Tuesday, November 7, 2006
Everyday I wake up alone, travel on the subway, silent except for the noises of the train. Everyone in their own little iWorld listening to iMusic or reading an iBook. The world of me, myself and i. At work I talk to hundreds of people, but I don’t know them, I don’t care about them. Nor they I. We are there for each other only on the market. I provide a service for them, they pay my boss for my service, and after taking his tax out of it, my boss gives me enough money to buy my own services, a life. But not a life beyond biology or the market. A lonely life. A life that ends where it began, alone in bed.
Today I talked to a man who asked me to find him a prostitute. All I can think about is Willy the salesman explaining to his son seeing him as a hypocrite, as someone whose word has no value, who was caught by his son with a prostitute, that it was the loneliness that drove him to it. Loneliness.
We are a society of loners. We tell ourselves we want it that way, that we like being John Wayne. As Happy said, Willy’s dream is a decent dream, one worth striving for. One where a man is rich and has it made, where all our friends will come to our funeral. At the employee cafeteria where I work, everyone eats alone, with a table to themselves.
But in our darkest moments, when we don’t have to pose for those around us, we realize, like Bif, who we really are. We realize that seeking money, seeking all the latest toys, refrigerators, plumbing, owning a house, a car, video games, only makes us lonelier, further away from those we love and who love us.
There’s something else that makes us lonely. There was a Simpsons episode where it was discovered that the reason Homer was so stupid was because he had a crayon shoved up his nose. When pulled out, Homer became smart. He and Lisa become best friends, able to share in intellectual discussions. But Homer soon realizes how shallow the rest of society was. His intelligence made him unable connect with the rest of humanity which enjoyed being dumbed down, distracted and isolated from each other. He chooses to stick the crayon back up his nose. He choose to remain ignorant to his atomization.
Many don’t even have that option. Blissfully unaware that there is a life beyond paying off a house you spend less and less time in. Linda at Willy’s grave. We paid off the home Willy, and now your dead and I have no one to share it with. But we made it. We’re home free now. We free Willy. We’re free.
A woman in my department clocked out, then came back to work. I asked her why. She said to not get overtime since we were in the slow season. A sweet woman, but to willing to give of herself for people who don’t care about her.
What does it mean when I sleep, I dream of being at work? When I answer my phone calls at home the way I do at work- “Good evening, guest service, how may I assist you?” When I look at the sugary candy made with the milk of imprisoned animals and the labor of wage-slaves, and I crave the taste of it? When I use examples from literature, tv and work instead of personal encounters or social situations? When we do our flirting with others through Facebook, alcohol and mind-numbing movies made by people we’ll never meet. They know the cynicism this creates, which is why they sell it back to us. Who know’s, maybe I’ll end up selling this writing. This is the freedom we bring to other countries.
Was room 3001 lonely? Will he be like Willy and Happy, lonely even with someone in bed with them? A quick rush, like eating a candy bar, or buying something you don’t need, but then you feel the emptiness inside? Where will the prostitute be when you die? When you die, will you realize that you were the prostitute?
I’m an only child, would I feel the same way if I had a brother or sister, or would I become just as alienated from them as I am from the rest of my family?
How did my dad do it all those years? Numbers numbing his mind everyday for decades. He once told me that his being a yes man was paying my college tuition. Am I capable of doing the same for my kid? We want the next generation to be better than ours, but is there another way? Is there a way for our kids to do better than us without simply using material wealth as a measuring stick?
Willy’s family were the only people who attended his funeral.
Well actually the capitalists do. Don't want any of those immigrant radicals who support the legacy of Zapata to cause trouble. In fact the fastest growing sector of the union movement is immigrants. It shows the maturity of the US labor movement that it's no longer seeking to pit it's "American" workers against immigrants in a mad scramble for scraps from the capitalist table, (the Lou Dobbs evil scum-fuck position) but is instead seeking to unite with immigrants, build up mass density of unions, strike at the heart of capitalism and demand the whole goddamn table.
So back to Obama. Everybody loves him. It's disgusting to watch people throw out their values, in the rush to fawn over him like he was the second coming of Christ. The only reason any of you like him is because he won his election in such a landslide- only because the republicans couldn't run a candidate remotely appealing to their base. So we have Obama, who everyone loves, even if they don't know his actual position on things.
Like his "comprehensive immigration reform?" Build a wall on the border- and assimilate Latinos- force them to learn English, force them to forget their culture. (Which BTW, why is America so stupid? In Europe, by the time you graduate high school, you know like 3 languages. In America, you have people demanding one language. What is their IQ- 15?)
Or what about Obama's statements about Iran and Pakistan during the election- that he would support unilateral, pre-emptive missile strikes against them if there were Islamic fundamentalists with nuclear weapons and threatening to use them? Well Barak, lets talk about the US, which has nuclear weapons, is in control by Christian fundamentalists, who routinely threaten to use them against other countries. Lets talk about bombing Washington DC. Oh but you don't want to go there, now do you?
But it's not just Obama that is seen as somehow more liberal than he actually is, a cursory glance shows that Hillary Clinton, another front runner for the position of mass-murderer-in-chief, is in complete support of the war. She's called for "new leadership" of the war, but not to end the war, but to carry it out better, to kill Iraqi's better, to implement a puppet government in Iraq better. Cindy Sheehan has made Hillary one of her number one targets, which is good. It'll expose her for the capitalist that she is.
But here's the thing- all of my good liberal friends- you all hate me. Or at least you will. Because come November, when these people, or people very similar to them, run for office, I will be out there opposing the whole process and them with it. And even though I stood with you through thick-and-thin, even though I fought against the right-wing with you, defended you when no one else would, put my body and physical safety in harms way to defend the values and freedoms we cherish--
You will Betray Me.
You will plead with me to support Obama, you'll say he's better than so-and-so, you'll say I’m going to split the vote, you might even go as far to say that if he were a white candidate and Hilary a man, that I would support them and that this shows what a racist/sexist I am (even though I have consistently opposed ALL democrats as being pro-capitalist, anti-gay, racist, sexist, etc, etc--- if anything I have a weak spot for certain progressive black candidates like Harold Washington, Cynthia McKinney)
You will stop coming to the protests I organize, you will not return my calls. You will not call me about your parties, and you will not talk to me when we pass in the hallway, and you will not sign the petition at our table.
Then lets say they actually win, for the next four years, no matter what horrors they inflict on humanity, you will be their public apologist. Always spinning their lies into something other liberals will believe and buy into. "Israel is the middle easts only democracy" you'll say, and I’m sure the Palestinians impacted by Israeli Apartheid and occupation will feel the same way (which by the way, they used the same phrase to describe South Africa)
Senate leader Harry Reid just came out in support of sending MORE troops to Iraq. Is that what you voted for? More of our sons and daughters to die fighting for oil and empire and wage-slavery? More military strength to a regime which bans trade unions and forces Iraqi's to use GMO crops and which forces women to dress a certain way?
Of course that's what you voted for, because you don't have the courage to stand up to these assholes. Prove me wrong.
Silence is Consent: A report back of the Summer 2006 Students for a Democratic Society National Conference
2006 Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) conference
Friday night report back from chapters.
“Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution. The basic reason why all previous revolutionary struggles in China achieved so little was their failure to unite with real friends in order to attack real enemies.”- Mao Tse-Tung.
This is an attempt to accurately report my own observations and experiences as a participant of the first national conference of the newly revived Students for a Democratic Society. I hope this won’t be the only written account of a participant for broader consumption, but I felt I had to write this to answer the people who have called me asking how it went. There was to much to simplify in a few simple sentences over the phone. I had to write this to at least touch upon the nuances, if not dive completely into them.
There were a lot of people watching this event hoping to see a phoenix rise again. They have their doubts and reservations though. The last 30-40 years have seen a lot of radical groups rise and fall. While people are hopeful for a revolutionary organization to end all revolutionary organizations, they aren’t ready to devote their time and energy into a group that has a name, but no action. I know many people who are waiting to see what this new SDS will do before they become involved with it.
But they are watching. While some might brand the new SDS as something which is a throwback to the 60’s, as just a bunch of history nerds trying to relive the mythical days of yore, I thought that using the name was a brilliant tactical move for several reasons. For one, you have the name recognition. Around 40 years of students have been involved with, or studied SDS. It has name recognition that reaches beyond many comparable left student organizations of today. For another the name implies the core of what I feel every socialist, anarchist, communist, pacifist and other left activist has been striving for. Not bourgeois democracy but real democracy- in the workplace, in our communities, in our personal relationships with each other. Also, the name is something that multiple sectors of the left can unite around- provided no single leftist trend monopolizes their hold on the organization. Almost every trend of the left, from Trotskyists to Anarchists to Maoists and even some progressive liberals has a history in SDS, and would be interested in being a part of the new SDS.
With that said, I felt that there were two contradicting directions the conference went in. On one hand it was very unorganized on the other, there was a sense of being a part of history. Everyone there knew that activists who weren’t there would be interested in it. Everyone knew the previous history and the impact that SDS had on national (and international) politics. It’s just a shame that the conference was so half-assed.
The organizing for the conference was mainly handled by a student who almost single handedly reserved rooms at the University of Chicago and found a Unitarian church that would provide crash housing. A miscommunication with Chicago Food Not Bombs led to FNB being unable to provide food. By the end of the conference, the student had gone something like four or five days without sleep. Despite the lack of organization, about 200-300 people attended and on average I would say 100 people were there throughout the conference. Not bad, but not great. I’ll explain later in this piece.
Friday night was fun because different chapters gave report backs from their various schools and locals. One of the highlights was Olympia SDS, which had attempted to shut down a Navy port which was shipping out military supplies and troops to Iraq.
Saturday, there were a number of workshops. I arrived late, but was still able to have a few people come to a workshop/discussion on researching the radical history of students’ school’s. I’ve been working on a history about DePaul and was able to chat with students from CUNY about the riots there that led to open admissions there in the late 1960’s. In the next block of workshops I decided to skip the anarchist revolution workshop to go to the white privilege workshop. The person who was supposed to moderate it was not there so the group went around and discussed their experiences of white privilege especially in organizing. I heard later that the anarchist revolution workshop had a discussion between those who were more down with Crimethinc-ish drop out of society, crusty lifestyle as sustaining anarchist revolution and those who were more into organizing in communities and workplaces IWW style revolution.
Then during the lunch break, a number of Chicago activist held a Chicago SDS meet. One of the ideas we discussed was focusing on a victory campaign. To have the whole city zero in on a particular reactionary element, and defeat it. Chase it off a particular campus, shut it down for good.
This would be decided at an assembly in early September. Invites to the assembly would be sent out not just to SDS chapters but one student was selected to compile a list of all student/youth left groups in the Chicago area. We discussed how this list would be more than just anti-war and anti-sweatshop groups but would include groups with sympathies for SDS or would be obvious allies of SDS- Black student groups, Latino groups, Socialist clubs, Queer groups, Feminist groups and others. While the list was made, the assembly hasn’t happened yet.
The Chicago meet went long and cut into the speech by Micheal Albert. What I did hear him talk about was basically about not alienating the people we’re trying to organize and win over to the revolutionary movement. He used the example of a sports bar. How many people have gone into one and tried talking to people there and getting them to get active in some way? I found myself agreeing with him on this point. How often have leftist groups in the US broke apart, over some esoteric historical tidbit that happened 100 years ago in a country on the other side of the planet. I’m sorry but debating whether the Kronstadt rebellion was an imperialist invasion or an Anarchist revolt doesn’t prevent immigrants from being deported. Doing a sit in or week long occupation of an INS (or is it Homeland security now?) office does. Debating whether or not insurgent groups in Iraq are fighting for national liberation or fundamentalist reaction doesn’t end the war- blockading recruiting centers and naval ports does. Arguing over the finer points of great writers like Marx and Lenin doesn’t create workers assemblies, organizing unions does.
I was the moderator for a workshop in the next block, but felt shorted because of the way it was printed on the program. It was supposed to be a workshop on drafting a proposal for a national action. However the way it was printed on the program, it read like DePaul students were talking about some sort of action. One of the SDS veterans I know told me later that if I wanted to get SDS to adopt a national action, I should have just written up a proposal of my own and handed out copies. Next time I will, but I thought it would be more democratic to have a workshop draft a proposal. Anyway, the workshop turned into more of a brainstorm, a productive and exciting one though. We discussed how SDS was different than other student left groups because it could be multi-tendency and multi-issue. We also discussed how it had the potential to be more militant than other student/youth left groups. A lot of the actions we brainstormed were borrowed from the animal rights movement and SHAC such as house demos and other forms of disruption and making politics personal for the various war profiteers.
Saturday night, there was a silent vigil on the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, on the site where the Atom was first split at the U of C. Later that night there was a more militant protest against gentrification and Hyde Park. I didn’t really like how either of them turned out. I made it to the Hiroshima vigil a few minutes late, I was unaware that it was planned to be a silent vigil. There was a lot that went wrong. For one, SDS didn’t have it’s own flier explaining why they were all sitting there. Second, Chicago’s most well known anti-semitic crack pot, Geoffrey, was there handing out his ridiculous fliers. Third, how are you supposed to confront someone like Geoffrey at a silent vigil? A number of Jewish students (who were all vigorously opposed to the racism that is Zionism), were offended by Geoffrey, one of which told me that this was the first time that he ever felt attacked as a Jew. This same student, would go up to every person Geoffrey gave a flier to, in order to explain that all the people sitting there were not affiliated with such drivel. Those Jewish students weren’t just mad at Geoffrey though, they were frustrated that other students didn’t step in to escort Geoffrey out of there. Many didn’t know what Geoffrey was about and those who did, weren’t sure how to deal with him. Another problem with being so unorganized.
I had heard about the late night march against gentrification, but decided not to go. Something about it didn’t jive with me. There was a community forum near U. of C. on gentrification earlier in the day, but none of the organizers of the late night march attended it. It seemed to me to be like the days of rage- rash, imprudent and impulsive. This critique is not to take away from the need for militancy, or the occasional impulsive action.
I think that Dostoyeski has a great point in Notes from the Underground in that sometimes it’s better, when you are hit, to hit back without thinking about it, because once you think about it, you rationalize why you shouldn’t hit back. But those organizing the night march weren’t the ones who had been hit. They weren’t the people gentrified out of Hyde Park.
Further the night march didn’t seem to have a clear focus, target or point. It seemed like it was trying to create a militant protest that wasn’t possible under those circumstances. As Mr. Guvarra explains in Guerrilla War, one of the first rules of Guerrilla war, is that you never fight a battle that you can’t win. Each militant encounter has to lead to victory.
Anyway, I’ll defer to people who were actually there to further discuss what happened or debate the merits or this particular action.
The next morning I attended the counter-recruitment workshop, which went over a number of ways recruiters lie to people and ways to prevent them from meeting their quotas.
One of the big disorganized failures of the conference was its ability to have neat and orderly caucuses. At first, all the caucuses, six of them, were scheduled for the same time slot. However, some people rightly attempted to redo the schedule so that, for example, a Latino woman wouldn’t have to choose between one or the other caucus. However I was frustrated that the Marxist and the Anarchist Caucuses were both scheduled to be held at the same time. Also, the People of Color caucus was unable to meet in the morning, because the building was not opened early enough, and ended up being at the same time as the Anarchist and Marxist caucuses, a scheduling disaster. I went to the Marxist caucus, where there were all unaffiliated communists. There were far more people in the Anarchist caucus though.
Following that, was a workshop that was supposed to be a brainstorm on the national structure of SDS. All hell broke loose. First of all, the people of color caucus had not ended, which a number of white activists didn’t realize. Then the conversation broke down as the stack became long, and a few people made motions in terms of voting. There was general confusion as no one was sure what was taken care of first- stack or motions? No one was sure if Roberts rules of order were being used. Where the motions for voting in that session? For a voting structure for the next year of SDS? Where the 100 some people there really supposed to make decisions on how SDS would run? The woman who was moderating and taking stack was shouted down as people abused the direct response.
Part of the issue was that SDS had not adopted any sort of decision making structure. Which became an issue organizing this Chicago conference. When groups like the International Socialist Organization, Revolutionary Communist Party and World Can’t Wait asked to reserve tables, anarchists and others on the organizing e-mail list stated that they didn’t want this various self-proclaimed vanguard groups to “dominate” or “take-over” SDS the way the Progressive Labor Party did in the 1960’s. They didn’t want to give the Leninist groups tables, but had not problem with giving Anarchist groups tables. Myself and a few others said that it was silly to exclude those groups because they often evolved out of SDS, many of their members were political amatuers and didn’t fully understand or agree with their parties line, not all the members of those groups buy into “the cult of bob” or whatever, and most importantly, we need to unite with our friends and allies against the real monsters. There was no consensus, how were we supposed to decide? Those groups in dispute were sent a letter stating that we have no way to decide such disputes and to come as individual members and/or try reserving a table next year.
While I’ll admit, there is a serious issue at stake. All these various “vanguard” parties (an even certain anarchists) are convinced they have the truth and thus treat every coalition, ally, etc as something to recruit for their organization. I feel that none of these groups has the perfect and correct strategy/program/etc., by the simple fact that if they did, the revolution would have happened all ready, or we would at least be farther along than we are. But the point is- how does SDS balance it’s need to bring these people into the fold of a broad revolutionary umbrella group so we can all work together on stopping the capitalist system with the concern that these groups don’t give a fuck about SDS or umbrella groups as they already have the truth/correct revolutionary strategy and only want SDS members to join them?
I mean how many groups are convinced that they alone can lead the revolution? All based on their analysis of Trotsky or some other dead Russian. None of these groups have a broad base of support or even have guns. How are you supposed to lead a revolution without either? It’s silly really. It seems like many groups are content to make a theory and bash it into people’s heads, and blame everything on “why won’t people just accept our truth!”
That’s not how (social) science, or Marxism, is supposed to work though. It supposed to be a process of tests, competing theories (different strains of the left) are worked out through scholarly debate, more tests (actions, protests), while sharing information. Eventually, the different schools of thought are able to agree. But the scientists are not supposed to act uncomraderly, or sectarian. In other words, prove your theory by making the revolution, not by brainwashing us and shouting at us because we don’t completely agree with your parties line.
A good example is in the movie The Take. It documents the recovered factories movement in Argentina. All these capitalists abandoned countless business in Argentina, firing all their workers and not even giving them their back pay. These owners had subsisted off of corporate welfare from the government for years and just abandoned their workers, left them to starve. The workers got organized though. They formed cooperatives, and are seizing, expropriating the factories and workplaces. These cooperative run the business democratically. Everyone gets the same pay, managers are elected and they hold factory assemblies once a week to vote on pressing issues. In The Take, they document how one of the workers in the cooperative was actually going to vote for the conservative candidate in the Argentine presidential elections. While the other workers disagreed and explained to him that this candidate would take away the cooperative, they didn’t become dogmatic, self-righteous or kick him out of the cooperative. They saw the structure of the cooperative and the freedom it gave them all as being more important than the complete ideological unity/purity of those in the co-op. Their fellow worker wouldn’t be convinced by their arguments, but by actual real life events.
A quote from Mao’s little red book, “Our comrades must understand that ideological remolding involves long-term patient and painstaking work, and they must not attempt to change people’s ideology, which has been shaped over decades of life, by giving a few lectures or by holding a few meetings. Persuasion, not compulsion, is the only way to convince them. To try and convince them by force simply won’t work. This kind of method [force] is permissible in dealing with the enemy, but absolutely impermissible in dealing with comrades or friends.”
People’s political opinions take shape over time based on their own experiences. You’re not going to convince someone out of the bat of the need for revolution. Instead start by asking them to come to an anti-war protest, or a queer kiss-in. If they stay involved long enough, and get pushed around by the authorities enough, and think about the structures in their lives enough, the rest will come naturally. We’ve spent to much time be ruthless to our own, and thus have been unable to fight the real enemy.
Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent from the SDS conference. So in this national structure workshop, there was a push to adopt some sort of temporary voting structure to make decisions like who gets to table, etc. However, I felt that the most vocal spokesperson for this move, was so wigged out from not sleeping, that the way he was presenting the proposal was condescending and not helpful.
While all of this was happening, the People of Color Caucus was writing a statement. They filed into the room everyone else was in, and read it. The statement mentioned that members of the Caucus had felt alienated at certain points by the overwhelming white conference and that the history of SDS was that of a predominantly white (sometimes a white-ally to POC) group. The statement challenged the new SDS as to whether it would continue to be a white dominated group or if it would attempt to be a multi-racial group. I thought that the statement was good and constructive. I also though that this SDS conference had integrated a lot of the ideas about multi-racial organizing that the original SDS found controversial, today it is standard to have caucuses and workshops on privilege in student left groups like United Students Against Sweatshops and SDS. Back in the 60’s, you would have had some dogmatic class reductionist Marxists who declared that such things diverted attention from the class conflict. I couldn’t disagree more, they add different dimensions to our analysis and action against the class system.
The time came for the next block of workshops to begin. There were a number of workshops I wanted to go to. John Wilson’s defending academic freedom seemed like a good one, as did the Participatory Economics workshop which featured Micheal Albert. I decided to go to the National Guard Civil Disturbance Techniques workshop. The person leading the workshop had been in the National Guard, but applied for Conscience Objector status. I thought that they did a great job with it, he showed different formations, with diagrams, and he had us do some practice runs with PVC pipes as billy clubs in different formations. Then we did a test riot control with some other SDSers where they faked a riot and we contained it. I felt the workshop had a downside in that it was overwhelmingly male and not everyone took it seriously. Still I felt that such a workshop was a good step towards more militant and organized actions.
Next day, Monday, there were a few workshops, but it was the closing plenary that was most productive. The first thing the plenary did was to decide upon rules for that meeting. Roberts rules of order were adopted, an older Movement for a Democratic Society member was selected to moderate, while one woman kept time and another kept stack and track of motions. We also decided that anything this meeting decided would be labeled as being decided by the 2006 SDS conference, not SDS as a whole. As for voting it was to attempt consensus, failing that, there would be a brief discussion followed by another vote that would require ¾. Among the things decided, were to have at least 2 regional conferences in the next year and a national constitutional convention in a year. Attempts to create a committee and a temporary voting structure were voted down due mainly to time concerns. MDS stated that they were planning on fund raising among older SDS veterans and that the money would be managed by a committee with MDS and SDS members on it. The money would be used for bail, travel scholarships to conferences and other things. There was discussion about how to make the website more interactive. The easiest decision was to support the IWW Starbucks union and to take action of some sort against the firing of union organizer Daniel Gross. Also we heard a brief report back from the womens caucus. The queer caucus was unable to meet as far as I know.
There was also talk about how the next conference might not be a national conference, but an international one as there were chapters in Germany, Nigeria and Mexico already. There was some discussion on what membership would look like, the difference between chapters, affiliates, allies, etc.
I asked some of the older generation SDS activists who were there, like Carl Davidson and Alan Haber, what they thought about this conference compared to the 1960’s SDS. They seemed optimistic, pointing out that at Port Huron there were only 40 people and that the political level of the people at this was much higher. However I worked on housing for the first Campus Anti-War Network conference at Loyola. There were far more people at that in January 2003 than at this SDS conference. While some would like to point to the anti-war movements size at the time and that demonstrations have gotten smaller since then, I felt there were really two things to blame as to why this conference wasn’t bigger. The lack of organization was crucial. How late was it before we knew it would be at the U. of C.? The workshops didn’t get arranged until a week before, we had no way to decide controversial issues (and still don’t). Also people were unsure what this SDS was about. Who was behind it, what’s their motive for bringing it back? Will it be worth my time as an activist or will I accomplish more with other groups? The other thing I think prevented people from attending- there were far more anarchists there than any other tendency.
I probably identify with the anarcho-syndicalists and anarcho-commies than any other tendency. Not so much because I feel they have the best theory (actually I think many are seriously lacking and could use some serious time devoted to study) but they have a dedication to militant action that marxist-style communists have been lacking in this country for a long time. It’s their belief in propaganda by the deed.
However I think that the attitude many of the anarchists at this event took intimidated and blew off our obvious allies in the struggle. I feel that SDS will die of ideological inbreeding and lack of new bodies if it remains so overwhelmingly anarchist. I’m less concerned that the ISO or some other socialist group will “co-opt” SDS than I am of the experts of co-optation- the democratic party.
No other group has as much to benefit from a disorganized left than the democratic party.
No other group has the potential to lead the student and youth movement down a non-revolutionary path than the hope of Hillary or Obama for President bandwagons. While political nerds know that Hillary supports the war, and Obama has made statements in support of bombing Iran and Pakistan as early as 2004, many really cool people only get a shallow coverage of them, and assume that since Hillary is a woman and Obama is Black and Bill O’Rielly hates them, they must be good right?
The Donkey bandwagon is even more dangerous now that the Clinton and Soros funded Center for American Progress is pouring millions of dollars into training “student activists” the same way that right wing groups like Young Americans for Freedom has in the last few decades.
Until we abolish the wage system and institute a gift economy, we need millions of dollars for radical student activism, to fund campus newspapers, legal challenges, travel expenses, and all sorts of supplies needed for protests, but that money isn’t going to come from Soros.
Soro’s group isn’t calling for the immediate end of the Iraq war, it sure as hell isn’t anti-imperialist. Soros on capitalism? Soros is the definition of global capital, look it up in a dictionary and you will see his face right next to a sweatshop. Genuine progressive and radical student groups need to prevent people like Soros from subverting progressive students and leading them to ineffective and pro-government actions.
Like I said, there have been a lot of people asking me about this conference. There was one activist who recorded the whole thing on cassette and promised to put it up on Indymedia. So if I missed any important points, the tapes should have them covered.
I felt that the conference had a mixed result. I think the greatest failure of it was that it didn’t decide on organizing some sort of national action- whether it be a major march/mobilization or a day of autonomous actions. However I felt that there were important contacts and networking done. Looking back 5 years from now, I hope that we’ll be able to point to this conference as being the seed of something more historic and exciting. The success of SDS, like the success of the Left, won’t come from conferences, but will come from actions that not only shut down the system, but inspire others to take part and join the struggle.
Friday, October 27, 2006
The concert was a big event, with close to 200 people watching the show and more walking through the student center seeing it. According to one of the members of the tour, this was the biggest show they had on the tour. Students danced and learned about how the military uses dirty tricks to recruit for it's immoral wars.
Saturday, June 17, 2006
While I’ll admit I have a preference for hard rock and radical politics, these bands and albums are not just run of the mill corporate crap. They are artists who are seeking to challenge your understanding of the world around you, and to make music that that is more than just a commodity. In some ways this list is incomplete as there are scores of great bands out there that I haven’t heard yet, or that are so underground that it would be premature to call them something that would be remembered. This list is in no particular order. We would love to hear from others on whom they think deserve to be on this list and why.
Artist: Dead Prez
Album: Lets Get Free
Sticman and M-1 tear it up in some of the best and most militant politically charged rap since Public Enemy’s height in the early 90’s. Any of their albums are great but this one stands out as it was their major label debut. While they are excellent producers and produce some great beats with real soul, it’s their lyrics, and attitude they say them, that are so powerful they shake you to your core and make you want to raise your fist! So I’ll just let their lyrics speak for them.
African: “’I’m a runaway slave watching the north star; Shackles on my forearm , runnin with the gun in my palm; I’m an African , never was I African-American; Blacker than black I take it back to my origin; Same skin hated by the Klansmen; Big nose and lips, big hips and butts, dancin, what!”
We Want Freedom: “Yeah, yeah; Imagine havin no runnin water to drink; Chemicals contaminate the pipes leadin to your sink; Just think, if the grocery stores close they doors; And they saturate the streets with tanks and start martial law; Would you be ready for civil war? Could you take the life of somebody you know, or have feelings for if necessary? I got cousins in the military But far as I'm concerned they died, when they registered”
Be Healthy: “I don't eat no meat, no dairy, no sweets; only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit and whole wheat; I'm from the old school, my household smell like soul food, bro; curried falafel, barbecued tofu; no fish though, no candy bars, no cigarettes; only ganja and fresh-squeezed juice from oranges; exercising daily to stay healthy; and I rarely drink water out the tap, cause it's filthy; Lentil soup is mental fruit.”
Artist: The (International) Noise Conspiracy
Album: Survival Sickness
Survival Sickness was The (International) Noise Conspiracy’s fist major label debut. These Swedish punks were doing Anarchist-Marxist garage rock before the corporate press declared garage rock the new hot thing. This album makes you want to dance and rock out. The single “Smash It Up” is subtly subversive with its mellow call to destroy the capitalist system. Singer Dennis Lyxzen used to sing for the avant-garde hardcore group Refused before they broke up. Refused’s album “The Shape of Punk to Come” is still one of the best albums of the 90’s. Some other great songs by The (International) Noise Conspiracy on other albums include: Black Mask, Abolish Work, A New Morning: Changing Weather and Communist Moon.
Artist: System of a Down
System of a Down. Slayer meets Frank Zappa, with the politics of Rage Against the Machine. Toxicity took their brand of hyper crazy metal to the masses with an album that features singer Serj Tankian’s soaring voice and Guitarist Daron Malakian’s melodic sludge riffs. The album deals with issues like the war on drugs, opposing corporate globalization, and the environment. SOAD are activists off the stage, Serj founded the activist group “Axis of Justice” with Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. The band has also been active in opposing the war and pushing to have the US recognize Turkey’s genocide of Armenians in WWI. Malakian’s grandmother is a resident in Fallujah a major battle zone in Iraq, so the bands songs against the war have a personal touch in them that few bands can touch.
Album: Smash the Octopus
Filipino communist heavy metal. I discovered Flattbush in the free bin at the DePaul radio station. It was one of the best things I ever found there. They sing/scream in English, Tagalog, and Kapampangan against US imperialism and the puppet governments in the Philippines that oppress the people there. The album is produced by former Faith No More member Billy Gould. Highlights on the album include “Smash the Octopus”, “Question Authority” (check out the video on their website!), and “GMA is a US-SOB” (referring to President of the Philippines Gloria Maria Arroyo as a US- Son Of a Bitch. GMA recently declared martial law on the islands as evidence that she cheated in the recent elections became public. This has led to massive protests calling for her resignation. Bands like Flattbush, System of a Down and Sepultura have shown how the internationalization of heavy metal fuses with other cultures and creates some of the most original music.
Artist: Lamb of God
Album: As the Palaces Burn
This album hits you like a ton of bricks. From the opening riff of “Ruin” through the anti-war “11th hour” till the multi-pronged “Vigil”, this is heavy metal at its finest. Singer Randy Blythe’s scream sounds as though he is breathing fire and speaking the truth no one wants to hear. The dual guitar attacks of Mark Morton and Willie Adler keep getting more technical and energetic, making you want to thrash around and trash the house of one of Bush’s cabinet members. Drummer Chris Adler is the real standout from this band though, as his drumming does more than just keep a beat, it rips the ground open to let the demons of Hades celebrate their victory over fundamentalist Christians like Jerry Falwell. Lamb of God used to be known as Burn the Priest, a blasphemous name that got them into a bit of trouble. All of their albums are great though, especially their most recent album, Ashes of the Wake. This album is all about opposing the war in Iraq. From songs like “Now you’ve got something to Die For” (directed towards US troops who blindly believe in their government), to the title track, which includes spoken word from an Iraq Veteran Against the War.
Artist: The Dillinger Escape Plan
Few others band has changed the face of American hardcore music the way DEP has. Fusing hardcore, jazz and techno they produce music that is at once violent and beautiful. Using insane time signatures, screams, lullabies, and riffs so complicated they would make Yngwie Malmsteen sound like a beginner, this band has forever made its mark on music. From their Calculating Infinity album, to the Irony is a Dead Scene EP with Mike Patton from Mr. Bungle, to their recent Miss. Machine, if there is one word summarize this band it is: Original.
Artists: Riot Folk
“Making Folk a Threat Again” is the motto of this collective of anarchist folk musicians and singers. They take the anti-profit motive of anarchism to a degree few others have, offering all their recordings online for free. Some of my favorites include Ryan Harvey with the songs: The Ballad of the Baltimore Rebellion; Peace, Justice and Anarchy; and Kent State Massacre (13 seconds in May). Another great musician is Anna Roland. We’ve had both perform at DePaul and both are great.
Artist: Kanye West
Album: The College Dropout
George Bush Don’t Care About Black People: www.boingboing.net/2005/09/08/katrina_kanye_remixe.html
The Chicago hip-hop star who has taken the world by storm. His first staring album (he was a producer before) was a stellar album. Who can ever forget the haunting melody of “Jesus Walks”? More than that, this is the album that skyrocketed West to fame, allowed him to make comments that would shake the musical and political establishments. On one of his interviews on MTV, West told other rappers to stop dissing homosexuals, as there was nothing wrong with being gay. But even bigger were his live comments on a telethon following Hurricane Katrina. While FEMA failed to help people and the police reacted with brutality, arresting people just trying to survive, West went on national television and declared that “President Bush don’t care about Black people.” The best part about West is that he manages to make critiques of the establishment within very catchy songs that are more about people than politics.
While Rob was not sent to combat, he was almost sent to Iraq. Rob is militantly opposed to the war and was so while he was in the army, which is why he applied for conscientious objector status. At a party for Rob, several of his army buddies were there, celebrating with anarchists and anti-war activists. I talked to one of them, and he told me the lengths people go to get out of an army they don’t believe in. This former army man told me how he failed five drug tests on purpose before they kicked him out. He had gotten into radical politics through punk music and wanted out of the army. The army was so desperate to keep soldiers they kept a man who tested positive for heroin, cocaine and other drugs. Eventually he got out, but it goes to show the dissent in the military.
The anti-war movement supports the troops because we know the history of troops opposing the war. From Iraq Veterans Against the War to Vietnam Veterans Against the War, to Russian troops who refused to fight for the Czar leading to the Russian revolution of 1917.
ASU: Tell us a little bit about your military service. When and why did you join?
Rob: I joined the National Guard in April of 2000. I was seventeen, had low self esteem, and I wanted to make a “difference.” I remember high school being very competitive and believing the notion that life is over without college. During high school I was a poor student. I found myself learning about issues not discussed in class. I had no idea what I wanted to do in life. I remember talking to a recruiter who was speaking with my sister. I was sixteen years old and the military seemed more romantic than reality. My father is a Vietnam Vet and would not allow me to join active military service.
Though I understood the reality of conflict more than fellow students, the military seemed like it would instill what was needed for me to get ahead. I remember my sister was getting good grades, and having a family that can’t possibly be able to afford to send my two sisters and I to school I decided to enlist. I was told that the purpose of the National Guard was to help the nation in crisis. I liked the idea of being there to help others in the case of Floods, hurricanes, wild fires, and tornadoes. The last time my unit had been called up was the Korean War. The Guard was an escape for me. It did help me gain confidence in myself, yet the negatives far out way the benefits. I joined and chose to be an 11bravo (infantry) with a $5,000 dollar sign on bonus which I never received.
ASU: You served time at Ft Polk LA. Tell us a little bit about what it was like there, what you did, and what your attitude and the attitude of your fellow soldiers about the war in Iraq.
Rob: I was deployed for a second time to Ft. Polk La to train soldiers to go to Iraq. We were told about the deployment while on annual training (two weeks a year) in Poland. Though the unit forgot to get plane tickets back, we got home and had a week and a half to get family life in order before deploying. Usually on active duty, soldiers live in barracks that are kind of like dorm rooms. We lived in warehouses that fit 116 people, and had Constantia wire around the perimeter. The conditions were more like prison.
Our job was very interesting. We would dress in civilian clothes and go to different towns in a training area called the box. I discussed with soldiers who were going to Iraq. Many had already gone and were being deployed for a second time. I found that many did not want to go, and support seemed to be lacking. I remember talking with a soldier from 2ndacr (armored cavalry) and we told me how they used to carry drop guns (they had ak47s in the back of their humvees and if they killed a noncombatant they would throw the AK 47 on the body, take a picture and report it as a combatant). Soldiers from the 1st Calv informed me that their commander ordered gun runs on protester (gun runs refers to a helicopter strafing the ground while firing heavy automatic weapons).
ASU: Tell us about going conscientious objector. What is it? Did you ever apply for it? Is it a realistic option for military personnel who oppose the War? How likely is it that someone who applies for CO will get it? How would someone apply for CO if they wanted to?
Rob: On January 3rd of 2005 I filed for conscientious objector. I requested to be discharged from the military because my beliefs did not allow me to participate, or train for war. I saw my commitment to the military as a direct violation of my beliefs. As a believer in natural law, and transcendental perspectivism I could not support my involvement in the military in anyway. I question the idea of what is murder? I talked to several soldiers who enlisted to kill and maim. Why were they any different than a hit-man? Objectively they had enlisted in an organization they ordered them to commit these acts whether they agreed or not. Whether wrong or right, against will and desire you are ordered to fight. I believe in direct action and responsibility. Imagine if soldiers decided if they wanted to fight. What a perfect way to end wars that are against public desire. A counter argument is often brought up were others claim that if the country was attacked there has to be an armed force to defend the state. How many people would protect their communities if attacked?
To file for conscientious objector the person has to believe that all war is immoral or killing another. One can not only disagree with one conflict and attempt to be granted with conscientious objector. There are two kinds of CO. 1A (the person holds a belief against killing and your moved to a no combative role but retained in the military), and 1-0-A (your direct role whether combative, or no combative afflicts with your beliefs discharging you from the military). Soldiers are usually discharged under honorable or general discharge. I would recommend CO for several reasons. Close to 50% of those who apply for CO win their case. Check out The G.I rights hotline for more info. CO claims are backed by personal statements, testimonies, a meeting with a Chaplin, psychological examine (because if you’re not participating in war you must be crazy, and a hearing. Many times people are kicked out during the medical exam. I would recommend researching depression, anxiety, and social anxiety. You might be looking and kicked out on the spot.
ASU: You asked me before to give you a chance to talk about food. So tell me about food. What’s a good recipe for something vegetarian or vegan?
Indian Tacos/Fry bread & topping
A Native American dish dating from the beginning of the forming of the 'reservations', when the government allotted only staple items to be distributed. Cornmeal, flour, salt, sugar, milk powder. There are about 16 thousand different recipes for Fry bread. Everyone makes their own a little differently, and you can find a bunch of good recipes on the Net. This is just the one I like the best. The topping originally used ground beef or turkey, but I experimented and found you can do just as well without it.
Ingredients for Fry bread:
3 c. flour 3 t. baking powder 1 t. salt
1/2 t. sugar 2 c. warm water. 1 t. shortening. (NO BUTTER.)
Mix all dry ingredients, then toss in shortening, mix well. Add in water, stir till dough-like. Then get down and dirty and knead it, add flour if it's too sticky. Beat it, punch it, mix it up, tear it, smush it. This is a GREAT recipe for aggressive days, and I was once told that the more you abuse the dough, the better it tastes. Dust hands with flour, tear off handfuls of dough, roll into ball, press into disc, deep-fry till golden brown. To keep them warm: Put three or four on plates, cover with paper towel or paper plate, put in oven on lowest setting.
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
A number of DePaul alumni spanning 20 years returned to DePaul to speak about their experiences. The panel was organized by Matt Muchowski who is working on what he calls, "A People's History of DePaul University." The panel had Muchowski read a few highlights from his unfinished outline, describing DePaul's history of discrimination against students of color, and the various student uprisings against racism, war and capitalism that have occurred throughout the years.
The panelists included Joe Kinsella who spoke on how he participated in numerous actions against the US military (aid to the Contras, CIA recruiters on campus, etc). Kinsella also spoke on how the school banned then-president of the National Organization for Women, Eleanor Smeal, in 1986 because she was pro-choice. A number of students and faculty managed to bring her to campus to speak anyway. Another speaker was Marc Luzietti who described his participation in the large protests against rising tuition in 1990 and against the first gulf war. Luzietti was also one of the students involved in the occupation of the OMSA office which led to the creation of the cultural center. Marc's wife Cecilia Luzietti described how student groups dealt with sexual assault and the alternative student newspaper in the 1990's. Simon Strikeback described the queer kiss-ins that were held on campus inthe late 90's and the anti-sweatshop movement that led to DePaul joining the Workers Rights Consortium. Rebecca Steinmetz also talked about the anti-sweatshop movement and GRRRL House.
Friday, May 26, 2006
In the activism I’m involved with, I see how thinking to much is a disease almost everyday. People talk about action way to much. There is an overabundance of theory and a serious lack of action. It’s gotten to the point where people call talking about their thoughts an action. If they shout their thoughts in public it’s called a protest.
Meanwhile, the machine acts. It ships arms in our backyards, and rains death upon those who oppose it. The machine has it’s thinkers, it’s Karl Roves, it’s Projects for New American Centuries, but the system also has it’s army of those who do it’s bidding. Mindless drones, pawns in chess who when they receive orders to do so, act without thinking about it.
What do to many people do about this? Instead of fighting the fascists, to many are content to rationalize them, debate them, ignore them or attempt to educate them. Meanwhile our teeth are being kicked in, our faces dragged through mud, and our voices ringing hollow on ears that refuse to listen.
To think to much is to sit on ones ass. It’s like playing video games. You think your playing football, but really your just sitting on your ass and fiddling your fingers. Instead of actually playing football, you are imagining that you are playing football.
Further when one plays video games, like when one thinks, they are limited by what has been created before them. One can not play the video game that has not been created, coded, tested, packaged, shipped and sold. With thinking, one can not imagine a new religion that has nothing to do with the old religion. Even if it’s the reverse, knowledge of that older religion influences the new faith, the new mythology. Many Christian holidays are celebrated the day that Roman holidays were on.
Dostoyevsky goes a step further though. He doesn’t just say that thinking to much is problematic, he actually says that stupidity is praise worthy because stupid people take action. In a sense he’s right, but the question he fails to address, is who’s action do they take. Is it really their own formulation or is it someone who is commanding them to take action? For example, a soldier in the army takes action, but it’s not always in their own interest, and as dissident soldiers, C.O.’s and others have shown, it is often not in their own will.
Dostoyevsky argues that often people enjoy doing that which is actively bad for them. He compares it to a toothache, and how people can derive pleasure from it. So perhaps some people don’t mind being pawns in chess. Perhaps some prefer 2 + 2 = 4, no mater how terrible that trail of death is for them.
What Dostoyevsky doesn’t discuss is how taking to much action can be problematic. To be continually moving, fighting, engaging, is to never reflect on what the effects of that action are or whats behind why you take that action. To not think about that, is to repeat the action. Repeat the action. Repeat the action, until the spark dies out. I feel it is best to create a praxis of theory and practice. Action and thought united in a cycle so that each feeds off the other, both practiced by the same person.
My biggest problem with Dostoyevsky, is that at a certain point, his irrationality becomes very rational. His comparison between “uncivilized” people and supposedly “civilized” warmongers makes perfect sense. That which society deems irrational, might only be different. The person ranting on the corner makes no sense until you hear them out. Listen to them explain their views and why they have them. Then it makes sense. The person who has been taught their whole lives that Christianity is a religion of life, will be flabergasted by the person who tells them that more people have died in Jesus’ name than any other. But if they stop and listen to the stories of inquisitions, wars, and crusades, they will get a different picture.
The other part of Dostoyevsky that becomes rational is the issue of mass acceptance. 2 + 2 = 4 because society declares it so. But if all of society declared that 2 + 2 = 5, wouldn’t the person who insisted that 2 + 2 = 4 seem irrational? In many ways we see this contradiction with the culture of individuality. Everyone wants to be an individual, to stand out, to be different. Yet, they all become the same in this process. What’s so different about being different when everyone is different?
I would say that the life I’ve lived is closer to 2+ 2 =5, in that it has been unorthodox, but I’m trying to create a world where 2 + 2 = 4 isn’t destructive, where the normal way of doing things isn't destructive. In many ways the world we live in today is closer to -2 – 2 = -4. As Dostoyevsky points out that many times people don’t desire what is in their best interests. They don’t want the positive, they want the negative. This is one of the greatest obstacles on the path towards a utopian society. So to take the world out of it’s negative ways, we need to break out of the mold. If the messed up world is -4, a person living a 2 + 2 = 4 life still leaves us in the neutral zone, whereas a person living a 2 + 2 = 5 life would actually give us a positive 1...... and the hope of a new world.
Saturday, May 20, 2006
A new rule implemented this year was for the school and student groups to obtain licenses to show movies, licenses often costing $200 or more.
This didn’t sound right to me, so I went to speak with Tiffany Guzarde and Shannon Greybar Milliken in student life about the matter. They told me it was a federal law which they were upholding and that they weren’t necessarily happy enforcing it as it was creating a strain on the already limited Student Allocation Funding Board budget.
I explained to them that DePaul, as an educational institution, should be able to show movies under a fair use clause. I mean, most students groups aren’t screening “You Me and the Dupree”, or boot-leg copies of “Spider-man 3” while its still in theaters. They are showing documentaries, or even when it is fictional, it has an educational value.
But in the eyes of this law and the bureaucrats stuck enforcing it, this is likable to downloading movies online. They are terrified of being fined, but I asked them if DePaul had ever been fined, or threatened with being fined, and they replied, “no.”
This can be problematic in many ways. Many underground films don’t have licenses. For example a movie about the anti-World Bank/IMF protests in Prague called “Crowd Bites Wolf” has no license and no way of contacting the filmmakers to get a statement regarding it’s lake of a license.
This has to be put in the perspective of encroaching “intellectual property” laws against free speech. Consider the movie “Eyes on the Prize.” It’s considered one of the greatest documentaries of all time, documenting civil rights struggles of the 1950’s and 1960’s. One of my professors at DePaul showed it and it was not only educational, but inspirational. It showed how ordinary people were risen up because of their involvement in the struggle for civil rights.
Unfortunately copyright law has hindered “Eyes on the Prize” from being broadcast on TV or issued on DVD, or even shown in public settings like my classroom. Since the documentary used archive footage, it has to pay for the right to use such footage. Imagine having to pay every time you quoted a book in an essay you wrote for class. There was a fear that it might not even be able to be rebroadcast ever again. The filmmakers had to shell out thousands of dollars to obtain temporary rights to the archival footage so they could show the film on PBS recently, but having it issued on DVD might take longer and cost more.
Hip Hop music has been pushing boundaries by sampling recordings, and many great songs have run into restrictions because of that. Consider the absurdity that musician John Fogerty had to deal with. As a member of the band Creedence Clearwater Revival he wrote a song called. “Run Through the Jungle.” He would later leave the band, and start a solo career on another record label. He would be sued by the former record label because his song, “Old Man Down the Road” sounded to much like his song “Run through the Jungle.” In other words he was being sued for sounding to much like himself! Fogerty defeated this suit, but left unchecked, intellectual property rights advocates would leave us all in a situation like this.
Another way intellectual property laws are destroying our freedoms and rights can be seen in the emergence of GMO’s or Genetically Modified Organisms. Corporations like Monsanto are copyrighting and patenting the genetic codes of plants. When they sell these GMO seeds to farmers, they have all sorts of stipulations, to guarantee that farmers are not allowed to save seeds for the next year, and essentially remain in debt to the company. As consumers, we should be worried, because we aren’t allowed to even know what we are eating, as that is a trade secret.
In the digital world we see similar problems. The next step of the record companies and their iTunes buddies in stopping file sharing is to implement Digital Rights Management or DRM. DRM is essentially software that prevents you from making copies of the CD or MP3 you legally bought. So even if you buy a song from iTunes, and want to make a back up copy on your external hard drive, just in case your computer crashes, as they often do, DRM would prevent you.
In 2005, Sony sold millions of CD’s with DRM like software which would automatically installed itself, without alerting consumers, onto their PC. This was bad enough, but it turns out the software actually opened up security holes, making innocent fans of music, victims of computer viruses.
Whats next, every time you utter “lord of the rings” or “the” you get sued? I watched a video on youtube.com called “Chad Vader- day manager.” It was a funny parody, but if these copyright laws were effected fully, it would stifle that kind of parody.
Luckily there are ways people are resisting. Many artists, writers and musicians are releasing their work on Creative Commons licenses which allow the author to profit while giving users the right to copy and use the work in other ways.
To oppose the proprietary Microsoft software many computer programmers have contributed to the GNU/Linux project. In a nut shell, the software is free, anyone can download it, look at the source code and contribute their own code to the programs.
Other activists are battling this through websites like http://downhillbattle.org/ which do a number of creative protests to defend file sharing.
I suggested to Tiffany and Shannon in DePaul student life that the school get involved in resisting these copyright laws. Lobby Congress to repeal these arcane laws which prohibit students from watching documentaries with their friends. DePaul could have a large influence on this issue, and by taking the lead on it, other school would join it.
They said DePaul was to busy lobbying on student loans and other issues. Student Loans are a decent thing to lobby about, reducing the amount of interest students have to pay back would be a positive thing and would allow more students to afford a college education.
But I proposed: why doesn’t DePaul lobby Congress on the war? All the money going to build bombs and privatize Iraq could be used to build schools, here in the US and in Iraq. All the money wasted on Blackwater mercenaries and Halliburton profits could go to documentary makers to allow them to pay for archival footage, or to students who want to pay for movie licenses. Shannon didn’t like that idea.
Honestly the best thing students can do is host screenings of banned movies. Start with “Eyes on the Prize.” Let’s get 500 people together to watch it for free, then have a discussion about it, write about it and bring up examples from it in our classes. If the school or movie lawyers come after us, we have our own lawyers through the electronic frontier foundation, national lawyer’s guild and others who would gladly take the case pro-bono.
Since I started writing this, the issue has become more pertinent. Many DePaul students including Janien Hammonds, daughter of Black Student Union founder James Hammonds, are being sued for downloading music. It's likely a court battle with ensue. Students should support the students in fighting against these corporations. These corporations make billions, and yet they want $2,000 from Hammonds, just for downloading a few songs. Stay tuned to www.depaulasu.net for more on what you can do to defend creative freedom.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
I'm rockin' the fro-hawk while waiting for Joe to set up some stuff in the studio.
Andy and me rockin.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
This piece was written for a class I had with Professor Norman Finkelstein. The class was about political autobiographies. We read Emma Goldman, Nelson Mandela, Trotsky and others. Our final paper was to write an "As told to" autobiography about someone who lived through the 1960's. I knew Ron as a custodian at DePaul who would always strike up a conversation when DePaul Students Against the War had a table at the student center. I asked him if he would mind being interviewed for the article and he agreed. I meant to submit the story for publication in a journal, and maybe make some money with it. I asked Ron about it and he said as long as I gave half the money to Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Maybe one of these days.
As a child, my mother would tell me about her parents. They had come to the United States from Italy, looking for a better life. What they found was that to some, the American Dream wasn’t intended for all. They immigrated to Southern Illinois, where the Ku Klux Klan terrorized them and intimidated them because they were Catholic immigrants who had trouble speaking english. They then moved to Chicago, where the mob started threatening to kidnap my mother if they didn’t pay the mob. My grandfather went with a shotgun to confront the mob one day, and my mother and grandmother never saw him again.
I grew up in Chicago, where I was often more accepting of my black and latino neighbors than other white Chicagoans. The neighborhood I grew up in had a building where almost all the residents were black. While several of my school mates would make derogatory jokes and tease the residents of the building, my mother was friends with a number of people in it, and thus I became friends with a number of African-American children.
I had several brothers. One day I was watching the TV with my older brother Jim, when news of the Gulf of Tonkin incident came on. At the time we didn’t know that it was a fake story, that US ships were never attacked by the north Vietnamese forces. We watched intently, and wondered if this were a new Pearl Harbor. When the news was over, I looked to my brother Jim and told him, “Your going to war. Your going to be drafted.” He looked at me like I was crazy, and dismissed it. A few months later, he was drafted and sent to Vietnam. I think he didn’t mind going because our father was a veteran of World War II, where he fought the Japanese empire in the Pacific.
Growing up, I had friends on both sides of the great debates of my time. My brother was in the army, but I had Hippy friends. In 1968, when the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago, a few of my friends came up to me and asked me if I wanted to go down to Grant Park to fight with the cops. I told them no. I had friends in the national guard and police department who I played football with, and I didn’t want to be put in a situation where I would have to get beat up by them or beat them up.
One day I was hanging out with my girlfriend, and heard news on the radio about race riots on the south side. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated the day before, and black America was taking out it’s frustrations. I was curious what it was all about, so my white girlfriend and I got on my motorcycle and rode it south. When we approached the riot, there was all sorts of debris in the streets, making it impossible for a car or truck to make it through, but a motorcycle, going slowly could navigate the streets. We came to a stop when we saw the first block of looters, breaking windows and taking whatever they wanted from stores, I brought my motorcycle to a stop. I turned to my girlfriend and told her, “Raise your fist in the air and start screaming ‘Black Power’ like you mean it.” As we slowly drove down the street, people would see the only two white kids in the riot, shouting “Black Power!” and they would cheer, and come up to us to give us high fives.
After high school I became a sheet metal apprentice, and so I had a four year deferment from the draft. Since sheet metal was considered an important industry to the war effort, I didn’t have to fight the war. But I kept hearing things about Vietnam. I would hear the government tell us that it’s a war for freedom and against communism. Then I would hear about the massacres like My Lai and all the arguments for peace. My brother came home and he had a hard time talking about it, which only made me more curious.
I decided to push up my draft number, so that I could get drafted and see the war for myself. I figured the only way to know whether this war was right or wrong was to go there and see it for myself.
I enlisted in January 1969, and was sent to Fort Bragg for Basic Training. As soon as I got there and the drill sergeant was shouting at us and using racial slurs, I realized what a mistake I had made. I should have known this wasn’t a good idea. I had read about the My Lai massacre, where US troops killed hundreds of unarmed villagers, where one of the true hero’s of Vietnam, Hugh Thompson, flew his medical evacuation helicopter into the massacre. Thompson had seen gun fire from above, and came down to see if there were any wounded people to take back to a hospital. When he attempted to take some of the Vietnamese villagers back, he was threatened by Lt. Calley. For years after, Thompson’s account was covered up, until photos of the massacre were leaked to the press.
While I was at basic training, I had found an issue of Life magazine, where the front cover was peace groups. I read the article, and it included a page of addresses, where I could mail them. I ripped out that page, and mail the different peace groups, asking them for bundles of anti-war newspapers. The different groups were happy to do so. I was being sent bundles of newspapers from anti-war soldiers, the Black Panther Party, Students for Democratic Society, among others. I would then pass these newspapers out to other troops. As long as I didn’t charge for the newspapers it was completely legal.
After basic training I went to Aberdeen Proving Grounds for advanced training in maintenance. It was while I was being trained here on how to repair turret artillery, that I got my papers for deployment to Vietnam. It was also here that I found a copy of Bernard Fall’s biography of Ho Chi Minh. I had been told so much propaganda from my government about what a terrorist and tyrant he was that reading this book came as a revelation to me. I never realized that Ho Chi Minh had fought against Japan for the independence of Vietnam. It made me realize that Ho Chi Minh and my father were fighting on the same side, and it didn’t make any sense to me why I should fight against someone who helped fight the Japanese, and gave my father a better chance of surviving the war.
After reading that book I found a photo of Ho Chi Minh, and carried it in my wallet for the whole time I was in Vietnam. I figured if I was captured I could show them the photo I carried and explain to them how I was on their side.
I was out in Northern New York state on leave with my girlfriend when I saw posters everywhere for a rock concert called Woodstock. It said Jimi Hendrix would play among others. I had been a big rock and roll fan and had been to many concerts back in Chicago. I had seen Jimi Hendrix play twice already, I saw the Rolling Stones perform, Janis Joplin blew my mind away, and The Doors rocked. These were pioneers in music, they were the baby of rock and roll that grew up to change the world. I wanted to go to this Woodstock show, but it was happening after my deployment. I thought about deserting, going to this rock show, going underground and living a life in the counter culture. Except that I had gone to far into the beast already. I was so close to seeing Vietnam, that I didn’t want to miss my shot at seeing the war for what it really was.
I was shipped out to Chou Lai beach. It was a rear guard zone, which meant we had buildings made out of brick and pretty decent living conditions. We weren’t on the front lines of combat, but it could still be dangerous. Put a bunch of young men in a country they know little about then give them guns and watch them act stupid. I remember one day I was stepping out of the shower house, when a bullet went whizzing past my ear. There was a fight going on between two of our soldiers, and one was shooting in the air to scare the other one, but misfired and almost shot me.
I did not want to shoot at or kill any Vietnamese person. In my eyes, they were fighting for their freedom, and I didn’t want to kill someone who I felt was doing the right thing. When I made it to Vietnam, I realized how I might be put in a situation where I would be forced to shoot at Vietnamese people. I spent long sleepless nights thinking about what it would take for me to pull that trigger. I came to the conclusion that if my life were directly in danger, I would open fire. So I resolved to not put my life in any sort of danger.
But even on the back end, far from fighting, your life was at risk. My life was saved with the flip of a coin. I had a friend named Hager whom I went to basic training with and got along with pretty well. One day we were both part of a crew that was sent to an old French air strip. We were tearing it up for scrap metal. We had the job of removing a big cannon. Hager and I decided to flip a coin to see who would be on the ground helping to direct it as the crane pulled it up. We flipped the coin and it landed so that Hager had to work on the cannon. I went to work on something else. Then I heard a the crash of metal and a sickening thud. I looked over and saw that Hager had been hit by the cannon, and was bloody all over. The next day I visited him in the bases medical center, he had tubes coming out from all over him. The next day they took him off base to a hospital. I never found out what happened to him.
Race relations were interesting on the camp. When I first arrived a number of the troops from Southern states flew what I called the “Ku Klux Klan Battle Flag”, the stars and bars of the confederacy. Despite this there weren’t any incidents between blacks and white on base for the first two months I was there. There was an African-American soldier from Louisiana named Smitty who was on his second tour of Vietnam and was about to be promoted to Sergeant. Then a young white kid from Alabama, Jeff, arrived. Within a short time, the powers that be decided that Jeff would be promoted instead of Smitty.
Smitty decided to confront Jeff about this at the bar on base. Instead of offering to help Smitty, Jeff made a joke about Smitty’s mother. Smitty told Jeff that if he anted to go down that route they should take it outside. Once they were both outside, Smitty beat the living hell out of Jeff, breaking his leg. Jeff was then kicked out of Chou Lai, and the commander of the base ordered all the confederate flags taken down.
I continued to hand out anti-war newspapers and fliers to troops in Vietnam. I never once met a soldier who was pro-war. Everyone I talked to was glad to sign a petition or take a paper. Even combat soldiers were enthusiastic to hear about anti-war demonstrations back home. I remember one day I was handing out fliers to troops when some of the combat soldiers became infuriated about the death of one of their comrades. They felt as though the commanders of the base didn’t care about their lives. Five combat soldiers started walking towards the command center with angry looks on their faces. I joined them, and as we marched towards our destination, more and more troops joined us. We had thirty pissed off GI’s scowling and I didn’t know what we would do once we made it tot he commanders. There had already been one fragging on our base while I was there, could this lead to an open revolt?
Before we made it to the command center, several Military Police came, detained the combat troops and ordered the rest of us to disperse. There was a tense moment when no one was sure what to do, but we ultimately dispersed.
I had a month on leave that I spent in Hawaii. There I met my first wife Michelle. Near the end of my leave, I talked to her about deserting. We could have both left and gone to Sweden, where we could live in peace. Now that I had seen Vietnam, I had no real desire to return as a member of the US army. She talked me out of it though.
While I was stationed in Vietnam, the actress Jane Fonda did her famous anti-war tour of the country. While she was in the north, the US launched a bombing raid against the city she was in. She spoke on Vietnamese radio, encouraging US troops to refuse to fight. I felt as though she were there speaking for the majority of grunts there. She was there for us, unlike President Nixon who also visited Vietnam while I was there.
A lot of people talk about US troops using drugs in Vietnam. I never used drugs, but I saw them all over the base. When I first got there, Marijuana was the big drug. But after a few months, you couldn’t find Marijuana no matter how hard to looked. What you could find was Heroin and Opium. Thai drug dealers would come on base and sell these hard drugs, making some good money. What I would learn years later in a book I read, was that the CIA played a role in this. The CIA would take profits from these drugs and use them to fund secret operations in Laos and Cambodia.
When I had my orders to come home, I was excited and worried. I was excited to get away from the war, and get more involved with the peace movement back home. I was also worried because I had heard of troops being spit on as they came home, of anti-war radicals treating troops as though they were the enemy. Would I be spit on? I thought about that the whole time I rode the plane back to the States. I devised a plan. I would wear my uniform at the airport, and make sure I really stood out in front of people who looked like they were against the war- long haired men, hippies, and other counterculture agents. I must have walked around the airport for an hour, hoping someone would spit on me and call me a baby killer so I could punch them in the face and tell them, “You moron! I’m against the war to!” But it never happened. I would often wear my uniform at airports since I could get free flights that way, and I was never mistreated by anyone in the anti-war movement. Today I believe that those reports were all part of a right-wing media campaign, to gather support for the war.
I was only home a few weeks when I heard news of a massive rally on Chou Lai beach, where I was stationed. Thousands of US troops and Vietnamese people were marching for an end to the war. I wished I could have been there, but I felt proud because it felt like I played a role in building for that rally. All those fliers and newspapers I handed out must have played a role in changing the atmosphere on base. I knew that I had to continue to fight the war here in the US.
I moved back to Chicago, where I got involved with Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I met all the famous leaders in the group, John Kerry, Ron Kovic, and a number of defendants from our court case in Miami for our protests against the Republican National Convention.
I had my first child with Michelle while I was still in the military, and we had another when I was discharged. Both were boys, and neither joined the army. I like to think that it was because of my anti-war activism and that they met all sorts of veterans who were wounded from the war. My friend Tom Gilum was in the 101st airborne and paralyzed from the waist down because of the war. I think meeting him had an impression on my boys.
I divorced Michelle, and my apartment in Chicago became the VVAW national Headquarters. We would organize our members to go to anti-war rallies, and distributed our newspaper, “The Veteran”.
One day while I was working in the office alone, the phone rang. I picked it up, and the person on the other line introduced himself as an FBI agent. He asked me if I would be interested in being a paid informant for the FBI, reporting on the activities of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I told him to go to hell. At the time we knew the feds were spying on and disrupting anti-war and civil rights groups, but we didn’t know how much. It wasn’t until years later when information about the Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO, came out that we found out the full extent of the FBI’s activities. While COINTELPRO is no longer around, I still read about things they do that sound strikingly familiar, their attempts to bomb environmentalist Judi Bari, and spying on anti-war activists today.
Ten years after I divorced Michelle, the war in Vietnam was over and I married again to Eve. We had one child together and are still happily married today. She jokingly refers to my anti-war activity and calls me a traitor. I always respond, “Yea, but my side won.” Eve and I helped babysit for Jane Fonda and Joan Baez’s children when the two were on tour in Chicago.
A friend of mine told me that DePaul University was hiring maintenance workers, and that the pay and benefits were good. I took the job and was able to take a few classes. Over twenty years later I’m still at DePaul. I’ve met some interesting people here, and am constantly supporting the work of student activists.
Thirty years since the US left Vietnam, all I can do is think of the cost of the war. Millions of Vietnamese people dead, thousands of US troops dead. The effects of chemical weapons used like Agent Orange are still being felt today among Vietnamese and US soldiers. There is a generation of soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The war continues today in Iraq. While in the 1960’s we were told we needed to fight in Vietnam because of the lie of the Gulf of Tonkin, today we are told we need to fight in Iraq because of the lie of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
I haven’t been to the Vietnam wall yet. I hope to see it later this year. I’m wondering if some of my friends names made it there. I hope not. I hope we won’t have to build more war memorials, I hope we won’t have to fight any more wars.