50 Years Later, We Still Have a Dream

For the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, the NYC Light Brigade, Veterans For Peace, Get Equal, and activists from across the country have illuminated the message: “We Have A Dream – Jobs Not War.”

We need a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom every bit as much today as we did fifty years ago.

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Tibetan Uprising Day

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Sign a petition to help Tibet

March 10 is Tibetan Uprising Day, marking the day in 1959 when thousands of Tibetans surrounded the Potala Palace in Lhasa to protect the life of the Dalai Lama and oppose the Chinese occupation.

In the 54 years that have followed, China has inflicted a vicious and brutal repression on Tibetans. They have colonized the country with ethnic Chinese, attempting to eradicate the Tibetan culture as well as any form of dissent. The crackdown is intensifying, and in the last couple of years many Tibetans have resorted to setting themselves on fire.

The Tibetan self-immolations, which are occurring mostly inside Tibet, are our people’s desperate call for justice and support from the international community. This began as a contemporary phenomenon in Tibet starting around 2009. In early 2013, the number of Tibetans who have burned themselves alive surpassed 100. In a brutally occupied land where there is no freedom of speech, immolation has emerged as a most desperate form of expression.

Today, three Tibetan monks and two lay Tibetans were arrested in the Kardze region in eastern Tibet. The monks carried a white banner with the portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The International Campaign for Tibet has compiled an excellent history of the events leading up to March 10, 1959.

Without reducing the issue to imperialistic aggression, Peter Hessler of the Atlantic tries to understand what drives China to assert sovereignty of Tibet and exercise such extreme brutality.

From the Chinese perspective, Tibet has always been a part of China. This is, of course, a simplistic and inaccurate view, but Tibetan history is so muddled that one can see in it what one wishes…

Tibet thus changed from buffer state to a central piece in Communist China’s vision of itself as independent and free from imperialist influence. Orville Schell, a longtime observer of China, says that even today this perception is held by most Chinese. “I don’t think there’s any more sensitive issue,” he says, “with the possible exception of Taiwan, because it grows out of the dream of a unified motherland—a dream that historically speaking has been the goal of almost every Chinese leader. This issue touches on sovereignty, it touches on the unity of Chinese territory, and especially it touches on the issue of the West as predator, the violator of Chinese sovereignty.”

Tibetan Uprising Day in Washington, DC

Tibetans and their supporters protested at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC, then marched to the White House.

View photos of Tibetans Uprising Day in Washington, DC here.

John Zangas interviews Kunga Norbu, nephew of the Dalai Lama, at the White House rally before he sets off on a Freedom Walk to New York City.

 

 

Cool Day in History: Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913

Official program—Woman suffrage procession, Washington, D.C. March 3, 1913

Denise Oliver Velez sums up the importance of women marching for the vote 100 years ago:

March 3, 1913, was a major milestone in the battle for women in the United States to achieve national suffrage. Over 8,000 women and male supporters marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., on the day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Though attacked by viewers, and women who marched suffered injury, the parade route was completed by most of the marchers and brought national attention to the suffrage movement.

The idea of women voting was so offensive at the time that they were attacked. Three hundred marchers were injured, a third of them seriously enough to be taken to the hospital.

It wasn’t until 1920–seven years later–that women gain the franchise. We tend to take women’s right to vote for granted, but Velez warns us to stay vigilant and vigorously battle the erosion of hard-won voting rights.

It is fitting that we not only explore this history during Women’s History Month, but that we take heed of the fact that though victories may have been won in the past, this is no time to rest on laurels, since efforts have been under way to erode the vote for many women—particularly women of color and the elderly—and just as suffragists had to fight to win the vote, we have to fight to keep the rights we have won and expand them.

The Suffrage Parade did initiate reforms, especially with respect to the battery of the marchers. Three days after the march, the Senate held several days of hearings resulting in the replacement of District of Columbia’s superintendent of police.

Cool Day in History: The Tent of Dreams

A rare video of McPherson Occupiers raising the Tent of Dreams and placing it over the park’s central statue

On Monday, January 30, 2012, Occupy DC erected a giant blue tent in the middle of McPherson Square and draped it over the statue of General McPherson. It was a final act of defiance against the National Park Service and Rep. Darrell Issa, who was using his position as Chairman of the House Oversight Committee to crush Occupy in the nation’s capital.

Visually captivating and rich in symbolism, the “Tent of Dreams” made national news that day:

As if determined to vindicate the occupation movement’s every argument about the power of the 1 percent, Rep. Darrell Issa, the richest man in Congress, had taken the greatest offense at their use of public space in the heart of the city to broadcast their egalitarian message. Last week, the California Republican called a hearing to browbeat the flak-catchers of the federal bureaucracy to enforce a ban on camping in public places. And on Friday he got his way. The Park Police posted a yellow notice that come Monday at noon the demonstrators would all be subject to arrest for sleeping in the park.

In response, an ad hoc committee of about 15 occupiers got together last Friday night to talk about what they wanted to do. ”We wanted a confrontation on our terms,” said Ricky Lehner, a 23-year-old man from Florida who has made the camp his home since October.

“We know the Park Police are very protective of the statue,” said Travis McArthur, a researcher at a well-known liberal nonprofit, referring to the mounted figure of Maj. Gen. James McPherson, a Union hero in the Civil War, that stands in the center of the square. ”Since I came here, I’ve come to think of him as our patron saint, our protector.”

If the authorities were going to take away their tents, they decided, they would have to do so on a grand scale. So when the Park Police deadline arrived at noon on Monday, they struck. As the square was thronged with cameramen and spectators looking for confrontation, a couple of young men mounted the statue and the rest hauled out a huge blue nylon dropcloth, which they hoisted up and over McPherson’s shoulders. They secured the flaps to the little iron fence around the statue so everyone could see the yellow and white stars (and a Star of David). They dubbed it, “The Tent of Dreams.”

“The idea was let us sleep so we can dream of  better world,” said McArthur, and all around the tent sprouted witty indignant signs: “I dream of First Amendment Rights” and  ”I dream of taxation on the 1%” and “No sleep, no justice,” and “We the non-corporate people.”

Cool Day in History

On September 25, 1957, nine African-American students integrated a formerly all-white Arkansas high school after President Eisenhower sent the National Guard to protect them from the angry crowds. They became known as the Little Rock Nine.

Cool Day in History: May Day, 1886

“It was the very dawning of the day when the term ‘dignity of labor’ meant something.”

-George E. McNeill, labor historian

At a time when industrial wage slaves worked 10 to 16 hour days, the 8-hour day became a rallying cry:

On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public’s eye. With their fiery speeches and revolutionary ideology of direct action, anarchists and anarchism became respected and embraced by the working people and despised by the capitalists.

Workers in greater numbers continued to walk out in a nationwide general strike. For the next few days they demonstrated peacefully. Finally, police opened fire on workers locked out of plant in Chicago. At a rally later at Haymarket, someone threw a bomb, killing seven police officers and four civilians. Eight anarchist “martyrs” were convicted of conspiracy, and four were executed.

Truly, history has a lot to teach us about the roots of our radicalism. When we remember that people were shot so we could have the 8-hour day; if we acknowledge that homes with families in them were burned to the ground so we could have Saturday as part of the weekend; when we recall 8-year old victims of industrial accidents who marched in the streets protesting working conditions and child labor only to be beat down by the police and company thugs, we understand that our current condition cannot be taken for granted – people fought for the rights and dignities we enjoy today, and there is still a lot more to fight for.

Cool Day in History: “We want bread and roses too”

International Women’s Day has its roots in the labor movement:

On March 8, 1857, garment workers in New York City marched and picketed, demanding improved working conditions, a ten hour day, and equal rights for women. Their ranks were broken up by the police. Fifty-one years later, March 8, 1908, their sisters in the needle trades in New York marched again, honoring the 1857 march, demanding the vote, and an end to sweatshops and child labor. The police were present on this occasion too.

The labor struggle in the US is an exciting one, but it traditionally concentrates on men. A little examination shows that women carried their weight and their share from the beginning, both supporting the men’s organizing and quite soon, after realizing that women’s needs were ignored in the existing unions, forming women’s caucuses or all women’s unions. The first all women strikes took place in the 1820′s in the New England tailoring trades.

The most famous of the early strikes took place at the Lowell cotton mills in Massachusetts. Here young women worked eighty-one hours a week for three dollars, one and a quarter of which went for room and board at the Lowell company boarding houses.

(Photo: Women corset workers on strike, 1937. From the collection of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union Photographs.)