Saturday, February 19, 2011

Video of my talk on Emancipation and Independence: explaining the unexpected

Here is the talk on Emancipation and Independence I gave at the faculty-Ph.D. student seminar at my school in mid-January, organized by Martin Rhodes (you should turn up the sound on your computer because it sometimes goes in and out; the next time I am getting a microphone). Afterwards, my colleague Louis Esparza read the whole manuscript and offered the following thoughts. Even more than the introduction and the preface, to read all of these stories about what blacks on both sides did to emancipate themselves and how whites also fought for their emancipation, he said, was particularly vivid. Louis referred to my telling of stories and the way they are tied in to the theme as “relentless.” After a long and dazzling process of editing (h/t John Tryneski), the book will come out at University of Chicago in March, 2012.

Several wonderful Marxian historians have touched on these matters. Robin Blackburn in his The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery has an outstanding chapter on the revolution in Saint-Domingue conjoining with the French Revolution to create Haiti and how Bolivar, losing in Venezuela, went to republican Haiti for support. This chapter, published in 1988, is a model of scholarship, of what the academic enterprise, at its best, is about. Yet about the 100,000 blacks who fled to the British and were freed in exchange for fighting, about the black American units in Rhode Island and Connecticut, he says, in a silly, economic determinist way, that the economy was restored quickly; it was no big deal. By the last sentence of his second volume 10 years later, however, Blackburn had thought better of this. He lists the tens of thousands of blacks in America who escaped and fought along with the revolt in Saint-Domingue and in Venezuela as powerful revolutionary accomplishments. But that is merely a clause at the end. He has not tried to revision or recast what he (mistakenly) wrote. Similarly, my friend Mike Goldfield has written brilliantly of The Color of Politics. Yet he, too, misses – possibly because he was doing all of American history, many episodes, and probing most deeply the labor movement of the 1930s and 1940s – the massive struggle by blacks and whites that culminated in gradual emancipation in the Northern states, and cataclysms for slavery in the South. The British widely used black dragoons (guerilla) even in South Carolina, for example.

In the earlier accounts of social historians like Nash as well as Marxians, the statement of the German private Georg Daniel Flohr, a mercenary who fought with the French on the American side at Yorktown, is unknown and would be a mystery. “The majority of corpses on both sides,” Flohr wrote in his diary, “were Mohren [Moors].” Both Blackburn and Goldfield (Nash, too) are profoundly anti-racist. There are brilliant insights in both these boks. But I think I explored the mystery of this, while others did not allow it to open fully, a) because I am a student of revolutions (worked with Barrington Moore, wrote a first book on Marx’s Politics in the revolution of 1848, b) have been an anti-racist all my life and so, discovering in Gary Nash’s Race and Revolution (1993) that a gigantic number of blacks escaped and fought during the Revolution was enough to set me going on the topic in 1996, and c) as with Marx in 1848 who thought there could be a proletarian revolution in “backward” (four-fifths peasant Germany), I have always been inclined to the experience (and view) that history is endlessly surprising. We grow in our ability to make argument, cast some light onto the way ahead (or in the past) precisely if we ask fresh questions where others have seen (confused) answers, re-imagine social theory, to explain such things.

For who would have thought that after the darkness of Cheney, that Barack Obama could be elected American President (Barack runs the empire and caters way too much to the banks and the war complex, but still…)? Who would have thought that people would stand up for 18 days in Cairo, that Mubarak, backed to the hilt by American weapons and training, would come down? That all over the Middle East so great an outburst of democracy would occur? Social theories, even very insightful ones, need to be open to facts intellectually and politically. Inference to the best explanation has to emphasize what is to be explained and to be resourceful. Emancipation in the American Revolution proved to be a hell of a topic, and I am happy to say that after a 15 year journey, I have, if Louis is right, told this startling tale vividly and “relentlessly.”

The discussant, Bilal Khaled, asked many good questions, particularly the basic one about whether there was any peaceful way at that time to free the slaves. There was not. War was central. Socrates and Jesus had acted nonviolently (Jesus’s saying: turn the other cheek meant that a Roman to strike you would have to use the hand he wiped himself with, a humiliation; similarly, to carry the Roman’s armor twice as far as was customary was a) on the one hand life-threatening for many, could produce collapse, and b) on the other hand, a remarkable message of contempt. But there was no mass, nonviolent movement until Gandhi and the 20th century. Even in the Civil War, John Brown led multiracial fighters against slavery; William Lloyd Garrison, a noble, courageous and fiercely attacked – almost lynched – figure had no program of action against slavery. Instead, he edited an abolitionist newspaper. But nonaction is not mass, nonviolent noncooperation. After the raid on Harper's Ferry, Garrison himself gave a speech favorable to Brown. Nonviolence was then no alternative to John Brown.

Today, however, nonviolent revolutions as in Cairo, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya, Iraq, Iran and magnificently Madison, Wisconsin – 50,000 people filling the state capitol, more than at any time since the anti-Vietnam War movement – are an amazing thing. In Cairo as I have emphasized, workers played a central part. The military is still threatening the workers, but strikers have shut down the airport in Cairo. Kids marched in support of their teachers in Madison – "Governor Walker needs a Time Out" – was one of their signs. University students marched. Snow removers marched. Police and firefighters and office workers marched. They all brought their message to the state capitol and to the homes of Walker and the Republican state senators. All these people have their eyes on these malefactors (consider the scene in the film Salt of the Earth when the men come back from their hunt, Esperanza being evicted, and surround the Sheriff (played by Will Geer, actually then a blacklisted Communist, later Grandpa Walton) and the evictors. The Chicano miners (carrying guns from the hunting) stare at them. Finally, the Sheriff fidgets and gives up...

Today, the Koch Brothers paid for a bussed in “tea bagger” demonstration. They all forget the tax payer bailout of Wall Street (being mainly on the payroll); now the enemies are public workers, called “freeloaders” by Limbaugh - talk about a projection, the $50 million a year pontificator - whom the Right wants private sector workers to tear down and by doing so, tear down themselves. Where public workers are organized in the United States, wages for workers in the private sector are 13% higher and there is the greatest expenditure on the education of children (imagine if we traded a few of the 1,180 military bases abroad and some mercenary contracts for free higher education - what civilized places like Europe have...).

In Madison, everyone is coming out. The workers dwarfed the tea-bagger rally. The fate of unionism and decency in America may well be decided in Wisconsin, though it will be fought again in Ohio, and New York, and New Jersey and Indiana and Kentucky. But more organized nonviolence is the way. See Jesse Jackson below: King lives; see also the story about the inventive English Uncut protests against Vodaphone, Barclays Banks et al for not paying taxes, while shoveling money to their executives (just as Scott Walker dissipated a small surplus through tax cuts for the very wealthy and then attacks public workers). It all happened when a few workers gathered in a pub and had an idea...

Today, American militarism runs a great threat, along with global warming, of destroying the planet, including us Americans (the Koch brothers are working overtime to intensify climate change; Obama has been weak). Violent rebellion often leads to massive repression. Nonviolence (as well as mass violence against injustice) is difficult to sustain, except in a revolutionary situation. But food prices in Egypt and the destruction of the middle class in America are enough. There is nonviolent rebellion. May it flourish!

For other talks on Emancipation and Independence, see here and here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011 by The Nation
Jesse Jackson Tells 50,000 in Wisconsin: "This is a Martin Luther King Moment!"
by John Nichols

MADISON, WI - "This is a Martin Luther King moment!”

So declared the Rev. Jesse Jackson, as he finished addressing a crowd of more than 40,000 at that had filled the grounds of Wisconsin’s state Capitol. A few minutes later, he would enter the Capitol and address a crowd estimated at 8,000, which filled what has been called America’s most beautiful government building to capacity.

The photograph would not repoduce:
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, center, addresses protesters in the state Capitol rotunda in Madison, Wis., Friday, Feb. 18, 2011. Union members, students and others have been protesting the governor's bill to eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state workers. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, Michael P. King)

The Capitol was never more beautiful than on Friday night.

Jackson, who spent most of Friday with the massive crowds that have filled downtown Madison since Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced a plan to end collective bargaining rights for the teachers, day-care providers, emergency technicians and all other state, county and municipal employees. He marveled, constantly, at what he was seeing.

“This is where it’s at. This is the epicenter of the struggle for America’s future,” he said, not as a grant pronouncement, but with a hint of amazement in his voice as he promised an elementary-school teacher who broke into tears when she saw that the veteran civil rights leader had come to join a struggle where crowds chant each night: “Labor rights are civil rights! Labor rights are human rights!”

"This is the first round of a longer battle to renew the integrity of our nation," he told the crowds.

Jackson appeared on a day when the crowds scored their second major success in the fight to prevent passage of Walker’s legislation by Republican legislators. On Thursday, when the measure was supposed to be passed, Democratic state senators left the state in order to deny a quorum for taking up the measure. On Friday, opposition from Assembly Democrats was so focused and intense – and so closely linked to the crowds outside—that Republican leaders of the chamber decided to adjourn until Tuesday.

The ability of a mass protest movement to force a change in plans by a governor who has been referred to by the state’s longest-serving legislator as a “dictator” has led many to make the connection between the struggle of the Wisconsin teachers, nurses and public employees from foresters to snow plow drivers and the great democracy protests that have been seen in recent weeks across the Middle East. One sign held aloft Friday, as temperatures turned February frigid in Madison read: “I didn’t think Cairo would be this cold.”

There is no question that the Wisconsinites have taken inspiration from international events. They say as much, mocking the governor as “Hosni Walker.”

But the real connection, the deeper connection, is to the civil rights era, when Wisconsin students and labor leaders were among the most ardent northern backers of the freedom struggle. Union halls in Wisconsin invariably post photos from when King visited, or when their members joined the March or Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And prominent Wisconsinites of a certain age, such as Ed Garvey, the future leader of the National Football Players Association and Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate, proudly recall “going south” as Freedom Riders.

Now, says Jackson, with Walker’s attempt to break the state’s public-employee and teachers unions. Jackson sees an attempt to bring some of the crudest structural characteristics of the south to northern states such as Wisconsin. “The right-to-work laws, the barriers to unions, these were put in place to prevent workers from coming together, to keep black and white divided, to make it impossible for everyone to rise together,” explained Jackson. “Now, after all these years, they are bringing them north.”

When Jackson finally mounted the state for a rally organized by the Wisconsin Education Association Council and allied teacher unions, he looked out across the massive crowds, in which many of those present carried hand-lettered signs that read: “Memphis 1968, Madison, 2011.”

Jackson, who was with King in Memphis, declared: "This is a Martin Luther King moment, this is a Gandhi moment."

Celebrating the non-violent character of the Madison marches -- which are entering their sixth day -- and similar rallies and events that have filled the streets of cities and towns across the state, Jackson concluded: "When we fight, we win. We fight in Montgomery, we win. We fight in Selma, we win ... We march in Madison, Wisconsin, we win."

Wisconsin: The First Stop in An American Uprising?
Friday 18 February 2011
by: Sarah van Gelder | Yes! Magazine

The uprising that swept Tunisia, Egypt, and parts of Europe is showing signs of blossoming across the United States.

In Wisconsin, public employees and their supporters are drawing the line at Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate collective bargaining and unilaterally cut benefits. School teachers, university students, firefighters, and others descended on the capital in the tens of thousands, and even the Superbowl champion Green Bay Packers have weighed in against the bill. Protests against similar anti-union measures are ramping up in Ohio.

Meanwhile, another protest movement aimed at protecting the poor and middle class is in the works. Cities around the country are preparing for a February 26 Day of Action, “targeting corporate tax dodgers.”

Learning from the UK

The strategy picks up on the UK Uncut campaign, begun when a group at a London pub—a firefighter, a nurse, a student, and others—came up with an idea that is part flash mob, part sit-in. In an article published in the Nation, reporter Johann Hari tells the story of the group’s frustration about government cutbacks. If Vodafone, one corporation with a huge back-tax bill, paid up, the cutbacks wouldn’t be needed. The group spread the word over social media, and held loud, impolite demonstrations. The idea quickly went viral, and flash mobs/sit-ins materialized at retail outlets across Britain, shutting many of them down.

Now, a US Uncut group has formed and announced a February 26 Day of Action here to coincide with UK Uncut's planned protests on the same day. Already, a dozen local events are planned. Some groups are keeping quiet about their targets, but several are targeting Bank of America. The goal, according to a statement on the US Uncut website, is “to draw attention to the fact that Bank of America received $45 billion in government bailout funds while funneling its tax dollars into 115 offshore tax havens [...] And to highlight the fact that the poor and middle class are now paying for this largess through drastic government cuts.”

The Politics of Class Warfare

Across the country, the poor and middle class have suffered from the economic collapse: jobs disappeared, mortgages sank underneath debt, and opportunities for a college education evaporated. Much of the bailout that was supposed to fix the economy went to the very institutions that caused the collapse. Many of these institutions are now using tax loopholes and offshore tax shelters to avoid paying taxes.

The poor and middle class, those who didn't cause the collapse but have felt the most pain from the poor economy, are now being asked to sacrifice again.

It took some time for a political response to coalesce. The Tea Party movement was able to direct discontent away from the Wall Street titans who brought the economy to its knees. Funding from the Koch brothers’ petro-fortune along with fawning attention from Fox News helped get the libertarian movement off the ground. But progressives remained fragmented and few built active, organized bases. Many waited for President Obama to act.

The tide may now be turning. Inspired by people-power movements around the world, people in the United States are beginning push back. The poor and middle class, those who didn't cause the collapse but have felt the most pain from the poor economy, are now being asked to sacrifice again.

Politicians are scurrying to cut spending, but fewer than one in five Americans say the federal budget deficit is their chief worry about the economy, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center; 44 percent say they're most worried about jobs. Polls show that Americans also want spending for education, investment in infrastructure, and environmental protection. Yet spending in all these areas is up for drastic cuts in state and federal budgets.

Likewise, on the tax side, 59 percent of Americans opposed extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, according to a Bloomberg poll. Congress cut the taxes anyway, and the package will cost $800 billion over just two years.

Until now, polls have been one of the few places where anger at government policies that favor the rich while cutting service to the middle-class has been visible. But the crowds in Madison and the momentum of US Uncut tell us that may be about to change.

As a statement on the US Uncut website puts it: “We demand that before the hard-working, tax-paying families of this country are once again forced to sacrifice, the corporations who have so richly profited from our labor, our patronage, and our bailouts be compelled to pay their taxes and contribute their fair share to the continued prosperity of our nation. We will organize, we will mobilize, and we will NOT be quiet!”

Here's a "how-to" from UK Uncut: here

Sarah van Gelder is executive editor and co-founder of YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions.

Scott Walker Runs on Koch Money
Friday 18 February 2011
by: Lisa Graves | PR Watch |

Madison, Wisconsin - A new investigation by the Center for Media and Democracy documents the big money funneled by one of the richest men in America and one of the richest corporations in the world to put controversial Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in office.

The Republican Governors Association and the Kochs' Investment in Scott Walker

Walker was elected just over three months ago on the heels of an exceptionally expensive gubernatorial race in the Badger State, fueled by groups funded by the Koch brothers, David and Charles. David Koch, the son of a radical founding member of the John Birch Society, which has long been obsessed with claims about socialism and advocated the repeal of civil rights laws, personally donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association (RGA) in June of last year. This was the most he had ever personally given to that group. (Fellow billionaire Rupert Murdoch matched Koch's donation to the RGA with a $1 million donation from his company News Corporation, parent company of FOX "News" Channel.)

The RGA in turn spent $5 million in the race, mostly on TV ads attacking Walker's political opponent, Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett. As this photo shows, the RGA described itself as a "key investor" in Walker's victory. In its congratulations, the RGA notes that it "ran a comprehensive campaign including TV and internet ads and direct mail. The series of ads were devastating to Tom Barrett ... All told, RGA ran 8 TV ads and sent 8 pieces of mail for absentee, early voting, and GOTV, totaling 2.9 million pieces."

The Center for Media and Democracy reported on some of the RGA's spin-filled ads last November, including the ads against Barrett, and filed a snapshot report this week. As the RGA takes credit, its multi-million dollar negative ad campaign probably did help make the difference between the 1.1 million votes cast for Walker against Barrett's 1 million votes. According to Open Secrets, Koch Industries was one of the top ten donors to the RGA in 2010, giving $1,050,450 to help with governors' races, like Walker's.

As Mother Jones has noted, the Koch Industries' political action committee, KochPAC, gave Walker's campaign $43,000 directly (according to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board). It may seem like a small amount compared with the millions the Kochs are spending funding the RGA and other groups, but that donation was one of the larger individual donations to Walker not from an expressly-named partisan PAC. It is, however, a drop in the bucket compared with the impact of a million-dollar negative ad campaign, especially because the candidate promoted by the mud-slingers does not have to get his hands dirty.

The Kochs' Investment in Americans for Prosperity

The laundering of Koch dollars through the RGA dwarfs the Kochs' direct donations to Walker, and it also does not tell the whole story. As the Center for Media and Democracy has been documenting on its SourceWatch site for several years, David Koch was the founder and chairman of a front group called Citizens for a Sound Economy, which received at least $12 million from the Koch Family Foundations and which is the predecessor of the group Americans for Prosperity.

As Jane Mayer reported in the New Yorker, the Kochs do not deny funding Americans for Prosperity (the amount is not disclosed) but assert that they provide no funding "specifically to support the tea parties." "Specifically" is the key word in that sentence that does not deny what is known in the non-profit world as "general support," meaning general funding or endowments, for an organization's operations and overall mission. As Mayer noted, Peggy Venable -- who helps the Americans for Prosperity Foundation train Tea Party activists and "target elected officials" -- "said of the Kochs, 'They're certainly our people. David's the chairman of our board. I've certainly met with them, and I'm very appreciative of what they do.'"

Americans for Prosperity provided “Tea Party Talking Points” as the Tea Party was launched around tax day in 2009, and this weekend it is providing talking points to those coming to Madison for a pro-Walker protest it is helping to stage. Media watchers can expect to hear Americans for Prosperity protesters get equal time on the news, and more than equal time on FOX, using phrases to cloak union-busting as merely getting workers to accept "paying a fair share" through "modest but critical reforms" that end "strong-arming politicians for exorbitant benefits." The spin will also likely include a trumped up statistic claiming that private sector employees in Wisconsin earn 74 cents for every dollar paid to "overpaid" state union members--you know, teachers, firefighters, police, social workers, nurses, and other civil servants. An "unofficial" theme, a drumbeat of the Bircher baby propaganda efforts bankrolled by the Kochs, is calling opponents "socialists," a smear heard with increasing frequency as the Kochs' influence has expanded in the past two years.

Americans for Prosperity's Investment in Scott Walker

Notably, Americans for Prosperity bragged that it was going to spend nearly $50 million across the country in the November elections. As one of the groups exploiting the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision to allow unlimited spending by corporations to influence election outcomes, it does not disclose its donors and it does not report its expenditures on so-called "issue ads." It did run such ads in Wisconsin last fall.

Americans for Prosperity has actively supported and promoted Scott Walker in a variety of ways. It featured him at its tea party rally in Wisconsin in September 2009, when he was running for the Republican nomination for governor. Americans for Prosperity also ran millions of dollars in ads on a "spending crisis" (a crisis it did not run ads against when Republicans were spending the multi-billion dollar budget surplus into a multi-trillion dollar deficit), and it selected Wisconsin as one of the states for those ads in the months before the election. It also funded a "spending revolt" tour in Wisconsin last fall through its state "chapter."

Just how much money has Americans for Prosperity and its Wisconsin counterpart spent on issue ads or promoting Walker over the past two years is one of the questions for this weekend's orchestrated "Stand with Walker" event.

The Return on Investment?

Some things are known, though. Koch money helped get Scott Walker the governor's seat in Wisconsin. And now a major Koch-related group is spearheading the defense of Walker's radical plan to kill public employees' right to organize in Wisconsin. The question is whether an actual majority of Wisconsin citizens want two of the richest men in the world, who do not live here -- and who, as Lee Fang has pointed out, have eliminated jobs in this state -- to be playing such an influential role in the rights of working people here.

The Kochs assert that they do not "direct" the activities of Americans for Prosperity or the Tea Party. No, they just fuel them with their riches from the oil business they inherited from their daddy. And they did not vote for Scott Walker in the traditional sense in a democracy. Rather, as the Republican Governors Association spells out, they "invested" in him.

What is the return desired for their investment? It looks like the first dividend Walker wants to pay, through the help of the Koch-subsidized cheerleaders from Americans for Prosperity, is a death knell for unions and the rights of workers to organize. But tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens have stood up this week to say this ROI will not be paid, that their rights will not be the price Walker exacts from them in return for the largess the Kochs have shown him as the anointed instrument of their agenda in this state.

Lisa Graves is Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, the publisher of,, and She formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, as Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and as Deputy Chief of the Article III Judges Division of the U.S. Courts.

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