I highlight here:

    •    Fight for a strong, publicly-funded primary care systems, derived from the model that delivers the best primary care in the nation (our Federally Qualified Community Health Centers).  This is a model that can be expanded to deliver care that meets the majority of needs in a population.  While primary care is not the only solution, he offers a vision for how primary care can evolve into neighborhood health stations (as is being done in Rhode Island).

    •    Amplify the little embers and sparks of ingenuity that have allowed people to bring the focus of health care back to the community and not to profits.  He gives examples of doctors and hospitals that have retooled to focus on the needs of the poor, and reminds us that some great ideas have been tried, found successful and then forgotten.  He writes specifically about the creation of a community hospital in Hunterdon County, New Jersey.

    •    Be information advocates and community organizers.  Health care profiteers and other naysayers will be continue to be extremely well-funded and ready to suppress new ideas.  But individuals and (in particular) clinicians must share what they know, talk about how other health care systems work, remind all of us of why health care (and not the health care industry) is so important and valuable, and arm us with information we can use to participate in democracy.

Perhaps this is why I so appreciate Dr. Fine’s closing arguments about democracy and medicine:

“Democracy happens when we act up.  That’s what democracy is, and a political revolution in health care is both democracy in action and exactly how we can bring democracy back to life.” (p. 120)

I’m not leaving this book on the shelf as wasted ammunition.

Note: Dr. Fine is a friend and colleague and we’ve written together on this blog before.
*All profits from this book will be donated to the George Wiley Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit community organizing institution located in Rhode Island.

Gregory Stevens
Associate Professor at Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California
Gregory D. Stevens, PhD, MHS is a health policy researcher, writer, teacher and advocate. He is an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Preventive Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. He received both his masters and PhD from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health with a focus on health care policy. He has focused his research on primary health care, children’s health, health disparities and vulnerable populations. He is an author of the book Vulnerable Populations in the United States and you can find his peer reviewed papers in Medical Care, Health Services Research, Journal of General Internal Medicine, and American Journal of Public Health, among other journals.

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Occult Features of Anarchism: A Review

By Christopher Scott Thompson
A Beautiful Resistance

“Much of the European revolutionary tradition traces itself back to the 18th century, including the first stirrings of anarchist philosophy as we now know it. Much of the neopagan and occult tradition as we now know it traces back to the same era, and not at all coincidentally as author Erica Lagalisse demonstrates...” A review of Occult Features of Anarchism: With Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of the Peoples.

Photo by Olesya Yemets

Photo by Olesya Yemets

I knew I wanted to review Occult Features of Anarchism for Gods and Radicals as soon as I read the title. I knew I would love the author’s way of thinking as soon as I saw the title page, a tribute to the gloriously verbose title pages of the 18th century – right down to the font.

Much of the European revolutionary tradition traces its roots back to the 18th century, including the first stirrings of anarchist philosophy as we now know it. Much of the neopagan and occult tradition as we now know it traces back to the same era, and not at all coincidentally as author Erica Lagalisse demonstrates in this essay’s 114 densely-argued pages.

Along with the better-known Enlightenment of the rationalists and deists, there was another and stranger Enlightenment combining elements of occultism, pantheism, and radical politics. Working through clandestine secret societies such as the Illuminati and various Masonic splinter groups, the revolutionary occultists of this “Radical Enlightenment” were major players in the struggle against absolute monarchy and feudal social relations. In the process, they had a much larger role in the birth of anarchism and even Marxism than most of today’s radicals would ever dream. (For one startling example, see fig. 8 pg 54 – I don’t want to spoil the surprise!)

This hidden or “occult” legacy of revolutionary politics is now largely forgotten, disregarded by a radical culture that identifies itself as militantly atheist and rationalist. Yet its mark remains, and not always for the best.

Lagalisse, who describes her work as a critique of anarchism, approaches her topic from two directions. One is to demonstrate, with copious evidence, that the rigid atheism of most contemporary anarchism obscures a rich history of spiritual thought that once flourished in the circles that first articulated the tradition. (Just to give one example, several of the founders of the first International apparently belonged to radical Masonic lodges - including Bakunin himself.) The second is to demonstrate that the “secret society” mentality of the early revolutionary occult fraternities survives today in the use of impenetrable jargon and other gate-keeping behaviors that serve to keep anarchism the private domain of a few well-read gnostics rather than the mass movement it was meant to be.

Occult Features of Anarchism includes chapters on the hidden similarities between political ideology and religious cosmology, the underground occultism and political radicalism of the enlightenment, the mix of hermetic and pantheistic ideas in 18th and 19th century freemasonry, the revolutionary fraternities that worked and sometimes fought for these ideas, the influence of this tradition on the IWA or First International, the hidden connections between socialism and theosophy, the influence of hermetic philosophy on the Marxist dialectic, the origins of some of the deeply-ingrained assumptions about race, class, and gender in the anarchist movement, and the mythic implications and uses of the conspiracy theory.

The chapter on conspiracy theories also addresses the curious historical reversal by which the revolutionary brotherhood of the Illuminati was misremembered as a secret society devoted to maintaining the hidden power of an invisible elite. One of Lagalisse’s central arguments is that people outside of traditional radical circles may express a radical political and social critique through the medium of the conspiracy theory – using the conspiracy theory as a myth for articulating and personifying the forces responsible for oppression and injustice. As such, it would make sense for anarchists and other radicals to engage in dialogue with those who hold such beliefs rather than to reject them out of hand as “irrational.” Insisting that everyone we talk to must think the same way we do, read the same books we read, and express their radicalism as we express ours can be the equivalent of testing would-be initiates to see if they are worthy of admission into our own elite society – with the result that anarchism stays remarkably homogeneous.      

As a direct challenge to today’s anarchists, Occult Features of Anarchism is in some ways the opposite of my own Pagan Anarchism. Lagalisse’s work calls anarchists to task for the self-limiting mentalities and behaviors that have narrowed the appeal and impact of our ideas by centering them in an intellectual tradition that still looks a lot like the world we are trying to change. As much as I love Kropotkin’s bread book, perhaps the albatross around the neck of the anarchist tradition… is the anarchist tradition.

Not many books are truly “essential reading,” but if you think of yourself as an anarchist you cannot afford to miss this. This is one critique we need to be talking about.

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"We're Gonna Shut This Place Down"

by Jarrod Shanahan
February 28th, 2019

David Ranney was part of the wave of US socialists who went into factories in the 1970s to organize workers. In an interview, he discusses his new book about those explosive years — and the pitched battles his coworkers waged against both their corrupt union and the company.

In 1976, David Ranney gave up his tenured academic job to organize on the South Side of Chicago. He ended up working in a number of factories in Chicago and Northwest Indiana — home at the time to roughly one and a half million industrial jobs, one of the largest concentrations of heavy industry in the world — while also providing pro bono legal assistance at the Workers’ Rights Center and organizing with socialist groups like the Sojourner Truth Organization and News and Letters.

Ranney writes about those years in his new book, Living and Dying on the Factory Floor: From the Outside In and the Inside Out. Jacobin contributor Jarrod Shanahan recently interviewed Ranney about factory life in the early days of deindustrialization, the highs and lows of a strike he and his coworkers waged against the company and their corrupt union, and strategies for organizing under global capitalism today.

While the Chicago region was at this time synonymous with metal production, as you point out, steel mills themselves only accounted for about one-seventh of a diverse industrial landscape. What kind of shops did you work in?
I tried to get in the mills, but the jobs were beginning to tighten up even at that time. I worked at Chicago Shortening, a factory that made cooking oils made of animal fat — really bad for people. Then I worked in a paper-cup factory, Solo Cup. Then there was a chemical plant that made materials used in processing steel: insulating materials and chemicals added to separate impurities. Then I worked in a railroad-car factory.
What was the typical division of labor you encountered, along the lines of race, nationality, and gender?
It was different at different plants. Generally speaking, black workers were at the bottom of the pecking order. At Chicago Shortening, most of the black workers were either pumpers or cleaners. Those jobs were the dirtiest and the lowest paid. When I came there, the racial tensions were extremely high: the Mexicans and blacks hated each other, they all hated whites, and the whites hated all of them.

They actually had a division of where they took their breaks. There was a locker room that everybody supposedly shared, but it was the place that blacks used for all their breaks. The Mexicans had devised a breaking area, where they just pulled boxes near where they worked. The whites, mostly maintenance people, had our own special locker room that had keys to the door. We had high security lockers, a couch, and an easy chair.

That was one of the challenges for me off the bat. So I told the other maintenance workers I was going to take my breaks in different places to get to know people. But most of my breaks I spent with black workers.
The centerpiece of Living and Dying is your experience at Chicago Shortening, culminating in a strike that appears to be in almost equal parts against the company and the union of which you were ostensibly a member. How did this transpire?
Chicago Shortening was a small plant with thirty-four workers, the majority of them black, a handful of whites, and the rest predominantly Mexican. Very nasty, dirty place. The union was nonexistent as far as I was concerned when I first got there. Nobody talked about it.

A union business agent came into the locker room one day and announced we were at the end of the second year of a three-year contract, and they were going to reopen the contract and try to get us better terms. The workers were exceedingly rude to this guy.

When he left, the workers told story after story about how corrupt the union was, how they were in bed with the company, and how if they were opening the contract, there was a reason for it, and it wasn’t for us.
What happened next?

They asked us to form a negotiating committee and went through this charade of negotiations. Everything our representatives brought up was shot down; the union had come with a list of points they wanted in the contract that nobody had seen before.

So we had a discussion in the locker room about what people wanted in the contract and what they didn’t, and I wrote up a little memo summarizing the points from that discussion and put them on the bulletin board. After I did that, another worker wrote his own memo, which was much more rhetorical — scathing against both the union and the company — and he put that up on the bulletin board too.

We voted on the contract. Everyone said they had voted against, yet the tally came out in favor of the company. The company and union stole the election.
So you were now on their radar.
I got a call one day to report to the vice-president’s office. I knocked on the door, a voice said “come in,” and there sitting at the vice-president’s desk was the union rep! The first words out of his mouth were: “Who do you think you are, stirring up all the niggers in the plant?”

I yelled at him, and he yelled at me. He grabbed me and started knocking me around and knocked me out of the door of the office. I grabbed a wrench out of my tool belt. He said, “I’m gonna put you on the floor for good.” Suddenly the president of the company appeared, put his arm on the rep, called him by his first name, and said “Don’t do it here.”

I walked back into the plant, and my face was a little swollen. My coworkers asked what happened, and I told them. They went rushing up to the office and tried to get our union guy. He was running down the street. They chased him, somebody threw a concrete block through the back window of his car.

That’s how the strike started. They came back in the plant, said, “We’re gonna shut this place down,” and started shutting everything down. And we were on strike.
During the strike, you saw a lot of the walls that had separated the workers at Chicago Shortening come down.
Once we got on the picket line, not only did the national and racial tensions break down, because we were being commonly oppressed as a class, but workers were also open to talking about things that they probably wouldn’t have been under other circumstances. For instance, the Iranian Students Association came to the picket line and said, “We’re here to support you.” They explained where Iran was, and who the Shah was, and one of the workers said, “He sounds like a bigger motherfucker than who we have to work for here!”

Later we were having a court hearing, and it just happened that Iranian students were there for another court hearing. One of the Iranian students was stabbed by a Savak agent, and the Shortening workers all took off after him!

The struggle can be a school for learning more about the world. That doesn’t come from leftists but from organic experience and making connections.
The company and union were calling it an “illegal strike,” because it hadn’t been called by the official union apparatus.

That’s correct. The union actively opposed the strike throughout, the reason being that it was a wildcat. They came out to the picket line the first day and tried to get us to go back. Everyone was just mocking them, and told the guy who knocked me around: “You wanna take on Dave right now, again?” They left pretty quickly.

They took legal action against us, as did the company, and the two pretty much joined forces. We had some moments during the strike, but we ultimately lost it. One of the workers who was a major leader in the strike had been out on disability at the time the strike started, and even though he came to the picket line, he was technically not in violation and they had to take him back after the strike. (Most of the rest of us got fired.) He got in a fight with one of the scabs, and the next day the scab ambushed him and stabbed him to death. That was a huge blow.

Charles’s death was a big deal not only for him and his family — he was married and had a couple of kids — but for all the rest of us. I think about it a lot. I was very conscious — even at that time but more so today, given all that happened — about the special responsibility of somebody like me doing that kind of work. I came in there with an Ivy League education and a PhD, well aware that if things went south that I’d likely land on my feet, and that most of them would not. I always felt a special obligation to not agitate, but at the same time not hold people back from doing things they thought were right.

I didn’t start the Chicago Shortening strike. All I did was outline a summary of demands they had articulated in the locker room and put it up on the bulletin board. I didn’t say, “If you don’t do this we should all go on strike,” and I didn’t say, “Let’s strike” after I got beaten up in the vice-president’s office. They just did that. Then, I did play a role.

I think we also have an obligation to pick up on the most militant forces and help them in any way they can.
So you weren’t trying to recruit people to your organization or educate workers about a particular line. What was your strategic orientation?
When workers struggle as a class, they have insights into what a new society might look like — there are many examples in the book that I saw — and also how to get there. There’s a lot of self-organization in the workplace. I think our obligation as revolutionaries in a workplace or any other situation is to recognize these things and actively support them.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the precursor to ICE, played an important and terrifying role in the lives of many workers you encountered.
There was a particular period of aggression on behalf of INS, who Latinos called La Migra. They would surround a factory with armed guards, drag out people who appeared to be Latino, and deport people.

I talk about a small incident, where I happened to be changing a lightbulb in the front office when two Migra agents came in. I went down and warned the Latinos on a line that La Migra were in the plant. They all took off, and I started trying to do the line myself. Several black workers came up and started helping too, so by the time La Migra came up there were four or five black workers and me manning the line.
As you moved from factory to factory, jobs got harder to come by. At one point you were part of a process requiring fifteen workers, while it was being redesigned to only require two.
We didn’t know what was happening as it was happening. Deindustrialization didn’t just happen all at once. The steel mills started tightening up their hiring, plants started going down, but they didn’t go down all at once. What I can see very clearly today is it was a very deliberate strategy on behalf of global capital to save itself. It was in crisis. There was a lot of militancy from workers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but the system itself had to have a major reorganization to survive. What we saw as deindustrialization was part of a strategy.

A number of people ask me: if we had realized what was happening, what would we have done differently? I’m not sure I know the answer to that, but I think we might have shifted our focus to trying to disrupt that strategy somehow.

Much later when they began to institutionalize a new system of capital accumulation, then a movement started — to try to stop NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, the IMF, and the World Bank from opening up the whole world to capital movement and seriously undermining all kinds of workers’ movements. That got very militant, there was the so-called Battle of Seattle in 1999. All that got totally deep-sixed when the Iraq War came along, when the movement turned toward antiwar work and stopped any efforts to try to resist these new developments.

Today, the system that was put in place in the 1980s is also suffering from the periodic crisis of capitalism. We’re in a period I call “churning and flailing.” There is no clear strategy for a reorganization of capitalism worked out yet. Lots of things are being tried. The Left needs to be really tuned into that, like we weren’t in the 1980s, to come up with approaches to resist another reorganization of capital on a global scale.
The book begins with you hearing Trump refer to bringing back “middle-class” factory jobs, to “make American great again.” This makes you quite angry.

When somebody like Trump uses that language, or even Obama — I mean they all do — none of those people have any idea what they’re talking about. It’s just an empty political slogan aimed at people who are either out of work, or once worked in factory jobs and now work at Walmart and are making minimum wage. First of all, most of the people I knew back then really hated their jobs. They were very dangerous. At Chicago Shortening I had a very bad industrial accident, which I describe in some detail in the book.

The only thing was, we were making living wages in that time. That was the result of the fights labor had had over several generations, that they’d got wages up to the point where someone could send their kids to college, or could buy a car and not have to drive an old wreck. My pay in today’s dollars would have been $23 to $24, and that was at the low end. When they reorganized capitalism, they pulled the rug out from under all that, so there aren’t wages like that today. The unions are reduced to saying, “Fight for $15.” We’re in a bad place if we’re fighting for a wage people can’t even live on.

Another thing about conditions is we really polluted the hell out of the environment. The chemical plant I worked in became a Superfund site. All kinds of waste were covered over in dirt. This is all over the South Side of Chicago. There’s high rates of cancer. We don’t want to bring all that back. It didn’t make America great at the time, and it certainly won’t today.
What do you have to say to younger people trying to orient themselves as political actors amid the present “churning and flailing?”
I don’t think we should replace the potential of a mass movement with some vision we have from our own studies. I think we should try to take a broader perspective of what’s going on in the world and bring it to the workplace and to our day-to-day associations.

I was with the guys at Chicago Shortening every day for a year and a half, and I got to know them well. We really need to integrate ourselves. It doesn’t have to be a factory, it can be a working-class community, it could be a place like Amazon or Walmart, where the objective is to really know who the people are and listen to what they see in relation to things that are going on, on the job and in the world.

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Museum Uses Racist Memorabilia To Fight Racism

by Bill Berkowitz
The Smirking Chimp
February 22nd, 2019

In The New York Times’ Style section’s “Social Q’s” column this past Sunday, Philip Galanes fielded a question from Faby, who wrote: “I am an active member of my homeowners’ association. I am also African-American. While meeting at the home of the president of the association, I noticed that she had a row of African-American iconography lined up in her kitchen: a collection of ceramic “Mammy” jars. They made me uncomfortable. Do I have an obligation to say something about them? Maybe suggest that she hide away her trove of racist caricatures? Or should I follow a philosophy of “her home, her décor” and never go back? (In the past, this woman referred to my son as “one of the good ones.”).” Galanes’ suggested that since it was a business meeting, Faby could rightfully say to the president: “You know, those jars are racist stereotypes and perpetuate the idea of black women as servants to white people. I’d rather not see them at our official meetings.” Galanes added: “If the president argues that the jars are harmless or merely kitsch, send her a link to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University,” in Big Rapids, Michigan.

While The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, contains thousands of items of despicable racist ephemera - mostly, but not entirely, emanating from the era of Jim Crow - its overarching goal is the promotion of racial understanding and the improvement of racial relations. While the museum's displays mostly come from the era of Jim Crow, museum officials emphasize that negative caricatures of Black people did not end with that period. A large display of racist objects produced in the 21st century demonstrates the ways in which Jim Crow-era attitudes and behavior continue to exist.

The museum's grotesquely racist artifacts include a 1930s party game called "72 Pictured Party Stunts," which includes a card depicting a dark Black boy with bulging eyes and blood-red lips eating a watermelon as large as he is and instructs players to "go through the motions of a colored boy eating watermelon?" Other racist memorabilia include the "N***** Milk" cartoon, in which a sweet, little Black baby is suckling out of an ink jar, countless mammy renderings on salt and pepper shakers, and postcards of Black people being whipped and hanging from trees.
The racist memorabilia in the museum was all collected over the past three decades by David Pilgrim, an African-American former sociology professor who has devoted his adult life to raising awareness about racism through the museum and its traveling exhibits. In addition to founding the museum, Pilgrim is a filmmaker, who in 2004, produced - with Clayton Rye - the award-winning documentary, Jim Crow's Museum, to explain his approach to battling racism.
Early on in his book, Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice, Pilgrim identifies himself as "a garbage collector," as he has painstakingly, and often emotionally painfully, gathered thousands of items "that portray blacks as coons, Toms, Sambos, mammies, picaninnies, and other dehumanizing racial caricatures."

Pilgrim didn't go to garage sales, visit flea markets and later use the internet to buy memorabilia merely to build his personal collection, auction it off, or resell it on eBay. Nor was he sitting at home hoarding his collection. And, most of all, he didn't collect scads of repugnant artifacts in order to remove them from plain sight. In fact, Pilgrim believes that "items of intolerance can be used to teach tolerance and promote social justice."

Pilgrim bought his first racist object (a mammy salt shaker, which he immediately smashed) at age 12 or 13 in Mobile, Alabama, the home of his youth. Collecting racist objects eventually turned into the obsession that evolved into Pilgrim's essential project: the founding and curating of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, which houses the nation's largest publicly accessible collection of racist artifacts.

If, as a character in Darrin Bell's comic strip "Candorville" put it, "sometimes your outrage muscle needs a rest," then Pilgrim's book Understanding Jim Crow, and the contents of the museum in book form, might not be for you.

The images displayed in the book certainly are vile and hateful, carefully crafted to elicit the racist ideas that their creators wanted their fellow Americans to perceive, understand and internalize.

As Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University professor at Harvard University, points out in the foreword to the book, "Racist imagery essentializing blacks as inferior beings [in Jim Crow's United States] was as exaggerated as it was ubiquitous. The onslaught was constant." And despite African Americans pulling off "a miracle of human history, of enduring centuries of bondage to claim their freedom," Gates writes, "Jim Crow's propaganda ... was exhausting," and pervasive in the culture. "There was nothing understated about Jim Crow."

Pilgrim's thoughtful and passionately told story makes the book more than just another, albeit unique, history of US racism.

Pilgrim recognizes that "All racial groups have been caricatured in this country, but none has been caricatured as often or in as many ways as have black Americans. Blacks have been portrayed in popular culture as pitiable exotics, cannibalistic savages, hypersexual deviants, childlike buffoons, obedient servants, self-loathing victims, and menaces to society." As Robbin Henderson, former director of the Berkeley Art Center, has said, "Derogatory imagery enables people to absorb stereotypes, which in turn allows them to ignore and condone injustice, discrimination, segregation and racism."

Understanding Jim Crow contains images of racist book covers, cereal and soapboxes, dishes, endless sets of postcards, greeting cards, records, minstrel joke books and sheet music, and other examples of racist memorabilia. However, it is Pilgrim's thoughtful and passionately told story that makes the book more than just another, albeit unique, history of US racism. Essentially, the book is about Pilgrim's dedication to turning garbage collecting into tools for teaching about racism.

As a graduate student at Ohio State University, Pilgrim started buying items he could afford, paying a couple of bucks for "a postcard that showed a terrified black man being eaten by an alligator," and "for a matchbook that showed a Sambo-like character with oversized genitalia." By the time he joined the sociology faculty at Ferris State University, his collection - still housed at his home - contained more than a thousand items, some of which he brought to public appearances, mainly at local high schools.

In 1991, Pilgrim managed to see the collection of an elderly Black antique dealer in a small town. After promising not to "pester" her to sell the objects, she closed the shop door, put the "closed sign in the window, and motioned for me to follow," Pilgrim writes.

"If I live to be a hundred," Pilgrim continues in the book, "I will never forget the feeling I had when I saw her collection; it was sadness, a thick, cold sadness. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of objects, side by side, on shelves that reached to the ceiling. All four walls were covered with the most racist objects imaginable." Although Pilgrim already owned some of the items he saw, he was "stunned" by "every conceivable distortion of black people, our people, [that] was on display."

That moment, filled with sadness, disgust, anger and outrage, led Pilgrim to decide to create a museum. And five years after the visit to the elderly Black woman's antique shop, the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia opened at Ferris State University.

Understanding Jim Crow is far from an angry book. But it is certainly disturbing and uncomfortable. It is as James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, wrote in a blurb, a unique effort "to bring out from our dank closets the racial skeletons of our past." However, judging from the numerous racist images that popped up in all sorts of venues during the years of the Obama presidency, this historical study also hangs onto the present.

Pilgrim describes the museum he created as a place that "use[s] items of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice," by "examining[ing] the historical patterns of race relations and the origins and consequences of racist depictions."

As Pilgrim points out, "The twenty-first century has brought a fear and unwillingness to look at racism in a deep systematic manner." Many Americans prefer to "forget the past and move forward." Nevertheless, in an age of more awareness of police brutality, presidential candidates like Donald Trump stirring up racial animus, "[r]acial stereotypes, sometimes yelled, sometimes whispered, [continue to be] common."

Three years ago, the Jim Crow Museum moved into larger headquarters, which allowed for the integration of stories of "accomplishments of black artists, scholars, scientists, inventors, politicians, military personnel, and athletes who thrived despite living under Jim Crow." A civil rights movement section has also been added.

While cautiously optimistic about the future, Pilgrim refuses to downplay the past or ignore the present. The museum's website has a section called "... and it doesn't stop," which features examples of blatantly racist objects that are still being created.

The United States has never had a truth and reconciliation commission to deal with the country's racial divide. Yet we always seem to be in the midst of some sort of discussion about race, a discussion that frequently gets blown off course, and winds up going nowhere and achieving little. Henry Louis Gates Jr. calls the Jim Crow Museum, a "truth and reconciliation commission, formed out of the detritus of Jim Crow, with an interpretive story encasing it that would help witnesses state down the grotesqueries and, through a shared experience, confront hard truths."

The mission and tagline of the Jim Crow Museum is deceptively simple: "Using Objects of Intolerance to Teach Tolerance." Unfortunately, the production of racist caricatures of Black people did not end with the Jim Crow era. "Blatantly racist objects," like shooting targets depicting Trayvon Martin, were sold in the aftermath of his murder in 2012. As Pilgrim points out, there is still much work to be done.

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New Book: Corporate Agenda Moves into the Maternity Ward

By Pam Martens
Wall Street On Parade
February 25th, 2019

Jenny Brown has cracked the code that few writers, outside of analysts trained by the CIA, has cracked. In her new book scheduled for release on March 1 by PM Press, Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight Over Women’s Work, Brown performs a brilliant forensic examination of the money and people behind the stealth agenda to raise the low birth-rate in the United States. That agenda includes concerted campaigns against abortion, the “morning-after pill” and other forms of contraception. Using exhaustive research, Brown convincingly makes the case that it’s a well-financed corporate agenda implanted in Washington with an end goal of putting more American women in the maternity ward.

It’s not a cultural or religious agenda as many people believe. It’s just about money – corporate profits to be more specific. More babies mean more workers and more workers mean cheaper labor because there is no shortage of supply and thus no bargaining power for higher wages. (In that respect, it’s akin to why corporations spent decades undermining the right to unionize. Without a union, the individual worker has little negotiating power for higher wages, benefits or a shorter work week.)

Brown’s book is a critically important read if you are politically engaged, involved in social justice issues, or simply want a greater understanding of how corporations rule in Washington. It provides a powerful arsenal of facts, figures and historical context while simultaneously offering a fast-paced and fascinating story-telling quality.

The book revolves around these two facts: “A stable population in the developed world requires a birth rate of 2.1 children per woman, enough to replace the woman and her male counterpart. The current birth rate in the United States is estimated at 1.76, considerably below this replacement level,” writes Brown. Equally at issue, the current birth rate has “decreased 16 percent since 1990,” Brown notes.

The stealth agenda to boost the supply of corporate workers by raising the birth rate is not as stealthy as it once was – although it has eluded a lot of feminist writers until now. Brown provides numerous examples of men openly acknowledging the agenda. For example, Brown cites the 2014 book by Steven Philip Kramer of the National Defense University, The Other Population Crisis: What Governments Can Do about Falling Birth Rates, and the 2004 book by Phillip Longman of the New America Foundation, The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do about It. Longman writes: “Capitalism has never flourished except when accompanied by population growth and it is now languishing in those parts of the world (such as Japan, Europe, and the Great Plains of the United States) where population has become stagnant.”

As is typical, the Wall Street Journal has also been churning things up. Brown notes the following:

“ ‘The nation’s falling fertility rate is the root cause of many of our problems. And it’s only getting worse,’ conservative Jonathan Last cautioned in a Wall Street Journal article promoting his 2013 book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting. The Journal followed that with ‘The World’s New Population Time Bomb: Too Few People,’ which warned that the ‘developed world’s working-age population [is] to start declining next year, threatening global growth in the decades ahead.’ ”

Brown muses about the money that the billionaire Koch brothers have poured into anti-abortion and anti-contraception groups. The Kochs own the second largest private corporation in the United States, Koch Industries, which employs roughly 120,000 workers worldwide. The standard explanation is that the Kochs simply want to push the voter base to the right. Brown sees it differently (and we agree), writing that “Certainly voter manipulation is a part of the story, but this explanation has come to overshadow a deeper saga: The age-old battle over control of women’s valuable reproductive labor. Characterizing the current assaults as electoral trickery misses the submerged iceberg of uncompensated reproductive labor from which the rich and powerful have always derived their wealth.”

Brown writes that if we look at it as a “fight over the production of humans — how many, how fast, and at what cost — then it seems likely that employers, as a class, would have an intense interest. They would especially care when they are called upon to put in resources, as they are whenever we demand paid family leave or publicly funded childcare. A higher birth rate does serve an economic goal: An ever-expanding workforce raised with a minimum of public spending and a maximum of women’s unpaid work. Why would employers pay for parental leave if they can push us into maternity for free? Why would corporations pay taxes for a national childcare system if families can be induced to take that burden upon themselves?”

Brown makes it clear to readers that she is not buying into the corporate media proposition that “everyone wants what’s good for all” and that any disagreements are simply differing opinions on how to achieve that goal. Brown reminds us:

“Look at history: Every advance we’ve made was hard fought against an opposition that wanted it stopped. Whether it was independence from the British empire, the end of slavery, two days off on the weekend, a minimum wage, a shorter work week, birth control, voting rights for blacks and women, the right to form a union, women having their own bank accounts, the right to divorce — there were people dead set against it, not because they were misinformed about how great life would be if the change occurred, but because they were actually going to lose something: power, money, prestige, or control. It’s true that some in the oppressed group also opposed the changes, but when the changes came, they discovered they didn’t want to go back, whereas many in the ruling group still yearn for the good old days.”

Brown further reminds readers that it was corporate employers who benefited from the absence of child labor laws, writing: “An abundant supply of children was useful to employers, not just because they were dexterous and inexpensive workers, but because they could drive down the wages of all workers. Children’s lower wages undermined those of their parents, driving a cycle of desperation in families and leading them to send more children out to work.”

In the book, Brown reveals how much better women in other countries have it when it comes to having children, writing that “…the United States is virtually the only country in the world not to provide some form of paid parental leave — fifty countries provide more than six months of paid maternity leave by law, and forty-three countries provide fourteen weeks or more of paid paternity leave.”

There is also ample evidence provided that the decision to have children by parents in the United States is making them poorer than nonparents. Brown notes the “average childcare bill in the U.S. is $9,589 a year,” while in other countries, “childcare is free like public schools.” Quoting from a study, Brown notes that “Child poverty in U.S. two-parent families is six times that of Sweden and seven times that of Finland.”

Brown also, correctly, sees the Republican “pro-family” mantra as a stealth campaign for a higher birth rate on the cheap. Brown writes:

“Most politicians portray themselves as ‘pro-family,’ but none do it more vigorously than conservative Republicans. This might seem ironic, as it is the most loudly pro-family who try to block increases to the minimum wage, cut Head Start childcare and school lunch programs, slash welfare payments for parents and health care for children, oppose any kind of family leave (even unpaid), and generally make life less livable for children and families.

“But it is not just hypocrisy, and it’s worth decoding. What ‘profamily’ really means is families instead of government: Cut government, and put the work on families. And by ‘families’ they mean women, and women’s unpaid labor. Listen to conservative reformers Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s vision of a small-government, big-family America: ‘Crafting pro-family policies . . . is not a question of turning back the clock to some lost Ozzie-and-Harriet golden age. . . . Quite the opposite: Precisely because the world has changed, with the demise of lifetime employment and increasing returns to education, strong families are growing ever more important and policies that encourage people to form them and keep them together are ever more necessary.’ ”

The book provides a wealth of ideas for women and grassroots groups to take control of the debate in Washington. Brown is creating a study guide to foster consciousness-raising groups across the country and will be embarking on a national speaking tour. A Kickstarter campaign has been established to help fund the tour and study guide.

Brown is able to write with authority as an organizer for National Women’s Liberation; she was a leader in the grassroots campaign to have the “morning-after pill” available over-the-counter in the U.S. and a plaintiff in the winning lawsuit. She co-authored Women’s Liberation and National Health Care: Confronting the Myth of America and is the author of Without Apology: The Abortion Struggle Now.

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Heart X-rays: A Modern Epic Poem: A Review

by Djelloul Marbrook
JMWW Journal
February 8th, 2019

Heart X-rays, A Modern Epic Poem
By Marcus Colasurdo and G.H. Mosson
24 Pages
PM Press, 2018

I think more highly of Heart X-rays now in my eighty-fourth year than I thought of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl when I heard him read it in 1956. There is both more and less than meets the eye in that statement. In 1956 I was considerably more callow than I am now. I admired Ginsberg’s prosody, which reminded me of Martha Graham’s dance, but not his intellect, which I thought operatic, nor his rhetoric, which I thought overwrought.  I admire the powerful witness of Heart X-rays, its fine-tuning of prosody to the summons of content, its authenticity—all this because it recalls Howl in its hurt indignation and alarm.

Marcus Colasurdo is a well-published blue-collar workingman, an activist, an advocate of the disenfranchised. G.H. Mosson is a lawyer, conservationist and fair-trade champion. They live and work in multi-cultural Baltimore, a teeming, vibrant, tragic, triumphant city that represents much of what is both right and wrong in our society.

This “modern epic poem,” as they call Heart X-rays, does not have the often elegant discipline of Howl, but its cantos—that’s what we must call these titled poems if they’re to be thought of as a whole—are structurally more restless and innovative than Howl’s.

Because Heart X-rays, unlike Howl, is not overtly political, it often achieves a trustworthy intimacy that Howl forfeits to make its expansive case.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
So Howl begins, with such grandiosity that we forget the young Ginsberg had not lived long enough to know which were the best minds of his generation. He did see “madness, starving hysterical naked,” but he strikes such a pretentious note, and strikes it so memorably, that we put aside how pretentious and therefore suspect it is. Not so with Colasurdo and Mosson. Take the poem “Charleston,” after the infamous June 17, 2015, shooting:

Tonight, I don’t know which God

            you’re praying to.

I can’t tell which flag you salute.

I am not certain

            if you believe in ghosts—

but tonight I hear them sing:

            Oh come, Oh come, Emmanuel….

These two down-to-earth militants are not claiming a grand vision for themselves; they’re not claiming to speak for a generation or represent a movement. They’re witnesses. Like reporters, they’re letting what they know, what they’ve seen, speak for itself.

The authority of the high lonesome is present here—the authority of Nashville, which lies in witness. Ginsberg had insight and vision, but he did not have when he wrote Howl the experience that invites us to the dance here in Heart X-rays. These poems are often like the exuberant young woman who cajoles a timid young man to dance to the tunes he finds too edgy. These poems are the heart in the act of witness.

Let’s call the road, time.

Let’s call the journey, us.

Let’s call the hints, maps.

Let’s call the lesson, love.

In these diverse songs is much of what makes Taylor Swift relevant, a fierce compulsion not to walk away from a recognition, a willingness to engage, to encounter, but not to lament or preach. They don’t intellectually overreach, and that’s much to be said, since many a poem is spoiled by its pretensions.

Who wedged the universe into an alphabet

within a computer screen? Scroll through

all the way. My homeless heart cannot fit

into any safe deposit box. It just left town.

Here’s a question the press isn’t asking. Here’s news of an alienation the press isn’t willing to confront. Here’s a way to confront it.

Heart X-rays reminds us that in spite of unimpeachable evidence to the contrary the press’s regrettable smart-alecky sector is always writing poetry’s obituary precisely because poems like these address the elephants in the room—from which the press in the boorish manner of Donald Trump is moving heaven and earth to distract us. That is in fact the grandeur of Howl, its utter refusal to be distracted by dolled-up trivia, and Heart X-rays heartens us once again with poetry’s willingness to do battle with the shibboleths and dogmas of our time, and the pigeonholes and cages to which they consign us.

Colasurdo and Mosson, in a demonstration of democratic commitment making no distinction as to who wrote which poem, reveal to us the cutting edge, the real news of our society as opposed to the white noise of our society which we call news in our surrender to corporate myth-making.

Djelloul Marbrook, poet, novelist, and former journalist, is author of several books including Far From Algiers, winner of the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize, and most recently, The Seas Are Dolphin’s Tears (Leaky Boot Press, 2018)

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Ralph Northman was far from alone: Why blackface keeps coming up

By Nichelle Smith
USA Today
February 7th, 2019

Everyday there seems to be a new revelation that somewhere in the past, a politician has appeared in blackface.  

As if Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical college yearbook picture isn’t bad enough – if he is determined to be in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School photo, he’s either the man in the Ku Klux Klan robes or the man in blackface – he admitted in a press conference last weekend to darkening his face with shoe polish to be Michael Jackson in the ‘80s. Now, we’ve learned that Virginia's state attorney general, Mark Herring, blacked up his face in 1980 to portray rapper Kurtis Blow at a college party. Before Northam, there was Florida Secretary of State Mike Ertel who resigned after a Halloween party photo of him posing as a female Hurricane Katrina victim in earrings, headscarf and blackface turned up.

Not to mention the seemingly yearly apologies from either a celebrity who wore blackface for Halloween or a fraternity whose members wore blackface for fun at a party. Just last year, Megyn Kelly was ousted from her "Today" show hosting job after an on-air discussion in which she defended using blackface for costumes. 

This image shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. The page shows a picture, at right, of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor. It's unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him.

This image shows Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s page in his 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook. The page shows a picture, at right, of a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood next to different pictures of the governor. It's unclear who the people in the picture are, but the rest of the page is filled with pictures of Northam and lists his undergraduate alma mater and other information about him.  (Photo: Eastern Virginia Medical School via AP)

A relic of minstrelsy, a form of popular entertainment that was rooted in the mimicry and mocking of plantation slaves, blackface fell out of vogue last century as the country examined itself during the civil rights era and as African Americans gained more political power. Given the vast public disapproval after each incident surfaces, it would seem that most people understand that blackface is wrong.

So what, then, accounts for all of the modern instances of white people in blackface? What is it about blackface?

Both curiosity about blacks and contempt for them lie at the bottom of it, says David Pilgrim, director of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan. It gives some people an opportunity to act out anti-black prejudices. It gives others a way to act out curiosity. "You get an opportunity to walk like, talk like, look like what you imagine black people to be," Pilgrim says.

Imitation, in these instances, isn't a form of flattery. "People don't seem to learn the lesson" presented each time a blackface incident surfaces, says Dwandalyn Reece, curator of music and performing arts at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. "They're not really trying to understand how the stereotypes work" to demean and degrade black people.

"When you reduce someone to a stereotype, it is a way of distancing yourself from them," Reece says. Blackface is a means to assert superiority, to elevate "whiteness" and set it apart from "blackness," she says.

Some people would argue that they are just having fun imitating black people, especially the celebrities they love. So what's the big deal? It's the separation of blackface from this country's painful history of slavery and Jim Crow oppression that adds the insult to the injury.

"Just putting black on your face, that represents such a foul time in our history. When it’s done out of sheer humor, it’s just not funny,” said Shirley Basfield Dunlap, associate professor of fine and performing arts at Morgan State University in Baltimore and coordinator of Theatre Arts.

Minstrel shows featuring white performers in blackface got their start in the 1830s. With the popularization of radio and motion pictures in the 1920s, professional minstrel shows lost much of their national following. However, amateur minstrel shows continued in local theaters, community centers, high schools, and churches as late as the 1960s.

Minstrel shows featuring white performers in blackface got their start in the 1830s. With the popularization of radio and motion pictures in the 1920s, professional minstrel shows lost much of their national following. However, amateur minstrel shows continued in local theaters, community centers, high schools, and churches as late as the 1960s. (Photo: Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, Ferris State University)

American minstrelsy, in shows featuring white entertainers in blackface, dates to at least the 1830s. “It was an opportunity for whites to mimic blacks and what they saw on plantations, where they would see blacks entertain themselves or talk among themselves,” Basfield Dunlap says. Slaves would do Juba dances steeped in their West and Central African heritage and talk in dialect that cobbled together English and African words. 

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The first popular performer of minstrel shows, Thomas Dartmouth Rice, created the Jim Crow character in the 1830s, featuring blackface, huge painted lips and bulging eyes, after getting a slave to teach him about a singing black folk character. Basfield Dunlap notes the irony for the slave: “(Blacks) had to teach white performers how to be caricatures of them.” 

Minstrel shows featuring blackface became one of the most phenomenal, popular forms of entertainment in America, especially after the Civil War. The shows were as popular on Broadway and in traveling shows throughout the South as "Hamilton" or "Wicked" might be today and, as evidenced by D.W. Griffith’s 1915 silent film, "The Birth of a Nation," the blackface images conveyed by the shows were powerful in reinforcing racist caricatures of blacks. Menacing rapists, lazy watermelon eaters, coddling mammies and comic simpletons, all with blackened faces, moved from the stage to the screen as entertainment evolved. There was Al Jolson with his “Mammy” songs in 1927 in the first film with sound, "The Jazz Singer."  Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll's "Amos 'n' Andy" radio show lasted from 1928 to 1960; the 1951 television version starring black actors was widely denounced as racist and the NAACP was successful in getting it pulled off the air. 

Minstrel shows featuring white performers in blackface got their start in the 1830s. With the popularization of radio and motion pictures in the 1920s, professional minstrel shows lost much of their national following. However, amateur minstrel shows continued in local theaters, community centers, high schools and churches as late as the 1960s.

Minstrel shows featuring white performers in blackface got their start in the 1830s. With the popularization of radio and motion pictures in the 1920s, professional minstrel shows lost much of their national following. However, amateur minstrel shows continued in local theaters, community centers, high schools and churches as late as the 1960s. (Photo: Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, Ferris State University, Michigan)

Mid-century stars like Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Shirley Temple performed in blackface in their movies, though those scenes are largely cut from showings today. Amateur performances persisted until well into the '60s and high schools mounted blackface minstrel show productions the same way they might now do Broadway musicals. 

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The stereotypes reflected the views of most whites at the time and were fully integrated into American culture. Beyond entertainment, caricatures of mammies and pickaninnies -- dark-skinned children with densely coiled hair -- as well as grinning, bug-eyed black men adorned everything from postcards to cookie jars.

This is how people really saw blacks then, Reece says, and blackface was one of the primary ways to express that.

Pilgrim says that for the most part, those who wear blackface now, including young white men in fraternities and at prestigious institutions, know exactly what it implies. “It’s a part of the privilege of being white in our culture,” he says. "They are doing it in a safe, white space consistent with the mores of their in-group.” 

In other words, they do it because they want to and they can. And ultimately, "it's a choice to do blackface," Reece says. "One that is rooted in oppression and a lack of values for the (dignity of) other human beings."

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