Three young black men were dead at the hands of the police. The police claimed a gun battle, but no weapons were ever found and witnesses said it was an execution. Nonetheless, the officers were not indicted—and the local newspapers were not willing to investigate or press the issue. The community was outraged; the families bereft.
This was not Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. It was 1967 Detroit and Rosa Parks was outraged by the pattern of police abuse and harassment which had led to the 1967 uprising and the lack of police accountability for their violent behavior during the riot.
Two weeks ago, fierce protests erupted in Ferguson following the police killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown. While there has been a great deal of criticism of the aggressive police response to the protests, there has been an undertone of concern and fear about the protesters. Many have cast the young protesters as dangerous and reckless and not living up to the legacy of the civil rights movement. Cast as a generation gap, these framings misrepresent these young protesters and the history of the civil rights movement.
NOGALES, AZ: Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the US Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center.
Call it irony or call it a nightmare, but the “crisis” of Central American children crossing the US-Mexican border, which lasted for months amid fervent and angry debate, is now fading from the news. The media stories have been legion, the words expended many. And yet, as the “crisis” leaves town, as the sound and fury die down and attention shifts elsewhere (even though the children continue to arrive), the real factors that would have made sense of what’s been happening remain essentially untouched and largely unmentioned. It couldn’t be stranger—or sadder.
Since late June 2014, the “surge” of those thousands of desperate children entering this country has been in the news. Sensational stories were followed by fervent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations with emotions running high. And it’s not a debate that stayed near the southern border either. In my home state, Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick tearfully offered to detain some of the children—and that was somehow turned into a humanitarian gesture that liberals applauded and anti-immigrant activists decried. Meanwhile the mayor of Lynn, a city north of Boston, echoed nativists on the border, announcing that her town didn’t want any more immigrants. The months of this sort of emotion, partisanship, and one-upmanship have, however, diverted attention from the real issues. As so often is the case, there is so much more to the story than what we’ve been hearing in the news.
A young boy stands in the rubble of his destroyed home in Beit Hanoun, Gaza.
Cornel West recently spoke at a march on Washington in support of Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire between Hamas and Israeli military forces. Despite a string of shaky cease-fires, yet more rockets were exchanged last night, and the future remains undecided.
“This is a human affair,” Dr. West preached. “Any human being who chooses occupation and annihilation is a war criminal, and especially when they’re killing precious Palestinian babies. A Palestinian baby has exactly the same status as a white baby in Newtown, Connecticut, as a brown baby in the Eastside of LA, as a Jewish baby in Israel.” It’s a powerful moment, a reminder of the indiscriminate nature of warfare, and a military occupation in which an estimated 80% of deaths have been civilians.
GAZA CITY, GAZA - JULY 15: Palestinian 4-year-old Sheyma Al-Masri, wounded in an Israeli airstrike within the 'Operation Protective Edge', gets treatment at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Gaza on July 15, 2014.
As Israel and Hamas trade blows, and with Israel’s Operation “Protective Edge” entering its eighth day, the casualty count in Gaza continues to climb, with estimates of nearly 200 Palestinians killed and over 1,500 wounded by the airstrike campaign. President Obama recently defended Israel’s right to the bombardment, making a US-brokered peace deal seem further away than ever. It’s a development that adds fuel to an argument that Middle East historian Rashid Khalidi frames in his latest book, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. In it, Khalidi—who recently appeared on the radio show On Point to talk about this latest backslide into violence—asserts that, far from being the unbiased benevolent guide to peace between Israel and Palestine, the US has, in fact, been an agent of continuing injustice, effectively preventing the difficult but essential steps needed to achieve peace in the region. The following is excerpted from Khalidi’s introduction to Brokers of Deceit.
In politics and in diplomacy, as in much else, language matters greatly. However debased political discourse may become, however disingenuous diplomacy often is, the words employed by politicians and diplomats define situations and determine outcomes. In recent history, few semantic battles over terminology have been as intensely fought out as those concerning Palestine/Israel.
The importance of the precise use of language can be illustrated by the powerful valence in the Middle East context of terms such as “terrorism,” “security,” “self-determination,” “autonomy,” “honest broker,” and “peace process.” Each of these terms has set conditions not only for perceptions, but also for possibilities. Moreover, these terms have come to take on a specific meaning, frequently one that is heavily loaded in favor of one side, and is far removed from what logic or balance would seem to dictate. Thus in the American/Israeli official lexicon, “terrorism” in the Middle East context has come to apply exclusivelyto the actions of Arab militants, whether those of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hamas, Hizballah, or others. Under these peculiar terminological rules, the actions of the militaries of Israel and the United States cannot be described as “terrorism,” irrespective of how many Palestinians, Lebanese, Iraqi, or Afghan civilians may have died at their hands.
April 4, 1968: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., just before making his final public appearance to address striking Memphis sanitation workers. King was assassinated later that day outside his motel room. (AP/Wide World Photos)
Note: On March 18, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. first addressed the striking Memphis sanitation workers and their supporters. With no text beyond a few words sketched on paper, King pinpointed the issue in Memphis that affected workers everywhere, particularly those in the service economy and in municipal jobs. In a few words, King added union rights for the working poor to his campaign on behalf of the unemployed in both the cities and the newly mechanized cotton country. Memphis thus became the first real front of struggle in the Poor People’s Campaign. In the piece below, which originally appeared in “All Labor Has Dignity”, a collection of King's speeches on labor, Michael K. Honey places King's final speech on April 3, 1968, delivered the day before his assassination, in the wider historical context of economic justice, revealing King's commitment—tragically cut short—to aid the struggles of the working poor everywhere.
“Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
After Dr. King’s stunning March 18 speech, strike supporters made hurried efforts to bring him back to lead the united labor-community general strike that he had called for. Instead, supernatural forces shut the city down, in the form of a bizarre snowstorm in the South in the middle of spring. Reverend Lawson joked at the time that Mother Nature had fulfilled King’s demand for a general strike. When King finally did return to lead a mass protest march through downtown Memphis on March 28, angry youths, probably egged on by police agents, disrupted it, smashing windows and providing police with an excuse to go on a rampage. Mayhem and murder ensued. Some seven hundred people went to the hospital, and police killed an unarmed sixteen-year-old named Larry Payne. The national news media and reactionary congresspeople, baited by secret memos from the FBI spinning the events in Memphis, condemned King for “running” from the march (he had pulled out when it turned violent). Memphis had now put King’s Poor People’s Campaign trek to D.C. in jeopardy. King vowed to return to Memphis in his quest to lead a nonviolent march, despite opposition from his staff and a number of warnings that he would be killed if he did. He warned his parents and his wife that someone had put a price on his head. As he left Atlanta for Memphis, airline officials delayed his flight for an hour as they searched for a bomb after someone phoned in a death threat against him. On the evening of April 3, King gave one of his most dramatic and prophetic speeches. In the middle of a violent thunderstorm, with tornadoes and lightning touching down in the surrounding area, King arrived at Bishop Charles Mason Temple without a script, with a sore throat, and slightly ill. Violent weather prevented many people from coming, but nearly all thirteen hundred of Local 1733’s members came, as did some of their strongest strike supporters. To this humble gathering, King poured out his last testament. He looked back through all of human history to this particular moment in time and called on people to appreciate their opportunity to once again change history. King placed the Memphis movement into the context of the long struggle for human freedom, as he had done in his first speech in support of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that had begun in December 1955. And he reviewed his years in the freedom movement since that time with gusto and appreciation.
For many of us, the State of the Union is more than just an opportunity for President Obama to publicly frame his policy priorities for the year. It's a moment when all the hopes, struggles, fears, and anticipation of the nation's citizenry crystallize, a moment of reflection and national self-reckoning. And coming after a year of unprecedented congressional gridlock, when continual attacks on the Affordable Care Act resulted in a shutdown of the federal government, and when Edward Snowden exposed the NSA's horrifying breach of public trust, there seems to be a particular urgency associated with this year's address among those who will feel most its repercussions. For those of us in such circumstances, tonight's address is anything more than just a speech.
To that end, we asked a few of our authors, engaged citizens themselves, to speak on behalf of those caught in the political crossfire. What follows is what we hope to hear from our President and what we are afraid we will not hear, both tonight and moving forward into the contested future.
The debate over Humanist chaplains in the military continues this week with Family Research Council president Tony Perkins offering several of the most common sentiments held by those who oppose the effort to create this resource for nonreligious members of the military.
Perkins suggests that nonreligious chaplains are a “bizarre” idea, adding that “by definition, a chaplain’s duties are to offer prayer, spiritual counseling, and religious instruction.” The confusion surrounding chaplains for the nonreligious isn’t new—or especially surprising. The popular connotations of the word chaplain are clearly religious; more often than not, they are explicitly Christian.
But if you look, for example, at Harvard University—where I work as one of two Humanist chaplains alongside Greg Epstein—you will find nearly 40 chaplains representing a plethora of religious and philosophical communities, from atheism/Humanism to Zoroastrianism. For many of the traditions represented in this diverse group, the title of chaplain has little to no historical precedent, but as a group we collaboratively work to expand the definition of the word to meet the needs of Harvard’s religiously diverse community.
There was a time when only Christians were permitted to be military chaplains:
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Jews could not serve as chaplains in the U.S. armed forces. When the war commenced in 1861, Jews enlisted in both the Union and Confederate armies. The Northern Congress adopted a bill in July of 1861 that permitted each regiment's commander, on a vote of his field officers, to appoint a regimental chaplain so long as he was "a regularly ordained minister of some Christian denomination."
Although Jews were permitted just a year later, it would be another 132 years before the U.S. armed forces saw its first Muslim chaplain. Definitions change, in other words.
Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a Department of Defense spokesman, has defended the military’s lack of nonreligious chaplains by saying: “The department does not endorse religion or any one religion or religious organization, and provides to the maximum extent possible for the free exercise of religion by all members of the military services who choose to do so.” The implication is that explicitly nonreligious servicemen and servicewomen are free to consult with a religious chaplain. But for the same reason that a Christian may prefer a Christian chaplain over a Muslim or Jewish chaplain, nonreligious people should be free to seek out assistance from a member of their own community.
As a Humanist chaplain, I frequently hear a version of Perkins' argument (For more on what exactly I do as a chaplain, check out a short piece I wrote last year): “[Advocates] argue that nonbelievers suffer the same fear and pain that affects every service member. But isn’t that why the military has psychologists?” (A serious question: does he mean to imply that religious people don’t visit both chaplains and psychologists?)
Some students and members of our local community visit psychologists, but they come to me and my colleague Greg for different reasons. Psychologists are medical professionals who diagnose and treat behavior and mental processes; chaplains are not. Psychologists provide an important but altogether different set of services than we do. We are available to talk with members of our community about how their nonreligious values inform their actions, and how their worldview helps them respond to and process tragedy. We are there to listen, but we can also share some of our thoughts and share from our experiences—something that most psychologists do not do. We can also go to members of our community, rather than wait for them to come to us, to connect them to a community of their peers—another role a psychologist alone can’t play. Finally, and significantly: going to a psychologist is non-confidential in the military, so chaplains play an important role in that context.
So what about the debate surrounding the use of the word chaplain? Personally, I don’t feel particularly attached to it. But when it is the standard used for other community care practitioners, as it is at Harvard and in the military, then it should be applied across the board. I feel similarly about the debate over whether to call legally-recognized same-sex partnerships “marriages” or “civil unions;” when one term is normative and certain groups of people—minority groups that have historically been marginalized—are excluded from using it, then the distinction is problematic.
“Atheist chaplains are like vegetarian carnivores. They don’t exist!” Perkins writes. He’s likely just trying to be clever, but allow me to clarify: we do in fact exist, Tony, and we’re here if you’d like to talk. Hopefully that will soon be the case for members of the military, too.
For more information on Humanist chaplains in the military, click here.
At the risk of being labeled a Tea Party toady or
right-leaning deviationist, I have to ask if the severing of the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) from the
Farm Bill by the Republican House Majority isn’t an opportunity worth taking
advantage of. And in the same breath, I have to ask if the lockstep resistance
to that move and piling on of liberal vituperation isn’t yet more evidence that
the left-leaning social policy machine is running on empty.
Federal spending on the food stamp program has been pushing
north of $70 billion a year. It has been justifiably credited with keeping many
people’s heads above water during the Great Recession while modestly
stimulating local economies. Representing some 70 percent of the current Farm
Bill– the rest being divvied up between the much reviled agricultural commodity
programs and the much beloved conservation and sustainable farming programs– food
stamp support has allegedly relied on an unholy alliance of sorts between Big
Agriculture and anti-hunger advocates. “I’ll support billions in agricultural
subsidies if you support tens of billions in SNAP benefits. That way we can eat
our food stamps and high fructose corn syrup too!”
By tearing asunder that which unlikely partners hath joined
together, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor put a lot of federal spending in
play for the government downsizing Neanderthals. As Emerson once noted, “There
is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatives,” and what can be
meaner than taking food away from hungry children? Though doing marginally
little to pull the current 50 million food stamp recipients out of poverty, the
program is one of the few tools that government has to mitigate it worst effects.
That being said, one can’t help but ask if we didn’t see
this dramatic House action coming. After all, food stamps have been under siege
for years, even before their association with President Reagan’s nefarious
welfare queen remark. Getting their start in a somewhat different form during
the Great Depression (not Recession),
and codified in its present form as the first executive order of President
Kennedy, food stamps and the food benefits they bestow reflect two sides of the
American character. Being as compassionate as any people, we simply don’t have
the heart to let anyone starve to death. But being up-by-the-bootstraps
individualists, Americans generally blame the poor for being poor and don’t
trust them to spend the taxpayer’s largesse wisely. Hence food stamps can only
be spent on food, and not any other of life’s necessities.
But even then the hapless food stamp user must run a
gauntlet of consumer scorn. The smug conservative shopper will ask aloud why
“those people” are buying filet mignon with their food stamps, while righteous
foodies ask why “they” are allowed to buy Coca-Cola, Twinkies, and host of
other highly disparaged processed food products.
Being a food stamp recipient isn’t for sissies. Not only do you
wear a bull’s eye on your back for every cost-cutting politician to take aim
at, your purchases are relentlessly scrutinized and the subject of a never
ending public critique. You endure derision from every quarter all for the
princely sum of about $5 a day.
Whether we have more food stamp spending or less begs the
question of why such a major act of social policy that nobody, including the
recipients, seems to like, continues unreformed and unevaluated. With a national poverty rate locked at 15
percent and a near-poverty rate bringing the combined numbers to well over 30
percent, food stamps provide some relief but no solutions. With overweight and
obesity affecting 65 percent of the population and eclipsing hunger as
America’s number one diet-related health problem, food stamps do little to
encourage healthy eating and less to discourage unhealthy eating. And with high
unemployment, low wage jobs, and few prospects for growth— other than big box
stores and casinos— leaving the economy stuck in neutral, the $70 billion in
federally generated buying power helps Kraft Foods (food stamps are 1/6 of its
sales), but nearly nothing to infuse local economies with new energy.
But the anti-hunger orthodoxy that SNAP is a vital part of
the nation’s safety net and must never be altered goes unchallenged. Whenever
an innovation is proposed, e.g. Mayor Bloomberg’s request to prohibit the use
of food stamps to purchase sugary soft drinks, the program’s pit bull defenders
bare their teeth threatening to rip the limbs off heretics who might modify even
one of SNAP’s holy sacraments. It may be that they are in bed with Wal-Mart and
others who have tragically dumbed-down American wages and whose workers are
subsidized by the food stamp program, or it may be that they are riveted to the
notion that they are all that stand between a modicum of food sufficiency and
mass starvation. Either way, the tenaciousness of their enterprise, which
opposes food stamp change at any cost, is only matched by an equally fervent
brand of conservatism embodied by the Tea Party. The result: A program now more
than 50 years old remains largely unchanged even though the nation that it
helps feed has changed in myriad ways.
Imagine a corporation or major private institution that did
not conduct research and development, kept the same product line for
generations, and never engaged in strategic thinking. That enterprise would be
out of business (or subsidized by the federal government). While a nation’s
social policy is albeit more complicated and subject to a host of conflicting winds,
it cannot go unexamined by those who genuinely care about people and their
communities. Anti-hunger advocates will say that any meaningful examination of
the food stamp program opens a Pandora’s Box that allows Tea Party-ites to
wield their machetes, but that process is underway already; better to get out
front with new ideas and positive energy.
Both history and biology amply demonstrate that change is
inevitable, and that those who resist the need to adapt and reinvent in the
face of new exigencies are eventually subject to denigration, decay, and
decomposition. While we cannot realistically count on the Republicans (though I
think exceptions do exist) to enthusiastically embrace a food stamp reformation
that places poverty reduction, nutritional health, and sustainable agriculture
above basic caloric intake, we might expect more from food stamps’ stalwart
defenders as well as progressive forces within the food movement.
The time to re-think food stamps is upon us. If the best and
most compassionate don’t do it, if we don’t find a way to build a model 21st
century social program around the bones of an aging 20th century
program, food stamps will become nothing more than carrion for circling vultures.
The trial of Whitey Bulger continues at the Federal Courthouse in Boston. One of the witnesses "on deck" for the prosecution is Paul "Pole Cat" Moore, so here's a timely excerpt from All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald. All Souls is, among other things, an excellent guide to Southie under Whitey Bulger's criminal empire. In this excerpt, MacDonald describes Pole Cat's connections to the local boxing world, the popular rock club the Rathskeller (or "The Rat") and Bulger's drug-dealing operations.
Hard hitting Frank MacDonald of South Boston met and defeated a very comparable Jose Miguel from Cranston, Rhode Island. Frank totally devastated his opponent with a series of crippling punches to the body which succeeded in incapacitating Miguel, who was of great courage but unable to fathom Frank’s awesome body attack—congratulations Frank, and corner men Paul "Pole Cat" Moore and Tommy "Stove Man" Cronin.
—South Boston Tribune
Frankie was one of the few young people in the neighborhood not being dragged down by drugs and crime in 1980. His boxing career was one of the only things that brought good news to the streets of Old Colony in those days. Frankie was fast becoming a neighborhood hero, not only in Old Colony, but all over Southie. Everyone knew who he was, and he had a nickname now, "Frank the Tank," for his "hard hitting" style that was bringing him championship titles, from Junior Olympics bouts at Freeport Hall in Dorchester to the New England Golden Gloves tournament in Lowell.
Mary and Kathy said all their girlfriends talked about Frankie’s looks, and the guys who hadn’t yet got caught up in the world of drugs talked about getting a ripped body like Frank’s. He was working out seven days a week, running from Old Colony, through the Point, around Castle Island, and back to the project, always in his combat boots from his days in the Marines—and sometimes he ran backwards. Frank was welcome all over Southie. The little kids in the neighborhood would run after him, asking him questions about his bouts and begging him to show how he knocked out his opponents. That’s why Frankie was so intent on being what they called "a stand-up guy" in Southie. That’s what they called anyone who would never snitch, even if it meant doing a life bid because of it. But in Frankie’s case, it just meant he was clean-cut. Sure, he knew all the top gangsters in the neighborhood; anyone with Frankie’s status in the Southie boxing world would. But he never got involved in their rackets, stayed away from the dust and coke they were pumping into the streets, and refused to work for Whitey, telling Ma that he never wanted to be "owned."
But still Frankie had "the boys," as we called Whitey’s troops, working in his corner as he fought his way through four years of New England Golden Gloves championships, starting out as a two-time middleweight champ in the novice class, and ending up a light heavyweight champ for the whole region in 1982 and 1983. South Boston Tribune articles always pointed out the sound advice and leadership "the boys" were giving Frank in the ring:
Following closely the instructions of trainer Paul "Pole Cat" Moore and manager Tommy Cronin, Frank pursued his opponent most aggressively with a savage body attack which . . . wore down O’Han to the point of becoming a bit careless and somewhat frustrated . . . at being unable to figure out MacDonald’s technique. Frank, once again following the instructions for his corner, succeeded in landing a barrage of lefts and rights to the jaw and head of his adversary. This will prove to have been a most excellent victory for Frankie in the upcoming bouts he is to have.
In Southie having the gangsters in your corner, in the ring or on the streets, meant that you had the ultimate protection and power. Grandpa didn’t believe that, though. He had warnings for all of us, from his own days as a longshoreman on the Southie docks, where he said he’d worked alongside some men who ended up in the Brinks robbery of 1950, "the big one." Grandpa always told us how the rule on the docks was to keep your mouth shut about the rackets you saw. He said many a time the longshoremen were lined up by the cops and asked to step forward and speak about crimes. That’s how a waitress from the local diner got killed, after she stepped forward among the silent longshoremen. She was found murdered the next day, her blood scrawled into the letters snitch all over her cold-water flat. Grandpa had another rule of his own for the underworld: "Watch out whose hand you shake," he told us. He said there was no such thing as a gangster giving something without wanting more in return. "They’ll give you a quarter for a dollar any day," he said. Grandpa had been trying to get closer to us since Kathy’s coma and had even bought a condo in City Point. He got a closer look at the neighborhood, and he kept coming around the house cursing "that fuckin’ Whitey Bulger, a no-good bum if there ever was one," and wondering if the Bulgers were even Irish at all, with Senate President Billy Bulger’s insulting Irish brogue imitations at drunken St. Paddy’s Day festivities. "They’re a shame to the Irish altogether," he said, "and what respectable Irish person would name their kid William?" he asked. "That would be like a Jew naming a kid Adolf."
Kevin started to go to the Rathskeller downtown, where Frankie along with some of the other boxers and some of the boys were working as bouncers. They were big and tough looking, and good for keeping the college students and punk rock types in line. Frank’s corner man, Pole Cat Moore, worked at the Rat, and introduced Frankie to Ricky Marino, an ex–state trooper, who became Frankie’s best friend. Then there was Kevin "Andre the Giant" McDonald, not to be confused with my brother Kevin "Mini Mac" MacDonald. He was a Southie champion too. Ricky and Paul Moore were pretty high up in what the papers in later years would call the "Southie underworld." But Frankie knew his little brother wasn’t going to get involved in their plans, no matter how much he wanted to. They were too high up to be bothered with Kevin, who despite his involvement in some of the big stuff was still just a kid to guys like these. They also had a position to maintain, and weren’t about to bring someone with Kevin’s potential into their rackets.
My brother Joe would go to the Rat too, whenever he was on leave from the Air Force. Joe told Ma it was weird how Frankie’s friends pulled each other aside when they were "talking business." We all knew Joe was the tattletale in our family—he told Ma everything—and the boys must have sensed this too. But one night at the Rat, he did overhear Pole Cat Moore telling Ricky that he’d be getting his cocaine directly through Whitey’s Colombian connections, rather than going through Ricky. Pole Cat had a job with the Boston Housing Authority, and an apartment with his brother, right next to ours on 8 Patterson Way. Pole Cat never touched the stuff. He was too into his body, coming and going from our building with a gym bag and a clean white towel around his neck. But he was starting to make a killing on the coke, by the looks of the number of kids knocking on his door day and night. Joe said he would know if Frankie was into that stuff, though, and that Frankie had never been involved in Pole Cat’s huddled conversations with Ricky at the Rat.
Then I started showing up at the back door of the Rat most nights. Ever since I was fifteen I’d gone there to see bands. Frankie’s friends knew who I was, and snuck me downstairs through the piss-puddled hallways, to where the bands played. Frankie snuck me in too, but he didn’t know I was there on weeknights, and I told his friends to keep it quiet. I hadn’t returned to Latin School since Kathy’s coma. They’d tried to make a deal with me that I could be promoted, despite all my absences, if I left Latin and went to Madison Park High School in Roxbury. "Yeah, right," I said, "and be the only white kid in the class."
Latin had been my only escape from the busing, and now I felt guilty for messing it up. I couldn’t believe I was a high school dropout. I’d always been the straight-A student Ma bragged about, along with Johnnie, and Davey. For a while I was still pretending to go to school, even after Kathy was out of the coma. I’d wander around Boston all day, freezing at bus stops when I didn’t have money for the three-hour-long coffee refills at Mug and Muffn, trying to stay awake after a night at the Rat. Ma eventually found a letter I’d written to myself about my guilt for being a dropout, and she was bullshit that I had pulled one over on her. She confronted me about it and said I’d have to go right to work the next day. She too knew high school in Roxbury wasn’t an option. That’s when I switched from pretending to go out to school every day to pretending to go out looking for a job. I was still freezing at bus stops, or getting warm at Mug and Muffn; and I still snuck out of the house at night to go to the Rat.
I had my own group of friends at the Rat. While Frankie, Pole Cat, Andre the Giant, and the rest of the gang hung out upstairs, I was down in the basement with misfits from all walks of life. Some were working-class kids, others were suburban white-picket-fence types, and others were rich. "What’s a trust fund?" I remember asking. "Ah, man, it’s nothing—just ’cause my dad’s rich doesn’t mean I am. I gotta wait on it. Got a dollar for a beer, dude?" But wherever these people came from, they didn’t like it. I’d always preferred black music—soul, then disco, and now hip-hop and rap. The words made more sense to me. But I also liked the energy and rage of punk rock; I just couldn’t relate to the lyrics about life in the suburbs, and having strict parents. Then I discovered the original version of punk, from England. I’d never thought about the fact that there were poor and working-class English people who hated the Queen, and her mother, and the whole British establishment. I could get into that. This was a movement of people who didn’t fit in where they came from, and they’d made that cool. I could get into that too.
Punk music became an escape for me, but I still had to come back to Old Colony every night. I often hitched a ride with Frankie’s friends, the whole way home not knowing what to say to men as powerful as "the boys." Other times I had punk rockers drop me off on the outskirts of Southie, so they wouldn’t see that I lived in the project, or accuse me of being a racist for living in my neighborhood. But I was protecting them too; I didn’t want them to get bottles thrown at them for being different in Southie.
A narrative history of the John Birch Society by a daughter of one of the infamous ultraconservative organization's founding fathers
Long before the rise of the Tea Party movement and the prominence of today’s religious Right, the John Birch Society, first established in 1958, championed many of the same radical causes touted by ultraconservatives today, including campaigns against abortion rights, gay rights, gun control, labor unions, environmental protections, immigrant rights, social and welfare programs, the United Nations, and even water fluoridation.
Worshipping its anti-Communist hero Joe McCarthy, the Birch Society is perhaps most notorious for its red-baiting and for accusing top politicians, including President Dwight Eisenhower, of being Communist sympathizers. It also labeled John F. Kennedy a traitor and actively worked to unseat him. The Birch Society boasted a number of notable members, including Fred Koch, father of Charles and David Koch, who are using their father’s billions to bankroll fundamentalist and right-wing movements today.
The daughter of one of the society’s first members and a national spokesman about the society, Claire Conner grew up surrounded by dedicated Birchers and was expected to abide by and espouse Birch ideals. When her parents forced her to join the society at age thirteen, she became its youngest member of the society. From an even younger age though, Conner was pressed into service for the cause her father and mother gave their lives to: the nurturing and growth of the JBS. She was expected to bring home her textbooks for close examination (her mother found traces of Communist influence even in the Catholic school curriculum), to write letters against “socialized medicine” after school, to attend her father’s fiery speeches against the United Nations, or babysit her siblings while her parents held meetings in the living room to recruit members to fight the war on Christmas or (potentially poisonous) water fluoridation. Conner was “on deck” to lend a hand when JBS notables visited, including founder Robert Welch, notorious Holocaust denier Revilo Oliver, and white supremacist Thomas Stockheimer. Even when she was old enough to quit in disgust over the actions of those men, Conner found herself sucked into campaigns against abortion rights and for ultraconservative presidential candidates like John Schmitz. It took momentous changes in her own life for Conner to finally free herself of the legacy of the John Birch Society in which she was raised.
In Wrapped in the Flag, Claire Conner offers an intimate account of the society—based on JBS records and documents, on her parents’ files and personal writing, on historical archives and contemporary accounts, and on firsthand knowledge—giving us an inside look at one of the most radical right-wing movements in US history and its lasting effects on our political discourse today.
Beacon Press calls Boston home. While we are all back at work this week, we mourn the lives lost in the bombings and the pursuit of the suspects, and our thoughts are with their loved ones and the victims still recovering from their injuries in our area's hospitals. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino have set up a fund to help those most affected by the bombings: One Fund Boston.
We have found words of comfort and valuable analysis from our authors in the days since the Marathon bombings.
Scott Korb (Light Without Fire) and Suhaib Webb (Imam of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center) co-wrote this piece for the New York Times answering attacks against American Islamic communities by Rep. Peter King and others:
Mr. King’s hypothesis, and the widespread surveillance policies already in effect since 9/11, assume that the threat of radicalization has become a matter of local geography, that American Muslims are creating extremists in our mosques and community centers.
But what we’re learning of the suspects, the brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suggests a different story, and one that has itself become familiar: radicalization does not happen to young people with a strong grounding in the American Muslim mainstream; increasingly, it happens online, and sometimes abroad, among the isolated and disaffected.
“Children take cues from their parents about how to make sense of all kinds of events in the world,” said Groves. She urged parents to assess their own feelings, and then determine what they will say and how they will say it before having a conversation with their kids. “I think that parents need to just give themselves permission to collect their own thoughts.”
Honesty is critical, she added, noting that opening a dialogue with children signals that it’s OK to discuss a difficult subject. “If parents take the initiative to bring it up, it makes the topic less scary to start with.’”
At Guernica, Rafia Zakaria (whose book The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan is forthcoming from Beacon Press next year) wrote why attacks in America are "far more indelible in the world’s memory" than bombings in other places where they happen more frequently:
There may be fewer victims and less blood, but American tragedies somehow seem to occur in a more poignant version of reality, in a way that evokes a more sympathetic response. Within minutes American victims are lifted from the nameless to the remembered; their individual tragedies and the ugly unfairness of their ends are presented in a way that cannot but cause the watching world to cry, to consider them intimates, and to stand in their bloody shoes. Death is always unexpected in America and death by a terrorist attack more so than in any other place.
It is this greater poignancy of attacks in America that begs the question of whether the world’s allocations of sympathy are determined not by the magnitude of a tragedy—the numbers dead and injured—but by the contrast between a society’s normal and the cruel aftermath of a terrorist event. It is in America that the difference between the two is the greatest; the American normal is one of a near-perfect security that is unimaginable in many places, especially in countries at war. The very popularity of the Boston Marathon could be considered an expression of just this. America is so secure and free from suffering that people have the luxury of indulging in deliberate suffering in the form of excruciating physical exertion; this suffering in turn produces well-earned exhilaration, a singular sense of physical achievement and mental fortitude. The act of running a marathon is supposed to be simple, individual—a victory of the will over the body, celebrated by all and untouched by the complicated questions of who in the world can choose to suffer and who only bears suffering.
In America, just about everyone is some sort of hyphenated hybrid of race, religion and ethnicity/nationality. Irish-Catholic-American, African-American Pentecostal, Jewish-American secular Humanist, and so on. As Walt Whitman said, "I am large / I contain multitudes."
When interfaith cooperation is done well, it not only helps people from different faith and philosophical backgrounds get along, it creates space for the diverse identities within each of us to become mutually enriching rather than mutually exclusive. When interfaith events raise the question, what do I have in common with people of different religious and national identities, the natural internal dialogue that ensues is: What do my own diverse identities have in common with each other?
Religious extremists try to separate people's various identities and pit them against each other. The extremists that got to the young London 7/7 bombers somehow convinced them that their Muslim identity was at war with their British identity, and the former had to destroy the latter. While the facts are still coming in, this may also have been the case for the Tsarnaev brothers. It was a clash civilizations in their souls.
In a nation of hybrids, it's important to have loyalty to both sides of the hyphen. What if the Tsarnaev brothers were involved in discussions with people from other backgrounds about how their faith identity was mutually enriching with their nationality and citizenship? Perhaps they would have been less susceptible to the divide-and-destroy tactics of extremists.
At her Being Both blog, Susan Katz Miller (Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family, forthcoming Fall 2013) speaks about her Boston ties and the ways that interfaith communities and families can offer solace:
We do not need to share a conception of God in order to comfort each other. No matter our religious beliefs or lack thereof, we can still pause to sing together, meditate together, hug each other.
I write as someone who chooses to live fulltime in this “interfaith space.” Interfaith families raising children with dual-faith education experience the benefits of interfaith celebration and contemplation and mourning–the synergy, the joy, the healing of reflecting together as an interfaith community–week in and week out. And as we model interfaith love, and radical inclusivity, we hope to play some small part in preventing intolerance, alienation and violence in the world.
At Huffington Post, Rabbi Marc Schneier (co-author of Sons of Abraham: A Candid Conversation about the Issues That Divide and Unite Jews and Muslims, forthcoming Fall 2013) speaks out against the tainting of American Muslims with the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers:
Since Friday (April 19), when the news broke that the likely perpetrators of the bombings, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were Muslim, many of the top American Muslim spiritual and organizational leaders have unequivocally denounced the Boston Marathon bombings as morally repellent and antithetical to the basic values of Islam. Their passionate comments on this issue; following the hundreds of pronouncements by Muslim leaders in the years since Sept. 11, 2001 denouncing terrorism and violence need to be heard and acknowledged; especially by those who knowingly or unknowingly continue to peddle the canard that American Muslim leaders turn a blind eye to -- or even approve of -- terrorist acts committed by fellow Muslims.
Some of the stories we tell about the nation are delusions that cloak weaknesses and wrongs, which fester unacknowledged. David Ortiz brags that "nobody is going to dictate our freedom," and I assume he hasn't heard of the Patriot Act or warrantless wiretaps, much less the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. Dennis Lehane can be excused for declaring that "they messed with the wrong city," but don't take seriously his confidence that not much will change: "Trust me," he adds implausibly, "we won't be giving up any civil liberties to keep ourselves safe because of this."
Of course we will. We've been surrendering liberty in the hope of keeping ourselves safe for the past decade. The marathon bombings will hasten our surrender of freedom from the watchful eye of law enforcement. The Boston Globe is already clamoring for additional surveillance cameras, which are sure to be installed to the applause of a great many Bostonians. You can rationalize increased surveillance as a necessary or reasonable intrusion on liberty, but you can't deny its intrusiveness, or inevitable abuses.
On Radio Boston yesterday, Judge Nancy Gertner (In Defense of Women) and Alan Dershowitz spoke about the legal issues surrounding the Tsarnaev case: venue changes, death penalty charges, the definition of weapons of mass destruction, Miranda warnings, and more. Listen here.
Claire Conner’s father was a national spokesperson for the John Birch Society for more than thirty years; her mother was also a staunch follower. Conner holds a degree in English from the University of Dallas and a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin. Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right(coming in July from Beacon Press) gives an inside look at one of the most radical right-wing movements in American history and shows how it impacts our politics today.
Every year, during
Holocaust Remembrance Week, the people of the United States promise to “never
forget” the six million who perished in Hitler’s death camps. I make the same
promise. Then I add my own personal vow—to never forget Dr. Revilo P. Oliver, a
classics professor from the University of Illinois and a founding member of the
John Birch Society. Using an energized, anti-Communist right wing network,
Oliver peddled his revised history of World War II; one in which the Jews
invented the Holocaust and foisted the story of their imaginary persecution on
an unsuspecting world. I heard Oliver spin his vile “Holohoax” ideas right in
my parents’ living room.
In late 1958, my
parents became the first two members of the John Birch Society in Chicago. They
were welcomed into the brand new organization by founder, Robert Welch, who
introduced them to Oliver. Welch and Oliver were personal and professional
friends. Over the years, Welch often described Oliver as one of the “ablest
speakers on the Americanist side.”
Any friend of Welch
got a warm welcome from my parents. The first time I met the man, however, he
gave me the creeps. His long face was exaggerated by black hair slicked back
with greasy pomade, bushy eyebrows and beady eyes and wide handlebar mustache.
I never saw Oliver smile. But his lips often curled in a nasty snarl,
especially when he was berating someone who dared to disagree.
Oliver was a frequent
contributor to National Review,
William F. Buckley’s magazine, and to the John Birch Society’s magazine, American Opinion. In the pages of these
journals, he expressed some of his most controversial positions including a
1965 slam against the United States for “an insane, but terribly effective,
effort to destroy the American people and Western civilization by subsidizing .
. . the breeding of the intellectually, physically, and morally unfit.”
Oliver peppered his
speeches and his articles with racial slurs and discredited historical
assumption. In his role as a member of the John Birch Society speakers’ bureau,
he railed against Communist subversion inside our government while insisting that
President Roosevelt tricked the United States into World War II in order to
help his friend, Joseph Stalin, the Russian dictator.
Along with this
interpretation of World War II, Oliver peddled his version of the Holocaust,
one in stark contrast to everything I’d learned from our Jewish neighbors and
my own father. Gone were the yellow stars and the death camps. Gone were the
gas chambers and crematoria. Even the witness of American soldiers who
liberated Buchenwald and Dachau was repudiated. Instead, Oliver said that there
were no gas chambers and no exterminations.
My parents parroted
Oliver. The Holocaust stopped being so terrible, the death camps turned into
detention camps. Jews were imprisoned because they were traitors, not because
of their faith. The “Final Solution” became fiction, and the Nazis were loyal
military men following orders.
I’d met Jews with
tattoos on their arms. I’d seen photographs from Buchenwald. I knew that
millions of men, women and children were gassed and their ashes coated everything
when the fires roared. I knew all of this as well as I knew my name. I was not
even 14 and I thought my parents had lost their minds. Dr. Oliver had helped
No matter what Revilo
Oliver said, he continued to serve (with my father) on the John Birch Society
National Council, the inner circle of the organization. My parents drank in
everything he said and repeated most of it, almost verbatim. Robert Welch heaped
praise on Oliver for his outstanding contributions to the Birch cause.
All of this Oliver
devotion stopped abruptly in July of 1966, when Oliver headlined the New
England Rally for God, Family, and Country, an annual Birch-sponsored festival
held in Boston and billed as a reunion for conservative Americans. In his
speech, “Conspiracy or Degeneracy, Oliver talked about “vaporizing” Jews as
part of the “beatific vision.”
generated an avalanche of negative press, followed by internal Birch turmoil on
how to respond. Oliver had said all of this and more for years and every single
member of the Birch leadership had heard him. But time this was different. Oliver’s
public and blatant racism sounded like it echoed John Birch Society policies.
And the press covered it.
In early August,
Welch told council members that Oliver had resigned. In a split-second, he
vanished from my parents’ conversation. They pretended that Oliver had never
been a Birch leader or a personal friend.
Revilo Oliver lived
the rest of his life as a hero to neo-Nazis, skin heads and white supremacists.
His views never moderated. In 1982, twelve years before his death by suicide,
Oliver wrote that democracy would only be possible by “deporting, vaporizing,
or otherwise disposing of swarms of Jews, Congoids (Africans), Mongoloids and
mongrels (mixed-race) that now infest our territory.”
Oliver put an
indelible mark on the John Birch Society, built a network of Holocaust deniers and
recruited countless followers to spread his message of hate. This year, the theme of the Holocaust
Remembrance is “heeding the warning signs.” There is no warning sign of more
significance than the continuing presence of Holocaust denial in our public
life. We can’t begin to understand today’s deniers if we don’t take a hard look
at the man who fueled the denial movement.
An examination of the failure of the United States as a broker in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, through three key historical moments
For more than seven decades the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people has raged on with no end in sight, and for much of that time, the United States has been involved as a mediator in the conflict. In this book, acclaimed historian Rashid Khalidi zeroes in on the United States's role as the purported impartial broker in this failed peace process.
Khalidi closely analyzes three historical moments that illuminate how the United States' involvement has, in fact, thwarted progress toward peace between Israel and Palestine. The first moment he investigates is the "Reagan Plan" of 1982, when Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin refused to accept the Reagan administration's proposal to reframe the Camp David Accords more impartially. The second moment covers the period after the Madrid Peace Conference, from 1991 to 1993, during which negotiations between Israel and Palestine were brokered by the United States until the signing of the secretly negotiated Oslo accords. Finally, Khalidi takes on President Barack Obama's retreat from plans to insist on halting the settlements in the West Bank.
Through in-depth research into and keen analysis of these three moments, as well as his own firsthand experience as an advisor to the Palestinian delegation at the 1991 pre-Oslo negotiations in Washington, DC, Khalidi reveals how the United States and Israel have actively colluded to prevent a Palestinian state and resolve the situation in Israel's favor. Brokers of Deceit bares the truth about why peace in the Middle East has been impossible to achieve: for decades, US policymakers have masqueraded as unbiased agents working to bring the two sides together, when, in fact, they have been the agents of continuing injustice, effectively preventing the difficult but essential steps needed to achieve peace in the region.
Rashid Khalidi is the author of several books about the Middle East, including Palestinian Identity, Resurrecting Empire, The Iron Cage, and Sowing Crisis. His writing on Middle Eastern history and politics has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and many journals. For his work on the Middle East, Professor Khalidi has received fellowships and grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the American Research Center in Egypt, and the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. He is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University in New York.
In the Media
Click here to read a post by Khalidi at the Foreign Policy website.
“Unpacking these episodes in sharp, take-no-prisoners prose,
Khalidi maintains that the U.S. and Israel, ‘by far the most powerful actors in
the Middle East,’ through successive administrations and a variety of key
officials … have conspired to deny Palestinians any semblance of
self-determination. A stinging indictment of one-sided policymaking destined,
if undisturbed, to result in even greater violence.” —Kirkus Reviews
“What has happened to the Palestinian people since 1948 is one of the great
crimes of modern history. Of course, Israel bears primary responsibility for
this tragedy. However, as Rashid Khalidi shows in his smart new book, American
presidents from Truman to Obama have sided with Israel at almost every turn and
helped it inflict immense pain and humiliation on the Palestinians. At the same
time, they have employed high-sounding but dishonest rhetoric to cover up
Israel’s brutal behavior. As Brokers of Deceit makes clear,
the United States richly deserves to be called ‘Israel’s lawyer.’” —John J.
Mearsheimer, coauthor of The Israel Lobby
Drawing on his own experience as a Palestinian negotiator and recently released
documents, Rashid Khalidi mounts a frontal attack on the myths and
misconceptions that have come to surround America’s role in the so-called ‘peace
process,’ which is all process and no peace. The title is not too strong: the
book demonstrates conclusively that far from serving as an honest broker, the
United States continues to act as Israel’s lawyer—with dire consequences for
its own interests, for the Palestinians, and for the entire region. Professor
Khalidi deserves much credit for his superb exposition of the fatal gap between
the rhetoric and reality of American diplomacy on this critically important
issue.” —Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at Oxford
and author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World
“Khalidi has combined history, common sense, and his firsthand understanding of
Arab-Israeli peace talks, as brokered by Washington, to make the case that
American national security interests would be best served by a just peace in
the Middle East. Instead, he writes with great sadness, Washington’s efforts to
be an honest broker fall ‘somewhere between high irony and farce’—and put
democratic America, with its avowed commitment to freedom for all, in the
position of enabling the continued subjugation of the Palestinian people. This
is an important book” —Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker
“For those of us who believe that a two-state solution is the path to justice
and peace for Israel and Palestine, Rashid Khalidi’s trenchant analysis is
powerful and disturbing. The United States has failed repeatedly to be an
honest broker, accepting the status quo of Israeli occupation and settlements
when a true peace agreement would be deeply in the interest of all parties,
Israel, Palestine, and the US itself. Khalidi emphasizes that the deceptions of
language and deed have serious long-term costs and that the United States might
soon impose and incur still greater costs through ill-conceived policies
vis-à-vis Syria, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East.” —Jeffrey D.
Sachs, author of The End of Poverty
“Rashid Khalidi is arguably the foremost U.S. historian of the modern Middle
East.” —Warren I. Cohen, Los Angeles Times Book Review
“With a deep knowledge of the Middle East and a felicitous literary style,
Khalidi . . . examines the history of U.S. involvement in the area against the
backdrop of European colonialism.” —Ronald Steel, The Nation
“Khalidi’s role is as a historian, working to show how historical forces,
largely ignored in the U.S., have shaped the modern Middle East. He takes
particular delight in demolishing the various clichés used to describe the
Middle East, bred out of what he terms ‘America’s historical amnesia.’” —Chris
Hedges, New York Times
A scene from the million-person march in Los Angeles in 2006. (Photo: David Bacon)
need an immigration policy based on human, civil and labor rights, which looks
at the reasons why people come to the U.S., and how we can end the
criminalization of their status and work. While proposals from Congress and the
administration have started the debate over the need for change in our
immigration policy, they are not only too limited and ignore the global nature
of migration, but they will actually make the problem of criminalization much
worse. We need a better alternative.
alternative should start by looking at the roots of migration - the reasons why
people come to the U.S. in the first place. Movement and migration is a human
right. But we live in a world in which a lot of migration isn’t voluntary, but
is forced by poverty and so-called economic reforms.
Our trade policy, and the economic
measures we impose on countries like Mexico, El Salvador or the Philippines
make poverty worse. When people get poorer and their wages go down, it creates
opportunities for U.S. corporate investment. This is what drives our trade
policy. But the human cost is very high.
In El Salvador today, the U.S. Embassy
is telling the government to sell off its water, hospitals, schools and
highways to give U.S. investors a chance to make money. This policy is enabled
by the Central American Free Trade Agreement, whose purpose was increasing
opportunities in El Salvador for U.S. investors. It was imposed on the people
of that country in the face of fierce popular opposition.
Alex Gomez, a leader of Salvadoran
public sector unions, came to San Francisco in February to explain what the
consequences of this latest free trade initiative will be. He says if these
public resources are privatized, tens of thousands of workers will lose their
jobs, and their unions will be destroyed. They will then have to leave the
country to survive.
According to Gomez, four million have
already left El Salvador. Two million have come to the US, not because they
love it here, but because they can’t survive any longer at home. These migrants
come without papers, because there are no visas for two million people from
this small country.
The North American Free Trade Agreement
did even more damage than CAFTA. It let U.S. corporations dump corn in Mexico,
to take over the market there with imports from the U.S. Today one company,
Smithfield Foods, sells almost a third of all the pork consumed by Mexicans. Because
of this dumping and the market takeover, prices dropped so low that millions of
Mexican farmers couldn’t survive. They too had to leave home.
Mexico used to be self-sufficient in
corn and meat production. Corn cultivation started there in Oaxaca many
centuries ago. Now Mexico is a net corn and meat importer from the U.S.
During the years NAFTA has been in
effect, the number of people in the U.S. born in Mexico went from 4.5 million
to 12.67 million. Today about 11% of all Mexicans live in the U.S. About 5.7
million of those who came were able to get some kind of visa, but another 7
million couldn’t. There just aren’t that many visas. But they came anyway
because they had very little choice, if they wanted to survive or their
families to prosper.
Our immigration laws turn these people
into criminals. They say that if migrants without papers work here it’s a
crime. But how can people survive here if they don’t work? We need a different
kind of immigration policy - that stops putting such pressure on people to
leave, and that doesn’t treat them as criminals if they do.
What would it look like?
First, we should tell the truth, as the
labor-supported TRADE Act would have us do, which was introduced into Congress
by Mike Michaud from Maine. We should hold hearings as the bill says, about the
effects of NAFTA and CAFTA, and collect evidence about the way those agreements
have displaced people in the U.S. and other countries as well.
Then we need to renegotiate those
existing agreements to eliminate the causes of displacement. If we provide
compensation to communities that have suffered the effects of free trade and
corporate economic reforms, that were intended to benefit U.S. investors, it
would be more than simple justice. It might give people more resources and more
of a future at home.
It makes no sense to negotiate new
trade agreements that displace even more people or lower living standards. This
administration has negotiated three so far, with Peru, Panama and South Korea. It
is now negotiating a new one -- the Trans Pacific Partnership. These are all
pro-corporate, people-displacing agreements. We should prohibit these and any
new ones like them. Instead, we need to make sure all future trade treaties
require adequate farm prices and income in farming communities, promote unions
and high wages, and don’t require the privatization of public services.
Increasingly these international
agreements, like Mode 4 of the World Trade Organization, treat displaced
migrants as a cheap and vulnerable labor force. Our trade negotiators call for
regulating their flow with guest worker programs. This is exactly the wrong
direction. We should ban the inclusion of guest workers in any future trade agreement
or treaty instead.
When diplomacy doesn’t work, U.S.
military intervention and aid programs are to support trade agreements,
structural adjustment policies or market economic reforms. This has been U.S.
policy in Honduras and Haiti, for instance. This also must stop. If the U.S.
Embassy is putting pressure on countries like El Salvador to adopt measures
that benefit corporate investors at the expense of workers and farmers, the
Ambassador should be recalled and the interference halted.
Finally, we should ratify the UN
Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families. This
international agreement would give us an alternative framework for recognizing
the rights of displaced migrants, and the responsibility of both sending and receiving
countries for their protection.
The failure of successive U.S.
administrations to even present this agreement to Congress for ratification
highlights the unpleasant truth about the real effect of our immigration
policy. When millions of migrants arrive here, they are criminalized because
they lack immigration status, especially when they go to work.
Labor and civil rights advocates often
fondly remember the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act because of it had
an amnesty, signed by President Ronald Reagan, which gave legal status
relatively quickly to almost four million people. But the law also contained
employer sanctions for the first time, which we often forget. That provision
says that employers will be fined and punished if they hire undocumented
This provision was promoted by those
who said that if work became illegal, then undocumented migration would end. This
clearly failed, since the number increased many-fold in the years that
followed. Compared to the pressure to leave home, criminalizing work was not a
deterrent to those who sought work here so that their families at home would
This provision sounded like a law
against employers, but it was not. It became an anti-worker law. No boss ever
went to jail for violating it. The fines were not great. When the government
agents seek to enforce it, employers who cooperate with them are forgiven. But
over the last four years alone, tens of thousands of workers have been fired
for not having papers. The true objects of punishment under this law have
always been workers, not employers.
Now Congress is talking about a new
reform, and we have to use this opportunity to push to repeal this law. Some
think that since a new legalization will hopefully give many undocumented
workers legal status, sanction won’t really affect anyone anymore.
But even the most positive predictions
about a new legalization still assume that millions of people will not quality
because of stringent qualifications, high fees and decades-long waiting
periods. Those people will still be subject to the sanctions law. And the day
after a new reform passes millions more people will come to the U.S. because of
the same pressures that caused past waves of migration. This is especially true
if a new immigration reform ignores the need to renegotiate trade agreements
and eliminate the huge displacement of people.
These future migrants are not
strangers. They are the husbands and wives, parents, and cousins of people
already here - people who are already part of our communities. They come from
the same towns, and are linked to neighborhoods here in the U.S. by the ties
that have been created by migration, work and family. They will work in our
workplaces, participate in our organizing drives, and belong to our unions. We
need to keep the sanctions law from being applied to them, making it a crime
for them to work. Unfortunately, however, Congress members aren’t talking about
getting rid of sanctions. In fact, they and the administration want to make the
current application even worse.
So let’s do a reality check. Let’s tell
the truth about how has this law been used.
One method for enforcing sanctions
happens when an employer uses it to screen people it is going to hire, using an
error-filled government database called E-verify. Congress and the
administration are calling for making it mandatory for all employers to use
this database, and refuse to hire anyone who it flags as undocumented.
For people who are currently working
now and have no papers, what it means is that if they lose their jobs, it will
be much hard to find others. That will make people fear taking any action that
offends their boss, like joining a union or complaining about illegal
conditions. That’s good for the boss, but bad for the workers.
Employers today not only use this
database to screen new hires - they also use it to reverify the immigration
status of people who are already working. This is a violation of the law. Once
it accepts the form filled out by a job seeker (called the I-9), along with
their ID, the employer can’t reverify it all over again at some point in the
future. But they do. Sometimes it’s convenient to get rid of workers who have
accumulated benefits and raises over years of service, and replace them with
new hires at lower wages.
Reverification just happened, for
instance, to three workers who belong to the International Longshore and
Warehouse Union at Waste Management, Inc. in San Leandro, California. The union
has gone to the Oakland City Council to protest these illegal firings, because
WMI operates under a city garbage contract.
Employers sometimes announce they
intend to begin using the E-Verify database when their workers start to
organize. That’s what managers announced at the Mi Pueblo supermarkets in
northern California. There E-Verify checks are being used to terrorize workers
to keep them from supporting a union, Local 5 of the United Food and Commercial
Another method for enforcing sanctions
against workers is even more widespread. Immigration agents, working for the
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), go into the personnel records of an
employer. They then compare the information given by workers on the I-9 form to
the E-Verify database, looking for workers who don’t have legal immigration
status. ICE then makes a list of those workers and sends it to the company,
telling the employer to fire them.
This is what happened at Pacific Steel
Castings in Berkeley, California, last year. Two hundred and fourteen workers
were fired as a result. Some had worked in the foundry for over 20 years. Many
lost their homes, and their children’s dreams of going to college were
Over last four years, hundreds of
thousands of workers have lost their jobs in these enforcement actions, called
I-9 audits. Almost five hundred janitors in San Francisco, and over a thousand
in Minneapolis. Thousands of workers doing some of the hardest work imaginable
in meatpacking plants around the country. Farm workers. Construction workers. But
the employers all given reduced fines, and many immunity from punishment
entirely, if they cooperated in firing their own workers.
If unions and communities mount a fight
that exposes the terrible human cost of these firings, it is possible to stop
them. The young Dreamers showed that this is possible. These courageous young
people convinced the administration to stop deporting students brought to the
U.S. without papers as children. They forced the administration to change the
way it enforces immigration law. It can be done for workers too, if there’s a
But we must also change the sanctions
law. Otherwise, our experience over the 25 years since it passed shows that
immigration authorities will simply find another method for making working a
crime for people who don’t have papers.
The other unpleasant truth about
sanctions is that they are linked to the growth of guest worker programs. One
of the main purposes of making it a crime to work without papers is to force
people to come to the U.S. with visas that tie them to their employers and
recruiters. These workers are often more vulnerable than the undocumented,
since they get deported if they lose their jobs or get fired. Guest worker
programs have been called Close to Slavery by the Southern Poverty Law Center
and others who have documented their extreme exploitation. The sanctions law
functions as a way to pressure people into choosing that path to come to the
U.S. to work.
When employer sanctions are used to
make workers vulnerable to pressure, to break unions or to force people into
guest worker programs, their real effect is to force people into low wage jobs
with no rights. This is a subsidy for employers, and brings down wages for
everyone. The sanctions law makes it harder for all workers to organize to
improve conditions. This doesn’t just affect the workers who have no papers
themselves. When it becomes harder for one group to organize, other workers
have a harder time organizing too.
Some Washington lobbyists accept as a
fact of life that the sanctions law will continue, or even worse, that E-Verify
will become a mandatory national program for all employers. But for unions and
workers who have had to deal with its effects , it would be much better to
immediately repeal it, and dismantle the E-Verify database.
The use of the sanctions law against
workers and unions is what led the California Labor Federation to call for its
repeal as early as 1994, a position it continued to adopt in successive
conventions. Other unions joined it including the garment unions and service
employees. Finally labor councils in California and then around the country
passed resolutions making the same call, and sent them to the historic AFL-CIO
convention in Los Angeles in 1999. This led to an historic debate and the
adoption of a new, pro-immigrant policy. Delegates at that convention believed
that we have to stop enforcing immigration law in the workplace, because its
real effect is to make workers vulnerable to employers, and to make it harder
for all workers to organize to improve conditions.
In addition to repealing the national
sanctions law, we should also prohibit states from enacting copycat measures. These
laws have passed not just in Arizona or Alabama or Mississippi. California
passed a state employer sanctions law before the federal law took effect in
What would really help workers to raise
wages and improve conditions is much stricter enforcement of worker protection
and anti-discrimination laws, for everyone. Funding used for immigration
enforcement on the job should be given instead to the Department of Labor, the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Labor Relations
Board and other labor law enforcement agencies. It will be a good day for all
workers when ICE agents instead become wage and hour inspectors.
Threats by employers who use
immigration status to keep workers from organizing unions or protesting illegal
conditions should be a crime. That makes it necessary to overturn two Supreme
Court decisions, Hoffman and Sure-Tan. In these cases the court said that if
workers are fired for union activity and have no papers, the boss doesn’t have
to rehire them or pay them lost wages, because the sanctions law makes it
illegal to employ them to begin with. But when there’s no punishment for
violating labor rights, workers have no rights. This also hurts other workers
in the same workplace who want to organize a union, since it makes the
undocumented so vulnerable. Instead, we should increase workplace rights by
prohibiting immigration enforcement during labor disputes or against workers
who complain about illegal conditions.
To ensure that in the workplace we all
have the same rights we also have to eliminate the way undocumented people get
ripped off by funds like Social Security and unemployment. All workers
contribute to the Social Security fund, but because undocumented people are
working under bad numbers, they pay in but can never collect the benefits. This
will come back to haunt us when those workers need disability payments or get
too old to work - something that happens to us all. This is the reason we set
up the Social Security system to begin with - because we don’t want old people
eating dog food, regardless of where they were born.
Instead today the Social Security
number has become much more a means to check immigration status, harming
workers instead of providing them the benefits that were its original and true
purpose. There is a simple solution to this problem as well. Social Security
numbers should be made available for everyone, regardless of immigration
status. Everyone should pay into the system and everyone has a right to the
benefits those payments create. By the same token all workers should be able to
receive unemployment benefits regardless of status, since they and their
employers pay into the funds.
In the end, we need an immigration
policy that brings people together, instead of pitting workers against each
other, as our current system does. During a time of economic crisis especially
we need to reduce job competition, rather than stoking fears. In 2005
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston made an innovative proposal that
would have set up job creation and training programs for unemployed workers at
the same time that it would have given legal status to workers without papers. This
proposal put unemployed workers and immigrants on the same side, giving them
both something to fight for whether they were out of work, or working without
This proposal, and the others made
here, are part of the Dignity Campaign, a plan for immigration reform based on
human, civil and labor rights. In the last three years, local unions and labor
councils in San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Alameda County adopted
resolutions supporting the Dignity Campaign, arguing that trade policy is
linked to the increasing vulnerability of immigrant workers because of the
sanctions law and guest worker progrsms. The Labor Council for Latin American
Advancement adopted a similar resolution.
An immigration policy that benefits
migrants, their home communities, and working people here in the U.S. has to
have a long term perspective. Instead of just trying to please interest groups
well-represented in Congress, we need to ask, where are we going? What will
actually solve the problems that we experience on our jobs and in our homes
with current laws and policies?
We need a system that produces
security, not insecurity. We need a commitment to equality and equal status -
getting rid of color and national lines instead of making them deeper. We need
to make it easier for workers to organize, by getting rid of what makes people
vulnerable -- to end job competition we need full employment, and to gain
organizing rights we need labor law enforcement together with eliminating
sanctions and firings. It’s not likely that many corporations will support such
a program, so the politicians who represent us have to choose whose side they’re
Working people in Mexico, El Salvador,
the Philippines, the US and other countries need the same things. Secure jobs
at a living wage. Rights in our workplaces and communities. The freedom to
travel and seek a future for our families, and the ability to stay home and
have a decent future there too. The borders between our countries, then, should
be common grounds that unite us, not lines that divide us.
Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph. D. is Founding Co-Director of the Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School.(www.britesoulrepair.org). She was a professor for twenty years, directed the Fellowship Program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University, a prominent advanced research institute, and from 2001-2002, was a Fellow at the Harvard Divinity School Center for Values in Public Life. Her latest book is Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury After War, co-authored with Gabriella Lettini.
The killing of Iraq veteran and national figure Chris Kyle prompted media queries and questions for the three of us who run the Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School. Our Center is dedicated to recovery from moral injury in veterans. Rev. Dr. Coleman Baker, Chaplain (Col.) Herman Keizer, Jr. (ret.) and I spent a day reflecting together on what went wrong when Kyle tried to help a fellow vet. Here are some of our reflections.
Chris Kyle, a well-decorated Navy SEAL sniper, completed four tours in Iraq with an extraordinary record of kills. Kyle's book about his experiences in the clandestine fraternity gained him much admiration. Then, a week ago on a firing range in Texas, Eric Routh, a Marine reservist who served in Iraq, killed him and his fellow veteran Chad Littlefield.
Kyle was beloved by many because he tried to support his fellow vets in returning to civilian life, but it seems clear that Kyle himself never really left the military. He overcame his own struggles with alcohol and a fear of leaving his house by re-building a military cocoon as a means of therapy. Kyle's idea of what worked best for returning veterans was the military espirt de corps of an active unit. He used the tools of his military experience at his Fitco Care Foundation, designing treatments built on exercise, counseling and veteran camaraderie. And he kept a live-fire range open and invited others to shoot for therapy.
In trying to treat Eric Routh by echoing his war experience, Kyle, who sought to stay in war, may have provoked a desperate Routh to seek escape from such "help." By not questioning whether military values can simply be relived in civilian life, Kyle failed to understand difficulties some returning vets might have with a "HOOHA" model of counseling and training, especially those with traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, and moral injury. For veterans who feel betrayed by the government, have serious trauma, or experience a collapse of moral meaning after war, more exposure to military life can compound the difficulty of adjusting to the civilian world.
It was hard trying to wrap my mind around "Well, how can I shoot another human being?" And even the first time I had to do it, they're yelling at me. "You have to do it! Take it! Take it!" And it's still trying to get over the fact that, well, I'm fixin' to have to kill someone.
And then you do it, and you have to think of it differently. You're not killing a person, you're killing an enemy that if you don't do it, they're gonna kill your guys. ... You have to de-humanize it, so you don't go crazy.
In his civilian life, Kyle continued this strategy of de-humanizing his enemies. He referred to people in Iraq as "savages." He also dismissed civilians as shallow and selfish.
We think Kyle had a good point about civilian society. The care for each other unto death and the willingness to die in service to others bonds a combat unit in ways that are rare in civilian life. During the Iraq War, civilians were shielded from images of coffins returning home and were advised to shop, rather than make personal sacrifices to support the troops. The narcissism, personal ambitions, and self-obsessions with consumerism and celebrity culture have prompted some veterans to ask, "I fought for this?"
Without a new social, emotional, spiritual system that can help veterans of war move from a military system to civilian life, we sentence many of them to military cocoons or lonely states of limbo from which transition is nigh impossible.
Few institutions in our culture ask people to commit to each other over the whole life course, from birth to death. Few organizations welcome strangers and include them in a community of care; attend to those who need help, feel hurt or are troubled in their souls; and hold each other accountable for living into their best selves in circles of generosity and reciprocity. These commitments of lifelong weekly activities describe congregational life. Though no congregation does them perfectly, most try their best, and many do them well.
We believe that congregations are one place that should be welcoming veterans home, but few have committed to this work. It should not be undertaken with just simple good intentions, though good intentions matter a great deal. To welcome veterans into a community's life, we need to understand how to assist the transition from the values of military life to religious life. We must advocate for better services for treating PTSD, and we must support veterans' families and all they go through to welcome veterans home.
We mourn the deaths of Chris Kyle and Chad Littlefield. They are tragic, senseless killings that have left their families and friends with unimaginable loss. We may never know why they were killed. However, we hope their deaths can help us all better understand the complicated and difficult return to civilian life for combat veterans and see this as an important responsibility of us all.
Without adequate ways for veterans to process their war experience, reflect on its moral and psychological impact, and restore them to civilian life, we fail as a society to bring them all the way home. Tragically, just before he died, Kyle hinted he might be ready to come home. He wanted to slow down and just take care of his family, saying he was tired: "I'm just trying to be the me that I am and not all of this other crap."
"Grandpa wants you honey." This is my mom now, coming up the stairs and repeating his wish. I take a deep breath, grab a coffee pot and descend slowly. When I hit the bottom stair, Grandpa motions me near and uses all of his energy to force, in a barely audible voice, these words: "This is my granddaughter, the one who wrote a book."
The book. My book. My soon-to-be published memoir. I become light headed as I feel the eyes of the praying, faithful, God-centered men on me. And while I should beam from Grandpa's pride, I don't. Instead, I pretend I don't hear him. I move into the circle of men, pour coffee and speak loudly about nothing before they can ask me questions. I do this because my book is about the thing I have learned does not go with religion: me. And to talk about my book would reveal what I believe they will reject: gay. In his weakened state Grandpa can't compete with my flurry of distraction, so he closes his eyes and fades away.
The Pentagon's announcement this week that it will lift the ban on women in ground combat positions is welcome news to many of those who value equal rights. But it is also an urgent reminder that sexual assault remains a blight on our armed forces that only constant, sincere efforts will erase.
As a writer who has been interviewing female veterans for many years, I have long argued that lifting the ground combat ban would help military women win the respect they deserve. As long as women were officially prohibited from engaging in that essential act of a soldier - fighting - they were seen as second-class. And that has contributed to the violence, predation, and harassment so many military women endure.
The ground combat barrier is gone now, but the attitudes that sprung from it will not disappear so easily. Plenty of military men will decry this decision and resent the women who wish to fight by their sides. Some will be angered, insisting that their female comrades endanger them - an assertion often made but never demonstrated. And some will express their anger with violence. [Read the rest here]
Journalist Sarah Garland grew up in Louisville. Day after day, she left her mostly Caucasian suburban neighborhood on a school bus taking her to a mostly African-American neighborhood, where she became a student in a racial minority. Her experience long ago played a role in her decision to write “Divided We Fail,” which covers the case that found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. So did the experience of Garland’s grandmother, an Oklahoma teacher who volunteered to join the initial group of Caucasian educators transferred to an all African-American school, where she remained until retirement. Garland relates how her own mother became a social worker splitting time between a mostly African-American school and a mostly Caucasian school in Louisville. Garland’s mother “witnessed firsthand the upheaval and violence that busing wrought in its early years.”
At today's Inauguration, President Obama will be using the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's bible. The symbolism of the president's choice is striking. King was of course profoundly religious, although this is sometimes lost in our thinking of him as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. In reality, however, these two aspects of King's character--the religious man and the secular leader--were intertwined, as is illustrated in the story behind the collection of his best-known homilies.
As Dr. King prepared for the Birmingham campaign in early 1963, he drafted the final sermons for Strength to Love. King had begun working on the sermons during a fortnight in jail in July 1962. Having been arrested for holding a prayer vigil outside Albany City Hall, King and Ralph Abernathy shared a jail cell for fifteen days that was, according to King, ‘‘dirty, filthy, and ill-equipped’’ and “the worse I have ever seen.” While behind bars, he spent uninterrupted time preparing the drafts for classic sermons such as “Loving Your Enemies,” “Love in Action,” and “Shattered Dreams,” and continued to work on the volume after his release.
Beacon Press recently brought out, as part of the King Legacy Series, a new version of this book. A Gift of Loveincludes these classic sermons, along with two new preachings. Collectively they present King’s fusion of Christian teachings and social consciousness, and promote his prescient vision of love as a social and political force for change.
The following passage, "Loving Your Enemies," is an apt meditation for today. The inauguration puts to rest a combative campaign season even as we watch our leaders, having narrowly avoided the fiscal cliff, square off for battles over the debt ceiling and gun control on Capitol Hill. Perhaps if they could take to heart King's exhortation to "discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives," we might enter an era of more civil, productive discourse in Washington.
From "Loving Your Enemies"
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven. matthew 5:43–45
Probably no admonition of Jesus has been more difficult to follow than the command to “love your enemies.” Some men have sincerely felt that its actual practice is not possible. It is easy, they say, to love those who love you, but how can one love those who openly and insidiously seek to defeat you? Others, like the philosopher Nietzsche, contend that Jesus’ exhortation to love one’s enemies is testimony to the fact that the Christian ethic is designed for the weak and cowardly, and not for the strong and courageous. Jesus, they say, was an impractical idealist.
In spite of these insistent questions and persistent objections, this command of Jesus challenges us with new urgency.
Upheaval after upheaval has reminded us that modern man is traveling along a road called hate, in a journey that will bring us to destruction and damnation. Far from being the pious injunction of a Utopian dreamer, the command to love one’s enemy is an absolute necessity for our survival. Love even for enemies is the key to the solution of the problems of our world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist: he is the practical realist.
I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the act of loving one’s enemy. He never joined the ranks of those who talk glibly about the easiness of the moral life. He realized that every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God. So when Jesus said “Love your enemy,” he was not unmindful of its stringent qualities. Yet he meant every word of it. Our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.
Let us be practical and ask the question, How do we love our enemies?
First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. It is also necessary to realize that the forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression. The wrongdoer may request forgiveness. He may come to himself, and, like the prodigal son, move up some dusty road, his heart palpitating with the desire for forgiveness. But only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. It is the lifting of a burden or the cancelling of a debt. The words “I will forgive you, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done” never explain the real nature of forgiveness. Certainly one can never forget, if that means erasing it totally from his mind. But when we forgive, we forget in the sense that the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. Likewise, we can never say, “I will forgive you, but I won’t have anything further to do with you.” Forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together again. Without this, no man can love his enemies. The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.
An interview with authors DeWolf and Morgan on NPR’s Tell Me Moreaired Christmas Day.
The authors begin the West Coast leg of their tour this
weekend. The entire month of January, they’ll be making appearances in
Washington, Oregon, California, and Colorado. Check out their website for more info.
Booklist review, Jan
01: “Saulitis’ stunning and sorrowful ‘book of contemplation’ elucidates the
discipline, tedium, danger, and bliss of whale studies… Candid, transfixing,
and cautionary, Saulitis celebrates and mourns for a wondrous and imperiled
Intensive Care: A Doctor’s Journey by Danielle
Ofri (March 05)
Kirkus Reviews in print (Jan. 15) and online
(Jan. 01): “in sharp, take-no-prisoners prose, Khalidi maintains that the U.S.
and Israel… have conspired to deny Palestinians any semblance of
self-determination. A stinging indictment of one-sided policymaking
destined, if undisturbed, to result in even greater violence.”
“Drawing on his own experience as
a Palestinian negotiator and recently released documents, Rashid Khalidi mounts
a frontal attack on the myths and misconceptions that have come to surround
America’s role in the so-called “peace process” which is all process and no
peace. The title is not too strong: the book demonstrates conclusively
that far from serving as an honest broker, the US continues to act as Israel’s lawyer
– with dire consequences for its own interests, for the Palestinians, and for
the entire region. Professor Khalidi deserves much credit for his superb
exposition of the fatal gap between the rhetoric and reality of American
diplomacy on this critically important issue.” —Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International
Relations at Oxford and author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.
"Every denizen of wild places
from Laotse to St. Francis to Rachel Carson to black bears to field mice has
depended upon trails. But rarely have we considered the people, tools, or toil
that lay our favorite trails down. Dirt Work is a spectacular correction of
this omission. Imbued with a tough-minded, ribald reverence for honest labor
that brings to mind a female Gary Snyder or Wendell Berry (if you can imagine
that!), Christine Byl does epic justice to the whole-bodied satisfactions that
come of staying out in the weather, staying alert, and working one’s ass off
for others with love, tenacity and skill." --David James Duncan,
author of The River Why and Sun House.
“Christine Byl has been summering
on trail crews for more than a decade and a half. A first-rate storyteller, she
details the techniques and tools, and the spirit of fellowship and feel of the
woods. If you love getting into the back country, or even if you're an armchair
backpacker as I am now at age eighty, you'll love Dirt Work.”
--William Kittredge, author of Hole in the Sky and The
Nature of Generosity
“Byl’s is not a world of groomed
nature, inert tools, or nostalgic rituals, but a vibrant landscape inhabited by
people and animals and layered by idea and history. She means this book as a
love song, she writes, and it is, not only from her to her fellow laborers, but
from the mind to the body, the hand to the tool, the human to the wild.” —Sherry
Simpson, author of The Accidental Explorer: Wayfinding in Alaska
Posters providing help at Rockaway Beach, Queens, NY. (From Bigstock)
This year, thousands of families from Long Island, the Rockaways, Staten Island, and the Jersey Shore were not able to celebrate Thanksgiving at home. For these people, whose houses and apartments were damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Sandy, the long recovery journey is just beginning. Rebuilding poses an array of daunting challenges: insurance proceeds rarely cover costs, destruction lays bare the risk of building anew, and doubt lingers over whether neighbors will return. To make matters worse, national attention moves on quickly after a disaster.
Gulf Coast residents can relate. In the more than seven years after Hurricane Katrina washed away the Mississippi Gulf Coast and flooded much of New Orleans, recovery has been a slow and uneven process. Parts of St. Bernard Parish, the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans East, Waveland, Miss., and other Gulf communities remain as empty as the charred blocks of Breezy Point, Queens. Katrina permanently displaced hundreds of thousands of people. For those who have been able to return, restoring life to flooded neighborhoods has been a trying, all-consuming endeavor. Much of their work remains unheralded; the slow work of reconstituting a community rarely makes for snappy evening news stories.
Lessons from the long Gulf Coast recovery can inform the work that lies ahead for Sandy’s displaced survivors. The most important such lesson is that context matters. What works in one place will not necessarily work in another, and local knowledge is vastly more important than outside expertise or prior disaster recovery experience. New Orleans resident Hal Roark, who worked on recovery efforts with hundreds of his neighbors in the Broadmoor neighborhood, puts it best when he says, “We are the world’s leading experts on Broadmoor.”
Because of a vacuum of city, state, and federal government leadership in Katrina’s wake, New Orleans neighborhood-based organizations carried out much of the city’s recovery work. Their diverse recoveries reflect the importance of tailoring efforts to match physical and social context. Hal’s neighborhood of Broadmoor, a racially and socioeconomically diverse community, based its rebuilding effort on the recovery plan drafted by dozens of resident-led committees and democratically ratified by the neighborhood. In Hollygrove, a predominantly poor and black neighborhood, churches and religious nonprofits drove recovery efforts. Lakeview, a white, upper middle class community, drew on a longstanding neighborhood civic tradition to organize its recovery. Village de l’Est, a far-flung Vietnamese-American neighborhood, coordinated recovery efforts through its 6,000-member Catholic parish. The Lower Ninth Ward, which sustained the most damage of any neighborhood in the city, relied on close coordination between resident-led organizations and massive teams of outside volunteers.
Even counting the inevitable missteps, it is clear that the response to Hurricane Sandy from all levels of government has been vastly better than the response to Hurricane Katrina. However, although mid-Atlantic communities will not have to “go it alone” to the same extent as Gulf Coast communities, much of the onus for post-Sandy recovery will nevertheless fall to the most local level. Residents and community leaders bear most of the responsibility for leading recovery. Government agencies, nonprofits, and grassroots organizations can be valuable partners to flooded neighborhoods, but they will not do most of the heavy lifting.
What kinds of partnerships should residents form with outside groups? In New Orleans, the best partnerships augmented neighborhood capacity, providing a hand up instead of a handout. These partnerships emerged when residents had a firm sense of what they needed in order to drive recovery forward and when outside groups had the good sense to listen to residents instead of dictating assistance on their own terms. Strong neighborhood partners emerged across the organizational and political spectrum, from the anarchist-founded Common Ground Collective to the Shell Oil Corporation.
Strong community partners are also appearing in Sandy’s wake. Volunteers for Occupy Sandy, an outgrowth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, noticed that returning residents needed bleach to disinfect their flooded homes. They launched a trick or treating initiative for supplies across New York City, collecting thousands of half-used Clorox jugs to distribute in Queens and on Staten Island. The tech community has also jumped into the fray. Recovers.org, a web platform that allows communities to host recovery websites matching goods and volunteers to resident needs, has created websites serving Hoboken; Staten Island; Red Hook in Brooklyn, and Astoria in Queens. More neighborhoods hoped to use the service, but the organization reached capacity.
For recovers.org co-founder Caitria O’Neill, the biggest lesson to come out of Sandy is the importance of prior organization. Recovers.org works with communities to set up web portals before disasters occur, so that residents can immediately coordinate recovery work and solicit donations in a disaster’s wake. Caitria and her staff spent sleepless weeks after Sandy setting up the four web pages, all the while aware the communities would be far better served if the portals had been created in advance. “A disaster is like an inverse political campaign,” she explained. “Attention peaks right after it happens, and wanes after that.” A short delay in web presence can mean losing out on the bulk of potential public giving.
New Orleans residents also sing the praises of prior organizing. Neighborhoods with strong pre-Katrina organizations—namely churches and residents’ associations—had a much easier time launching coordinated recovery efforts than did comparatively disorganized neighborhoods. To be sure, though, although a number of less-organized communities faced a longer and bumpier road to recovery, many such neighborhoods have since caught up. No matter how long or hard the process, few in New Orleans who were fortunate enough to rebuild regret their decision.
In the days after Sandy, a touching blog popped up featuring photos of New Orleans residents holding hand-written notes to Sandy survivors. “Believe in your N’hood,” begins one message. “Take it day-by-day. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Keep believing in the rebuild. You & your neighbors are what will bring your n’hood back.... It’s a long haul for those who are committed, but the emotional payoff is huge.”