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.

We_Have_A_Dream

Jobs_Not_War

Tibetan Uprising Day

Tibetan_Uprising

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.)

Cool Hero of the Day: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Speech at Riverside Church, April 4, 1967

…the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. Five years ago he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons. Let us not join those who shout war and, through their misguided passions, urge the United States to relinquish its participation in the United Nations. These are days which demand wise restraint and calm reasonableness. We must not engage in a negative anticommunism, but rather in a positive thrust for democracy, realizing that our greatest defense against communism is to take offensive action in behalf of justice. We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity, and injustice, which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions.

It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch antirevolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

Round up the Rats!

The District’s Department of Health and Mayor Vincent Gray think McPherson Park has a rat problem. Maybe Occupy DC should look into a Pied Piper solution.

In 1964, when the District’s rat problem was far worse in black neighborhoods than white ones, Julius Hobson caged several rats, put them on the roof of his old jalopy and drove into Georgetown. He  threatened to set the rats free unless rodents were dealt with in all areas of the city. It worked.

Sounds like rats in the park are an asset, not a liability–a whole host of Occupiers should the Mayor’s office need Occupying.

And there’s Occupy Congress on Tuesday, January 17 too.

When Women Occupied Congress

“It was a great moment. But we lost it.”

How could the largest gathering of women in America since the suffragettes be summed up with such a harsh appraisal? Yet that’s how an organizer of the Jeannette Rankin Brigade protest of 1968 recalled it.

A fusion of the anti-war and emerging feminist movements, the Jeannette Rankin Brigade was a coalition of women’s groups who came to Washington, DC to protest the Vietnam War on January 15, the first day of the Congressional session. Among the 5,000 women in attendance was 88-year-old Jeannette Rankin herself, the first US congresswoman and devotee of Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence.

If one of the protest’s leaders characterized a historic mobilization as a failure, do the events of the Jeannette Rankin Brigade offer any lessons to modern activists? This is a timely question, since another mass movement will soon converge in Washington to confront Congress on its opening day 2012. This time it’s Occupy Congress, or J17.

The January 17 event will be the first major protest on a national level attempted in the US by the Occupy movement. Focusing less on wealth inequality than Occupy Wall Street, J17 will protest corruption, bribery and deadlock in Congress.

Looking back at 1968, you can see that some things haven’t changed. The unresponsiveness of Congress and the media circus have only been super-sized over four decades. Shulamith Firestone describes the pragmatic viewpoint of the organizers of the Rankin Brigade:

From the beginning we felt that this kind of action, though well-meant was ultimately futile. It is naïve to believe that women who are not politically seen, heard, or represented in this country could change the course of a war by simply appealing to the better natures of congressmen. …So that we came as a group not of appeal to Congress, but to appeal to women not to appeal to congress. Rather we believed that such a massive gathering should be used to devise ways to build up real political strength.

Occupy Congress knows better than to appeal to “the better natures of congressmen.” Sheer numbers might have to impress on the political establishment the strength of the movement by building up currency in public opinion.

Unfortunately, coverage by a capricious, biased media can dominate perception. What’s more, disagreement over media tactics and a certain amount of disorganization thwarted the Rankin Brigade. When they conducted a mock funeral of the “Traditional Woman” at Arlington Cemetery–complete with faux corpse adorned with blonde wig and curlers, S & H Green Stamps, and garters, accompanied by a drum corps with kazoo–it was too much for the moderate elements. Five hundred women split off from the convention.

The more radical reformers didn’t shy away from media manipulation and agitprop, yet a minority felt that catering to mass media was only reinforcing their hegemony. They resisted having a spokeswoman and established rules about talking to reporters, all to prevent a “cult of personality.” The superficial media in turn took its usual route of seeking out human interest stories and latching on to the most sensationalized bits. Even the “Left” media undermined them with overt sexism. The cover of short-lived but popular Ramparts magazine featured a headless woman’s torso with “Jeannette Rankin for President” pinned to its breast. (Patricia Bradley, Mass Media and the Strategy of American Feminism, 1963-1975; 57)

Firestone describes the women as “fully aware of their impotence.” Her conclusion is unexpected:

We learned the value of spontaneity, of quick and appropriate political action, the value of learning to size up a situation and act on it at once, the importance of unrehearsed speaking ability. For I think one good guiding speech at the crisis point which illustrated the real causes underlying the massive discontent and impotence felt in that room then, would have been worth ten dummies and three months of careful and elaborate planning.

If she’s making the case for unifying and charismatic leaders, it’s something that Occupy has scrupulously avoided. The women’s movement is an imperfect analogy for Occupy, but many of the challenges it faced still apply. Occupy has factions favoring radical political solutions and anarchism, moderates who prefer less aggressive approaches, and everything in between. The allergy to spokespersons for Occupy is infamous–nobody “speaks” for Occupy, it wants no charismatic leader as its face. “Branding” and “messaging” are questionable strategies for a movement that doesn’t want to reinforce hegemonic, corporate media, yet lack of them can make it incomprehensible to mainstream media and vulnerable to the same pitfalls as before–superficial human interest stories and sensationalism. Not manipulating the MSM is often to be manipulated by them. Occupy’s solution has often been to bypass it altogether.

On January 17, Occupy Congress will bring thousands of activists to the National Mall to confront a Congress who may or may not care if it’s Occupied. It’s likely to succeed in strength of numbers and media attention. One of its main challenges however will be to unify its diverse elements for a few days both in common cause and strategy, and hopefully in doing so, it won’t “lose its moment.”

Bringing so many Occupiers together could at least take the temperature of the movement:

We found out where women, even the so-called “women radicals” were really at. We confirmed our worst suspicions, that the job ahead, of developing even a minimal consciousness among women will be staggering, but we also confirmed our belief that a real women’s movement in this country will come, if only out of the sheer urgent and immediate necessity for one.

For Occupy, developing even a minimal consciousness in the American public is indeed staggering. There could be no more urgent and immediate necessity.