Friday, July 31, 2015

Sandra Bland, killed by slave catchers

Here's my latest, crossposted from Kasama.

A 21st-century slave patrol murdered Sandra Bland

#SayHerName #SandraBland
#SayHerName #SandraBland

Let the truth be known: Sandra Bland, an activist in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, was kidnapped and murdered by modern day slave catchers. Her “crime” was daring to act like a human being in the face of the arbitrary and brutal violence of white supremacy and male authority.

Watch the videos of her outrageous kidnapping and weep for what you know is coming. Watch the video of a brave and self-assured woman menaced, brutalized, and thrown to the ground, and rage against the horror documented on 21st-century technology. Look for the crude attempts by the authorities and their captive media to edit, to mislead, to lie, to distort, to deflect, to assassinate Sandra Bland’s character. But don’t be fooled. Sandra Bland did not kill herself.

For moving her car out of the way of an approaching Texas pig patrol car, Sandra Bland was assaulted, dragged off to jail for three days, and murdered in her cell. For insisting on her right to be upset with being treated like shit in the midst of a random encounter she was tarred as “uppity” and marked for death. Her voice is clear in the videos of her kidnapping—both the edited one released by the pigs and the bystander video showing her flat on the ground—and in the message she left from prison on a friend’s phone: she was disgusted with what was happening to her but frustrated at being powerless to stop it.

In her autobiography, liberated Black freedom fighter Assata Shakur presciently warns us about how white supremacy will seek to absolve itself of responsibility for the deaths of its captives: “In prisons it is not at all uncommon to find a prisoner hanged or burned to death in his cell. No matter how suspicious the circumstances, these deaths are always ruled ‘suicides.’ The are usually Black inmates, considered to be a ‘threat to the orderly running of the prison.’ They are usually among the most politically aware and socially conscious inmates in the prison.”

Graphic from Sandra Bland's Facebook page showing Dylann Roof at left.
Graphic from Sandra Bland’s Facebook page showing Dylann Roof at left.

We may never learn how the pigs killed Sandra Bland, but even if the dubious and suspicious official narrative about suicide by garbage bag turns out to be other than the time-worn lie it appears to be, the pigs at the Waller County Jail are still her murderers: Sandra Bland did not do this to herself.
We don’t know that the authorities knew who Sandra Bland was before they kidnapped her, but her presence in social media was out front and they certainly figured it out once they had her behind bars. Her Facebook page bore the slogan “Now legalize being Black in America” with a banner illustration contrasting how racist terrorist Dylann Roof was treated after being arrested (with a cheeseburger) to how a Black man is treated (bloodied and beaten). In a series of videos, Bland was outspoken against Police violence, white privilege and racial injustice, and spoke movingly about a cause she felt strongly about:
I was asked, was I trying to racially unite or racially incite. Well, honestly I feel that my goal is to racially unite. Now, in the process of doing that some people will be incited, i.e., upset, because based on the history of America it is not good when it comes to Black and white people. But I want us to try and get past that and that is ultimately impossible until certain people realize that they were born into a certain kind of privilege.… Black people are gonna be mad when we see our people gunned down and murdered.”
It’s a familiar pattern, well known to the communities preyed upon by the death squads in blue, but now plain for anyone with eyes to see: A Black person encounters so-called law enforcement, and winds up dead.

Sandra Bland. Kindra Chapman. Sam DuBose. Tamir Rice. Freddie Grey. Walter Scott. Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Akai Gurley. Charly Keunang. Shantel Davis. Kimani Gray. Ramarley Graham. Kyam Livingston. #SayTheirNames and grit your teeth, for these names are only a few of untold hundreds of innocent Black people murdered by the modern slave catchers year after year, most with complete legal impunity.
Show me in American history where ‘all’ lives have mattered. Show me where there have been liberty and justice for all, like that fucking pledge of allegiance we love to say….if ‘all’ lives mattered would there need to be a hashtag for #BlackLivesMatter?” —Sandra Bland in #SandySpeaks
Let us be clear, again. So-called law enforcement is not some tree bearing good and rotten apples: it is a noxious, poisonous growth that must be uprooted and destroyed. The police are not acting in an aberrant fashion: they are doing what they were designed to do, enforcing the structures of white supremacy that maintain the capitalist order. The rampant lethal violence of these modern day slave patrols against communities of color is fully sanctioned by the state despite being documented not only by brave citizen copwatchers but on the state’s own bodycams and dashcams. The police reform schemes of liberal politicians like New York City’s mayor DeBlasio and President Obama are revealed to be nothing other than feel-good window dressing for the same old repressive business as usual.

Graphic from Sandra Bland's Facebook page.
Graphic from Sandra Bland’s Facebook page.

We are heartened by the growth of the #BlackLivesMatter movement now confronting racist terror across the country. It is exciting to see activists from communities of color, notably led by women like the martyred Sandra Bland, take the lead in combatting this country’s structural white supremacy, confronting politicians, ripping down confederate flags, defacing racist monuments, building networks of support and discussing the implications of the deep intertwining of racism and capitalism. More than one activist in this movement has pointed out that the first flag of slavery in this country was not the confederate stars and bars, but the stars and stripes itself, and we hope these are steps in a path that brings this movement to an understanding of the need for revolution, the abolition of white supremacist institutions and structures, and the destruction of capitalism itself. This movement will not soon be silent.

In the words of Sandra Bland’s mother, Once I put this baby in the ground, I’m ready…This means war.”

#SayHerName #AvengeSandraBland #SmashSlavePatrols

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Real enemies, False Friends: Imperialism and homophobia in Africa

This article originally appeared on The Kasama Project on 8 February 2014. Reposting here to preserve a broken link. It may also be accessed here.

“What Clinton and Obama have done is weaponize gay rights in the service of neocolonialism.”


Gay people in African countries have long confronted existential challenges. But now old laws that criminalize homosexual behavior are being supplemented with harsh penalties and new laws designed to push gay people back into the shadows. This massive wave of repression is being led by local demagogues and visiting American missionaries. But underneath it all, decades of neocolonial exploitation and blatant imperialist hypocrisy have created a perfect storm of terror for gay Africans.
We celebrate the fact that Uganda is a no go zone for the gay people. Let them die like cockroaches and insects with no purpose. We praise the lord that our leaders are put them in their places;- graveyards, cells, prisons and out of Uganda. Yeessssssssssssssssssss this is it, we shall get them.” —a Ugandan supporter of anti-gay legislation, on Facebook
After being stalled for several years and having undergone various revisions, Uganda's parliament made headlines in December by finally passing a deeply repressive bill against gays and lesbians. While the death penalty clause was removed from what was originally referred to as the "Kill the Gays Bill," it sets penalties including life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality,” and also criminalizes the failure to turn in known homosexuals for their behavior. According to the Guardian, “Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law that criminalised sexual acts 'against the order of nature,' but the Ugandan politician who wrote the new law argued that tough new legislation was needed because gay people from the west threatened to destroy Ugandan families and were allegedly 'recruiting' Ugandan children into gay lifestyles.”

b2ap3_thumbnail_Uganda-GEHO.jpgUgandan President Yoweri Museveni has so far refused to sign the bill into law, saying the bill would not solve the problem of “abnormality.” But regardless of the status of the bill, Ugandan gay people, referred to as “kuchus,” report a sharp increase in anti-gay harassment and violence. Activist David Kato was murdered in 2011, and Andrew Waiswa of the Gender-Equality and Health Organisation of Uganda (GEHO) was beaten by thugs in December requiring hospitalization. Waiswa, now recuperating at home, reports that his friends are threatened daily on the streets. Says Waiswa, “So they want to kill me for being me and trying to help fellow LGBTq brothers and sisters??? Now that's madness!! I have survived many attempts and I know some of us might lose our lives in this battle, but giving up the fight is not an option....We are born this way!!! We are gay! We are here... we can't hide anymore, we have nowhere to run...yes we are Ugandan Kuchus!!”

A Worldwide Trend?

Unfortunately, Uganda is not the only country in Africa, or indeed elsewhere in the world, where gay or queer people are now being targeted. In January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan surprised observers by signing a similarly repressive law that criminalizes gay marriages but also criminalizes the ability of gays and lesbians to associate or to form organizations. Immediately following the enactment of this law, dozens of gay Nigerians were arrested, according to human rights activists.  In northern Nigeria where Muslim sharia law coexists with civil Nigerian law, the new law seems to have fueled a wave of popular anti-gay protest demanding harsh penalties for those arrested.

Nigerian student Udoka Okafor summarizes:
Openly LGBT persons in Nigeria are simply struggling to survive a culture that is hostile to them because of their sexual and gender orientation. The legal system criminalizes them, society ostracizes them, and politicians spit out negative demagogueries about them that further indoctrinate people into a culture of hostility towards LGBT persons.
Elsewhere, Gambia's president Yahya Jammeh used the occasion of his September speech to the United Nations in New York to denounce homosexuals and their supporters: "Those who promote homosexuality want to put an end to human existence...Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which, though very evil, antihuman as well as anti-Allah, is being promoted as a human right by some powers.”

A legislator in Liberia is promoting a law that would also criminalize gay marriage: “[Homosexuality] is a criminal offence. It is un-African...It is a problem in our society. We consider deviant sexual behaviour criminal behaviour,” said the legislator, Jewel Howard-Taylor.

Back in 1995 President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe notoriously said, “I find it extremely outrageous and repugnant to my human conscience that such immoral and repulsive organizations, like those of homosexuals, who offend both against the law of nature and the morals of religious beliefs espoused by our society, should have any advocates in our midst and elsewhere in the world.” He has kept up this anti-gay attitude ever since and non-sexual gay behavior was criminalized in Zimbabwe in 2006. There are many other examples across sub-Saharan Africa.

And of course there is the law in Russia, signed by President Vladimir Putin last summer, that bans “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” This law effectively shoves Russia's gay and lesbian community back into the closet, as any open activity can now be cited as “gay propaganda” that might expose children to homosexuality. While homosexuality itself remains decriminalized in post-Soviet Russia (at least for now), activists report a disturbing increase in violence directed against the Russian gay community. The Russian anti-gay law has been a focus of world-wide activists seeking to use the winter Olympics in Sochi to publicize what's happening there and punish the Olympics' supporters for enabling repression by calling for protests and a boycott.
Finally, in December of last year, India's supreme court shocked the world by reinstating a colonial-era law recriminalizing homosexuality. The 1861 law had been struck down in 2009. In the new year, the supreme court even rejected complaints by human rights activists and stood firm on its decision to make homosexuality punishable by up to ten years in jail.

Why Is this Happening?

Yet things look very different in the United States. While violence against transgendered people remains at an unprecented high level, and while a bill against workplace discrimination against LGBT people (ENDA) languishes in congress, the rapid increase in the number of states legalizing same-sex marriage equality would suggest a rising tide of acceptance toward gay people here at home. Despite the furious activity of anti-gay hate groups and the frothings of fascist teapartiers on the American right, mostly the story in the US has been one of rapid legal advance for gay civil rights. So why all this backlash against gay people in so many places around the world?

Many of the African politicians behind these anti-gay laws claim that homosexuality represents something un-African being imported into Africa by criminal European or American gays for nefarious purposes like child molestation. These politicians say there is no history of homosexuality in Africa, despite the fact that this is widely disputed by scholars. Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, one of the architects of the Uganda bill, wrote, “Homosexuality is illegal, unnatural, ungodly and un-African: In Uganda as most of the global South, homosexuality is an 'evil and repugnant sexual act' which simultaneously breaks four established laws [including] the law of our African tribal cultures which have been handed down to us by our fathers from thousands of years of civilized traditions.”

It is true that a moden gay identity owes much to the evolution of gay consciousness in European and American culture, but gay historians and anthropologists have documented same-gender sexuality and gender-nonconforming behavior all over the world, including in many traditional African cultures. It's ironic that what these politicians are actually defending is a legal system and religious morality established by the British colonial masters, who introduced harsh anti-gay codes at the point of bayonets to the indigenous populations of the African regions they conquered in the 19th century.
And it's not as though there are no African gays standing up for their own rights. There are LGBT organizations across Africa. The very fact that African gays now have a roster of martyrs like David Kato of Uganda, or Roger Jean-Claude Mbede and Eric Lembembe of Cameroon, disproves this notion that gay people are outsiders. And who can forget the heroic anti-apartheid activist turned HIV-activist Simon Nkoli?

So what is really happening? Two actual outside forces are involved.

The Evangelical Link

Scott Lively is a right-wing American Christian fundamentalist activist who has devoted his career to attacking LGBT people. The author of a slanderous book that claims Nazi Germany was the product of a homosexual conspiracy, he traveled to Uganda in 2009 to give a series of lectures warning of a gay menace to Ugandan society. His message is not just one of religious conservatism, but a call to political action. American evangelical missionaries have been using allegedly charitable intentions to build networks throughout Africa. Their ubiquitous presence in local relief work, including massive involvement in HIV/AIDS charities, has given them entry to local politics. Their work is not all about mere charity: it comes with a heavy dose of social conservatism and politically reactionary ideology. Their AIDS relief work, where they have become a channel for US government funding, puts AIDS prevention in the context of conservative religious practice and morality, focusing for instance, on abstinence and marriage. Remember the abortive and bizarre “Kony 2012” campaign? The people behind that were part of the same community of zealous missionaries working hard to capture the minds of communities across central Africa.

Lively and others like him, apparently on the losing end of the so-called culture wars in the United States, have found a receptive audience in countries like Uganda. In the U.S., Lively's organizations are derided as hate groups. In Uganda, in the midst of a massive religious revival where antigay attitudes have become commonplace, Lively's political message has found fertile ground. Martin Ssempa, already engaged in a campaign against sexual permissiveness in AIDS prevention, became one of his chief local disciples. An American journalist visiting Uganda in 2005 described Ssempa's message:
In his sermons, he condemns homosexuality, pornography, condoms, Islam, Catholics, certain kinds of rock music, and women’s rights activists, who he says promote lesbianism, abortion, and the worship of female goddesses. He told me that Satan worshipers hold meetings under Lake Victoria, where they are promised riches in exchange for human blood, which they collect by staging car accidents and kidnappings.
b2ap3_thumbnail_caseagainst_cartoon_Page6.jpgScott Lively and the American evangelicals have become the catalyst for the transformation of these reactionary ideas into political reality. Although Lively claims to be against harsh punishment for homosexual acts, it's clear that his pseudo-historical and pseudo-scientific diatribes against gay people have sent anti-gay sentiment in Uganda over the top. It's worth noting —and frightening — that Lively has lately been making numerous appearances in Russia. (He's also being sued in the state of Massachusetts for “crimes against humanity” by a Ugandan LGBT group called SMUG, Sexual Minorities of Uganda, backed by the Center for Constitutional Rights).

While Lively is the most prominent of the reactionary evangelical leaders implicated in anti-gay legislation, there are religious organizers across the region influencing popular attitudes and legal processes. The Catholic Church, the conservative wing of the Anglican church, numerous protestant denominations, and in the case of some countries, Islamic fundamentalist movements like Nigeria's Boko Haram, are all preaching intolerance toward gay people.

But it's a mistake to simply blame the new wave of anti-gay repression on mere backward religious ideas. The real issue is power, and this is revealed as we consider who is actually benefiting from this repression.

The Weaponization of Gay Rights

There is a second outside force behind the wave of anti-gay reaction in Africa and elsewhere, and it's actually the more sinister one. Ironically, this force is dressed in pro-LGBT language and intent. This force is the U.S. State Department.

Hillary Clinton, acting as President Obama's secretary of state, made a speech at the UN offices in Geneva in 2011 in which she said, "Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct, but in fact they are one and the same.”  The speech was a sweeping condemnation of anti-gay repression world-wide. Under her leadership, the State Department followed up the speech with broad policy statements that “the United States would use all the tools of American diplomacy to promote LGBT rights around the world.”

American and international LGBT organizations widely welcomed Clinton's remarks, hoping that the United States would use its “leverage” to advocate for gay civil rights in places like Uganda. The American LGBT population largely cheered Clinton and Obama, which was, of course, part of the idea.

But here's the problem. The United States is not actually a force for good in the world, and certainly not a force for good in Africa.

The real interest of the US in Africa is power; economic and political power. In the fifty-plus years of the post-colonial era, African countries have learned well and good what domination by the US means. In countries like Congo, Rwanda, Liberia, and Angola, the US has meant decades of genocidal civil strife and the looting of natural resources. It has meant coup d'etats and rule by viciously corrupt western puppets. It has meant poverty for the masses of people while a select few at the top of African countries are blessed with untold wealth and influence. It has meant crushing national debts and environmental disaster. It has meant brute force against uprisings or national attempts to break free of imperialist — of neocolonial — domination. The United States and its corporations profit from African misfortune.

What Clinton and Obama did was weaponize gay rights in the service of that neocolonialism.
b2ap3_thumbnail_africom1.jpgIt's no accident that Clinton issued this statement when she did. Obama has his eye fixed clearly on one of the main battlefields of neoliberal globalization. American “advisers” and even armies have been dispatched to central Africa. Drone bases have been set up in west Africa. US military incursions and drone attacks continue in Somalia. And US military aid and mercenary assistance (in concert with its junior partner the Israeli military-industrial complex) is all over east Africa. The radical-looking governments once supported by the Soviet Union have mostly disappeared, but Chinese imperialism has replaced Russia as an economic threat to the US in Africa. The US has used its crocodile-tears version of “human rights” as a weapon before, but now some symbolic concern for LGBT rights has been added to the American armory. Let us be clear: this is not a good thing for the gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer people of Africa.

US Africa policy is drenched in blood. Sure there's lots of money going to famine relief, AIDS prevention, and resource exploration. But each dollar is a strand from a spider's web. And how dare the United States, prison capital of the world, lecture any other country about civil repression?
The neocolonial domination of Africa looks different than the colonial domination of Africa. It requires allowing national governments the appearance of independence. The corrupt, anti-democratic rulers of so many African countries understand this well too. What the weaponization of gay rights allows them is a cheap form of utterly fake anti-imperialism. It allows them to deflect actual criticism of their repressive rule by blaming gay people as subversives and pointing to their own opposition to imperialism by loudly resisting the bullying of the State Department on gay-related social policy. The real fact that the US government and multinational corporations are propping up undemocratic regimes because it's strategically and economically profitable to do so is consciously obscured. The millions of dollars that fatten the accounts of local compradors from their collaboration with imperialism are no longer the focus when these compradors turn around and announce that they are standing up to unfair pressure from the most powerful country on the planet.

Last July, Zimbabwe's Mugabe commented after Obama's visit to a handful of African countries:
Then we have this American president, Obama, born of an African father, who is saying we will not give you aid if you don’t embrace homosexuality....We ask, was he born out of homosexuality? We need continuity in our race, and that comes from the woman, and no to homosexuality....we will cut their heads off.
The anti-gay demogogues in Uganda and Nigeria are also clear on this, finding great utility in the time-honored traditions of scapegoating and showboating. One can see exactly what has now happened by examining the Facebook page “Nigerians Must Unite and Liberate Nigeria.” A really interesting page, full of anti-imperialist content, it's the site of daily postings against Nigerian government corruption, ethnic and religious sectarianism, against corporate destruction of the Nigerian environment, and plunder of Nigerian resources. But along came the anti-gay marriage law, and now it is filled with posts and comments praising President Jonathan. We are forever looking forward to the slightest opportunity to commend Goodluck Jonathan the President of our nation, in the hope that he will do better. In that spirit, my compliments, and in no small measure, go out to President goodluck jonathan, for having the courage to stand up to enormous American & European pressure, by signing into law, the Anti-Gay bill and criminalizing same-sex marriage and public celebration of gay love in Nigeria. Thumbs up on this one.” And, “Good News from Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan has signed into law a wide-ranging bill which not only criminalizes same sex marriage, but all cohabitation, meetings, gatherings and advocacy by or on behalf of gay people in the country: The signed bill says the gays, lesbians in Nigeria will risk a 14-year jail term...Brave President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.” Pro-gay commenters were called CIA agents and banned.

So not only is bigotry triumphant, but the corrupt national leaderships which actually profit from their relationship with neocolonialism and the multi-national corporations are let completely off the hook.

Against Homonationalism

The reaction of the LGBT establishment in the US has been predictable,  lining up to demand that the US, the EU and other governments increase their pressure on African governments. The corporatist LGBT civil rights group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) even traveled to Davos to present at the World Economic Forum vulture nest: "When countries like Russia or Nigeria pass laws that threaten the human rights of LGBT people, world leaders must make it clear that those actions have consequences,” said HRC head Chad Griffin. The HRC basically identifies with imperialism and calls for more misery to be inflicted on Nigeria. Talk about not doing African gays any favors. (For more information on how the HRC actually profits from global exploitation check out these reports: “HRC and the Vulture Fund”  and “HRC International Expansion Funded by the Worst Humans.”)

While the impulse toward solidarity with oppressed lesbian, gay and transgender people in countries like Uganda and Nigeria is positive, it's really impossible under the circumstances of US imperialist hegemony to fail to contextualize what's going on in Africa, and to fail to understand the hypocrisy of American intent. The liberation of Africa's gay people may wind up looking different than the civil rights trajectory in Europe and the United States. This is in no way to excuse or mitigate the brutal repression being inflicted on gays in Uganda and Nigeria; indeed it should be firmly and loudly condemned by communists, as imperialism and the corrupt rule of the compradors should be equally condemned.

But the liberation of Africa from neocolonialism, imperialism and neoliberalism (including the liberation of African gay people) must be the work of Africans themselves.

As in the Middle East, where apartheid Israel is using its supposed acceptance of gays as a propaganda weapon in its war against the Palestinians, the concept here of “homonationalism” is useful.

Writing in Jadaliyya, Maya Mikdashi identifies homonationalism in the context of what Hillary Clinton's aggressive statement really meant: “In her speech Secretary Clinton was...reproducing this generative alienation between political and human rights. She emphasized that LGBTQs everywhere had the same rights to love and have sex with whomever they choose as partners, and to do so safely. In making this statement, she reiterated a central tenet of what Jasbir Puar names homonationalism: the idea that LGBTQs the world over experience, practice, and are motivated by the same desires... Secretary Clinton suggested that queers everywhere, whether white or black, male or female or transgendered, soldier or civilian, rich or poor, Palestinian or Israeli, can be comprehended and interpolated through the same rights framework. But the content of what she she calls 'gay rights' is informed by the experiences and histories of (namely white gay male) queers in the United States, and thus there is an emphasis on visibility and identity politics and an elision of the class and political struggles that animate the lives of the majority of the third world's heterosexual and homosexual populations. Thus detached from its locality, 'gay rights' can travel internationally not only as a vehicle for normative homo-nationalism, but as a vehicle for neoliberal ways of producing politics and subjects more broadly.” 

Thus, part of the problem is that the imposition of American will on African countries is rightfully going to produce backlash, leaving the actual lesbian, gay, transgender or queer Africans forced into making false and dangerous choices. And it's fair to suggest that the active embrace of US bullying by elements in the American gay community who have embraced the agenda of the Obama State Department might mark a transition from “homonationalism” to “homoimperialism.”
Mikdashi concludes with a warning, which is really important when thinking about how to respond to calls for justice against the oppression which is real and horrifying, coming from people and places drenched in the bloody hypocrisy of empire:

We cannot 'choose' to not be who we have become, but we must recognize how we have been formed as neoliberal rights seeking and speaking bodies, and how this formation is linked to a history of depoliticization and alienation. In other words, we must be both tactical and skeptical when this language reaches to embrace us, and when we, as activists and as academics, use it ourselves. We must find ways to critically inhabit this homonational world and try, always, to act within the uncomfortable and precarious line between rights and justice.

Lenin famously said that communists should be “tribune[s] of the to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects.” And so we are called to speak out against the rise of anti-gay repression in Africa, in Russia, in India, and to challenge the credentials of those who claim they are somehow defending African-ness by oppressing gay people. But for us, this work begins here in the US: the State Department, the Clintons, the Obamas, the fascist hate groups and the ilk of Scott Lively, these mortal enemies are all here right at home.

As Andrew Waiswa of GEHO says, evoking past liberation struggles in Africa, “A luta continua!”

IWD: Oppression transformed into revolutionary power

This article originally appeared on The Kasama Project, 8 March 2014. Reposting here to preserve a broken link. It may also be accessed here.

Where does the revolutionary spark come from? How do some people come to transcend and challenge the crushing oppressions of the world? International Women's Day (IWD) has something to teach us. If the political theoreticians of the radical movements of the 19th and early 20th century were mostly men, it was radical women, close to the grinding brutality and poverty of industrialism's golden age, who encapsulated the personal rage and determination needed to transform suffering and oppression into resistance. It was female anarchist Emma Goldman who said succinctly and straightforwardly, "Ask for work. If they don't give you work, ask for bread. If they do not give you work or bread, then take bread.”

b2ap3_thumbnail_women-workers_opt.jpgThe IWD holiday was first carved out as a day for working women to celebrate their mutual solidarity and empowerment back in 1908, by striking women workers in Chicago. A few short years later in 1914, the world socialist movement adopted March 8 as a political holiday to demand political and social rights for women. The ideals of that socialist movement were promptly tested as the world plunged into war and much of the socialist movement betrayed internationalism, but brave women kept the holiday alive.

And then by 1917, this simple holiday showed its revolutionary potential: A women's day demonstration in Russia for peace and bread (shown above right) turned into a mass strike which quickly became the February Revolution that overthrew the centuries-old rule of the Tsars. Revolutionaries had been organizing against the Tsars for decades with increasing mass success. But it took a demonstration of women workers, of mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, lovers, making an urgent heartfelt plea for an end to death and hunger that captured the mass imagination and changed the once unthinkable into the possible.

After the October revolution in Russia, International Working Women's Day, often shortened to just International Women's Day, was added to the canon of revolutionary holidays celebrated by communists around the world. It became a moment of recognition for women attempting to create new realities in socialist countries, and a rallying cry for women around the world challenging capitalism and imperialism.

In the modern era the holiday has been often co-opted by the mainstream bourgeois feminist movement: instead of radical appeals for social transformation, this depoliticized holiday came to celebrate the "sisterhood" of reactionary female politicians, or served to elevate women celebrities. But even cheapened into a feel-good holiday affirming the humanity and achievement of women, IWD has not lost all its power. (It's a remarkable statement that after all these years female humanity still needs to be affirmed.) The deep connection between women's experience of oppression and their potential to lead revolution remains.

b2ap3_thumbnail_1979Iran.jpgIn 1979, Iranian women played a major role in the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah. Communist women had joined guerrilla forces and urban revolutionary groups and been subject to bloody, brutal and violent repression along with their male comrades.

The Iranian revolution triumphed when the political opposition was joined by the mass Islamist movement. After the Shah was overthrown, the new rulers attempted to impose conservative religious laws on the general population: On IWD 1979, thousands of Iranian women filled the streets of Tehran to object (right). Under slogans like "In the Dawn of Freedom There Is no Freedom!" "Women's Liberation Is Society's Liberation!" and  "We didn’t make a revolution to go backwards!” they organized marches and sit-ins for six days. While the laws mandating compulsory hijab were eventually put in place, Iranian women's resistance ensured that, even under the forms of repression that followed, women were not driven from the political sphere.

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. Happy IWD! —ISH

Urban rebel music subverting your earwaves

This article originally appeared on The Kasama Project 21 March 2014. Reposting here to preserve a broken link. This article may also be accessed here.


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.

These aren't all brand-new cutting edge musicians by any stretch of the imagination. But these are hard-working artists with a message in their music that deserves exposure. Some of these musicians have been gaining mass exposure in venues like Brooklyn's annual Afropunk festival (photo above), but others rely on in-the-know loyal fanbases.

Jill Scott

You say you mean good for me
But you don't do it
You say you have a plan but you just don't go thru with it
You say you know the way to go
And I should follow
But all of your empty promises
Leave me hollow
And oh
How do I trust you
How do I love you
When you
Lie to me repeatedly
And oh
How do I have faith, in you
When you just don't come thru
Like you say you could
One can be forgiven for hearing these lyrics and thinking that actress/poet/singer JIll Scott is singing about a failing relationship. Well, she is in a way, but she's not singing about her partner. "My Petition," from her Beautifully Human album of 2004 is one of the most awesomely subversive songs ever. You realize as the song unfolds, musically quoting that wretched anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner," that she's addressing the America of the failed dream. When she sweetly but accusingly sings, "I believe you owe it to me/Give it to me like you said you would," she's not talking about a lover's advances. When she says, "I want to have faith in you/I really do/but you keep lying to me/It hurts," the natural reaction is to tell her to leave that lying m-fer cold. When you realize that the lying m-fer is the USA, the song becomes transformed. It's sheer brilliance, in the form of a vaguely adult r&b ballad.

Here's the audiotrack on Youtube:

Ursula Rucker

In my youth revolution was what we rose with the sun to seek
we were fierce

Now, our glory days are nothing but a page,
in an edge worn book
an afro a raised fist,
a black beret, black pride
set aside to mere history,
it saddens me,
hmm it saddens me,
but will these words fall on deaf ears cos my tears won't
fill up the riverbed of resistance and change,
it's gone dry
and gone and unkown are the names which gave that river its
tranquility, its beautiful force and godspeed
rise up out of the complacency induced sleep
we need, an Awakening.

Bring the noise daughter
now is the time for you and your generation to put this universal
chaos in order...
Philadelphia-based Ursula Rucker is a performance artist and poet; her work is sometimes sung but more often takes the form of poetry chanted in cadence to music. She made her professional reputation cutting tracks for American and European DJs like King Britt, 4Hero, Jazzanova and Little Louie Vega, but she has a string of brilliant solo albums as well. In "The Awakening," recorded for 4Hero on their 2007 album Play with the Changes, she constructs a dialogue between generations as a mother attempts to pass a radical legacy on to her daughter and a new generation. "This planet and life are gifts to all/not just a chosen few, but now our future are up to you/so what are you and your brothers and sisters gonna do?" The daughter despairs, "But Mama, the resistance seems so futile/when all the while, government and media massacre my dreams/We, my brothers and sisters and me/are at the mercy of Dotcoms/Bombs that kill at least 30 daily..."

In response the mother affirms, "Baby girl, you sound ready to me/the spirit, fire, of Assata, Angela, Gandhi, King and Garvey in your veins/bleed for your legacy, keep the eyes on the prize of peace/and don't pardon me while i preach..." It's movingly soulful jazz poetry against a drum-and-bass dance music soundscape. Much of her other work is also political, bringing a womanist, spiritually-visionary sensibility to song topics like 9/11, Afro-Caribbean cultural heritage, domestic violence, ecological catastrophe, and the quest for liberation in the face of deadening, challenging urban dangers.

In "Release" off her second solo album Silver or Lead, she recites:
So here I stand... at the crossroads of my life
Do I choose plata or plomo?
Silver or lead

When boys be dying on blocks everyday
An the TV and the paper don't never say
Nothing about them
When tattered yellow paper flags be taped to forgotten project windows
When billowing waving flags be perched on car tops of bigots and
Crooked politicians
Has anything changed?
What changed?
Who really changed?
Rucker is basically pleading for people to give a shit; arguing against apathy, against the status quo of false choices. Her words are righteously hypnotic.
The 4Hero production video for "The Awakening" is on Youtube:

Erykah Badu

To my folks on the picket line
Don't stop til you change dey mind
I got love fo' my folks
Baptized when the levy broke
We gone keep marchin' on
Until you hear dat freedom song

And if you think about turning back
I got the shotgun on ya back
And if you think about turning back
I got the shot gun on ya back
Erykah Badu is an extraordinarily creative musician with a provocative edge and a complex sense of humor. Melding a jazz sensitivity to a hip-hop sensibility her work is rich in ideas. Her last two albums were entitled New Amerykah (part 1: 4th World War and part 2: Return of the Ankh). I think of her as kind of earthy, hippified antithesis to the slick sell-out commerciality (and terrible politics) of Jay-Z and Beyonce, with whom she shares Brooklyn as a home base. "Soldier" is a standout track from the first part of New Amerykah. Not unlike much of Rucker's work, "Soldier" is about a generation struggling with a sense of obligation to engage with what's wrong with the world. She sings, "You need to watch da dirty cop/Dey the one you need to watch." It's the same haunted world that Rucker sings of. "You get the wake up call/When you saw the buildings fall/Bowties with the final call/Get ya money dollar bill, ya'll" she sings, obliquely evoking the Nation of Islam in a search for answers.

"Do you want to see?/Everybody rise to the next degree?/Raise ya hands high if you agree." The lilting groove-heavy music belies the song's deadly serious call to rise up and fight.
A pre-release performance video of Soldier is online:

Boots Riley/The Coup

Don't talk about it
It won't show
Be about it
It's 'bout to blow
Oakland activist and Occupy veteran Boots Riley's incredible song "The Guillotine" has been noted on Kasama before. From his group The Coup's recent album Sorry To Bother You, "The Guillotine" is not only an exciting marriage of rock and rap, but a compelling political manifesto. Riley doesn't hold back from a call for revolutionary retribution against the capitalist system. And not only is it a call to action like the other songs I've written about here, it's got a clarity of vision with a resolute determination and brutally straightforward diagnosis and prescription.
Hey you!
We got your war
We’re at the gates
We’re at your door
We got the guillotine
We got the guillotine, you better run
If the other songs I've quoted have faults, it's a sense of ambivalent weariness weighed down by the tragedies and hardships of urban life under capitalism; or in the case of Badu and Rucker, their need to place their hopes on the next generation. Scott, Rucker and Badu sometimes seem to be waiting to be proved wrong about how dire the situation is. "The Guillotine," however, dispenses with the sentimentality and uncertainty. "Sleep in the doorway, piss on the floor/Look in the sky, wait for missiles to show/It’s finna blow cause/They got the TV, we got the truth/They own the judges and we got the proof/We got hella people, they got helicopters/They got the bombs and we got the, we got the...Guillotine." This song makes it clear: we have a reason to fight, the obligation to do so, and the tools we need to win. "You can hear the sound of limitations exploding." Who can resist this call to arms?

The extraordinary video for "The Guillotine," which hilariously riffs off of the Quincy Jones/Michael Jackson film version of The Wiz, is a must see on You-tube.

Welfare Poets

so don't tell me he's down with the people
because of that ganja shit
cuz the billionaires will put a black face at the head of american imperialism
ponder it
The "he" in this lyric is none other than President Obama, and so for obvious reasons the final act I'd like to recommend is much more on the underground tip. The Welfare Poets are an incredible Afro-Caribbean performance/hip-hop troupe out of the Bronx, New York. These lyrics are from their song "Let It Be Known," recorded right after Obama's first election in 2008. I first saw the Welfare Poets perform at an event sponsored by Occupy Sunset Park in Brooklyn last year. Their mix of live music, singing, rap, dance and beats was explosive and exciting. And their message is completely unsubtle. They're explicitly anti-imperialist and fierce advocates of independence for Puerto Rico.
its egregious, he so facetious
deceiving the people regarding change we can believe in
as he turns a deaf ear
on real people grieving
The song closes with an extended clip from Rev. Jeremiah Wright (who Obama had recently thrown under the bus) recounting the hypocritical adventures of American imperialism. It's really stirring stuff.

The video opens with quotes from Harriet Tubman and Audre Lorde. It's on You-tube and vimeo.

Who Are You Listening To?

I would be really interested in hearing from Kasama readers if you have other subversive rebel music to recommend. What artists are inspiring and moving you? Drop a recommendation in the comments!

Iraq crisis: the people suffer, US vultures circle

This article originally appeared on The Kasama Project on 14 June 2014. Reposting here to preserve a broken link. It can also be accessed here.


Imperialism's chickens are coming home to roost in Iraq, and once again it is the people of the region who will pay the price.

In a week of events that is in some ways shocking and in other ways not even slightly surprising, a radical Islamic fundamentalist group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, sometimes translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or referred to by the Arabic name Da'ish) seized Iraq's second largest city of Mosul, and capturing more cities along the way, has advanced as far as Baquba, just 50 kilometers from Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

In the face of a sudden advance by the black-clad, black-flag bearing fighters, lightly armed and driving around in open trucks, the massively US-funded and trained Iraqi army melted away. The unravelling of the Iraqi army in the north seems to have been a combination of demoralization and, at least according to some sources, a revolt by former Baathists loyal to the deposed Saddam Hussain.
b2ap3_thumbnail_Iraq_map.jpgIn any case ISIS seized control of city government, immediately announced the imposition of a strict Islamic law, and reportedly began executions of civilians and other opponents. It also apparently seized millions of dollars from Mosul banks. Hundreds of thousands of civilians including the large Iraqi Christian population of Mosul reportedly fled immediately to the neighboring semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan Region.
Fighters from that Iraqi Kurdistan Region quickly seized the moment and occupied the nearby city of Kirkuk, strategically located amidst the northern oilfields and long coveted by Kurdistan as its capital, despite being one of the most multi-ethnic cities in Iraq. Iraqi Kurdistan first carved out some autonomy in the 1990s after the first US war against Iraq; it's been pushing towards possible independence ever since. (Kurdish independence would certainly be just, despite the massive oil-company induced corruption that now rules the autonomous zone.)

In the face of the ISIS surge, the central Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki has been seemingly paralyzed. Its parliament has been unable to make a quorum. The leaders of Iraq's Shi'a Muslim community have started to rally support to defend Baghdad: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and the militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr have called for Iraqi Shi'ites to form militias to defend Shi'ite-populated cities against the ISIS advance. And the government of the neighboring Islamic Republic of Iran, ironically now the chief backer of the Maliki government, is reportedly already sending in troops to defend its fellow Shi'ites from the ISIS attack. One report suggested that Iraqi soldiers lining up to defend the Baghdad “Green Zone” are wearing civilian clothes under their uniforms should they need to make a hasty retreat and discard any signs of allegiance to the government.

What is ISIS?

b2ap3_thumbnail_49790Image1.jpgISIS is one of the militias that has come out of the bloody civil war in neighboring Syria. While apparently funded by wealthy interests in the Gulf, it competes in the civil war against the Syrian government with forces like the so-called Free Syrian Army, and while it shares a Sunni Muslim identity and a hard right-wing sectarian ideology, it has been deemed too extreme even by Al-Qaeda. It has also been opposed by the Syrian Kurdish movement. Its goal is a unified Islamic state across a wide swath of what is now several different countries.

While from a communist perspective one might be tempted to welcome the success of ISIS against corrupt capitalist governments and former US puppets, it is clear its ideology and practice is deeply sectarian and brutally repressive against the people. Disturbing videos can be seen online showing that ISIS has a policy of horrifying, random terror against those deemed to be its enemies. One video, shot from inside an ISIS vehicle, shows fighters in a speeding car randomly gunning down passing civilians.

ISIS's advance in the north of Iraq is not actually their first major victory. They already control portions of northern Syria, and most of Iraq's Anbar province, having seized the long-suffering city of Fallujah several months ago. Fallujah was of course the scene of brutal battles between Iraqi Sunni insurgents and the US occupation army; it's notorious for being dosed by “depleted uranium” weapons which have left a horrible legacy of health problems for the local population.

Triple legacy of imperialism, Zionism and revisionism

When British and French imperialism co-opted the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire a hundred years ago during WWI, they created a patchwork of states that didn't really correspond to real ethnic or religious divisions in the Middle East. States like Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq were created to the advantage of imperialism, which understood the growing importance of oil and therefore their strategic imperatives in the region. As in Africa, divide and conquer was their watchword. Soon nationalism and anti-colonialism grew in response to the regional imperialist mandates, forces of rebellion appeared all over the Middle East. Communist parties and militant labor movements blossomed.

But with the creation of the Zionist entity of Israel in the late 1940s, suddenly the obvious divisions of class were not the only faultlines. Palestine was occupied and a whole nation dispersed. Iraq before Israel had a large Jewish population, and this population was a backbone in fact of the Iraqi Communist Party. As Israel insisted on the “Israeliness” of Jewish Arabs, suddenly sectarian identity became crucial, pushing rifts in contradictory societies to the fore. Jewish Arabs fled to Israel en masse. Arab nationalist forces kicked out direct imperialist rule across the Middle East and tried to forge secular societies, often using at least the rhetoric of socialism. Leftists (perhaps best identified as “revisionists”) subordinated their politics to those of the nationalists in country after country, and over the decades found themselves in turn co-opted or brutally repressed. Meanwhile, the State of Israel, opposed by radicalizing, communist-influenced guerrilla armies of Palestinian fedayeen, quietly began to foster the development of Islamic social movements to subvert the influence of secular nationalism and communism.

But with the victory of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and the collapse of Soviet influence in the region ten years later, nationalism and leftism buckled ineffectively against the continued injustice and brutality of the Zionist state. All of a sudden the sectarian and ethnic tensions began to flare, first with the Lebanese civil war, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, then the Iran-Iraq war, and eventually three invasions by US imperialism. Islamic fundamentalism gained new legitimacy as an effective form of opposition to local corruption, to imperialism and to some extent Zionism, and suddenly secular ideologies, including Marxism, seemed irrelevant. (Islamic fundamentalism also gained a fortune in aid from the US as it positioned itself against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; even Osama bin Laden was America's best friend for a hot minute in the 1980s).

ISIS, like Al-Qaeda, is a product of this new reality. Social revolution, though vastly different than what how we communists define it, is now the watchword of the religious far right. Of course the Middle East is not the only place where that is increasingly true: there's a serious warning embedded here for leftist revolutionaries. The social revolution promised by ISIS involves a repressive, deeply conservative view of Islam.

Today's Iraqi government was created by US imperialism in the aftermath of its unprovoked invasion in 2003. The government was set up in a power-sharing arrangement between Iraq's Sunni, Shi'ite, and Kurdish populations, inverting the dominance from Sunni under Saddam to Shi'a under al-Maliki. The US stopped a Sunni insurgency through a combination of mass violence and bribery. And then the US left.

The blood-soaked arrogance of US imperialism

Let's be direct: responsibility for the violence in Iraq can now be laid squarely at the feet of US imperialism. The US broke and shattered the country of Iraq by invading and dismantling the existing secular state. Without shedding tears for the anti-communist dictator Saddam, it's important to recognize what happened when the most powerful country in the world (allied with a host of the world's reactionary forces from British imperialism to local reactionaries like the Saudi Arabian monarchy) steamrolled over Iraq. By destroying nation-states and replacing them with cesspools of corruption they have unleashed the worst kind of intercommunal violence.

American media, pundits, and most politicians all cheered the drive to war in the aftermath of 9/11. They ignored the simple fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11; they wrapped themselves up in falsified evidence and lies; and they ignored a mass antiwar movement inside the US. So sure of themselves and their superiority in a one-superpower world, they lead the US into a war that cost uncountable thousands of Iraqi lives, and made the daily lives of the Iraqi people a dangerous hell. They bolstered the reactionary Al-Qaeda they claimed to be fighting, sending thousands of Iraqis into its arms as a rallying point for resistance.

b2ap3_thumbnail_041113_fallujah_hmed_9a.h2.jpgThe US adventure in Iraq was simply a failure for imperialism. Aside from its atrocious but futile toll in Iraq itself, it had a devastating effect on the US economy. It damaged US hegemony over Europe. And the weakness it revealed in US imperialism's resolve to sustain an extended conflict has emboldened a resurgence of Russian imperialism, which seems to no longer be particularly concerned about US intimidation, witness events in Syria and Ukraine. And now the US is faced with the ignoble prospect of simultaneously bullying and threatening Iran over its nuclear program while watching Iranian ground forces forestall an ISIS sweep into Baghdad. And as further evidence of the wreckage of imperialist policies, US allies have poured millions into Syria to arm reactionary armies including ISIS that the US is now trying to figure out what to do about.

When ISIS swept Iraq last week, all the familiar stinking vultures of the US political scene started squawking. Everybody from ideologue-fantasist Kenneth Pollack and disgraced government media agent Judith Miller who both stoked the 2003 invasion to actual war criminal John McCain have started to offer their opinions and demand US action. The Republican speaker of the house, John Boehner, virtually called President Obama a “lazy ni**er” for failing to send in the bombers. When Obama finally spoke up, he outrageously lectured the Iraqi government about how it should be respecting Iraq's religious diversity better. He says he has not yet decided how to respond to the ISIS advance. It is certainly possible he will unleash his war machine, which is good news for nobody but imperialism.

Obama was elected in large part due to his vote against the Iraq war; and while he has long ago come to own the US adventure in Iraq and Afghanistan, he knows that as disinterested in international affairs as Americans seem, they're not eager to put up with another military adventure that puts boots on the ground; especially on the same ground that so many lives were already thrown away. Probable presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who voted in favor of George Bush's 2003 invasion, has also chosen the grotesque path of lecturing the Iraqi government. She dared to say, “Because you’d be fighting for a dysfunctional, unrepresentative, authoritarian government and there’s no reason on earth that I know of that we would ever sacrifice a single American life for that.”

Really these politicians are shameless, disgusting pigs. Their path is a nightmare for the people of the Middle East and indeed the whole world.

No US intervention!

US imperialism cares absolutely nothing for the people of Iraq. They don't care how many lives are wasted. They don't care if their victims are Shi'ite or Sunni or atheist. They just care about their power. We must stop any further US intervention in Iraq: no invasion, no bombing, no drones, no proxies or "contractors," no mercenaries, no "no fly zones," no advisers, no bases.

The antiwar movement after 9/11 was significant. It dissipated in the face of the 2004 elections. Occupy in 2011 was a significant challenge to the domestic status quo. It dissipated in the face of the 2012 elections (and in the face of coordinated repression directed from Washington). President Obama went from being a supposedly anti-war candidate to the master of drones that have killed thousands of civilians in over a half dozen countries across the Middle East and Africa. Hillary Clinton's record of support for war is perfectly clear. Liberal darling Elizabeth Warren has already indicated her hawkishness on Iran and Israel.

The next elections, including the upcoming 2014 midterms and the following 2016 president elections are a loser's game where the people are guaranteed to lose no matter who wins. Just like the previous elections, they're a trap for social movements in the US.

It's time to stop worrying about those creepy, lying politicians and start to build and sustain a real anti-war movement to stop the machinations of the empire. The best way those of us inside the belly of this beast can help the beleagured Iraqi people is to destroy US imperialism from within. The mess imperialism has left behind in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests how weak imperialism actually is. It's dangerous, it's intimidating, but it's not invincible. We need to stand up and oppose any further US intervention in the middle east, Africa, or anywhere else.

The movement against the Vietnam war back in the 1960s and 1970s revolutionized US society. It obviously wasn't successfully transformed into a movement to defeat capitalism itself, but it shows us how things can begin.

Are you as disgusted at what's happening now as I am? Let's get to work!

Supreme Court to women workers: 'Make me a sandwich'

This article originally appeared on The Kasama Project on 1 July 2014. Reposting here to preserve a broken link. It can also be accessed here.

The religious beliefs of business owners are more important than the health of women workers. That was the gist of a ruling out of the US Supreme Court on Monday, on the last day of the court's annual session. The court pretty much told women they should put up with whatever their bosses think is best for them, because the bosses have "sincerely held" beliefs about what is best for the health of their female employees.

In a familiar 5 to 4 vote, the court divided along conservative and liberal lines, with the court's three female justices leading the dissent. The ruling was on a case brought by the Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft-supply stores run by right-wing fundamentalist Christians. Forced by Obamacare to offer standardized health insurance to their employees, Hobby Lobby's owners objected to having to cover birth control expenses, supposedly against their religious beliefs. No allowances for the religious beliefs or non-beliefs of the covered employees were made, and, ironically, the Hobby Lobby owners raised no objection to insurance coverage of erectile-dysfunction drugs like Viagra. Women's gynecological health was completely trivialized as something entirely subject to whim. Previously, religious organizations were granted exemptions to birth-control coverage; this ruling was the first to extend those exemptions to “family” or “closely-held” businesses. Hobby Lobby may be family-owned, but it has almost 600 locations and over 20,000 employees. The ruling is also considered a blow to Obamacare, though in truth it just seems to make make it even more obvious what a pathetically pale imitation of actual universal healthcare Obamacare actually is.

b2ap3_thumbnail_HL_poster.jpgIt's not immediately clear how much of a legal precedent was set by the Supreme Court's ruling, which cannot be appealed. Liberal justice Ruth Ginsburg, in her dissent, worried that “In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”  If that turns out to be true, this court decision could be a goldmine for businesses to claim all sorts of religious exemptions from participating in workers' legal protections.

What is clear is that once again, the government has revealed how it exists to enable and justify the corporate exploitation of working people. Laws are tailored, snipped, changed, or scrapped, entirely to suit the interests of the capitalist system, and frankly it's all so much bullshit.

What is also clear is that women are second-class citizens whose healthcare can be treated like so much waste paper. Even in a country whose laws profess to transcend antique religious views, when the interests of business come calling, exceptions must be made, even if they defy the conventions of the system's own stated legal logic. And it's interesting to see how at the same moment these courts and politicians are widely opening laws across the country to recognize same-sex marriages, they're constricting women's access to healthcare, and to legal abortions. It's as though there's recognition that marriage is an institution of social control based fundamentally on capitalist property relations while women's reproductive health potentially challenges everything about women's role in the labor force. (In another recent Supreme Court decision the justices unanimously ruled that anti-abortion protesters terrorizing patients at women's health clinics could no longer be held to a buffer zone away from clinic doors.)

What is unfortunately not at all clear is what happens next. While there is so much anger and disgust among women, predictably the liberals are rushing to the defense of Democratic party politicians. And here the case of Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis should be a cautionary tale for people who think the democrats are any kind of line of defense: Davis' response to the vicious Republican attacks on her and on women's reproductive health has been to wave around her commitment to bans on late-term abortions. She's a sellout in waiting. And don't get me started on Hillary Clinton. We're about to see a massive opportunistic campaign to convince us that the next election is the most important in our lifetime, and that the only way to defeat the conservative “war on women” is to elect whoever the Democrats anoint. But that's not gonna do it. Frankly we need a whole lot less voting and a whole lot more revolution.

This defeat for women — for workers — at the Supreme Court shows the limitations of the liberal attempt to use the court for social engineering. Just as legal civil rights advances are eroding in the capitalist courts, so now are women's rights. What is done there can be undone later. The constitutional framework of the supreme court was established by slaveowners who cheered on native genocide and didn't recognize the full humanity of women. This is the framework we're supposed to use to defend ourselves?

Some are issuing feeble calls for a boycott of Hobby Lobby. But gross as Hobby Lobby's owners are, that one company isn't the source of our problems. And as a friend of mine said on Facebook, “I've been boycotting Hobby Lobby for my entire fucking life. What fucking difference did that make? Fuck consumer politics. That's just Ronald Reagan for fucking hippies. Does anybody get mad about anything anymore?...Do something!”

Indeed. It's time to do something. We need a revolutionary women's movement that stops playing by somebody else's corrupt rules, and we need it soon.

Terror & lies: Israel unleashes brutal pogrom against Gaza

 This article originally appeared on the Kasama Project, 18 July 2014. Reposting here to preserve the links. It can also be read here.

“Free Free Palestine! Down Down Israel!”

by ISH
Wednesday's direct Israeli hit on four young children playing football on a Gaza beach tells a story.
It epitomizes the entire disgusting episode in occupied Palestine that has unfolded since the collapse of so-called peace talks earlier this year. Western journalists witnessed the precision targeting of the four children by the Israeli naval forces who blockade the Gaza coastline. Pictures of the tiny torn bodies being carried away from the scene filled the internet.

The US network NBC immediately pulled the reporter who had honestly reported on the targeting of the children. Predictably Israeli spokesmen offered a few brutally transparent crocodile tears for “unfortunate mistakes,” and yet the very next day the Israelis killed more children, and proceeded to bomb the Al-Waffa Orthopedic Hospital into oblivion. Shortly afterwards, a few hours ago as of this writing, Israeli tanks crossed into Gaza under the cover of darkness, marking a significant escalation of the Israeli extermination campaign against the Palestinian population.

Dawn is about to break on an unknown future for the almost 2 million people crowded into the small, impoverished, besieged enclave of Gaza. Over 250 Palestinians have already been killed, almost 2,000 wounded. 80% of the dead are non-combatants, and an obscene number are children. It is estimated that one Palestinian child has been killed by Israel every three days for the past 13 years, so the events of the current Israeli offensive are far from an anomaly.

What is happening in Gaza is not a conflict, it's a massacre. What is happening is not a war, but a pogrom, the herding together and culling of the captive Palestinian population.

Israel and its supporters have crafted a brutal narrative absolving themselves of all guilt for the mass murder they are committing. From the Israeli government, and the legions of Zionist agents spouting officially approved “hasbara,” or “explanations” in the media and on the internet, down through the echelons of politicians in countries far and wide — here in the US including conservative and liberal alike — we hear that Israel is just “defending itself” and “trying to prevent civilian casualties.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Israel knows what it is doing, fully consented to by President Obama and the US government. Wielding the spectre of “Islamic terror,” Israeli apologists blame the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas for their own actions in the most grotesque and self-serving ways. With the utterance of the word “Hamas” all morality and human empathy is to be cast aside, and all license for brutality and inhumanity assured. The Zionists blame Hamas for using the population of tiny, crowded Gaza as human shields, as though there was someplace in Gaza not to be a human shield, as though there was someplace else either Hamas or the population could go. But the truth must be told: as one person noted on twitter, “blaming Hamas for firing rockets at Israel is like blaming a woman for punching her rapist.”

The accomplices of Israel in the American media are unstinting. The day of the assassination of the four children, the so-called paper of record The New York Times ran a small sub-headline: “Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach and Into Center of Mideast Strife,” while running a feature photo and headline about “An Israeli Town's Emergency Routine” that lamented the effect of Gaza's rockets on the town's beach lifestyle and the sleep habits of local residents. Thus the dead children are blamed for their own deaths and the inconvenience of Israelis ranked worse than the murder of whole Palestinian families.

Meanwhile pictures are readily available of crowds of Israelis camped out on the heights outside Gaza having carnage-viewing parties, where cheers go up every time the light and noise of bombs striking their targets becomes clear.

It's not hard to find accounts of what life is really like for the population of gaza. “This night is one of those terrifying ones. dark, no electricity, smoky haze and constant bombing and shaking. windows are breaking!” tweeted one Gaza resident, Mohammed Omer. Many firsthand accounts are too heartbreaking to retell. The pharmacist just back from study in Cuba, his young wife now a widow. The child who finds out his whole family has just been killed. The eighteen members of a family slaughtered just to eliminate one Hamas government official, who in the end was the only one to survive.

The Israeli military gives Palestinians momentary warning of impending doom, the so-called knock on the roof warning shot.  The Israelis claim this absolves them of responsbility for what happens next. Palestinian poet Lena Khalaf Tuffaha exposes the horrible reality:
"They call us now.
Before they drop the bombs.
The phone rings
and someone who knows my first name
calls and says in perfect Arabic
“This is David.”
And in my stupor of sonic booms and glass shattering symphonies
still smashing around in my head
I think "Do I know any Davids in Gaza?"
They call us now to say
You have 58 seconds from the end of this message.
Your house is next.
They think of it as some kind of war time courtesy.
It doesn’t matter that
there is nowhere to run to.
It means nothing that the borders are closed
and your papers are worthless
and mark you only for a life sentence
in this prison by the sea
and the alleyways are narrow
and there are more human lives
packed one against the other
more than any other place on earth
Just run.
We aren’t trying to kill you.
It doesn’t matter that
you can’t call us back to tell us
the people we claim to want aren’t in your house
that there’s no one here
except you and your children
who were cheering for Argentina
sharing the last loaf of bread for this week
counting candles left in case the power goes out.
It doesn’t matter that you have children.
You live in the wrong place
and now is your chance to run
to nowhere.
It doesn’t matter
that 58 seconds isn’t long enough
to find your wedding album
or your son’s favorite blanket
or your daughter’s almost completed college application
or your shoes
or to gather everyone in the house.
It doesn’t matter what you had planned.
It doesn’t matter who you are
Prove you’re human.
Prove you stand on two legs.
The politicians have all blamed Hamas for prolonging Gaza's agony by rejecting a ceasefire that Israel briefly accepted. Yet the ceasefire, hatched in Washington, suggested to Israel by the military-lead government in Egypt and not even discussed with the Hamas leadership (all in hiding for fear of assassination by Israel) was really more of a demand for surrender. The fact that Hamas countered with an eminently reasonable 10-year truce plan  was entirely ignored by the pro-Israel media.

A few months ago the politicians were trumpeting yet another round of “peace” talks, aimed at the final surrender of the Palestinian people to their Zionist occupiers. But it all went to shit when even the collaborationists in the ruling Palestinian Authority couldn't stomach Israeli intransigence and their continued ethnic cleansing of the West Bank. Talks were broken off, and the American negotiators led by the creepy secretary of state John Kerry packed up and went home. The Fatah-led branch of the Palestinian Authority running the West Bank announced a unity deal with the Hamas-led branch of the Palestinian Authority running Gaza. Despite widespread skepticism among Palestinians that unity would stick, all hell broke loose as the Israelis and Americans went into full panic mode.

Escalating land seizures, so-called “settlement” building and daily violence against the Palestinians was becoming routine for the Israeli apartheid state: but an alliance of Hamas and Fatah opened up the possibility that Israel would lose its PA partner in oppression, and Israel began to do everything in its power to sabotage the unity agreement.

In June, three teenaged Israeli settlers (one of whom was old enough to be in the Israeli military) went missing while hitchhiking in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli government accused Hamas of kidnapping the settlers, and launched a massive dragnet across the West Bank. Hundreds of Palestinians were kidnapped by the Israeli government, and several were killed. People had their homes ripped apart by Israeli soldiers. After a couple weeks the settlers were found dead, and it's clear they were killed more or less right away. It's been widely suggested that the Israeli government knew this, but used the interval to whip up a racist frenzy across Israeli society against Palestinians. As of this writing, no actual tie between the killings and Hamas has been established; indeed it's been suggested it was the work of supporters of the ISIS network ravaging Syria and Iraq.

Very little of the media narrative bothered to question why Israeli teenagers were wandering around with impunity in militarily occupied territory. The Hebron area of the occupied West Bank where these events unfolded is one of the most segregated of the occupied territories: Israeli military force barricades a small settler outpost protecting Israeli-only roads and Israeli-only neighborhoods from the local Palestinian population. The local settlers routinely brutalize Palestinian civilians. Frankly, the three Israeli settlers should be compared to teenaged Belgian colonists wandering around the Belgian Congo in 1914 or German teens wandering around occupied Ukraine in 1942.

The disappearance of the three settlers provided the Israeli government with an excuse to whip up a frenzy of vengeance. It was aimed at Hamas, but directed against all Palestinians. Mobs chanted “Death to the Arabs.” Israeli young people created facebook memes dehumanizing Arabs. Prime Minister Netanyahu himself raised the call for revenge. The Israeli government has created a vicious rationalization for its actions that is almost unbearably and tragically ironic given the facts on the ground: “A deep and wide moral abyss separates us from our enemies,” said Netanyanu. “They sanctify death while we sanctify life. They sanctify cruelty while we sanctify compassion.” This should be called what it is, racist contempt for the Palestinians. It is the justification for the Israeli policy of collective punishment.

Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked posted this genocidal screed on facebook: “Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there...They have to die and their houses should be demolished so that they cannot bear any more terrorists.”

In the aftermath of the settlers being found dead Israeli thugs beat up Palestinians; thugs in uniform rearrested many of the Palestinians freed from Israeli prisons under peace agreements. One young man was brutally burned alive. While eventually three Israelis were arrested for killing the young Palestinian, the Israeli disinformation machine initially tried a vile bit of pinkwashing, at first claiming that young Mohammad Abu Khdeir was killed by his own family for being gay. Khdeir's Palestinian-American cousin was subsequently beaten senseless by Israeli police. (As with the death of the young Turkish-American Furkan Dogan on the Mavi Marmara blockade runner ship at the hands of Israeli pirates a few years ago, all of a sudden the US government lost interest in the welfare of American citizens abroad).

What are the stakes as Israel attempts to pummel the Palestinians of Gaza into submission?
New York based Palestinian activist Amin Hussein says, “why is surrender at this juncture so dangerous? Because Israel intends either to beat Gaza and the resistance into submission so they can function like the PA but in Gaza, or pave the way for Israel’s entry into Gaza to destroy the resistance, kill as many people as possible, make the price in life so unbearable, that people would wish it would end. Egypt has provided cover for genocide. This is how genocides happen. You blame the victim for the necessity to kill them. This is a war on the Palestinian people in which Arab countries, including the counter-revolutionary neoliberal Palestinian Authority and the international community, are paving the way for death and destruction, way beyond what we have seen.” Hussein urges concrete solidarity against the horrors now unfolding: “Us, being in the streets, doing more, we bring the one-sided war home.”

There is so much more to discuss about Palestine. About the role of the various resistance factions, the contradictory but ultimately counterrevolutionary role of the Palestine Authority, about the prospects for a single democratic and socialist state where Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists can live together. But for now the moral imperative is exposing the truth about the murderous pogrom that Israel has unleashed, and standing in solidarity with the residents of Gaza, indeed with all Palestinians.

Although most world governments have closed their eyes to the Israeli attack on Gaza, mass demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinians have taken place all over the world expressing the revulsion of common people against what the Israelis are doing. I urge you to find a solidarity action in your area, and take a stand with the right of the Palestinians to resist Israeli brutality. Don't let the Palestinians stand alone.

Despite advances on the front of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, the situation in Palestine is grim right now. One can only hope that the Israeli butchers have taken a step too far; and that the justified rage of people against their crimes of war will make itself known. The late Palestinian communist poet Tawfiq Ziad expressed it well:
“Gentlemen, you have transformed
our country into a graveyard
You have planted bullets in our heads,
and organized massacres
Gentlemen, nothing passes like that
without account
All that you have done
to our people is
registered in notebooks."