Pete Seeger and the NSA February 4, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, History, Police.
Tags: anti-communism, cindy cohn, Civil Rights, first amendment, fourth amendment, free association, free speech, history, huac, McCarthyism, nsa, pete seeger, roger hollaner, surveillance state, un-american activities
add a comment
Roger’s note: Of course, the recent revelations about NSA outdoing George Orwell is no laughing matter. But if you need a moment of lightness today, click in the first paragraph on Pete’s testimony before HUAC. It reads like a Monty Python skit. With the persecutions of Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden among others, and the hounding to death of Aaron Swartz, the U.S. government is just getting started in putting its mega data collection to use. When the political protests heat up to the next level, I believe we are going to see the same kind of witch hunts that we saw under the era of Joseph McCarthy, only much worse. Those who lived through that period of history can tell you what it is like to be persecuted by the government for your First Amendment protected beliefs. Perhaps what is most frightening is the militarization of local police departments, and we saw what state violence against legitimate political protest will look like during the brutal repression of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Whether you are brought up before a Kafkaesque like official United States government kangaroo court or bashed over the head with police baton or run down by a Homeland Security issues armored vehicle, the chilling result is the same: fascism in our day.
That it occurs under the auspices of the affable and articulate constitutional lawyer who is the first Black American president or the feisty and charming soon to be first woman American president, will not do much to soften the blow.
I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.
Pete Seeger, 1955, testimony pursuant to subpoena before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Pete Seeger (Image: EFF)
The world lost a clear, strong voice for peace, justice, and community with the death of singer and activist Pete Seegerlast week. While Seeger was known as an outspoken musician not shy about airing his political opinions, it’s also important to remember he was once persecuted for those opinions, despite breaking no law. And the telling of this story should give pause to those who claim to be unconcerned about the government’s metadata seizure and search programs that reveal our associations to the government today.
In 1955, Seeger was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he defiantly refused to answer questions about others who he associated with and who shared his political beliefs and associations, believing Congress was violating his First Amendment rights. He was especially concerned about revealing his associations:
I will be glad to tell what songs I have ever sung, because singing is my business. . . . But I decline to say who has ever listened to them, who has written them, or other people who have sung them.
But if the same thing were to happen today, a Congressional subpoena and a public hearing wouldn’t be necessary for the government to learn all of our associations and other “private affairs.” Since the NSA has been collecting and keeping them, they could just get that same information from their own storehouses of our records.
According to the Constitution, the government is supposed to meet a high standard before collecting this private information about our associations, especially the political ones that the Congressmen were demanding of Seeger. For instance, under the First Amendment, it must“serve compelling state interests, unrelated to the suppression of ideas, that cannot be achieved through means significantly less restrictive of associational freedoms.”
It doesn’t matter whether the government wants associations to look for possibly “illegal” activities of civil rights activists, Communist sympathizers, anarchists, trade unionists, war resisters, gun rights activists, environmental activists, drug legalization advocates, or wants to go after legitimate criminals and potential terrorists, if the government can’t justify the collection of this “metadata” on this “strict scrutiny” standard, they’re not allowed to collect any of it. Yet right now, they collect all of it.
We’re still learning of all the ways the government is able to track our associations without anything like the due process and standards required by the First and Fourth Amendments, but it is the centerpiece of the NSA’s mass telephone records collection program under Patriot Act section 215, which EFF is fighting with our First Unitarian Church v. NSA case that focuses on the right of association. Our lead client, the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, had its own role in resisting the House Un-American Activities Committee. It’s also part and parcel of the mass collection of content and metadata of people all around the world under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. And it’s a real concern even if the companies hold the data, as we’ve seen with the FBI’s self-certified National Security Lettersand the Hemisphere program, where AT&T employees are embedded in government investigations so that they can more readily search through our phone records for the FBI, the DEA and others.
Each of these programs effectively allows the government to do to you what Pete Seeger refused to let them do to him—track your associations, beliefs and other private affairs without proper legal protections. And they can do this at scale that was unimaginable in 1955, thanks to the digital nature of our communications, the digital tools that allow them to search automatically rather than by hand and the fact that so much more about these private affairs is in the hands of third parties like our phone and internet companies.
While Seeger escaped jail, he was convicted of contempt for his failure to answer these questions. Thankfully Joseph McCarthy and the Un-American Activities Committees were later widely condemned, and Americans understandably look back sadly and with embarrassment on time when the Committee forced Americans to reveal their own associations, along with the associations and beliefs of others. With the passing of moral and artistic heroes like Seeger, we should redouble our efforts to make sure that our “private affairs” remain safe and the government’s ability to access them remains subject to careful controls.
Join us on February 11 for the day we fight back against mass surveillance.
Cindy Cohn is legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as well as its general counsel, coordinating over 40 national class action lawsuits against the telecommunications carriers and the government seeking to stop warrantless NSA surveillance
Tags: anti-racism, black list, chris talbott, civil rights movement, folk music, michael hill, Obituaries, peace movement, pete seeger, Pete Seeger Dead, Pete Seeger Died, Pete Seeger Folk Music, Pete Seeger Obituary, Pete-Seeger-Occupy-Wall-Street, political protest, protest music, video, we shall overcome, weavers
add a comment
NEW YORK (AP) — Buoyed by his characteristically soaring spirit, the surging crowd around him and a pair of canes, Pete Seeger walked through the streets of Manhattan leading an Occupy Movement protest in 2011.
Though he would later admit the attention embarrassed him, the moment brought back many feelings and memories as he instructed yet another generation of young people how to effect change through song and determination — as he had done over the last seven decades as a history-sifting singer and ever-so-gentle rabble-rouser.
“Be wary of great leaders,” he told The Associated Press two days after the march. “Hope that there are many, many small leaders.”
The banjo-picking troubadour who sang for migrant workers, college students and star-struck presidents in a career that introduced generations of Americans to their folk music heritage died Monday at the age of 94. Seeger’s grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, said his grandfather died peacefully in his sleep around 9:30 p.m. at New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he had been for six days. Family members were with him.
“He was chopping wood 10 days ago,” Cahill-Jackson recalled.
With his lanky frame, use-worn banjo and full white beard, Seeger was an iconic figure in folk music who outlived his peers. He performed with the great minstrel Woody Guthrie in his younger days and wrote or co-wrote “If I Had a Hammer,” ”Turn, Turn, Turn,” ”Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.” He lent his voice against Hitler and nuclear power. A cheerful warrior, he typically delivered his broadsides with an affable air and his fingers poised over the strings of his banjo.
In 2011, the canes kept Seeger from carrying his beloved instrument while he walked nearly 2 miles with hundreds of protesters swirling around him holding signs and guitars. With a simple gesture — extending his friendship — Seeger gave the protesters and even their opponents a moment of brotherhood the short-lived movement sorely needed.
When a policeman approached, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger said at the time he feared his grandfather would be hassled.
“He reached out and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you, thank you, this is beautiful,’” Rodriguez-Seeger said. “That really did it for me. The cops recognized what we were about. They wanted to help our march. They actually wanted to protect our march because they saw something beautiful. It’s very hard to be anti-something beautiful.”
That was a message Seeger spread his entire life.
With The Weavers, a quartet organized in 1948, Seeger helped set the stage for a national folk revival. The group — Seeger, Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman — churned out hit recordings of “Goodnight Irene,” ”Tzena, Tzena” and “On Top of Old Smokey.”
Seeger also was credited with popularizing “We Shall Overcome,” which he printed in his publication “People’s Song” in 1948. He later said his only contribution to the anthem of the civil rights movement was changing the second word from “will” to “shall,” which he said “opens up the mouth better.”
“Every kid who ever sat around a campfire singing an old song is indebted in some way to Pete Seeger,” Arlo Guthrie once said.
His musical career was always braided tightly with his political activism, in which he advocated for causes ranging from civil rights to the cleanup of his beloved Hudson River. Seeger said he left the Communist Party around 1950 and later renounced it. But the association dogged him for years.
He was kept off commercial television for more than a decade after tangling with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1955. Repeatedly pressed by the committee to reveal whether he had sung for Communists, Seeger responded sharply: “I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American.”
He was charged with contempt of Congress, but the sentence was overturned on appeal.
Seeger called the 1950s, years when he was denied broadcast exposure, the high point of his career. He was on the road touring college campuses, spreading the music he, Guthrie, Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and others had created or preserved.
“The most important job I did was go from college to college to college to college, one after the other, usually small ones,” he told The Associated Press in 2006. ” … And I showed the kids there’s a lot of great music in this country they never played on the radio.”
His scheduled return to commercial network television on the highly rated Smothers Brothers variety show in 1967 was hailed as a nail in the coffin of the blacklist. But CBS cut out his Vietnam protest song, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy,” and Seeger accused the network of censorship.
He finally got to sing it five months later in a stirring return appearance, although one station, in Detroit, cut the song’s last stanza: “Now every time I read the papers/That old feelin’ comes on/We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy/And the big fool says to push on.”
Seeger’s output included dozens of albums and single records for adults and children.
He appeared in the movies “To Hear My Banjo Play” in 1946 and “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon” in 1970. A reunion concert of the original Weavers in 1980 was filmed as a documentary titled “Wasn’t That a Time.”
By the 1990s, no longer a party member but still styling himself a communist with a small C, Seeger was heaped with national honors.
Official Washington sang along — the audience must sing was the rule at a Seeger concert — when it lionized him at the Kennedy Center in 1994. President Bill Clinton hailed him as “an inconvenient artist who dared to sing things as he saw them.”
Seeger was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as an early influence. Ten years later, Bruce Springsteen honored him with “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” a rollicking reinterpretation of songs sung by Seeger. While pleased with the album, Seeger said he wished it was “more serious.” A 2009 concert at Madison Square Garden to mark Seeger’s 90th birthday featured Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder and Emmylou Harris among the performers.
Seeger was a 2014 Grammy Awards nominee in the Best Spoken Word category, which Stephen Colbert won.
Seeger’s sometimes ambivalent relationship with rock was most famously on display when Dylan “went electric” at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival.
Witnesses say Seeger became furious backstage as the amped-up band played, though just how furious is debated. Seeger dismissed the legendary tale that he looked for an ax to cut Dylan’s sound cable, and said his objection was not to the type of music but only that the guitar mix was so loud you couldn’t hear Dylan’s words.
Seeger maintained his reedy 6-foot-2 frame into old age, though he wore a hearing aid and conceded that his voice was pretty much shot. He relied on his audiences to make up for his diminished voice, feeding his listeners the lines and letting them sing out.
“I can’t sing much,” he said. “I used to sing high and low. Now I have a growl somewhere in between.”
Nonetheless, in 1997 he won a Grammy for best traditional folk album, “Pete.”
Seeger was born in New York City on May 3, 1919, into an artistic family whose roots traced to religious dissenters of colonial America. His mother, Constance, played violin and taught; his father, Charles, a musicologist, was a consultant to the Resettlement Administration, which gave artists work during the Depression. His uncle Alan Seeger, the poet, wrote “I Have a Rendezvous With Death.”
Pete Seeger said he fell in love with folk music when he was 16, at a music festival in North Carolina in 1935. His half-brother, Mike Seeger, and half-sister, Peggy Seeger, also became noted performers.
He learned the five-string banjo, an instrument he rescued from obscurity and played the rest of his life in a long-necked version of his own design. On the skin of Seeger’s banjo was the phrase, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender” — a nod to his old pal Guthrie, who emblazoned his guitar with “This machine kills fascists.”
Dropping out of Harvard in 1938 after two years as a disillusioned sociology major, he hit the road, picking up folk tunes as he hitchhiked or hopped freights.
“The sociology professor said, ‘Don’t think that you can change the world. The only thing you can do is study it,’” Seeger said in October 2011.
In 1940, with Guthrie and others, he was part of the Almanac Singers and performed benefits for disaster relief and other causes.
He and Guthrie also toured migrant camps and union halls. He sang on overseas radio broadcasts for the Office of War Information early in World War II. In the Army, he spent 3½ years in Special Services, entertaining soldiers in the South Pacific, and made corporal.
He married Toshi Seeger on July 20, 1943. The couple built their cabin in Beacon after World War II and stayed on the high spot of land by the Hudson River for the rest of their lives together. The couple raised three children. Toshi Seeger died in July at age 91.
The Hudson River was a particular concern of Seeger’s. He took the sloop Clearwater, built by volunteers in 1969, up and down the Hudson, singing to raise money to clean the water and fight polluters.
He also offered his voice in opposition to racism and the death penalty. He got himself jailed for five days for blocking traffic in Albany in 1988 in support of Tawana Brawley, a black teenager whose claim of having been raped by white men was later discredited. He continued to take part in peace protests during the war in Iraq, and he continued to lend his name to causes.
“Can’t prove a damn thing, but I look upon myself as old grandpa,” Seeger told the AP in 2008 when asked to reflect on his legacy. “There’s not dozens of people now doing what I try to do, not hundreds, but literally thousands. … The idea of using music to try to get the world together is now all over the place.”
Associated Press writer John Rogers in Los Angeles and Mary Esch in Saratoga Springs in contributed to this report.
HAPPY (OUTRAGEOUS) HOLIDAYS December 24, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Alabama, Art, Literature and Culture, Humor, LGBT.
Tags: alabama, boys dance, christmas parade, dance, drag queens, happy holidays, lgbt, prancing elites, roger hollander
add a comment
ROGER’S NOTE: YOU MAY CONSIDER THIS MY HOLIDAY GREETINGS TO THE READERS OF MY BLOG.
AS I SAY EVERY YEAR: “MERRY MARXMAS, AND HALVAH HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
Stay Fabulous Alabama: Small Town Accidentally Hires Black Drag Queen Dance Troupe for Christmas Parade. Outrage, Hilarity and Great PR Ensue
Oh we love us some Prancing Elites, though alas the mostly white, conservative residents of Semmes, Ala. (population 2,000-ish) evidently didn’t after the local boys’ dance troupe – all-black, all-gay, all-sexy-Santa-dressed – danced their way through the annual Christmas parade, having been inadvertently invited to do so. Predictably, some spectators were “outraged and appalled.” More interestingly, for enduring the jeers and stares in Semmes, the Elites got a wave of support from social media, gigs for New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras, and a new Kickstarter campaign – “Society hates us, but the world loves us.” The biggest loser here: The Friends of Semmes have been removed as organizers of the Christmas parade.
“The team was created (because) boys aren’t allowed to audition for the dance teams in the school system in Mobile. In their eyes, morally it isn’t right. So, we created our own team. If the girls are doing it, why can’t the boys do it too?”
Signs of the Times December 20, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Economic Crisis, Housing/Homelessness, New York.
Tags: abby zimet, andres serrano, homeless, homelessness, new york city, poverty, roger hollander, veterans
add a comment
In the Bay Area, the homeless are suffering more than usual from a cold snap that has killed at least seven people. In New York, the homeless are suffering about as much as they always have, and they are everywhere. Seeking to tell their stories, artist Andres Serrano embarked on “Sign of the Times,” a project to buy 200 signs from homeless people at 20 bucks a shot to offer video testimony of their hard lives. When he asked, they always said yes, sometimes with a hug.
“I see every sign as a story. There are many stories out here that deserve to be heard.”
The Play’s the Thing December 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Criminal Justice, Education, Poverty, Race, Racism, Torture.
Tags: august wilson, chris hedges, education, incarceration, poverty, prison, prisoners, Race, racism, roger hollander, solitary confinement, theatre, torture
add a comment
Posted on Dec 15, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
|AP/Ted S. Warren|
|Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson in his Seattle neighborhood in 2003.|
By Chris Hedges
I began teaching a class of 28 prisoners at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey during the first week of September. My last class meeting was Friday. The course revolved around plays by August Wilson, James Baldwin, John Herbert, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Miguel Piñero, Amiri Baraka and other playwrights who examine and give expression to the realities of America’s black underclass as well as the prison culture. We also read Michelle Alexander’s important book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Each week the students were required to write dramatic scenes based on their experiences in and out of prison.
My class, although I did not know this when I began teaching, had the most literate and accomplished writers in the prison. And when I read the first batch of scenes it was immediately apparent that among these students was exceptional talent.
The class members had a keen eye for detail, had lived through the moral and physical struggles of prison life and had the ability to capture the patois of the urban poor and the prison underclass. They were able to portray in dramatic scenes and dialogue the horror of being locked in cages for years. And although the play they collectively wrote is fundamentally about sacrifice—the sacrifice of mothers for children, brothers for brothers, prisoners for prisoners—the title they chose was “Caged.” They made it clear that the traps that hold them are as present in impoverished urban communities as in prison.
The mass incarceration of primarily poor people of color, people who seldom have access to adequate legal defense and who are often kept behind bars for years for nonviolent crimes or for crimes they did not commit, is one of the most shameful mass injustices committed in the United States. The 28 men in my class have cumulatively spent 515 years in prison. Some of their sentences are utterly disproportionate to the crimes of which they are accused. Most are not even close to finishing their sentences or coming before a parole board, which rarely grants first-time applicants their liberty. Many of them are in for life. One of my students was arrested at the age of 14 for a crime that strong evidence suggests he did not commit. He will not be eligible for parole until he is 70. He never had a chance in court and because he cannot afford a private attorney he has no chance now of challenging the grotesque sentence handed to him as a child.
My stacks of 28 scenes written by the students each week, the paper bearing the musty, sour smell of the prison, rose into an ungainly pile. I laboriously shaped and edited the material. It grew, line by line, scene by scene, into a powerful and deeply moving dramatic vehicle. The voices and reality of those at the very bottom rung of our society—some of the 2.2 million people in prisons and jails across the country, those we as a society are permitted to demonize and hate, just as African-Americans were once demonized and hated during slavery and Jim Crow—began to flash across the pages like lightning strikes. There was more brilliance, literacy, passion, wisdom and integrity in that classroom than in any other classroom I have taught in, and I have taught at some of the most elite universities in the country. The mass incarceration of men and women like my students impoverishes not just them, their families and their communities, but the rest of us as well.
“The most valuable blacks are those in prison,” August Wilson once said, “those who have the warrior spirit, who had a sense of being African. They got for their women and children what they needed when all other avenues were closed to them.” He added: “The greatest spirit of resistance among blacks [is] found among those in prison.”
I increased the class meetings by one night a week. I read the scenes to my wife, Eunice Wong, who is a professional actor, and friends such as the cartoonist Joe Sacco and the theologian James Cone. Something unique, almost magical, was happening in the prison classroom—a place I could reach only after passing through two metal doors and a metal detector, subjecting myself to a pat-down by a guard, an X-ray inspection of my canvas bag of books and papers, getting my hand stamped and then checked under an ultraviolet light, and then passing through another metal door into a barred circular enclosure. In every visit I was made to stand in the enclosure for several minutes before being permitted by the guards to pass through a barred gate and then walk up blue metal stairs, through a gantlet of blue-uniformed prison guards, to my classroom.
The class, through the creation of the play, became an intense place of reflection, debate and self-discovery. Offhand comments, such as the one made by a student who has spent 22 years behind bars, that “just because your family doesn’t visit you doesn’t mean they don’t love you,” reflected the pain, loneliness and abandonment embedded in the lives of my students. There were moments that left the class unable to speak.
A student with 19 years behind bars read his half of a phone dialogue between himself and his mother. He was the product of rape and tells his mother that he sacrificed himself to keep his half brother—the only son his mother loves—out of prison. He read this passage in the presentation of the play in the prison chapel last Thursday to visitors who included Cornel West and James Cone.
Terrance: You don’t understand[,] Ma.
Terrance: You’re right. Never mind.
PauseTerrance: What you want me to say Ma?
Terrance: Ma, they were going to lock up Bruce. The chrome [the gun] was in the car. Everyone in the car would be charged with murder if no one copped to it …
Terrance: I didn’t kill anyone Ma… Oh yeah, I forgot, whenever someone says I did, I did it.
Terrance: I told ’em what they wanted to hear. That’s what niggas supposed to do in Newark. I told them what they wanted to hear to keep Bruce out of it. Did they tell you who got killed? Did they say it was my father?
Terrance: Then you should know I didn’t do it. If I ever went to jail for anything it would be killing him … and he ain’t dead yet. Rape done brought me into the world. Prison gonna take me out. An’ that’s the way it is Ma.
Terrance: Come on Ma, if Bruce went to jail you would’uv never forgiven me. Me, on the other hand, I wasn’t ever supposed to be here.
Terrance: I’m sorry Ma … I’m sorry. Don’t be cryin’. You got Bruce. You got him home. He’s your baby. Bye Ma. I call you later.
After our final reading of the play I discovered the student who wrote this passage sobbing in the bathroom, convulsed with grief.
In the play when a young prisoner contemplates killing another prisoner he is given advice on how to survive prolonged isolation in the management control unit (solitary confinement, known as MCU) by an older prisoner who has spent 30 years in prison under a sentence of double life. There are 80,000 U.S. prisoners held in solitary confinement, which human rights organizations such as Amnesty International define as a form of torture. In this scene the older man tells the young inmate what to expect from the COs, or correction officers.
Ojore (speaking slowly and softly): When they come and get you, ’cause they are gonna get you, have your hands out in front of you with your palms showing. You want them to see you have no weapons. Don’t make no sudden moves. Put your hands behind your head. Drop to your knees as soon as they begin barking out commands.
Omar: My knees?
Ojore: This ain’t a debate. I’m telling you how to survive the hell you ’bout to endure. When you get to the hole you ain’t gonna be allowed to have nothing but what they give you. If you really piss them off you get a ‘dry cell’ where the sink and the toilet are turned on and off from outside. You gonna be isolated. No contact. No communication.
Ojore: ’Cause they don’t want you sendin’ messages to nobody before dey question some of da brothers on the wing. IA [internal affairs officers] gonna come and see you. They gonna want a statement. If you don’t talk they gonna try and break you. They gonna open the windows and let the cold in. They gonna take ya sheets and blankets away. They gonna mess with ya food so you can’t eat it. An’ don’t eat no food that come in trays from the Vroom Building. Nuts in Vroom be spittin’, pissin’ and shittin’ in the trays. Now, the COs gonna wake you up every hour on the hour so you can’t sleep. They gonna put a bright-ass spotlight in front of ya cell and keep it on day and night. They gonna harass you wit’ all kinds of threats to get you to cooperate. They will send in the turtles in their shin guards, gloves, shank-proof vests, forearm guards and helmets with plexiglass shields on every shift to give you beat-downs.
Omar: How long this gonna go on?
Ojore: Til they break you. Or til they don’t. Three days. Three weeks. You don’t break, it go on like this for a long time. An’ if you don’t think you can take it, then don’t start puttin’ yerself through this hell. Just tell ’em what they wanna know from the door. You gonna be in MCU for the next two or three years. You’ll get indicted for murder. You lookin’ at a life bid. An’ remember MCU ain’t jus’ ’bout isolation. It’s ’bout keeping you off balance. The COs, dressed up in riot gear, wake you up at 1 a.m., force you to strip and make you grab all your things and move you to another cell just to harass you. They bring in dogs trained to go for your balls. You spend 24 hours alone one day in your cell and 22 the next. They put you in the MCU and wait for you to self-destruct. An’ it works. Men self-mutilate. Men get paranoid. Men have panic attacks. They start hearing voices. They talk crazy to themselves. I seen one prisoner swallow a pack of AA batteries. I seen a man shove a pencil up his dick. I seen men toss human shit around like it was a ball game. I seen men eat their own shit and rub it all over themselves like it was some kinda body lotion. Then, when you really get out of control, when you go really crazy, they got all their torture instruments ready—four- and five-point restraints, restraint hoods, restraint belts, restraint beds, stun grenades, stun guns, stun belts, spit hoods, tethers, and waist and leg chains. But the physical stuff ain’t the worst. The worst is the psychological, the humiliation, sleep deprivation, sensory disorientation, extreme light or dark, extreme cold or heat and the long weeks and months of solitary. If you don’t have a strong sense of purpose you don’t survive. They want to defeat you mentally. An’ I seen a lot of men defeated.
The various drafts of the play, made up of scenes and dialogue contributed by everyone in the class, brought to the surface the suppressed emotions and pain that the students bear with profound dignity. A prisoner who has been incarcerated for 22 years related a conversation with his wife during her final visit in 1997. Earlier his 6-year-old son had innocently revealed that the woman was seeing another man. “I am aware of what kind of time I got,” he tells his wife. “I told you when I got found guilty to move on with your life, because I knew what kind of time I was facing, but you chose to stick around. The reason I told you to move on with your life was because I didn’t want to be selfish. So look, man, do what the fuck you are going to do, just don’t keep my son from me. That’s all I ask.” He never saw his child again. When he handed me the account he said he was emotionally unable to read it out loud.
Those with life sentences wrote about dying in prison. The prisoners are painfully aware that some of them will end their lives in the medical wing without family, friends or even former cellmates. One prisoner, who wrote about how men in prolonged isolation adopt prison mice as pets, naming them, carefully bathing them, talking to them and keeping them on string leashes, worked in the prison infirmary. He said that as some prisoners were dying they would ask him to hold their hand. Often no one comes to collect the bodies. Often, family members and relatives are dead or long estranged. The corpses are taken by the guards and dumped in unmarked graves.
A discussion of Wilson’s play “Fences” became an exploration of damaged manhood and how patterns of abuse are passed down from father to son. “I spent my whole life trying not to be my father,” a prisoner who has been locked up for 23 years said. “And when I got to Trenton I was put in his old cell.”
The night we spoke about the brilliant play “Dutchman,” by LeRoi Jones, now known as Amira Baraka, the class grappled with whites’ deeply embedded stereotypes and latent fear of black men. I had also passed out copies of Robert Crumb’s savage cartoon strip “When the Niggers Take Over America!,” which portrays whites’ fear of black males—as well as the legitimate black rage that is rarely understood by white society.
The students wanted to be true to the violence and brutality of the streets and prison—places where one does not usually have the luxury of being nonviolent—yet affirm themselves as dignified and sensitive human beings. They did not want to paint everyone in the prison as innocents. But they know that transformation and redemption are real.
There are many Muslims in the prison. They have a cohesive community, sense of discipline and knowledge of their own history, which is the history of the long repression and subjugation of African-Americans. Most Muslims are very careful about their language in prison and do not curse, meaning I had to be careful when I assigned parts to the class.
There is a deep reverence in the prison for Malcolm X. When the class spoke of him one could almost feel Malcolm’s presence. Malcolm articulated, in a way Martin Luther King Jr. did not, the harsh reality of poor African-Americans trapped in the internal colonies of the urban North.
The class wanted the central oracle of the play to be an observant Muslim. Faith, when you live in the totalitarian world of the prison, is important. The conclusion of the play was the result of an intense and heated discussion about the efficacy and nature of violence and forgiveness. But by the end of a nearly hourlong discussion the class had unanimously signed off on the final scene, which I do not want to reveal here because I hope that one day it will be available to be seen or read. It was the core message the prisoners wanted most to leave with outsiders, who often view them as less than human.
The play has a visceral, raw anger and undeniable truth that only the lost and the damned can articulate. The students wrote a dedication that read: “We have been buried alive behind these walls for years, often decades. Most of the outside world has abandoned us. But a few friends and family have never forgotten that we are human beings and worthy of life. It is to them, our saints, that we dedicate this play.” And they said that if the play was ever produced, and if anyone ever bought tickets, they wanted all the money that might be earned to go to funding the educational program at the prison. This was a decision by men who make, at most, a dollar a day at prison jobs.
We read the Wilson play “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” The character Bynum Walker, a conjurer, tells shattered African-Americans emerging from the nightmare of slavery that they each have a song but they must seek it out. Once they find their song they will find their unity as a people, their inner freedom and their identity. The search for one’s song in Wilson’s play functions like prayer. It gives each person a purpose, strength and hope. It allows a person, even one who has been bitterly oppressed, to speak his or her truth defiantly to the world. Our song affirms us, even if we are dejected and despised, as human beings.
Prisoners are given very little time by the guards to line up in the corridor outside the classroom when the prison bell signals the end of class. If they lag behind they can get a “charge” from the guards that can restrict their already very limited privileges and freedom of movement. For this reason, my classroom emptied quickly Friday night. I was left alone in the empty space, my eyes damp, my hands trembling as I clutched their manuscript. They had all signed it for me. I made the long and lonely walk down the prison corridors, through the four metal security doors, past the security desk to the dark, frozen parking lot. I looked back, past the coils of razor wire that topped the chain-link fencing, at the shadowy bulk of the prison. I have their song. I will make it heard. I do not know what it takes to fund and mount a theater production. I intend to learn.
Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s Prison Letters to Slavoj Žižek November 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Revolution, Russia.
Tags: anti-capitalism, capitalism, democracy, freedom, nadezhda tolokonnikova, performance art, pussy riot, putin, revolution, roger hollander, slavoj zizek
add a comment
Roger’s note: I hope you find this correspondence as fascinating as I did. The left/progressive blogosphere these days is publishing more anti-capitalism analyses than ever. I am a life-long Marxist Humanist, so the notion of capitalism is something I have been thinking about for years (decades, actually). What I find troubling is that very few writers either attempt or demonstrate a precise understanding of exactly what capitalism is. Capitalism is not simply an ideology, although there are more than enough capitalist ideologues; and capitalism is not primarily about so-called free markets, nor is state ownership anything less than pure genuine capitalism (prime example: China). To understand what a genuine transformation of society will be, it is important to have a historical understanding of how capitalist economic relations developed. More important is the need to understand exactly what capitalist economic relationships ARE, and that has to do with the basic structure under which goods and services are PRODUCED (again, not marketed). Karl Marx discovered an entire new continent of thought that takes us into the heart of notions of human freedom and exploitation via capitalist economic relations. Much too complex for me to go into here; I just want to point out that being anti-capitalist is necessary but not sufficient. The dialogue below is a good example of revolutionary activist thinking, striving to understand in order to transform.
Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is currently in a prison hospital in Siberia; here she and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek meet in an extraordinary exchange of letters
2 January 2013
I hope you have been able to organise your life in prison around small rituals that make it tolerable, and that you have time to read. Here are my thoughts on your predicament.
John Jay Chapman, an American political essayist, wrote this about radicals in 1900: “They are really always saying the same thing. They don’t change; everybody else changes. They are accused of the most incompatible crimes, of egoism and a mania for power, indifference to the fate of their cause, fanaticism, triviality, lack of humour, buffoonery and irreverence. But they sound a certain note. Hence the great practical power of persistent radicals. To all appearance, nobody follows them, yet everyone believes them. They hold a tuning-fork and sound A, and everybody knows it really is A, though the time-honoured pitch is G flat.” Isn’t this a good description of the effect of Pussy Riot performances? In spite of all accusations, you sound a certain note. It may appear that people do not follow you, but secretly, they believe you, they know you are telling the truth, or, even more, you are standing for truth.
But what is this truth? Why are the reactions to Pussy Riot performances so violent, not only in Russia? All hearts were beating for you as long as you were perceived as just another version of the liberal-democratic protest against the authoritarian state. The moment it became clear that you rejected global capitalism, reporting on Pussy Riot became much more ambiguous. What is so disturbing about Pussy Riot to the liberal gaze is that you make visible the hidden continuity between Stalinism and contemporary global capitalism.
[Žižek then explores what he sees as a global trend towards limiting democracy.] Since the 2008 crisis, this distrust of democracy, once limited to third-world or post-Communist developing economies, is gaining ground in western countries. But what if this distrust is justified? What if only experts can save us?
But the crisis provided proof that it is these experts who don’t know what they are doing, rather than the people. In western Europe, we are seeing that the ruling elite know less and less how to rule. Look at how Europe is dealing with Greece.
No wonder, then, that Pussy Riot make us all uneasy – you know very well what you don’t know, and you don’t pretend to have any quick or easy answers, but you are telling us that those in power don’t know either. Your message is that in Europe today the blind are leading the blind. This is why it is so important that you persist. In the same way that Hegel, after seeing Napoleon riding through Jena, wrote that it was as if he saw the World Spirit riding on a horse, you are nothing less than the critical awareness of us all, sitting in prison.
Comradely greetings, Slavoj
23 February 2013
Once, in the autumn of 2012, when I was still in the pre-trial prison in Moscow with other Pussy Riot activists, I visited you. In a dream, of course.
I see your argument about horses, the World Spirit, and about tomfoolery and disrespect, as well as why and how all these elements are so connected to each other.
Pussy Riot did turn out be a part of this force, the purpose of which is criticism, creativity and co-creation, experimentation and constantly provocative events. Borrowing Nietzsche’s definition, we are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority.
We are a part of this force that has no final answers or absolute truths, for our mission is to question. There are architects of apollonian statics and there are (punk) singers of dynamics and transformation. One is not better than the other. But it is only together that we can ensure the world functions in the way Heraclitus defined it: “This world has been and will eternally be living on the rhythm of fire, inflaming according to the measure, and dying away according to the measure. This is the functioning of the eternal world breath.”
We are the rebels asking for the storm, and believing that truth is only to be found in an endless search. If the “World Spirit” touches you, do not expect that it will be painless.
Laurie Anderson sang: “Only an expert can deal with the problem.” It would have been nice if Laurie and I could cut these experts down to size and take care of our own problems. Because expert status by no means grants access to the kingdom of absolute truth.
Two years of prison for Pussy Riot is our tribute to a destiny that gave us sharp ears, allowing us to sound the note A when everyone else is used to hearing G flat.
At the right moment, there will always come a miracle in the lives of those who childishly believe in the triumph of truth over lies, of mutual assistance, of those who live according to the economics of the gift.
4 April 2013
I was so pleasantly surprised when your letter arrived – the delay made me fear that the authorities would prevent our communication. I was deeply honoured, flattered even, by my appearance in your dream.
You are right to question the idea that the “experts” close to power are competent to make decisions. Experts are, by definition, servants of those in power: they don’t really think, they just apply their knowledge to the problems defined by those in power (how to bring back stability? how to squash protests?). So are today’s capitalists, the so-called financial wizards, really experts? Are they not just stupid babies playing with our money and our fate? I remember a cruel joke from Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not to Be. When asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, the Nazi officer snaps back: “We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.” Does the same not hold for the Enron bankruptcy in 2002? The thousands of employees who lost their jobs were certainly exposed to risk, but with no true choice – for them the risk was like blind fate. But those who did have insight into the risks, and the ability to intervene (the top managers), minimised their risks by cashing in their stocks before the bankruptcy. So it is true that we live in a society of risky choices, but some people (the managers) do the choosing, while others (the common people) do the risking.
For me, the true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very co-ordinates of social reality so that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying, “apollonian statics”. And, even more crucially, how does today’s global capitalism enter this scheme?
The Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi tells how capitalism has already overcome the logic of totalising normality and adopted the logic of erratic excess: “The more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normality starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen. This loosening is part of capitalism’s dynamic.”
But I feel guilty writing this: who am I to explode in such narcissistic theoretical outbursts when you are exposed to very real deprivations? So please, if you can and want, do let me know about your situation in prison: about your daily rhythm, about the little private rituals that make it easier to survive, about how much time you have to read and write, about how other prisoners and guards treat you, about your contact with your child … true heroism resides in these seemingly small ways of organising one’s life in order to survive in crazy times without losing dignity.
With love, respect and admiration, my thoughts are with you!
16 April 2013
Has modern capitalism really overtaken the logic of totalising norms? Or is it willing to make us believe that it has overpassed the logic of hierarchical structures and normalisation?
As a child I wanted to go into advertising. I had a love affair with the advertising industry. And this is why I am in a position to judge its merits. The anti-hierarchical structures and rhizomes of late capitalism are its successful ad campaign. Modern capitalism has to manifest itself as flexible and even eccentric. Everything is geared towards gripping the emotion of the consumer. Modern capitalism seeks to assure us that it operates according to the principles of free creativity, endless development and diversity. It glosses over its other side in order to hide the reality that millions of people are enslaved by an all-powerful and fantastically stable norm of production. We want to reveal this lie.
You should not worry that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the “real hardship”. I value the strict limits, and the challenge. I am genuinely curious: how will I cope with this? And how can I turn this into a productive experience for me and my comrades? I find sources of inspiration; it contributes to my own development. Not because of, but in spite of the system. And in my struggle, your thoughts, ideas and stories are helpful to me.
I am happy to correspond with you. I await your reply and I wish you good luck in our common cause.
10 June 2013
I felt deeply ashamed after reading your reply. You wrote: “You should not worry about the fact that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the ‘real hardship’.” This simple sentence made me aware that the final sentiment in my last letter was false: my expression of sympathy with your plight basically meant, “I have the privilege of doing real theory and teaching you about it while you are good for reporting on your experience of hardship …” Your last letter demonstrates that you are much more than that, that you are an equal partner in a theoretical dialogue. So my sincere apologies for this proof of how deeply entrenched is male chauvinism, especially when it is masked as sympathy for the other’s suffering, and let me go on with our dialogue.
It is the crazy dynamics of global capitalism that make effective resistance to it so difficult and frustrating. Recall the great wave of protests that spilled all over Europe in 2011, from Greece and Spain to London and Paris. Even if there was no consistent political platform mobilising the protesters, the protests functioned as part of a large-scale educational process: the protesters’ misery and discontent were transformed into a great collective act of mobilisation – hundreds of thousands gathered in public squares, proclaiming that they had enough, that things could not go on like that. However, what these protests add up to is a purely negative gesture of angry rejection and an equally abstract demand for justice, lacking the ability to translate this demand into a concrete political programme.
What can be done in such a situation, where demonstrations and protests are of no use, where democratic elections are of no use? Can we convince the tired and manipulated crowds that we are not only ready to undermine the existing order, to engage in provocative acts of resistance, but also to offer the prospect of a new order?
The Pussy Riot performances cannot be reduced just to subversive provocations. Beneath the dynamics of their acts, there is the inner stability of a firm ethico-political attitude. In some deeper sense, it is today’s society that is caught in a crazy capitalist dynamic with no inner sense and measure, and it is Pussy Riot that de facto provides a stable ethico-political point. The very existence of Pussy Riot tells thousands that opportunist cynicism is not the only option, that we are not totally disoriented, that there still is a common cause worth fighting for.
So I also wish you good luck in our common cause. To be faithful to our common cause means to be brave, especially now, and, as the old saying goes, luck is on the side of the brave!
13 July 2013
In my last letter, written in haste as I worked in the sewing shop, I was not as clear as I should have been about the distinction between how “global capitalism” functions in Europe and the US on the one hand, and in Russia on the other. However, recent events in Russia – the trial of Alexei Navalny, the passing of unconstitutional, anti-freedom laws – have infuriated me. I feel compelled to speak about the specific political and economic practices of my country. The last time I felt this angry was in 2011 when Putin declared he was running for the presidency for a third time. My anger and resolve led to the birth of Pussy Riot. What will happen now? Time will tell.
Here in Russia I have a strong sense of the cynicism of so-called first-world countries towards poorer nations. In my humble opinion, “developed” countries display an exaggerated loyalty towards governments that oppress their citizens and violate their rights. The European and US governments freely collaborate with Russia as it imposes laws from the middle ages and throws opposition politicians in jail. They collaborate with China, where oppression is so bad that my hair stands on end just to think about it. What are the limits of tolerance? And when does tolerance become collaboration, conformism and complicity?
To think, cynically, “let them do what they want in their own country”, doesn’t work any longer, because Russia and China and countries like them are now part of the global capitalist system.
Russia under Putin, with its dependence on raw materials, would have been massively weakened if those nations that import Russian oil and gas had shown the courage of their convictions and stopped buying. Even if Europe were to take as modest a step as passing a “Magnitsky law” [the Magnitsky Act in the US allows it to place sanctions on Russian officials believed to have taken part in human-rights violations], morally it would speak volumes. A boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 would be another ethical gesture. But the continued trade in raw materials constitutes a tacit approval of the Russian regime – not through words, but through money. It betrays the desire to protect the political and economic status quo and the division of labour that lies at the heart of the world economic system.
You quote Marx: “A social system that seizes up and rusts … cannot survive.” But here I am, working out my prison sentence in a country where the 10 people who control the biggest sectors of the economy are Vladimir Putin’s oldest friends. He studied or played sports with some, and served in the KGB with others. Isn’t this a social system that has seized up? Isn’t this a feudal system?
I thank you sincerely, Slavoj, for our correspondence and can hardly wait for your reply.
• The correspondence was organised by Philosophie magazine in cooperation with New Times. Longer versions can be found in German at philomag.de or in French at philomag.com. Tolokonnikova’s letters were translated from Russian by Galia Ackerman
Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven: We’re Grateful But Holy Cow September 26, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Canada.
Tags: abby, anarchism, Canada, canada music, canadian music, godspped you!black emperor, montreal music, music, polaris music, polaris prize, protest music, quebec music, roger hollander
add a comment
Intriguing news from Canada’s music scene, where Montreal’s anarchist, anti-war, anti-capitalist collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor has won this year’s prestigious Polaris Music Prize for their album Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, released after a ten-year hiatus when they decided they couldn’t take part in “this horrid music-business mess” while the Iraq War and “greater class injustices” were ongoing. In their music and (rare) interviews, they regularly cite “the terminally disenfranchised” and “the demeaning outcomes of debauched governance: random traffic stops, collapsing infrastructure, corrupt bureaucrats and milk-fed police with their petty intrusions”; they also use radical cover art that, for example, draws the connections between music companies and arms manufacturers.
The band accepted the prize from their “Troubled Motherland” with a singularly charming, grateful, conflicted, outraged “HOLY SHIT AND HOLY COW” statement suggesting that holding a corporate-sponsored gala during a time of “normalized decline…doesn’t serve the cause of righteous music at all,” and that “asking the toyota motor company to help cover the tab during a summer where the melting northern ice caps are live-streaming on the internet is fucking insane,” which is one reason they plan to use the prize money to buy instruments for prisoners in Quebec. Great stuff.
“All music is political, right? You either make music that pleases the king and his court, or you make music for the serfs outside the walls. It’s what music (and culture) is for, right?…We started making this noise together when we were young and broke. Whatever politics we had were born out of living through a time when the dominant narrative was that everything was fine. Clearly this was a lie. But Clinton was president, the Berlin Wall was down, our economies were booming, and the internet was a shiny new thing that was going to liberate us all. The gatekeepers gazed upon their kingdom and declared that it was good. Meanwhile so many of us were locked out, staring at all that gold from the outside in.”
A FEW WORDS REGARDING THIS POLARIS PRIZE THING
hello kanadian music-writers.
thanks for the nomination thanks for the prize- it feels nice to be acknowledged by the Troubled Motherland when we so often feel orphaned here. and much respect for all y’all who write about local bands, who blow that horn loudly- because that trumpeting is crucial and necessary and important.
and much respect to the freelancers especially, because freelancing is a hard fucking gig, and almost all of us are freelancers now, right? falling and scrambling and hustling through these difficult times?
so yes, we are grateful, and yes we are humble and we are shy to complain when we’ve been acknowledged thusly- BUT HOLY SHIT AND HOLY COW- we’ve been plowing our field on the margins of weird culture for almost 20 years now, and “this scene is pretty cool but what it really fucking needs is an awards show” is not a thought that’s ever crossed our minds.
3 quick bullet-points that almost anybody could agree on maybe=
-holding a gala during a time of austerity and normalized decline is a weird thing to do.
-organizing a gala just so musicians can compete against each other for a novelty-sized cheque doesn’t serve the cause of righteous music at all.
-asking the toyota motor company to help cover the tab for that gala, during a summer where the melting northern ice caps are live-streaming on the internet, IS FUCKING INSANE, and comes across as tone-deaf to the current horrifying malaise.
these are hard times for everybody. and musicians’ blues are pretty low on the list of things in need of urgent correction BUT AND BUT if the point of this prize and party is acknowledging music-labor performed in the name of something other than quick money, well then maybe the next celebration should happen in a cruddier hall, without the corporate banners and culture overlords. and maybe a party thusly is long overdue- it would be truly nice to enjoy that hang, somewhere sometime where the point wasn’t just lazy money patting itself on the back.
give the money to the kids let ‘em put on their own goddamn parties, give the money to the olds and let them try to write opuses in spite of, but let the muchmusic videostars fight it out in the inconsequential middle, without gov’t. culture-money in their pockets.
us we’re gonna use the money to try to set up a program so that prisoners in quebec have musical instruments if they need them…
amen and amen.
apologies for being such bores,
we love you so much / our country is fucked,
godspeed you! black emperor
Banning Books On the Truth of the Human Condition ‘Cause (Eww) Sex, Death and Racism September 23, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, Education, North Carolina, Racism.
Tags: abby zimet, banned books, censorship, education, first amendment, invisible man, north carolina, racism, ralph ellison, roger hollander
1 comment so far
Last week, good ole North Carolina, whose wacko right-wing majority has been some busy passing laws that hurt women, minorities, the poor and the environment, got a nice jump on National Banned Books Week by banning of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which Ellison described in his speech accepting the National Book Award as “a return to the mood of personal moral responsibility for democracy.” Ellison’s classic about American racism, about being “a man of substance, of flesh and bone,” who is not seen because he’s black, was evidently banned after one parent complained it was “not so innocent…filthier….too much for teenagers”; school board members agreed it was “a hard read” that “didn’t (have) any literary value.” Banning books is a time-tested, spirit-deadening tradition in fearful communities; there were 464 challenges to books reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, with The Bluest Eye and Persopolis perhaps the most recently banned. In the past, almost half of what are widely viewed as the top 100 novels of the 20th century have been banned or challenged, including The Grapes of Wrath, The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple, 1984, Ulysses, Sophie’s Choice, Rabbit Run, Slaughterhouse-Five, A Farewell to Arms, and An American Tragedy, which it is.
“I am an invisible man…No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”
Tags: 9/11, almudena bernabeu, amy goodman, Canada, canadian government, Chile, chile coup, chile dictatorship, chilean military, chilean refugees, david heap, Democracy Now, derrick o'keefe, history, joan jara, Latin America, Pedro Barrientos, pinochet, roger hollander, salador allende, torture, U.S. imperialism, victor jara
add a comment
Last night, Barack Obama spoke in defence of his threats to launch U.S. air strikes against Syria. In justifying his push for an attack illegal under international law, the constitutional lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner appealed explicitly to American exceptionalism. Obama also prefaced his case for bombing Syria with a stunningly ahistorical assertion of American benevolence:
“My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world’s a better place because we have borne them.”
Imagine how this nonsense sounds to Chileans, who are today marking the 40th anniversary of the U.S.-backed coup in Chile against the democratically elected government led by Salvador Allende. More than 3,000 were killed in Chile; tens of thousands were jailed, tortured and exiled.
Chile bore the heavy burden of all those who have shown leadership in fighting for a better world. For over seven decades — was Obama’s metaphorical anchor of global security the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945? — any people combining too much democracy and some measure of national development or socialism that threatens U.S. interests has been met with blood and suffering imposed by that enforcer of global capitalism, the U.S. Empire.
I’ve learned a lot about Chile’s tragedy through my wife and her family. She was born in a refugee camp in Buenos Aires, and came to Canada as a baby after activists in this country agitated and successfully pressured the Liberal government of the day to admit Chileans fleeing the coup (for more on this history, read David Heap’s piece.) Both of her parents were social activists and part of the resistance. So I have some knowledge of the almost unimaginable human toll of the coup.
However, on this anniversary, I don’t want to just repeat a denunciation of the U.S. and the neoliberal economists and their generals who plunged Chile into darkness. I’d rather think about the light that has emerged over the past decades from Latin America, against all odds.
Henry Kissinger et al carried out the coup in Chile because they couldn’t countenance the union of socialism and democracy. An elected Marxist president just could not be tolerated. Allende was a strict constitutionalist and democrat. The coup was a bloody reminder that the ruling classes will never fight fair. They killed thousands in a vengeful attempt to forever separate socialism and democracy. But you cannot kill an idea. Forty years later, they have failed. Socialism and democracy have been reunited. That’s why we can say today: Allende vive. Allende lives.
Allende lives in the governments of countries like Bolivia and Venezuela; Allende lives in the vibrant social movements all across Latin America; Allende lives in ALBA, a regional integration and mutual benefit alliance the likes of which could barely have been fathomed in the 1970s; Allende lives in the steadfast refusal of Latin America to accept U.S. isolation and demonization of Cuba. In fact, it’s the U.S. and Canada who are isolated in Latin America these days, notwithstanding recent coup d’etats in a couple of ALBA’s weaker links, Paraguay and Honduras. And Allende lives in the massive student movement in Chile, which has challenged Pinochet’s legacy of privatization and nudged the whole political spectrum in that country to the left.
Latin America today is the only part of the world where the political left has made concrete gains and broken the stranglehold of neoliberalism. It’s the only part of the world where the left can consistently run in elections as the left — and win.
Today’s resurgent left in Latin America poses a real challenge to timid mainstream social democracy in North America and Europe, not to mention to the small constellation of sects clinging to the certainties of 1917 and other similarly dogmatic or scholastic leftists.
On this 40th anniversary of the coup in Chile, progressives would do well to recommit to learning about and defending the myriad left movements and elected governments of Latin America.
So don’t remember Allende just as a martyr. His descendents have learned from his terrible fate, as Greg Grandin outlined in his London Review of Books article, ‘Don’t do what Allende did.’ The headline refers to reported instructions from Fidel Castro to Hugo Chavez during the hours after the (thankfully failed) coup against Venezuela’s elected leader in 2002.
Emir Sader, the Brazilian left scholar and activist, has summed up the new generation’s political project in his essential book, The New Mole, which looks at the trajectories of today’s Latin American left. Sader explains that, having learned from the Allende government’s failure to “prepare to confront the right’s offensive with strategies for an alternative power,
…processes like those in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador — at the same time as they try to implement an anti-neoliberal economic model — seek to combine this with a refounding of the state and the public sphere… it is still a process of reforms, but one that leads towards a substantial transformation of the relations of power that underpin the neoliberal state.”
It’s an enormous and worthy undertaking. We should learn from Latin America and we should join them. That’s the best way to honour the legacy of the Chileans who fell forty years ago to the enforcers of global capitalism.
After Guantánamo, Another Injustice August 12, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Torture.
Tags: Afghanistan War, forced feeding, Guantanamo, Guantanamo detainees, hunger strike, ionnocence project, john grisham, nabil hadjarab, obama torture, roger hollander, torture
add a comment
Roger’s note: I am an unrepentant Grisham addict. In addition to being a page-turning novelist, he writes about and combats injustice.
By JOHN GRISHAM
Published: August 10, 2013 250 Comments
ABOUT two months ago I learned that some of my books had been banned at Guantánamo Bay. Apparently detainees were requesting them, and their lawyers were delivering them to the prison, but they were not being allowed in because of “impermissible content.”
I became curious and tracked down a detainee who enjoys my books. His name is Nabil Hadjarab, and he is a 34-year-old Algerian who grew up in France. He learned to speak French before he learned to speak Arabic. He has close family and friends in France, but not in Algeria. As a kid growing up near Lyon, he was a gifted soccer player and dreamed of playing for Paris St.-Germain, or another top French club.
Tragically for Nabil, he has spent the past 11 years as a prisoner at Guantánamo, much of the time in solitary confinement. Starting in February, he participated in a hunger strike, which led to his being force-fed.
For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behavior, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2001. Following the United States invasion, word spread among the Arab communities that the Afghan Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing foreign Arabs. Nabil and many others headed for Pakistan in a desperate effort to escape the danger. En route, he said, he was wounded in a bombing raid and woke up in a hospital in Jalalabad.
At that time, the United States was throwing money at anyone who could deliver an out-of-town Arab found in the region. Nabil was sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul. There he experienced torture for the first time. To house the prisoners of its war on terror, the United States military put up a makeshift prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram would quickly become notorious, and make Guantánamo look like a church camp. When Nabil arrived there in January 2002, as one of the first prisoners, there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar, where the abuse continued.
Throughout his incarceration in Afghanistan, Nabil strenuously denied any connection to Al Qaeda, the Taliban or anyone or any organization remotely linked to the 9/11 attacks. And the Americans had no proof of his involvement, save for bogus claims implicating him from other prisoners extracted in a Kabul torture chamber. Several United States interrogators told him his was a case of mistaken identity. Nonetheless, the United States had adopted strict rules for Arabs in custody — all were to be sent to Guantánamo. On Feb. 15, 2002, Nabil was flown to Cuba; shackled, bound and hooded.
Since then, Nabil has been subjected to all the horrors of the Gitmo handbook: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, temperature extremes, prolonged isolation, lack of access to sunlight, almost no recreation and limited medical care. In 11 years, he has never been permitted a visit from a family member. For reasons known only to the men who run the prison, Nabil has never been waterboarded. His lawyer believes this is because he knows nothing and has nothing to give.
The United States government says otherwise. In documents, military prosecutors say that Nabil was staying at a guesthouse run by people with ties to Al Qaeda and that he was named by others as someone affiliated with terrorists. But Nabil has never been charged with a crime. Indeed, on two occasions he has been cleared for a “transfer,” or release. In 2007, a review board established by President George W. Bush recommended his release. Nothing happened. In 2009, another review board established by President Obama recommended his transfer. Nothing happened.
According to his guards, Nabil is a model prisoner. He keeps his head down and avoids trouble. He has perfected his English and insists on speaking the language with his British lawyers. He writes in flawless English. As much as possible, under rather dire circumstances, he has fought to preserve his physical health and mental stability.
In the past seven years, I have met a number of innocent men who were sent to death row, as part of my work with the Innocence Project, which works to free wrongly convicted people. Without exception they have told me that the harshness of isolated confinement is brutal for a coldblooded murderer who freely admits to his crimes. For an innocent man, though, death row will shove him dangerously close to insanity. You reach a point where it feels impossible to survive another day.
DEPRESSED and driven to the point of desperation, Nabil joined a hunger strike in February. This was not Gitmo’s first hunger strike, but it has attracted the most attention. As it gained momentum, and as Nabil and his fellow prisoners got sicker, the Obama administration was backed into a corner. The president has taken justified heat as his bold and eloquent campaign promises to close Gitmo have been forgotten. Suddenly, he was faced with the gruesome prospect of prisoners dropping like flies as they starved themselves to death while the world watched. Instead of releasing Nabil and the other prisoners who have been classified as no threat to the United States, the administration decided to prevent suicides by force-feeding the strikers.
Nabil has not been the only “mistake” in our war on terror. Hundreds of other Arabs have been sent to Gitmo, chewed up by the system there, never charged and eventually transferred back to their home countries. (These transfers are carried out as secretly and as quietly as possible.) There have been no apologies, no official statements of regret, no compensation, nothing of the sort. The United States was dead wrong, but no one can admit it.
In Nabil’s case, the United States military and intelligence agents relied on corrupt informants who were raking in American cash, or even worse, jailhouse snitches who swapped false stories for candy bars, porn and sometimes just a break from their own beatings.
Last week, the Obama administration announced that it was transferring some more Arab prisoners back to Algeria. It is likely that Nabil will be one of them, and if that happens another tragic mistake will be made. His nightmare will only continue. He will be homeless. He will have no support to reintegrate him into a society where many will be hostile to a former Gitmo detainee, either on the assumption that he is an extremist or because he refuses to join the extremist opposition to the Algerian government. Instead of showing some guts and admitting they were wrong, the American authorities will whisk him away, dump him on the streets of Algiers and wash their hands.
What should they do? Or what should we do?
First, admit the mistake and make the apology. Second, provide compensation. United States taxpayers have spent $2 million a year for 11 years to keep Nabil at Gitmo; give the guy a few thousand bucks to get on his feet. Third, pressure the French to allow his re-entry.
This sounds simple, but it will never happen.