The Civil Rights Act is 50 years old. These two pictures were taken 50 years apart. Behold our progress.
Civil Rights: Then and Today August 14, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Police, Race.
Tags: Civil Rights, civil rights movement, history, police, police brutality, Race, racism, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: A thousand words.
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
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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
Medals to Birmingham’s 4 Little Girls, Sleazy Billionaires to the Cabinet: Brand Obama VS Real World Obama June 4, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Race.
Tags: birmingham bombing, black history, black leadership, brand obama, bruce a. dixon, Civil Rights, civil rights movement, drone missiles, Guantanamo, Obama, Obama cabinet, Obama presidency, roger hollander
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by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
The president signed off on medals for the 4 little girls murdered in a Birmingham church bombing 50 years ago. In the same week, he justified the secret drone murder of Somali, Yemeni & Pakistani children, appointed a union-busting, gentrifying Chicago billionaire to his cabinet and justified further drone wars with another secret legal memo. Which is the real Barack Obama, and where does all this come from?
Medals to Birmingham’s 4 Little Girls, Sleazy Billionaires to the Cabinet: Brand Obama VS Real World Obama
It’s been a big holiday weekend for both Barack Obamas, the illusory Brand Obama that tens of millions voted for, as well as the all too real president of austerity, privatization, and lawless war.
Brand Obama kicked off the weekend promising yet again to close the infamous US prison camp at Guantanamo, sort of, maybe soon, if Republicans would only let him. The following our symbolic president signed off on the Congressional Medal of Honor for each of the 4 little girls who were murdered in an infamous 1963 Birmingham church bombing. And earlier in the week he’d delivered the commencement address at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, the insulting content of his remarks aside, a priceless photo-op.
Meanwhile this week the real Barack Obama appointed a sleazy billionaire who was an early sponsor of his career his Secretary of Commerce. The real Barack Obama called for the imposition of a “no fly zone,” an act of war in plain language, over Syria, and in the same speech in which his alter ego, the presidential brand sort of promised to maybe try and close Guantanamo. The real very real president flatly justified burning Somali, Pakistani, Yemeni and other children with the near infinite expansion of drone warfare, “signature” killings and other unspecified practices such as the sending of a second missile a few minutes after the first to pick off those who come to rescue any survivors, based on legal arguments contained in yet another secret memo. The real president also passed the holiday with no action on catastrophic levels of black unemployment or dwindling levels of black family wealth, which have fallen off a cliff since 2007.
The symbolic president, at the signing for those Congressional Medals of Honor, let loose some lofty remarks about the sacrifices of 50 years ago making it possible for them to do whatever they were doing that day. Brand Obama didn’t acknowledge that some of the families of those 4 little girls, and of others permanently injured on that day, have publicly stated they’d prefer compensation. That might have spoiled the moment. Unlike the very real president and the victims of racist violence half a century ago, brands only live in their created moments, and in the cloudy imaginations of those who mistake them for reality.
But we shouldn’t give Obama and his handlers all the blame. Brand Obama sits atop more than a generation’s worth of black politics in which the black political class has leveraged the historic tradition of black opposition to unjust foreign war and domestic oppression to promote the very things a previous generation’s black politics stood against. Long before anybody heard of Barack Obama, the black political class created an brand for itself inextricably tied to the supposed triumph of the Freedom Movement of half a century ago, as if that movement was truly victorious. In fact, the historic Freedom Movement which successfully confronted Jim Crow in the south never found suitable and convincing answers, or even whole explanations for black urban poverty, gentrification or economic inequality in the north. It wasn’t as though figures like King and Malcolm X, to name just a couple, were not eagerly searching for ways to address these issues.
We should remember that in 1966 there were fewer than 10 blacks in Congress, and only a smattering of local officials and state legislators. There were a handful of black generals and diplomats, and damn few black faces high on the corporate track or in elite higher education. All that changed rapidly after 1968. The turn toward a broader confrontation over these issues seems to have been averted at the end of the sixties and beginning of the seventies by the granting of corporate and government affirmative action, contracting opportunities that made a small cohort of black millionaires and a larger one of aspirants, and the bringing into existence of the current black political class. It was the emergence of this class that played a major role in demobilizing black America, cutting off the tendency toward popular mobilization to confront economic inequality in favor of celebrating the victory over Jim Crow and living vicariously through the shining careers of new black politicos, corporate lawyers, millionaire contractors and others.
It’s upon the shoulders of black contractors and black appointees, black judges and generals and cops and prosecutors, not those of the martyred girls of Birmingham, that the real Barack Obama stands. The real president sits atop a bankrupt class of black misleaders who have achieved few or no significant victories apart from their own illustrious careers the last four decades and counting. Their only victory has been to market themselves as the flag bearers and heirs of the Freedom Movement. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign just picked up that motif and carried it to its logical conclusion. The bad news is that he has tarnished the reputation black America once had around the world as standing against oppression and injustice opposing America’s murderous empire abroad and its vicious inequality at home. The good news is that it’s a dead end. Obama and the black misleadership class have nowhere to go, and still have nothing to bring to black America. No jobs, no justice, no peace.
Brand Obama will be with us a while yet. But it will run its delusional course, and for many, as Glen Ford has pointed out the hangover has already begun.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him via this site’s contact page, or at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Tags: alice walker, alicia keys, apartheid, boycott israel, brand israel, Civil Rights, gaza, history, israel apartheid, Palestine, roger hollander
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Dear Alicia Keys,
I have learned today that you are due to perform in Israel very soon. We have never met, though I believe we are mutually respectful of each other’s path and work. It would grieve me to know you are putting yourself in danger (soul danger) by performing in an apartheid country that is being boycotted by many global conscious artists. You were not born when we, your elders who love you, boycotted institutions in the US South to end an American apartheid less lethal than Israel’s against the Palestinian people. Google Montgomery Bus Boycott, if you don’t know about this civil rights history already. We changed our country fundamentally, and the various boycotts of Israeli institutions and products will do the same there. It is our only nonviolent option and, as we learned from our own struggle in America, nonviolence is the only path to a peaceful future.
If you go to my website and blog alicewalkersgarden.com you can quickly find many articles I have written over the years that explain why a cultural boycott of Israel and Israeli institutions (not individuals) is the only option left to artists who cannot bear the unconscionable harm Israel inflicts every day on the people of Palestine, whose major “crime” is that they exist in their own land, land that Israel wants to control as its own. Under a campaign named ‘Brand Israel’, Israeli officials have stated specifically their intent to downplay the Palestinian conflict by using culture and arts to showcase Israel as a modern, welcoming place.
This is actually a wonderful opportunity for you to learn about something sorrowful, and amazing: that our government (Obama in particular) supports a system that is cruel, unjust, and unbelievably evil. You can spend months, and years, as I have, pondering this situation. Layer upon layer of lies, misinformation, fear, cowardice and complicity. Greed. It is a vast eye-opener into the causes of much of the affliction in our suffering world.
I have kept you in my awareness as someone of conscience and caring, especially about the children of the world. Please, if you can manage it, go to visit the children in Gaza, and sing to them of our mutual love of all children, and of their right not to be harmed simply because they exist.
With love, younger sister, beloved daughter and friend,
he Assassination Of Dr. King And The Suppression Of The Anti-War And Peace Perspectives April 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Foreign Policy, History, Human Rights, Race, Racism, Torture, War.
Tags: ajamu baraka, black liberation, Civil Rights, colonialism, history, imperialism, james earl ray, king assassination, liberal establishment, martin luther king, mlk, neo-colonialism, obama era, obama militarism, roger hollander, us imperilaism, vietnam, Vietnam War, war
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by Ajamu Baraka
This week marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. In those years, a King has emerged who bears little in common with the man who lived and struggled and died in the Freedom Movement. Killing the man was the work of an instant. Suppressing and distorting his legacy have been full time projects ever since.
The Assassination Of Dr. King And The Suppression Of The Anti-War And Peace Perspectives
by Ajamu Baraka
“Memory, individual and collective, is clearly a significant site of social struggle.”
(Aurora Levins Morales)
“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. (Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence,” Rev. Martin Luther King, Riverside Church, April 4, 1967)
April 4th is an anniversary that I suspect many people in the U.S., including those in government, would prefer that people ignored. On that date 45 years ago, James Earl Ray, supposedly acting alone, murdered Martin Luther King Jr. on a balcony of the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee — silencing one of the great oppositional voices in U.S. politics.
Unlike the celebrations organized around the birthday of Dr. King, with which the U.S. government severs Dr. King from the black movement for social justice that produced him and transforms his oppositional stances into a de-radicalized, liberal, integrationist dream narrative, the anniversary of the murder of Dr. King creates a challenge for the government and its attempt to manage the memory and meaning of Dr. King. The assassination of Dr. King raises uncomfortable questions — not only due to the evidence that his murder was a “hit” carried out by elements of the U.S. government, but also because of what Dr. King was saying before he was killed about issues like poverty and U.S. militarism .
The current purveyors of U.S. violence will find attention to Dr. King’s anti-war and peace position most unwelcome, especially with a black president that has been able to accomplish what U.S. elites could have only dreamed of over the last few decades – the normalization of war-making as a legitimate tool to advance the geo-political interests of the U.S. and its’ colonial allies. So reminding people of Dr. King’s opposition to U.S. warmongering and the collaboration of liberals in that warmongering then and now, produces a strange convergence of political forces from both ends of the narrow U.S. political spectrum that have an interest in suppressing King’s anti-war positions.
The Suppression of the anti-war and peace movement and the pro-war coalition: then and now
When Dr. King finally opposed the war on Vietnam he incurred the wrath of liberals in the Johnson Administration, the liberal philanthropic community, and even a significant number of his colleagues in the clergy. The liberal establishment was scathing in its condemnation of his position and sought to punish him and his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), in a manner similar to their assaults on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), when it took an anti-war and anti-imperialist position much earlier than Dr. King and SCLC.
In today’s popular imagination of the anti-war and peace movement in the 1960s and 70s, the culprits have been re-imagined as the radical right, symbolized by President Richard Nixon. But it was the Kennedy Administration that escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam, despite the liberal mythology around his supposed reluctance to do so, and it was Democrat Lyndon Johnson who dramatically expanded the war. When Johnson pulled out of the 1968 presidential race, Hubert Humphrey, the personification of contemporary liberalism, was slated to be the favorite to win the Democratic nomination. Humphrey, along with the rest of the liberal establishment, was firmly committed to Johnson’s war strategy, even in light of growing public opposition.
It should also be remembered that the Chicago police riot of 1968 against anti-war demonstrators took place at the Democratic National Convention, where the protestors were directing their fury at the Democratic Party — which has controlled the Executive Branch during the escalation of almost every major military experience by the U.S. State from the Second World War onwards. The notion of democratic weaknesses on matters of “national defense” owes itself to the historical amnesia of the U.S. population and the successful propaganda campaigns of the more aggressive foreign interventionist elements of the radical right over the years.
Today the array of forces in support of U.S. military aggression is similar to what we saw from the establishment in 1968, except for one important factor: in 1968 there was an organized, vocal anti-war movement that applied bottom-up pressure on the liberal establishment in power and on the Nixon Administration. Today, however, not only have significant elements of the contemporary anti-war and peace movement voluntarily demobilized during the Obama era, many of those individuals and organizations have entered into what can only be seen as a tactical alliance with the Obama Administration and provided ideological cover for imperialist interventions around the world.
Even mainstream human rights organization have facilitated the cover-up, either by their silence on the question of war; by their tacit acquiescence as demonstrated by their pathetic pleading with the attacking powers (usually the West, under NATO) to adhere to the rules of war; or by the construction and articulation of some of the most noxious but effective white supremacist covers for imperialist dominance that may have ever been produced – “humanitarian intervention” and the “right to protect.” Operating from the assumption that the white West are the “good guys” and have a “natural” right to determine which nations deserve to be sovereign, when regimes should be changed, who the international criminals are and what international laws need to be enforced, the political elites have been able to mobilize majority support for imperialist adventures from Iraq to Libya and now Syria. In a nod to the civilizing assumptions of Western modernity that is at the base of the colonialist project justifying these interventions, progressives and even some radicals have muzzled themselves or have even supported these misadventures that entail the West, under the leadership of the U.S., riding in to save people from their “savage governments.” For these activists, if those humanitarian missions result in Western companies managing to secure water, oil and other natural resources and shifting regional power relations to favor the West, well that is just the price to pay for progress. As Madeline Albright said in response to a question regarding the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children due to U.S. sanctions, “we think the price was worth it.”
It is still about values, consciousness and organization:
“All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side . . . The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” ( George Orwell)
The murder of Dr. King was not just the murder of a man but an assault on an idea, a movement and a vision of a society liberated from what Dr. King called the three “triplets” that had historically characterized and shaped the “American” experience – racism, extreme materialism and militarism. On April 4, 1967 in the Riverside Church in New York, exactly one year to the day before he would be murdered, Dr. King took an unequivocal stand in opposition to the U.S. war on the people of Vietnam, and declared that the only way that racism, materialism and militarism would be defeated was if there was a “radical revolution of values” in U.S. society. Today, 45 years later, with a Black president in the White House, racism in the form of continued white supremacy has solidified itself on a global scale; extreme materialism characterizes the desires and consumption patterns of a debt constructed middle class, even as it feels the weight of a national and global economic crisis; and militarism occupies the center of U.S. engagement with the nations of the Global South.
While the current national and global reality could not have been prefigured by political elites in the U.S., the murder of Dr. King and the disarray within the civil rights movement on direction, goals and programs, allowed the government to e turn its repressive apparatus to the violent suppression of the Black liberation movement. As the leading element for radical social change in the U.S., the assaults on the Black liberation movement meant that the hope for fundamental change in the U.S. would not be realized. The radical revolution of values that King hoped would transform the country was repackaged by the early 1970s into an individualist, pro-capitalist, debt-constructed consumer diversion. The country began a more dramatic rightward move in the late 1960s that saw the emergence of Nixon; Ronald Reagan; New Democrats; a new and even more virulent ideological construction – neoliberalism; and a uni-polar world, where under Bush and now Obama, the U.S. and its Western colonial allies are able to engage in a form of international gangsterism — invading nations, changing governments and stealing resources, in a manner that is similar to the early years of conquest when they first burst out of Europe in 1492.
The challenge is clear. A de-colonial, revolutionary shift in power from the 1% to the people is the only way Dr. King’s “radical revolution of values” can be realized in a national and global context in which the West has demonstrated that it will use all of its military means to maintain its hegemony. Yet, to realize that shift, the “people” are going to have to “see” through the ideological mystifications that still values Eurocentric assumptions as representing settled, objective realities on issues like democracy, freedom, human rights, economic development and cultural integrity in order to confront the new coalitions of privilege. Dr. King and the black anti-racist, anti-colonialist movements for social justice brought clarity to these moral issues by its example of movement building that sparked struggles for social justice in every sector of U.S. society. That is why sidelining black radical organizations and the black social justice movement has been one of the most effective consequences of the Obama phenomenon.
Today the necessity to stand with the oppressed and oppose war and violence of all kinds has never been more urgent. But that stand cannot be just as individuals. Individual commitment is important, but what Dr. King’s life reaffirmed was the power of movement — of organized and determined people moving in a common direction. That is why the government so desperately attempts to disconnect Dr. King from the people and the movement that produced him and to silence any opposition to its colonialist violence. The example of movement building and struggle is an example that has to be brutally suppressed, as witnessed by how the Obama Administration moved on the Occupy Wallstreet Movement once it became clear that they could not co-opt and control it.
Consciousness, vision, an unalterable commitment to privileging principle over pragmatism and a willingness to fight for your beliefs no matter the odds or forces mounted against you – these are the lessons that all of us who believe in the possibility of a new world should recommit to on April the 4th. Internalizing and passing that lesson on through a culture of resistance and struggle ensures that one day all of us will be able to create societies freed from interpersonal and institutional violence and all forms of oppression in our own promised lands.
Ajamu Baraka was the founding Director of the US Human Rights Network until June 2011. A long-time human rights activist and veteran of the Black Liberation, anti-war, anti-apartheid and central American solidarity Movements in the United States, Baraka has been in the forefront of efforts to develop a radical “People-Centered” perspective on human rights and to apply that framework to social justice struggles in the United States and abroad. He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, where he is editing a book on human rights entitled “The Fight Must be for Human Rights: Voices from the Frontline.” The book is due to be published in 2013. t
The Conspiracy to Kill MLK: Not a Theory But a Fact April 4, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Race, Racism.
Tags: Civil Rights, conspiracy, history, ira chernus, james earl ray, king assassination, lloyd jowers, martin luther king, mlk, roger hollander
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Should the United States government be allowed to assassinate its own citizens? That question was in the air briefly not long ago. April 4 is an excellent day to revive it: On April 4, 1968, the government was part of a successful conspiracy to assassinate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
That’s not just some wing-nut conspiracy theory. It’s not a theory at all. It is a fact, according to our legal system.Mourners with armbands on Pentacrest at Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial service, The University of Iowa, April, 1968. (Photo: The University of Iowa Libraries)
In 1999, in Shelby County, Tennessee, Lloyd Jowers was tried before a jury of his peers (made up equally of white and black citizens, if it matters) on the charge of conspiring to kill Dr. King. The jury heard testimony for four full weeks.
On the last day of the trial, the attorney for the King family (which brought suit against Jowers) concluded his summation by saying: “We’re dealing in conspiracy with agents of the City of Memphis and the governments of the State of Tennessee and the United States of America. We ask you to find that conspiracy existed.”
It took the jury only two-and-half hours to reach its verdict: Jowers and “others, including governmental agencies, were parties to this conspiracy.”
I don’t know whether the jury’s verdict reflects the factual truth of what happened on April 4, 1968. Juries have been known to make mistakes and (probably rather more often) juries have made mistakes that remain unknown.
But within our system of government, when a crime is committed it’s a jury, and only a jury, that is entitled to decide on the facts. If a jury makes a mistake, the only way to rectify it is to go back into court and establish a more convincing version of the facts. That’s the job of the judicial branch, not the executive.
So far, no one has gone into court to challenge the verdict on the King assassination.
Yet the version of history most Americans know is very different because it has been shaped much more by the executive than the judicial branch. Right after the jury handed down its verdict, the federal government’s Department of Justice went into high gear, sparing no effort to try to disprove the version of the facts that the jury endorsed — not in a court of law but in the “court” of public opinion.
The government’s effort was immensely successful. Very few Americans are aware the trial ever happened, much less that the jury was convinced of a conspiracy involving the federal government.
To understand why, let’s reflect on how history, as understood by the general public, is made: We take the facts we have, which are rarely complete, and then we fill in the gaps with our imaginations — for the most part, with our hopes and/or fears. The result is a myth: not a lie, but a mixture of proven facts and the fictions spawned by our imaginings.
In this case, we have two basic myths in conflict.
One is a story Americans have been telling since the earliest days of our nation: Back in not-so-merry old England, people could be imprisoned or even executed on the whim of some government official. They had no right to prove their innocence in a fair, impartial court. We fought a bloody war to throw off the British yoke precisely to guarantee ourselves basic rights like the right to a fair trial by a jury of our peers. We would fight again, if need be, to preserve that fundamental right. This story explains why we are supposed to let a jury, and only a jury, determine the facts.
(By odd coincidence, as I was writing this the mail arrived with my summons to serve on a local jury. The website it directed me to urged me to feel “a sense of pride and respect for our system of justice,” because “about 95 percent of all jury trials in the world take place in the United States.”)
Then there’s another myth, a story that says the federal government has only assassinated American citizens who were truly bad people and aimed to do the rest of us harm; the government would never assassinate an innocent citizen. Most Americans devoutly hope this story is true. And most Americans don’t put MLK in the “bad guy” category. So they resist believing what the legal system tells us is true about his death.
Perhaps a lot of Americans would not be too disturbed to learn that the local government in Memphis or even the Tennessee state government were involved. There’s still plenty of prejudice against white Southerners. But the federal government? It’s a thought too shocking for most Americans even to consider. So they fill in the facts with what they want to believe — and the myth of James Earl Ray, “the lone assassin,” lives on, hale and hearty.
Since that’s the popular myth, it’s the one the corporate mass media have always purveyed. After all, their job is to sell newspapers and boost ratings in order to boost profits. Just a few days after the trial ended the New York Times, our “newspaper of record,” went to great lengths to cast doubt on the verdict and assure readers, in its headline, that the trial would have “little effect” — an accurate, though self-fufilling, prophecy.
Imagine if the accused had been not a white southerner but a black man, with known ties not to the government but to the Black Panther Party. You can bet that the trial verdict would have been bannered on every front page; the conspiracy would be known to every American and enshrined in every history book as the true version of events.
None of this necessarily means that the federal government and the mass media are covering up actual facts. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. Again, I don’t claim to know what really happened on April 4, 1968.
But there surely were people in the federal government who thought they had good reason to join a conspiracy to get rid of Dr. King. He was deep into planning for the Poor People’s Campaign, which would bring poor folks of every race and ethnicity to Washington, DC. The plan was to have them camp out on the Mall until the government enacted major economic reforms to lift everyone out of poverty. That meant redistributing wealth — an idea that made perfect sense to Dr. King, who was a harsh critic of the evils of capitalism (as well as communism).
It also meant uniting whites and non-whites in the lower income brackets, to persuade them that the suffering they shared in common was stronger than the racial prejudice that divided them. Dr. King did not have to be a prophet to foresee that the longer whites blamed non-whites, rather than the rich, for their troubles, the easier it would be to block measures for redistributing wealth. The unifying effect of the Poor People’s Campaign spelled trouble for those whose wealth might be redistributed.
At the same time, Dr. King was the most famous and respected critic of the war in Vietnam. By 1968 he was constantly preaching that the war was not just a tragic mistake. It was the logical outgrowth of the American way of life, based on what he called the inextricably linked “triplets” of militarism, racism, and materialism. Had he lived, the Poor People’s Campaign would have become a powerful vehicle for attacking all three and showing just how inseparable they are.
Yes, plenty of people in the federal government thought they had good reason to put an end to the work of Dr. King. But that hardly proves federal government complicity in a conspiracy to kill him.
So let’s assume for a moment, just for the sake of argument, that the jury was wrong, that James Earl Ray did the shooting and acted alone. The federal government would still have good reasons to suppress the conspiracy myth. Essentially, all those reasons boil down to a matter of trust. There is already immense mistrust of the federal government. Imagine if everyone knew, and every history book said, that our legal system has established as fact the government’s complicity in the assassination.
If the federal government has a convincing argument that the jury was wrong, we all deserve to hear it. There’s little advantage to having such uncertainty hanging in the air after 45 years. But the government should make its argument in open court, in front of a jury of our peers.
In America, we have only one way to decide the facts of guilt or innocence: not through the media or gossip or imagination, but through the slowly grinding machinery of the judicial system. At least that’s the story I want to believe.
Albert Woodfox’s 40 Years of Solitary Confinement February 28, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights.
Tags: albert woodfox, amy goodman, Angola 3, angola three, black panthers, Civil Rights, herman wallace, human rights, robert king, roger hollander, solitary confinement, torture
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Feb 27, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com
By Amy Goodman
Albert Woodfox has been in solitary confinement for 40 years, most of that time locked up in the notorious maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary known as “Angola.” This week, after his lawyers spent six years arguing that racial bias tainted the grand-jury selection in Woodfox’s prosecution, federal Judge James Brady, presiding in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, agreed. “Accordingly, Woodfox’s habeas relief is GRANTED,” ordered Brady, compelling the state of Louisiana to release Woodfox. This is the third time his conviction has been overturned. Nevertheless, Woodfox remains imprisoned. Those close to the case expect the state of Louisiana, under the direction of Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell, to appeal again, as the state has successfully done in the past, seeking to keep Woodfox in solitary confinement, in conditions that Amnesty International says “can only be described as cruel, inhuman and degrading.”
Woodfox is one of the “Angola 3.” Angola, the sprawling prison complex with 5,000 inmates and 1,800 employees, is in rural Louisiana on the site of a former slave plantation. It gets its name from the country of origin of many of those slaves. It still exists as a forced-labor camp, with prisoners toiling in fields of cotton and sugar cane, watched over by shotgun-wielding guards on horseback. Woodfox and fellow inmate Herman Wallace were in Angola for lesser crimes when implicated in the prison murder of a guard in 1972. Woodfox and Wallace founded the Angola chapter of the Black Panther Party in 1971, and were engaged in organizing against segregation, inhumane working conditions and the systemic rape and sexual slavery inflicted on many imprisoned in Louisiana’s Angola.
“Herman and Albert and other folks recognized the violation of human rights in prison, and they were trying to achieve a better prison and living conditions,” Robert King told me last year. “And as a result of that, they were targeted.” King is the third member of the Angola 3, and the only one among them to have finally won his freedom, in 2001.
King went on: “There is no rationale why they should be held in solitary confinement—or, for that matter, in prison. This is a double whammy. We are dealing with a double whammy here. We are not just focusing on Herman’s and Albert’s civil- or human-rights violation, but there is question also as to whether or not they committed this crime. All the evidence has been undermined in this case.” Since his release, King has been fighting for justice for Wallace and Woodfox, traveling around the U.S. and to 20 countries, as well as addressing the European Parliament.
The devastating psychological impacts of long-term solitary confinement are well-documented. Solitary also limits access to exercise, creating a cascade of health complications. The Center for Constitutional Rights is challenging the use of solitary confinement in California prisons, writing: “Ever since solitary confinement came into existence, it has been used as a tool of repression. While it is justified by corrections officials as necessary to protect prisoners and guards from violent superpredators, all too often it is imposed on individuals, particularly prisoners of color, who threaten prison administrations in an altogether different way.”
In a recorded phone conversation from Angola, Herman Wallace explained: “Where we stay, we’re usually in the cell for 23 hours, and an hour out. I’m not ‘out.’ I may come out of the hole here, but I’m still locked up on that unit. I’m locked up. I can’t get around that. Anywhere I go, I have to be in chains. Chains have become a part of my existence. And that’s one of the things that people have to fully understand. But understanding it is one thing, but experiencing it is quite another.”Despite the decades in solitary confinement, Woodfox remains strong. As he said over a prison pay phone in one of the documentaries about the case, “In the Land of the Free”: “If a cause is just noble enough, you can carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. And I thought that my cause, then and now, was noble. So therefore, they could never break me. They might bend me a little bit, they might cause me a lot of pain. They might even take my life. But they will never be able to break me.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.
The Moral Depravity of “Lincoln” February 24, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Civil Liberties, History, Race.
Tags: abolitionists, abraham lincoln, bill moyers, Civil Rights, civil war, clinton presidency, history, lincoln movie, Obama presidency, roger hollander, sam husseini, slavery, steven spielberg, tony kushner
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Roger’s note: This article points to a serious malaise in political discourse, the judging of the ideal against the real instead of judging the real by the ideal. It speaks to cynicism and defeatism that ignores the voice of the oppressed, of the revolutionary subject, in favor of the voice of the comfortable middle class pundit. It was the Abolitionists who defeated slavery, not Lincoln. His Emancipation Proclamation cynically and strategically freed the slaves only in Confederate held territory, while slavery remained in existence everywhere else. Read Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln.” Lincoln made it clear that if he could maintain the Union without ending slavery, that would be all right. He would have sent African Americans to a far away colony to solve the “problem” if he could. As a politician, yes, Lincoln was a genius, one of the best ever. To me that is not such a worthy accolade; but as a moral leader, Lincoln was no Gandhi.
There is not a substantial character in the movie “Lincoln” who argues — on moral grounds — that African Americans are equal to whites.
The movie opens with President Lincoln listening to a soliloquy of a young black man who argues for how he wants to get ahead; which is fine I suppose, but hardly the same as a moral case against slavery.
Abolitionists — who should be regarded as heroes — are viewed throughout the movie as near nut jobs on the few occasions when they are not ignored.
The radical Republican congressman Thaddeus Stevens is depicted going through contortions to not argue that blacks are inherently equal to whites.
A pivotal scene is between him and Lincoln in which he pleads for Lincoln for follow his moral compass. Lincoln responds that one cannot go straight north when there is a swamp there. And there the matter was settled, as if there was no response to such an argument. Compromise was the higher calling, not actually standing for what is right, which is regarded as ineffectual or counterproductive.
Even if one were to concede that that might be what politics should be about, and I don’t think that’s the case, what sort of “art” exactly glorifies that while dismissing those standing boldly for what it true and just? What sort of “art” says it’s the highest calling to be conniving in alleged purist of some higher goal? What sort of “artist” uses his talent and resources to convince the public of this message?
It’s something “Lincoln” director and producer Steven Spielberg has depicted before, for example in “Schindler’s List,” Oskar Schindler chastises German soldiers who might exterminate Jewish children by going on about how he needs their small fingers for work in his factory. And that might be a poignant case. But does lying to Nazis really apply to the U.S. in 1863? Or today?
To some extent, this is a stance of alot of progressives since the beginning of the rise of the current president: “In Obama’s Lies We Trust” has been their defacto motto. To another extent, it probably reflects the actual interests they hold while themselves pretending to want change while knowing that Obama will not actually deliver meaningful change. Most everyone is a triangulator now.
But all these games, played by Obama and supporters who glorify alleged “compromise” — does Obama “compromise” or give away the store from the get go? — not only betrays art’s higher callings, but are also ahistoric.
For a tangible glimpse into the mindset behind “Lincoln,” consider what Tony Kushner, who wrote the screen play, recently said to Bill Moyers:
“But at the same time that level of criticism has to allow for the possibility that during election cycles people who have maybe not done everything we wanted them to do can get reelected so that we can build a power base so that we can actually do things. And I think we have a balancing act. And I think we’ve gotten unused to that balance we’ve spent the entire years of the Reagan counterrevolution out of power. And so we’ve become critics.
“But it’s nonsense. You can’t pretend that Wall Street doesn’t have horrendously strong and undue influence on the country. But if you want to get regulation of the financial sector you’re going to have to unfortunately to some extent work with Wall Street. Because if you go in naively, you’ll find out very quickly how much of what happens in this country Wall Street controls. And one thing I love about Obama is that he is absolutely not naive. And you know, you don’t get elected president, when you’re a black guy if you’re naive. This man — you know, I couldn’t get elected, you know, dogcatcher in my building. He’s managed this miracle, he’s reelected American president.”
Talk about nonsense. Tony Kushner here not only pretends that Clinton was not in office for eight years, he incredibly pretends in his depiction of the interaction between Wall Street and politics that Clinton and Bob Rubin and Larry Summers (who was also Obama’s economic adviser) didn’t pass the deregulation of Wall Street in the late 90s. Now, Moyers has done good shows on this, but he totally lets Kushner and all his nonsense off the hook on this.
So who’s really naive here?
What’s the responsibility of artists in depicting the moral course of history?
Where are the movies about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis? About Nat Turner who lead a slave uprising? About John Brown, who, the the words of David S. Reynolds’ biography: “Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights”?
No, Obama’s not naive, nor is Kushner. Anyone who takes at face value what Hollywood represents is.
Sam Husseini is a writer and political activist. He is the communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a D.C.-based nonprofit group that promotes progressive experts as alternative sources for mainstream media reporters. He’s the founder of WashingtonStakeout, his latest personal writings are at http://husseini.posterous.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/samhusseini
Rosa Parks, Now and Forever January 31, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, History, Race, Racism.
Tags: amy goodman, Civil Rights, e.d. nixon, history, jium crow, mandela, montgomery bus, naacp, pete seeger, Race, racism, raymond parks, roger hollander, rosa parks, we shall overcome
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On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Ala., thus (Photo: Alabama Dept. Archives and History)
launching the modern-day civil-rights movement. Monday, Feb. 4, is the 100th anniversary of her birth. After she died at the age of 92 in 2005, much of the media described her as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker. But the media got it wrong. Rosa Parks was a first-class troublemaker.
Professor Jeanne Theoharis debunks the myth of the quiet seamstress in her new book “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.” Theoharis told me, “This is the story of a life history of activism, a life history that she would put it, as being ‘rebellious,’ that starts decades before her famous bus stand and ends decades after.”
She was born in Tuskegee, Ala., and raised to believe that she had a right to be respected, and to demand that respect. Jim Crow laws were entrenched then, and segregation was violently enforced. In Pine Level, where she lived, white children got a bus ride to school, while African-American children walked. Rosa Parks recalled: “But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.”
In her late teens, Rosa met Raymond Parks, and they married. Rosa described Raymond Parks as the first activist she had ever met. He was a member of the local Montgomery NAACP chapter, and, when she learned that women were welcome at the meetings, she attended. She was elected the chapter’s secretary.
It was there that Rosa met and worked with E.D. Nixon, a radical labor organizer. Rosa Parks was able to attend the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, in 1955. The school was a gathering place for activists—black and white together—committed to overcoming segregation, and for developing strategies and tactics for nonviolent resistance to it. It was there that Pete Seeger and others wrote the song “We Shall Overcome” as the enduring anthem of the civil-rights movement.
When she met Nelson Mandela after his release from prison, he told her, “You sustained me while I was in prison all those years.”
When Rosa Parks died, she was the first African-American woman to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda. I raced down to Washington, D.C., to cover her memorial service. I met a young college student and asked her why she was there standing outside with so many hundreds of people listening to the service on loudspeakers. She said proudly, “I emailed my professors and said I won’t be in class today; I’m going to get an education.”
Rosa Parks has much to teach us. In fact, she and other young women had refused to give up their seats on the bus before Dec. 1, 1955. You never know when that magic moment will come. This Feb. 4, the U.S. Postal Service will release a Rosa Parks Forever stamp, a reminder of the enduring mark she made. Rosa Parks was no tired seamstress. As she said of that brave action she took, “The only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.
The Longest War is the One Against Women January 24, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Women.
Tags: Civil Rights, gang rape, gender, hate crimes, human rights, idle no more, Jyoti Singh Pandey, rape, rebecca solnit, Republican Party, roger hollander, sexual assault, sexual harassment, steubenville, tahrir square, violence, women, women's rights
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A rape a minute, a thousand corpses a year: hate crimes in America (and elsewhere)
Artists in San Francisco protesting violence against women. (Photo: Marta Franco/ SFGate)Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large. Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.
There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a case involving a celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this country, in other countries, on every continent including Antarctica, constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.
If you’d rather talk about bus rapes than gang rapes, there’s the rape of a developmentally disabled woman on a Los Angeles bus in November and the kidnapping of an autistic 16-year-old on the regional transit train system in Oakland, California — she was raped repeatedly by her abductor over two days this winter — and there was a gang rape of multiple women on a bus in Mexico City recently, too. While I was writing this, I read that another female bus-rider was kidnapped in India and gang-raped all night by the bus driver and five of his friends who must have thought what happened in New Delhi was awesome.
We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.
Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible. But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.
What We Don’t Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Gender
There’s so much of it. We could talk about the assault and rape of a 73-year-old in Manhattan’s Central Park last September, or the recent rape of a four-year-old and an 83-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who was arrested in October for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn’t personal (though maybe it was for the San Diego man who actually killed and cooked his wife in November and the man from New Orleans who killed, dismembered, and cooked his girlfriend in 2005).
Those are all exceptional crimes, but we could also talk about quotidian assaults, because though a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country, the estimated total is perhaps five times as high. Which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the U.S. It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims.
We could talk about high-school- and college-athlete rapes, or campus rapes, to which university authorities have been appallingly uninterested in responding in many cases, including that high school in Steubenville, Notre Dame University, Amherst College, and many others. We could talk about the escalating pandemic of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the U.S. military, where Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta estimated that there were 19,000 sexual assaults on fellow soldiers in 2010 alone and that the great majority of assailants got away with it, though four-star general Jeffrey Sinclair was indicted in September for “a slew of sex crimes against women.”
Never mind workplace violence, let’s go home. So many men murder their partners and former partners that we have well over 1,000 homicides of that kind a year — meaning that every three years the death toll tops 9/11’s casualties, though no one declares a war on this particular terror. (Another way to put it: the more than 11,766 corpses from domestic-violence homicides since 9/11 exceed the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the “war on terror.”) If we talked about crimes like these and why they are so common, we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or male roles, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.
If we talked about crimes like these…we’d have to talk about what kinds of profound change this society, or this nation, or nearly every nation needs. If we talked about it, we’d be talking about masculinity, or maybe patriarchy, and we don’t talk much about that.
Instead, we hear that American men commit murder-suicides — at the rate of about 12 a week — because the economy is bad, though they also do it when the economy is good; or that those men in India murdered the bus-rider because the poor resent the rich, while other rapes in India are explained by how the rich exploit the poor; and then there are those ever-popular explanations: mental problems and intoxicants — and for jocks, head injuries. The latest spin is that lead exposure was responsible for a lot of our violence, except that both genders are exposed and one commits most of the violence. The pandemic of violence always gets explained as anything but gender, anything but what would seem to be the broadest explanatory pattern of all.
Someone wrote a piece about how white men seem to be the ones who commit mass murders in the U.S. and the (mostly hostile) commenters only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says what this medical study does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family.”
Still, the pattern is plain as day. We could talk about this as a global problem, looking at the epidemic of assault, harassment, and rape of women in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that has taken away the freedom they celebrated during the Arab Spring — and led some men there to form defense teams to help counter it — or the persecution of women in public and private in India from “Eve-teasing” to bride-burning, or “honor killings” in South Asia and the Middle East, or the way that South Africa has become a global rape capital, with an estimated 600,000 rapes last year, or how rape has been used as a tactic and “weapon” of war in Mali, Sudan, and the Congo, as it was in the former Yugoslavia, or the pervasiveness of rape and harassment in Mexico and the femicide in Juarez, or the denial of basic rights for women in Saudi Arabia and the myriad sexual assaults on immigrant domestic workers there, or the way that the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case in the United States revealed what impunity he and others had in France, and it’s only for lack of space I’m leaving out Britain and Canada and Italy (with its ex-prime minister known for his orgies with the underaged), Argentina and Australia and so many other countries.
Who Has the Right to Kill You?
But maybe you’re tired of statistics, so let’s just talk about a single incident that happened in my city a couple of weeks ago, one of many local incidents in which men assaulted women that made the local papers this month:
“A woman was stabbed after she rebuffed a man’s sexual advances while she walked in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood late Monday night, a police spokesman said today. The 33-year-old victim was walking down the street when a stranger approached her and propositioned her, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said. When she rejected him, the man became very upset and slashed the victim in the face and stabbed her in the arm, Esparza said.”
The man, in other words, framed the situation as one in which his chosen victim had no rights and liberties, while he had the right to control and punish her. This should remind us that violence is first of all authoritarian. It begins with this premise: I have the right to control you.
Murder is the extreme version of that authoritarianism, where the murderer asserts he has the right to decide whether you live or die, the ultimate means of controlling someone. This may be true even if you are “obedient,” because the desire to control comes out of a rage that obedience can’t assuage. Whatever fears, whatever sense of vulnerability may underlie such behavior, it also comes out of entitlement, the entitlement to inflict suffering and even death on other people. It breeds misery in the perpetrator and the victims.
As for that incident in my city, similar things happen all the time. Many versions of it happened to me when I was younger, sometimes involving death threats and often involving torrents of obscenities: a man approaches a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed. The fury and desire come in a package, all twisted together into something that always threatens to turn eros into thanatos, love into death, sometimes literally.
It’s a system of control. It’s why so many intimate-partner murders are of women who dared to break up with those partners. As a result, it imprisons a lot of women, and though you could say that the attacker on January 7th, or a brutal would-be-rapist near my own neighborhood on January 5th, or another rapist here on January 12th, or the San Franciscan who on January 6th set his girlfriend on fire for refusing to do his laundry, or the guy who was just sentenced to 370 years for some particularly violent rapes in San Francisco in late 2011, were marginal characters, rich, famous, and privileged guys do it, too.
The Japanese vice-consul in San Francisco was charged with 12 felony counts of spousal abuse and assault with a deadly weapon last September, the same month that, in the same town, the ex-girlfriend of Mason Mayer (brother of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer) testified in court: “He ripped out my earrings, tore my eyelashes off, while spitting in my face and telling me how unlovable I am… I was on the ground in the fetal position, and when I tried to move, he squeezed both knees tighter into my sides to restrain me and slapped me.” According to the newspaper, she also testified that “Mayer slammed her head onto the floor repeatedly and pulled out clumps of her hair, telling her that the only way she was leaving the apartment alive was if he drove her to the Golden Gate Bridge ‘where you can jump off or I will push you off.’” Mason Mayer got probation.
This summer, an estranged husband violated his wife’s restraining order against him, shooting her — and six other women — at her spa job in suburban Milwaukee, but since there were only four corpses the crime was largely overlooked in the media in a year with so many more spectacular mass murders in this country (and we still haven’t really talked about the fact that, of 62 mass shootings in the U.S. in three decades, only one was by a woman, because when you say lone gunman, everyone talks about loners and guns but not about men — and by the way, nearly two thirds of all women killed by guns are killed by their partner or ex-partner).
What’s love got to do with it, asked Tina Turner, whose ex-husband Ike once said, “Yeah I hit her, but I didn’t hit her more than the average guy beats his wife.” A woman is beaten every nine seconds in this country. Just to be clear: not nine minutes, but nine seconds. It’s the number-one cause of injury to American women; of the two million injured annually, more than half a million of those injuries require medical attention while about 145,000 require overnight hospitalizations, according to the Center for Disease Control, and you don’t want to know about the dentistry needed afterwards. Spouses are also the leading cause of death for pregnant women in the U.S.
‘Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined.’ “Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and traffic accidents combined,” writes Nicholas D. Kristof, one of the few prominent figures to address the issue regularly.
The Chasm Between Our Worlds
Rape and other acts of violence, up to and including murder, as well as threats of violence, constitute the barrage some men lay down as they attempt to control some women, and fear of that violence limits most women in ways they’ve gotten so used to they hardly notice — and we hardly address. There are exceptions: last summer someone wrote to me to describe a college class in which the students were asked what they do to stay safe from rape. The young women described the intricate ways they stayed alert, limited their access to the world, took precautions, and essentially thought about rape all the time (while the young men in the class, he added, gaped in astonishment). The chasm between their worlds had briefly and suddenly become visible.
Mostly, however, we don’t talk about it — though a graphic has been circulating on the Internet called Ten Top Tips to End Rape, the kind of thing young women get often enough, but this one had a subversive twist. It offered advice like this: “Carry a whistle! If you are worried you might assault someone ‘by accident’ you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can call for help.” While funny, the piece points out something terrible: the usual guidelines in such situations put the full burden of prevention on potential victims, treating the violence as a given. You explain to me why colleges spend more time telling women how to survive predators than telling the other half of their students not to be predators.
Threats of sexual assault now seem to take place online regularly. In late 2011, British columnist Laurie Penny wrote, “An opinion, it seems, is the short skirt of the Internet. Having one and flaunting it is somehow asking an amorphous mass of almost-entirely male keyboard-bashers to tell you how they’d like to rape, kill, and urinate on you. This week, after a particularly ugly slew of threats, I decided to make just a few of those messages public on Twitter, and the response I received was overwhelming. Many could not believe the hate I received, and many more began to share their own stories of harassment, intimidation, and abuse.”
Women in the online gaming community have been harassed, threatened, and driven out. Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist media critic who documented such incidents, received support for her work, but also, in the words of a journalist, “another wave of really aggressive, you know, violent personal threats, her accounts attempted to be hacked. And one man in Ontario took the step of making an online video game where you could punch Anita’s image on the screen. And if you punched it multiple times, bruises and cuts would appear on her image.” The difference between these online gamers and the Taliban men who, last October, tried to murder 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai for speaking out about the right of Pakistani women to education is one of degree. Both are trying to silence and punish women for claiming voice, power, and the right to participate. Welcome to Manistan.
The Party for the Protection of the Rights of Rapists
It’s not just public, or private, or online either. It’s also embedded in our political system, and our legal system, which before feminists fought for us didn’t recognize most domestic violence, or sexual harassment and stalking, or date rape, or acquaintance rape, or marital rape, and in cases of rape still often tries the victim rather than the rapist, as though only perfect maidens could be assaulted — or believed.
As we learned in the 2012 election campaign, it’s also embedded in the minds and mouths of our politicians. Remember that spate of crazy pro-rape things Republican men said last summer and fall, starting with Todd Akin’s notorious claim that a woman has ways of preventing pregnancy in cases of rape, a statement he made in order to deny women control over their own bodies. After that, of course, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock claimed that rape pregnancies were “a gift from God,” and just this month, another Republican politician piped up to defend Akin’s comment.
Happily the five publicly pro-rape Republicans in the 2012 campaign all lost their election bids. (Stephen Colbert tried to warn them that women had gotten the vote in 1920.) But it’s not just a matter of the garbage they say (and the price they now pay). Earlier this month, congressional Republicans refused to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, because they objected to the protection it gave immigrants, transgendered women, and Native American women. (Speaking of epidemics, one of three Native American women will be raped, and on the reservations 88% of those rapes are by non-Native men who know tribal governments can’t prosecute them.)
And they’re out to gut reproductive rights — birth control as well as abortion, as they’ve pretty effectively done in many states over the last dozen years. What’s meant by “reproductive rights,” of course, is the right of women to control their own bodies. Didn’t I mention earlier that violence against women is a control issue?
And though rapes are often investigated lackadaisically — there is a backlog of about 400,000 untested rape kits in this country– rapists who impregnate their victims have parental rights in 31 states. Oh, and former vice-presidential candidate and current congressman Paul Ryan (R-Manistan) is reintroducing a bill that would give states the right to ban abortions and might even conceivably allow a rapist to sue his victim for having one.
All the Things That Aren’t to Blame
Of course, women are capable of all sorts of major unpleasantness, and there are violent crimes by women, but the so-called war of the sexes is extraordinarily lopsided when it comes to actual violence. Unlike the last (male) head of the International Monetary Fund, the current (female) head is not going to assault an employee at a luxury hotel; top-ranking female officers in the U.S. military, unlike their male counterparts, are not accused of any sexual assaults; and young female athletes, unlike those male football players in Steubenville, aren’t likely to urinate on unconscious boys, let alone violate them and boast about it in YouTube videos and Twitter feeds.
No female bus riders in India have ganged up to sexually assault a man so badly he dies of his injuries, nor are marauding packs of women terrorizing men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, and there’s just no maternal equivalent to the 11% of rapes that are by fathers or stepfathers. Of the people in prison in the U.S., 93.5% are not women, and though quite a lot of them should not be there in the first place, maybe some of them should because of violence, until we think of a better way to deal with it, and them.
No major female pop star has blown the head off a young man she took home with her, as did Phil Spector. (He is now part of that 93.5% for the shotgun slaying of Lana Clarkson, apparently for refusing his advances.) No female action-movie star has been charged with domestic violence, because Angelina Jolie just isn’t doing what Mel Gibson and Steve McQueen did, and there aren’t any celebrated female movie directors who gave a 13-year-old drugs before sexually assaulting that child, while she kept saying “no,” as did Roman Polanski.
In Memory of Jyoti Singh Pandey
What’s the matter with manhood? There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed. There are lovely and wonderful men out there, and one of the things that’s encouraging in this round of the war against women is how many men I’ve seen who get it, who think it’s their issue too, who stand up for us and with us in everyday life, online and in the marches from New Delhi to San Francisco this winter.
There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed.
Increasingly men are becoming good allies — and there always have been some. Kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy. Domestic violence statistics are down significantly from earlier decades (even though they’re still shockingly high), and a lot of men are at work crafting new ideas and ideals about masculinity and power.
Gay men have been good allies of mine for almost four decades. (Apparently same-sex marriage horrifies conservatives because it’s marriage between equals with no inevitable roles.) Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. But we are free together or slaves together.
There are other things I’d rather write about, but this affects everything else. The lives of half of humanity are still dogged by, drained by, and sometimes ended by this pervasive variety of violence. Think of how much more time and energy we would have to focus on other things that matter if we weren’t so busy surviving. Look at it this way: one of the best journalists I know is afraid to walk home at night in our neighborhood. Should she stop working late? How many women have had to stop doing their work, or been stopped from doing it, for similar reasons?
One of the most exciting new political movements on Earth is the Native Canadian indigenous rights movement, with feminist and environmental overtones, called Idle No More. On December 27th, shortly after the movement took off, a Native woman was kidnapped, raped, beaten, and left for dead in Thunder Bay, Ontario, by men whose remarks framed the crime as retaliation against Idle No More. Afterward, she walked four hours through the bitter cold and survived to tell her tale. Her assailants, who have threatened to do it again, are still at large.
The New Delhi rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old who was studying physiotherapy so that she could better herself while helping others, and the assault on her male companion (who survived) seem to have triggered the reaction that we have needed for 100, or 1,000, or 5,000 years. May she be to women — and men — worldwide what Emmett Till, murdered by white supremacists in 1955, was to African-Americans and the then-nascent U.S. civil rights movement.
We have far more than 87,000 rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident. We have dots so close they’re splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s everyone’s problem, it’s not isolated, and it’s never going to be acceptable again. It has to change. It’s your job to change it, and mine, and ours.
Rebecca Solnit is an activist and the author of many books, including: Wanderlust: A History of Walking, The Battle of The Story of the Battle in Seattle (with her brother David), and Storming The Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics. Her most recent book is, A Paradise Built in Hell, is now available. She is a contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine.