Friday, December 21, 2012


Communique issued by the EZLN today

The world ended today.

"Are you listening? It is the sound of their world falling apart. Of our world reemerging. Their day has fallen to night. And our night will be the new day. Democracy! Freedom! Justice! Out of the mountains of Southeast Mexico, for the Clandestine Revolutionary Committee General Indigenous Command of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), Insurgent Subcomander Marcos, Mexico, December 2012."

The descendants of the ancient Maya came out of the forest today, taking to the streets of southern Mexico to fulfill a prophecy. A new world is coming!

Friday, December 07, 2012

Leila Khaled: A Hero of the Palestinian Struggle Returns to Palestine

Palestine liberation hero Leila Khaled of the PFLP at a rally this week in Gaza.

There are very few living revolutionaries I revere. History has been hard on heroes: so many have been transformed into martyrs. But one of my real heroes returned to the stage of history this week, though you might not know it from the lack of mainstream press coverage. Palestinian revolutionary Leila Khaled bravely returned to Palestine this week. In the aftermath of Israel's recent war on the tiny swath of Palestinian territory, the border between Gaza and Egypt is now more open than it has been in decades. And so Khaled was able to travel from her home as a refugee in Jordan to a part of her country long forbidden to her by the state of war and occupation between the Israeli state and the Palestinians.

Leila Khaled arriving in Gaza after crossing from Egypt at Rafah.

I read Khaled's now out-of-print autobiography "My People Shall Live" many years ago. In it she tells the story of how she came to be a revolutionary, and what lead to her role hijacking airplanes for the Palestinian cause. She describes how the view from the plane flying over Haifa was as close as she could come to returning to the place of her birth. While of course many accuse Khaled of being a terrorist, her hijackings were political statements and not instruments of random terror against innocent people. (See an earlier post here at The Cahokian for some thoughts on the politics of airplane hijacking). At a time when the Palestinians were a defeated, victimized people, considered a non-entity by so many, Khaled became a human face for the spirit of resistance.

The revolutionary Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine celebrates its 45th birthday.
Khaled is a member of the PFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was founded 45 years ago. The rally in Gaza was meant to celebrate the anniversary of the PFLP as well as the 25th anniversary of the first Palestinian intifada, or uprising. Speaking to the people of Gaza, Khaled clearly expressed the PFLP's point of view, quite different than the conciliatory view of the PLO majority that governs the Palestine Authority. She said:

"I am proud of you, you raise all of our heads high. The entire Palestinian people is unified behind you, united with the resistance even when split on negotiations and calm, and in the camps and diaspora we hear the echoes of your struggle and say ‘We are with you, Gaza’. During the Zionist aggression, everywhere in the camps and in diaspora our people were cheering for the resistance.... I said that I am going to Gaza, this holy land of resistance which raised all of our heads high. I am going to my family, my friends and our people there. I bring with me great love from the parents who want to return to Gaza, Haifa, Yafa, Jerusalem and Ramallah. We want to return to all of Palestine and we will definitely return to all of Palestine.... At this moment I will repeat the words of the martyr and leader Abu Ali Mustafa: I come to continue the revolution, to continue resistance, and never to compromise on the constants.... [the right of Palestinians to return] is baptized with the blood of the Palestinian people who will continue to struggle until achieving our goals and our return.”

The PFLP was the most important of the Palestinian liberation organizations formed to to the left of the nationalist Fatah movement. The PFLP of George Habash and Ghassan Kanafani came to be among the most militantly revolutionary, influenced by Maoism in the moment when the People's Republic of China seemed interested in fomenting worldwide revolution. Unlike the Islamic militant wings of today's Palestinian movement like Hamas, the PFLP was (and is) a secular movement: many of its founders were in fact largely drawn from the Palestinian Christian community, and they explicitly adopted Marxism-Leninism. The current head of the PFLP, Ahmad Saadat, is imprisoned by Israel. Ironically he had been arrested by the Palestine Authority and was later seized by the IDF.

The iconic portrait of Leila Khaled taken in the late 1960s.
Leila Khaled's image has come to be iconic of the struggle of the Palestinians. At the time of her courageous acts she was young, beautiful, and eloquent. She reflected the will and determination of a people fighting for freedom against desperate odds.

"My People Shall Live"
I am inspired by her continued courage and determination. When American or Israeli politicians try to proclaim "there is no Palestine or there are no Palestinians," Leila Khaled's visage is there to prove them wrong. And her commitment to women's liberation and vision of a radical and socially just society adds dimension to the idea of the Palestinian revolution. In revering Khaled I honor not violence but resistance, courage, selflessness, and the indomitable hope of the human spirit.

The PFLP was formed out of revolutionary necessity.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

World AIDS Day 2012: In Memory of Joe Galanti

"He Kills Me": AIDS activist art from Gran Fury. Ronald Reagan, burn in hell!

I wish I had a picture of my late friend and comrade Joe Galanti. I have a vivid if incomplete memory of a specific photograph: taken at a revolutionary counterprotest of some KKK/Nazi rally in the midwest in the late 1970s, it shows Joe and other comrades charging forward against the enemy lines. The comrades are wearing painted football helmets and bearing shields: the anti-fascist confrontations of those days were serious business. I remember the expression on Joe's face in this photo, yelling some warcry: it's like a battlefield photo, which I guess indeed it was. I don't remember if Joe was charging the fascists directly in this photo or up against their police protection. I vaguely remember this action ended in arrest, but it was taken right before I got to know Joe, and the details are lost to time.

Joe was born Joe Alongi, but in the ways of the revolutionary left of those days renamed himself Joe Galanti, picking an old family name for his nom d'guerre. The Chicago left wasn't so huge that he was a stranger to me when we finally became friends in 1978 or 1979: I had surely seen him around at demonstrations or events. His party, the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL) was notorious for its anti-Klan/anti-Nazi work. While not quite as notorious as the Communist Workers Party who had comrades literally martyred by fascist killers down in Greensboro, North Carolina, at the end of that period, the RSL was definitely committed to building counterprotests that could literally stop the fascists in their tracks. Others on the left called them adventurists for their tactics, and remembering that photo there are certainly grains of truth in that argument. Chicago's segregated suburbs were infested with fascist vermin, of both the home-grown Klan variety and swastika-bearing, uniform dress-up German-style nazophiles. These were dangerous situations: I remember coming back from one suburban confrontation, must have been 1979 or 1980, when our car was followed from a counter-rally by a carload of Nazi sympathizers who tried ramming us off the highway: we escaped at high speed through a maze of suburban streets. The RSL had given up the football-helmeted charges by then but not the war itself.

The funny thing was that Joe was a pussycat. If he could be dynamic in action and a deft speech maker, he was soft-spoken and goofy in person. He was brilliant, with a great grasp of revolutionary politics and obviously a real commitment to fighting for his vision. Joe was also proudly out and gay, at a time when the left's relationship with the gay struggle was marked by great deals of ambivalence or even hostility.

Even though I had been warned off their adventurism, when I came out those many decades ago it was only natural that I would be forced to reevaluate the RSL since I was looking to integrate my communist politics with my newly open self-identity. I don't remember when I decided to treat Joe as something other than a raving lunatic, but at some point we began talking politics, and he really rocked my world.

He gave me a lot of space: he introduced me to another person in the RSL periphery, Michael Botkin, who would shortly become my roommate and also Joe's lover. We formed a sort of transitional organization, the boldly named Gay Revolutionary Discussion Group (GRDG, which we pronounced "Grudge"), and drew others toward the RSL from the gay activist world through this nominally independent core. Eventually I was ready to return to the hardcore left, formally joined the RSL, and GRDG folded into the League. It was smart organizing on Joe's part: and all the time we were studying the issues and organizing protests and intervening in the community. We organized protests against the movies "Cruising" and "Windows" and got involved in a fight against police repression of the Chicago gay community. I was really won to the RSL by Joe, who built a bridge between the critical Leninism of the RSL, community activism, and personal expression and identity.

Joe was fiercely charismatic: if he was intimidating at first, everyone who knew him soon fell in love with him. Having lived in New York City now for over thirty years, it's easy to forget how novel New Yorkers like Joe seemed to us quaint midwesterners back then. His New York accent and his dark Italian good looks were charming and compelling. I was happy when he and Michael became an item. We, sometimes with other comrades, would socialize frequently, going out to gay bars and discos or holding houseparties. Partying, Joe became a kind of psychedelic hippy, and warmly touchy and feely in ways enticing to those of us who grew up in Chicago's icy urbanity. He was an apostle of free love, and adored the icons of early gay counterculture.

It turned out Joe also had a personal secret dark side. He would sneak off to leather bars where he lived a whole different kind of life, one that even Michael didn't learn about til months after they had started becoming involved. This proved a bit of a challenge for Michael who didn't share the seriousness of the leather/S&M world, but he was game at least for a while. I remember sitting in our living room listening to music when Michael came out of his bedroom looking thoughtful and a little perplexed. "Hey I just fistfucked Joe." He announced before turning around and going back to his room off the kitchen in the back of the apartment. Joe seemed even happier having come out of this sort of second closet, though the intensity of Joe's sexuality became a tension on their relationship.

I was sad to leave Joe and Michael behind when I moved to New York in the late summer of 1981. I moved here to work for the League itself, and soon lived and breathed politics 24 hours a day. I stayed in touch with them, and saw them occasionally at national gatherings. But then that world just ended.

I remember several disturbing phone calls a couple years later. Calls from Joe, or Michael, or a mutual RSL friend. Joe was sick. Michael was sick. There was some weird factional trouble in the Chicago RSL. Michael left. It's confused in my memory... I remember a difficult conversation with Joe over the phone when he seemed deeply panicked...he had indeed been diagnosed with AIDS. Not a brand-new disease by then but still always a death sentence. He was discussing his plans: "If I live long enough..." the rest of this terrible pronouncement is blotted out of my memory by a rush of noise.

I saw him one more time. He came home to NYC on a sort of last pilgrimage...this was somewhere between 1985 and 1987. He seemed well, but much thinner.  He had a list of things to do. He wanted to feast on Nathan's oysters: he was shocked that they had become so expensive. Shortly thereafter I fell away from the League myself: personally terrified by AIDS and demoralized by the Reagan era, I was in political retreat and heading for hibernation. I don't even remember when the call came, or who it came from, that Joe had sickened again and succumbed to the disease. I'm guilty as hell that I was nowhere to be found. I miss him still: I miss his passion, his commitment, his courage, his ability to synthesize revolutionary politics into a compelling narrative. There's so much Joe didn't get to see. What a terrible terrible loss.

Joe loved to dance. He loved disco, and loved the adventurous new sounds that crept into the music after its r&b/funk base seemed to tire. One song I remember he loved to no end was "Pop Muzik," by M. This one's for you Joe.

I have been trying to honor my friends lost to AIDS each World AIDS day. Click here for my previous writings about them and the struggle against AIDS.