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To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination February 27, 2017

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Capitalism, Congo, Cuba, History, Imperialism, Latin America, Race, Racism, Revolution, Uncategorized, Zimbabwe.
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Roger’s note: This is a long read on the life and impact of Malcolm X and will serve as an excellent primer for anyone who desires to be reminded of one of the greatest revolutionaries of the twentieth century.  To my regret, I missed Malcolm when he spoke at U.C. Berkeley where I was an undergraduate, because I had no idea who he was.  I later was profoundly influenced by Haley’s “Autobiography,” and Linda and I chose to name our first child after him.  For decades Malcolm was virtually forgotten, then he emerged as a harmless icon, mostly as a popular logo, sanitized.  Much of the popular media continues, as it did in his day, to portray him as a man of  hatred and violence and racial discord.  It is long overdue to reveal him as the humanist revolutionary that he was, and to celebrate a life that went through a series of changes that brought him forward as one of the most dangerous for revolution against capitalist imperialism.  Hence the need for his assassination.

Half a century after his murder, Malcolm X has been transformed into “a harmless icon, with his sharp revolutionary anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist political program diluted and softened.” Therefore, it is vital that we celebrate and study the real Malcolm X, who “rejected lesser-evilism and the two-party set up and division of labor that oversaw the capitalist system of racism, imperialism, and exploitation.”

by Ike Nahem

This article previously appeared in Dissident Voice.
Steadily, and more and more explicitly, Malcolm X embraced anti-capitalist and pro-socialist standpoints as he understood them.

“I believe that there will be ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don’t think it will be based on the color of the skin…”  — Malcolm X, One Month Before His Murder

There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee, even from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain – and we will smile. Many will say turn away – away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man – and we will smile. They will say that he is of hate – a fanatic, a racist – who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him. Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people.” — Eulogy delivered by Ossie Davis at the Funeral of Malcolm X, Faith Temple Church Of God, Harlem, February 27,1965

The Assassination

On February 21, 1965 – 50 years ago this week – Malcolm X, the great African-American and US freedom fighter and outstanding world revolutionary leader, was gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom in upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights on Broadway and 165th Street in New York City. Commemorations of this bitterly sad anniversary that truly altered US and world history have been held in New York City, Malcolm’s home base, across the United States, and throughout the world.

Malcolm X was a peerless orator of tremendous wit and power as well as an indefatigable and effective political organizer. On that fateful and horrible 1965 day he was murdered in cold blood, in front of his wife and children, while addressing a full house of over 400 people, under the auspices of the Organization of Afro-American Unity, the non-religious political formation he founded after his split from Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam (called the “Black Muslims” in the US media).

The gunmen were undoubtedly agents and operatives of the Nation of Islam (NOI). From the moment Malcolm X left the NOI he was subjected to the most vile personal attacks and slanders from Louis Farrakhan and other NOI leaders, including open calls for his death. While the evidence directly linking NOI leaders to the murder plot continues to be covered up, their moral and political responsibility is unquestionable. But this truth also begs the larger question of the direct or indirect responsibility of the United States government in Malcolm X’s death. It is known that US government agencies, that is, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) within the United States, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which took over during Malcolm’s international travels, had stepped up their illegal surveillance, harassment, and hounding of Malcolm X after his departure from the NOI. Federal and local cops and spooks had Malcolm X under constant surveillance. The New York Police Department (NYPD) knew two weeks in advance that Malcolm X was being targeted for assassination. NYPD had at least one undercover agent in the OAAU and had a wiretap on Malcolm X’s phone. Yet no police were in sight at the Audubon Ballroom when he was murdered right in the open. It is also known that part of the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation directed against Malcolm X included exploiting and instigating person venom against Malcolm by his former associates and manipulating the atmosphere of hostility and provocation.

Much of the documentation of this outrageous and illegal US government harassment – which included poison pens letters, instigating and promoting false rumors, personal antagonisms, the leaking and planting of disinformation in the media, and so on has come to light from lawsuits under Freedom of Information Act legislation. In a then-secret 1968 memorandum, Hoover wrote that the FBI must, “Prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement. [Malcolm X] might have been such a ‘messiah’…”

A Hero of My Youth and Always

My first lasting memory of Malcolm X was when, as a 13-year old boy in southern Indiana I was shaken by a graphic photo-spread of his assassination in the old LOOK magazine which my parents subscribed to. I had developed the habit of reading newspapers and following what was called “current events” in school so I was aware of and instinctively sympathetic to the Civil Rights Movement, as were my parents, although they had no direct involvement. A year or two later, we moved to the relatively big city of Cincinnati, Ohio, and I went from a segregated small-town high school to a late-1960s urban cauldron.

The racial and social composition of my new high school was, more or less, about 40% “white” working class and middle class, 40% Black working class, with the rest, including me, mostly Jewish. It was a volatile mix in extremely volatile times, with the Black rights struggle literally exploding nationally as the Vietnam War — and mounting opposition to it — escalating. Interesting alliances and struggles formed in my new high school alongside racial antagonisms and tension. Black and white students united to change the schools draconian dress code; T-shirts, long-haired “hippies,” and Afros proliferated. My high school was even written up in LIFE magazine in one of the era’s ubiquitous pieces on the alienation and rebelliousness of “today’s youth.”

A few of my radicalizing Jewish friends and I gravitated to some of the outspoken Black students. I started sneaking off to attend civil rights protests. At one point we organized a controversial protest over the required recitation of the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the US flag at morning homeroom. Where the closing line says, “One Nation Under God, With Liberty and Justice For All,” we added, “If You’re White.” That landed us in the Principal’s office.

When Martin Luther King was assassinated, the Black ghetto in Cincinnati exploded and my high school was shut down by students who refused to attend classes, considering it an insult to King’s memory that schools remained open.

“I found out that the feared and hated (by some) Malcolm X was funny as hell!”

One day in 1967 I was looking to spend my sparse allowance money on some music at a rock-and-roll and “soul music” store in downtown Cincinnati when there in the stacks, in a section called “Spoken Word,” I saw an LP titled “The Wit and Wisdom of Malcolm X,” excerpts from his speeches. At $1.49 I could afford it. It was an earthshaking experience for me. What eloquence and logic I found within those grooves. What powerful use of language, what masterful employment of analogy and metaphor. What uncompromising exposure of hypocrisy and duplicity. What passion and compassion.

Perhaps most unexpected for me was the profound and brilliant humor. At the time I had ambitions to be a comedian and I devoured comedy albums and movies as well as books on comedy “theory” — Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Slappy White, the Marx Brothers, Burns and Allen, Flip Wilson, Don Rickles, and all the regulars on Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson. I found out that the feared and hated (by some) Malcolm X was funny as hell! I played that soon-to-be scratchy album on my rickety record player to the point where I’m sure I drove my mother crazy. Soon after that purchase I stayed up all day and night and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X nonstop barricaded in my room. Like so many millions of others, reading The Autobiography was a real turning point in my life outlook and in the development of my political and social consciousness.

The Autobiography

The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a riveting and astonishing book that rises to great literature. Translated into over 30 languages, it should be essential reading for any literate human being in this country and indeed on this Earth. But if your only introduction and exposure to Malcolm X is this wonderful book, you will be unable to grasp and understand his world historical significance and true legacy, both the continuity and the profound transformation of his short, remarkable life.

The Autobiography was a book dictated by Malcolm X to Alex Haley on the run over the last two years of his life, while he was engaged in a grueling schedule of intense political organizing in the United States that was intertwined with extensive international travel that broadened and sharpened his moral and political outlook. His collaboration with Haley began while Malcolm X was still a member of and under the discipline of the Nation of Islam. But by the end of 1963 Malcolm’s estrangement from the NOI was reaching a climax. For Malcolm X the radical split, which had been building for some time from moral and political motivations, became a personal and political liberation that was the catalyst pushing him forward. Responding later to a reporter trying to tie him to old NOI dogmas, he stated, “I feel like a man who has been asleep somewhat and under someone else’s control. I feel that what I’m thinking and saying is now for myself. Before it was for and by the guidance of Elijah Muhammad. Now I think with my own mind, sir!”

Malcolm X was unable to edit and correct many specific mistakes and misinterpretations in The Autobiography. He was unable to explain and elaborate on the new positions and his rejection of NOI nostrums he had promulgated by rote as an NOI leader. One example of this was his position against interracial marriages which he changed as he dumped Muhammad’s “Yacub’s theory” that “all whites” were the devilish offsprings of the experiments and machinations of an evil scientist from way back when. An expression of his old position was contained in The Autobiography. But in a November 23, 1964 press conference – less than three months before his murder – Malcolm was asked, “Are you against the love between a black person and a white person.” His answer: “How can anyone be against love? Whoever a person wants to love that’s their business – that’s like their religion.”

In general, Haley’s editing of The Autobiography transcripts dilutes or deletes what was a sharp shift and trajectory to the left in Malcolm’s political and philosophical views. Steadily, and more and more explicitly, Malcolm X embraced anti-capitalist and pro-socialist standpoints as he understood them. Within the Nation of Islam, Malcolm had always positioned himself on the side of the Black masses, the working people, as opposed to the more “respectable” “Black bourgeoisie,” as he put it, who were afraid to “rock the boat.” His blistering, uproarious popularization of the class divides within the oppressed Afro-American nationality at the time of the mass struggles of the 1960s was articulated brilliantly in his classic oratorical construction, “The House Negro and the Field Negro” that he inserted into many speeches. (This can be easily found on YouTube and elsewhere online.)

“His collaboration with Haley began while Malcolm X was still a member of and under the discipline of the Nation of Islam.”

Outside the NOI, and in close contact with revolutionary internationalists of all skin colors and nationalities who were influenced by Marxist ideas and working-class struggles, these questions had moved more and more to the center of Malcolm’s consciousness at the end of his life.

Malcolm wished to change and reformulate many things in The Autobiography, especially in the last chapters covering the period of his split from the NOI. Haley resisted, citing deadline pressures and Malcolm was murdered before the book was published. The printed book focuses on – doing a generally beautiful job — the narration of Malcolm’s turbulent and searing life experiences. But the published narrative is incomplete. To fully appreciate the complete journey and legacy of Malcolm X, The Autobiography must be supplemented by reading and studying the man and his ideas directly in his own words.

Fortunately this is possible in print, audio, and video. Pathfinder Press is a small but prestigious socialist publishing house (www.pathfinderpress.com), affiliated with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a Marxist group which developed a close relationship with Malcolm X, and published his speeches, before his death. Pathfinder undertook immediately after Malcolm X’s death a major project, in collaboration with his wife Betty Shabazz, to gather and publish as much direct material of Malcolm X’s considerable output – speeches, essays, transcripts of interviews and press conferences, and so on from the crucial last year-and-a-half of his life. All of this remains in print today, completely uncensored and in basic chronology, so the reader can see for themselves the development and political evolution of this genuine American revolutionary. (I was a member of the SWP for over 20 years from the early 1970s to the mid-1990s and played a small part in helping Pathfinder to proofread and prepare for print some of the later published volumes.).

Targeted for Destruction

During this last period of his life Malcolm X functioned under and confronted – almost alone – tremendous pressures and life-threatening circumstances. He was literally marked for death by the NOI. A week before his assassination, his Queens, New York home was firebombed as he, his pregnant wife, and their four daughters were sleeping, all narrowly escaping death. The NYPD “investigation” was slovenly and perfunctory, implying he did it himself!

The Split

Malcolm X’s accumulating and mounting estrangement from the Nation of Islam intensified with his deep revulsion and abhorrence at a sordid sexual scandal and cover up involving Elijah Muhammad. This brought to the fore growing and irreconcilable political differences between Malcolm X and the conservative NOI hierarchy over how to achieve Black freedom in the United States. The differences were not abstract or theological in content, but had red hot immediacy because the context was the exploding movement among the Black masses for freedom that characterized the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s. The obscurantist and hidebound Nation of Islam (NOI) preached religious piety and individual self-improvement and abstained from the mass political struggles and mobilizations that were rocking Black communities North and South.

Malcolm was attracted to these struggles and wanted the NOI, which his organizational skills had largely built into a significant presence in the Black ghettos and among Blacks incarcerated, as Malcolm had been, in US prisons, to jump into these struggles. But under Muhammad’s extreme sectarian outlook – which disdained mass political struggle and counterposed “self-reform,” abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and promoting the NOI’s growing business interests (which made Muhammad a rich man), this was rejected. Malcolm began to feel like a prisoner within the NOI. It was not only the growing mass mobilizations of the Civil Rights Movement and the growing political militancy and radicalization among Black youth and working people that found resonance within Malcolm X. He was also increasingly conscious of the contradictions and absurdities of the philosophical rationalizations put forward in the above-mentioned “Yacub’s theory” for the “separatist” program of the NOI. Malcolm’s accumulating break with all this quasi-religious mystification and hocus-pocus became definitive once he was liberated from the NOI straightjacket. Among the elements of the NOI positions that Malcolm jettisoned was his open rejection of the anti-Semitism and scapegoating of Jews that was embedded in the NOI outlook.

Rid of NOI dogma, Malcolm’s trip abroad across the African continent and to the Middle East and Mecca facilitated his final break with race-based theories and generalizations about “white” people. He sharpened his view that “race” is, at bottom, itself a myth and a wholly artificial political construct. In the United States, he said, “white” essentially means “boss,” that is, that “white supremacy” has no rational scientific content or meaning other than as an expression of and rationalization for the oppression, subordination, and degradation of the Afro-American people or nationality.

Anti-Imperialism

A voracious reader of history and politics Malcolm began to develop a coherent anti-imperialist world outlook. He knew his facts and he had a keen grasp for the historical framework to sort out and understand factual contradictions. As a result he was a master at sniffing out and untangling media distortions, lies, and half-truths. With withering contempt he exposed media disinformation and lying spin regarding anti-colonial struggle for independence and national liberation across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. He bristled when “Western” media, echoing Washington’s line, attacked the Mau-Mau freedom fighters in Kenya who were fighting the brutal rule of a declining British imperialism, as “savages.” The bourgeois media, Malcolm never tired of pointing out, were masters at “turning the criminal into the victim, and the victim into the criminal.”

Even before his split with the NOI, Malcolm was, like Martin Luther King and the emerging new generation of US civil rights leaders and activists, deeply affected by the African independence struggles that burst onto world politics in the post-World War II period through the 1950s and 60s. He connected the experience of what he termed “Afro-Americans” to the struggles in Africa and the rest of the so-called Third World. The Black freedom struggle, he argued, was part of, not separate from the worldwide anti-colonial and anti-racist struggle. Both were interconnected and exploding at the same time under the dynamics unleashed by the massive revolutionary changes ushered in by World War II and its end. Malcolm sought to build practical relations of political collaboration with leaders of oppressed peoples around the world.

Washington Targets Malcolm

The powers-that-be in Washington were at this time the unchallenged leader of the capitalist world and facing the post-World War II explosion of colonial independence and national liberation struggles in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Washington sought to prevent the vacuum left by the weakened and withered ex-colonial empires of Britain, France, and other European powers from resulting in radical social revolutions along the lines of the Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cuban Revolutions. These national liberation struggles were seen as both a threat to US and “Western” economic and financial interests as well as an arena of “geopolitical” “Cold War” competition with the Soviet Union and “Red” China.

As previously said, Malcolm X was under permanent surveillance and harassment by agencies of the United States government – the Lyndon Johnson White House and its J. Edgar Hoover-led FBI. The US State Department and CIA dogged his every step during his overseas travels to newly independent African countries and elsewhere. A month before his murder, Washington pressured the French government to bar his re-entry to the country where he had been invited to speak before a huge gathering. Washington feared his broad political appeal after he gained his moral and political independence from the NOI and began to devote his indefatigable energy to organizing in the United States and internationally.

In particular, Washington was horrified over Malcolm’s outspoken condemnation of the brutal US intervention in the Congo, his early, sharp opposition to the escalating US war in Vietnam, and his open, enthusiastic embrace of the Cuban Revolution. Additionally, Washington undertook a big effort to counter Malcolm X’s major campaign to bring before the United Nations General Assembly for a vote the human rights violations against African-Americans in the United States, which was gathering support internationally and in the US. In the period before his murder Malcolm was preparing to go on a speaking tour of US campuses to speak out against US aggression in Vietnam.

The Congo

Events in the Congo had a powerful impact on the political consciousness the evolution into a revolutionary of Malcolm X.

What transpired in the Congo was surely one of the greatest crimes of both the 19th Century, repeated again in the 20th Century. A Belgian colony, the Congo, in the 19th Century under the rule of King Leopold, was essentially a semi-slave territory where huge profits for Belgian capitalists were extracted among rubber workers and other toilers under the most horrid conditions, including amputations of workers limbs for supposed labor infractions. Belgian Congo was a laboratory for the genocides of the 20th Century, with an estimated 4-8 million indigenous Congolese killed under Leopold’s reign of terror. (For documentation see the classic indictment by Mark Twain, King Leopold’s Soliloquy, written in 1905 by the great American novelist, essayist, and satirist and Adam Hochschild’s grim and vivid 1998 best-seller, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa.)

By the 1950s Belgian rule was in crisis and no longer tenable as the Congolese people became a leading contingent of the post-World war II struggles for independence that swept the African continent from top to bottom. The decrepit, declining Belgian rulers conceded the holding of elections to be followed by a formal process leading to independence. The central figure and inspiring leader of the Congolese independence struggle was the teacher Patrice Lumumba who handily won the promised elections and established a popular government that began to implement desperately needed measures in a large country which the Belgian colonialists had left destitute with a puny number of schools and hospitals and no infrastructure other than what was needed to transport the country’s vast mineral and other wealth out of it. Lumumba’s government also staked out an independent non-aligned foreign policy which Washington found intolerable.

The departing Belgians, with Washington’s backing, began from day one to subvert and work to destroy Lumumba’s government. Along with the South African apartheid state they financed, armed, and promoted separatist forces led by the notorious mercenary and killer Moishe Tshombe. With growing chaos, and under United Nations cover, Washington and Brussels engineered a coup against Lumumba in September 1961. Lumumba was taken hostage and brutally murdered in January 1961. The CIA had a direct hand in all of this. The imperialist coup installed a lackey regime led by the tyrant Tshombe that Washington and Belgian could depend on to protect the nation’s vast copper, rubber, and other mineral holdings for super-profitable exploitation by imperialist capital.

“Malsolm continuously spoke out against Washington’s crimes, in solidarity with the Congolese people.”

As resistance to the pro-imperialist coup mounted among the Congolese followers of the martyred Lumumba, Washington and Belgium organized a racist mercenary army. In cahoots with apartheid South African and the British colonial-settler state of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) they recruited racist and ultra-rightist mercenaries from the United States, other European states, and some anti-Castro counter-revolutionary exiles from Cuba. These forces, under barely covert US CIA supervision, carried out murderous bombing raids against “rebel-held villages” and other terrorist atrocities and massacres that resulted in many thousands of Congolese deaths.

These crimes, and the shameless lies turning reality on its head in the big-business US media towing the US government’s line, infuriated and galvanized Malcolm X. He continuously spoke out against Washington’s crimes, in solidarity with the Congolese people. He spoke the bold and unvarnished truth in the face of imperialist propaganda. In the last interview he gave before his death to the Young Socialist magazine, Malcolm stated, “Probably there is no greater example of criminal activity against an oppressed people than the role the US has been playing in the Congo, through her ties with Tshombe and the mercenaries. You can’t overlook the fact that Tshombe gets his money from the US. The money he uses to hire these mercenaries – these paid killers supported from South Africa – comes from the United States. The pilots that fly those planes have been trained by the US. The bombs themselves that are blowing apart the bodies of women and children come from the US. So I can only view the role of the United States in the Congo as a criminal role.”

US-led “Western” policy action eventually led to the installation of the dictator Joseph Mobutu (aka Mobutu Sese Seko) who led an exceedingly venal and vicious regime for over 40 years, becoming a multi-billionaire until his regime collapsed in 1997.

Malcolm X and the Cuban Revolution

Malcolm X was a strong supporter of the Cuban Revolution even before he left the NOI. Among the first acts of the revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959 was the radical extirpation of all laws and state practices upholding Jim Crow-style segregation in Cuba. Afro-Cubans were among the greatest beneficiaries and most enthusiastic supporters of the Revolution and as fighters in the guerrilla army. Malcolm X was prominent among a large layer of Black intellectuals and activists including W.E.B. DuBois, LeRoi Jones (later known as Amiri Baraka), Robert F. Williams, William Worthy and many others who welcomed and defended the Cuban Revolution, which was coming under increasing US attack.

The Cuban Revolution had already begun to implement radical social programs (of which smashing legal segregation was one), including a radical land reform, that was having a definite material impact on those US economic and financial interests which utterly dominated Cuban society. The Eisenhower Administration was already deeply involved in the initial planning of what became the Bay of Pigs invasion, and was leading the bipartisan consensus across the US government that the revolutionary Cuban government had to go down.

In September 1960, while still in the NOI, Malcolm X met with Fidel Castro in Harlem. The circumstances of Malcolm and Fidel’s meeting have become legendary (for details see Rosemari Mealy’s excellent Fidel and Malcolm X: Memories of a Meeting, Ocean Press). Faced with unacceptable impositions and expenses by the management of the Shelburne Hotel, the Cuban delegation to the special fall gathering of world heads of state at the United Nations packed up and moved uptown to the Theresa Hotel in Harlem and enthusiastic crowds of African-Americans and other friends and supporters of the Cuban Revolution.

Malcolm’s attitude to the Cuban Revolution was favorable before he exited from the Nation of Islam: “The Cuban Revolution, that’s a Revolution. They overturned the system,” he said in his last major speech as an NOI representative. But his political attraction to its revolutionary internationalist and socialist program deepened after his split from the NOI.

Malcolm’s admiration for the Cuban revolutionaries not only flowed from his consciousness of the vigorous anti-racist measures carried out by the Revolution, but also from the words and deeds of the revolutionary Cuban government in support of African liberation in general and the Congolese anti-imperialist struggle in particular. Che Guevara not only spoke eloquently at the United Nations condemning imperialist policy in the Congo, saying “All free men must be prepared to avenge the crime of the Congo,” but later actually fought there with followers of Lumumba, attempting to organize an effective revolutionary resistance.

Malcolm X personally invited Che to speak in Harlem in December 1964, but his appearance had to be put off over security concerns. As Malcolm read Che’s solidarity message, he said, “I love a revolutionary. And one of the most revolutionary men in this country right now was going to come out…” When the crowd responded to Che’s solidarity message with strong applause, Malcolm said the applause “lets the man know that he’s just not in a position today to tell us who we should applaud for and who we shouldn’t applaud for.”

From Pariah to Icon

It would be hard to find a figure in US history more slandered, vilified, and misrepresented while he was alive than Malcolm X. He was labeled a “hatemonger,” a “racist-in-reverse,” a promoter and man of violence, and worse. This was not confined to blatant racists and segregationists but was the standard line in more respectable and genteel liberal society. When it came to Malcolm X, especially after he broke free from the dogma and narrow confines of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam, moved sharply to the left, and began to speak out and organize freely, the gloves came off among most liberal voices, and a furious hatred came to the surface. This was captured in the classic Phil Ochs satiric ballad, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” whose opening stanza goes, “I cried when they shot Medgar Evers, Tears ran down my spine, And I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy, as though I’d lost a father of mine…But Malcolm X got what was coming, He got what he asked for this time, so love, love me, love me…I’m a liberal.”

Perhaps the most notorious example of this was a scurrilous editorial in the liberal, sophisticated, pro-civil rights New York Times, published the day after he was murdered. To the Times editorial board Malcolm X was “an extraordinary and twisted man, turning many true gifts to evil purpose.” With a stunning and brazen disregard for the slightest accuracy and truth, the editorial asserted that Malcolm X held a “ruthless and fanatical belief in violence…[that] also marked him for notoriety and for a violent end.” Continuing on the insinuation that Malcolm X was responsible for his own death, the Times editorial continues, “He could not even come to terms with his fellow black extremists. The world he saw through those horned-rim glasses of his was distorted and dark. But he made it darker still with his exaltation of fanaticism.

“Yesterday someone came out of the darkness that he spawned, and killed him…[T]his murder could easily touch off a war of vengeance of the kind he himself fomented.” ( all emphasis added)

The bile and vitriol of that shameful editorial was echoed in the even-more liberal Nation magazine which placed Malcolm X on the “Negro lunatic fringe” that was, furthermore, “defeatist.”

Later that year, the Autobiography of Malcolm X and Malcolm X Speaks, unedited and uncensored full presentations of his actual speeches and words, were published by the maverick Grove Press, the latter book in conjunction with Pathfinder Press. They became instant classics and best sellers, especially among Blacks and students. It was no longer possible to write such lies and garbage about Malcolm X and both the New York Times and The Nation changed their tune, publishing reviews and articles that were highly favorable and sympathetic to Malcolm X, reflecting the new esteem and appreciation of him in growing layers of society, Black and Caucasian. Over time a new mythology regarding Malcolm X began to congeal, a new distortion of his political and moral trajectory, this time not from open opponents but purported friends and admirers. Of course, it helped that he was dead.

Today, fifty years after his murder Malcolm X has become as icon. There is a US Stamp issued with his likeness, major streets are named after him, the legendary Autobiography is considered a classic, still selling briskly and assigned to numerous high school and college classes. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and numerous other liberal and conservative political figures have cited it as a major influence on their lives.

“There is a US Stamp issued with his likeness, major streets are named after him.”

Nevertheless, this latter iconization of Malcolm X, more often than not, is the other side of the coin that previously disparaged him when he was alive, in the sense that he has been transformed by “mainstream” forces into a harmless icon, with his sharp revolutionary anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist political program diluted and softened. The conscious or unconscious operation strains to turn Malcolm X, who was above all else a genuine revolutionary, into a conventional liberal or conservative, someone who can be folded into the traditional spectrum of bourgeois Democratic and Republican party US politics. This is a travesty of the actual Malcolm X and his actual political and moral trajectory.

The death of Malcolm X was a devastating blow to the Black freedom struggle in the United States and for oppressed and exploited people in every continent worldwide. In the US, Malcolm was trying to establish the Organization of Afro American Unity as an independent Black political movement, that is, completely independent of both the Democratic and Republican parties. He rejected lesser-evilism and the two-party set up and division of labor that oversaw the capitalist system of racism, imperialism, and exploitation. “The difference between the Republican and the Democrats,” Malcolm would say, “is that the Republicans stick the knife in your back six inches, and the Democrats pull it out one.” That perspective of complete political independence and principled opposition to both capitalist parties has never since had such a powerful voice.

The absence of Malcolm after 1965 had a deleterious impact on the revolutionary upsurge of the “Black Power” movement in the late 1960s which he greatly inspired. The movement had its greatest organizational advance with the mass growth of the Black Panther Party led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, but the Panthers floundered and collapsed under heavy illegal government harassment and murderous repression, as well as its own ultraleftist, militaristic, cultist, and opportunist mistakes under tremendous pressure. The Panthers and the 1960s generation of revolutionary-minded fighters would have benefited greatly from Malcolm X’s political clarity, organizational skills, tactical savvy, and discipline.

A new political reality is opening up in the United States today. A new generation of youth, of all nationalities, is radicalizing and mobilizing from Ferguson, Missouri to Staten Island, New York and across the US. This has been sparked by a wave of police killings of unarmed, mostly Black and Latino, civilians and subsequent Grand Jury exonerations in clearly manipulated settings. This reality now confronts the US ruling Establishment. The framework for this new consciousness and struggle is the grotesque obscenities that now mark the so-called criminal justice system in the US, with its mass incarceration of youth, especially Black and Latino youth, the virtual impossibility of seeing any kind of justice in case after case of police killings and brutality, and more broadly the mounting impact of the permanent capitalist economic crisis, growing impoverishment, and increased working-class struggles for decent jobs and wages, against obscene inequality in education, health care, and so on. Those coming into the fight will find no greater historic champion and inspiration in the fight for their better future than Malcolm X. For those who take the time to search, discover, and study this towering human being, beautiful vistas will open up before you.

Ike Nahem is a longtime anti-war, labor, and socialist, and activist. Nahem is the coordinator of Cuba Solidarity New York and a founder of the New York-New Jersey July 26 Coalition (july26coalition.org). Nahem is a retired Amtrak Locomotive Engineer and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a division of the Teamsters Union. He can be reached at ikenahem@mindspring.com with comment or criticism.

 

Footnotes

1.When Columbia University threatened in 1989 to demolish the property, Black community activists, Columbia students, and landmark preservationists protested vigorously and forced the University to retreat. Today the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center stands in the lobby of the old Ballroom containing that portion where Malcolm X was assassinated which is now protected and restored.

2.Malcolm X never advocated, promoted or called for the initiation of “violence.” He was a personal victim of racist violence as his father was murdered by KKK-inspired racists. He was fully versed in the violent history of “American democracy” which he called “disguised hypocrisy” against African-Americans from slavery to his own time, where in face of mass struggles against the dying system of Jim Crow-segregation in the US South vicious violence was unleashed against peaceful civil rights activists. He led disciplined, peaceful struggles against police killings and brutality in New York City and Los Angeles. But he was not a pacifist and did not believe in turning the other cheek. He was for disciplined, legal, peaceful protest. But he believed in the right of self-defense. “I am non-violent to people who are non-violent to me.” “It doesn’t mean I advocate violence, but at the same time I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence.” “I don’t favor violence. If we could bring about recognition and respect of our people by peaceful means, well and good. Everyone would like to achieve his objectives peacefully.” “Concerning non-violence: It is criminal to teach a man not to defend himself, when he is the constant victim of brutal attacks.” These views were shamefully twisted and distorted by Malcolm X’s political enemies.

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Why the U.S. Government Assassinated Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. October 3, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, History, Race, Racism, Revolution, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: you can purchase Ronald Sheppard’s pamphlet at http://www.remarxpub.com

 

by Roland Sheppard. ReMarx Publishing, 2014.

 

Reviewed by Roger Hollander, Black Agenda Report

The question of who ordered the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. is a vital one, and thousands of pages have been written on the issue. Those who dismiss the notion that the United States Government would engage in assassination (by characterizing those who believe this as ‘conspiracy nuts’) willfully ignore the 1975 Church Committee Report (that exposed covert, illegal government activities) and the many CIA-orchestrated assassinations and coups d’etat from Africa to Latin America.

The CIA’s experience with overseas assassinations has given it more than enough expertise to conduct domestic assassinations, with the added advantage of having control over investigating agencies at the local, state, and national levels.

Deciding criminal guilt is largely based on proving means, motive, and opportunity. When it comes to political assassination, the key question is motive.

Powerful government institutions possess, or can easily obtain, the means and the opportunity to conduct an assassination and divert attention to “a lone gunman,” or a patsy like Lee Harvey Oswald. The mainstream media conveniently forget this fact as they rush to legitimize wacky theories that take the heat off the CIA, FBI, NSA, and police.

“When it comes to political assassination, the key question is motive.”

In Why the U.S. Government Assassinated Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., Roland Sheppard exposes the U.S. Government’s motive for assassinating Malcolm X in New York’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965 and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. The fact that Sheppard is one of the few remaining eye witnesses to the assassination of Malcolm X adds a note of immediacy and authenticity to his analysis.

Sheppard describes the unusual absence of security on the day of Malcolm X’s assassination, and he recounts his personal observations of what happened in the crucial moments. He tells of a second suspect apprehended that day by the New York Police, a man whose existence later disappeared from the official version of events. However, when Sheppard was interrogated at the Harlem Police Station, he saw this man walking freely into one of the offices. Sheppard recognized him as the assassin.

In 1999, the King family launched a civil suit in 1999 to expose the facts surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“After considering all the evidence, a Memphis jury ruled that someone other than James Earl Ray had been the shooter … that the City of Memphis, the State of Tennessee, and federal government agencies were all involved in the assassination.”

Motive

The heart of Sheppard’s work is his analysis of the motive for these two government assassinations.

There is nothing more threatening to the U.S. corporate elite, the government, the military, and the mass media than the prospect of revolution. Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were developing beyond their original Black liberation philosophies. They were emerging as powerful advocates and organizers for revolutionary change in the American economic and political system.

In his final years, Malcolm X expanded the fight against racism to include the fight against poverty and war. In 1962, he supported striking hospital workers in New York City. And he was the first mass leader in the United States to publicly oppose America’s war against Vietnam.

In his speech at the Oxford Union in 1964, Malcolm X gives Shakespeare a revolutionary twist. He begins with the famous question: “Whether it was nobler in the mind of man to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and, by opposing, end them.” His answer, “And I go for that. If you take up arms you’ll end it, but if you sit around and wait for the one who’s in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time.”

The U.S. Government also feared Malcolm X’s growing international stature and the political connections he was making in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

Sheppard reminds us that Malcolm X met with Che Guevara and the Cuban delegation to the United Nations in New York, in December of 1964. He was invited by Ahmed Ben Bella, the leader of the Algerian revolution, to participate along with Che and other independence movement leaders at a conference in Bandung beginning March 3, 1965. He had also arranged for the issue of human rights violations against Afro-Americans to be considered on March 12, 1965, by the International Court of Justice at the Hague. His assassination put an end to all of this. (Ben Bella was assassinated just four months later.)

Fighting words Martin Luther King, Jr. was also beginning to challenge a political system that profits from racism. Sheppard cites King’s speech at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Convention in August 1967,

“Why are there forty million poor people in America? … when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth … you begin to question the capitalist economy.”

King pointed out that the Northern Liberals, who had given moral and financial support to end Jim Crow laws in the South, would not support the effort to eliminate economic segregation. As Sheppard states, “Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated to subvert the Poor People’s Campaign. King was building a mass movement against poverty, and those who profit from poverty were determined to stop him.”

King’s opposition to the U.S. war against Vietnam sent shivers down the back of the military-industrial complex. In his historic sermon at the Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967, sometimes referred to as the greatest MLK speech you never heard of, King exclaimed:

“Money that should have been spent on Johnson’s War on Poverty was being lost in Vietnam’s killing fields … A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death … We are taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them 8,000 miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools.”

King called for a coalition of labor, anti-racist, anti-poverty, and anti-war activists; and a united movement poses the greatest threat to the status quo.

Marxists?

In his books on Malcolm X, George Breitman states, “Malcolm was not yet a Marxist.” A reviewer of Breitman’s work added, “Not yet! But it was only a matter of time.”

Malcolm X wrote:

“It is impossible for capitalism to survive, primarily because the system of capitalism needs some blood to suck. Capitalism used to be like an eagle, but now it’s more like a vulture. It used to be strong enough to go and suck anybody’s blood whether they were strong or not. But now it has become more cowardly, like the vulture, and it can only suck the blood of the helpless. As the nations of the world free themselves, then capitalism has less victims, less to suck, and it becomes weaker and weaker. It’s only a matter of time in my opinion before it will collapse completely.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., may not have been as far along the road of rejecting capitalism for socialism. Nevertheless, I believe that this was also a matter of time. In a 1966 speech to his staff, King explained: “… something is wrong … with capitalism … There must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

“Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated to subvert the Poor People’s Campaign.”

The U.S. Government was determined that neither of these fighters should be allowed to have that time. However, before moving to assassinate them, it tried to “neutralize” them.

Sheppard describes the activities of COINTELPRO, the FBI’s program to infiltrate, disrupt, and destroy the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Vietnam-War movement, and any other threat to the status quo.

FBI boss, J. Edgar Hoover, called King “the most dangerous Negro” and tried to blackmail him into silence. To discredit Malcolm X, the FBI paid an informer inside the Nation of Islam. When these efforts failed, assassination was the final option.

The U.S. Government assassinated Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. because they rightly came to understand and challenge the capitalist economic system, its social impact (war, poverty, injustice, environmental disaster), and its reliance on racism to divide-and-conquer.

Sheppard concludes with an appeal to action; we must learn the truth about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. so we can carry their vision forward and conclude the struggle they so bravely began.

Roland Sheppard describes himself as a retired Business Representative of Painters Local #4 in San Francisco, a life long social activist and socialist. Prior to being elected as a union official in 1994, he worked for 31 years as a house painter. Roland Sheppard’s Daily News is accessible athttp://rolandsheppard.com/

Civil Rights: Then and Today August 14, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Police, Race.
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Roger’s note: A thousand words.

 

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The Civil Rights Act is 50 years old. These two pictures were taken 50 years apart. Behold our progress.

Pete Seeger Dead: Famed Folk Singer, Songwriter And Political Activist Dies At 94 January 28, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Revolution.
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Roger’s note: A genuine American hero has left us.  A man virtually with no rival in his field: folk music/humanistic radical politics.  For some years there has been a movement to nominate Pete for the Nobel  Peace Prize .  To think it went to our bellicose president.  Pete Seeger: a life to celebrate and to emulate.
 CHRIS TALBOTT and MICHAEL HILL 01/28/14 06:25 AM ET EST AP
Pete Seeger

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.

Medals to Birmingham’s 4 Little Girls, Sleazy Billionaires to the Cabinet: Brand Obama VS Real World Obama June 4, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Race.
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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.

Zinn’s ‘People’s History’ Masterwork Hits the History Channel December 11, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History, Media.
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By Dave Zirin, AlterNet
December 11, 2009

On December 13th, a date I’ve basically had tattooed on my arm like the guy from Memento, The People Speak finally makes its debut on the History Channel. This is more than just must-see-TV. It is nothing less than the life’s work of “people’s historian” Howard Zinn brought to life by some of the most talented actors, musicians, and poets in the country. Howard Zinn and his partner Anthony Arnove chose the most stirring political passages in Zinn’s classic A People’s History of the United States, creating a written anthology called Voices of a People’s History of the United States. Those “voices” have now been fully resurrected by a collection of performers ranging from Matt Damon to hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco to poet Staceyann Chin.

The People Speak also showcases John Legend reading the words of Muhammad Ali, Kerry Washington as Sojourner Truth, David Strathairn’s take on the soaring oratory of Eugene Debs, and Morgan Freeman as Frederick Douglass asking, “What is the 4th of July to the American Slave?” There are also the words of women factory workers read by Marisa Tomei, rebellious farmers personified by Viggo Mortensen, and escaped slaves voiced by Benjamin Bratt.

Certainly the lunatic right will howl to the heavens after seeing “liberal Hollywood” perform the words of labor radicals, anti-racists, feminists, and socialists. In fact, aided by the craven Matt Drudge, they are already in full froth, campaigning online to get the History Channel to drop The People Speak before its air-date. If it weren’t so contemptible, their actions would be almost quaint, like a virtual book burning.

But beneath the bombast, their hostile aversion “a people’s history” speaks volumes about why we need to support this project. This is a country dedicated to historical amnesia. Our radical past holds dangers for both those in power and those threatened by progressive change. We need to rescue the great battles for social justice from becoming either co-opted or simply erased from the history books. Our children don’t learn about the people who made the Civil Rights movement. Instead we get Dr. Martin Luther King on a McDonald’s commemorative cup. Because of our country’s organized ignorance, endless hours are wasted in every generation reinventing the wheel and relearning lessons already taught.

One reason Barack Obama made so many of us feel “hopey” during the 2008 election season is that he seemed to understand and even take inspiration from our “people’s history.” Candidate Obama would invoke the odysseys of abolitionists, suffragettes, freedom riders, and Stonewall rioters. He linked his campaign to this history with a slogan from today’s immigrant rights and union struggles: Si Se Puede, Yes We Can.

And yet this Presidency in practice has been like watching George W. Bush with a working cerebellum. Send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan? Say nothing in the face of racist rallies held outside the capitol? Tell LGBT people to shut up and wait for their civil rights? All in a year’s work. The Obama administration is now counting upon the American people, to once again, quietly go with the flow all while pretending we never saw this movie before. This is why The People Speak matters. It’s aimed at reclaiming our hallowed history from all who would profane it: to resurrect our past as a guide to fight for the future.

There are those who will wrongly see The People Speak as a kind of “spoonful of sugar” approach to education. Get a celebrity to recite the words of Susan B. Anthony and all of a sudden, we’ll all want to be history buffs. But this isn’t Hollywood “slumming” in the land of radical chic. It is instead a bracing spectacle where our sacred history is reimagined by performance artists of tremendous craft. Consider the dramatic task at hand: they are attempting nothing less than turning politics into art. If Zinn and co-producers Arnove, Damon, Josh Brolin and Chris Moore pull this off, it holds the potential to introduce a new generation to Sojourner Truth, Eugene Debs, and perhaps most importantly of all, to the works of Howard Zinn.

As Zinn himself once said, “Knowing history is less about understanding the past than changing the future.” This is the grand adventure of Howard Zinn’s life. I encourage everyone to come along for the ride. Get your friends and family together on Sunday night and experience The People Speak. Then take them by the hand and pledge to be heard.
Dave Zirin is the author of “What’s My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States.” Read more of his work at Edgeofsports.com.

Bayard Rustin: Thoughts from Charles Merrill on Tax Revolt March 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Uncategorized.
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“I agree all citizens should pay their taxes if they are treated as equals and receive all of the benefits and privileges allowed as U.S. heterosexual citizens. For those of us not allowed 100% of the rights and benefits due to E.N.D.A., D.O.M.A., D.A.D.T., objection to the war, etc., we should protest the unfair discrimination dictated by the majority. If we really believe in our cause we will risk going to prison, otherwise the cause is not worth fighting for. Why should we help pay for Faith Based programs of Southern Baptists and other evangelical groups that discriminate against us and refuse to hire us?

I am a great admirer of the unsung hero Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin the main brain in back of the Civil Rights movement. He was a War Tax Resister and Quaker which means he protested war as he saw the injustice against humanity, The 60’s Civil Rights movement was stimulated by economic struggles and withholding taxes were not a strategy but a bus boycott was.

Rustin travelled to India and studied Gandhi’s non violent resistance and salt tax protests to free India. Would Bayard Rustin be a tax protestor today for LGBT equal rights? Absolutely. Not everyone can go this protest route and keep their jobs or non-profit tax exemptions, but those self-employed and retirees who can, should. Rustin’s biography is here. Talk about a hero, his story made into a film would make Milk look weak in comparison. Because he was gay and belonged to the communist party briefly, Black faith based Civil Rights groups keep his name hushed.”

His bio, my hero: Bayard Rustin

from a comment on The Bilerico Project by Charles Merrill

ENDA Times: LGBT Groups, Echoing the Civil Rights Era, Approach Churches March 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Religion.
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The Human Rights Campaign, while lobbying for the passage of a comprehensive federal nondiscrimination bill, is hoping to “reclaim the moral ground” from the religious right by targeting churches with its new curriculum.
I don’t care what you say. You were born a man and you’ll always be a man, no matter what you do!”Those words were yelled at my friend Jenny, a male-to-female transgender person, by a coworker when it was announced that “Jim” would now be known as “Jenny.”

“My boss didn’t do anything,” Jenny remembered. In fact, it was the beginning of what Jenny called the “psychological war” launched against her by her coworkers—one that escalated to the point of police officers patrolling the office to deter threats of violence against her.

“The first day I came in as Jenny, I was terrified,” she said. She didn’t know exactly what to expect, but the attacks were subtle, and humiliating: being called by her old name or “sir,” being “assigned” a unisex bathroom by her boss. She had turned down the company’s offer of a personal bodyguard, knowing it would only make things worse.

The company had hoped to avoid dealing with Jenny. They offered to buy her out or transfer her to another office, all to avoid the flak they knew was coming. She refused. Now, two years later, Jenny says some people still give her trouble, but overall most coworkers are using her legal name, and she recently received a glowing evaluation from her boss, along with a raise.

Jenny is luckier than many transgender people in the workplace. Her company is large enough to have a policy that prohibits discrimination against her, though there remains no federal law that prohibits companies from discrimination against transgender people.

In April 2007, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was introduced to Congress, including a provision to protect transgender people. By September, that provision was stripped from the bill to make it more palatable to members of Congress concerned that including transgender people wouldn’t play with their constituents back home. That bill, which came to be known as the “non-inclusive” ENDA, passed the House two months later, though it failed to pass the Senate.

After languishing during 2008, a new transgender-inclusive version of ENDA is expected to be introduced into Congress within the next few weeks, according to Harry Knox, director of the Religion and Faith Program for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay rights organization in the country. Advocacy for the bill, which has not yet been introduced into the current Congress, is already beginning, according to Knox. The first test for the LGBT community before ENDA will be to find enough support to pass the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act—which was stripped out of a Department of Defense bill in the last Congress. Knox expects the hate crimes bill to come up for a vote before ENDA and if support for the hate crimes is strong, the road to ENDA may not be as difficult.

“No one should assume that it will be easy to get those votes on the hate crimes bill because we had an easy election cycle,” Knox said. “Many of the new Democrats who were elected come from conservative districts, so there is a great deal of work to do to get a strong showing for that bill. This is no time to rest on our laurels or make assumptions about the new Congress. We have to bring the full court press on both pieces of legislation.”

For the HRC, the passage of an inclusive ENDA bill is paramount if they are to regain the trust of many in the LGBT community. HRC became something of a pariah after they supported the “non-inclusive” version, which sparked accusations that they were willing to sacrifice the rights of transgender people in the name of political expediency. Even today, there are some LGBT people and organizations that won’t trust HRC or contribute to them for their perceived “betrayal” of transgender Americans. Sharon Groves, the Deputy Director of HRC’s Religion and Faith Program, calls the flap over ENDA the Human Rights Campaign’s “ordination.”

“We came to realize that no matter how people fall on HRC’s decision, the one place we have common understanding is that more educational work is needed. And it needs to happen at the local level so that it would not be such a hard sell to members of Congress when ENDA comes up again,” she said.

In that spirit, HRC has released a new curriculum on transgender issues aimed at faith communities. Gender Identity and Our Faith Communities: A Congregational Guide for Transgender Advocacy is a three-hour course that incorporates the personal stories of transgender people and their families with educational material to help people understand the legitimacy of gender identity issues.

The curriculum is available for any congregation, but it was specifically designed to be distributed to congregations in 40 congressional districts across the nation where representatives may have supported a “non-inclusive” ENDA, but would have voted against a version that included transgender people. Already, 33 of the districts targeted by the HRC have scheduled sessions. Knox hopes all 40 will eventually use the curriculum.

“This curriculum gives people a better understanding of what’s behind gender identity,” Groves explained. “It’s not an issue of choice, but is essentially who they are as people. Among transgender people—like lesbian, gay, and bisexual people—many have known their identity since childhood, and do not feel that they are in the appropriate gender. We need to understand what’s behind gender identity and understand their legitimate claims.”

Groves said they specifically targeted churches for the curriculum to tap a lobbying resource rarely used by progressives: people of faith.

“If we can have people of faith speak on transgender issues from their faith perspective, it’s a very powerful argument. It takes us away from the juggernaut that the religious right always seems to be able to claim that religion is antagonistic to LGBT people. If we can reclaim the moral ground, that’s very powerful.”

HRC is encouraging congregations that use the curriculum to invite their member of Congress to attend. If they can’t get their representative to show, though, Groves said they hope pastors of the churches using the curriculum will attend HRC’s Clergy Call to Action in May and lobby their representative personally. 

“So much of our work is about empowering ordinary people of faith and religious leaders to speak out on justice. Civil rights movement showed the power of the pulpit to shape public policy. Want to empower religious leaders to be a voice for change,” she said.

Getting an inclusive ENDA will be an uphill battle, even with a newly-minted Democratic majority in Congress and a fully supportive president in the Oval Office. While the recent Harris survey commissioned by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) shows that 51 percent of those polled support laws outlawing discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, only 41 percent of the very politically vocal group of evangelical Christians approve of such laws. Among mainline Christians, however, the support for measures like an “inclusive” ENDA are 57 percent. The HRC is hoping its curriculum will help that majority find its voice and be willing to work to educate members of Congress on the importance of including transgender people in employment protections. Jenny understands the importance of those protections.

“If corporate had not signed off on my transition plan, I would have been fired. I have a job because they had a nondiscrimination policy.”

That’s the message Congress—and the new president—needs to hear, especially from people of faith.

Barack Obama: International Outlaw? January 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama.
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Have we become so inured to the United States government willy-nilly violating international law that it hardly registers in the mainstream media when the new “change” president continues in the same tradition?

 

Of all the disappointments and mis-appointments (Gates and Clinton, Sumers and Rubin) Barack Obama has laid on his most progressive followers, none compares with his continuing to send missiles into Pakistan.

 

The most fundamental principle of international law is that no nation has the right to unilaterally attack another unless first attacked.  In his notorious National Security Strategy document of 2002, George W. Bush introduced what has become know as the Bush Doctrine, which includes the notion that the United States reserves the right to engage in “preventive” war.  This euphemism for international outlawry is used to justify the U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Then, by declaring a phony “war on terrorism,” Bush in effect created a justification for the United States to attack anyone at any time.

 

In the context of international legal vacuum (no court with the authority or wherewithal to prosecute a criminal government) and a “might makes right” U.S. foreign policy, the United States military can pretty much get away with whatever its Commander-in-Chief decides to do.

 

Barack Obama was elected by the American people precisely to cease and desist from such unlawful practices as torture, spying on its own people, holding prisoners indefinitely without charges, and unprovoked attacks on sovereign nations.

 

Sadly, he authorized missile attacks on Pakistan on January 23 (BBC) and January 26 (Reuters) in which as many as 22 were killed, including at least three children (according to reports).

 

According to the Reuters report of January 27, Obama’s Secretary of Defence, the Bush holdover Robert Gates stated, “Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al Qaeda wherever al Qaeda is and we will continue to pursue that.”

 

Along with Obama’s stated intention to escalate the War in Afghanistan, this bodes ill for the kind of change he led us to expect.  One speculates that Obama may feel he needs to show the hawks and his military commanders that he has sufficient macho to fulfill the role of Commander in Chief.  Much has been made of the historic antecedent to the election of the country’s first African-American president, the Civil Right Movement and in particular Dr. King.  What we should remember is that Dr. King faced angry racist police in the South and their vicious dogs; he spent time in their jails; whereas Barack Obama rose to the presidency through making inspirational speeches and raising millions of campaign dollars.  What he has yet to show us is that he is a man of courage.

 

It is tragic that he has not had the guts from the beginning to face down the hawks in his own party much less the militaristic Republicans.  It is not too late.  We know he can talk the talk.  We need to see him walk the walk.

(For more on the Pakistan attack, read Amy Goodman’s interview on Democracynow!

https://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/obama-continues-bush-policy-of-deadly-air-strikes-in-pakistan/?)