Sunday, May 29, 2011

Poem: lo s t

Are you









I’m a me d i ev al





Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marta Soler on the indignados in Spain

Cairo, Madison, Palestine, all over Spain, and Athens…

Marta Soler has been participating in the mobilization of young people, the “Indignados” who have occupied the Placa Catalunya (the Plaza Catalonia) in Barcelona, the Plaza del Sol in Madrid, and other main squares in protest against the corrupt political parties in Spain – those who have capitulated to the financial crisis like the PSOE (the socialists) headed by Zapatero, and those who will bring austerity even more harshly (the PP). She wrote to me forcefully (below) about this important social and democratic explosion for 9 days challenging the spiritually empty victory of the Right in regional elections this past Sunday.

In 2004, Zapatero’s election marked a turning point, more forceful, as a reformer, than Obama. He was elected because Aznar – Bush’s poodle in Spain – announced that the bombing of the Atocha Station in Madrid was done by the Basque organization ETA (there is a big independence movement in the Basque country, fostered both politically and by terror, repressed sometimes with political/police murders, even by the Socialists, as in the reign of Felipe Gonzalez). The Spaniards were at last appalled by this duplicity and booted Aznar out.

Zapatero withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq quickly. He legalized gay marriage. He passed a quite amazing battery of social reforms including 1500 euros to help young people get a first apartment or 1500 euros to a mother for a child(h/t Carlos Robles). His second term has, however, been hemmed around by the financial crisis and predation of the banks and corporations (including Spanish banks and corporations), much of the life and decency sucked out of it. Working people have increasingly taken to the streets against the government in big demonstrations (last September in Barcelona, some 75,000 workers marched; on December 23, I ran into a demonstration in Place Catalunya of several thousand). Inspired by the Arab spring – interestingly, Marta does not see the connection, but I would guess it is important – young people in Spain led the way in occupying the squares. They were demanding policies serving a common good, for example, for jobs (unemployment is officially at 21%, 10% above Europe, higher among the young) and pensions.

But mainly the protest was for democracy. As in Egypt, younger women workers and young people generally rose up after 29 years of Mubarak’s dictatorship, so in Spain after long silence, young people acted to make the democracy real. When Asmaa Mahfouz posted her fierce statement on Facebook that she was going to Tahrir Square on National Police Day (January 25th) to protest the police murder of a teenager, she did not know if others would come. But she said pointedly to the men who tried to hold her back, the men who by their passivity sustained the tyranny of Mubarak: “I will be in Tahrir Square. Join me! Be men!” Against the odds, thousands and then tens of thousands came…

Something similar is happening among the indignados. In Spain, the fetid breath of Franco and fascism still lingers. The courageous Judge Balthasar Garzon can be indicted by a corrupt prosecutor Zaragoza (one who also aided the Bush-Obama tandem in blocking Spanish indictments of 3 American soldiers for murdering Jose Couso, a Spanish cameraman, at the Hotel Palestine in Iraq in 2003) for investigating the stealing, under Franco, of thousands of babies of leftists and resettling them in the homes of fascists. See here and here.

Marta memorably invokes an 80 year old woman on why democracy is worth fighting for:

“Yesterday, in Catalonia Square, a woman around eighty years old, who suffered Franco’s Dictatorship, looked at me and said: ‘Democracy is our TREASURE, let us reinforce it.’”

In Spain, this point is visceral, as real as the standing up of Garzon for universal human rights is good (the indictment of Pinochet), the indictment of Garzon an indication of the contininuing threat of renewed fascism (even without much militarism in Spain, the dead hand of fascism lies across and corrupts the present).

Here the words and experience of John Lewis, on which I posted on Tuesday, are very important. Lewis himself has replaced the segregationists in Congress. There is now a black caucus in Congress, including people like Maxine Waters, who stood out against the Bush kidnapping of President Aristide from Haiti in 2004 (this was covered accurately on DemocracyNow, unlike the corporate media for whom news about how the American government suppresses democracy and is anti-democratic – in the Bush-Cheney period, the only news - must be eschewed). For all the reactionary concentration of inequality and wealth over the last 50 years, the emergence of significant black representation, standing up for democracy is very positive.

But black representatives are often not covered in the mainstream press – too intelligent, fact-based and even in Lewis’s case, morally authoritative. If America were a real democracy (one where the voices of ordinary people could affect policy short of revolt from below), Lewis’s words would often be on the news, on “Meet the Press,” and so forth. Still the change from the beatings Lewis suffered in Alabama and Mississippi to this point – democracy, he might say, too, is our treasure - is breathtaking…. See here.

As the struggle against slavery in the American Revolution (see my forthcoming Emancipation and Independence, here), the Civil War and the civil rights movement show, democracy is a long and hardwon struggle in the United States. But it is real if and only if it is for poor people as he and Martin Luther King say, and remains in the streets as Marta says. Within the system, she says – to maintain the existing democracy and the rule of law against an emerging police state, as in the case of Bush, and even Obama (see the New York Times editorial on torture below) – and outside the system, to change the system through mass protest and civil disobedience. She speaks of the indignados as a “pacifist, collective, intergenerational, apolitical (against the corrupt corporate political parties) and democratic social movement.” She rightly criticizes the corporate media, desperate to paint democracy as frivolous, a “party,”; that media dares to depict corrupt, corporate politicians – ones bankrolled by financial and business – interests as "good," citizens demonstrating as "feckless." Here is her letter:

“Dear Alan,

I really would like to know your opinion about the persuasive mobilization, called `Indignados` (outraged people), that it is taking place these days in Spain, just before the regional elections... I am one of the demonstrators asking for a better Democratic System. So far, the role of Government and police is respectable. They are allowing this act of freedom speech.

I think that it is important to define this protest for those who do not have it clear. This is a pacifist, collective, intergenerational, apolitical and democratic social movement. It is a well-organized ‘Jornada de reflexión’ which could be translated as a citizen’s reflective time. There are different perspectives and opinions in it, however, what we all have in common is a democratic spirit. We all are conscious of how powerful the social movements can be. We all know the importance of freedom speech and the necessity of pressing the political and economical elite to maintain a strong Welfare State System.

There are thousands of people in the central squares located in Madrid (Puerta del Sol), Barcelona (Plaça Catalunya) and other Spanish cities and locations. This is not a party as some “uninformed” Media has said. There are not nationalistic discourses either. People are asking for Democracy, good public policies and to stop political and economical corruption.

On the other hand, I disagree with the anti-system perspectives, even if I respect them, because I believe that we are part of the system and we also conform it. So, we must be involved enhancing for instance, political culture. Furthermore, some demonstrators were asking to do not vote in order to punish politicians. Adversely, I think that voting is a powerful citizen’s tool and an essential feature of Democracy that we need to appreciate (it was hard to achieve a universal vote in Western countries). I also disagree with those who compare this mobilization with the revolts in the Arab countries. It is not comparable at all.

I just would like to add a graphic anecdote. Yesterday, in Catalonia Square, a woman around eighty years old, who suffered Franco’s Dictatorship, looked at me and said: “Democracy is our TREASURE, let us reinforce it”. People around her smiled. Me too.

Saludos des de Barcelona,

p.s.: I forgot to say that people are also asking for better work conditions and to reduce unemployment and elite's privileges.

And... I meant to say a non-party nature movement, not apolitical.”

After writing to her about how much I like what she and the indignados are doing, Marta responded with hope and energy:

“Dear Alan,

Thank you, I am really expecting your perspective and I'm glad that you sympathize with it.

Unfortunately, the local and regional elections (as you know), were a landslide victory for the PP and in the case of Catalonia, for CIU.

Now, I hope that the organization of the movement will be much more reinforced. Maybe I am wrong but, I still believe in it and I am not the only one...


Such protests are, in fact, outside the system. Participants should recognize that decent policies above come mainly, though not entirely, from protest from below. It was the American anti-War movements and resistance to the Bush-Cheney police state which, among other citizen movements, elected Obama and generated the stimulus package, changes in health care and many other decent changes, just as the overwhelmingly large Spanish anti-War movement helped generate the election of Zapatero, got Spain out of Iraq and introduced a panoply of democratic or common good-sustaining programs to aid ordinary people.

But these movements need to be sustained outside the system, a very difficult task. For many people soon, to defeat Reaction, get into the system to sustain some form of reformism (at its best like the early Zapatero, but usually, as in Obama's case, more modest).

Anarchists are wrong about not voting – as the civil rights movement and the movement against Spanish fascism underline. But they are right that a poor people’s movement, cf. Martin Luther King in 1968, and an anti-war movement, must go beyond the system. Anarchists are even right, with other revolutionaries, that big banking and capitalist power will never be a home for decency. One must take to the streets to fight to defend the welfare state (though a sweeping vote, as in the case in upstate New York this week, for medicare for the elderly in the United States, can sometimes work temporarily) and also for a different kind of system, a more genuine democracy (this was Marx’s point about the Paris Commune). It is good for the indignados to have such discussions, press such issues in the central squares of Spanish cities and in the streets…

The indignados have inspired broader European rebellion. For the last two days, Greek workers and students have held large demonstrations in solidarity with Spain - with posters in Spanish - at Parliament in Athens. See the photographs here. This is part of a series of massive worker movements in Greece, a recent general strike, and a challenge against austerity – union leaders threatened “an explosion” against the bankers/government's moves the BBC reported briefly on Wednesday. Unlike the demonstrations of the indignados which the police did not attack, anarchist reports on the Greek demonstrations feature police violence against squatters, including photographs (see the website “From the Greek streets”). The anarchists raise a deep understanding both of the social movement and how fiercely the forces of repression such as the police come down on it. John Lewis is right that one should treat police officers and the military as human beings where one can, protest nonviolently - something different from the anarchists, though throwing rocks through store windows is destruction of property, not violence against persons – but what the police do and tolerate, allow to be done as by the racist mob to the Freedom Riders in Birmingham, see here, is often horrific.

In addition, the website has a number of videos on the mobilization by, and toleration of the elite for, fascists. Greek and Spanish fascists are a fiercer version of the racist tea-party movement (even Ron and Rand Paul, whom I admire on militarism, for example, and on fighting the Obama/Harry Reid, echoing George Bush, extensions of the Patriot Act (the spying on citizens, anti-Bill of Rights, "Patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel" Act), are stone racists about the Civil Rights Bills)...Look at this corporate tv presentation of the looting of an immigrant run and owned shop in Athens, with the faces of the fascists, even though masked, obscured here.

Similarly, Aznar tried to mobilize Spaniards against the Moroccans who often die in the Mediterranean in trying to cross to Spain (some 150 per year, though no one really knows…). In addition, in Greece, a reactionary president often uses racism against immigrants – two years ago, in early June, I was giving a class just below the Acropolis under a tree, and Senegalese immigrants came running through, chased moments later by the police. It is that palpable.

Last year, at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (a 2400 year old structure where the sound is perfect wherever, no matter how far up, one sits), my seminar attended a huge and fiery concert of folk songs by the poet Giannis Ritsos to music by Mikhis Theodorakis, sung by the leading Greek opera singers, and the audience of some 5,000 knew the words, stood and sang along. Across Greece, there had been widespread protests against the police murder of a teenager. The next day prime minister sent out trucks to hunt the immigrants. See here.

Racism toward immigrants also shows up in the bizarre American wall with Mexico. Obama has so far beefed up the immigration patrols and separation of families (deportation of the fathers or mothers) – protecting himself as President against criticisms by racists by committing crimes, even though he seeks to do something better. The best corporate politicians are still: corporate politicians. Yet as John Lewis fiercely says, “there is no such thing as an illegal person.” See here. A mass movement to defend immigrants might also be a mass movement to defend collective bargaining as in Wisconsin. Stand together or divided, fall.

Racism is as much an obstacle in Spain as it is everywhere else. With and to the indignados, one might also say: John Lewis is right.

Malign Neglect
Published: May 21, 2011

Extraordinary rendition — the abduction of foreigners, often innocent ones, by American agents who sent them to countries well known for torturing prisoners — was central to President George W. Bush’s antiterrorism policy. His administration then used wildly broad claims of state secrets to thwart any accountability for this immoral practice.

President Obama has adopted the same legal tactic of using the secrecy privilege to kill lawsuits. So the only hope was that the courts would not permit these widely known abuses of power to go unchecked.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court abdicated that duty. It declined to review a case brought by five individuals who say — credibly — that they were kidnapped and tortured in overseas prisons. The question was whether people injured by illegal interrogation and detention should be allowed their day in court or summarily tossed out.

The court’s choice is a major stain on American justice. By slamming its door on these victims without explanation, it removed the essential judicial block against the executive branch’s use of claims of secrecy to cover up misconduct that shocks the conscience. It has further diminished any hope of obtaining a definitive ruling that the government’s conduct was illegal — a vital step for repairing damage and preventing future abuses.

The lead plaintiff, an Ethiopian citizen and resident of Britain named Binyam Mohamed, was arrested in Pakistan in 2002. The C.I.A. turned him over to Moroccan interrogators, who subjected him to brutal treatment that he says included cutting his penis with a scalpel and then pouring a hot, stinging liquid on the open wound.

After the trial court gave in to the secrecy argument, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the case should proceed. It said the idea that the executive branch was entitled to have lawsuits shut down with a blanket claim of national security would “effectively cordon off all secret actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the C.I.A. and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.”

Last September, the full appeals court, ruling en banc, reversed that decision by a 6-to-5 vote. The dissenters noted that the basic facts of the plaintiffs’ renditions were already public knowledge. But the majority gave in to the pretzel logic shaped by the Bush administration that allowing the torture victims a chance to make their case in court using nonsecret evidence would risk divulging state secrets.

The Supreme Court allowed that nonsense to stand.

It is difficult to believe there are legitimate secrets regarding the plaintiffs’ ill treatment at this late date. Last year, a British court released secret files containing the assessment of British intelligence that the detention of Mr. Mohamed violated legal prohibitions against torture and cruel and degrading treatment.

The Supreme Court should have grabbed the case and used it to rein in the distorted use of the state secrets privilege, a court-created doctrine meant to shield sensitive evidence in actions against the government, not to dismiss cases before evidence is produced.

But this is not the first time the Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility to hear cases involving national security questions of this sort. A year ago, the Supreme Court refused to consider the claims of Maher Arar, an innocent Canadian whom the Bush administration sent to Syria to be tortured. In 2007, the court could not muster the four votes needed to grant review in the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen subjected to torture in a secret overseas prison.

As President Obama’s first solicitor general, Justice Elena Kagan was in on the benighted decision to use overwrought secrecy claims to stop any hearing for torture victims. She properly recused herself from voting on the case. Surely among the eight remaining judges there was at least one sensitive to the gross violation of rights, and apparently law. We wish they would have at least offered a dissent or comment to let the world know that the court’s indifference was not unanimous.

Instead, what the world sees is rendition victims blocked from American courts while architects of their torment write books bragging about their role in this legal and moral travesty. Some torture victims bounced from American courts, including Mr. Mohamed and Mr. Arar, have received money from nations with comparatively minor involvement in their ordeals.

The Supreme Court’s action ends an important legal case, but not President Obama’s duty to acknowledge what occurred, and to come up with ways to compensate torture victims and advance accountability. It is hard, right now, to be optimistic.

Monday, May 23, 2011

John Lewis in Boulder: a note from Debbie Main

Debbie Main is a student and friend, who before the April 4th demonstration, arranged a meeting with a woman in SEIU whose shoulder had gone out from intense cleaning of 16 floors a night in 6 hours for 14 years. A supervisor recently required to stretch up with her hand to get some dirt high above a mirror...I mentioned her in my talk here.

Debbie had the good fortune to hear and meet John Lewis at a talk in Boulder about the American Experience show on the Freedom Riders (two months before the PBS broadcast last Monday), and shared with him my syllabi for nonviolence. See the previous posts here and here. What she says to other students in the course below reveals that my inspiration for doing it is, among other things, the heroism of John Lewis.

Debbie encloses a 15 minute powerful, enormously worth watching video of his interview and questions in Boulder here. Lewis is a great figure in our current mainstream politics, an elected representative from Georgia who really stood for something before being elected and who understands deeply the trends that are good in American political life and the dangers of militarism (he is against the wars since an initial approval of the attack on Afghanistan; Barbara Lee was the lone Congresswoman who courageously and insightfully stood up for the truth then, amidst a howling wind of vengeance without clear direction). One might say, however, of John Lewis that no one, in mainstream American politics, has ever stood up more or paid a greater physical price.

Jared Polis, the representative from Boulder and also a serious activist, rightly introduces Lewis as someone from whom everyone can learn. Lewis speaks of how he questioned segregation from an early age, but was told by his parents and grandparents, discouragingly: "that’s the way it is; don’t make a fuss; you’ll get into trouble." It is sometimes early understandings, even in the face of incomprehension by adults, which set one on a path toward justice (Noam Chomsky stood by at 6 while a little fat boy was beaten by bullies, but would never stand by again. See here. I, too, got some family advice not to do principled, dangerous acts...)See here.

When Lewis decided to participate in the sit-ins at lunch counters in Nashville, he, at first, did not tell his mother. When she wrote, warning that he would be arrested or hurt, he invoked Martin Luther that he could do no other. In the clip, he says amusedly, perhaps given the way he was speaking to her, she didn’t know what he was talking about (it was clearly wrenching more wrenching at the time). As a true follower of Thoreau confronting segregation, Lewis says, he experienced happiness and freedom being in jail. Lewis has a shining courage like Diane Nash – see here - in which he came forward again and again from the freedom rides to Selma to do what is right and clear and simple, though so far from where we are. Asked about immigrants today, he said with great force: “there is no such thing as an illegal person.”

Physical risk combined with political struggle. At the great civil rights march in Washington in 1963, he intended to speak for SNCC about how the Kennedys did not protect SNCC organizers from being beaten in the South. The organizers pressured Lewis and two SNCC leaders (James Foreman, Charles Cobb) to take out the criticism. When A. Phillip Randolph at 75 years old, the leader of the black sleeping car porters union trying to organize a march on Washington for 30 years, appealed to them, they did mute it.

I agree with their initial position, though honoring Randolph’s request is something I also sympathize with. As a young SNCC leader, Lewis here, speaking out against the Democrats for failure to act against murderous beatings of civil rights organizers, was in a position similar to King when he gave his famous speech at the Riverside Church. The Democratic Party is often vicious (on segregation, allowing killings of protestors against racism, fomenting the war in Vietnam, supporting more recent aggressions, and the like); its occasional siding with decency, for example eventually on civil rights, needs to be pushed from below, often at great price…

In this film clip, Lewis says that some consider nonviolence "obsolete," but it is not. There is a fight against this necessary means – mass militant nonviolence. In the Democratic Party, he is a lonely voice - though the 14 Democratic state senators who honored the Madison demonstrations to preserve collective bargaining are with him as well - but there is forgetfulness outside it as well. In Denver, for instance, there have been a series of racist police murders in recent years, one by an officer who shot Paul Childs, a black teenager with epilepsy, in his home. Paul looked to the police for help. The police had been summoned by his mother (in an epileptic attack, Paul was holding a knife); everyone else had left the house. All the officer had to do was not open the door (or back out). Instead, within 90 seconds of his arrival on the scene, he went in and murdered Childs, his second killing of a black teenager. He received a brief suspension….

There was intense popular revulsion against this in Five Points (and throughout Denver).

But the Black Ministerial Alliance, citing the new influence of blacks in city politics, argued fiercely against extra-legal protest (they headed off a rebellion). Yet they also made no effort to organize civil disobedience against police brutality – perhaps thinking it “obsolete.” With Obama as President, this danger of suppressing movements from below, among minorities and many whites (since I like Obama, though detesting many of his policies, I know well enough what the problem is), is even greater. Lewis says amusingly and rightly that Obama's election is only a "down-payment" on King's dream, but that we really need a renewed poor people's movement.

Is civil disobedience still necessary? I will just underline one issue where it could be a central means of struggle. In today’s America, the black teenage surplus population is siphoned off into prison. These young people cannot be employed, are part of what Marx spoke of as the “reserve army of the unemployed.” or government economists/statisticians, illustrating Marx’s point, call “full employment.” By this, these economists mean, 4% unemployed. That is several million people who can't find work. And this figure only includes those who are, right now, actively looking for work. The figure expands to 7 or 8% when one includes those who have become discouraged and do not go any longer to government offices and register as looking for work, and those who have part-time jobs but would gladly take full time jobs if offered. If the workforce is 100 million, that would be 8 million living human beings, often young, who would still be unemployed when the economy ostensibly reaches “full employment.”

According to the Justice Department, one in three black male babies born in 2001 will go to prison sometime in their life. The figure among Chicanoes is 1 in 6, among whites, 1 in 17 (a higher ratio among poor whites)…A result of mandatory sentences for drug "crimes," this is the revenge of the segregationists – now become the Republican leaders of the South and some of the “Blue Dogs” – for the civil rights movement.

Due to draconian drug laws that mostly punish victimless crimes, the US went from 300,000 in prison in the 1970s – an enormously high number, as least as much as any other nation - to 2 and ½ million today (see Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow here). That is 8 times as much as in the 1970s, and 25% - one-quarter - of the world’s prisoners. Today, America is for blacks, Chicanos and poor whites a police state and a prison-industrial complex, unpalleled in the world, despite its leaders’ lofty talk of human rights and democracy (all the tyrannies in the Middle East of just yesterday and China do not have as large a prison population combined as the United States...).

Prisons are a lucrative source of money for companies – i.e. through privatization - and of jobs for rural communities which have few alternatives (join the army or staff a prison…). Even timid attempts to cut the prisons in mainstream politics, given the massive budget deficits occasioned by American militarism and Republican tax cuts for the rich, often run aground, as in Colorado earlier this year, because of lobbying to preserve jobs.

Yet the scale of tax cuts for the rich over the last half century, sucking the life out of America as a civilized society, is worth taking in:

“47.4: Percent of profits corporations paid in taxes in 1961.

11.1: Percent of profits corporations paid in taxes in 2011.” (Institute of Policy Studies here).

This 36.3% of corporate profits that is now untaxed – more than a third - let alone the whole amount over the last half century, could contribute to schools, health care and other common good-sustaining government programs…

These statistics are emblematic of how the rich have increasingly bought both parties over the last half century, and changed America from a place of hope (and with the civil rights movements, for blacks and chicanoes as well) into an increasingly caste society with a large, augmenting impoverished class and a tiny rich elite.

The Koch brothers have even spawned a wave of attacks on collective bargaining by the 2010 Republican governors in some 20 states. Madison is a great nonviolent answer to them, which must be echoed throughout the country. So is Egypt. John Lewis says he thought of marching there. Use your feet, Lewis says.

John Lewis is right.

Here is Debbie’s note:


I am hoping that you might be able to send this to everyone in our class.

When attending the Boulder film festival earlier this year, by happenstance Representative John Lewis and I walked out at the same time. We had the chance to talk about Alan's non-violent methods classes.

Representative Lewis' post-showing discussion could have come straight out of our class. Please take a listen.


In addition, the FBI was no friend of the civil rights movement, and as the Freedom Riders film showed, acted, under J. Edgar Hoover, against Robert Kennedy, the attorney general, to attack the freedom riders. Here is a letter from yesterday’s New York Times which underlines the FBI's criminal responsibility for the brutal beatings of Walter Bergman in Anniston and Birmingham:

"F.B.I. and Freedom Riders
May 21, 2011

To the Editor:

Thank you for commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides (“Remembering the Freedom Riders,” editorial, May 16), which were indeed the story of courageous college students and others whose willingness to risk their personal safety helped change America. But let’s not ignore the ugly story of our F.B.I.’s knowledge of impending violence and failure to stop it.

Some 16 years after the first two buses of Freedom Riders arrived in Alabama, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (of which I was then executive director) brought suit against the F.B.I. on behalf of Walter and Frances Bergman of Detroit, two of the original 13 Freedom Riders. Walter Bergman was severely beaten when a mob of Ku Klux Klansmen attacked the Freedom Riders, first in Anniston, Ala., then again in Birmingham. He suffered a stroke and spent the remaining years of his life partially paralyzed and in a wheelchair.

The case was based on revelations about the role of F.B.I. paid informants in the Klan, one of whom took part in the brutal attack on the Freedom Riders.

In 1983, a United States District Court judge issued an eloquent opinion holding the F.B.I. responsible for the attack. The F.B.I. had advance knowledge of the planned attack and allowed it to happen. That part of the story should not be lost to history.

Executive Director, American
Civil Liberties Union of Florida
Miami, May 16, 2011"

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bernard Lafayette on King's political leadership for nonviolence

For the previous post on the Freedom Riders, see here.

On the fiftieth anniversary of his freedom ride in Montgomery, Bernard Lafayette told an important part of the story – one of the interweaving of the possibility of justified violence and nonviolence – in Montgomery. Attacked by a racist mob, Lafayette's ribs had been broken, James Zwerg and John L. Lewis had suffered concussions. But Lafayette was able to go the meeting at the First Baptist Church the next night where King exerted a voice for justice and for calm.

Lafayette tells a striking story. King had heard that Montgomery taxi drivers, vital in the bus boycott, were mobilizing with weapons to attack the white mob outside the church which threatened to burn it - 1500 people inside - to the ground. Since King had led that boycott, he was intimately connected with all the people in the movement and had heard of the plan. The drivers and others had acquaintances and loved ones in the Church. They were prepared to stand up and take out the racists, broadly, an act of justice, though as Lafayette implies, they were experienced in the use of violence, and much of the crowd, awful as it was, was probably not. Further, while windows had been broken, the people inside the Church had not yet been attacked. But this was the rare possibility of genuine "preemption."

Nonetheless though theirs would have been an act of self-defense of the black community, it would, as Lafayette says, have ended the Freedom Rides very differently, affected the whole nonviolent movement in the South. For armed self-defense in the South would perhaps have been put down by force and infiltration. Consider what happened to the Black Panthers in California and the North, a great movement of self-defense against the barbaric police of Oakland and later in cities across the country. But the Nixon administration simply murdered lots of the Panthers (Fred Hampton and Bobby Hutton in their beds in Chicago, among many others). Violent self-defense is manly and just, but against a powerful state, it often brings down a greater - and plainly evil, wantonly murderous - violence, with less political result.

King recruited 10 nonviolent volunteers for a mission not publically specified in the Church; they marched out untouched by the racists, persuaded the cab drivers to put down their weapons, and came back. The "Freedom Riders" film in the American Experience does not capture this. Instead, it makes out the King-Robert Kennedy connection as overly crucial, King simply as very anxious about what would happen. But he wasn’t. Somehow, the spirit communicated to him (as in his vision that his family would not be harmed when he prayed for guidance after the attack Lafayette mentions below). He acted against a violent preemptive reprisal against the mob even though just, took his chances with calm resistance, even as the stained glass windows were shattered, the glass splintering into the Church, the mob howling outside, that the Federal Government could intervene in a lawlike way – for the first time, under the Kennedys - and sustain the people there and the freedom rides. About his judgment, I should note: if the cab drivers had attacked, they would have driven off and killed some in the mob, but the violence against the people in the Church and the subsequent violence of the police would have been considerable, the chain of mutual reaction difficult to calculate but not promising. King's whole purpose was to defeat segregation and break that chain...

The film shows King as speaking for justice and calm. But it also shows him refusing to go on with the Freedom Riders, some referring to him sarcastically as “de Lawd.” King does not come off so well in the movie. In contrast, Lafayette’s story of King’s fearlessness, his willingness to do in the situation what was necessary to dissuade violent self-defense and preserve the hope and example of a nonviolent movement even at mortal risk, shows him as a great and farsighted leader. As with any sensible person, King didn’t always know what to do, listened a lot to others, responded to fresh circumstances and movements from below. In Birmingham, he told his SCLC comrades and friends that he had no strategy out of an impasse just then, but he knew he could get arrested with the demonstrators, so he put on his blue jeans and a plain shirt, went out to a rally and spoke, marched, was arrested, and then wrote his amazing letter from the Birmingham City Jail. Lafayette saw his powerful political leadership here (as did many people in the Church, as did many freedom riders but perhaps not the sarcastic ones – it is for each of us to make the decision to do what he or she can, not to criticize others for not putting themselves between us and even the greatest danger just then), and it is worth taking in…

King had a complex and changing relationship with violence, seeking to subdue its role, to produce egalitarian change and healing in the life of society. But as the great poet Adrienne Rich says, the word violence glares at us out of the word nonviolence; read Chris Hedges, War is a force that gives us meaning, and you will see how terribly addictive violence, the adrenalin flows, the immediate and enduring threat of death is; if you add this to the initial, human psychological reaction to fight the unjust, to see justice as vengeance, the spell of violence may be clear enough. To subdue violence...

In 1965, King went to Watts at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s request to chill out the rebellion (attacks on property are not violence against persons, though of course not a part of a serious nonviolent movement). King thus, in effect, supported state violence against the rebels. Yet he talked to teenagers who asked him: what about the violence of the American government in Vietnam? How can you tolerate their violence and ask us to be nonviolent? As King would say at the Riverside Church two years later, "I realized then that I could not speak to them effectively of nonviolence without speaking out against my own government – the most violent government in the world." See here, here and here.

James Meredith who alone had integrated the University of Mississippi, starting a civil war of the racists and a federal occupation, later went, by himself, courageously, on a walk from Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi. Many are the solitary journeys, starting with John Woolman, the Quaker in 1754 who journeyed throughout the South to persuade other Quakers of the sin of slavery…Meredith was shot by a hidden Klansmen (the Klan’s record of spiritual cowardice is hard to beat –if those who physically nailed Jesus to the Cross were the Christians, so is the Klan…) and could not go on. Following the lead of Diane Nash and the veterans of Nashville during the Freedom rides, King and others came to take over Meredith's march to Jackson. Among those who came were the Deacons for Self-Defense – an armed group that would protect the marchers from being attacked from the shadows again.

Nonviolence sometimes requires the greatest risks and sacrifices (King ultimately gave his life). But in conditions of fascism, sometimes heading off the fascists (either with state force, if the Federal Government and Supreme Court have some decency as was true in Montgomery for riding buses and the freedom rides, or with locally mobilized, civilian force is necessary. Walking through rural Mississippi, King then was not unwilling to have the possibility and protection of violent self-defense.

In Birmingham, Malcolm X had come to support King: “If you don’t listen to that brother in there, you will have to deal with this brother out here…” Stokely Carmichael had led SNCC in the direction of Black Power (differing from King during the Jackson march, he also rightly led in mass canvassing and voter registration as in the origins of the Black Panthers), and was later invited by King to come to the Riverside Church in Harlem for his speech on Vietnam. Stokely tells a funny story about this in “Eyes on the Prize”; he joked around with King about not being able to come because of "heathen" busy work for the movement, but when told by King what the sermon would be about, showed up in the first row. About the war in Vietnam as it were, King went with the freedom riders (murdered in Memphis a year to the day, April 4, 1968, from when he gave that speech)...

King did not set himself over and above other leaders (unlike Gandhi who sometimes fasted against his followers) and tried more sharply, while fighting for nonviolence and love, to be inclusive, to tame the violent. Even though heading a large nonviolent movement, King's address to the elite often mentioned the possibility of rebellion and repression that he sought to head off (without the underlying danger of violence as a response to injustice, nonviolence perhaps would not succeed).

King was faced with this danger even at the last in Memphis, where some of the strike’s supporters, in frustration, threw rocks at the police…

Nonviolence, as in Madison recently, can work to isolate an authoritarian governor and his capitalist masters, and has led to recalls of Republican reactionaries without being met by state or state-sponsored mob violence (in his conversation with a phony David Koch, Governor Scott Walker said he had thought about employing provocateurs and the police against the demonstrators, but had decided against it). But that situation was unusual. In even darker cases - the civil right movement, the relief ship the Mavi Marmara moving toward Gaza, or in Tahrir Square and the resistance in Egypt - 700 nonviolent protestors and other innocents have now been found murdered by the police and the army - nonviolence works through the willingness to break unjust laws and policies, and to accept legal, mob or military punishment, even death, for doing so. In Montgomery, King set out to defend and vindicate the freedom rides and nonviolence, and took a considerable risk, for himself and others, in doing so. He did the right thing as Bernard Lafayette’s words, so many years later, at last convey.

Nonviolence, by the Egyptians and Palestinians and their international supporters, including Jews like me - all who are outraged at the injustices in the Middle East, particularly toward the Palestinians, and want to secure a decent resolution, one where all peoples, including the Israelis, can live in peace and individual freedom - is a secret to changing the Middle East. The world is threatened by continuing American wars and violence(Obama’s words two days ago were wise on the possibilities of nonviolence, especially in affirming a Palestinian state, and talking of how a Palestinian and an Israeli who had lost children could rise above this to try to reach a political agreement in which no more children would be sacrificed – but government drones, commanded by Obama, still kill innocents in Pakistan, the occupying army still marauds in Afghanistan, the state of Israel still murders nonviolent demonstrators, those who were born in Palestine, at its border fences…), global warming, oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima – nonviolent movements are a secret to changing the world, to making human and humane life a continuing possibility on this planet. Nonviolence or co-annihilation, King said. We all might take in what King and the nonviolent movement did in America a little more.

The Siege of the Freedom Riders

Published: May 19, 2011

FIFTY years ago today I arrived in Montgomery, Ala., on a Greyhound bus. I was 20 years old and was there as one of the Freedom Riders, a racially mixed group, mostly college students, who were riding buses through the South to test the Supreme Court’s recent ban on segregation in waiting rooms and restaurants that served interstate travelers.

I was among 22 Freedom Riders on that bus. We well knew the dangers we faced in Alabama: other riders had already been attacked in Anniston and Birmingham. And indeed, when we stepped off the bus a group of hooligans surrounded us. Three of my friends, William Barbee, John Lewis and Jim Zwerg, were beaten unconscious. I suffered three cracked ribs.

The next evening, the Freedom Riders and 1,500 other people gathered at the First Baptist Church on Ripley Street, in downtown Montgomery. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference offered us words of encouragement and support on our journey for equality.

As the sun set, a mob of whites began to gather around the church. As the crowd grew in number — eventually as many as 3,000 people appeared — it also grew in vitriol and hostility. The crowd began hurling rocks and bricks through the stained-glass windows, and tear gas drifted through the sanctuary. While outside people flipped over cars and set them on fire, inside Dr. King tried to reach Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to request federal protection.

All of us gathered in the church were uncertain about our safety; I certainly felt in danger. Many feared that the church would be bombed. After all, not only had Dr. King’s house been bombed with his wife, child and a family friend inside during the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott, but the very church where we were gathered had been bombed in 1957.

There was little we could do but wait and pray. We sat in the church and sang freedom songs and hymns that strengthened our spirits and soothed our fears. Occasionally, I took a deep breath to get a little relief from the pain of my fractured ribs. At times I wondered whether it would be better to be safe in jail or to be there, in the church, surrounded by a vicious mob.

Eventually Dr. King announced that he had a special mission for which he needed volunteers. The main qualification, Dr. King said, was a commitment to nonviolence. He didn’t need hotheads, or people overcome by anger. Needless to say, no one rushed the pulpit. After my experience at the bus station, I didn’t feel I could handle another mob, so I held back, too.

However, about 10 or 12 people eventually did volunteer for the mission, which Dr. King then explained. Reports had come in over the phone that a group of black men, led by armed cab drivers, were mobilizing at a nearby service station with plans to attack the mob and rescue the people trapped in the church. Some of them, no doubt, had relatives and friends in the church.

Black cab drivers were an important part of the local civil rights movement. They had helped out in the car-pooling efforts during the bus boycott. When the boycott ended, some of them formed their own cab companies to serve black customers. But they were more than just drivers: they saw themselves as part of a security force as they moved passengers around the segregated city.

Some of these men were war veterans; some were experienced hunters, and were probably more experienced with weapons than their white antagonists. Had these men attacked the mob surrounding the church, the story of the Freedom Rides would have had a much different ending.

Dr. King’s mission, then, was to persuade the cab drivers to abandon their rescue attempt, lay down their weapons and go home. His small group gathered at the front door of the church, lined up in twos. Then they walked out the doors, as if they were marching.

There was an unforgettable silence as they passed out of the church. We watched as they walked through the howling crowd; I was sure I would never see them again. And yet, for all the yelling, the mob didn’t touch them — such is the power of nonviolence.

About an hour passed. Suddenly, out of the darkness, they all reappeared, unharmed. Dr. King had convinced the cab drivers to abandon their mission. This was no small miracle. Dr. King showed through this act of courage in this most harrowing moment of the campaign that fear was not a factor for him. It was, at that point in the Freedom Rides, the greatest lesson he could have offered.

Early the next morning, with the help of the Alabama National Guard (which arrived after hours of pressure from Mr. Kennedy on the Alabama governor, John Malcolm Patterson), we were able to leave the church unharmed. Dr. King’s courageous mission to our would-be rescuers prevented great bloodshed and kept the Freedom Rides on its nonviolent course. And it showed us what the Freedom Rides, and the movement overall, were about.

The man and the movement were behind the decision by each of us to stand up and take action, even if it required extraordinary courage. If we were ever in doubt, he reminded us why we had chosen to leave the comforts of our homes, college campuses and family and friends to travel to unknown places fully aware of the possibility that we’d never return. Dr. King showed how quiet strength can overcome violence, how courage can overcome fear, how peace can overcome the most awful hate.

Bernard Lafayette Jr. is a distinguished senior scholar in residence at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

*The argument between violence and nonviolence is not an easy one. The Chinese Communist Revolution succedded and freed millions of peasants, even fighting for equality for women. Gandhian nonviolence eventually defeated the British, but against the efforts of Gandhi and Badshah Khan, India and Pakistan were divided, and the untouchables – the harijans or children of God as Gandhi renamed them - and the poor were not freed. The comparison does not simply or obviously favor India.

In addition, the troubles in China, the capitalist counterrevolution growing within the revolution, are not simply a result of its violence, but of political or strategic errors, many of which attempted to gain certain goods (industrialization as an end to impoverishment) by mimicking Soviet anti-democratic conduct (see my Democratic Individuality, ch. 8).

Yes, violence contributes to the harshness of revolution in the face of vicious external attack, the unwillingness to work out reconciliation. But South Africa, too, has not fully dealt with the problem of the poor. It is a great and nonviolent social revolution against apartheid, one which succeeded in healing the grotesquely murderous and humiliating divisions of racism without executing or exiling the criminals. This was an enormous, and in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, shining achievement. See Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness. But a nonviolent social revolution to overcome poverty - exploitation - remains an as yet unrealized possibility. Still, a sophisticated defense of nonviolence, in terms of these and other examples, is possible - if so great a revolution succeeded nonviolently against apartheid, why is a further one not possible? - and necessary. For as the last paragraph of this post suggests, in our international situation, the possibilities of just violence for decency, for instance, John Brown, have pretty well exhausted themselves.

**As in the Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court is often an institution of bigotry, and the four reactionaries on the Roberts court push steadily in a tyrannical direction one again – they are the South’s and the Republican authoritarians’ revenge against the Civil Rights movement and the unfolding of American equality and decency.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

the transcendant courage of the freedom riders

As someone whose life has been shaped by the civil rights movement, seeing The American Experience show Monday night on The Freedom Riders was powerful. See here for the video.

The film underlines a dramatic point, one which few who seek to end injustices, fully take in. The oppression and danger must be terrible (the system of lynching, segregation, was as terrible as it is possible to be; there are still, however, such systems and struggles in the world). Those who seek nonviolently to change the fiercest wrongs can, at great cost, sometimes of their lives and always at near martyrdom, achieve victories (Many more die in violent struggles, and often for less result). A nearly unbearable feature of nonviolence is that those who are innocent, who but sit on the front of a bus, or together, white and black, or enter "white" facilities, are thrown to a state-led mob, torn apart. One resists (and this takes enormous courage), but one does not hit back or try to take the racists out, or defend herself except for covering up. No self-defense, no eye for an eye, no simple justice…Each is a sacrifice…

Many were courageous and broadly speaking, secular students like Diane Nash from Fisk in Nashvile. Some like John L. Lewis were students at American Baptist Theological Seminary, whose meditations on Christianity were vital to their participation. A mob surrounding and kicking and punching and smashing with pipes a prone person, as they did Jim Peck and Jim Zwerg and others, is a fearsome thing (each member of such a mob is a wretched coward).

I cannot fully express my admiration and gratitude for the transcendent bravery of these people who made the wrong of America right.*

Few are the struggles from below that are chronicled (power in this country is not held by the poor and potentially nonviolent, the demos…). One can see in this film a vast and amazing effort, like the many union and abolitionist/civil rights and women’s and anti-war struggles that preceded or succeeded it historically in America, that are shut out of the commercial media and most university curricula, even graduate programs. “Eyes on the Prize” was made in the late 1970s about the civil rights movement, but was unavailable except in university libraries until cds were made of it in the early 2000s. Here is a wonderful retelling, 50 years after the freedom rides occurred. This great American story the elite has been very reluctant to tell or have told. For even fundamental change – the destruction of segregation on the buses and in the country – can be at least temporarily won from below (The new confinement of 30-40% of young blacks to the prison system, either inside or in lives ruined by parole and probation, as well as the reapartheidization of American schools – see Jonathan Kozol, The Shame of America – has crippled some of this change).

Organized by CORE – an until then, not strong, northern organization - and James Farmer, some of the riders were initially not from the South, let alone the deep South (John L. Lewis was, however). CORE was not central – it was not even peripheral until then - to the movement in the South. In addition, King had led a struggle in Montgomery, Alabama, but Birmingham and Mississippi had been untouched by the movement. The freedom riders had only a limited or abstract understanding of the terror which would assault them; it was a possibility, not palpable.

Yet because of the years-long movement against segregation, CORE could call forth more support than it could organize itself. CORE had not been part of the eleven month mass movement in the Montgomery bus boycott, the sit-ins, conducted by students at Fisk, but mobilizing the community for a boycott, in Nashville...6 years of organizing in the South and great anger at racism from below had shaken the system, prepared the way for an effort from the North of blacks and whites, bound to be stigmatized and attacked as “outsiders,” to have a powerful impact. But the decision to send the freedom riders was a risky call, resisted among others by Martin Luther King.

In the great arc of the civil rights movement, from Brown v. Board in 1954 and the Montgomery bus boycott (1955) to Albany, Georgia and Birmingham in 1963, the rebellions in Northern - or Western - cities (Harlem 1964, Watts 1965) and the Civil Rights legislation to Selma and on, the freedom rides were a great initiative and impulsion in the middle. Perhaps the height of the movement was the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, organized initially by SNCC canvassing in the South. Led by Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, it sent an honorable delegation, elected by most people in Mississippi, to the Democratic Convention in 1964, to fight and try to replace the racist delegation, and created, despite the resistance of Lyndon Johnson and others, the transformation of the Democratic Party (the "Eyes on the Prize" film covering Freedom Summer and this transformation shows unusually how this movement shaped the country, bent the corrupt Democratic Party toward a common good).

The riders themselves set out with courage and principle – a belief that America “will be” (Langston Hughes) and in equality as a goal – and an inevitable naivete about the storm that would come. They went on two public buses, one Greyhound, one Trailways. One would be burned outside Anniston, Alabama by a mob, the people on the bus beaten ferociously. The second would be assaulted by a mob in Birmingham. A white student from Madison, who took the lead in Birmingham (who went out the door first to protect his black comrades) Jim Peck as well as Jim Zwerg, a transfer student at Fisk, who did the same thing days later in Montgomery, were broken. The photos of Peck who tried to lead the riders further to Mississippi and New Orleans, his face cut, his head patched, in tatters, his mouth aslant, are frightening to watch (James Farmer, who had been the leader of CORE and the riders, went off because his father was dying and came back for a the ride later in the week to Jackson).

In the “Eyes on the Prize” segment on the Rides, Frederick Leonard, who was on the Montgomery bus, tells the story of how since Zwerg went first, the mob in a frenzy about the “n—lover” or “race traitor,” engulfed him. Leonard and others who followed behind, were able to leap over a wall, fall 15 feet onto cars, run through restaurants or stores, escape the worst beating and go on to Mississippi later. There is a news film of Zwerg, lying in the hospital bed, saying with a force as strong as his body was weak, broken: “We will take killing. We will take beating. But we will keep coming back until we can ride from anywhere in the South to anywhere else in the South.”

Racism is a distortion of the human personality in which everything is bound up with preserving that domination, living in fear for a way of life outside oneself and in the stereotypes and lies that nurture it, a quality in which there is nothing else to the person – nothing individual - except this (in denying that German dasein is connected to individuality, see here, here and here, Heidegger testifies to this). Those who kill for a “master race” do so with little human left about them. One should still think they have souls that they might recover, stop with a mass movement their killing and eventually try to heal or reconcile with them, but look at the faces of the vigilantes - this is a desolate condition.

In contrast, those who came through this trial by martyrdom did so with a faith in equality, a love for human beings which gave them often a transcendant, hard to grasp for those not in the situation courage (this slipped in the long circumstance of abuse, some of the riders reported, after the burning of the bus, after being surrounded again and again, by the mob, even at the airport, their plane called off with a bomb threat, walking back onto the platform, racists sneering and lounging, for hours). But as the film testifies, the heroism of the riders lives and grows over time (50 years on and shining…). The film claims perhaps too much for the rides in the context of the civil rights movement. Still, the victory won by the freedom riders (and King at the church in Montgomery) was great and compelling – perhaps also as influential on the Kennedys as the film claims – and represented a great turning for the country.

Spiritually, what the riders did proved the effectiveness of nonviolence – of resistance to but no desire to kill enemies, of setting things right. of potential healing which grows over time. Racists (and Nazis) win for long periods. But they need darkness for their acts (again, one cannot call concentration camps and lynchings or torture acts of courage; the faces of those who do them are inhuman, the worst possibility represented by humanity. They are truly those who look in a mirror and there is no one there…).

I was talking with my 15 year old son and my wife about the film. He had been on an abbreviated vision quest at school and thought before that it would be hippie idiocy. When he went, he found it interesting although not deeply significant. The film was something different. As my wife emphasized, this movement was at the center of transforming the world. The Freedom Riders represent at the highest point the hope of a generation. This changed American history (Robert Kennedy gives a statement about the law afterwards, seeking equality before the ICC - Interstate Commerce Commission - on interstate buses, and even a prescient but halting statement about how a black person could become President some day) and promises greater changes in the world. It gave us all, whether brave or timid, across the board in the student anti-war movement and the counterculture and the women’s movement that followed, a knowledge, as deep as the bone, that a better world is possible.

When the first Freedom Ride was stopped by racist violence, the students in Nashville who had led the integration of the lunch counters downtown, met. James Lawson had advised them. A man who had refused to serve in Korea and gone to jail for three years, who then journeyed to India to study with Gandhians, Lawson thus played a fundamental role in the civil rights movement (he appears in the film and was apparently in Montgomery). Diane Nash was the leader of these students. Nash recognized, and led everyone else, in the realization that if nonviolence could be beaten down by violence, the movement would be set back or reversed (a further dark age of racism extended over the South and the country). It was a time in the world when the struggle for equality – the fight against colonialism – was surging and a communist-led peasant movement had reeemerged in Vietnam (see King’s 1967 “A Time to Break Silence” about the role of American imperialism as “strange liberators” - in the sense of Billie Holliday’s song “Strange Fruit,” those hung from the flowering trees of the South). All these struggles moved forward, unevenly, and together (what I call democratic internationalism in my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?).

But it took bold leadership to sustain the movement for the rides could have been broken. Diane Nash and the students from Fisk - independent, unorganized by and unknown to CORE - provided that. The courageous Justice Department agent working for Robert Kennedy, James Siegenthaler, had been raised in Kentucky by parents who never thought about the racism, as he himself as a child, he admits regretfully, almost unbelievingly, had not seen the women who had taken care of him; he would be beaten unconscious by a mob for trying heroically to protect a freedom rider from being further beaten. He spoke memorably with Nash over the phone. Following Kennedy’s instructions, he wanted to chill her out. He was (self-)important; he represented the President (at the Birmingham airport, the airlines had – regulated by the federal government, he noted sardonically – jumped for him), He even screamed at her to persuade the others not to come – you will get someone killed…. “This child” he said – she was of age, a student, but she spoke to Siegenthaler with a transcendant understanding which perhaps immediately and in any case, over time, humbled him, “Each of us filled out a last will and testament, last night,” she said. “We know someone will be killed. But we cannot let violence triumph over nonviolence.”**

She brought reinforcements in another freedom ride to Alabama. That was the decisive turning in the struggle – the determination of those who had been through the beatings and jails in Nashville, who would not let the movement die. The young led this movement as much as they did in Egypt and Arab spring recently (women workers bringing their families to Tahrir Square and the young woman, Asmaa Mahfouz, who gave a powerful call on Facebook for everyone to come to Tahrir Square on January 25 – National Police Day - to oppose the murder by the police of a teenager).

In Montgomery, as the film shows, civil rights leaders including King gathered in a church (the freedom riders who were able, also came). The people welcomed the freedom riders (they had acted from the outside, but they had become, through suffering and courage, a leading part of this great movement). A mob surged outside, threatening to burn the church. King spoke of the situation – they were fighting for justice - and for calm. King spoke with Robert Kennedy over the phone, urging him to take action. The federal government finally forced the Democratic governor Patterson to act. Patterson was a vicious racist and red-baiter – the “outsiders” had to go home, the trouble was entirely from the “outside,” ignoring the movement for equality in the South (no one, as King said is an outsider in America, and one might generalize this to humanity). One can hear his words – the clichés of red-baiting or anti-radical ideology for 2000 years - today in the phrases of the tyrants Mubarak and Suleiman in Egypt, or in those of Assad in Syria or Ghadhafy in Libya, the gold-plated Pharoahs, who, when the people rise up, have only the deadest, emptiest lies to speak. If they lose, these words are simply blown away by the winds of history(even when fascists triumph, their words are empty).

But there were powerful international and national “outside” forces, the federal government, the Supreme Court, the horror of segregation making a growing impression in the North, the anti-colonial movements and newly free nations, the weight of global opinion and what is good in American tradition (the Bill of Rights, the blacks who were freed and fought for the Revolution, the abolitionists, Lincoln…). Pravda scathingly showed these horrors and hypocrises in the United States. The actions of racists - the segregationists in the Democratic Party - spoke deeply to people struggling for freedom worldwide. Curiously, these conditions helped to make for a Cold war compulsion for civil rights. See Mary L. Dudziak,Cold War Civil Rights(Bobby Kennedy, 7 years later, seemed to have reached a rather different and deeper conviction before he was murdered – see the 10th segment of "Eyes on the Prize").

“Freedom Riders” shows the debate in Montgomery in which the students hoped to recruit King (the first riders had tried before). He had always been leery of the freedom rides, though he had come deeply to support them and his leadership with the mob outside, about to burn down the Church in Montgomery, was memorable.***

King did not go. He spoke to them of how he expected to be crucified (the first attempts to assassinate him had been bombs at his apartment in Montgomery – he had left – when he was 26; no struggle was without attempts on the life of King; he was stabbed in Harlem, and assassinated at 39. Some had no patience with him and called him sarcastically “de lawd.” John L. Lewis remembers, in realization and sadness, that of course he was right. He could have gone, might have lived or might, more likely, have been an object of assassination just then. It was not yet his time.

Fortunately, the young people would not be put off. They went.

Governor Ross Barnett threw them into Parchmon Prison, a penitentiary, the place of the chain gang (this was a deal with Robert Kennedy, who, cynically, was trying to chill them out: no mob would attack them, he secured from Barnett, but in exchange, Barnett would punish them fiercely under Supreme Court-barred race laws. This deal shows what Kennedy and even the courageous Siegenthaler, working for him, then represented. But others heard Diane Nash’s call. Through the summer, some 4,000 came from around the country to be jailed in Jackson or be sent to Parchmon. As one woman recounted, she just heard about the struggle and made up her mind to go (being in Parchmon for a great cause, she said, beats working a menial job under segregation for a summer…Fighting for freedom is exhilarating, even or especially in jail). Nothing works simply or easily, but this struggle found its way to victory. It did not alone break segregation. But it went far to do so; the pattern of suffering for equality was laid even more deeply, to be extended over time.

I was a student then at Harvard which,as a University, did not have much awareness of the rides. In November 1961, I went on a freedom ride to Chestertown, Maryland and even here, the great, but scary stories of the rides were not really told to us. The movement was thus much more alive at all-black schools, including theological seminaries, in the South than at the great Northern bastions of racism (less formal than segregation but effective). If one wants to talk about education (about learning about freedom, about the possibilities of solidarity, about standing up), education was as much better in those schools then as the understanding of Diane Nash was compared to the idle political attempts of James Siegenthaler to chill her out.

We were thus both aware, and unaware of what was taking place. We were on the bus before the organizers told us that the picketers outside Woolworth’s had been attacked by a mob, led by the sheriff, the previous week, a woman thrown through the glass window. See here. None of us got off the bus, we picketed, and we all felt good on the way back. But though very sympathetic, I, for one, did not hurry back to join the movement.

I meditated on whether to go to Freedom Summer in 1964 (and didn’t because I had seen a bit of the South, far from Mississippi, and because I had not gotten more deeply involved in the movement earlier). My friend from grade school, Andy Goodman, did go and died in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

I cannot say how much I admire the courage of Diane Nash and John L. Lewis and James Cheney. They had lived with racism, come to the centers of racism in the South, and had the spirit and force of personality, at great cost, to change it (Lewis suffered beatings and a concussion at Selma). So did the others – Frederick Leonard, cellmate of Stokely Carmichael at Parchmon, is a remarkably humorous and forceful person (Stokely himself was there and does not figure quite in this film or that segment of "Eyes on the Prize"). And I salute the courage of Peck and Zwerg and Schwerner. Every person who went - and many of them speak in the film - are heroes.

Arab spring has broken out in Tunisia, and Egypt, and spread to Madison, and now Palestine. On the day commemorating the Nakba, young Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria tried to cross into Israel. They were met by the government with gunfire, some 12 murdered. The Palestinians were “ethnically cleansed” in 1948 and a process of driving them out, including in the territories occupied by Israel after 1967, continues to this day. See Akiva Eldar from Haaretz here (I will post on this issue directly later this week).

Last year, a relief shop, the Mavi Marmara set sail for Gaza. Attacked in international waters by the Israeli government, 9 nonviolent protestors were murdered. See here and here. Arab spring has brought down the Mubarak or Pharoanic wall. On one side, Gaza is now open and no longer a large open air concentration camp. But it still and the Palestinians as a whole have no airport, no control of trade (the Israeli government has just stolen $105 million in taxes on Palestinian goods sold abroad and thus through Israel, which had paid Palestinian officials, because of the emergence of a unified Palestinian government arranged by the post-democracy uprising regime in Egypt). As Alice Walker has recently said, the new flotilla, to go next month, is the freedom ride of our time. See here.

Israel, today, bears some resemblance to the South of once upon a time. It could withdraw from the settlements – or change the map from the 1967 border, allowing Palestinians some territory in Israel in exchange for the settlements – and allow a genuine two-state solution. It could decide to become a democracy based on the equal rights of each of its citizens. It has, instead, with American military backing, reared up as a great and threatening military power, trying to push the Palestinians out. But the sands are running in the glass. Most ordinary Arabs support the Palestinians against these injustices and are no longer held down by American-armed, pro-Israel tyrants. The new strategy of nonviolent protest, in the occupied territories and internationally, urged by Omar Barghouti and increasingly adopted by the Palestinian movement (the spirit of the first Intifada is at last triumphing over the second, failed Intifada), promises some real alternative. It can reach out to jewish supporters in Israel and abroad (a 96 year old Holocaust survivor was on the Mavi Marmara…). The ideas of the American Freedom Riders and of Bishop Tutu and Nelson Mandela are alive in the new movement. Arab spring has come to Palestine.

*In politics, in terms of mutual recognition, one might think Mandela and Tutu remade South Africa in vital respects in ways that violent revolutions have often failed to. Nonviolent change does not create the longtime simmering for revenge of slaughtered innocents, and even of family members and friends of those guilty of crimes.

**In Nashville, Diane Nash had confronted Mayor West on the steps of the City Hall. Leading a big march, the reverend C.T. Vivian had spoken out against segregation to West bitterly. But she then asked the Mayor directly: “do you think it is right that they take our money at the stores and won’t let us eat at the lunch counters?” He answered: “No, as a man, I don’t think it is right.”

Though backed by the Klan and some of the elite fiercely, that exchange let the air out of the segregationists’ tires. It was a kind of spiritual ju-jitsu that only a nonviolent movement – one which stops the crimes, but does not seek to murder the perpetrators, however right the latter might seem in a false and limited and inadequate kind of justice – can create. Real justice, as in South Africa, involves the possibility of political and social and individual healing.

Unsurprisingly, the others chose her to coordinate their activites going into the darkness of Mississippi.

***He forged, the film shows, a strong relationship with Robert Kennedy and the Kennedys. “Eyes on the Prize” shows JFK getting him out of jail during the 1960 election. But this was the moment that changed the relation of the civil rights movement to the federal government, made it closer, prepared the way for Kennedy's and Johnson's Civil Rights acts.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Poem: Ca id os

En espana

Franco is a greatleader

every child

no dictator



learns at school

de los



thelittlere liquary


slenderre nais sancesil ve rneckla ce


Ca idos Ca i dos

Muss o li ni

un mourned

Espana negra

tofr Fran cis co

dark Spain

of the present

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The death of Bin Laden and the rule of law: letters from John Dunn, Fred Dallmayr, KP Fabian and Butch Montoya

Since the killing of Osama Bin Laden – an act of justice or self-defense on behalf of many peoples, as Obama said - there has been a chance at the beginnings of reconsideration of murderous and futile American policies. This targeted operation directed against a real mass murderer reveals, as I underlined here and here, the emptiness of the drone attacks from Creech Air Force Base in New Mexico, slaughtering innocents in Pakisan, which the Democratic think-tank "experts" pressed on Obama. New drone attacks slaughtered 17 at a memorial for Bin Laden last weekend (even children can commit the crime of attending a memorial), and another drone attack took out a 12 year old girl two days ago, according to the AP. Glenn Greenwald is right that American state terror is pressed by the ridiculous Democratic think-tank “experts” – the neo-neo cons – who cry out for war, as their ticket to "face-time" on CNN according to Leslie Gelb. They insisted that Obama had to “look like” a President given the mad baying of the Republican war mongers, even though he murdered mostly civilians and not Bin Laden or even the Pakistani taliban (5 civilians for every Taliban killed, according to a neo-con think tank). This self-destructive. reactionary two-step of American politics(out and over the abyss and down…) is likely to be further unleashed and motivated by Obama’s triumph. See here. It is why I emphasized in the last two posts and elsewhere that mass nonviolent civil disobedience will bring the elite to heal, as in Cairo and Madison, but very little else.

With Cheney and Bush, America became increasingly a police state (it does not yet operate simply as one against protest; yet its slippery legal interpretations and governmental practices require a mere expansion to make it a fullfledged police state). That administration tortured the American citizen Jose Padilla, and now Obama has gone them it better: last weekend, he tried to murder the American citizen and Coldorado State University (Fort Collins) grad Anwar Al-Awlaki. No American court has considered Awlaki’s “crimes.” He is in Yemen, not on the field of battle. For the executive to declare an American citizen an enemy combatant and murder him, without a trial, is tyranny. Thus, extend the case of Bin Laden to any other case, as Obama immediately did, and one soon has an all-powerful government acting widely as a tyrant.

Bin Laden could not bring down the rule of law in the United States; Bush-Cheney and in this respect, Obama could.

Among Presidents, Obama is an unusually competently lethal as the Bin Laden assassination showed, and he may have some significant evidence against Awlaki. But what he is doing is, as Marta Soler emphasized, already a non-starter, and one has but to review the other candidates – if one is too rosy-eyed about Obama – to see that he is at best extending tyranny, leaving a blue-print for an enlarged police state, and in Orwellian terms – his bidding of Americans to "look to the future, not the past" – pardoned torture without allowing apprehension of the criminals or trial.

Further, Obama only stopped torturing Bardley Manning, because Obama supporters who had paid to be at a San Franciso fundraiser, disrupted it with protest. He embarrassingly (especially for a lawyer and a teacher of constitutional law) said Manning was “guilty” (he had been charged after only many months of torture, after a significant breaking of his personality, and has not yet been brought before a court of law). Still, under protest and only under protest, Obama backed off. That underlines the point that only mass civil disobedience can force Obama or the Democrats to do the right thing. Andrew Sullivan hopes that having taken out Bin Laden and moved away from torture (sort of), Obama will now deescalate in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. He might (though there are still 127,000 troops in Iraq). But as with his shift to supporting democracy in Egypt, he will only do so if pushed. Just project the current "USA! USA!" euphoria and the dead working of American militarism (the machine of a trillion dollars expenditure, out of the world’s total $1.9 trillion spent on war last year, its 1280 bases abroad, where the French have five in former French Africa, Russia and England perhaps 1 or 2) and military industry dominating the corporate media (GE, the big weapons manufacturer, owned NBC until the channel was taken over by Comcast recently), and you will see why Greenwald underlines the danger of increasing drones, violence against civilians, the increased revulsion against America, and the like.

Tunisia and Egypt here are the great hopeful tendency. Mass democratic protest from below, largely nonviolent can make significant changes. For instance, Egypt has thrown down the fourth section of the wall surrounding Gaza. Al-Qaida is an isolated and rotting corpse (capable of doing evil things but not capable of leading or even much distorting resistance to American imperialism). In Palestine, Arab spring emerges in the March 15th demonstrations along with the possibilities of nonviolence (Omar Barghouti and the Boycott and Divistment movement - BDS - internationally are very attractive including among young Jews - consider the important organization Jewish Voices for Peace, see here). In Israel, those who refuse to serve in the occupied territories show the way.

But the darkness of the current trend without protest from below, just relying on Obama, is what motivates several striking letters on my second post on the taking out of Bin Laden, an answer to a wonderful letter from Marta Soler i Alemany here. The first is from John Dunn, a leading democratic theorist and friend:

“Dear Alan,

I am afraid that you are right about all this. My first thought on hearing the news (from my wife, who also by chance told me of 9/11) was "It will make no difference." But of course it will; and the difference, once again, is going to be much for the worse. This is a truly terrible process, a process of compulsive
self- and other-harming which runs on unstoppably as far as the eye can
see, and there is blood all the way. Endless blood and pain and anger and

I wish I had as sanguine a temperament as you do, let alone a tithe
of the energy and dedication.

It's nice to think of you in Denver. Less nice to think of what the
species is doing to itself on the scale that it can and does now act, and
of the world I've fecklessly brought my children into (the youngest girl is
just eight years old and sometimes astonishingly eloquent).

warm good wishes,

He also adds, and not irrelevantly:

“Again irrelevantly, Marta Soler comes very well out of the exchange,
doesn't she?


Sometimes readers hear me better than I hear myself. Marta wrote to me afterwards that she recalled how much I had emphasized the importance of the rule of law and the ending of torture and desisting from murdering civilians – drones are the weapon of the Company in Avatar, see here – in the course on American foreign policy I gave in Barcelona.

"Dear Alan,

Thank you so much for taking into account my opinion. I didn't think that my words would have been that powerful as you say.

Now, I understand how satirical were your words. I truly agree, as you say, that we must press the elite from below. I remember that you also explained, in IBEI's classes, that it is essential to fight for the rule of law. And even if I was convinced of this idea before, It certainly was reinforced with my learnings.

I admire John Dunn as well. We read a lot of articles from him during this course and to be honest, I am amazed to hear that he wants to write me...

Un saludo,

My friend Fred Dallmayr, a courageous political philosopher at Notre Dame, adds

"Dear Alan,

Thank you for your mail. These are great and beautiful statements. One cannot help remembering Nietzsche: "gerecht ist geraecht" (when we speak of justice we usually mean revenge). And we remember General Pinochet who 'disappeared' thousands of his opponents by throwing them into the ocean - thereby giving an example for other "civilized" and so-called 'Christian' nations to follow.

Take care. Yours, Fred D."

K.P. Fabian adds from New Delhi,

“Marta and Alan are right. It was in bad taste to have celebrated a killing. Certainly, it was unChristian.

Yes, justice does not mean revenge.

I wonder whether the temporary surge in his popularity is going to help Obama's re-election. It will depend much on the economy, especially the employment level.

It will also depend on who the other candidate is. Obama should pray hard for Palin to get nomination. She is his best bet.

Fabian K P.”

Yes, who will avenge all the innocent dead from American drones in Pakistan. There, large crowds of ordinary people, dispossessed and starving through the horrific flooding in Sind, chant “Death to Obama.” Europeans have quite a clear idea of what is wrong with America, its militarism, its cowardice about the rule of law (in Madrid, they put the terrorists who blew up Atocha Station on trial in courts; in New York, officials scream against such trials. Mayor Bloomberg, a man of shining principle in defending the First Amendment and the Islamic Center, here drags the city through the mud).

On K.P.’s point about Obama's reelection, I would guess that oil prices as well as mass unemployment and unending foreclosures will make difficulties, though the decision of the Republican leadership to attack the poor all out, to deprive the elderly of medical care (“let them eat dogfood”), and to destroy collective bargaining will make it hard for any likely Republican (Mitch Daniels might re-attract Andrew Sullivan, but even in his case one might wonder). The speculation of the bankers in gas (Obama’s supporters), and all the people who depend on the price of gas for an income – my son who delivers Pizza for Domino’s, for example – may no longer be able to afford to work by this summer…

Butch Montoya, whom I mainly agree with about racism, wrote me a long letter on my first post, misreading it from the opposite direction from Marta. He thought I opposed the taking out of Bin Laden. I reprint here part of his long letter, my response and his further resonse. To avoid being attacked as a Carter, failing in his attempt to rescue the hostages from Iran as Butch imagines in his second letter below, Obama overruled the Pentagon, requiring them to have a backup attack prepared to protect the Seals if the mission miscarried. He had thought it through very carefully (and unlike most Presidents and candidates, he is good at it).


Under a simple and impractical response to the reasoning you have shared
about 'the rule of law' and the shooting/killing of Osama bin Laden applied
to the World War II scenario - perhaps we should have simply turned the
other cheek to the Japanese for bombing a U.S. Naval Military Base at Pearl
Harbor in which thousands of innocent sailors, marines, army troops were
simply slaughtered by an enemy bent on destroying our way of life.

You can reference Nuremberg trials as an attempt to bring justice and not
revenge for the most heinous war practices by an enemy combatant under the
command of the Nazis, but even the justice of the Nuremberg trials do not
excuse, justify, or clear the slate on the number of innocent people in the
cities of England that were literally bombed night after night without
regard to civilian causalities. Many of these bombings had no military
context, it was merely the murderous minds of the Nazis to bomb England into
submission to Hitler. The bombings of cities and murder of countless
innocent residents of those cities along with the most ugly and unbelievable
inhumane acts against the Jews - even the Nuremberg trials can not pretend
to bring justice for these acts against humanity. There is no legal avenue
known to our system of democracy and the "rule of law" that can bring
justice to the crimes committed by the Nazis.

Under your reasoning about bin Laden, his orders to attack our naval ship in
Yemen which killed hundreds of sailors in a "friendly port of call," the
killings of innocent embassy staff and people in Africa, the number of
American soldiers and commanders killed in the war in Afghanistan, the
innocent people killed by suicide bombings, and certainly the attacks
against the rule of law by killing the thousands on 9 11 in New York City,
bin Laden was simply to be "brought to justice." Perhaps you may have
forgotten we are at war against an enemy no different than the imperialistic
Japanese and master minds of torture and murder by the Nazis. I do not
understand how we could have applied the rule of law to the world war of the
40's or to this war on terrorism of the 21st century. Because we live
without sacrifice or inconvenience...other than an occasional detour in our
daily lives because of possible threats of murder, not many of remember on a
daily basis that our country is at WAR.

One of the reasons I feel people are "upset and concerned about the attack
against the bin Laden compound," is that as a society we have not had to
sacrifice in this war against international terrorism. The life of greed
and white privilege lives on without any justice brought to bare on the
criminals of Wall Street, who robbed millions of Americans of their life
savings, homes, and future. Where is the out cry for the rule of justice?
Instead the Bush Administration under the theme, "if we don't bail out these
financial institutions and banks, we face world wide depression and economic
collapse." And so instead of bringing these bankers and investors to
justice under the rule of law, we merely allowed our government to bail them
out with our tax money, leaving them free to continue their immoral banking
practices of greed and capitalism. Where is the justice....or at least in
this case, the revenge? No revenge, no rule of law, just a bigger
bonus...and to hell to the millions who have fallen into the abyss of
financial depression and loss…

Butch Montoya"

I responded:

"Dear Butch,

Thank you for a long and powerful reaction. Would you mind if I post
on it? What I said in this post and the last (probably you should take
another look at that since that was what Marta was reacting against)
was that Obama acted with a kind of justice in taking out Bin Laden, and
that I supported him in that. I used the word lethality - and as far as the death of Bin Laden goes - said I had no regrets about it. I was and am disturbed about thesteady emergence of tyranny here and the fact that Obama's forces have also taken out 9 little boys in Afghanistan and many civilians with drones in Pakistan and elsewhere. If every killing in war were as targeted as this one, the US government would be doing much better. As it stands, the trend in terms of what America is becoming and doing to the world is very bad.

About Japan, let alone the Nazis, it was crucial to fight - and by the way the leader who destroyed the Nazis power was Stalin (also an awful murderer) leading the Russian resistance. The US government waged an heroic war of resistance to Japanese fascism, but the US also firebombed all the wooden cities of Japan, killing some millions of Japanese civilians, a far greater crime against humanity than even the use of nuclear weapons on two cities when the war had already been won. The US also locked citizens of Japanese origin in concentration camps (as part of many tyrannical acts - deporting a million Latinos in 1954, including citizens, from Los Angeles, or the whole Truman-McCarthy period). That either the mass murder of ordinary Japanese in Japan or the camps in the West helped win the war rather doing the opposite and undermining what was decent in the war effort (I remind you I have no problem with the President killing Bin Laden)I can't see.

I agree with you completely that the world would be a healthier place if ordinary people rose up against Wall Street. I strongly prefer nonviolence myself (think humanity will destroy itself within 100 or at the outside 200 years unless we follow the road of Egypt and Madison) and have little blood-lust but would not find it a matter of injustice if the exploiters could be taken down otherwise (I doubt they can be). South Africa was about as bad as it gets and is still characterized by enormous exploitation of poor blacks, but I prefer Mandela and particularly Bishop Desmond Tutu as a way to go both then and to deal with the remaining extreme injustices (see Tutu’s magnificent No future without forgiveness).

To his son who asked if someone is trying to kill you, what should I
do?, Gandhi said: stop him. I repeat: I have no problem with Obama taking out Bin Laden. I have a problem with having captured him, choosing to off him rather than putting him on trial. That is the corruption of corporate or mainstream American politics, its fear of legal proceedings, its increasing police state character. That problem is shown in Obama's inability to close Guantanamo and the thousand ways that just blind killing of enemies (most of whom are innocents) breeds the very thing that the leaders (and I regard Obama with respect and to some extent, liking, unlike the others) claim to oppose.

Bin Laden was a monster (a mass murderer), but not yet a Hitler (if he had become more powerful, Bin Laden plainly had the desire to murder Jews and Christians, and of course, most Moslems). Still, the US government has murdered many more innocent people than Bin Laden , even recently perhaps under Obama who is at least sometimes trying to turn the ship of crazed and self-destructive militarism unlike Bin Laden (consider, for example, the casualties of Bush's aggression in Iraq). Targeted killings of terrorists are clearly better.

All the best,

Butch replies:

"Thank you for your continued discussion and debate about the killing of bin
Laden, something which I believe is the best example of the freedoms we enjoy in our country. I agree with you that "targeted killings of terrorists are clearly better." I deplore the number of innocent people who have died as the result of war, countless souls lost in the fog of war and misdirected intentions and policies. I applaud our President for having the courage to lead an effort to rid this world of bin Laden for good. If the effort had failed, some pundits were ready to call him "Barack Carter" for the unsuccessful attempt by President Carter to rescue our embassy staff in Iran. I am sure in the back of his mind, President Obama thought of that fateful night in the desert of Iran, but with courage and strong support for
the intelligence people and Team Six,he ordered the raid to kill bin Laden. Time will only reveal more and more details, but at least for a short time, we can hope we are better off because of the death of this monster.

I would welcome you posting my comments and adding to the debate and discussion about this defining moment in our country's history...a time when
our military/intelligence apparatus and people proved when courage and leadership were necessary, our country's leaders were up for the task.

I agree wholeheartedly with you regarding the internment camps in which we
placed Japanese American citizens....something we should never forget. (Today we simply call the privately owned and most profitable jails....detention facilities for undocumented immigrants...we did not forget interment camps, but we built a bigger and better camp to do the same thing we did to the Japanese Americans). Operation Wetback (shows the lack of respect and sensitivity to Mexican-Americans at the time) which rounded up anyone who looked Mexican in the infamous "green vans of the INS." Many Latino American citizens were rounded up, pushed onto rail cattle cars, and sent to back to Mexico. I do hope you notice the distinguishing factor for both groups of was easy to round Japanese because they were is easy to round all "Mexicans" because they are different....but there was little effort to round up Germans or other European looking enemies, because they looked like the majority. Even today our immigration policies are based on who you look like....just ask Governor Brewer of Arizona how easy it is to profile an undocumented immigrant by their boots, belt buckles, hats, jeans, hair, eyes, and language. Not to mention the drugs they bring to America as "drug mules." Good thing I don't live in Arizona...and countless other ignorant states that are adopting similar copycat legislation.

Butch Montoya"

U.S. tries to assassinate U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki

That Barack Obama has continued the essence of the Bush/Cheney Terrorism architecture was once a provocative proposition but is now so self-evident that few dispute it (watch here as arch-neoconservative David Frum -- Richard Perle's co-author for the supreme 2004 neocon treatise -- waxes admiringly about Obama's Terrorism and foreign policies in the Muslim world and specifically its "continuity" with Bush/Cheney). But one policy where Obama has gone further than Bush/Cheney in terms of unfettered executive authority and radical war powers is the attempt to target American citizens for assassination without a whiff of due process. As The New York Times put it last April:

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president. . . .

That Obama was compiling a hit list of American citizens was first revealed in January of last year when The Washington Post's Dana Priest mentioned in passing at the end of a long article that at least four American citizens had been approved for assassinations; several months later, the Obama administration anonymously confirmed to both the NYT and the Post that American-born, U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was one of the Americans on the hit list.

Yesterday, riding a wave of adulation and military-reverence, the Obama administration tried to end the life of this American citizen -- never charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime -- with a drone strike in Yemen, but missed and killed two other people instead:

A missile strike from an American military drone in a remote region of Yemen on Thursday was aimed at killing Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric believed to be hiding in the country, American officials said Friday.

The attack does not appear to have killed Mr. Awlaki, the officials said, but may have killed operatives of Al Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen.

The other people killed "may have" been Al Qaeda operatives. Or they "may not have" been. Who cares? They're mere collateral damage on the glorious road to ending the life of this American citizen without due process (and pointing out that the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution expressly guarantees that "no person shall be deprived of life without due process of law" -- and provides no exception for war -- is the sort of tedious legalism that shouldn't interfere with the excitement of drone strikes).

There are certain civil liberties debates where, even though I hold strong opinions, I can at least understand the reasoning and impulses of those who disagree; the killing of bin Laden was one such instance. But the notion that the President has the power to order American citizens assassinated without an iota of due process -- far from any battlefield, not during combat -- is an idea so utterly foreign to me, so far beyond the bounds of what is reasonable, that it's hard to convey in words or treat with civility.

How do you even engage someone in rational discussion who is willing to assume that their fellow citizen is guilty of being a Terrorist without seeing evidence for it, without having that evidence tested, without giving that citizen a chance to defend himself -- all because the President declares it to be so? "I know Awlaki, my fellow citizen, is a Terrorist and he deserves to die. Why? Because the President decreed that, and that's good enough for me. Trials are so pre-9/11." If someone is willing to dutifully click their heels and spout definitively authoritarian anthems like that, imagine how impervious to reason they are on these issues.And if someone is willing to vest in the President the power to assassinate American citizens without a trial far from any battlefield -- if someone believes that the President has that power: the power of unilaterally imposing the death penalty and literally acting as judge, jury and executioner -- what possible limits would they ever impose on the President's power? There cannot be any. Or if someone is willing to declare a citizen to be a "traitor" and demand they be treated as such -- even though the Constitution expressly assigns the power to declare treason to the Judicial Branch and requires what we call "a trial" with stringent evidence requirements before someone is guilty of treason -- how can any appeals to law or the Constitution be made to a person who obviously believes in neither?

What's most striking about this is how it relates to the controversies during the Bush years. One of the most strident attacks from the Democrats on Bush was that he wanted to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants. One of the first signs of Bush/Cheney radicalism was what they did to Jose Padilla: assert the power to imprison this American citizen without charges. Yet here you have Barack Obama asserting the power not to eavesdrop on Americans or detain them without charges -- but to target them for killing without charges -- and that, to many of his followers, is perfectly acceptable. It's a "horrific shredding of the Constitution" and an act of grave lawlessness for Bush to eavesdrop on or detain Americans without any due process; but it's an act of great nobility when Barack Obama ends their lives without any due process.

Not even Antonin Scalia was willing to approve of George Bush's mere attempt to detain (let alone kill) an American citizen accused of Terrorism without a trial. In a dissenting opinion joined by the court's most liberal member, John Paul Stevens, Scalia explained that not even the War on Terror allows the due process clause to be ignored when the President acts against those he claims have joined the Enemy -- and this was for a citizen found on an actual active battlefield in a war zone (Afghanistan):

The very core of liberty secured by our Anglo-Saxon system of separated powers has been freedom from indefinite imprisonment at the will of the Executive. Blackstone stated this principle clearly: "Of great importance to the public is the preservation of this personal liberty: for if once it were left in the power of any, the highest, magistrate to imprison arbitrarily whomever he or his officers thought proper … there would soon be an end of all other rights and immunities. … To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom." . . . .

Subjects accused of levying war against the King were routinely prosecuted for treason. . . . The Founders inherited the understanding that a citizen's levying war against the Government was to be punished criminally. The Constitution provides: "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort"; and establishes a heightened proof requirement (two witnesses) in order to "convic[t]" of that offense. Art. III, §3, cl. 1.

There simply is no more basic liberty than the right to be free from Presidential executions without being charged with -- and then convicted of -- a crime: whether it be treason, Terrorism, or anything else. How can someone who objected to Bush's attempt to eavesdrop on or detain citizens without judicial oversight cheer for Obama's attempt to kill them without judicial oversight? Can someone please reconcile those positions?

One cannot be certain that this attempted killing of Awlaki relates to the bin Laden killing, but it certainly seems likely, and in any event, highlights the dangers I wrote about this week. From the start, it was inconceivable to me that -- as some predicted -- the bin Laden killing would bring about a ratcheting down of America's war posture. The opposite seemed far more likely to me for the reason I wrote on Monday:

Whenever America uses violence in a way that makes its citizens cheer, beam with nationalistic pride, and rally around their leader, more violence is typically guaranteed. Futile decade-long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may temporarily dampen the nationalistic enthusiasm for war, but two shots to the head of Osama bin Laden -- and the We are Great and Good proclamations it engenders -- can easily rejuvenate that war love. . . . We're feeling good and strong about ourselves again -- and righteous -- and that's often the fertile ground for more, not less, aggression.
The killing of bin Laden got the testosterone pumping,the righteousness pulsating, and faith in the American military and its Commander-in-Chief skyrocketing to all-time highs. It made America feel good about itself in a way that no other event has since at least Obama's inauguration; we got to forget about rampant unemployment, home foreclosures by the millions, a decade's worth of militaristic futility and slaughter, and ever-growing Third-World levels of wealth inequality. This was a week for flag-waving, fist-pumping, and nationalistic chanting: even -- especially -- among liberals, who were able to take the lead and show the world (and themselves) that they are no wilting, delicate wimps; it's not merely swaggering right-wing Texans, but they, too, who can put bullets in people's heads and dump corpses into the ocean and then joke and cheer about it afterwards. It's inconceivable that this wave of collective pride, boosted self-esteem, vicarious strength, and renewed purpose won't produce a desire to replicate itself. Four days after bin Laden is killed, a missile rains down from the sky to try to execute Awlaki without due process, and that'll be far from the last such episode (indeed, also yesterday, the U.S. launched a drone attack in Pakistan, ending the lives of 15 more people: yawn).
Last night, in a post entitled "Reigniting the GWOT [Global War on Terrorism]" -- Digby wrote about why the reaction to the killing of bin Laden is almost certain to spur greater aggression in the "War on Terror," and specifically observed: "They're breathlessly going on about Al Qaeda in Yemen 'targeting the homeland' right now on CNN. Looks like we're back in business." The killing of bin Laden isn't going to result in a reduction of America's military adventurism because that's not how the country works: when we eradicate one Enemy, we just quickly and seamlessly find a new one to replace him with -- look over there: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is the True Threat!!!! -- and the blood-spilling continues unabated (without my endorsing it all, read this excellent Chris Floyd post for the non-euphemistic reality of what we've really been doing in the world over the last couple years under the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Winner).

A civil liberties lawyer observed by email to me last night that now that Obama has massive political capital and invulnerable Tough-on-Terror credentials firmly in place, there are no more political excuses for what he does (i.e., he didn't really want to do that, but he had to in order not to be vulnerable to GOP political attacks that he's Weak). In the wake of the bin Laden killing, he's able to do whatever he wants now -- ratchet down the aggression or accelerate it -- and his real face will be revealed by his choices (for those with doubts about what that real face is). Yesterday's attempt to exterminate an American citizen who has long been on his hit list -- far from any battlefield, not during combat, and without even a pretense of due process -- is likely to be but a first step in that direction.