Saturday, March 22, 2014

March Writings

I have a couple new pieces up on the Kasama site.

First up I wrote a short piece for International Women's Day. Entitled "International Women's Day: Oppression transformed into revolutionary power," it's a brief survey of some of the history behind the March 8 holiday:
"Today women are a significant part of the revolutionary movement: whether in the rural regions of India where armed women Maoist rebels challenge Indian capitalism (photo at top), or in the mass movements of the squares from Egypt to Wall Street, or in the spheres of theoretical exploration and debate necessary to take the communist movement to its next stage, women's voices are a crucial part of grounding the struggle in the reality of experiencing and challenging oppression. Revolutionary sisterhood is indeed powerful. Let's see what it can do next."
But what I'm really happy with is a short survey of some of my favorite radical songs. "Urban rebel music subverting your earwaves" takes a look at a handful of songs from Jill Scott, Ursula Rucker, Erykah Badu, Boots Riley and the Coup, and Welfare Poets. Faithful readers of The Cahokian will recognize a couple of these: I've written about the Rucker song and about Erykah Badu before.

I've combined a little bit of cultural critique, music appreciation, lots of song lyrics, and music clips and videos to discuss some surprisingly radical songs outside the more expected realms:
"When people start talking about radical or political music, I'm always surprised how the topic of conversation rarely moves outside the genres of hardcore head-banging punk or earnest sing-along folk. Sometimes talk moves on to the well-worn populism of mass-appeal pop-rock, the Springsteen/Mellencamp/Fleetwood Mac tunes so beloved by bourgeois politicians trying to put something over on voters, and there's the counterpoint of classic hip-hop with its righteous anger against cops and sometimes problematic derision of women and gays. Without disparaging any of these rich genres of music, I want to recommend some really great and really radical tunes from genre-busting urban musicians who sometimes defy easy categorization but whose visionary art is something that revolutionaries can really embrace."
There's some really great songs discussed. The Jill Scott number "My Petition" is a must-listen, and it really is amazingly subversive. The article was set off by re-listening to this song while riding the bus and paying attention to the lyrics. I hadn't noticed before how slyly Scott hooks you in to a critique of America while assuming at first she's talking about her love life. There's a song clip provided. Check it out!

I've also written a few short introductions for re-purposed content on Kasama. You can follow my postings there at this link.

Finally let me put in a plug for my daily work at the "Anti-Imperialist League" on Facebook. Every day I've been posting a picture with a first-person quote from a huge spectrum of revolutionaries. Each Saturday I post a quote about a little-known or forgotten episode of rebellion.

It's been really educational and rewarding. I've come to realize the importance of letting people speak on their own, and seeing how much traditional history actually disparages the record of oppressed people themselves. I don't find myself agreeing 100% with every analysis of imperialism offered, but the people featured, a worldwide mix of women and men, are all actual fighters or theoreticians against empire. And I've been able to feature some of the struggles that have always interested me, like the tragically brave Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP) May Day rally of 1976 featured in the graphic above.

My goal is to continue the anti-imperialist quote of the day project for at least an entire year.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Remember the Charge of the Light Brigade!

In a war between Russian and US imperialism, the only side the people should be on is their own. 

President Obama got on TV last night to say that there would be "consequences" to Russian military involvement in Crimea. While the Ukraine is certainly a complicated issue what with the involvement of a host of fascists and right-wing fake communists, opposing American saber-rattling must be key for those of us in the United States. 

No to Obama's Crimean Adventure! The main enemy is at home — Down with US imperialism!

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Recent Writings

Supporters of GEHO in Jinja, Uganda

After a long dry spell, I've been doing some more writing, all of it over on the Kasama website. Working with other members of the editorial collective, I've been helping to flag and introduce interesting articles from outside websites, as well as generating original content.

First up, I'm most proud of a long piece I spent a week researching and writing. Entitled "Real Enemies, False Friends: Imperialism and Homophobia in Africa," it covers the causes behind the wave of terrifying anti-gay repression in Africa. I've coined the phrase "weaponization of gay rights" to describe the hypocritical embrace of LGBT rights by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as a neocolonialist cudgel in the arsenal of US imperialism. It's pretty timely in the context of the orgy of hypocrisy during the Sochi Olympics in which anti-gay, repressive Russia is being pilloried by the professedly pro-gay, but still repressive US. I take aim at local demagogues, American evangelicals like Scott Lively, imperialist politicians, and the worst alleged gay rights organization ever, the Human Rights Campaign.

Next up are a bunch of short introductions meant to frame and introduce articles for discussion:

"Sochi Olympics — stop anti-gay violence in Russia" is a Human Rights Watch report  on the disturbing increase in antigay violence following the passage of Russia's gay propaganda law. My introduction just presents some of the issues for those not familiar. I'd like to follow this up with a discussion of the attempted gay boycott of Sochi and its corporate sponsors, addressing some of the same issues of hypocritical imperialism as in my Uganda/Nigeria piece.

"East Baltimore — What the fuck is a selfie?" is an article about life in a world where social media doesn't reign supreme. My introduction is a call to examine the bubbles and presumptions leftists inhabit when thinking about interacting with the real world.

"Atlanta, unfit rulers should get out of the way" is an article about the calamitously unusual snowstorm that swept the south. My introduction talks about the clash of extreme weather and capitalist crisis.

"American Studies Association penalized by NY Senate for Israel boycott" talks about the attempted retaliation against supporters of the BDS movement in New York. My introduction introduces the BDS movement as a way of materially supporting the Palestinian struggle.

Since Kasama front paged my fairly critical piece on Peter Seeger, we chose another article that was more personally laudatory as a counterpoint. I introduced "Music journalist Dave Marsh remembers Pete Seeger" in the hopes of keeping a discussion going.

My personal life is still quite unsettled, but it feels good to be speaking my mind again and keeping up with the writing. I'd love feedback from readers.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

On Pete Seeger and the Purpose of Hammers

Pete Seeger performing in the 1950s

If I had a hammer,
I'd hammer in the morning
I'd hammer in the evening,
All over this land

I'd hammer out danger,
I'd hammer out a warning,
I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land.


Well I got a hammer,
And I got a bell,
And I got a song to sing, all over this land.

It's the hammer of Justice,
It's the bell of Freedom,
It's the song about Love between my brothers and my sisters,
All over this land.
—Pete Seeger, 1949

Like everybody else on my Facebook wall — people my age, older than I, and younger than I — I grew up on Pete Seeger's music, on his warm voice, and on his sunny optimism and apparent unflagging commitment to every decent cause of humanity. It is hard to imagine a world without him, for sure. 94 is an impressive age. That said, I feel compelled to raise a few questions about the meaning of Pete Seeger. With all due respect to somebody who lived his long life in an apparently principled. humble and admirable way, I don't mean to piss on his personal reputation. But something needs to be said, not about Seeger the man, but about the comfortable niche that Seeger's vision found in American society.

Somewhere between the late 1930s, the 40s and 50s, American radicalism became so infatuated with its own narrative that it cast aside the quest for actual political power. With a few heroic exceptions (and to be fair, by the 1950s in the face of extraordinary repression), American leftists began to repudiate the idea of making actual revolution, of challenging the state power of capitalism. In hoping to ride progressive but ultimately no more than liberal waves of change and avert the harsh scrutiny of cold-war anti-communism, radicals started to deny that their goals represented any kind of threat to the American system as we know it. By the time that the McCarthyite reign of terror made such disavowals legally beneficial, something was rooted out of radicalism, and that was its revolutionary spirit. While this spirit has occasionally returned for short periods of time (as in the aftermath of the 1960s student, antiwar and black-consciousness movements that birthed the New Communist Movement and a host of other mostly doomed left grouplets), an utterly reformist lack of imagination came to dominate American social movements. Political struggle would be the good fight, but it would only take place in a context of an almost mythological view of America that smoothed out all the rough edges, and assured us that good would triumph over evil if only our intentions were true and our votes wisely cast.

Pete Seeger, as witness to most of the 20th century, was profoundly a product of that process. He came up as a fellow traveler of rightward-drifting American communism. His radicalism was tamed, unthreatening, heartwarming even. The faux nativism of the folk movement, as much as it combined egalitarian notions that allowed common people to make their own music, also marked a perpetuation of the mythological narcissism that defanged the American left. Social justice activism has done a lot of great things, all to the tune of Seeger's soundtrack no doubt. But this sunny narrative of the good fight will never actually end the cause of everything that is foundationally wrong with our system. Indeed, it perpetuates the system because it waves away difficult and unpleasant questions about capitalism itself and what it might take to actually finally transform society by confronting state power. It is a harsh question to ask but at what point does Seeger's music become the lullaby that lulls us to the sleep of satisfaction with the incremental?

All these incremental struggles over the past few decades: there's much real progress there, along with the unresolved and the lost and the undone. But, and nothing has taught me this more than the experience of the Obama years, that hammer has to do more than ring out warnings. The myth that everything gets better and returns to some primal American state of fundamental justice is demonstrably a lie that in turn perpetuates capitalism. I think there's something in the culture of Pete Seeger that consciously perpetuates this liberal, reformist myth.

The love between our sisters and our brothers is a thing of beauty, for sure.
But hammers are also for smashing things that need to be smashed.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Not Dead!

So, turns out everything they say about 21st-century capitalism is true!

I've been out of work for a few months now, dealing with caregiving for an elderly parent who's receiving inadequate insurance, and dealing with dwindling finances. We've put our home up for sale, and are making various plans to move forward, all of which involve lots of angst and concrete challenges and difficulties. It's all quite depressing, and as the months have gone on it turns out that it's hard to focus on one's literary voice in the midst of personal turmoil caused by the inability of the system to care for its people. I'm grateful for a solid relationship and a warm cat, and trying to remain optimistic and thinking longterm past temporary difficulties, but this all adds up to an extended absence from my blogging commitments.

I haven't abandoned The Cahokian, or given up writing longer pieces for other websites like Kasama, but my energy is focusing on keeping me above water. I'm hoping to return to regular posting here as life calms down, but I wanted to acknowledge my failure to post in, well, months.

Meanwhile, I haven't been absent from the world, I'm still trying to keep a finger in social networking. You can follow my work, mostly anti-imperialism focused, on a number of platforms:

Follow me on Pinterest

Follow my postings of anti-American propaganda on Tumblr: Anti-Americana

Follow occasional personal/political posts on Tumblr: cahokianish

Like my anti-imperialist quote-of-the-day project on Facebook: Anti-Imperialist League 

Follow me on Twitter: @CahokianISH

There's some overlap on the above, I'm trying to still have a voice despite everything. I feel like I have a lot left to say on a lot of subjects, but now isn't winding up to be the moment.

See you back here soon. And fuck capitalism.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Anti-Americana: Anti-Imperialist Spectacle

This is a tourist postcard from Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic Republic of Korea. While tourism is not a major industry in North Korea, it does serve a public relations role in attempting to counteract the dominant western propaganda narrative built on standard anti-communist tropes of drudges walking around in a gray slave society. As a resident of the United States, which specializes in the manufacture of such tropes, I find it hard to accurately speculate on the actual nature of North Korean society; I suspect it's a country like any other, full of people just trying to live their lives in peace. I would reject out of hand both the giant prison narrative and the competing official rainbows and unicorns one.

Back to our postcard, this seems to be a shot of a stage spectacular. There's a projection of a spinning globe and a choir bearing red flags; actors gather in clusters around the stage posed in composed vignettes that suggest the dynamic groupings of people shown on propaganda posters. What's going on here?
Turning the card over, we get to the crux of the matter. The caption reads: "The revolutionary peoples of the world, unite more firmly under the banner of anti-imperialist, anti-U.S. struggle, and mutilate the U.S. imperialists in all parts!" Ouch!

The card doesn't say which, but this is clearly some kind of revolutionary theater production. As in cultural-revolution-era China, in North Korea there are a number of officially sanctioned revolutionary plays, operas, dances and films. One of them, "Sea of Blood," a story of resistance to the Japanese occupation, has apparently been running continuously since 1971. Another, "The Flower Girl," also about the years of resistance to Japan, is attributed to Great Leader Kim Il Sung himself. Sadly, I can't tell what work is represented on this postcard. But I'd sure like to see the show! I'm guessing this card is from the 1970s.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Forty Years Ago Today

Forty years ago today, the Chilean military, backed by the United States, overthrew the elected socialist government of Chile, and brought a bloody end to the "Chilean road to socialism," and the life of its architect, President Salvador Allende Gossens.

On that day forty years ago, neoliberalism introduced itself to the world, waving a bloody hand and pounding a mailed fist of repression, revealing the gruesome reality hidden in the pages of economic texts written by milquetoast academics in the service of capital. One day the oppressive theories and practices of neoliberalism will be heaped in a bonfire, and today's heirs to Kissinger, Friedman and Pinochet will be swept away to dim historical memory.

Last year I wrote a short analysis of Allende's Popular Unity government and its fall: Although a lot of the lessons of Chile are negative ones, nothing takes away from heroic, self-sacrificing example of Allende, who fell in combat for the people he loved. ¡Salvador Allende Presente!

Lasting vengeance will arrive with the real creation of People's Power, the creation of a just and equitable world of human liberation.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Liberation Time Capsule

I'm not sure how it survived four moves and thirty years apparently undisturbed, but while rummaging through a box looking for something, this week I found a plastic bag filled with metal buttons from 1983. I wish my memories were as sharp, fresh and uncorroded as the pins folded on their backs. These pins date from the Lesbian and Gay Pride March of 1983, and there's a little story attached.

I was part of a group of leftists active inside the Christopher Street Liberation Day Committee, as the official pride planning coalition was then known. This was a year or two before Heritage of Pride corporatized and institutionalized the planning of New York's annual June festivities. It was a coalition of community and political organizations, run by an odd alliance of longtime activists who longed to make it into the halls of Democratic party machine politics and representatives from the gay business world, including some rumored to have deep connections to organized crime.

Everybody had an agenda. The folks in charge were trying very hard to figure out how to turn Lesbian and Gay Pride into a profit center; I don't remember if it was this 1983 march or the year before, but they engineered the redirection of the event from a march that burst out of the Village uptown toward a rally in Central Park to a parade that assembled uptown and funneled crowds downtown into a street festival and the bars and shops of a rapidly gentrifying gayborhood. They weren't terribly concerned with the politics of the event, though they sure didn't want it to be threatening.

I was there with my organization, the Revolutionary Socialist League, and allies in Lavender Left, CRASH (the Coalition against Racism, Anti-semitism, Sexism and Heterosexism), DARE (Dykes Against Racism Everywhere, Freedom Socialist Party, and the Coalition of Lesbian and Gay Male Socialists. It was time to come up with the annual slogan. Each year, the march and rally had a theme, and the theme's slogan was emblazoned on official banners and buttons. I have no memory of what the other slogans proposed were, but I came up with a slogan that encapsulated our own more radical, political agenda: "Diversity Is Our Strength, Liberation Is Our Fight." Oh, that first half doesn't sound like so much now in today's world of diversity programs sponsored by corporate Human Resources departments, but at the time it was a broadside against the whitewashing tendencies of a middle-class gay movement striving for middle-class respectability. The second half, in an era of struggle for New York's gay rights bill, set its sights on the evocative higher goal of liberation, achieved not through influencing politicians, but through self-struggle.

We were shocked when the volunteers from all those other community organizations liked our slogan better than the one the CSLDC bigs seemed to favor. The grassroots political groups, the religious folks, the volunteers, they loved it. We were angrily opposed by the Stonewall Democrats, the mafiosi, and the other business interests. Our radical slogan swept the vote, despite an attempt to stuff a bag full of ballots. "Diversity Is Our Strength, Liberation Is Our Fight" became the official slogan of the 1983 Christopher Street March & Festival! We looked forward to seeing the graphic treatment the publicity committee would develop.

Fast forward a couple meetings. The new buttons and banner designs were in, and were about to be unveiled!

Our jaws dropped. For the first time in the 12 or 13 years of the march, the slogan was left off the buttons, replaced by an unappealing abstract design. The corrupt ringleaders of CSLDC had their corporate revenge. "But it will be mentioned in the program," they said, over our loud protestations. We were done with CSLDC. We had all learned a lesson about the gay establishment.

So we organized the "Militant Stonewall Contingent for Lesbian and Gay Liberation." I designed a logo for a button, using the pink triangle, the symbol of gay resistance in those pre-rainbow flag days. I still remember the laborious manual mechanical pasteup of these designs in those pre-desktop publishing days. "Stonewall" evoked nothing short of revolutionary turmoil for us: at the time the building that had been and now is again a bar called Stonewall was a bagel restaurant. We produced hundreds of buttons in English and Spanish. And apparently, sometime after the march was over, bagged up the leftover buttons in such a way that I wouldn't notice them again for thirty years.

Frankly my first few pride marches in New York City are a bit of a blur. I wish I could report confidently that our Militant Stonewall Contingent was a raving success. I think it was actually pretty good, drawing together many otherwise not-so-friendly organizations left of gay center, but I'm not even sure if the few march photos I have from that era were that year or another. I know we were young, happy and energetic; the worst of the decimating AIDS assault still ahead of us. The photo above is either from 1983 or the year before. I'm happy to say I can still call the guy front and center in this photo a friend.

Hey, anybody want a button?

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Anti-Americana: Historical Optimism

"Vietnam Will Win! America Will Lose!" reads this Chinese poster, probably from the early 1960s. I'm not 100% sure of this poster's provenance, and would love to know more about it. The illustration shows a crowd of peasants attacking an American soldier; usually the careful compositions of Chinese propaganda art showed a measured balance between civilians, militia, and military. Also, I'm pretty sure the Chinese characters used predate the simplification engineered in the PRC in the 1950s, and there is no use of Pinyin, which seemed to appear on most Chinese posters predating the Cultural Revolution. 

As for the slogan, of course it turned out to be quite accurate. A myth of the invincibility of US imperialism emerged somewhere between the Spanish-American War and World War II, that the US always emerged victorious from war. This myth is largely preserved in popular consciousness, even though it's quite far from the truth.

The U.S. failed to make a decisive victory in its first major post-WWII engagement, Korea. Unable to defeat the North Koreans, who were heavily backed by the Soviet Union and more importantly the new People's China, the best the US could achieve was a military stalemate, easily claimed as a victory by the North. Vietnam ended in the ignominious collapse of a massive American war effort. Cuba brushed off the CIA attack at Giron in 1961. Some minor US engagements, on might call them episodes of bullying, like Grenada and Panama, ended in decisive US victories. However, its two wars in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, while victorious in battlefield terms, probably count as net political defeats. The US seemed to win the cold war, though the resurgence of no-longer-even-claiming-to-be-socialist Russia on the international scene in the last few years makes it clear that that victory might have been only politically solid, leaving a potential military opponent standing.

Surely the US is hungry for a clear military success. Let's hope that proves elusive in Syria... or Iran.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Anti-War Anthems: Has the Bombing Begun?

It's been a couple years, but sadly it's time to break out a new entry in the "Anti-War Anthems" feature here at The Cahokian. Today, it's a video I've seen floating around Facebook. "Has the Bombing Begun?" by David Rovics. I don't know anything about this guy, but this song captures something about this moment: the sad resignation that once again, the world has to go through this, because of the willful evil of people who once claimed better.