Bill Ayers

Part of William Ayers’ response to his villification by just about everybody:

McCain and Palin demanded to “know the full extent” of the Obama-Ayers “relationship” so that they can know if Obama, as Palin put it, “is telling the truth to the American people or not.”

This is just plain stupid.

Obama has continually been asked to defend something that ought to be at democracy’s heart: the importance of talking to as many people as possible in this complicated and wildly diverse society, of listening with the possibility of learning something new, and of speaking with the possibility of persuading or influencing others.

The McCain-Palin attacks not only involved guilt by association, they also assumed that one must apply a political litmus test to begin a conversation.

On Oct. 4, Palin described her supporters as those who “see America as the greatest force for good in this world” and as a “beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy.” But Obama, she said, “Is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America.” In other words, there are “real” Americans — and then there are the rest of us.

In a robust and sophisticated democracy, political leaders—and all of us—ought to seek ways to talk with many people who hold dissenting, or even radical, ideas. Lacking that simple and yet essential capacity to question authority, we might still be burning witches and enslaving our fellow human beings today.

Maybe we could welcome our current situation—torn by another illegal war, as it was in the ’60s—as an opportunity to search for the new.

Perhaps we might think of ourselves not as passive consumers of politics but as fully mobilized political actors. Perhaps we might think of our various efforts now, as we did then, as more than a single campaign, but rather as our movement-in-the-making.

We might find hope in the growth of opposition to war and occupation worldwide. Or we might be inspired by the growing movements for reparations and prison abolition, or the rising immigrant rights movement and the stirrings of working people everywhere, or by gay and lesbian and transgender people courageously pressing for full recognition.

Yet hope—my hope, our hope—resides in a simple self-evident truth: the future is unknown, and it is also entirely unknowable.

History is always in the making. It’s up to us. It is up to me and to you. Nothing is predetermined. That makes our moment on this earth both hopeful and all the more urgent—we must find ways to become real actors, to become authentic subjects in our own history.

We may not be able to will a movement into being, but neither can we sit idly for a movement to spring full-grown, as from the head of Zeus.

We have to agitate for democracy and egalitarianism, press harder for human rights, learn to build a new society through our self-transformations and our limited everyday struggles.

At the turn of the last century, Eugene Debs, the great Socialist Party leader from Terre Haute, Ind., told a group of workers in Chicago, “If I could lead you into the Promised Land, I would not do it, because someone else would come along and lead you out.”

In this time of new beginnings and rising expectations, it is even more urgent that we figure out how to become the people we have been waiting to be.

I don’t know what Bill Ayers did or didn’t do forty years ago, but I’m hearing him now.  I am frankly sick of people judging “the ’60s” and “the boomer generation” and finding it and them entirely wanting.  There were contradictions in what people were doing and in the results; but a lot of people tried.  Sometimes, I wonder why people aren’t doing now what they did then.  I try not to come up with “answers” that would blame another whole generation.  It’s worth looking at some of that history with a clear and critical, but fair, eye.  Someone might learn something helpful.  The ’60s was by no means a dead loss.  If the election of Barack Obama is recognized, at least in part, as the result of the struggle for civil rights undertaken by white and African Americans of that time, perhaps there was also something of merit in the struggles for civil liberties, peace, justice and economic equality both within America and beyond it.  Not that those struggles can be separated.

Bill Ayers’ full statement is here

UPDATE:  One day I’ll change my smelly socks and sandals, dye my grey hair another colour, pick up my saggy ideals and uncool slogans and respond to this piece of sloppy, ahistorical misunderstanding.

The ’60s Were GOOD!

Gary Leupp at Counterpunch:

Three years after McCain was shot down over Hanoi while on that bombing mission, [Bill] Ayers by his own admission participated in a bombing of a New York City police station, and went on to bomb the Capitol and Pentagon in the next two years. Each action came in response to a specific escalation of the Vietnam War. There were no casualties, and Ayers was never convicted of a crime. He denies that the bombings were acts of terrorism and points out instead that the war in Vietnam was a war of terror. (During this time, by the way, the 11 to 13 year old Obama was living in Indonesia and Hawai’i.)

Bill Ayers like many of his generation was a follower of Martin Luther King before joining the SDS then some of its spin-offs which (like many in the New Left) parted company with the doctrinaire non-violence they perceived as ineffectual. But consider his background. While studying at the University of Michigan in 1965, he joined a picket line protesting an Ann Arbor pizzeria’s policy of refusing service to African-Americans. (18 years later, when I studied at UM, such racist exclusion was unimaginable. How the world had changed because of people like Ayers!) He participated in a draft board sit-in, punished by 10 days in jail. He worked in progressive childhood education. These are the kind of rebellious activities that enraged the white supremicists (then far more respectable and mainstream than now), the kneejerk anticommunists, the reactionaries terrified by rock ‘n roll and the youth counterculture. But what’s there to damn here, for those who aren’t misled by a washed-up generation of racist uptight bigots?

People over 50 remember that period very well, and many much younger people view it with envy and fascination. After all, today’s youth listen to the Beatles, Stones, Doors, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead, considering them their own. (We in the ’60s rarely listened to the music of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s.) College students flock to courses on the ’60s, viewing that decade as one of turmoil, excitement, and progressive change. The verdict’s in: the war was wrong, segregation and all racism was wrong, sexism and homophobia were wrong—and the limited social progress as we’ve seen since the ’60s is largely rooted in the tireless efforts of the activists of that decade.  The ’60s were good!

Read the whole thing here

h/t wood s lot

Repression in Minnesota

Goodness.  And everyone critisized China for suppressing free speech, human rights and peaceful protest during the Olympics!

Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff’s department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than “fire code violations,” and early this morning, the Sheriff’s department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying.

Jane Hamsher and I were at two of those homes this morning — one which had just been raided and one which was in the process of being raided. Each of the raided houses is known by neighbors as a “hippie house,” where 5-10 college-aged individuals live in a communal setting, and everyone we spoke with said that there had never been any problems of any kind in those houses, that they were filled with “peaceful kids” who are politically active but entirely unthreatening and friendly. Posted below is the video of the scene, including various interviews, which convey a very clear sense of what is actually going on here.

In the house that had just been raided, those inside described how a team of roughly 25 officers had barged into their homes with masks and black swat gear, holding large semi-automatic rifles, and ordered them to lie on the floor, where they were handcuffed and ordered not to move. The officers refused to state why they were there and, until the very end, refused to show whether they had a search warrant. They were forced to remain on the floor for 45 minutes while the officers took away the laptops, computers, individual journals, and political materials kept in the house. One of the individuals renting the house, an 18-year-old woman, was extremely shaken as she and others described how the officers were deliberately making intimidating statements such as “Do you have Terminator ready?” as they lay on the floor in handcuffs. The 10 or so individuals in the house all said that though they found the experience very jarring, they still intended to protest against the GOP Convention, and several said that being subjected to raids of that sort made them more emboldened than ever to do so.

To see that video and read the rest, go here


Gee, how did I miss Obama’s patriotism speech?  If I’d heard it, I know for sure that I would have stopped giving him credit for being an intelligent human being.  Here’s some of what he said, as noted by Larry E.:

Still, what is striking about today’s patriotism debate is the degree towhich it remains rooted in the culture wars of the 1960s – in arguments that go back forty years or more. In the early years of the civil rights movement and opposition to theVietnam War, defenders of the status quo often accused anybody who questioned thewisdom of government policies of being unpatriotic. Meanwhile, some of those in theso-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself – by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day.

Most Americans never bought into these simplistic world-views – these caricatures of left and right. Most Americans understood that dissent does not make one unpatriotic, and that there is nothing smart or sophisticated about a cynical disregard for America’s traditions and institutions. And yet the anger and turmoil of that period never entirely drained away. All too often our politics still seems trapped in these old, threadbare arguments – a fact most evident during our recent debates about the war in Iraq, when those who opposed administration policy were tagged by some as unpatriotic, and a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.   download here [pdf]

The betrayal is Obama’s.  “… a general providing his best counsel …”  Hah!  I see nothing unpatriotic about a critique of Gen Petraeus that notes that it appeared that he had been bought by Bush and Cheney.  I would agree with that analysis and I think it’s a betrayal.  If some Americans feel betrayed and are agitating for a military man who is able to sustain his own opinion without selling out to the political goals of the Commander in Chief, I’d say they are patriotic by comparison.  I kinda hate the whole “patriotism” game, but it is an American trope that appears to be unavoidable.  This is America, love it or shut the feck up ya bunch ‘a poopie traitors.

Holy hells bells am I ever sick of the ahistorical, ignorant asses who characterize the movements of the ’60s the way Obama does here.  He wouldn’t bloody well BE WHERE HE IS without the movements of the ’60s, which included the CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT led by Martin Luther King, the PEACE MOVEMENT, which made it impossible for the Viet Nam war to continue, the FEMINIST MOVEMENT, from which Obama’s accomplished wife, Michelle, has benefitted and from which his daughters will benefit I sincerely hope. Jeeeebus Michelle Obama was educated at an Ivy League School and worked for a corporate law firm – THAT didn’t happen in the early ’60s –  people may have loved Jackie Kennedy but she was no feminist – it actually wasn’t until HILLARY CLINTON that the stoopid role broke half-way open.

If not for the Black Panthers, the community work that Obama likes to play up (even though he only did it for three years) might not YET have been invented, to say nothing of school breakfast and lunch programmes, head start programmes, community health programmes, hostels and beds for the homeless and transient, food banks, rape crisis centres, shelters for abused women, Roe v. Wade  ETC AD INFINITUM.

And US veterans of the Viet Nam war, very many of whom were involved in the peace movement when they came home, often received the ONLY attention they EVER got from student activists who gave them the models for self-help groups and welcomed them into their midst.  Remember, PTSD wasn’t accepted then -those vets didn’t just get poor treatment, they got NO treatment.  Dick Nixon never threw a SINGLE VICTORY PARADE for Viet Nam vets.  I’m sure some of them were confused about the anti-war environment when they returned to the US – after all, who wants to risk your life or sustain permanent injury in a war that most of the citizens of your country think is useless in addition to immoral.  For many, I’m sure it was damaging and alienating.  Who advocated for the vets?

… the claim that antiwar activists “failed to honor the veterans” of Vietnam. That is bullshit. It was the antiwar movement (usually in cooperation with Vietnam vets), not the American Legion, not the VFW, not the bloodlust war hawks, who established the coffeehouses, the counseling centers, the job centers. It was the antiwar movement, not the American Legion, not the VFW, who condemned the VA for refusing to consider PTSD a real condition. Indeed, for several years the Legion and the VFW weren’t interested in reaching out to or even dealing with the “pot-smoking” Vietnam vets “who lost a war for the first time in US history.” Buying into the concocted rightwing meme that “the antiwar movement hated the troops” has had a real political cost over the years and it is a disgrace to see Obama embracing it.

The actions of some activists eventually ended the draft.  A couple of priests, a Catholic nun and five other activists sparked that movement when they were jailed for defacing draft cards with their OWN BLOOD.

Flag burning can also be understood as an act of patriotism:

Flag desecration is recognized as an “epiphenomenon” that accompanies wars and other events that promote dissent by some citizens and “compulsory patriotism” by the state.

[emphasis mine]

Sure there were fringe elements of the ’60s movements that fell into the very violence they demonstrated against.  And yes, there were some kids who fell into the “counterculture” for the fun and the drugs and little else.  But it is the height of anti-patriotism to fail to acknowledge the hundreds and hundreds of kids, black and white and Native American, who did more than write blogs about their beliefs.  There were the  freedom rides through the South:

… an interracial group would board buses destined for the South. The whites would sit in the back and the blacks in the front. At rest stops, the whites would go into blacks-only areas and vice versa. “This was not civil disobedience, really,” explained CORE director James Farmer, “because we [were] merely doing what the Supreme Court said we had a right to do.” But the Freedom Riders expected to meet resistance. “We felt we could count on the racists of the South to create a crisis so that the federal government would be compelled to enforce the law,” said Farmer. “When we began the ride I think all of us were prepared for as much violence as could be thrown at us. We were prepared for the possibility of death.” [28]


The Freedom Riders never made it to New Orleans. Many spent their summer in jail. Some were scarred for life from the beatings they received. But their efforts were not in vain. They forced the Kennedy administration to take a stand on civil rights, which was the intent of the Freedom Ride in the first place. In addition, the Interstate Commerce Commission, at the request of Robert Kennedy, outlawed segregation in interstate bus travel in a ruling, more specific than the original Supreme Court mandate, that took effect in September, 1961. The Freedom Riders may not have finished their trip, but they made an important and lasting contribution to the civil rights movement.

Kids were murdered at South Carolina State University after a demonstration demanding the integration of a bowling alley in Orangeburg.  Kids were murdered by the National Guard while demonstrating against the Viet Nam war at Kent State University in Ohio.  Native Americans died at the siege at Wounded Knee Pine Ridge Reservation:

There was a time in 1973 when the possibility of change presented itself. People seized that moment. And those moments can happen at any time. I hope I’m part of more moments like that.”

These were not patriots?

These committed individuals, these collective actions, have been criminally forgotten or stereotyped out of existence.  In those days, there was a politics of hope and change for which millions of people put their bodies and their lives right out there ON THE LINE.  We ought to be PROUD of that heritage.  Barack Obama does all those people a huge disservice in co-opting their words without one iota of their intelligence and commitment.

I no longer see the difference between John McCain and Barack Obama except that Obama has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the millenial generation of so-called Progressives.  I think it will actually do more harm to America if it elects Barack Obama.  It will take that much longer for them to figure out that they’ve voted for a wolf in sheep’s clothing and that much longer for the people to take decisive action against the Emperor and for the American Empire to fall.  He’s actually a dangerous man.  At least with McCain, you know what you’re going to get.  BARACK OBAMA’S NOT WEARING ANY CLOTHES, guys.  He’s parading around like the next emperor apparent and he’s completely neckid.  He’s sounding an awful lot like Newt Gingrich:

“From 1965 to 1994, we did strange and weird things as a country. Now we’re done with that and we have to recover. The counterculture is a momentary aberration in American history that will be looked back upon as a quaint period of Bohemianism brought to the national elite”—the notorious “counterculture McGoverniks,” an elite who “taught self-indulgent, aristocratic values without realizing that if an entire society engaged in the indulgences of an elite few, you could tear the society to shreds.”

That is, I’m sorry, I can’t resist, an abominable lie.  If people believe it without questioning, perhaps the result will be deserved, though that sounds more vengeful than I’d like.

Here’s a critique of Obama’s patriotism rant that I can’t beat:  Lotus.  Glenn Greenwald’s also has a few comments, here

Before I leave off, I’ll share with you a description of the 1960s that I think actually makes some sense, just so ya know:

A generation that, as I wrote to a friend some years ago, lived with

the sense that you could make a difference, that your dreams could be lived out, that they really could come true. For all the sexism we came to acknowledge in the counterculture and the peace movement, people were trying to live more egalitarian lives. For all the undercurrents of racism we dug out of white activist’s relations with black groups, people were trying to work it out and live more justly. For all the awareness of our umbilical cord connections to the consumer society, people were trying to live more simply, with greater ecological awareness. There was a sense that you could make it better both in yourself and in others by both your social example and your political actions.

The Press & Mrs. Roosevelt

There certainly were a lot of people who disliked Eleanor Roosevelt.  She was an agitator for civil rights and she put her mouth where her money was (yup, that’s what I meant to say) and an activisist for workers and the poor.  J. Edgar Hoover kept an FBI file on her activities until the day she died and HUAC would love to have gotten hold of her.  Here’s an editorial of the day, for a taste of the case against her – a mild Op-Ed compared to some of what was said of her.  I might add that I think it no accident that Hillary Clinton wrote the Foreward to Roosevelt’s published correspondence – Sen Clinton understands something of the toughness that her foremother developed in order to carry on with the work that was so important to her.

From Westbrook Pegler, WaPo of the day:

For all the gentle sweetness of my nature and my prose, I have been accused of rudeness to Mrs. Roosevelt when I only said she was impudent, presumptuous and conspiratorial, and that her withdrawal from public life at this time would be a fine public service.

That is just an opinion, and there may be other opinions on the subject, but I maintain that it is expressed in chaste and gentlemanly language and with no more vigor than most of us are used to in our discussion of controversial subjects.This lady is a meddler in many matters which are very improper business for the wife of the President of the United States, a status which is constantly invoked for her lest her activities be objectively discussed as those of an ordinary citizen.

Long ago Mrs. Roosevelt meddled in the Newspaper Guild, which was a Communist organization. Absolutely ineligible even on the pretext of her public diary, which is not her principal occupation, Mrs. Roosevelt nevertheless accepted membership to which she was not entitled and immediately became the political foe of all those American newspapermen and women who knew the character of the Guild, detested and resisted the dirty work of tireless Muscovites and bravely suffered its heartless persecutions.

She was granted membership because she was the President’s wife and for no other reason, which meant that the Communists wanted to make use of her position. Thus the victims of the plot could not but feel the highest office in their own country, the Presidency, was permitted to be used against them in the interests of men and women whose mission was not to improve the lot of reporters but to establish the Soviet system of government here, and they were absolutely right.

Legally Mrs. Roosevelt, even as the wife of the president, has no more authority than any other citizen of the Republic. She is on a common footing with Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Jones and Mrs. George Spelvin, but we always treat our Madame President with a special respect because the office of her husband, which she partakes of, is the highest temporal authority in our country. But when our first lady commercializes that respect for profit and in competition with the rest of the people by her association with persons who associate with enemies of the American system, antagonizes the people, it is she, not her critics, who fails in respect for the office.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s quiet salting around of her personal friends in the Government employ is no new thing. The Dies Committee has known of this for a long time, and has muttered about it, but the Dies Committee lives under a political sword and has had to speak softly lest Mrs. Roosevelt exert her influence to starve it of money with which to continue its work. Mrs. Roosevelt has openly used her office against this committee of the United States Congress.

Mrs. Roosevelt has absolutely no right to appoint anyone to any public position, but now it comes out that she has named one actor, one eurythmicist, or dancer, and one secretary from her private payroll to paid jobs in the Office of Civilian Defense, and one professional youth-mugg to an unpaid position in the same important department. The youth, incidentally, formerly was a fair haired boy of the Communist Front, married a young campus cutie who has been infected with the Moscow principles and celebrated her marriage with a piece in a Muscovite paper, entitled “My Father was a Liar” was divorced, and now, at the age of 32, is held up to the American people by Mrs. Roosevelt as a person fit for leadership of American youth. He, also, is on Mrs. Roosevelt’s private payroll, the money for which is derived from the commercialization of the Presidential office.

One day in London, during the last war, one of the tabloids came out with a shocking scandal, exposing the fact that “petticoat government” had been established in Whitehall, and especially in the war office, whereby certain favorites of an influential lady were planted in safe and cushy jobs in Blighty. Winston Churchill would remember it well, for the lady was a relative of his. The British reacted calmly, the lady’s ears were slapped down and Britain got into the war.

Still scrupulously avoiding impoliteness, I insist that Mrs. Roosevelt’s activities have been not helpful but, on the whole, very harmful, that she has been guilty of imposition and effrontery that, for all her pleadings against discrimination for creed and color, has herself actively encouraged cruel discrimination against Americans refusing to join unions wherefore she should retire.

The Washington Post February 12, 1942



On the Blogs

From Rustbelt Intellectual:

The grim consequences of racial and economic inequality in the United States are especially visible in our health care system. By every measure, the health gaps between blacks and whites are stark. And to a great extent in the United States, where you live determines your access to goods and resources, the quality of social services, and the accessibility of affordable and decent health care. That America is still balkanized by race, despite the gains of the long struggle for civil rights, plays an important role in the maldistribution of resources by place. But just as important are wide disparaties in health, social services, and education by state and, within states, by locality, the long term consequence of America’s distinctive form of governance that relies on the states to bear much of the cost of social provision.

Continued   here


Herstory II

From Women’s eNews:

During the 1960s many women in political movements grew tired of being relegated to making coffee instead of making policy. The male-dominated anti-war movement in particular obscured women’s work for peace and by the end of the decade, it would be clear that women needed a movement of their own.

In the summer of 1967, the fledgling National Organization for Women, launched by Betty Friedan and others, was gathering steam, while a lot of younger women headed for San Francisco or elsewhere bedecked in beads and humming Janis Joplin songs for “The Summer of Love.”

But as the number of U.S. troops in Vietnam rose to nearly 500,000 and the majority of Americans said they did not know why the troops were there, what came to be called “Vietnam Summer” absorbed the energies of still more women. All summer long, volunteers across the country knocked on doors and educated citizens about the human, moral and economic costs of the war and the legitimacy of dissent.

Who were those women? Since nobody signed attendance sheets, participants in Vietnam Summer show their faces serendipitously. A recent obituary of Dr. Barbara Haumpt Mohrov, a Massachusetts professor of German literature, reveals her among the hundreds of anonymous female participants: “Starting with the local activities of the national movement ‘Vietnam Summer’ (1967) she participated in many vigils, protests and other activities attempting to promote peaceful resolutions to U.S. military actions.”

Vietnam Summer took its name from the civil rights movement’s “Freedom Summer” of 1964, when thousands of people went south to register black voters. Many civil rights activists joined the war protests. Among them was Diane Nash, who had orchestrated freedom rides to Mississippi three years earlier and was a firm believer in non-violence.

Along with writer Barbara Deming, whose history of non-violent activism stretched back to protests against nuclear bombs, Nash joined a delegation of women traveling to Vietnam to meet with the Vietnamese Women’s Union. A delegation from the older Women’s Strike for Peace–Dagmar Wilson, Mary Clarke and Ruth Krause–did the same in 1967.

The women’s delegations returned to expose the government’s deception about the extent of bombing and its damage to Vietnam and its civilians. They also promulgated a new chant among younger activists in the streets: “The women of Vietnam are our sisters.” And, as delegate Vivian Rothstein said, “The trip thrust me into the role of public speaker for the peace community and changed my sense of my personal power forever.”

At the end of Vietnam Summer, the young activist movement gathered in Chicago, Ill., to shape its future course. Women there were ignored and ridiculed. Some, including Vivian Rothstein, left to form a group of their own that became the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. A new political movement was being born.

Louise Bernikow


A Feminist Reflects on 1968

Feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham reflects on the liberation movements of 1968:

Already in the 1960s marginalised groups such as single mothers, the homeless, people with disabilities had been asserting their right to define their own problems and devise solutions. In America the civil rights movement and black power had been symbolically challenging segregated space and racial stereotyping. In 1968, these new political insights converged into a vision of human liberation that resisted cultural containment. In this utopian moment, it appeared possible to conceive new ways of relating, qualitatively different forms of living, even the transformed perceptions pursued by artists and mystics. 

With hindsight, it is evident that these revelatory glimpses did not simply derive from the movements of rebellion. The structure of capitalist society was beginning to shift in a manner barely evident at the time. How could we have known that empowerment would be the adman’s dream ticket or that the market would zoom in so thoroughly on personal identity. Impossible to know how liberation’s potential would be muffled in contorted debates about competing claims of oppression and esoteric discussions about cultural representation that eclipsed basic recognitions of inequality and injustice. 

Upping the Anti

And Vinay Bahl reflects on her own reading of Rowbotham’s work, especially this bit –

Movements develop in the process of communicating themselves…. We have not even words for ourselves. Thinking is difficult when the words are not your own. Borrowed concepts are like passed down clothes, they fit badly and do not confidence…. We walk and talk and think in living contradiction.

 and how these words are useful for explaining her dilemma as a “Third World” woman using Western feminist concepts and categories:

It is in this historical context (and while reading Sheila Rowbotham) that I found myself thinking of building bridges among women, rather than promoting the idea of “differences” according to the prevailing fashion of academic and political discourse. But I am also aware that I shall be misunderstood if I claim to agree with Sheila without examining the relevance of the fact that she is a white British feminist and I am an Indian (problematic concept) “colored” woman. This threshold dilemma arises because postmodernism in the academy does not allow me any other voice except standing against the West as “different.” Indeed, I have generally found it very difficult to communicate with Western feminists (with a few exceptions of course) because when not feeling guilty for not “understanding” me, their predominant mode has been that of condescension. These experiences made me aware that I am supposed to remain comfortably “different” and alien in U.S. society or find support from the Indian community (which has its own oppressive mechanism to control their women, that I reject) for the rest of my life.

I cannot accept this imposed reality because if I have to constantly define myself in opposition to the constructs of “otherness” thrust on me, then that would be the surest way to “othering” myself I am well aware that the moment one allows oneself to be subsumed within categories of “otherness” one automatically empowers what one is set against. What I seek instead is the creation of voices of dissent, of multiple points of attack and defense, sharply individuated yet linked.

Any theory, if it is to be of some practical use in the material world, must be capable not only of explaining material reality but also of providing a tool to act upon that reality. All of us know that today no country is formally a colony, but this does not mean that we are living in a postcolonial era. It only means that relations between First and Third World now take a more concealed form. We are well aware of the debt-dependency of Third World economies, of the no longer subtle means of control exercised by the World Bank and the IMF. It is in this wider context that the link between the micro-politics of the academy and the macro-politics of imperialism exists. Therefore, it becomes imperative that scholars both from First and Third Worlds should be aware of the ways in which their investigative and interpretive studies promote or serve the designs of imperialism. As scholars our concern should be to find the lived truth of specific human relationships in specific historical circumstances and not the theories of inevitable incomprehension, of convenient relativism, that now flourish in the Anglo-Saxon academy.

Therefore, in order to understand the issue of “differences” as promoted in the United States, and searching for ways to live with respect, independence, and human dignity, I started asking the following question of myself: Why should I always see myself as “different” in U.S. society when I have become a typical part of the historical process of this country? Moreover, my arrival in the United States is not simply a personal decision on my part but also a product of a complex historical process of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism in which the histories of Britain, the United States, and India are intertwined. With this understanding of the historical process of the world capitalist system, I do not see myself as “different” from Western women. Even when I dress differently, when I have a different cadence or accent in speech, or different aesthetic tastes and food habits, it does not make me more “different” in the United States than in India because both countries have a vast variety of people with a vast variety of tastes and languages. I know that I am not different as a human being from other human beings because we all need the same human rights, the same human care and same basic things in life, and the same clean environment. That is why I refuse to he treated as “different.”


Today, all of us (Third and First Worlds alike) experience the pressure of unrestrained global capitalism. In this perspective and context it seems illogical and unrealistic to interpret and analyze the experiences of people and societies as only a process of internal (therefore, different) conditions. Instead, we should try to understand the contemporary hegemonic powers and forces, their ideological and other mechanisms of control, and explore how they interact with different societies and how they shape peoples’ views and consciousness. International feminist scholarship has begun the task of understanding the connections between First and Third World economies and their effect on the lives of women in all countries. This work is essential if links are to be forged between women’s political struggles all over the world. The idea of creating bridges has caught up many women in the world in recent years, and Sheila’s writings have been a contribution to that healthy trend.

The article is at Monthly Review

Lawyers as Criminals

Marjorie Cohn, President of the National Lawyer’s Guild, testifies before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties of the House Judiciary Committee:

What does torture have in common with genocide, slavery, and wars of aggression? They are all jus cogens. That’s Latin for “higher law” or “compelling law.” This means that no country can ever pass a law that allows torture. There can be no immunity from criminal liability for violation of a jus cogens prohibition.

The United States has always prohibited torture in our Constitution, laws, executive statements, judicial decisions, and treaties. When the U.S. ratifies a treaty, it becomes part of American law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, says, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”

Whether someone is a POW or not, he must always be treated humanely; there are no gaps in the Geneva Conventions.

The US War Crimes Act, and 18 USC sections 818 and 3231, punish torture, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment.

The Torture Statute criminalizes the commission, attempt, or conspiracy to commit torture outside the United States.

The Constitution gives Congress the power to make laws and the President the duty to enforce them. Yet Bush, relying on memos by lawyers including John Yoo, announced the Geneva Conventions did not apply to alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda members. But torture and inhumane treatment are never allowed under our laws.

Justice Department lawyers wrote memos at the request of Bush officials to insulate them from prosecution for torture. In memos dated August 1, 2002 and March 18, 2003, John Yoo wrote the DOJ would not enforce U.S. laws against torture, assault, maiming and stalking, in the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants.

Video of testimony and NLG White Paper on torture   here

Wish I’d Said This

From an expanded version of a talk given to University Democrats at the University of Texas at Austin on April 16, 2008:

It may seem odd to talk of sorrows around race and gender in politics when we are a few months away from being able to vote for a white woman or a black man for president of the United States. When I was born in 1958, any suggestion that such an election was on the horizon would have been laughed off as crazy. In the first presidential campaign I paid attention to as an eighth-grader in 1972, Shirley Chisholm – who four years earlier had become the first black woman to win a seat in Congress – was to most Americans a curiosity not a serious contender. Today, things are different.

Today Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s battle for the Democratic Party nomination suggests progress. Though the pace of progress toward gender and racial justice may seem slow, we should take a moment to honor the people whose struggles for the liberation of women and non-white people have brought us to this historic moment. If not for the vision and courage of those in the feminist and civil-rights movements there would be no possibility of a contest between Clinton and Obama, and the debt we owe those activists is enormous.


What are the sorrows to which I’m referring? I don’t mean the disgust and distress that many of us feel when we read the blogs, listen to talk radio, or watch cable TV news – places where some of our fellow citizens and journalists wallow in the sexism and racism that still infects so much of this society. I don’t mean the ways in which, even in polite liberal circles, Hillary Clinton is scrutinized in ways no man would ever be. I don’t mean the ways in which, even in polite liberal circles, Barack Obama’s blackness is examined for either its inadequacies or excesses.The attacks on Clinton because she is a woman and Obama because he is black should make us angry and may leave us feeling dejected, but for me they are not the stuff of sorrow. We can organize against those expressions of sexism and racism; we can mobilize to counter those forces; we can respond to those people.

Remembering the radicals

My sorrow comes from the recognition that the radical analyses of the feminist and civil-rights movements – the core insights of those movements that made it possible when I was young to imagine real liberation – are no longer recognized as a part of the conversation in the dominant political culture of the United States. It’s not just that such analyses have not been universally adopted – it would be naïve to think that in a few decades too many dramatic changes could be put into place, after all – but that they have been pushed even further to the margins, almost completely out of public view.

For example, when I talk about these ideas with students at the University of Texas it is for some the first time they have heard such things. It’s not that they have rejected the analyses or condemned the movements, but they did not know such radical ideas exist or had ever existed. These students often do not know that these movements did not simply condemn the worst overt manifestations of sexism and racism, but went to the heart of the patriarchal and white-supremacist nature of U.S. society while at the same time focusing attention on the imperialist nature of our foreign policy and predatory nature of corporate capitalism. The most compelling arguments emerging from those movements didn’t suggest a kindler-and-gentler imperialist capitalist state, but an end to those unjust and unsustainable systems.

The irony is that Clinton and Obama, who today are viable candidates because of those movements, provide such clear evidence of the death of the best hopes of those movements. Those two candidates have turned away from these compelling ideas so completely that neither speaks of patriarchy and white supremacy. These are not candidates opposing imperialism and capitalism but candidates telling us why we should believe they can manage the system better.

Atlantic Free Press

 Robert Jensen  here