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APV is an all volunteer, not-for-profit organization working to promote basic, common sense progressive values: economic fairness, social justice, and good government.
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Here’s our last newsletter, a year-end wrap-up of APV’s action!
And that’s not all. APV’s monthly Salons are great, too! In Richmond, on the second Monday of each month, APV invites members and guests to a casual, after work get-together at Helen’s Restaurant at 2527 West Main Street for a complimentary light dinner (cash bar for wine, cocktails and beer).
There, we have guest speakers, lively discussions and lots of member input, all of which strengthen our resolve and prove to be a lot of fun. But you should come and see for yourself. Please join us. We’d love to meet you and you can talk with APV staff and other members about issues APV is working on.
As you may know, APV is a growing, well-respected and wonderfully active group, and we truly depend on our many fully engaged and energetic volunteers – members and staff alike. But we also know that some people do not have the time or ability to extend themselves more actively. When you become a member of APV, please know that you’re in good company, and that we appreciate your support and your membership regardless of other participation or active service you may want to offer. All levels of engagement are welcome!
Simply put, we need you. The other side has an enormous amount of money and a dedicated and aggressive base. They won’t give up no matter how badly their policies fail us, or how much damage they do to our country. I think we’ve all realized that by now, and that’s why we fight! The Alliance for Progressive Values is here to stay. We’re gaining strength and we’re in this battle for the long run, so please give us your support and help us in any way you can.
For one thing, you could help with our New Year’s Fund Drive which is still going on. We know times are tough, but we have only just passed the 50% mark and need to make our goal of $3000 for the first half of 2013. Help us get the message out, please?
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I’m disappointed by the failure of the world to end itself. Oh, there was a lot of build up and a large number of people sold everything they owned in an anticipation of the final days which turned out not to be any more final then you’re average glum Friday morning with a wintry weather mix. No grand explosions, no meteorites laying waste to major cities, no epics of disease nor war. Just another weekday with humanity ticking along (okay, a small hang out in the Pyrenees reputed to be the last safe place on Earth became a wee bit overcrowded), but that was it. Our doomsday clock’s minute hand still rests stoically at about five minutes ’til.
But, given our propensity for fouling things up, there’s still time to get it right next year. Here are a few things to watch out for:
Economic collapse. One thing the Mayans did predict accurately (kind of) was a world cast into economic turmoil about a year or so prior to 12/2012. The TARP bailout may have avoided the worst of that doomsday scenario, but by refusing to provide meaningful economic stimulus; that is, by not advancing projects and funding jobs to offset unemployment so that the people who actually need and spend the money that drives the economy—(as opposed to unregulated banks and quasi bank entities –like AIG — that simply sit on the cash or dole it out to upper management in the form of million dollar bonuses) we’ve guaranteed a long and painfully slow recovery. Still, despite all the media hoopla, in a moderately sane game of political calculation, one could navigate the upcoming fiscal cliff crisis without too much angst. If we could imagine basic sanity in the Republican House, we might assume that they would want to be re-elected and that, consequently, they’d be inclined to passing a bill which raises taxes on those making over half a million while maintaining the current low tax rates for the middle class—which is hugely popular and for which, among other things, Obama won reelection. Or, conversely, they would be willing to pass a tax cut for those who make less than say quarter of a million dollars a year—after the fiscal cliff was crossed. This last scenario is the one I had expected up to a few days ago. But there was something deeply unsettling about House Speaker Boehner’s failure to gain enough votes for even his own ‘Plan B’. Keep in mind, this was the option that allowed tax cuts to remain intact at the remarkably high income level of one million dollars. Of course, with a reasonably rational House, this should have passed no problem. It certainly was more generous than Obama’s top compromising position (which was up to about 400,000 or just under half a million). But Boehner couldn’t even get that through. This is disconcerting. In the game of chicken it’s important to keep in mind that crazy people behind the wheels of moving vehicles may, in fact, be crazy. If Boehner can’t get his caucus to pass something this simple and this favorable, is it possible that when we go over the fiscal cliff (a likely prospect) he won’t be able to muster the votes to pass a middle class tax cut –because it will be perceived as caving in to Obama? That would surely be a drag on our economy—this, in turn, could drag Europe’s economy down and that would make the 2008 banking crisis look like a walk in the park. Just a thought.
But onto cheerier prospects.
Our increasing security state: Within the space of a year (this one) we have seen some of the worst excesses of the Bush administration not only repeated, but effectively embraced and encoded in a way they hadn’t been before. Our guy did this, Obama. He wasn’t forced to — there was no overriding demand for an aggressive enforcement of whistle-blower laws, or the development of a drone kill list, not to mention the ugly assistance of the FBI in breaking up Occupy Wall Street encampments. This was all done in addition to the very ho-hum suspension of Habeas Corpus that we seem to take currently as standard operating procedure. Now the Democratic party has validated the Bush administration’s take on our ‘security’ state and managed to make it worse. Only a handful of progressive voices are raising a cry about it. Journalist Chris Hedges has sued the Obama administration over provisions passed in the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act)—particularly those that suspend a U.S. citizen’s right to due process and a trial by jury of their peers. Little or no press has been given to his efforts and Bradley Manning is still being held (over a year now) for the crime of dumping documents that revealed war crime activities in Iraq and elsewhere. I suppose now would be a good time to mention that Daniel Ellsberg was later lionized in the national press for the equivalent with his release of the Pentagon Papers four decades earlier. Times have changed, and not for better.
What else can we look forward to?
Environmental collapse: The sky isn’t falling, but our world is overheating – which may be worse. At the same time that the so-called ‘fiscal cliff’ has garnered countless media cycles, the latest climate conference was being held in Doha, Qatar with ne’er a peep from our major media outlets. It was a dismal affair to be sure, with no commitment made toward carbon limits or carbon sequestration, and, in fact, original signers to the Kyoto protocol have pulled back with only a cursory promise made for future talks. The hard decisions were kicked down the road again, promising increasing carbon levels and—consequently– increasingly catastrophic weather incidents like Super Storm Sandy. The poor countries will likely bear the brunt of this neglect, while the rich countries hunker down in their SUVs.
So, given this, is there anything hopeful in 2013?
Two incidents from 2012 offer promise. The first, I’ve already mentioned—Super Storm Sandy. Paradoxically, Sandy’s wrath announced the arrival and reality of climate change in a way that climate deniers could no longer deny. Despite millions of dollars from the likes of Exxon seeded throughout conservative think tanks and front groups, something about having the Jersey shore wiped off the map makes pseudo-intellectual talking points much less convincing. Never mind that the majority of climate skeptics or deniers never saw the inside of a peer-reviewed journal, now they have to deal with folks whose million dollar homes have been wiped out by an inexplicable –once in a century—Atlantic ball buster. Only, it’s not once in a century—these storms are becoming more and more frequent, once a month, if not weekly phenomena and people are catching on. Climate change is real. And it’s deadly. And Michael Bloomberg said so. And yeah, we really ought to do something about it.
The other promising incident, perversely, was the national reaction to the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut which has reintroduced gun control into the national debate, despite millions being spent by the NRA to prevent such a discussion. Again, people are seeing the fruits of bad policy. Guns do kill people—and quite effectively. Especially assault weapons with huge magazine clips. Notwithstanding the millions of dollars gun manufacturers have paid the National Rifle Association to deny this fact. There was a bit of luck in this too—Wayne La Pierre’s paranoid response to the incident has made the NRA’s position ridiculous to almost anyone with half a brain who doesn’t own an AR15. The important point that ties these two incidents together? Despite all the money spent by Exxon or the gun manufacturers, or the NRA, despite all the effort by very powerful entities to disguise and distort the debate, people still recognize the underlying problem, the fundamental reality, and are willing to act on it. Money can’t obviate everything. The banks colluded with the FBI and homeland security to break up the Occupy Wall Street encampments, but they could not dismantle the disparate organization itself—nor the spirit it represented. The same holds true for our electoral process where, thanks to the Citizens United decision, we saw corporate sponsors and outside ‘Super PAC’ groups flood the campaign coffers of tea party candidates and conservatives. Despite billions of dollars poured into campaigns across the nation by Cross Roads GPS and the Koch brothers, Democrats retained the Senate handily, increased their numbers in the House (and would have likely won a majority had it not been for extensive Republican gerrymandering) and, of course, re-elected Barack Obama.
But maybe the most hopeful sign in 2012 –almost entirely unreported –and relatively small on the national scale — was the reemergence of Occupy Wall Street in their Rolling Jubilee. Despite, official harassment from the Department of Homeland Security to the local beat cop, Occupy emerged a few months ago with a plan to buy back bad debt from lenders (like Bank of America, etc…) who would normally sell it to collection agencies that in turn would ruthlessly pursue the unlucky debt holder to his or her grave for pennies on the dollar. The average ‘purchase’ of such debt is about a 20 to 1 ratio. As an example, ten dollars would buy you about two hundred dollars worth of debt. Typically, the debt was incurred through no fault of the debtor, came about through a medical problem or some other crisis that our broken system did not work to alleviate. Occupy set up a telethon structure to ‘buy up’ the bad debt, and simply forgive it. They called it the Rolling Jubilee—a sly reference to the biblical Jubilee of Leviticus, where, every seventh, seven-year cycle all debt was forgiven. Coined ‘a bailout of the people, by the people’, their efforts have netted over 522,000 dollars (as of this writing) ‘liberating’ over 10 million dollars of bad debt. Occupy was active on another front too—though again there has been very little press. They were among the first responders offering on the ground assistance in the wake of Super Storm Sandy. They galvanized volunteers from across the state (and nation) and worked hand in hand with local firemen and police to help those most in need. Responding, I might add, more quickly than the Red Cross or other more ‘official’ aid organizations.
Slowly, perhaps, we are learning to trust and count on ourselves; and maybe that’s the beginning of a true, local democracy movement, where we learn by doing for ourselves. In the process we exercise civic skills and experience what democracy means at the local day-to-day level of human interaction. If we do it right, we could begin in vulnerability and end in empowerment–a great promise for any year.
“That’s so ugly, isn’t it? That plastic bag stuck in the tree?”
“Yes, it really is a shame. Those bags get stuck in the trees in our park all the time.”
“Did you know that plastic bags are made with petroleum products?”
“No, I never thought about it before.”
… and there’s my opening. The conversation begins. 😉
No one likes to see plastic bags stuck in the trees of our parks, washing down our storm sewers, stuck to the exhaust pipes of our cars, or stinking until they shred, sloshing in the tides, visible and unsightly during our visits to the beach. When I have exhausted every other way to hold a conversation with someone who opposes my politics, we can always agree that those ‘tree bags’ are an eyesore. It’s a fail-safe opportunity for me to introduce a conversation about how plastics have really invaded our culture, and how plastic contributes, not only to the depletion of fossil fuels, but to the demise of our marine life as well.
Next, I ask them if they have ever heard of the Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s a concentration of plastic and other man-made sludge, estimated to be about twice the size of Texas (so far) and located north of the North Pacific Gyre. It’s driven and held in place by oceanic and wind currents. There are several garbage patches in our oceans, the Pacific being the largest of them.
The plastic and trash enter our waterways by storm sewer outlets, ocean vessel dumping, and various other methods. As it begins to photo-degrade, the plastics are reduced to smaller pieces (some microscopic), and the reduction becomes a toxic soup. The chemicals are consumed by fish, whales and dolphins, among other ocean life, and eventually it kills them. Birds that feed in ocean waters are also victims of the plastic garbage piles. We see their decomposed bodies on the shoreline. All that’s left is some feathers, a pile of bones, and … plastic.
(Here’s a great ABC News Video about it – Disposable Island)
This conversation evokes sympathy from just about everyone. Once I have touched on the dead marine and bird life, I throw in a fact that brings them back home. I ask if they’ve ever heard of method products inc., an eco-friendly company whose products are sold in many high-traffic variety stores. Though it doesn’t claim to be a “green” company, their brand is easily recognized by average shoppers. The method company collects plastic trash from the beaches of Hawaii and elsewhere, and recycles it to create the packaging for their cleaning products. Hopefully, I’ve given my conversation partner a thought or two about using more eco-friendly products.
Then, back to the bigger picture.
“You know, it’s really a shame that we produce so many plastics anyway. They use up much of the oil that we seem to find so precious these days.” That’s when I drop the F-bomb on them – FRACKING.
“Have you ever heard of fracking?” I find many people who are unaware of it, or at least the devastating environmental and health effects that result from it. I tell them about the studies and consequences of the hydraulic fracturing process – everything from man-made earthquakes to flammable “drinking” water from a kitchen faucet. We discuss the impact of Fracking on the people who live in surrounding communities, like cancer and brain lesions! These studies indicate a need for strict regulation: “There have been over 1000 reports of contaminated groundwater since fracking began, and studies also link the extraction process to polluted air, disease and death in farm animals and wildlife in addition to humans. It is also connected to the increase in earthquake activity. Doctors have come out against fracking; it’s been banned in New Jersey, and other states are considering banning it.”
At this point, I am usually met with an incredulous, “Well, that doesn’t seem right!”
“I know!” I agree with them, and then I move to the most important part of the conversation. We need safety regulations, but lobbyists from oil companies, chemical companies and others, such as Halliburton, have swayed legislators who have exempted the process of hydraulic fracturing from some of our key federal environmental laws. “That’s why we have to keep corporations from having undue influence over our government and legislators. We need to reverse the Citizens United decision – you know?”
I have found some people who don’t know about the Citizens United decision or how it’s affecting our nation. I explain the Supreme Court’s ruling and that as a result, corporations now contribute to political interests without identifying themselves or disclosing their donations to the public. These massive donations, PACs and corporate lobbying groups have strong influence over our politicians, and ultimately our laws. They also pour money into media outlets and run dubious ads that influence voter’s choices. Because of the Citizens United decision, the voice of the American people has been pushed nearly out of the democratic process.
I invite them to write to their legislators about fracking and about overturning the Citizens United ruling, and mention that they can go to APV’s website, and use our link to identify their legislators. At that point, I can end the conversation without ever having spoken the words Republican or Democrat, and, yet, we are united in thought!
“Hey, can you give me a hand to get this plastic bag out of the tree? Thanks!”
Bravo! and thanks to APV board member, Rhonda Hening, for contributing this thoughtful post, and for her continuous devotion and active support for so many of the progressive issues confronting us today.
The great writers of the nineteenth century had neither religion nor politics nor aesthetic principles in common. But what they did have in common was a climate of ethical judgment, a moral climate. They shared certain values, they were humanist. If you read a nineteenth century novel today, Dostoevsky or Dreiser, Dickens or Twain, it is recognizable as a novel from the 19th century because of this moral climate. The core question that is asked is not are the characters successful or witty, but are they right? Writers of that period saw the individual struggling to find the correct balance between their independence and individual beliefs and the needs of the collective. There are only a handful of 20th century writers that have carried on this discourse and too many of them are given over to despair. The post-modernists of the 70s and 80s saw almost any political action as futile, compromised, or something of a joke. Some –too many –took ironic delight in pointing out the obvious difficulties. And rather than enlighten, they left one feeling bleak and hopeless. Meanwhile, in the real world, small wars and large wars continued. Corporations were stripped of their essential community based purpose, and instead were turned into the raw machines of profit. Yet, despite this sea change, our writers seemed stuck in a kind of identity crisis, a second gear, neither willing or able to tackle political issues of the day. Our popular culture essentially gave up on political man. News shows only pretended to objectively cover politics, and then only covered scandal. People forgot what it was to be politically or ethically engaged. During this same period, roughly from the late 1970s to 2012, our industrial base was eviscerated, our addiction to oil became deadly, and the American middle class saw their healthcare costs sky-rocket, their pensions raided, and their educational institutions privatized for the profit of a few. None of this is a coincidence.
As Christopher Hedges points out, “We have been, like nations on the periphery of empire, colonized. We are controlled by tiny corporate entities that have no loyalty to the nation and indeed in the language of traditional patriotism are traitors. They strip us of our resources, keep us politically passive and enrich themselves at our expense. The mechanisms of control are familiar to those whom the Martinique-born French psychiatrist and writer Frantz Fanon called “the wretched of the earth,” including African-Americans. The colonized are denied job security. Incomes are reduced to subsistence level. The poor are plunged into desperation. Mass movements, such as labor unions, are dismantled. The school system is degraded so only the elites have access to a superior education. Laws are written to legalize corporate plunder and abuse, as well as criminalize dissent. And the ensuing fear and instability—keenly felt this past weekend by the more than 200,000 Americans who lost their unemployment benefits—ensure political passivity by diverting all personal energy toward survival. It is an old, old game.”
Hedges goes on to note that what fosters revolution is not misery, alone, but the gap between what people expect from their lives and what is offered. As if in response to this syllogism, on September 17th of last year, activists and students descended on Wall Street and said, essentially, the gig is up. The scam must stop. The financialization of the world is killing our Earth. The Occupy Wall Street crowd did not operate in a vacuum. They were following The Arab Spring and the European Indignados. In fact, Spaniards from Puerta del Sol marched with us on Wall Street in those beginning days. And, on cue, it would seem, the Indignados in Spain have returned. They have reoccupied the Puerta del Sol as part of a global day of action to commemorate the first anniversary of the 15-M (May 15) movement. Hundreds of thousands of Spaniards amassed in the square, some dancing joyfully, others debating the replacements for capitalism. According to an article on roarmag.org, a message circulating on Twitter yesterday perfectly caught the mood in Madrid:
“This is not an anniversary — it’s a tradition!”
In a few more months, the United States will have its own anniversary. In advance of that, Noam Chomsky, MIT linguist and political activist, outlines the reasons Occupy should make a come back, and, seeing the challenges ahead, he offers a warning as well:” Unless the spirit of the last year continues to grow and becomes a major force in the social and political world, the chances for a decent future are not very high. ”
Read more below…
Today is the last day of Teacher Appreciation Week for 2012, but it shouldn’t end. Our teachers earn appreciation from the American people every day. Collectively, they shape our nation and the world, preparing us for every crisis on earth. Individually, they do everything from wiping runny noses and spending their own money on school supplies, to forfeiting more gainful careers for a life of helping the rest of us improve ourselves. I think there is no calling more noble or worthy of our constant praise than that which falls to the devoted teachers who enrich our lives – all year, every year – in every imaginable way.
In recent years, with the help of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, our school system has been under attack like never before in our country. So much blame has been placed on our hard-working, dedicated educators it is ridiculous. It comes from misinformation and faulty logic, and it’s just as wrong as saying all parents are to blame for failures in the school system, so we need to demonize parenting.
To honor our teachers this year, take a close look at what’s really happening with education.
So the carving up of Philadelphia public schools IS a national story. It’s just one that corporate media won’t tell. Not in Philly, not in LA, not in Kansas City or anywhere, for fear that ordinary people might try to write themselves into a leading role. Polls show that the American people don’t want their schools privatized, and don’t believe education should be run by business people like a business. People want to take the money we spend on wars and bailouts and use it on education. Telling the story might give people the notion that the ultimate power is in their hands, not of mayors and chambers of commerce or the so-called “CEOs” of school system. It’s time that story was told, and more of us heard it.
Changing the way we educate America’s students is a priority for three groups – parents, educators and corporatist-neoliberals. And the legislation to change our system is being pushed through by the wrong group – the ones who want to implement their corporate control fantasies. Every benefit of a school system that actually educates the people flies in the face of their profit-driven goals.
They’ve done their best to ruin our schools through neglect, defunding, the demonization of good teachers and by eliminating the protections that allow them to keep teaching. So much disinformation has been spread about it that many good-hearted American parents can only see their children as the “trees”, and are helping to burn down the forest for every American student to come.
Privatization, vouchers, choice, corporate scholarships, internet education – it’s all about neoliberals deconstructing the public good. They want it; they want to control it; they want to sell it; and eventually, they will decide who is entitled to it. What they’re doing is typical: 1) break it 2) get paid to privatize and rebuild it 3) and then funnel the money up to the top. It’s always the same pattern for these people. You can see it in everything they do.
What Matt Taibbi so aptly said about Goldman Sachs applies to neoliberalism in general: It’s “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
We’re turning the education of America’s children over to the same group – the likes of Goldman Sachs – who destroyed our economy with impunity. They’ve already come so far with higher education that extreme personal indebtedness now stunts the beginning of independent life for most students who graduate from college. And typically, they pushed through legislation to remove all the reasonable American protections against bankruptcy and credit abusers for these same students.
Will a Young Generation’s Dreams Be Rescued – Or Bundled and Sold On Wall Street?
Jobless or overextended college graduates aren’t even allowed to declare bankruptcy – a privilege that’s extended to every reckless investor and mismanaged corporation in the nation. Once they finally find work, college graduates face years of garnished wages to repay the loans that funded their often-overpriced educations. If they haven’t repaid that debt by the time they grow old – a very real possibility at the cost of a college education today – they’ll even be forced to surrender part of their Social Security benefits.
That’s indentured servitude.
Meanwhile banks have been slicing and dicing student loans into derivative financial instruments called “SLABS” – student-loan asset backed securities. We’ve seen this movie before – the one where big banks mass-market loans to a population with stagnated wages and dwindling economic prospects, then bundle them and sell them to investors who haven’t reviewed the way they were underwritten and sold.
SLABS for Wall Street investors are a big red flag waving in our faces. And when they jack up the interest and cut the grants while increasing the salaries of college presidents, it’s neoliberalism and it’s not going to end well for the American people.
As neoliberals find it reasonable to cut food money from hungry people – which is what they are doing now, how long will it be before they refuse tuition loans to anyone who might be a financial risk? This brand of corporate interference is what has happened to healthcare, the Post Office, the prison system – and everything else their blood funnels have jammed into … and it’s a long list. It always starts with “breaking” something they want to take from the public good to be controlled by corporate players for maximum profit.
While America still has the finest educators in the world, why aren’t we listening to their advice about the needed changes for our education system? This opinion by Chris Hedges from last year is the best answer I’ve found to that question. Please read it. Our teachers have earned and deserve America’s wholehearted protection in the fight for better education, last week, next week, every week … they simply are not the culprits.
Off topic, here, but to drive the point home, consider another recent and shocking example of planned privatization. Last year, the Chief Economist at Citigroup, Willem Buiter, announced a similar neoliberal vision for our drinking water!
“I expect to see a globally integrated market for fresh water within 25 to 30 years. Once the spot markets for water are integrated, futures markets and other derivative water-based financial instruments—puts, calls, swaps—both exchange-traded and OTC will follow. There will be different grades and types of fresh water, just the way we have light sweet and heavy sour crude oil today. Water as an asset class will, in my view, become eventually the single most important physical-commodity based asset class, dwarfing oil, copper, agricultural commodities and precious metals.”
Chris Saladino: “This only has the worst possible outcomes. The attempts at water privatization have so far created far more problems than solutions and in most cases have actually failed. To make it worse, this kind of corporate intervention in yet another essential component of human survival has been just as unfairly dominated as food, health care, and energy.
The Cochabamba riots in Bolivia are a telling and frightening case study. The police actually arrested people for illegally collecting rain water. It’s just a bit too much like the fear of Jack T. Ripper in Dr. Strangelove…”
Water Privatization Case Study:
Cochabamba, Bolivia (pdf)
We thank our new APV member, Chris Saladino, Professor of International Studies at VCU, for commenting on the privatization of fresh water and look forward to more of his contributions in the future!
Last year on this day, Occupy called for a General Strike and created a series of posters surrounding the event. Although no general strike has been called this year, there are events being held across the nation–and across the world– in honor of the Haymarket Riots and in protest against the austerity measures that continue to cripple the world economy.
From Spain to Greece activists are taking to the streets. Thousands of protesters marched in Madrid, snaking up the Gran Via central shopping street, waving flags and carrying placards reading “austerity ruins and kills” and “reforms are robbery”.
Trains and ferries were canceled in Greece, and bank and hospital staff walked off the job after the main public and private sector unions there called a 24-hour strike, the latest in a string of protests in a country in its sixth year of recession.
Tens of thousands marched in Italy’s major cities to demand government action to tackle unemployment – at 11.5 percent overall and 40 percent among the young – and an end to austerity and tax evasion. Most marches were peaceful, but demonstrators in Turin threw hollowed eggs filled with black paint at police.
In New York City and LA, Occupy has called for a much needed ‘celebration’ from the work day. Below is a little history on the origins of May Day and some clever posters put together to celebrate last year’s General Strike.
Occupy’s May Day Strike! – by Jack Johnson
We’ve been here before. About 126 years ago, thousands of workers and their families were marching through the streets of Chicago on May 1st, 1886. It was a Saturday. Everyone left work, because in those days people had to work on Saturday. They were working a ten- and twelve-hour day. Most of these people were immigrants, and they were fighting for an 8 hour work day rallying in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. It was near the end of a fairly successful rally, when about 176 police showed up, uninvited.
Yes, we’ve been here before.
The police captain had actually disobeyed the orders of the mayor, who said, “The rally is peaceful. There’s no need to disperse it.” The police captain acted on his own, marched right up to the crowd and said, “You must disperse,” and the speaker said, “But we are peaceful.” And he said, “You must disperse anyway.” And as the speaker was coming down from the wagon, someone — and to this day, we don’t know who it was — threw a bomb that landed into the ranks of the police. One officer was killed immediately. Six others later died.
The police were panicked, of course, almost hysterical. They’d never expected anything like this, began firing, probably shot each other, shot people in the crowd, and in the end, seven police died and at least three of the demonstrators. Many, many people were wounded, and later seven anarchists were fingered for trial, although no conclusive evidence was brought to bear. May Day became a global labor holiday in honor of the “Haymarket Martyrs” who were tried by a judge so prejudiced against them that their execution has often been referred to as “judicial murder.” More importantly, May 1 became a traditional day across the world to honor workers rights.
Occupy’s call for a General Strike this May 1st is the latest in a long series of actions against a system designed to marginalize workers and the poor. As they put it on their website:
“The General Strike is a demand for good jobs and good pay for everyone on the planet–citizens of the country they work in or not. Outsourcing will no longer be tolerated by the so called “job creators” for cheap labor. All human beings deserve a living wage. Education, Housing and Healthcare are human rights NOT ‘entitlements’.”
That might sound a little far fetched to our contemporary ears, but so did the idea of an 8 hour work day and time off for weekends to those who started protesting some 126 years ago.
Below are some of the more creative posters Occupy has produced in their effort to agitate for a General Strike on May 1st, 2012 with some observations and historical notes.
(click posters to open)
1) In the 1700s, sailors would sometimes strike or lower their ship’s sails as a symbol of their refusal to go to sea. From this refusal to acquiesce with the requirements of the work day we get the term ‘strike’ and this poster playfully toys with both meanings. In 1888, young girls in London were forced to dip matches in dangerous white phosphorous for 14 hours at a stretch. After one of their numbers was unjustly fired, they went on strike. Thus the match blossoming with the starry night flame indicates both the match girl’s strike of 1888 and the underlying flame that occurs when a match is struck. Floating in the upper darkness of the poster are two cats. A general strike—which is what is being called for—is also sometimes termed a wild cat strike because it is not authorized by a union and hence is ‘wild’. Anarchists and IWW affiliates will often use cats or sabot-cats in their graphics as well. The woman is likely either Hispanic or Afro American; both races (and gender) have been roundly abused by a system that would rather produce matches than well rounded humans.
2) Time is money wasn’t always the case. There was a time, well before the advent of industrialization and what we have come to call ‘time discipline’ when biology and nature ruled our internal clocks. If you were a hunter or early farmer, the shifting of the seasons, the rising and setting of the sun was your only ‘clock’. In fact, time in hours and even minutes has become the single most used measurement for tying labor to value (justly or unjustly). With background colors reminiscent of a naval signal flag (an inverted man overboard, perhaps?), this poster features a brilliant sun eclipsing a clock, telling the world that for at least one day, the tyranny of time discipline will be thrown off. Says Jess Goldstein of Occuprint: “To me, this really sums up the spirit of a general strike; it’s a call to realize that we, collectively, can and should be in control of our time.” The poster’s words echo the famous street call and response….: whose time? our time! Whose street? our street! Of course, only time will tell.
3) The Guy Fawkes mask, celebrated in the movie V for Vendetta, and becoming a near universal symbol of rebellion, has also been closely associated with the hacking collective known as Anonymous. Both Ad Busters (the Canadian anti-advertisement collective) and Anonymous have been the moving spirit if not direct organizers of the original Occupy Wall Street. The poster artfully uses an old arcade video game metaphor to shout out the relevance of computers to the Occupy movement. The words, Hack The Day, are a reminder of Hacks twofold meaning in both the virtual and wider world. Commonly, a hacker is someone who breaks into or disrupts normal operations—fitting perfectly with a call for a General strike. But perhaps, more importantly, a hack is also a provisional solution to a systemic problem. One thing we’ve seen over and over again at the Occupy sites is the brilliant and provisional nature of their solutions to restrictions imposed by a mostly antagonistic environment. Fittingly, the Wall Street Bull looks as though it is being levitated or is under attack by a Guy Fawkes mask.
4) Flowers jamming the cogs of a machine represent one approach to a general strike, taking time away from ‘productive work’ that profits others to simply grow on our own. This self oriented activity has another consequence—it fouls the smooth working of a system that depends on our devotion to its functioning. It’s also reminiscent of Mario Savio’s famous 1964 speech at The University of California’s Sproul Hall: “And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”
To extend the metaphor in the image, our bodies are those flowers.
5) One of the more fun (and subversive) posters, this one was developed by the Institute for Experimental Freedom (the small publishing collective who put out the brash but fun-filled insurrectionary text “Politics Is not a Banana.”) asks us to replace the main image with some sort of “riot graphic” while using the appropriate, hip font (Haas Grotesk). At first blush, a kind of meta joke, it’s also got a point: everything about this strike and Occupy is essentially do it yourself. That’s not just an accident, it’s by design. Part of the rationale comes from a deep historical awareness of how other movements have been co-opted in the past; the symbols and fashion of a movement become commoditized, while the underlying reality and message is diminished or crushed. Ad Busters, among others, is especially sensitive to the phenomena. This poster seems to be going on the offensive. Note the Coca Cola style font and bottle cap design that surrounds the General Strike notice. It would be interesting if a set of images could retool major corporate ‘brands’ with subversive messaging. A Pepsi shaped bottle with a General Strike Message in it, the Wal-Mart smiley face, announcing the next round of boycotts against that behemoth. None of this would be exactly ‘legal’ of course, but maybe that’s the point.
6) Intentionally or not, the refrain, Let’s go fly a kite, belongs to a song that forms the climax to Disney’s Mary Poppins. For those who haven’t seen the movie in a while (has anyone not seen it?) Flying a kite becomes the ultimate resolution of the family tensions that bind the banker (Mary Poppins’ employer) to his family while rejecting his work life. That particular plot is an old cliché, but, as with most clichés, there’s more than a germ of truth to it. The song and characters in the movie, like the kites, offer wonderful overtones of an existence not tethered by work day concerns—liberated, floating and free. Flying a kite is just one possibility of things that can be done once the carefully enumerated list of modern distractions are abandoned: No work, no school, no housework, no service, no banking, no shopping, no data. For those who haven’t seen the movie or this clip, enjoy: Let’s Go Fly a Kite!
7) In the popular idiom, a general strike is as old as the hills, or at least as old as the hills of Rome. According to H.G. Wells, the first general strike properly took place in Rome by the lowly plebeians. The plebeians “saw with indignation their friends, who had often served the state bravely in the legions, thrown into chains and reduced to slavery at the demand of patrician creditors.” For veterans of the Iraqi or Afghanistan wars this might sound eerily familiar. In the U.S., one of the first general strikes was the infamous Railroad Strike of 1877. This was, in infancy, the beginning of a nascent labor movement showing its muscle across the nation, culminating ultimately in the May 1, Haymarket strikes and riots that led to the weekend, child labor laws, and the 8 hour day. The typeface is just a reminder how far things have come, and sadly, how far we still have to go. What this poster delivers in simple type face is almost as important as the message itself: We’ve been here before.
When our government is not only condoning, but acting to spread the contamination of the world’s food supply, what are we supposed to think … and who will lead the charge for world food safety? When the people’s opposition is as strong as it is now, why isn’t our government’s position being covered in national media forums to clarify their intentions and answer the people’s questions?
The world’s people, experts, and scientific studies are being completely ignored as the United States legislates in favor of corporations, preventing us from being able to make our own safe food choices. This path we’re on is becoming more of a super highway, and all the while, irreparable damage is being done.
The concept of what’s happening seems more like the theme for a futuristic fantasy novel where innocence is succumbing to an evil power of some sort.
It might go something like this:
Spreading at a pace that will soon leave the world-at-large dependent on the dole of corporations for sustenance, the insidious contamination continues in spite of popular uprisings. As the people flounder, the protagonist, a well-developed character on the side of innocence – always smart, usually good-looking, charms the reader by failing a few times only to get up, dust herself off and continue trying to save the day. If hunger can be used as a weapon, she knows that future freedom could be decided by those with access to viable seeds. Efforts to control those seeds are being seen around the world in court cases – usually and suspiciously settled or decided in favor of the evil power.
Planning her next move, the heroine ponders recent developments that are limiting the people’s power to resist: propaganda and the filtering of available information, changes in voting access laws and the use of dubious electronic equipment, legalized wire tapping and diminishing privacy rights, changes in class action law, union busting, the denial of free speech and the process of redress, state violence used against peaceful protesters ….
“This doesn’t look good,” she whispers to her adorable but ill-behaved dog, and her concern deepens as she continues with her list: privatized prisons with quotas, corporatized education, secret interpretations of the law. But the last item on the list, “indefinite detention of suspected terrorists”, gives her new pause.
More people are growing their own food. Private gardens that provide fresh fruits and vegetables are everywhere. The prepping process, canning or freezing to maximize a season’s bounty, is also widespread … but having seven days worth of stored food is listed as “suspicious activity” used to determine and identify citizens as state terrorists.
And so on and so forth ….
You have to be living under a rock not to be aware of this hardly debatable issue. Food safety, clean air, clean water … basic, basic stuff. And they’re all at risk because of the spread of conservative, neoliberal and libertarian ideology. Every one of their gains is a loss for the people, even as what they’re doing is against their own basic principle. What they’re doing causes damage to others. In order to continue on with their profit-driven mismanagement of our world’s resources, including our food supply, they just deny reality and hope we aren’t noticing. It’s got to stop.
A short but really good explanation of what I mean is in George Monbiot’s article about their core argument: “the procedural justice account of property rights”.
We are the protagonist of our own novel. Our character is being portrayed as weak, conflicted and ineffectual, but together we can rewrite the story. Joining a grassroots organization near you increases our strength by sheer numbers. Organizations like APV effectively join hands across the country giving our member lists the credibility of a voting bloc. As assumed voters, those lists are a force giving progressives a national voice, in some cases thwarting destructive ideas before they even become proposals. That’s what we need. We need our numbers to be threatening. Having your name on a grassroots list for progressives is the least you can do if you want to help turn things around.
Unless you have something more pressing in mind than eating food and breathing air, let’s get it done. These corporations are not holding their breath in anticipation of you taking action, but progressives are at this point! Please don’t put it off.
Here’s an example of our work. During the Alliance for Progressive Values’ lobbying event in Washington, September 22-23, members of our legislative team presented members of Congress with copies of the APV White Paper prepared by our Public Policy department on the issue of Genetically Modified Organisms.
It’s an outstanding paper, so I hope you’ll read it, too. Foxes Guarding the Hen House: Big Business, Lax Regulation and the Case Against GMOs (pdf)
The good news is, the cards are still being dealt in the political mess America is in now, but what’s showing on the table clearly indicates that we need your help. Don’t gamble on something so important by not doing something so simple. Please. Find a group that you like and join it.
You can check out APV’s website and join here if it suits you. Here’s more about having a membership – which is 25 dollars and bare bones cheap considering what we do, which you can read all about on the website.
I’m really hoping to see some new names on the list – and yours could be one of them. Think about it, please. APV has an amazing, hardworking team of volunteers, many of whom are taking time from work to do this for you, your family and the future of our country.
Thanks a million in advance!
Various media articles about the contamination of our food supply: