Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Crito: on reading and Socrates’s agency



For part one on the Apology, see here.

A habit of Anglo-American specialists in Plato is to dismiss the notion of any hidden meanings for his longstanding students in the dialogues (this dismissal often accompanies an odd refusal to see the dialogues as a whole or consider the relationship between them). And the zeal for this dismissal is exacerbated, even made visceral, by the feud with Leo Strauss and his followers (ironically, many of these philosophers a la Popper agree with Strauss that the philosopher-king, as the best ruler, one who rules over a heavily stratified warrior society but often arbitrarily, i.e. without laws, is to be taken seriously as Plato’s approach. Strauss is, on this point, an acolyte of Martin Heidegger, see here and here).

But one of the themes of the dialogues is the distinction between ordinary readers for whom writings are like statues – when you ask them a question, they have no father to defend them – and students of philosophy, en voyage with Plato, who can achieve as sustained and intense a happiness as human beings are capable of (Phaedrus, 275d – 277a and here.) One of the primary sites for this distinction is the first book of the Republic where Polemarchus, initially a democratic bully, wakes up, follows argument, and becomes, admirably, a "philosophical youth." See, for example, the Phaedrus where Polemarchus is contrasted with the rhetorician and Pheadrus’ lover, Lysias. Socrates takes apart a speech of Lysias, demonstrating, subtly, for students, the difference between argument and fine, but empty rhetoric.

About the Republic, I argue that Thrasymachus, the rhetorician, who is also void of argument, begins to throw the argument about justice off track – to make it unphilosophical - and that this is continued in book 2 by the clever Glaucon who imagines a city of “relishes,” of luxuries and war, not a Pythagorean city, a city of Socrates. Thus, the city in speech, despite a shadowy philosopher-king, is, psychologically speaking or in terms of soul (psyche) as Plato envisions it, Glaucon’s ideal city and mainly a subject of satire, not Socrates’s city. See here and here.

***

Like the dialogue with Polemarchus, the Crito is also a way in to beginning to philosophize. For Crito forgets himself. He is so frantic at the possibility that Socrates will die, that he will lose the pleasure of listening to good conversation as well as losing his friend, that he speaks, rhetorically, in a very panicky way. Though attending Socrates, he is not much of a philosopher himself. Like Cephalus in the Republic, he likes to be entertained, though Cephalus, going further, wants Socrates to be, what a medieval might call, a kind of court jester…But to read aloud Crito’s statements is to see how off they are.

Just before Socrates introduces the speech of the laws, Crito concludes his harangue by saying: "be persuaded by me" (line 46a "ἀλλὰ παντὶ τρόπῳ, ὦ Σώκρατες, πείθου μοι καὶ μηδαμῶς ἄλλως ποίει."). As a kind of sophist (those who teach for pay how to argue in court), he speaks as in a court. Crito rhetorically presents the defenses and remedies Socrates chose not to use at his own trial (do I not have children? Can I please go into exile?), and Socrates, in the person of the laws, answers, using this same phrase (54d).

***

In this sense, Crito also represents or speaks for the democracy, the considerations that move most of those who condemn Socrates but who would have been happy enough to see him go into exile (a punishment he had, once again, refused at his trial) (h/t Sol Malick).

***

Before offering the speech of the laws, Socrates goes over, for interested students, how the argument (ought to) work(s). He insists on the starting point that it is wrong to return evil for evil (the principle that founds nonviolence, one that Socrates shares, in the history of political thought and action, with Gandhi – and Jesus). He insists that the arguments which convinced himself and Crito in a state of calm – when Socrates did not have to go to his death – must now be tested again rather than thrown aside in panic.

What this signals to Plato’s students is: follow argument. Do not be persuaded by fear or rhetoric. Let your passion for justice adhere to, flow from what is true.

Though comparatively brief, this difficult dialogue requires the same careful assessment as the Republic (it is 11 lines, 43-54). The music of the argument is not stated fully in the dialogue. Like a Corybant, as himself a Corybant – see also his advice to Meno to be initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries (Meno, 77e) – Socrates hears this music, but what he hears is not made clear in the dialogue itself. Each student must think it through for herself.

***

Thus, the bookends of the speech of the democratic laws of Athens, a seeming idea of these laws in the mouth of Socrates, are, on the one hand, Socrates’s statement of the importance of following argument exactly and not being convinced by rhetoric and on the other, his unusual invocation of the power of the particular and unstated argument that moves him:

Socrates: “Speak, Crito, if you have anything more to add, but you will not convince me.”

Crito: I cannot.

Then let us so act since so the God leads."

As Plato’s indication of Socrates’ deeper piety, the Crito ends (the second to last word: ho theos) as the Apology does, on the word: the God…

***

But given this sharp framing by Socrates, what Plato depicts the laws as saying is disappointing. As I have emphasized previously here, the laws conclude their contradictory and rhetorically persuasive but logically unconvincing speech, with the emotional and competitive statement, echoing Crito: “be persuaded by us.” (ἀλλὰ μή σε πείσῃ Κρίτων ποιεῖν ἃ λέγει μᾶλλον ἢ ἡμεῖς. 54c-d) They echo the law courts in response to Crito’s plea: be persuaded by me - these are, after all, “the laws” of democratic Athens governing trials in the courts with several hundred jurors.

This echo of the courts is, however, Plato’s signaling that both the laws and Crito are, in some way, on the wrong path. They are sophists, rhetoricians, Crito moved by, giving voice to the concerns of and speaking to the democracy as it stands, not a regime, as Socrates envisions it, which would make space for questioning, dissent and philosophy. Crito and the laws argue to persuade, demagogically, but not in search of the truth. Once again, the final line is Socrates telling Crito to speak but then saying, in this one instance in the dialogues – he is further along the path of arguments than Crito – that Crito will not persuade him…

"Be well assured, my dear friend, Crito, that this is what I seem to hear, as the Corybants seem to hear the flutes, and this sound of these words re-echoes within me and prevents my hearing any other words. And be assured that, so far as I now believe, if you argue against these words you will speak in vain. Nevertheless, if you think you can accomplish anything, speak.

Crito: No, Socrates, I have nothing to say." (54d)

ταῦτα, ὦ φίλε ἑταῖρε Κρίτων, εὖ ἴσθι ὅτι ἐγὼ δοκῶ ἀκούειν, ὥσπερ οἱ κορυβαντιῶντες τῶν αὐλῶν δοκοῦσιν ἀκούειν, καὶ ἐν ἐμοὶ αὕτη ἡ ἠχὴ τούτων τῶν λόγων βομβεῖ καὶ ποιεῖ μὴ δύνασθαι τῶν ἄλλων ἀκούειν: ἀλλὰ ἴσθι, ὅσα γε τὰ νῦν ἐμοὶ δοκοῦντα, ἐὰν λέγῃς παρὰ ταῦτα, μάτην ἐρεῖς. ὅμως μέντοι εἴ τι οἴει πλέον ποιήσειν, λέγε.

Κρίτων ἀλλ᾽, ὦ Σώκρατες, οὐκ ἔχω λέγειν.

***

If we ask what in the speech of the laws convinces Crito and makes him fall silent, the answer emerges quickly as my student Bryce Allen pointed out recently. Socrates refers to Crito pointedly at a number of junctures in his speech, but particularly with the warning that having bought off the jailer and gotten Socrates to escape to Crito’s friends in Thessaly (the “unruly” Thessaly from which Meno comes), Crito’s wealth would be forfeit in Athens. Crito is a rich and powerful man, a little high on himself and not very bright. He has bought the jailer; he has come in to persuade Socrates to escape with ordinary appeals that will not convince Socrates. He acts with fear for Socrates and himself, and in a certain way, with hubris. He has thus not recognized the danger to himself.

"For it is pretty clear that your friends also will be exposed to the risk of banishment and the loss of their homes in the city or of their property.“

"ὅτι μὲν γὰρ κινδυνεύσουσί γέ σου οἱ ἐπιτήδειοι καὶ αὐτοὶ φεύγειν καὶ στερηθῆναι τῆς πόλεως ἢ τὴν οὐσίαν ἀπολέσαι, σχεδόν τι δῆλον.“ (53b, 54b-c)

***

Crito is braced by the icy wind of this – for him - freezing possibility. See here. His thoughts turn from the benefits he receives from Socrates’s conversation and care that he be alive to worry about himself.

***

In addition, Socrates equips him with the contradictory arguments of the laws. He can tell the people of Athens both that Socrates, though refusing to give up questioning, is the slave of the laws, bowing down to them even more slavishly than to the beatings of irate fathers (note the charge in Aristophanes’ The Clouds that after going for help to Socrates, Strepsiades is beaten by his son Pheidippides who also threatens his mother; it was a comical cliché among Athenians that Socrates’s questioning, in some sense, challenged ancestral pieties and was dangerous,and not just a particular theme of the trial. Now of course, the aim of every speaker in court - every lawyer, every sophist - is to make the worse argument the better (that, in The Clouds, is a charge against Socrates). That is what Socrates does not do in his defense at his trial and in asking questions to seek the truth.

***

As a follower of Socrates and an Athenian, that Crito would have been convinced by the laws' argument that Socrates was "their slave" would have been amazing. But it was something for him to say later to others…

***

Note that many scholars read Crito sleepily, think that this argument of the laws, along with the rest, is compelling philosophically...

***

In fact, to reject such slavishness is the point of Socrates’s questioning of Cephalus in the initial conversation in the Republic. Cephalus means the head or brain. He was an arms manufacturer and a fierce loyalist to Athenian traditions making sacrifices to the gods as he was dying, even though he was also an immigrant (a metic). Monied immigrants are, psychologically, sometimes the most zealous defenders of the ways of their new city or country. Cephalus is the father of Polemarchos, the leader of the democrats; Polemarchus name means “war leader” and “the head” is an arms manufacturer…See here and here.

He is also the father of Lysias, the rhetorician. Before Polemarchus becomes philosophical in book 1, he is but a democratic bully and one who arrests Socrates, a counterpart to Lysias' rhetoric. Both think they know - and ornament or make war for - what they do not; the Apology here is axial for the Republic and Phaedrus in the sense that one will not understand these dialogues without it.

***

Being a metic though a rich man, Cephalus lives down in the Piraeus with the sailors, not up on the heights of Athens with Glaucon, Adeimantus and Plato (sons of Ariston or the best, line 327a)

***

Preparing to die, Cephalus is interested in Socrates only for entertainment, recalls poems and flowery thoughts to keep away the fear. But Socrates is no more Cephalus’s slave or jester than he is that of the democratic laws in Crito. Socrates must drive Cephalus out to begin philosophy. He asks Cephalus if, in paying his debts, he is trying to buy the gods’ favor. He has, after all, money for the sacrifices, not a concern for virtue, let alone an interest in a dialogue which Socrates defines as about justice.

Cephalus retreats to his sacrifices, a prerequisite for the philosophical questioning and answering which marks the discussion with Polemachus (in contrast, to the fierce discussion with Thrasymachus or for that matter, Glaucon).

Cephalus bequeathes his opinion (that justice is paying one’s debts, which becomes justice is benefiting friends and harming enemies) to be defended by his son Polemarchus.

***

Now Crito, ”my old and dear friend,” participated with Socrates in many philosophical discussions. Socrates is known for asking questions and “making [the interlocutor’s] words get up and walk away from me,” like the statues of Daedalus. These are opinions, perhaps true , but not knowledge (Meno, 97d). If Crito did not understand this about doing philosophy, he understood nothing.

In addition, Crito might think that a philosopher may seek rule if the Republic is taken superficially but a philosopher is certainly no one’s slave. No one would describe Socrates’ paradigm speech at his trial as “slavish.” So once again, Crito may have used this argument as an opinion to persuade other Athenians, but cannot have, at least on becoming less frightened, believed it.

***

In contrast, the second argument of the laws – that Socrates has, as a free man, made a contract with them, that he has left less than others (going abroad only to the Isthmian games and following the laws, as a soldier) – is the opposite of Socrates’ purported subservience to them. But remarkably, these democratic laws do not appeal to their own justice. Whatever the merits of the democratic laws which they do not speak to, he has agreed with them.

***

This is a serious argument and one which is part of the reason why Socrates, in following his own nature, adheres to these laws in accepting his sentence and thus exemplifies or founds what is later called satyagraha or civil disobedience.

***

But this argument, too, is surrounded by superficial and panicky rhetoric. For the laws say to Socrates, unnecessarily – they have already provided the reason – that he has left Athens less than any other, going abroad only to the Isthmian games.

***

Worse yet, the laws speak of what is by nature just at one point, but their appeal to Socrates here is about their agreeableness to him. We gave you the chance to leave; and you didn’t. Therefore we must be pleasing to you, they say, unctuously, over and over. (52e-53a

"Are you then' they would say, 'not breaking your compacts and agreements with us, though you were not led into them by compulsion or fraud and were not forced to make up your mind in a short time, but had seventy years, in which you could have gone away, if we did not please you and if you thought the agreements were unfair? But you preferred neither Lacedaemon nor Crete, which you are always saying are well governed, nor any other of the Greek states, or of the foreign ones, but you went away from this city less than the lame and the blind and the other cripples. So much more than the other Athenians were you satisfied with the city and evidently therefore with us, its laws; for who would be pleased with a city apart from its laws? [τίνι γὰρ ἂν πόλις ἀρέσκοι ἄνευ νόμων].

***

This is a feeble appeal. For the “laws” or better arbitrary decrees in a tyranny are, in some sense, pleasing to the tyrant and perhaps his coterie. As the Republic suggests, laws are only seriously “pleasing” to a philosopher in the light of their justice. In some respects, though perhaps not from the point of view of tolerating questioning and philosophy, the laws remind Socrates that he thought Sparta and Crete "well governed" (one must recall also Socrates' irony since, after all, such cities did not space for...him).

But the democratic laws of Athens do not speak of their own justice or even that they comparatively, exhibit good governance…

***

Though they do not speak directly of their goodness or justice, the laws do, however, powerfully invoke Socrates’s agreement as a free man; that is part of the justice of a democracy. They also say that Socrates must persuade the laws to change or obey them. The latter point, too, the capacity of ordinary citizens to get the laws changed, to have a say about matters of great moment – conscience in a modern idiom - is an important element in the justice of a democracy (it takes a movement from below, often availing itself of civil disobedience, to challenge deep injustices).

***

But Socrates has already answered their thought in the Apology. A just man, he suggests, cannot participate in politics without quickly being put to death. For he said, when he was in the Prytany and judged the case of the sea captains, who had during the battle of Arginusae, not, as was the custom, picked up the dead because they ware still locked in combat, and he said they should not be death, the people, resenting these aristocrats, called for their death as well as Socrates's.

***

The second time was when he refused to bring Leon of Salamis to be murdered by the Thirty, who were led by his student and Plato's cousin, Critias.

***

And the third time was this trial in which Socrates would be sentenced to death under the democratic laws. But here the justice of what Socrates was trying to do, what he himself brought to the trial, is left unstated. The laws’ case for the justice of what is happening to Socrates, why he must go to his death is, as offered, weak and unpersuasive. Surely a Socrates at 50, having more than “a short time" to live (38d) might, given these arguments, have departed.

***

But Socrates, for his own reasons, again ones not explicitly stated in the dialogue by itself, does not leave.

***

To review the merits in the laws’s argument: there is an appeal to Socrates, the free man who consented. They are the laws of a free regime.

And these laws say: we leave each person an out – each can take his property and move to a colony, for example. That is a further aspect of their appeal to free men.

Being democratic, they add: persuade us to change or obey us. Here, again, they invoke persuasion in the assembly (trials were a form of assembly, not a separate thing) as the argument between Crito and the democratic laws, not yet including philosophy, involves persuasion. But these arguments of the laws by themselves would not have persuaded Socrates, among other reasons, because of the constant threat of death when he entered public life.

***

Nonetheless, this third argument - persuade us - contributes to Socrates’ founding of civil disobedience or satyragraha. It is profoundly why Gandhi and King (and Jesus) are right about Socrates as a defender of/questioner or dissenter in Athenian democracy who is loyal to it and its laws taken as a whole, and Heidegger and Strauss – that Socrates is a would be ruler on the model of a good gymnastics coach - are wrong in a fundamental way (the way of admiring the Fuehrer or advocating “commander in chief power”). See here, here and here.

***

For Socrates breaks the unjust law against questioning the gods (when the gods do evils for example, Zeus in the form of a swan raping Leda).

***

Now as I have underlined, the build up here, the setting, is graphic, the let down in what the laws say considerable. The laws’s speech, even in the better second argument appealing to a contract, is unsurprisingly rhetorical, fairly panicky, mirroring Crito, down to the phrasing. Their speech, once again, Socrates’s, shows that Socrates can perfectly well speak in the manner of the courts despite his ironic comment about being a stranger to this scene at the beginning of the Apology, and pokes fun (Socrates does this quite a bit) at Crito’s rhetoric. Yet it does not, if one pays close attention to it, reveal what it is that persuades Socrates. The careful reader must follow the argument out, see the contradictions and what is missing, ask questions beyond what is clearly stated.

***

This need is made stark if we recall a further argument from the Apology. As Plato tells us in Socrates’s speech about his punishment, but for a scrap of life, you, the majority in Athens, will become the city that murdered its wise man (38c).

“It is no long time, men of Athens, which you gain, and for that those who wish to cast a slur upon the city will give you the name and blame of having killed Socrates, a wise man; for you know, this who wish to revile you will say I am wise, even though I am not.“

***

Instrumentally speaking therefore, it would be much better for the democratic laws if Socrates had slipped off, disguised as a slave. They mock this possibility, making a theme in their speech of the issue of bondage and yet contradicting their previous assertion: he is their slave, they had said, though somehow, he should feel badly about slinking off as - a slave…

***

Through lack of moral character, Socrates could have saved them from being the killers of a just man. But Socrates had integrity. He did obey the laws. And the city is remembered for murdering its philosopher.

***

The ruins of old Athens stand on hills above the modern city; the Athenians were slaughtered in the Acropolis by the cruel Roman empire in 88bc. The punishment of and scorn for Athens are real (this city killed its wise man) as is the absence, in modern times, of the splendor of that democracy except in the great protest movements recently occurring from below (only their fascist opponent, Golden Dawn, receives much publicity in the corporate press...). Plato was already aware of this fate when he wrote, and Socrates may well have foreseen it.

***

So again instrumentally, in terms of reputation, Socrates injures the laws through his seeming fidelity to them. These democratic laws talk themselves, as it were, into their own defeat.

***

This disgracing of the democracy leads Leo Strauss to think that Socrates went to his death sneering at the laws. As an atheist, Strauss imagines, Socrates cannot have heard their voice as the Corybants hear the flutes. He was a would be philosopher-tyrant (and Plato more so), wanting, to the last, to ridicule and do in the democratic laws of Athens.

***

But to follow Strauss’s reasoning, Socrates would then be full of anger at the Athenian laws, wanting to play, with his death, a last, nasty trick on them, thinking of them, not himself, ignoring his daimon or inner voice, filled with resentment.

***

This is so psychologically implausible a way of talking about Socrates’ dying that it is amazing that Strauss and his followers (those who get this subtlety) do not see this. Socrates would not be ironic but rather a poor, demented fellow if that was the way he left this life. There is precisely no evidence in the way Plato describes him for this conclusion.

***

Fortunately, this is not how Strauss himself died (his letters in volume three of Gesammelte Schriften are dignified and striking in the wonder of what he recalls). But psychology is not Strauss’s strong point and he did not rethink, when he was dying, what he had said about the death of Socrates.

***

In contrast, the Crito shows the calmness and even cheerfulness of Socrates, his dreams of a woman in white saying on the third day he must go to fertile Phythia.(44b) This is Achilles’ homeland in Homer’s Iliad (ix, 363). But Socrates’s homeland is death, and at the end of the Phaedo, he makes a comparable remark, the body stiffening with poison, that Crito, poor loyal Crito, must sacrifice a rooster to Asclepius, the god of healing...the body.

One can also attempt to read the Phaedo and this remark in the Apology as a simply personal account of dying. Socrates had cultivated philosophy, and in Montaigne’s famous later phrase, to “philosophize is to learn how to die.” But there is, of course, something more than personal here, a defense of philosophy. For personally, Socrates is, through and through, a philosopher.

***

But there is also aa political or democratic element in Socrates’ decision, one what King, in his "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail" and Gandhi in his 1908 translation and commentary on the Apology understand. At 70, Socrates makes the judgment that it is better for him to die, honorably, defending questioning, than to escape or grovel or live dishonorably. The most important point is that Socrates himself fights for the freedom to ask questions of those who think they know and point out if they do not, and not be killed for it. This not only founds philosophy, but it is also ingredient to a common good-sustaining democracy. Mob rule is often the tyrannical rule of a particular interest (the rich and powerful stir up right-wing movements of the Klan or McCarthyist sort); a common good sustaining movement, say the union movement or anti-war movements or particularly the American civil rights movement, are, in contrast, democratic movements from below. Such movements are not possible without questioning and sacrifice (many others, like Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, would be martyred for asking questions of segregation and acting for justice).

***

King invokes Socrates three times in his "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, written on the back of a New York Times. Against complacent white ministers who denounced him as an “outside agitator,” King responds:

"In your statement you asserted that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But can this assertion be logically made? Isn’t this like condemning the robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical delvings precipitated the misguided popular mind to make him drink the hemlock?"

King then analogizes the nonviolence of the movement against segregation to Socrates’s image of a gadfly irritating a great horse:

"Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men [and women] to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood."

Finally, he speaks of resistance from below to great injustices:

"Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience... It was practiced superbly by the early Christians who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks, before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. (James Washington, ed., The Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, pp. 291, 294-95).

***

Socrates goes through many arguments about going to his death, including with the Pythagoreans in the Pheado about the soul’s immortality and a war with the body, takes the poison with politeness even toward his guard. He does not wait for the last moment, he finishes the arguments with the others, fashioning what he needs to say on that day in his accustomed manner, and then to spare the jailer waiting (the jailer is in tears), drinks the poison as Gandhi says, as one would drink a cup of sherbet…(see Gandhi’s translation of the Apology, "The Story of a Soldier for Truth," Collected Works, 1908, part 1 and here.

***

This is not someone aflame to bring down the Athenian laws…

***

Socrates does not speak or act instrumentally with a view to his own or the laws' reputation. He is not trying to curry favor with a McCarthyite majority of opinion, those who kill lightly and would as lightly, were it possible, bring him back to life. He is thus fighting for questioning – dissent – in the democracy as well as for the practice of questioning which is philosophy. He dies, founds satyagrapha, to make a space for decent democracy as well as for philosophy.

**

And the laws he speaks here to modify – obey us but you may also “persuade us to change” - would be those of a democracy which can honor questioning, not just in Socrates's long life – 70 years – for Athens had been a dominant power and had allowed the emergence of questioning (whereas an authoritarian regime, the supposed city in speech, would not tolerate questioning, would not tolerate…Socrates), but throughout a life and throughout centuries. Socrates speaks to the idea of the democratic laws, not the existing, sophistic and excitable (like Crito!) laws of the court.

***

Instead, Socrates seeks to transform these laws, to make them more thoroughly democratic - in the sense of a common good-sustaining democracy - through his death…

This is the political purpose of his speech as much as creating a space for doing philosophy. For Socrates’s (and Plato’s) philosophy is not anti-democratic; it is genuinely democratic, making a common good possible within a democracy.

***

The idea of democratic laws needs to protect questioning against the brittle Athenian charge, not untrue, that Socrates questions everything including the gods. Socrates is pious, but not in the way of believing as those who do not question believe. That is irrelevant to the protection of questioning which belongs to genuine democratic laws – again, the idea of democratic laws – which would later be realized in freedoms of speech and conscience.

***

What the dialogue does not say is that Socrates also defends his own honor or virtue, as someone who questions, affirms and strengthens the decency of Athens, and is caught only by the slower runner death while his accusers have been caught by the swifter wickedness for accusing someone of committing crimes merely for searching for the truth, questioning the powers-that-be…

And by that questioning, Socrates seeks to improve Athens, not to make an ideal city of justice, a city in speech, for that city does not exist (and is harmful if applied, the object of satire in the Republic). It is Socrates who upholds and makes the laws better, more just, more inclusive of opposition and decency. It is Socrates’s internal relation to the laws – not an instrumental relationship about their reputation - which upholds their justice more explicitly than they do. It is Socrates who seeks, in dying, to make the laws just.

***

For his students or careful readers, Socrates is thus the agent on behalf of a non-rhetorical idea of the laws, just as, in the speech, he is the agent of the law-courts version of the democratic laws he summons to persuade Crito.

***

Listen again to the speech of the laws. If you go to your death, obeying us Socrates, we will honor you here and those our brothers in the place of the dead will receive you with honor.(h/t Solomon Malick)

***

That thought does motivate Socrates who is looking to the place of philosophy in democracy and to a decent democracy into the future. We still read the Apology, thanks to Plato, for otherwise Socrates’s words or perhaps, more broadly speaking, reasoning for his martyrdom, would not have survived, and take in what Socrates fought for in the democracy including being able to philosophize.

It would have been arrogant for Plato to say that Socrates reshapes the laws of Athens, democratically and philosophically. But that is exactly what the Crito implies. That is Socrates’s gift to the far future. It took his death or martyrdom to bequeath it.

***

Democracy is often a sad thing, killing people and wishing them back alive (even Obama, with the drones has done much of this, including to Americans like the 16 year old Abdulrahman Awlaki). See Obama's interview with Malala here. What Socrates and other martyrs to freedom and decency do – Gandhi and King, among them – is to challenge and change the greatest evils within a (in Gandhi’s case, potential) democracy.

***

Socrates warns in the Apology – would be students, take heed – that he has only a human wisdom and is wiser than others only in this: that others think they know and do not and he neither knows nor thinks that he knows. He improves the laws by, through protest, forcing them to recognize this way of life, philosophically and politically. This is a very powerful statement, a very powerful change.

***

Though the dialogue conveys Socrates's agency on the surface - it is, after all, Socrates who speaks to Crito in the voice of the laws - what he does in the undercurrent or implication of the dialogue is to shape the laws of decent democracies for the future.

***

He makes democracy better through questioning and protecting philosophy at the cost of his life. This central point resembles Amartya Sen’s about justice or Hilary Putnam’s or Karl Marx’s: one can achieve more just regimes given particular starting points, but a model of justice, for instance, communism, is, as it were, a long away off, and not something whose details dreamers\modelers are likely to capture. In Marx, this is the notion of the “real movement” or democratic, from below upsurge for change which will create a better regime in specifiable ways, one that is not a utopia, not to be sketched as a blueprint beforehand.

***

And by acting honorably, Socrates honors the laws as if they were, in fact, what their speech pretends but drifts away from: the defenders of freedom and justice. For the decision of men is unjust and beyond this, the law that permits death for questioning the gods of Athens (even if one is, as Socrates is, impeccably externally pious) is unjust. And of course, their appeal about being “pleasing” to him is base.

****

That is where further questioning of the dialogue leads and the death of Socrates gives rise, as Martin Luther King says in his "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail" to freedom of speech and conscience and academic freedom. In a still to be created decent regime, one cannot, upon further reflection, put people to death for opinions or even lock them up, even if the powerful do not like them…

***

But now let us consider again Plato’s and Socrates’ counsel to students. Even under pressure of imminent death, one should follow out arguments and stick with those that, upon reflection, seem true. An apt dialogue is the assent of one witness, following the argument, not the opinion of the many (the latter is what Crito throws against the wall, hoping that his passion and fear will stick, since he does not engage in reasoning). Many dialogues, including this one, are not philosophical or apt in this sense; they do not follow out arguments to the truth, but are in some way, deterred by the interests of or Socrates’ interactions with particular characters. In the Meno for example, Meno and Socrates coquet with one another, and only Meno’s question about whether virtue can be taught, without a specification of what virtue is, is “answered” mistakenly.

***

In the Crito, the speech of the laws is faulty; Crito is deterred rhetorically by his fear to be exiled and his fear of what the many think.

***

Now to oppose the many sounds anti-democratic. But democracies often do bad things, the KKK and McCarthyism being important examples. Aristotle, Plato’s student and aficionado of Alexander the Great and one man rule, nonetheless defends majority rule to some extent. Sometimes, he says, the opinion of a large number is better than that of an expert – one might say, always in terms of unconstrained one man rule. But sometimes, Aristotle says, there is no difference between a majority and a “herd of beasts.” The wise majority rule exemplifies a common good, something which benefits the whole society. In contrast, the "herd of beasts" means the tyrannical rule of a particular interest.

It is the latter that Socrates' questioning fights. So Socrates defends the democratic laws of Athens and seeks to strengthen them, even as he denounces frivolous, grandiose, ignorant though common opinions as for instance, that of the majority which puts him to death…

***

In the Meno, one gets an inkling of the ideas of Plato by the theorem in Euclidean geometry that the slave gradually proves under questioning. For it is an abstract idea about a diagonal, not a particular line in the sand which they investigate. And these theorems are not visible to the naked eye, just as most of the findings of modern science, quarks, for example, are not.

In an obvious sense, Plato's ideas are a counter to empiricism (particularly in today's social “sciences,” where with IQ testing, bad methodological doctrine has run amuk, with enormously destructive social and moral consequences).

But many ideas – like that of the good, likened grandly in The Republic to the sun in the noetic universe, are only to be figured out, if they are, through a long journey of subtle readings of the dialogues. The metaphors surrounding them are as suggestive and unclear as ideas in geometry are clear.

***

What then should we make of the laws in the Crito? They are, in one sense, deficient, merely rhetorical. But improved as Socrates implies with protection for democratic questioning, these ideas become better. Socrates’s sacrifice of his life makes the laws of the democracy approach justice. They thus move from the sophism of the courts toward Platonic ideas, though they never reach such ideas which are, in one important sense, as a practical project, unknowable. That is the secret of the Crito...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sand Creek Spiritual Healing Run



The Boulder Daily Camera ran a fine story from a reporter who has some sense of the spirit of the marathon - the Sand Creek Spiritual Healing Run - from the 28th to the 30th here (h/t Larry Tepper). The trauma is present, as present as the scarring names of Mount Evans and Evans and Downing Blvd. So is the honoring of individuals, peoples and a sustainable civilization as well as of some whites, particularly Silas Soule who sacrificed his life to stand up for decency.

Though I am in India, my spirit is with all of you who are doing it.

***

Sand Creek massacre remembered during Spiritual Healing Run
By Mike Sandrock, For the Camera
POSTED: 11/18/2013 10:50:43 AM MST
UPDATED: 11/18/2013 07:05:52 PM MST

For photograph, see here.

Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members run part of the 2012 Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run, a relay of 173 miles over four days. (Mike Sandrock)

If you go
What:
15th annual Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run/Walk

When:
Nov. 28-Nov. 30

Where:
Register for Nov. 30 run at Riverside Cemetery, 5201 Brighton Blvd. at 8 a.m. The public is also welcome at the sunrise ceremony at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site on Nov. 28.

Cost:
Free; donations to defray travel expenses accepted

Directions:
nps.gov/sand

The instructions Vanessa Braided Hair gave me last Thanksgiving weekend for the final day of the Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run were simple: Meet at Capt. Silas Soule's grave marker in Denver's Riverside Cemetery.

Braided Hair, 29, a Northern Cheyenne from Lame Deer, Mont., was among a group of young Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal members who ran a relay of 173 miles over four days, starting at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, out on the eastern Colorado plains not far from the town of Eads.

That is the spot where, on Nov. 29, 1864, roughly 375 of their ancestors were killed or wounded in a surprise attack led by Col. John Chivington of the 3rd Colorado Cavalry, mocked as the "Bloodless Third" because it had not seen much action.

Chivington certainly got his blood that day. He brought in a mountain howitzer and attacked at dawn, to be sure that the women, children and men -- who had been promised safety -- would be surprised and have no chance to flee. Nearly half of the camp was cut down or wounded, some of the bodies mutilated and body parts later paraded through Denver.


The Nov. 30 run starts at Capt. Silas Soule's grave marker in Denver's Riverside Cemetery. (Mike Sandrock)

When the attack came, Cheyenne leader Black Kettle stood in front of his tipi, waving both a huge American flag and a white flag of truce [they were hung over his tipi]. Many of you know of Chief Niwot, also known as Left Hand. He was among the "peace chiefs" who approached the charging cavalry, only to be gunned down.

Before we began the run, there was a ceremony, and we were asked to stay behind the lead runner, who was carrying an eagle staff. It was made by Lee Lone Bear, who started the Spiritual Run in 1999. He passed away two years ago, and last year's run was in his honor.

"The main purpose is healing," Braided Hair said of the Spiritual Run, "dealing with the trauma today, and also to honor and never forget what our ancestors went through."

And these runners' ancestors did go through much. "At stake were two ways of using the land, of seeing the world," is how the Sand Creek historic site brochure puts it, explaining how the howitzer blasted "point blank" into the women, elderly and children trying to escape the carnage by burying themselves in the sand.

There was, however, no escape. Those who scrambled up the river bank and tried to get away were hunted down and killed.

"Most who surrendered were executed; ... the next day some soldiers looted, scalped and mutilated the dead ... they left the site bearing human body parts as trophies" that were carried through Denver, not far from where we were running.

We continued down Brighton Boulevard behind a Colorado State Patrol escort, turning onto 15th Street in downtown Denver. We grew silent, almost as if in church, as our thoughts turned to the Sand Creek massacre, and then, perhaps, to our own personal tragedies.

As we reached Larimer Street, a crowd waited at the intersection.

"Why are we stopping?" I asked a white-haired, chubby man, standing on the sidewalk.

"This is where Silas Soule was assassinated," he replied. I looked up at the gleaming glass buildings, the clean streets, the orderliness. Soule, too, was a "peace chief," I thought, and so suffered the fate of other such men and women through the centuries.

My new companion told me how Soule, from an abolitionist New England family, had testified against Chivington in military hearings, detailing the atrocities and how Sand Creek was not a battle, but a massacre, the likely reason he was killed.

"You know a lot about Silas," I said.

He nodded, replying that he was related to Soule and had traveled from out of state to participate in the Spiritual Healing Run. Gesturing to a nearby building, he pointed out a plaque honoring Soule.

I went closer, in the shadow of an office building, and read:

"At this location on April 23, 1865, assassins shot and killed 1st Colorado Cavalry officer Capt. Silas S. Soule. During the infamous Sand Creek massacre of Nov. 29, 1864, Soule had disobeyed orders by refusing to fire on chief Black Kettle's peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho village. ... His murderers were never brought to justice."

We all walked slowly and mostly silently to the steps of the state Capitol. The silence was broken by the guttural cries of the young Cheyenne and Arapaho runners, as well as by some of the elders who were walking the final mile.

When heard up close, the cries pierce your bones, conjuring up a different way of life, a different spirituality, one without ownership of land, without fences, one with buffalo herds sustaining nomadic tribes that honored a "Great Spirit" that is not only in the mountains, streams, sky and trees, but is you and me as well.

We forget, or rather, many of us never knew, that when we drive down the turnpike, we are passing over the homelands of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. They no longer live on their native lands, having been relocated. On this weekend each year, they return home, to honor and remember.

I was impressed with the runners. As we chatted on the Capitol steps, I talked with a young Cheyenne man. He was not a serious runner, yet had pushed himself during the relay.

"Did you think of dropping out and not finishing the run?" I asked. There was a glint in his eyes, and I know I had asked a silly question.

"We are not trained runners, but because of the connections with our ancestors, we don't feel the pain," said Braided Hair, who ran 15 miles during the relay. "It is all about healing and honoring them."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Poem: c onstell a tion



If they shoot you in the morning

torture you in the evening

poke you with hotcoals

threaten your children

spend 30 years in a dark cell



do you crawl out

like Mandela

with a soul

wider than starry nights?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Pequot Massacre, child slaves and Harvard: the surprising theme of Craig Wilder’s Ebony & Ivy



Craig Stephen Wilder’s fine Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery and the Troubled History of American Universities has followed, with deeper historical research, a path blazed by Ruth Simmons, the first African-American president of Brown, in investigating the origins in slavery and the slave trade of the Ivy League Schools. Wilder discusses 8 Northern schools, and only William and Mary from Virginia as institutions built from and devoted to slaveholding/slave-trading, for instance, merchants composed the Board of Trustees, the colleges avidly recruited wealthy students from the Caribbean, and the like. When Wilder began his research 10 years ago, he found University archivists who had been waiting for someone to ask them. They pushed materials they had long brooded over into his hands...

In this, Wilder replicated the experience of Michael Hickcox in acting in 1974 at the Iliff School of Theology against the book wrapped in the skin of a murdered Native American displayed ostentatiously in front of its Library (h/t Tink Tinker who is writing an article on this). See here. Though unwilling to act themselves, every one, not in denial, knew it was wrong...

***

On Democracy Now, however, and in reviews in the Washington Post here, the History News Network here, and on NPR, Wilder was asked questions about and has been written about as focusing mainly on blacks (Glenn Altschuler's review in the Boston Globe does include Native Americans here). But Wilder's book is even deeper, more surprising and unsettling than that. The first chapter starts and ends with a Harvard man, Jonathan Belcher, who presented an enslaved indigenous child as a trophy to Sophia, Dowager Electress of Hanover, in 1704 (pp. 15-16). The Joint Congressional Committee report on Sand Creek wonders “how beings in human form” can have carried out the massacre. See here. I feel the same way about Belcher and the Empress. Here is the paragraph that ends the first chapter.

“Gifts

Shortly after his graduation from Harvard, Jonathan Belcher, the son of a colonial slave trader, presented an Indian child as a gift in Europe, an act that symbolized the demographic devastation and violent conquest of the New England Indians and the ordinariness of unfreedom in the Christian empires of New Spain, New France and British America. Academies and colleges, teachers and ministers, religion and science were as responsible for that ruin as forts, soldiers, armor, guns, and swords. Free and unfree, Indians were now relics of the English empire whom Belcher could treat as trophies, displaying them as the marvels of his country.” (p. 45)

***

I had thought that the Sand Creek massacre of Cheyennes and Arapahoes who had made peace with the United States, November 29, 1864, was unusual in its depravity against “friendly “ Indians - the Massacre was condemned even by the ethnic cleansers in Washington for this reason - but also that it was a general phenomenon in the West and South more than in the East. Indigenous people in New England had been infected with smallpox by Lord Jeffrey Amherst. The founding of the town of Amherst, named to replace an indigenous name Norwottuck (America usually keeps the names having murdered and driven out the people...) and the naming of Amherst College were parallel I knew, see here and here. But I had not yet gotten my mind around the question: what role did the Protestants who founded Harvard and King’s College (Columbia) and Queen’s College (Rutgers) and Princeton (the College of New Jersey) play in genocide toward Wampanoags, Narragansetts and many other tribes?

***

Contrary to most reviews, Wilder’s first chapter focuses on this theme:

“In May 1637 at the culmination of Connecticut’s Pequot War, the English surrounded a village on the Mystic River, opened fire, set the buildings ablaze, and then butchered five hundred people as they tried to escape the flames. Captain John Underhill celebrated: ‘Downe fell men, women and children.” (p. 34)

***

Initiating what would be made the standard practice of the US army in the West by General Patrick Connor in the subsequent Bear River Massacre in January, 1863,

“The English burned the Pequot food supplies and took their blades to hundreds of young Indian men who put down their arms, attempted to surrender, or sought refuge with other tribes.”

That these are crimes against human beings has long been understood (see Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars). These crimes are also crystallized today in the United Nations Convention against Genocide (1948, ratified by the United States in 1978).

***

Wilder continues:

“The attack publicized the power of the Christian God to the benefit of New England and its college [Harvard was founded in 1636]. Friends and leaders of the college participated in the war, and Harvard acquired about two thousand acres of land after the English divided up the Pequot holdings in southeastern Connecticut. Israel Stoughton led Massachusetts’s forces against the Pequot and delivered about 250 captives for enslavement.” (p. 35)

***

Note how the European practice of slavery toward blacks moved right into preying on Native Americans, particularly children. A reasonable view of the “West,”“Europe” or “England” must acknowledge the genocidal, slave-making, colonialist character of these Empires. For the human species to survive the 21st century (global warming, Fukushima, and militarism are three reasons to think we may not, at least as 7 billion people on a planet not riven, among the remainder, by unending wars), what is evil about “Western” civilization needs to be repudiated, consigned to the past...

***

But Harvard's ties to eradicating indigenous people run deep. Stoughton Hall, built in 1806 and now a freshman dorm, was donated by Israel Stoughton, the patriarch, and specifically honors his son William, a minister, judge and Lieutenant Governor. This Hall, analogous to the Evans professorships at DU and Northwestern, "honors" the Pequot Massacre. Recapitulating what I call a Founding Amnesia, the Harvard Crimson somewhat breathlessly relates:

“In 1700 the college yard was the piece of ground lying between Harvard and Massachusetts Hall and the original Stoughton Halls, which stood facing the main gate and made the eastern side of a quadrangle. The old Stoughton Hall was more picturesque than the other dormitories: it was three stories high, had dormer windows, and made some pretensions toward architectural beauty. In this building and in Massachusetts - at that time a dormitory - forty to fifty students had their rooms." See here.

***

When Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western civilization, he replied: “It would be nice…”

***

Wilder adds more generally:

“Colleges were imperial instruments akin to armories and forts, a part of the colonial garrison with the specific responsibilities to train ministers and missionaries, convert indigenous peoples and soften cultural resistance, and extend European rule over foreign nations. Christians launched their religious and educational missions to Native peoples from highly militarized spaces.” (p. 33)

***

He also traces Harvard’s role in the obliterating aggression against Metacomet (“King Phillip”) and the Wampanoags. The indigenous people had welcomed the colonists. Metacomet was advised by two Harvard-trained Native American ministers. But he discovered that John Sassamon, sponsored at Harvard by John Eliot (Eliot House is named for John's 19th century descendant Charles William Eliot…), “had fraudulently transcribed a will to rob him of land.” (pp. 37, 35-36). He had Sassamon killed.

***

On the pattern of incidents leading up to the War, Wilder writes:

“[Metacomet] recount[ed] a history of English abuses that rewarded the friendly posture of the Native people upon the arrival of the first Christians with increasing aggression…Christians trespassed upon Indian lands to graze animals and hunt, cheated in trade, and stole land without repurcussions. The courts and officials held Indians to account for minor violations of colonial law but the most respectable [sic] Indians could not gain justice against Englishmen and no Englishman was subject to Wampanoag law [or law, for that matter]. The Plymouth court empowered local selectmen to indenture any idle Indians, gave magistrates the authority to sell Native children out of the colony for property crimes, and assumed the right to regulate the movement and daily lives of all Indians in the neighborhood.”” (p. 36)

What "property crimes" were committed by children, and what piety or law are symbolized by this delicate practice?

***

“For Harvard," Wilder continues, "it was an existential war. The college had been struggling under the leadership of President Lonard Hoard, and his successor, Urian Oakes, inherited an 'afflicted and almost destroyed university'...'I humbly beseech Almighty God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that He may be pleased to shatter that very barbarity, whence ariseth our greatest peril of destruction,' President Oakes prayed during his 1675 commencement address,' that from the barbarians who impend and expend our lives, His boundless loving kindness will deliver us sound and whole." (pp. 38-39)

***

"In August 1676 troops under Captain Benjamin Church cornered Metacomet near Mount Hope, Rhode Island, where he was shot dead by an English-allied Indian soldier [divide and rule, taking out one whom one had been "friendly" towards after the other was the English and then the American secret of Continent-wide ethnic cleansing]. ‘His head was brought into Plymouth in great triumph,’ reads the church report. The English dismembered Metacomet’s body, mounted his head on a pole and paraded it around Plymouth, and sold his wife and son into slavery in Bermuda.”

***

The grisly practice of parading the heads of indigenous people on poles would soon be replaced by the systematic racist pseudoscience of craniometry/anthropometry and 20,000 skulls being stolen and kept in the Smithsonian (no burials or ceremony of mourning for indigenous people; no sanctity…See here, Reginald Horsman, Race and Manifest Destiny: the Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism, ch. 8 and Steven Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man.

***

The pious New England colonists also enslaved and sold Metacomet's son and wife…

***

Imagine if such things had been done to George Washington's wife or the children of Jefferson Davis...

***

To vary one of Montesquieu's insights into slavery in book 15 of De l'esprit des lois (Spirit of the Laws), "It is impossible for us to suppose [Indians] to be human, because if we suppose them to be human, the suspicion would arise that we are not Christians…"

***

Wilder’s insights make the long suppression of the wanton aggressions, massacres and enslavement of indigenous people and the proffering of child “trophies” as exotica from the United States leap off the page. It is the reviewers and interviewers who are so under the influence of a Founding Amnesia toward indigenous people that the horror somehow passes them by...

***

The University of Denver's 150th anniversary coincides with the that of the Sand Creek Massacre (November 29, 1864). It celebrates the three men most responsible for the slaughter, John Evans, John Chivington and Walter Newton Byers, who were on the Univrsity's initial Board of Trustees (technically, of the Denver Seminary which became the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver). Evans also founded and was long the President of Northwestern. But DU and Northwestern now have a chance to break new ground by acknowledging ethnic cleansing of indigenous people. Brown University excepted, the New England colleges have not even looked into the slave-owning of their origins, let alone genocide toward Native Americans...

***

The DU sports teams also bear the racially charged nickname “The Pioneers.” The administration has admirably removed the emblem of Daniel (“Denver”) Boone, fashioned by Walt Disney, on the memory of an indian-killer…

But we now have a chance to pioneer acknowledging the crimes that lie at the root of the American founding and expansion across the country, and thus of many Universities. Our University (and every other one that makes such acknowledgements) goes a significant way toward becoming a place genuinely welcoming of all students, non-whites as well as white, from abroad as well as American. The same could be true of our democracy.

***

In addition, the long told fable of America as a defender of peace, as a regime not engaged in European conflicts, intrigues and colonialisms, as a “naïve” and “idealistic power,” is a lie. Even Woodrow Wilson was an admirer of the Ku Klux Klan and frequent invader of Central America (in 1913, his military overthrew the democratic government in Haiti and replaced it with a tyranny; he installed a clerk in an American mining company as the ruler of Nicaragua...). America, as John Mearsheimer at last notes in chapter 7 the Tragedy of Great Power Politics, expanded across the continent murdering indigenous people, stealing their land and cordoning them off on barren reservations (as well as practicing slavery toward blacks until 1863 and later Jim Crow).

The Quakers and then other Protestants opposed slavery – see my Black Patriots and Loyalists – and William Penn extended this to opposing the genocide and thievery toward indigenous people (John Evans, formerly a Quaker, recognized Penn's "humanity and justice," but repudiated it. See here).

***

The record otherwise of American Christianity is dismal, however, until the recent repudiations of the “doctrine of discovery” (the Pope could allocate the New World to Columbus because he "discovered" it; this hubris was echoed in a decision of the John Marshall court) by the Methodists and the other Protestant sects.

***

Wilder does not know of the mass resistance to bondage on both sides in the American Revolution. Though more blacks escaped and fought for the Crown in exchange for freedom, a large number fought for the Americans (blacks were a majority of the dead on both sides at the decisive battle of Yorktown). And there were a substantial number of whites like Alexander Hamilton, whom Wilder depicts only in the aspect of a poor but able young man sent by slavetraders from Nevis in the Caribbean to King's College (now Columbia) in New York. He does not know that Hamilton was a friend of John Laurens and co-signer of his proposal to recruit and free 5000 blacks in South Carolina and Georgia which passed the Continental Congress in 1779 - see Black Patriots and Loyalists. Wilder misses the mass impetus for democracy from below during the Revolution, also including Narrangasetts in Rhode Island and elsewhere. The potential for a different course and even the achievements - for instance, gradual emancipation in the North during and after the Revolution - were great.

***

Wilder also misses the fierce anti-imperialist element in the Enlightenment, notably Montesquieu, Rousseau and Diderot (The Supplement to Bougainville's Voyage is a scathing indictment of French "civilization"). These ideas contributed to abolition in the American Revolution, particularly to that of John Laurens who studied law in Geneva 15 years after Rousseau published Du contrat social (The Social Contract).

***

But Ebony & Ivy is a book of enormous moral and political importance. Taking in Wilder’s book may help all of us make a new start.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sand Creek Massacre Spiritual Healing Run, November 28-30


The massacre is a living thing, present now in the hearts and daily lives of the descendants. You can feel it powerfully at the beginning of the run in the Memorial near Eads. See poem "Sand Creek" here. The spiritual and healing dimension of this marathon is both about the intergenerational trauma of the massacre among Cheyennes and Arapahos and also about the continual denial - the Founding Amnesia - among the murderous "leaders" of Colorado. For Denver was built out of this massacre as surely as sites - monuments, parks, highways - in the South celebrate Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the Klan, and bondage. Mount Evans, Evans Boulevard, Evans Chapel and Evans professors in Denver, not to mention Evanston, Illinois are all named for the Ethnic Cleanser in Chief, i.e. the Governor of the Colorado Territory and Indian Agent John Evans.

The run also honors those officers in the butchering army who opposed and stood aside from this attack on indigenous people whom they knew had made peace with the US army, Silas Soule and Joseph Cameron. In addition, Lieutenants William Minton, Chauncey M. Cossit and James Cannon fought with Col. Chivington who led the massacre). The run stops at Soule's and Cameron's tombs in Riverside Cemetery and at 15th and Arapahoe (new life is given by indigenous people once each year to a name appropriated by those who drove out of Colorado) site where in 1865, Silas Soule, then a Denver police officer, was assassinated for standing up for decency by two Union soldiers. Its aim is to bring forth a beginning spirit of healing in the abyss that was "extermination"/genocide.

I will be in Dharmasala in India on these dates, but I urge everyone in Colorado and the surrounding area to come.

***

"15th Annual
Sand Creek Massacre
Spiritual Healing Run/ Walk
November 28-30, 2013

Everyone Welcome

A commemoration for victims and survivors of the massacre, and healing of ancestral homelands.

Itinerary

Thursday November 28th

7:00 AM Sunrise Ceremony – “Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site”, located 18 miles northeast of Eads in Southeastern Colorado

9:00 AM Commencement of ‘Healing Run’

Friday November 29th

7:00 AM Sunrise Ceremony – TBD
Continue Healing Run to Denver

Saturday November 30th

8:00 AM Honoring Ceremony Riverside Cemetery, 5201 Brighton Boulevard, Denver
Captain Silas Soule, Company D 1st Colorado Calvary, U.S. Army and Lieutenant Joseph A. Cramer, Company K 8th Ohio Cavalry, U.S. Army

10:00 AM Continue ‘Healing Run’ from Riverside Cemetery to the Colorado State Capitol Building, 4 mile distance – MUST REGISTER TO RUN

11:00 AM At 15th and Arapahoe —near the site where Soule was assassinated—the runners will join with walkers and continue to the State Capitol Building ALL PARTICIPANTS WALK THE LAST 1-MILE

12:00 PM Presentation at the Colorado State Capitol Building (West side)

6:00 PM Candlelight Vigil at the Denver Art Museum Wheel sculpture,
100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, Denver

149th Anniversary of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre
November 29, 2013

A commemoration for victims and survivors of the massacre, and for healing of ancestral homelands.

For More Information:

Otto Braided Hair, H.(406)592-3599, C.(406)749-4325, email:sandcreek@rangeweb.net
David Halaas, H.(303)627-4195, C.(412)600-8392, email: dfhalaas@aol.com
Vanessa Braided Hair, email: nessa.grace43@gmail.com
Bill Tallbull, btallbull@gmail.com

Absolutely no drugs or alcohol allowed - Not responsible for injury or theft"

Monday, November 11, 2013

Northwestern and Pine Bush, New York


Matt Nicodemus, a fellow activist against wars in the Middle East and Orientalism, has deep roots in Evanston. Matt celebrates the efforts of indigenous and other students and faculty in finally bringing Northwestern's founding by John Evans, as an "exterminator" of human beings, to the fore. See here.

I am deeply involved in exposing Founding Amnesias in the United States toward blacks and indigenous people, in Palestine and now in Tibet (I am about to go with students to Dharmasala to do service learning with the Tibetan community in exile - see here.

That there is a deep ignorance, a willful forgetting or lack of questioning about origins, is revealed in American (or Israeli) stories that there was no one here when the settlers came. I often ask: why are there no Arapahoes on Arapaho Road? No indigenous community in Arapahoe County? "Manifest destiny" - a process of ethnic cleansing - was a bloody and despicable war against many tribes, one which, recognizing "savages" or "r...skins" as human, reveals itself immediately as ethnic cleansing (or under the UN Convention against Genocide, genocide).

***

I am also a John Evans professor - an award named to celebrate scholarship and seeking the truth over a career. It is valued highly at the University of Denver and Northwestern and yet the award is bizarrely named for an ethnic cleanser who massacred indigenous people to run railways through Colorado. The award captures a willful, even belligerent ignorance and an accompanying celebration of ethnic cleansers, people one would not choose to be in the same room with, whom one would seek to indict or remove from public life (in 1865, John Evans was asked to resign at Territorial Governor by Secretary of State Seward...). Yet such lionization is characteristic of today's America, from the names of football teams to claims about supposed American idealism, benevolence or exceptionalism in international affairs. The North defeated slavery; the US fought the Nazis; our country might try to do some decent and honorable things in foreign policy, for instance today about Iran, but acknowledgement and humility about the past would help mitigate cries for aggression - Mr. Cheney, Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney, LBJ..., please stand up - even today. See " Why Iraq is 'Indian Country'" here.

As an Evans professor, I am intent on setting the story right and doing something about the monumentalization, townshipization, mountainization - I just went on a University retreat for the Dharmasala course at Mount Evans - of a monster.

***

Last Friday's New York Times brings right out of the past a rural community of Nazi lovers - teenagers sadly putting swastikas on their school notebooks, celebrating Hitler's birthday, and harassing Jews - at Pine Bush Central School Distinct in New York State. The owner of the Washington R...s or those at Northwestern who still deny that John Evans was an "exterminator" might look into the case, might get an inkling of the parallels...

For one has but to look at any case of ethnic cleansing that horrifies one, note the role of a Founding Amnesia, of a cultivated ignorance and lionization of aggressors and mass murderers by the elite of a people which committed genocide, to begin to think about the case of others. Ignorance veiled in cliches about modernization is part of a broad pattern of vilification, murder and displacement. The Times here does a very detailed and exemplary story - they might want to extend this kind of reporting to racism in American schools and prisons toward blacks and chicanos, toward Native Americans, toward Palestinians in Israel...

If we want a sustainable society and world (and whether in the face of global warming and militarism, we can achieve this is the fundamental question of our times), we will have to acknowledge and move away from these crimes, to make a space to honor each person. There are important stirrings, as Matt celebrates, at Northwestern. But it will be yet a long process.

***

"Amazing coincidence, Alan! I was just in Evanston last week for my 35th Evanston Township High School reunion, a trip that included taking a long-planned walk down to the Northwestern campus and there spending a couple hours on my computer at Norris Student Center, where I spent countless hours as an ETHS student. Throughout my visit to my hometown, I tried to recall exactly what I'd read (admittedly not carefully enough, due to lack of time) in your description of John Evans' role in the Sand Creek Massacre, and wondered how many Evanstonians and Northwestern community members are aware of that role. Now, thanks to those inquisitive, courageous NU students and faculty that you report on, we can say that knowledge of NU's connection, through Evans, to Sand Creek is growing and spreading. I'm very happy to know that!

Matt (the child of two NU alum who met as students at Medill School of Journalism)"

***

"Swastikas, Slurs and Torment in Town’s Schools
Pine Bush, N.Y., School District Faces Accusations of Anti-Semitism

For the photograph, see here.
Todd Heisler/The New York Times

TAKING ACTION Above, parents who have sued the Pine Bush Central School District over what they say is pervasive anti-Semitism and indifference by school officials.
By BENJAMIN WEISER
Published: November 7, 2013

The swastikas, the students recalled, seemed to be everywhere: on walls, desks, lockers, textbooks, computer screens, a playground slide — even on a student’s face.

A picture of President Obama, with a swastika drawn on his forehead, remained on the wall of an eighth-grade social studies classroom for about a month after a student informed her teacher, the student said.

For some Jewish students in the Pine Bush Central School District in New York State, attending public school has been nothing short of a nightmare. They tell of hearing anti-Semitic epithets and nicknames, and horrific jokes about the Holocaust.

They have reported being pelted with coins, told to retrieve money thrown into garbage receptacles, shoved and even beaten. They say that on school buses in this rural part of the state, located about 90 minutes north of New York City and once home to a local Ku Klux Klan chapter president, students have chanted “white power” and made Nazi salutes with their arms.

The proliferation and cumulative effect of the slurs, drawings and bullying led three Jewish families last year to sue the district and its administrators in federal court; they seek damages and an end to what they call pervasive anti-Semitism and indifference by school officials.

The district — centered in Pine Bush, west of Newburgh, and serving 5,600 children from Orange, Sullivan and Ulster Counties — is vigorously contesting the suit. But a review of sworn depositions of current and former school officials shows that some have acknowledged there had been a problem, although they denied it was widespread and said they had responded appropriately with discipline and other measures.

“There are anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred that we need to address,” John Boyle, Crispell Middle School’s principal, said in a deposition in April.

In 2011, when one parent complained about continued harassment of her daughter and another Jewish girl, Pine Bush’s superintendent from 2008 to 2013, Philip G. Steinberg, wrote in an email, “I have said I will meet with your daughters and I will, but your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.”

Mr. Steinberg, who, along with two other administrators named as defendants, is Jewish, described the lawsuit in recent interviews as a “money grab.” He contended that the plaintiffs had “embellished” some allegations.

Nonetheless, reports of anti-Semitism have persisted, with at least two recent complaints made to the Jewish Federation of Greater Orange County.

The New York Times has reviewed about 3,500 pages of deposition testimony by parents, children and school administrators, which were provided by the families’ lawyers on the condition that the identities of the children, some of whom are still enrolled, be protected. Limited redactions were also made to protect student privacy.

The children, in their depositions, accuse at least 35 students, who are identified by their initials, of carrying out anti-Semitic acts; other offenders are identified less specifically.

Whatever the number of students involved in such activity, its impact was felt by the Jewish children, said Ilann M. Maazel, a lawyer for the families. “There were multiple children who just did not feel safe going to school day after day,” he said.

A Hostile Environment

In 2008, T.E., then a fifth grader at Pine Bush Elementary School, told her mother that two boys had made drawings in school that she did not understand, adding, “I think it was something bad.”

The mother, Sherri E., 48, asked her daughter to draw what she had seen, and realized it was a swastika. The mother testified that during a subsequent meeting, the elementary school principal at the time, Steve Fisch, agreed to talk with the boys but added: “What’s the big deal? They didn’t aim it towards her.” Mr. Fisch, in his deposition, denies saying that.

Not long afterward, the mother said, one of the boys called T.E. “Jew” on the bus and made an offensive gesture toward her and her daughter.

Sherri E. withdrew her daughter from Crispell Middle School last year, and is now educating her at home.

Some of the affected students saw their grades suffer, and felt socially isolated and depressed, the depositions show. One said he contemplated suicide. The swastikas, drawn or carved onto school property, or even constructed by students out of pipe cleaners, caused much of the anxiety. Sometimes they were accompanied by messages like “Die Jew,” the children testified.

“I have said I will meet with your daughters and I will, but your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.” PHILIP G. STEINBERG, superintendent of the Pine Bush Central School District from 2008 until his retirement this year, in an email to a parent who complained about continuing harassment.

“I actually started to hate myself for being Jewish,” D.C., a Pine Bush High School graduate who now attends college, said in an interview. He recalled that around the time of the Jewish holidays, teachers would ask if there were Jewish students in the class. “I learned very, very quickly not to raise my hand,” he said.

D.C., now 18, testified that he was “overwhelmed” by the number of swastikas he saw. In eighth grade, he said, he reported one that was about a foot in diameter, which he found in a bathroom; it was removed, but it reappeared quickly. He testified that he stopped reporting swastikas because “nobody was doing anything about them.”

His sister, O.C., now 15, testified about a more direct message from a sixth grader who formed his hand into the shape of a gun and “said he was killing Jews.”

In seventh grade, O.C. said, she saw a girl holding her hands up to hide a swastika on her face. The girl explained that a student had restrained her while another drew the insignia; the school said it had disciplined the two students.

O.C. said she heard slurs like Christ killer, stupid Jew, dirty Jew, disgusting Jew. “Jew was kind of an insult,” she explained.

Her father, David C., an adjunct instructor at Orange County Community College, recalled telling his daughter’s teachers that she lacked focus because of the harassment and swastikas. He had even stumbled upon one, he testified, describing how he saw a “small swastika on one of the stalls” in a school bathroom.

The children testified about hearing crude jokes about the Holocaust and the killing of Jews. “How do you get a Jewish girl’s number? Lift up her sleeve,” went one. D.C. remembered a student telling him that his ancestors had died in the Holocaust. The student then blew on his flattened hand, and said, “You are just ashes.”

“Every day at the high school,” D.C. testified, “I would go in, and I would just have the worst day of my life.”

‘So Many’ Accused

Mr. Steinberg said in his deposition that his challenge as superintendent was that “so many” students were being accused of anti-Semitic behavior.

“The issue is not three students doing it all the time; the question is if you have 30 students doing it,” he said. “How do you undo the years of inbred prejudice?”

At the edge of town, a big red barn is painted with a patriotic yellow ribbon. Across the street, a yard decorated with military equipment has a bomb painted with the words, “God Bless Our Troops.” Billboards advertise 4-H clubs; stores sell tractors, snow blowers and soft-serve ice cream.

Most people interviewed — from a bagel shop owner to McDonald’s clerks, adults and teenagers alike — said they had not heard of the swastikas. But some said they were aware of bullying or hate-fueled teasing, including a middle-school student who said she knew a boy who had drawn swastikas on the back of their school.

“It’s just hate,” she said outside after school last month. “And just being kids.”

At that point, a pickup truck pulled up nearby, and a man emerged. The man, John Barker, 42, a mechanic, cautioned that “everybody watches out for everybody.” When asked about the presence of Jewish families, he blurted out, “We don’t want them in our town.”

“They can’t drive, for number one — and they already have Sullivan County. Who really wants them here? They don’t belong here.”

Bullies on the Bus

The bus was a particularly difficult place for Jewish students. On April 19, 2010, T.E., then in sixth grade, told her mother that students on her bus had made Nazi salutes and discussed how to celebrate the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday, which was the next day.

Sherri E., who knew the date was also the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, said she reported the episode to school officials, telling them her daughter would stay home the next morning.

No violence followed, but the harassment continued, T.E. said in an interview. “I finally said, ‘I’m not going back to school,’ ” she said. She withdrew in early 2012.

D.R. was in sixth grade when a school-sponsored ski trip turned ugly. A boy on the bus ride home asked if he was Jewish, and when D.R. answered yes, a group of students began taunting him with slurs, he testified. One boy then repeatedly punched him in the stomach “until I was ready to throw up,” D.R. said in his account.


His father, Jerrold R., 52, an aircraft leasing executive, testified that his son cried uncontrollably that night. “That was the worst experience he had ever been through,” he said.

Pine Bush said it had disciplined the student who led the episode, requiring him to write an apology note and contacting his mother.

D.R., now 16 and a junior, testified that early this year, he saw four or five Pine Bush students goose-stepping and high-fiving with Nazi salutes in the hallway.

The school district has sharply disputed claims that swastikas were “everywhere” in the high school, and said it responded diligently to reports of anti-Semitic behavior. Laura Wong-Pan, a lawyer for the district, said Pine Bush had taken many steps to address “the plaintiffs’ complaints and deal with bullying in general,” like disciplining students in a manner that was “reasonably calculated to prevent a recurrence.”

Ms. Wong-Pan said that in some cases, that “included counseling, detentions, suspensions, letters to parents and meetings.”

She said the district had also held antibullying assemblies and classroom discussions; brought Holocaust survivors and experts to address students on issues like bullying, anti-Semitism and tolerance; and provided staff training on such topics.

Trouble Seeking Help

The families say their conversations with school officials led nowhere. They were told that their complaints were isolated, and were not informed that other families had raised similar issues.

T.E. testified that when she was in seventh grade, she and O.C. were reporting anti-Semitic graffiti and other behavior to a Crispell administrator, who discouraged them at one point. “We would write it down and bring it to him, usually at the end of the week,” she said. “He told us we were now just looking for trouble and that we were causing our own problems.”

Jerrold R. said that he once asked an assistant principal why his older son, A.R., then in middle school, was disciplined for defending himself against a student who had grabbed him after taunting him about the Holocaust.

The school official replied, “ ‘We have a zero-tolerance policy on fighting,’ ” the father recalled.

“And I said, ‘How about a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism?’ ”

In a court filing, the families cited eight cases of slurs or coin-throwing in which one child received two hours of detention, one was counseled, and six received no discipline.

“I was lied to, to my face, repeatedly, by the schools,” Jerrold R. recalled in an interview. The assurances, he said, “kept us from doing something that would have protected our kids, taking a more aggressive stance.”

Two parents testified about meeting with Mr. Steinberg in spring 2011. “We told him about the swastikas,” David C. said. “We told him about the name-calling. We told him about the insidious Holocaust jokes. We showed him the pictures of four or five or six of the swastikas that the girls had taken. We told him about being singled out and being bullied for being Jewish.”

Sherri E. testified that Mr. Steinberg once told her how his own son had experienced anti-Semitism, leading him to move his family and send him to a different school. “My response to him was, ‘Well, in a better economy that might be nice, but I can’t sell my house and move from here right now,’ ” she said. “Something needs to be taken care of at the school level.”

History of Racism

Mr. Steinberg, 65, who retired as superintendent in the summer, worked as a teacher, principal and superintendent in New York City’s schools before taking the Pine Bush position in 2008.

Swastikas, Slurs and Torment in Town’s Schools
Pine Bush, N.Y., School District Faces Accusations of Anti-Semitism

He said in his deposition that when he was being considered for the post, members of the Pine Bush school board cautioned him about the community’s history of anti-Semitism and Klan activity, and that it “was not a Jewish area.” He said his hiring was an example of how far the district had come.

In the 1970s, Pine Bush was the home of the grand dragon of a Klan chapter that became embroiled in a legal dispute with the state attorney general’s office, which had demanded that it reveal its membership list. The group, Independent Northern Klans Inc., which was represented by the American and New York Civil Liberties Unions, successfully rebuffed the effort. The Klan leader’s wife had been a member of Pine Bush’s school board.

The Anti-Defamation League, which said then that the chapter had about 200 “activists” in the region, says today there has been little evidence of organized Klan activity in the state in recent years.

Mr. Steinberg, in interviews, said he asked the parents who had sued why they chose Pine Bush. “I said to them, ‘If being Jewish is so important to you, why would you move into a community that does not have a synagogue?’ ”

“ ‘If you want your kids to hang out with more Jewish children or have more tolerance,’ ” he added, “ ‘why would you pick a community like Pine Bush?’ ”

He had experienced anti-Semitism as a child and as a parent, he said, elaborating on how he moved his own family within Nassau County after his young son was told by a classmate that she would not eat lunch with him because he was Jewish. “A 7-year-old doesn’t learn that except from her parents,” Mr. Steinberg remembered thinking.

“We don’t teach them hate in school, but yet we have to undo the hate and the intolerance,” he said.

Mr. Steinberg said he and his staff followed up on all complaints about anti-Semitic behavior, but substantiated fewer than a dozen examples of swastikas and other offensive graffiti. He said that through the assemblies, staff training and visits from Holocaust experts, he had sought to “try and change behaviors one student at a time.”

A Continuing Fight

In a September court hearing in White Plains, the district’s lawyer, Ms. Wong-Pan, told Judge Kenneth M. Karas that Pine Bush officials did not condone anti-Semitism. She accused the plaintiffs of distorting the facts.

“I mean, the way they describe it, it sounds like it’s the Third Reich in those schools,” she said.

At the local McDonald’s recently, a worker sweeping the floor, Corey Kyles, 25, said that his brother, Tyler, used to draw swastikas outside the town’s Boys and Girls Club, and also carve them into the high school’s wrestling mats.

“God only knows why he did it,” Mr. Kyles said of Tyler, who died in a car accident in 2009. “He probably was just stupid.”

The experiences of other Pine Bush alumni have varied. Sherri Kravitz-Donnell, the board president of Congregation Beth Hillel in nearby Walden and a longtime high school English teacher in Pine Bush until she retired in 2008, said she did not witness anti-Semitic behavior, nor did she hear about it from her son or daughter, who attended the schools.

But after they graduated, she said, her children, now in their 20s, said that they had experienced anti-Semitic teasing and slurs but had kept it from her, not wanting her to intervene.

Since 2011, at least two complaints about such behavior in Pine Bush’s Circleville Middle School have been received by the Jewish Federation in Orange County, said Susan Notar, a federation volunteer.

The first was from a parent about a boy on the school bus who said he had dressed up as a Hasidic Jew for Halloween because he “thought it was funny,” and whose brother had wanted to dress up as Hitler.

Ms. Notar said she emailed Circleville’s principal, Lisa Hankinson, who replied that she was “deeply troubled” and invited Ms. Notar to speak to the faculty. Ms. Notar said she offered the teachers resources to fight anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of intolerance.

The federation received another complaint last spring. Ms. Notar said that she again emailed Ms. Hankinson, and at her invitation returned two weeks ago to speak to an assembly of students.

Ms. Notar said Ms. Hankinson had responded appropriately. “I teach about the Holocaust,” Ms. Notar said. “I know what can happen when people look the other way.”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Poem: friend



You will lose

freezing

the money you breezily

spend

lose

on the jailer the ship of many sails

you will lose

freezing

all your money


and have to leave

with the one who slunk away

unCorybantic

to whatever fine prison

Crito


your money will

freezing

my death not so inconsolable


take us

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Protest against the Washington "R..." this Thursday in Minnesota





I attended a vigorous and colorful protest against the Washington Redskins a week and a half ago. See here. The name recalls the book cover of human skin at the Iliff School of Theology - see here and here - and the 20,000 skulls decapitated at the Smithsonian - see here - as Glenn Morris said at the rally in Denver. We marched over to greet the bus bringing the Washington team. It was important to drive home the depth of racism in the team's name, the connection between the word and the ethnic cleansing that accompanied it.

***

Glenn suggested that everyone there was demonstrating for their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of their kids. This is true especially of Native Americans but also of blacks, whites, Chicanos and Asians. Unite many people against native americans and on behalf of a capitalism which hurts most of them goes back to Bacon's revolt in the 1676. As Peter Silver's Our Savage Neighbors shows, it characterized and corrupted the American Revolution. So Peter Rachleff's essay - Peter teaches and organizes at Macalester - below about labor in Minnesota demonstrating against Washington in the 1992 Super Bowl and again tomorrow night is very important. Divide and rule is the secret of oppression, the secret of the impoverishment of most Americans to benefit the .0001% and the military-industrial-Congressional-academic-media complex. To fight it by changing the racist name of this sports team (not to mention that of the Atlanta Braves or the DU Pioneers or the Chicago Black Hawks or the North Dakota Fighting "Sioux" - just without any Sioux, and others...) is an important starting point toward creating a democratic society, one in which each person is respected, no one demeaned.

***

The Metropolitan
National protest hits Denver sports scene

By Nikki Work
October 30, 2013

For the photograph, see here.

Protesters lead by Glenn Morris, left, gather and chant “hey hey, ho ho, these racist mascots got to go,” outside of Sports Authority Field at Mile High Oct. 27. Morris’ supporters hope to change the NFL Redskins’ name.
Photo by Courtland Wilson

This week, the Denver Broncos game was about more than touchdowns, tackles and tailgates. For the group of about 75 protesters at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, it was a battle for their culture.

“I’m a human being, not an animal, nor a mascot,” read one of the protester’s signs.

The protest at the Oct. 27 game versus the Washington Redskins was organized by the Colorado American Indian Movement and Idle No More Denver.

“We’ll no longer be sitting by and idle. We will be heard,” said Gerald Montour, one of the leaders at the protest.

David Weiden, assistant professor of Political Science at MSU Denver, was among the protesters who gathered in front of the Tivoli to march over to the stadium. A member of the Rosebud Lakota tribe, Weiden protested to stand up against language he said is offensive to Native Americans.

“The ideology of it was to try to bring awareness to the fact that the use of Native sports mascots is highly offensive to Native people,” Weiden said. “Especially the term ‘redskins,’ which is the equivalent of what is commonly known as the ‘n-word.’”

At the stadium, the group protested near the Redskins’ busses and then spread their message among the Broncos fans.

“I thought it was a really positive thing,” Weiden said. “Everybody came together in the community. There were Natives there, there were non-Natives, and everybody was really cooperative and happy and they were united in the cause, but in a positive way. The only time we had a bad reaction, some Washington fans drove by and curse at us and spat at us, called us effing idiots,” Weiden said. “That was distressing, but everybody kept their cool.”

Though the protesters gathered to voice their opposition to the Washington team’s name specifically, he emphasized that the discontent spreads beyond just one team.

“The argument that always gets made is that, well, Native sports mascots honor Natives,” Weiden said. “Natives do not feel that way. We do not feel that having a team called the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins — we don’t feel that it’s a term of respect.”

Jesse White-Feeney, an MSU Denver senior of Native American heritage, said though the name of the Redskins doesn’t bother him, he can understand its impact.

“Personally it doesn’t offend me, just because I’ve never personally experienced someone calling me that name in a derogatory way,” White-Feeney said. “But I don’t think it’s a great name and I can understand why plenty of people are upset and offended by it.”

Additional reporting by Kayla Whitney and Courtland Wilson.

***

"Struggle Against Racist Sports Nicknames Gives Labor
Movement an Opportunity to Discover its own History –
And to Find a Path Forward in that History

In early September the AFL-CIO held a dramatic convention in Los Angeles. With the labor movement’s segment of the U.S. workforce down to a meager 11%, leaders urged the pursuit of new paths, what they called “a historic opening in the labor movement.” President Richard Trumka called on the more than one hundred years’ old federation to open its arms to embrace new kind of organizations – worker centers, worker associations, and associate member organizations. It’s time, he said, that the labor movement become a movement of “the 99%.” He and other leaders called particular attention to the International Domestic Workers’ Network, the National Taxi Workers’ Alliance, United Students Against Sweatshops, and Working America, as they encouraged unions to develop strategies which used links with such organizations to build community support for workers and to fight against racism and on behalf of immigrants’ rights.

As Minnesota labor organizations explore how they might place themselves and their members on this course, they can find a valuable blueprint in their own history.

Controversy and protest are dogging the Washington “R*” (I will not write or say that name) football team as they prepare to play the Minnesota Vikings this Thursday evening, November 7, at the Metrodome. Native Americans, journalists, civil rights activists, and politicians are raising quite a hue and cry for the team to drop its patently racist, offensive nickname. A “Change the Mascot” protest which greeted the Washington team’s buses in Denver last Sunday got national media coverage. Twin Cities branches of the American Indian Movement (AIM) have called for a march from the American Indian Center on Franklin Avenue to the dome on Thursday, asking protestors to gather at 5PM.

Twenty years ago, on January 26, 1992, local AIM activists led some 2,000 protestors to the same Metrodome, where the Washington “R*’s” were playing the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl. Among them were members of the Chippewa, Sioux, Winnebago, and Choctaw communities, as well as representatives of the National Congress of American Indians. Only months earlier, they had had to withstand the insult of the Atlanta “B*’s” playing the Minnesota Twins in the World Series. Atlanta fans, led by owner Ted Turner, disrespected native peoples by intoning and performing the “tomahawk chop” for all to see. Native activists were determined to draw a line in the sand – or the snow – and challenge these racist nicknames and behaviors once and for all. Don Messec, anti-defamation coordinator for the National Congress of American Indians, said “I’m sure future generations will look back on a name like the Washington ‘R*’s’ and wonder “How could that have been used in 1992? How did society allow it?’”

Among the protestors that day were several hundred activists from the local labor movement, led by Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE) Local 17. This union had been involved in a protracted battle with the management of the Normandy Inn. In July1991, the Normandy had reopened after a substantial facelift, partially funded with taxpayer dollars. Although the union had helped the owners get public funding and the veteran workers had waited to reclaim their jobs and return to work, the owners shocked everyone by refusing to rehire their workers and refusing to renew the union contract. About 140 workers, many with thirty or more years’ seniority, found themselves unemployed. They and their union responded with boisterous picket lines, as the Normandy became a poster child for the anti-union demeanor of employers in the Reagan-Bush era. While the picket lines were lively and enjoyed considerable support from other union members, the Normandy’s management held firm.

As the Super Bowl approached, union activists realized that it could provide them with some leverage. Surely, every hotel in Minneapolis would be full for that huge week-end, and many were raising their prices to make the most of the opportunity. Local 17’s leadership held a series of meetings to develop a strategy, which led them to seek out some unusual allies.

They invited peace activist Marv Davidov to conduct civil disobedience trainings for union members. A veteran of the civil rights “freedom ride” of 1961 and the architect of the Honeywell Project, in which hundreds of local activists had committed civil disobedience at Honeywell’s plant gates to protest the company’s production of anti-personnel “cluster bombs,” he was a well-known fixture of the local progressive community. While the Honeywell demonstrations had received mixed greetings from the Teamsters’ Union which represented its workers (the union officers were openly hostile, but many members were sympathetic), Marv was a visible supporter of union struggles, including the Hormel strike in Austin in 1985-1986, and widely respected by labor activists who also identified with movements against U.S. intervention in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Iraq. Local 17 members, Normandy Inn workers, and other local trade unionists trusted him.

Union leaders also reached out to AIM activists, particularly Clyde and Vernon Bellecourt, who had announced their intentions to protest the Washington team’s nickname. The Bellecourts and AIM activists were as much a part of the local progressive community as was Marv Davidov and some of the local labor movement. Their support for the Wounded Knee struggle of the mid-1970s, their opposition to U.S. foreign policy, and their anger at the corporate attack on workers had brought these specific groups together in protests, rallies, and picket lines for years. Together, they hatched a plan to link the Normandy struggle with the Washington racist mascot struggle.

On the morning of the day before the Super Bowl, Saturday, January 25, several dozen activists crowded into the lobby of the Normandy Inn and sat down. Several hundred supporters marched around the building, carrying signs and chanting. The hotel’s ability to conduct business was utterly disrupted, and their guests were inconvenienced in a big way. Management called the police, who, after several hours of negotiation, arrested seventeen activists who refused to get up on their own and leave. Union participants in the action discussed the history of the labor movement’s use of sitdown strikes, particularly in the 1930s, and the civil rights movement’s use of sit-ins in the 1960s. They felt a strong connection to this history, and they were inspired by their own activism.

The following day, Super Bowl Sunday, hundreds of labor activists, led by a large contingent from the Normandy group, joined forces with AIM and other protestors outside the Metrodome. Despite the bitter cold – and an almost equally chilling response from the football fans – they carried their signs, chanted their slogans, distributed their leaflets, and built community among themselves. They lamented that neither the ownership of the Normandy Inn nor the owners of the Washington football team had been willing to listen to the protestors. They discussed the ways that the expropriation of Native peoples was linked to an economy and a power structure that would toss aside workers with thirty years of loyal service to a corporation, and to a government which would wage war on people thousands and thousands of miles away. The demonstration was quite a school for the protestors, and they emerged with new knowledge and new allies.

To be sure, the owners of the Washington football team did not change its nickname. Various strategies were tried in the ensuing years. The Morning Star Institute and the Dorsey & Whitney Law Firm petitioned the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that, under law, they should prohibit “disparaging, scandalous, contemptuous, or disreputable” trademarks. After seven years of motions, depositions, hearings, and presentations, they won, only to see the decision overturned in short order by the Washington, D.C., District Court. When the D.C. city council threatened to ban the nickname in 1997, owner Dan Snyder moved the team to Landover, Maryland. In March 2013, nineteen congressmen and women, led by Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa (without voting rights, of course) and Eleanor Holmes Norton of D.C. (who also lacks voting rights), introduced a resolution that would void any trademark that disparages Native Americans. That bill has languished amidst the many shenanigans in the House of Representatives this year. Just last week, local AIM organizations asked the newly created Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to ban the Washington team’s logo and mascot as racist. Their petition was turned down. And so the protest that will take place this Thursday evening.

While the struggle against the racist nickname has failed so far, the Normandy labor dispute had a very different ending. Two weeks after the 1992 Super Bowl, the owners of the Normandy Inn did relent. They returned to the bargaining table and struck a deal with Local 17. One hundred and twenty-one workers were offered their jobs back, and the union contract was renewed. All agreed that their actions in the Normandy lobby on January 25 and outside the Metrodome on the 26th had turned the tide. This was an unusual victory in an era full, too full, of labor defeats.

Although HERE Local 17 and the Normandy Inn workers won their struggle in 1992, the labor movement’s overall record has continued to be dismal. The unionized segment of the workforce has declined steadily, and workers of all sorts have experienced diminishing wages and benefits, diminishing job security, and fading hope for the future. The 2013 AFL-CIO convention urged labor organizations to step outside the box of conventional collective bargaining and reach out to potential allies of all sorts. We’re all part of the “99%.” Minnesota unions don’t have to look very far for ideas. They can take a cue from the struggle against racist sports nicknames in their own past. Let’s hope we see lots of union jackets marching outside the Metrodome this Thursday night.

Peter Rachleff
November 3, 2013