Monday, April 22, 2019

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15 March 2018

PEOPLE ARE sharing around stories about how lax our gun laws are in regard to people with mental illness. In particular, they are criticizing Trump's decision in February 2017 to overturn one of Obama's last executive orders, which placed increased restrictions on the ability of people with mental illnesses to obtain guns.
The argument seems to be that it should be harder or impossible for such people to own guns. This totally misses the point and is a dangerous concession to the notion that a specific subsection of the population should be stripped of certain rights or have liberties taken away that are enjoyed by the rest of the population.
As long as gun ownership remains a constitutional right which U.S. citizens have, there is absolutely no reason why people with mental illness should be stripped of this right. This sets a bad precedent that certain rights do not apply to those with psychological disabilities.
In fact, back when Obama originally signed that executive order in question, it drew widespread criticism from disability rights advocacy groups, including from some of his own appointees to the government's National Council on Disability.
In essence, what Obama did was make it so that large categories of people who received disability benefits through the Social Security Administration for mental health services would be added to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System--the database used to conduct background checks for firearm sales.
In other words, he made a bold and reactionary step in the direction of criminalizing mental illness itself--and, in particular, criminalizing poor people with mental illness, who are more likely to be dependent on government assistance than their wealthier counterparts.
This is all born of a completely false narrative that mental illness causes mass violence. In fact, countless studies on the subject of mass shootings in particular have shown that mental illness has not been found to be disproportionately present among perpetrators.
If anything is disproportionate among shooters, it is the fact that 95 percent are male and approximately 60 percent are white males, though white males only comprise 31 percent of the overall U.S. population. Additional research has shown a particularly strong link between mass shooters and a history of domestic violence.
Moreover, insofar as people may use guns in self-defense to protect themselves from genuine threats of violence--be it a spouse abused by a partner (see Marissa Alexander) or a teen victim of rape (see Cyntoia Brown)--people with mental illness, who statistics show are far more likely to be the victim rather than the perpetrator of violence, deserve the exact same rights as everyone else.

IT IS one thing to advocate for a universal reduction in the production, ownership and pervasiveness of guns in U.S. society. But targeting disabled people in general--and those with mental illness in particular--is actually a prejudiced and reactionary form of scapegoating and opportunism.
It is not only a wrong-headed non-solution--it is actually part of the problem of attacking and bullying the vulnerable and marginalized, and blaming them for society's structural and cultural ills.
The National Rifle Association's (NRA) solution is to give police and judges more power to preemptively harass, detain and involuntarily institutionalize people guilty of the ambiguous crime of "being crazy."
This was what the NRA spokesperson, invited to a CNN town hall broadcast, was talking about when she repeated the argument that the U.S. should strengthen enforcement of Florida's "Baker Act." Such "mental health acts" are already on the books in every single state.
As if mass incarceration and policing as a form of social control hasn't already been proven unjust. The fact is that rates of mental illness are disproportionately higher among oppressed and vulnerable populations--LGBTQ youth, people of color and women in poverty. These are the populations that have historically been victimized by psychiatric policing in the U.S.
Psychiatric policing reaches its height in all totalitarian countries. It becomes a stand-in for repression of anyone with non-conforming or non-normative minds. In the case of the violence and guns in America, it is also a gross form of scapegoating.
The NRA wants to blame everyone but itself and a sick culture of violence that pervades American society--a culture which the NRA does more than its fair share to propagate. It's a culture of rampant masculinist misogyny, savage competition of all-against-all in every sphere of life, bloated and hyper-praised police and military forces that form standing armies of aggression in the midst of civil society, and barely concealed generalized hatred along the lines of race, nation, religion, etc.
Gun violence is a social issue, and solutions based on profiling individuals--especially those suffering the oppression of disability--will only make our society more violent.

with Jenny Relick | 31 August 2017

MILLIONS OF people living with mental illness are trapped by a system that labels them as disabled while providing few, if any, real resources to help them navigate these disabilities. As a result, large numbers are consigned to poverty, incarceration and an endless struggle to get the care they need and deserve.
This is the story of one such woman, whom we'll call "Amy."
Amy has a mental illness called schizoaffective disorder. In her case, this means she hears voices, is predisposed to delusions (false beliefs), has difficulty troubleshooting problems, and is predisposed to depression and mania.
Amy is very high functioning compared to most with her disorder. "I have a system of checks and balances I think through every day to help me figure out what's real and rational and what's a symptom," she says.
Despite this, the system labels Amy as "disabled," but provides almost no resources for treatment, housing or any other basic things that she and others need. In fact, the process of applying for state assistance and medical care itself puts Amy and millions like her in desperate circumstances. Recently, Amy was swept into one of the capitalist state's largest programs for disabled people--mass incarceration--because she had no money for medication.

OFTEN, WHEN people in the U.S. dial 911 in the event of a mental health emergency, the first responders are police who use handcuffs and force--even deadly force. An immediate question that arises in the aftermath of these encounters is why are the police dispatched to these calls, instead of mental health professionals?
The answer goes beyond just a lack of resources or ignorance.
"Disablement"--a term used to describe the act of being disabled in our society and how it is an institutional, not individual, issue shaped by a series of economic, political and ideological forces--is a major form of oppression under capitalism, like racism, sexism or homophobia. The criminalization of mental illness and other mental impairments is one aspect of this oppression.
It's worth understanding how disablement began and how it oppresses today--and recognizing that disability is socially constructed and not just a result of individual impairment.
In feudal times, people were "blind," "lame" or "deaf," but these different impairments were not considered subtypes of "disability" or "impairment" any more than we think "valleys" and "canyons" are subtypes of "hollowness." People with various impairments worked to the extent possible, and they shared in the material sustenance of their family and community. Extended families cared for members with physical and mental impairments in their homes.
At the start of the Industrial Revolution, however, capitalists began to categorize people as unfit for work based on their physical and mental impairments. With industrialization, capitalists held individual workers to new and more exploitative standards of productivity and behavior. If an impairment caused, or was assumed to cause, individuals to fall short of these standards, they were fired or never hired at all. In this way, capitalism turned physical or mental impairments into "disabilities," which are oppressive limitations imposed by society
From the standpoint of the capitalist economic system as a whole, such marginalized disabled people form a significant part of the "surplus population" and the reserve army of the unemployed.
The capitalist class has long used the state--and in particular, the police--to regulate the lives of and even make such "superfluous people" disappear. At times, this has meant mass segregation in asylums, institutions, hospitals and nursing homes at the hands of the state.
In today's neoliberal America, where public funding for such institutions has been shredded, instead of going to the asylum or being cared for in the community, people with mental illness are instead frequently swept up in prisons and jails, and are incarcerated at much higher rates than the rest of the populationAccording to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, 15 percent of men and 30 percent of women booked in jail--some 2 million people per year--have a serious mental illness.

IN AMY'S case, she experienced disablement long before she was arrested.
Amy has been able to hide her condition well enough to be hired and work a series of service-sector jobs, but these jobs did not offer health insurance. Without treatment, her symptoms would eventually worsen and she could not go to work. She has been hospitalized many times. She often felt hospital staff mistreated the other patients and her, emotionally and physically.
Amy eventually got Medicaid as a result of a psychiatric hospitalization followed by intensive outpatient community mental health services. She wanted very much to manage her condition long-term, and hospitals are eager to help uninsured patients qualify for Medicaid because it's often their only hope for getting paid. Medicaid paid for Amy's outpatient medications, including high doses of Haldol, a cheap but strong, fast-acting antipsychotic drug.
Hospitals like to use Haldol to stabilize and discharge patients quickly. Amy continued to take Haldol through the community mental health center, and her doctor kept increasing her dosage as she grew tolerant.
Haldol, however, is an antipsychotic drug that is known for severe side effects, including tardive dyskinesia--an irreversible involuntary movement disorder. Tardive dyskinesia causes facial tics and tongue thrusting, which often causes those already struggling with mental illness to face social isolation and rejection from strangers who don't understand that they are suffering from medication side effects.
Amy worries because she started having facial tics before she turned 30. Her tardive dyskinesia is thus another aspect--in this case a state-induced one--of the oppression that is forced on her.
The community mental health center she attended encouraged Amy to apply for Social Security Disability (SSD). Amy uses her intellect to compensate for her impairment and does not present as mentally ill to most people. These traits, combined with the diligent use of her prescribed medication, meant that she did not appear "sufficiently disabled" in the eyes of her SSD interviewer. Like roughly 65 percent of SSD applicants, she was denied.
Amy then hired a lawyer to help her appeal for SSD. She learned she would have to wait almost two years for her SSD appeal to be heard. Even if her claim was approved on appeal, however, her lawyer would receive 40 percent of the back-benefits owed to her.
To remain eligible for SSD, Amy had to stay below an income limit of $1,100 per month, and her lawyers advised her to stay well below it. The $1,100 limit may sound like plenty of money, but a studio apartment in her area costs $1,300 per month, according to Amy lived with friends because she could not afford anything else.
Meanwhile, Amy responded very well to treatment and was discharged from the outpatient community mental health program. She then could not find a community psychiatrist who would care for her at the Medicaid reimbursement rate, and Amy feared she would relapse. She ultimately got a psychiatrist through Catholic Charities, and he transitioned her antipsychotic drug from Haldol to Geodon, which carries a lower risk of side effects like tardive dyskinesia. Medicaid continued to pay for her prescriptions.

AMY'S CASE illustrates how disablement or disability oppression can in some cases be worse for those with "hidden" disabilities. Because capitalists divide the poor into "deserving" and "undeserving," people with hidden disabilities often are accused of feigning a disability or of being lazy.
Amy's Medicaid coverage was based on being poor and disabled. (Had her state accepted Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, poverty alone would have sufficed.) When Amy went for her annual Medicaid review, however, her denial for SSD and her discharge from the community mental health program called her status as a disabled person into question. "You look like an able-bodied woman who could get a job," a social services worker told her.
Amy was given a chance to show medical evidence of disability, and she did so. In a sick Catch-22, the "problem" was that her psychiatric treatment relieved her schizoaffective disorder so much that, according to the regulations, she could now hold down a job. Her Medicaid coverage was canceled. She was due to refill her prescriptions just a week after her Medicaid coverage ended.
Catholic Charities continued to pay for Amy's psychiatrist, but they were not able to pay for her psychiatric drugs, totaling over $300 per month. Amy told the lawyers handling her SSD appeal about her predicament, and they advised her not to apply for jobs. Her SSD hearing was over a year away. Amy knew that without her medicines, her symptoms would return quickly and put her in danger.
Friends helped pay for her medications the first month she was uninsured, but she grew ashamed to ask for help more than once. She was desperate to hold on to her sanity--and desperation can cause people to resort to desperate measures.
Amy caught pneumonia, in part, she believes, as a result of the stress of her predicament. She was forced to get treatment without insurance. Amy decided that she had to make money through an off-the-books job to pay for her medication and pneumonia care.
A marijuana seller had asked her to sell for him before, and she did not feel any moral reservations about selling pot because she believed it should be legal. Unfortunately, government officials in the state she lives in thinks marijuana is dangerous and that stopping its sale and use should be a priority.
In the middle of an opioid epidemic affecting millions and causing untold suffering, the police devoted resources to conducting marijuana sting operations.
Despite its growing legality and the immense profits made from it for a small minority of people, those like Amy at the bottom of the marijuana industry are the most at risk for arrest and facing criminal penalties. In an effort to earn a lot of money quickly, Amy sold a felony quantity of marijuana to an undercover cop and a confidential informant.
Amy does not blame anyone but herself for her arrest. But the worst aspect of disablement is that it is a widely unrecognized oppression that affects the course of disabled people's lives.
The terrible irony is that Social Security Disability regulations mandate that any pending cases be canceled when a person is incarcerated more than 30 days. Once an inmate is released, a new disability claim can be made, but the claim cannot date back to a time before the incarceration. Because Amy would spend a year in jail, her voluntary impoverishment at the behest of her lawyer was all for nothing.
Part of the reason police, not mental health professionals, are dispatched to mental health emergencies is that the state's priority is to remove mentally ill people from the community. Like Amy, mentally ill people often cannot get the medication and care they need. They often live in poverty.
The capitalist state sets up mentally ill people for failure and desperation. At this low point, the state removes people from society. A hospitalization removes a person for three days, but an arrest removes the person much longer.
In a future article, we will share Amy's experience in jail and show how police and prisons inflict further the oppression of those with disabilities.

9 May 2017

IF FOR no other reason, Roddy Slorach's A Very Capitalist Condition is remarkable for helping bridge the gap between Marxism and disability studies.
Other writers have contributed groundbreaking journal-length articles and individual chapters that have advanced a Marxist analysis of the phenomenon of disability and disability oppression. But Slorach is the first to offer a comprehensive, book-length historical materialist treatment of the history, theory and politics of disability.
Slorach's work leans explicitly on the concepts of alienated and exploited labor under capitalism; the disruptive revolutionizing of the means and mode of production which accompanied the transition from feudalism to capitalism; and the way in which oppression and liberation under capitalism are conditioned by the politics of class struggle, solidarity and revolution.
While much of the specific statistical data and discussion of the historical politics of disability in this book are centered in Britain, where the author lives, there's a fair amount of attention paid to disability in other countries, in particular the U.S.
Moreover, the most useful aspect of this book isn't the particular data it offers detailing the egregious rates of unemployment, homelessness, violence and abuse that disabled people are subjected to, but the world-historical framework that it provides in order to explain these conditions.
Slorach's book is especially valuable to the reader who may be less familiar with the existing discourse in the field of disability scholarship. His writing style is easily accessible to a general audience, and he takes care to introduce more scholarly concepts and debates in a way that is intelligible and nuanced.
In this vein, Slorach does a good job of explaining how the Marxist approach to disability is different from other prevailing theories on disability oppression. Further, he convincingly demonstrates how this approach advances not just an understanding of disability in the modern world, but how to fight to abolish the conditions that require and reproduce disability oppression.
One popular theory (at least among more radical activists and scholars) that Slorach critically engages with, in particular, is the so-called social model of disability. This theoretical framework was first outlined by a group of disabled socialist activists--the Union of Physically Impaired Against Segregation, UPIAS--in Britain in the 1970s.

Among other things, the social model pioneered the distinction between impairment and disability, the latter being the socially constructed form of oppression imposed upon those who possess a mental or physical variant of the former.
The main conclusion of the social model is the notion that there is nothing inevitable or "natural" about the exclusion or marginalization of people with impairments from the productive, social and civic processes of human society. Rather, all of these things are the result of unnecessarily unaccommodating structures of society, which consequently act as mechanisms of disablement.

MANY WRITERS within the social model tradition locate the historical transition from feudalism to capitalism as the point of origin for the rise of disability as a distinctly recognized category or "type" of human being separate from the non-disabled "norm."
Beginning with the earliest pre-class hunter-gatherer societies, through to the more recent peasant-based agricultural societies of 13th century feudal Europe, Slorach recounts existing archaeological and historical research that demonstrates the extent to which people with various impairments were more or less integrated into society alongside others of their family, clan or community.
Where accounts of particularly ill treatment directed toward people with impairments exist in these societies, they tend to be neither systematic in their manifestation nor different from the treatment of others of their class, as lower-class peasants.
With the rise of capitalism, however, the nature, pace, duration and geographical location of production--which formed the basis of all other facets of existence--changed dramatically. As all land increasingly became usurped and privatized in the hands of capital, and the center of economic activity moved from the countryside to the town, a mass of landless humans were created who were now expected to secure their means of subsistence primarily via wage labor, on pain of starvation.
The only exceptions to this new prevailing rule were those humans who happened to possess impairments, whether physical or mental, which rendered them ill-adapted to the particular activities and norms associated with factory-based production for wages. This latter class of people was officially categorized under the broad rubric of "unemployable" by reason of disability and cast aside to the caprices of charity, the asylum and the jail-like workhouse--in a word, to pauperism.
Since that time, disabled people have been subjected to a litany of historical abuses, from the everyday, such as fear or contempt from prejudiced strangers or potential employers, to the barbaric, such as the eugenic practices of early 20th century U.S. and Germany under the Nazis (all of which Slorach extensively covers in the course of his book).
The reasons offered as to why disability oppression persists into the modern world, however, are varied.
If it were just a matter of making existing society more accommodating, than legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) should be sufficient to, if not abolish altogether, then at least markedly diminish disability oppression. However, almost 30 years since the passage of ADA, rates of unemployment, poverty, homelessness and life expectancy, to name just a few categories, have barely moved, and in some cases have actually worsened.

BY APPLYING the insights of Marxism, however, Slorach clarifies the picture by putting concepts of exploitation, alienation and the class structure of capitalism at the center of his analysis. In other words, it's not just that disability oppression exists because the structures of a given society happen to be unaccommodating to those with impairments; rather, it's that the nature of capitalist production and property relations necessitates the unaccommodating structuring of a given society.
Capitalism is, above all, else devoted to the pursuit of profit. The specific form of this pursuit is the competitive exploitation of wage labor at the hands of those who own the means of production. It doesn't matter whether this work takes place in a factory populated by thousands or by a few individuals in a remote call center.
What matters to the owners of capital is that they can find laborers willing to work as long and hard as possible, for as little pay as possible, relative to their competitors. Moreover, these laborers must submit themselves to a division of labor, a pace of work and a type of work dictated not by their own needs and preferences, but rather by the needs of maximal profitability as determined by "the market" via the personage of their boss.
Within the confines of such a system, it's obvious that those with the most "special needs" (as we often euphemistically refer to those with impairments) would be shunted aside. This is all the more so given that under capitalism, each human is expected to constantly develop, enhance and then sell their skills in a competitive labor market.
Each worker is compelled to view their fellows on this modern version of the auction block as competitors to be beaten, rather than as collaborators in social construction.
The contradiction, however, is that all workers ultimately have an interest in struggling to overthrow such a wretched form of human existence. The alienated, exploitative and injurious nature of work and life under capitalism is oppressive both to those disabled individuals who are marginalized from it, and those "non-disabled" individuals who are trapped within it.
Beyond the theoretical and historical, there are a number of other interesting political topics and "controversies" that Slorach raises in the book.
These include discussions of a potential social model of mental impairment and illness (or "mental distress" as Slorach prefers to call it); the role of psychiatry, mental hospitals and institutions, and the pharmaceutical industry; deafness and sign language; special education; euthanasia and assisted-suicide; and the formation of disability identity-based movements, among others.
Such discussions will hopefully form the basis for much more constructive debate and elaboration within the literature of socialist and radical organizations in the years to come.

WITHOUT A doubt, the interlinked questions of disability, labor and capital promise to persist as key issues as the capitalist world order progresses into the 21st century.
Though the prevailing form of disability may change (the World Health Organization predicts that mental illnesses such as depression will be the leading global cause of disability by the year 2020), disabled people have steadily remained a significant proportion of the overall population (around 20 percent in the U.S.)
Meanwhile, studies show that an even greater number of people experience various forms of impairment and actually meet the official classification of disability, without ever being officially counted in the relevant census data.
In an era of constant attacks on working-class living standards and protracted economic crises, perhaps the most urgent prospect is the ramping up by the capitalist media and politicians of the scapegoating of disabled people as "fakers," "malingerers" or "burdens on state budgets." We can expect this just as assuredly as we can expect the increased scapegoating of immigrants or other victims of capitalism in the near future.
Against the capitalist dystopia we presently face, the need to fight for a wholly different future society is more obvious than ever. As described by Slorach, by way of Marx, such a future socialist society could make a reality of the principle: "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need."
As Slorach elaborates:
In seeing impairment as a continuum, instead of as the crude "them" and "us" dichotomy of capitalism, a socialist society would take account of differing ability and levels of skill based on a form of democracy incomparably more extensive than anything experienced under capitalism.
In contrast to the systematic division and competition characteristic of capitalist society, socialism would promote a collective and co-operative culture based on common interest...Such a society would therefore promote genuine individuality, cultivating rounded human growth in place of a one-sided and fragmented development of skills.
Or, to quote the preamble of the 1918 Education Act of the then-revolutionary socialist government of Russia, with which Slorach concludes his book:
The personality shall remain as the highest value in the socialist culture. This personality however can develop its inclinations in all possible luxury only in a harmonious society of equals. We do not forget the right of an individual to his own peculiar development. It is not necessary for us to cut short a personality, to cheat it, to cast it into iron molds, because the stability of the socialist community is based not on the uniformity of the barracks, not on artificial drill, not on religious and aesthetic deceptions, but on an actual solidarity of interests.

9 January 2017

ON NEW Year's Eve in Chicago, four people made a horrifying live video of themselves abusing a disabled man over the course of hours. The assailants--at least one of whom was reported to be a prior acquaintance of the victim--can be seen in the video beating and humiliating him.
Sadly, coverage by the corporate media and comments from mainstream politicians have has done far more to obscure the nature of this incident and what to conclude from it than to clarify and explain.
In particular, because the assailants were all Black and the victim white--along with the fact that the assailants can be heard yelling "Fuck Donald Trump" and "Fuck white people" at one point--the right-wing media have attempted to utilize this crime as fodder for their ongoing campaign to malign anti-racist activism, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, and to pathologize the supposedly "violence-prone culture" of African Americans.
Thus, on the Wednesday after the video was made public by Chicago police, the hashtag #BLMkidnapping was trending on Twitter--with racists going so far as to state, without any evidence whatsoever, that this heinous crime constituted an act of terror carried out by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Lost in the politicized media circus was anything remotely relevant to understanding the plight of disabled people in the U.S. today--or anything to advance coherent conversation about race relations in America.
Writing in the New York Daily News, in an article aptly titled "Stop using the attack on a mentally challenged white man in Chicago to promote a racist agenda against Black Lives Matter," columnist Shaun King called out the hypocrisy of the selective outrage of the right-wing media toward this awful incident.
By way of comparison, King pointed to a comparatively underreported assault in October 2015, in which at least two white high school students in Idaho were identified by dozens of witnesses as having forcibly detained, tortured and sexually assaulted a Black, mentally disabled student who was meanwhile subjected to various racist epithets.
Unlike the assailants in the Chicago case, the Idaho attackers were never charged with committing hate crimes--and were ultimately sentenced to exactly zero days in jail.

BEYOND POINTING out the racist hypocrisy of the media coverage, there are several further issues that require discussion and analysis.
First of all, it's worth stating from the start that, to the even marginal extent in which the Chicago assailants conceived of their attack as making a political statement, they could not have been more monstrously misguided.
Far from advancing the cause of those opposed to Trump and to the systemic racism that plagues the United States, this action merely provides grist for the mill of the right wing's propaganda efforts and adds to the excuses for the state to intensify repression against vulnerable populations.
It is also worth discussing the fact that the assailants targeted an individual who also suffers from oppression in this society. In this regard, the incident merits deeper analysis of the question of disability and of the violence that often occurs in this society within and between various oppressed groups.
In the U.S. today, disabled people--and in particular, those with mental disabilities--face systematic oppression in the form of higher rates of homelessness, poverty, joblessness, police brutality, incarceration, institutionalization, violence, domestic abuse, sexual assault and bullying.
They also suffer at the hands of the political elite in terms of cuts to state and federal budgets for special education, welfare and disability income assistance, home health aides and job placement programs.
Indeed, the abuse meted out to the disabled individual in Chicago is the same kind that many disabled people, particularly those who are poor, regularly face inside of prisons, nursing homes and psychiatric institutions--not to mention domestic households, where the epidemic of domestic violence against women has a parallel in abuse and assault against disabled children and relatives.
It is therefore sadly unsurprising that--in a society in which disabled people are rendered more vulnerable, more stigmatized, more marginalized, more disempowered and more deprecated--a disabled person would be specifically singled out by individuals for grotesque acts of dehumanization.

THE VIDEO of the abuse committed in Chicago should elicit outrage and reflection from all those opposed to oppression, particularly the oppression of disabled people.
But left-wing commentators like Shaun King are correct to decry the attempts by racists to use this instance of abuse to advance their own campaign of hate and repression against Black people and anti-racist activists. Such disingenuous and cynical machinations should also elicit outrage and reflection.
For a group of Black people to feel anger at Donald Trump--or even white people generally--is an understandable byproduct of the suffering inflicted on African Americans. The fact that this particular group of Black people in Chicago could express that anger--to the extent that this was a motive in the assault--by dehumanizing someone with disabilities is a horrible function of the system of interlocking oppression created by capitalist society.
Unfortunately, such behavior--if not to this extreme--is tacitly promoted as the norm. We are encouraged to "punch down," as it were, when we vent anger and alienation. The logic is implicit in capitalist society itself, built as at is on pervasive anti-social forms of war-of-all-against-all competition, vast inequality and poverty, and resultant feelings of alienation, resentment and selfishness.
Capitalist society creates the conditions in which oppressed people harm other oppressed people. An impoverished man is placed in a position to take out his aggression on his impoverished wife; a working-class Black woman to heap abuse on a homeless queer Latina.
When someone who lacks power is driven to violence, it will always be easier for that person to target someone below them in the social hierarchy--someone who is likewise vulnerable and without power.
When this happens, as in the Chicago attack, it should lead to reflection on the complex conditions endured by all manner of oppressed people in this society, and how oppression can mutate into horrible, inward-turning forms. It should also lead to resistance against all those who would further fan the flames of violence and enmity between various groups of marginalized people.
What those who prey on such incidents--right-wing politicians and the media, not to mention the liberal establishment that enables the right to spew its bigotry--want is to keep oppressed people fighting and hurting and torturing themselves and each other, instead of seeking out common bonds of humanity and solidarity to engage in in united acts of resistance.
When it comes to state-sanctioned violence, it is precisely disabled people and Black people who are among the most disproportionately victimized by the police, the courts and the prison system in the U.S. The fact that the Black Lives Matter movement has been at the forefront of challenging these abuses makes it all the more perversely ironic that right-wingers and racists are trying to claim that the abuse of a disabled man is the logical outgrowth of the movement.
Horrible incidents like what happened in Chicago are byproducts of a socio-economic order that leads people at the bottom of society to take out their anger against other people who similarly lack power.
Only by collectively directing our justified anger at the callous monsters who populate the ruling class can we drain this toxic swamp, in which we are forced to live with and against each other, in a never-ending cycle of abuse and misery.

8 December 2016

THE DEMOCRATS and Republicans are not identical evils. But they are complementary evils. These two timeworn political institutions form distinct but dialectically interconnected parts of an oppressive whole. Each one simultaneously opposes and reinforces the other. The ascendance of one conditions the eventual ascendance of the other.
It is akin to the way in which the inhalation and the exhalation of air through the lungs are two distinct and opposing phenomena, whose tandem manifestation is premised upon the momentary negation of the other, but whose proper functioning maintains both the existence of the organism as a whole and thus the existence of precisely its opposing phenomenon.
The Democrats undeniably pursue policies less outrageously reactionary than the Republicans. But because the left and the working class so often remain, for one reason or another, enthralled and disempowered under the banner of the Democrats, the latter are able to get away with their fair share of such odious and reactionary policies that otherwise would draw vehement opposition from the left if a Republican were in power.
Consequently, the independent organizations and integrity of the left and the working class atrophy and weaken under the reign of the Democrats.
This phenomenon has taken an especially dangerous form within the last half-century or so, as neoliberal-driven austerity and incessant attacks on the social welfare of working-class and oppressed people have become the guiding imperative of both liberal and conservative governments throughout the world capitalist system.
Upon taking power in such circumstances, the Democrats, as liberal but dutiful administrators of capitalist imperatives, inevitably lose favor with the populace and face the prospect of defeat at the polls as the electorate registers its displeasure the only way it can in a closed two-party system, by voting for the opposing party.
Insofar as the left, by supporting the Democrats, finds itself defending, aligning with, apologizing for and ignoring the evils of its would-be friends in office, it increasingly loses all independent credibility and cohesion. Consequently, as the Democrats prepare the ground for the potential pendulum-swing victory of the Republicans in the coming years, the left renders itself disarmed, disorganized and wholly unprepared to effectively counter the coming reactionary onslaught.
In effect, the whole process proceeds like this: The Democrats win and the left hands over its weapons and demobilizes its troops; the Democrats repress the most radical elements of the left and the most marginalized sections of its so-called base among the oppressed masses while the bulk of the left quietly assents; the Democrats then open the door through which the Republicans storm in and mop up the disorganized left and pursue a blitzkrieg offensive against the working class; the Republicans make as much headway as quickly as they can until they overreach and inevitably lose popularity; the whole process resets after the Republicans are tossed out in favor of the Democrats.

WHEN THE balance sheet is drawn, we are left with these two counterposed phenomena: The Democrats pursue policies that are less reactionary, but these policies also draw less organized opposition from their victims and from the left, which meanwhile atrophies. The Republicans pursue policies that are more reactionary, but these policies draw far more organized opposition from their victims and from the left, which meanwhile grows.
Of course, deviations from this tendency are possible. The reign of the Republicans may lead to further demoralization and disintegration of an already disoriented left. Conversely, the Democrats' reign may lead to a further radicalization and growth of the left, provided it maintains a coherent posture of opposition to the party in power.
Additionally, the tendency toward a pendulum-like transfer of power from one party to the other hasn't always operated mechanically and without interruption over the course of the 150-year life span of the modern Republican and Democratic political duopoly. Countervailing factors like world war and prolonged economic boom have historically served to prolong a given party's hold on power.
Nonetheless, the subjective variable factor in all of these eventualities remains the left and the working class, and the strategies and forms of conscious organization adopted by both.
It is clear that the long-term fates of both depend on a willingness to "go its own way;" to commit to the project of building struggle, political consciousness and organized opposition to whichever of the two ruling capitalist parties happens to be in power.
The consequence of refusing to engage in the long-term process of building up the class independence of the working class--which spans the partisan pendulum swings of quadrennial elections--is that both are condemned to ever remain fettered by the lead-strings of other, ruling classes.
The point is that it is the duality, the duopoly, itself which is the evil. And neither of the polarities in this situation is capable of abolishing the process. Only the gestation and eruption of an entirely new vector can burst through the suffocating bounds of the prevailing reality. Fundamental progress in the U.S. at this moment in history depends entirely on our ability to bring about precisely this occurrence.

10 October 2016

HUNDREDS OF dining service workers at Harvard University began walking picket lines on October 5--the first day of what remains an open-ended strike as this article was being written. The workers, members of UNITE HERE Local 26, voted in late September by a 97 percent margin in favor of a strike, with four-fifths of members casting ballots.
In a press release, UNITE HERE Local 26 lead negotiator Michael Kramer wrote, "Workers are demanding two simple things from the university administration: the ability to earn at least $35,000 a year and a health insurance program that does not shift costs onto those who can least afford it."
The current strike marks the first time in over 30 years that Harvard workers have walked off the job.
With the better part of a week on strike behind them, the workers' overall mood was resilient and spirited, even as frustrations grow about the arrogant stubbornness of Harvard administration negotiators.
The union remains committed to maintaining the strike until Harvard concedes. Dozens of picket lines were kept up all day long across the university's sprawling campus, and they continued over the weekend and during the Columbus Day holiday on Monday.
The picket lines are without a doubt the most diverse and democratic manifestation of genuine community to be found at this elite Ivy League school. Conversations and chants in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole bubble up from among picketers at any given moment. Workers approaching their late 60s are sandwiched between those in their 20s, and plenty of the union members are pushing baby strollers.
For Clinton Ross, who was worked at a Harvard dining room for five years, this was one of the most unexpected and welcome surprises of the strike. "I have never in my life been on strike before, and I have to admit that I did not expect this whole thing to be so big," Ross said. "I thought people wouldn't step up, but so many have. The union has been central to that. To be united out here with so many other workers is truly exciting."
Part-time dining worker Maria Audon agrees. Despite the prospect of going without a paycheck from Harvard for the duration of the strike--and with $900 in hospital bills that weren't covered by Harvard health insurance hanging over her head--she insists that she feels "very positive and optimistic" about the strike. "We are united, we are many, and we are necessary," Audon says.

ASIDE FROM the Harvard administration itself, the strike has faced opposition from the usual quarters. Cambridge police have attempted to prevent picketers from using megaphones to project their chants. The Boston Globe published craven pieces of pro-Harvard propaganda, with headlines such as, "Harvard strike could be seen as a battle against the 1 Percent. It's not."
But to hear Anabela Pappas tell it, a battle against the 1 Percent is precisely what the strike is about. Pappas, who has worked in dining services at Harvard for 30-plus years, addressed a large rally of her striking co-workers in Harvard Yard on the first day of the strike.
"All the money they have, and they still want to squeeze every bit out of us," Pappas said of Harvard administrators. "You greedy people. You caused this, not us. We didn't want to be here."
According to Pappas, dining service workers are only employed by Harvard for eight months out of the year. The workers are laid off during the summer months, during which time they not only receive no income from the university, but are cut off from health insurance coverage. Owing to their ambiguous employment status, many workers aren't able to receive unemployment assistance during these months. Those workers who do find other jobs during this interim period usually work for much lower pay.
"Some of us actually go hungry during these months," Pappas says, highlighting the irony of food workers at the richest university in the world having to struggle to provide adequate nourishment for their families.
And Harvard isn't merely rich--It's astronomically rich.
Harvard currently boasts an endowment worth approximately $35 billion, a sum larger than the economies of half of the world's countries. To put that in perspective in the context of the strike, the minimum annual income being demanded by workers is one-millionth of Harvard's total endowment.
According to the Living Wage Calculator developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an annual income of $35,000 would put certain groups of workers just barely above the official federal poverty line--and most workers short of obtaining an actual living wage to support a family.

IN THIS light, the refusal of the Harvard administration to meet the workers' arguably overly modest demands is all the more appalling.
Harvard President Drew Faust claims to be "very proud" of the health benefits and compensation that Harvard is offering the dining service workers. Such a statement is preposterous coming from someone who draws an annual income of $1 million from Harvard's coffers.
Even if Harvard met every single one of the striking workers' demands, the average compensation of the dining workers would still be less than one-twentieth of Faust's!
Despite the blatant unfairness and arrogance displayed by Harvard's rulers, the outcome of the strike is far from assured.
For one thing, the very fact that strikes are such an exception at Harvard raises the stakes even higher, as other sectors of workers across the university and throughout Boston will be carefully watching the effectiveness of the dining workers' strategy.
As part of its propaganda campaign directed against the dining service workers, Harvard has pointed out that the union I'm in--the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW)--recently agreed to a contract containing a very similar health care proposal to the one the UNITE HERE members are protesting.
Such propaganda is partially undercut by the fact that HUCTW has come out in full support of the dining workers' strike, including their rejection of the university's proposed health plan.
But it also raises the possibility that if the dining service workers' strike is victorious, HUCTW and other campus unions may feel emboldened to follow the their lead in demanding an even greater and more equitable distribution of the enormous wealth we generate for Harvard.

THIS IS why solidarity between all workers at Harvard and beyond will be crucial in determining the outcome of the strike and its aftermath. Several campus unions, including HUCTW and SEIU 32BJ, which represents janitors and security guards, have sent messages to their entire membership encouraging support for the strike. Graduate students currently engaged in a unionization campaign have also declared their solidarity.
Organized student support, which at this point appears to be forthcoming, is also important, especially because the university intends to keep the majority of dining halls open during the course of the strike.
The question that will take on increased importance as the strike goes on for days and possibly weeks is how to turn passive expressions of support into active mobilizations of solidarity.
I know there are fellow HUCTW members who are willing and eager to do everything, up to and including taking job actions themselves alongside of the dining workers. HUCTW has a total membership of 5,000 workers. If even a portion of that number could be organized into rotating contingents of workers who spend time on the picket line, it would have an impact.
One immediate step is for all workers and labor organizations to mobilize for the solidarity rally called for Thursday, October 13, from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Cambridge Common. The rally, sponsored by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, Greater Boston Labor Council and Metro Boston Building Trades Council, is intended to "send a message to Harvard that the Massachusetts labor movement stands with Harvard workers."
The stakes in this struggle are high. The 1 Percent who rule over a Harvard where workers aren't confident to fight in the face of yawning inequality don't want the precedent established that a strike is a legitimate and effective instrument in the hands of its workers.
It should be the task of all Harvard workers and their supporters to see to it that this is exactly what comes of the dining service workers' strike. As striker Brione Merchant said:
This strike is about rejecting the ability of those at the top of this establishment to unilaterally dictate to us what our worth and importance is. They figure that they don't need to pay us that much because they think we're not that important. They say that we are nothing without them. Actually, it's the other way around. We do the feeding, cleaning, repairing and maintenance that keeps this place running.
We're fighting for our fair worth, for living wages. We know the gap between the rich and poor is growing all over the country. The minimum wage hasn't really increased in decades. The Republican idea of wealth "trickling down" from the rich to the poor is a myth.
The only way that the level of all workers can be raised is when some of them finally decide to fight back and win more, which can give leverage to other workers who can then say, "We should get more, too."

1 November 2016

A HISTORIC 22-day strike by 750 dining services workers at Harvard University ended October 26 with an agreement that workers consider to be a resounding victory.
The members of UNITE HERE Local 26 voted 583 to 1 in favor of a five-year contract that Local 26 President Brian Lang said "achieved all of our goals, without exception" in a speech to a crowd of cheering workers and supporters outside the location of the vote.
Lang rightly credited the determination of strikers for forcing the world's richest university to back away from demands from concessions from the working poor who keep Harvard's dining halls and other services running. The ratified contract was, Lang said, a "testament to when working-class people make a decision to draw a line in the sand and say, 'Enough is enough, and we're not going to take it anymore.'"
The primary issues in the strike were pay and health care costs. The union demanded and won a minimum annual salary of $35,000 for full-time workers, including for those temporarily laid off each year during the summer months when school isn't in session.
The union also rejected the university's demand for workers to pay more toward health insurance premiums and increased co-pays for office and emergency room visits as part of moving to a new health plan. The contract accepts the new health plan, but Harvard will cover the increased costs for the full term of the contract.
The new contract also strengthens language around diversity and equality in hiring. In a battle where Harvard was demanding harsh concessions, union workers pushed back and stopped the onslaught.

THE DETERMINATION of the strikers during their 22-day walkout--and the solidarity that inspired--was key.
In addition to walking daily picket lines across the sprawling Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus, the dining services workers organized numerous large ralliesand several acts of planned civil disobedience.
At the end of the strike's first week, a procession of several hundred strikers and supporters marched through bustling Harvard Square just off campus. Nine strikers sat down in the middle of the street for 20 minutes before being arrested. During the third week of the strike, more than 1,000 workers and supporters from all across New England rallied and marched around Harvard and Cambridge.
On the day before the tentative agreement was announced, more than 500 students participated in classroom walkouts and sit-ins at Harvard administration buildings.
That same day, the New York Times featured a powerful and widely read op-article ed by Rosa Ines Rivera, one of the dining workers at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, in which Rivera wrote: "I serve the people who created Obamacare, people who treat epidemics and devise ways to make the world healthier and more humane. But I can't afford the health care plan Harvard wants us to accept."
By the end of the strike, the workers had won the endorsement of the Cambridge City Council, the Boston City Council and the Boston Globe newspaper-- an especially surprising turn of events given that the Globe's initial article covering the strikeclearly sided with the Harvard administration.
Hundreds of supporters made donations to a strike assistance fund set up by the union in order to help the workers, who, of course, received no pay from Harvard for the duration of the strike and only a modest amount of weekly support from the union.

IN THE end, however, the most significant aspect of the strike and its outcome may have been less tangible: For three weeks, the dining workers transformed the social climate at Harvard.
In normal times, the deans, administrators, professors and students are the unavoidable and centrally important actors on the stage of this elite academic theater. But during the strike, the workers stole the show and forced people to listen to what they had to say.
When the occasional Harvard office manager or a neighboring resident would come to the picket line and yell at the workers for being too noisy and disruptive, the workers remained unbowed and continued to bang on buckets, chant loudly and blast air horns.
In a message sent to all students, faculty and staff on the day the tentative agreement was announced, Harvard's vice president referred to the strike as a regrettable "disruption and inconvenience." But what's regrettable is that the workers were forced by Harvard to fight tooth and nail for the right to make something resembling a decent living.
It was much more of a disruption and inconvenience for workers to go without pay for three weeks while the bills piled up. But most of the dining workers viewed their struggle as something empowering--even liberating. Dining worker Markeith Leary said:
At first, I was surprised at how stubbornly Harvard turned its back on us. But then I was even more surprised at the outpouring of support we received from the students and other Harvard workers. This support was key in motivating me to get out on the picket line every day.
Walking a picket line every day for three weeks is very challenging. People got tired, people's voices were hurting. But when all of the dining workers came together on the picket lines and at the rallies, united as a family, it was very energizing. It made the experience fun and exciting, actually. It showed me the power we have when we all stand together.

WHEN WORKERS returned to their jobs after the strike ended, you could see the dignity they had won for themselves lingering in the expressions on their faces as they exchanged hugs and handshakes from student supporters and fellow co-workers. In this respect, the changes won in the contract were matched by the changes that many workers felt they themselves had undergone.
Rachel Herman has been working in dining services at Harvard for 21 years. When the union first held a strike authorization vote on September 15, Herman abstained, feeling pessimistic about the ability of workers to win a strike against Harvard--especially because other unions on campus had recently agreed to contracts that contained concessions similar to those being demanded of the dining workers.
However, once the strike began, Herman was immediately struck by the size, intensity and seriousness of the action. She threw herself into organizing and ended up spending more time at Harvard participating in the action than she normally spends working her regularly scheduled job.
Herman says that it was especially poignant for her when people on the picket line chanted, "No justice, no peace!"--since she has had bad experiences on the job being harassed by managers and unfairly disciplined by the Human Resources department. As she explained:
The only reason we ended up winning such a great contract is because we fought for it. We were united, we were visible, and we stuck together. The strike grew more and more intense and bigger every day. Ninety-five percent of us stayed out on strike--only 14 people ended up crossing the picket line. That's amazing.
It was never a guarantee that we would win. We could have lost bad. We could have been forced to end the strike and crawl back to our jobs defeated, with a lousy contract. That would have been horrible. But we didn't. I don't think the university expected us to be this tough.
Anabela Pappas is another dining worker who thinks she changed a lot during the course of the strike: "One of the most unexpected things I learned very early on in the strike was how cruel and cold-hearted the people at the top of Harvard could be," she said. "I was surprised to see humans treating other humans like that. I realized that it was all about the money. I had never dealt with these people directly in terms of money before."
During the course of the strike, Pappas emerged as a leader among the UNITE HERE members. She was one of the nine workers--all women, she makes a point of emphasizing--who sat down in the street and got arrested in Harvard Square on October 14. As she said of the moment when the police moved in and began making arrest.
I was so scared, I was shaking like a leaf. But we were surrounded by what seemed like thousands of people supporting us. I just looked into the faces of my coworkers and said to myself, "I can do this." A lot of us come from other countries, you know. We were scared what would happen. But afterward, we all said that we would do it again if we had to.
Pappas explained that winning a good contract wasn't the only outcome of the strike:
We won respect. In all my 35 years working here, I have never seen Harvard Square like this before. I never felt like it was my Harvard Square. Before, I would walk around as a nobody, as if I was just passing through someone else's space. But the way we shook up this place, the amount of support we got--it was just amazing."
The lesson for me is that if you believe, if you fight, if you stay together, you will win. From the beginning, I always knew that we would stay out on strike as long as we had to. But after the first week, I was getting scared. People were hungry, the weather was getting cold, family issues kept coming up for people. I was worried that people would cross the picket line.
We have a very strong union, though, and we prepared a lot for the strike. After we voted to strike, the union sent people out to us to talk to us, get us ready and organized, gave us tools for how to talk to co-workers and family about the strike. We had meeting after meeting, in large and small groups, in many different languages. We had classes in how to organize a strike and what to do while on strike. We made sure that every single person felt included in the strike and had a role to play.

with Alan Maass | 10 August 2016

FOR MANY people, third-party politics in the contemporary U.S. is a nonstarter at best and downright irresponsible at worst.
One need only observe the torrent of invective currently being leveled against supporters of the Green Party's Jill Stein, who is running a left-wing third-party challenge against both the "lesser evil" Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the "greater evil" Republican Donald Trump.
The overlooked truth, however, is that third-party election efforts historically played an important part in advancing progressive causes in the U.S. The most obvious example is the abolition of slavery. It was arguably the single-most significant social advance in U.S. history--and it was catalyzed in part by third-party initiatives.

IN THE decades preceding the Civil War, the two ruling-class political parties that dominated the U.S. system were the Democrats and the Whigs.
The Democrats were the party of slavery. They were dominated by the Southern slave-owning master class and consistently advocated the expansion of slavery into newly organized Western states--every issue was viewed through the lens of what would defend and extend the institution of slavery. The Northern wing of the Democrats were built around urban political machines that depended on votes from working people, but the Southern slaveocracy called the shots within the party.
The Whigs were the second main party from 1833 onward, appealing primarily to the Northern ruling class that was becoming more powerful on the basis of industrial production. But while the Northern industrialists clashed with the Southern slave power over a range of political issues, from trade and tariffs to spending on infrastructure development, the Whigs stood for a "measured" policy of compromise and conciliation, prizing national unity above all else.
Probably the best-known national leader of the Whigs was Henry Clay--who was even known as the "Great Compromiser" for his role in brokering a series of legislative compromises that papered over the divisions between North and South.
On the all-important question of whether slavery should be legal in new Western territories as they became states, the Democrats were unreservedly in favor of the expansion of slavery, while the Whigs at most argued that the question of whether a state should be slave or free should be decided by popular vote.
Still, if you apply the logic of the current liberal scolders that anyone who questions a vote for Hillary Clinton is helping the Republicans, the Whigs would still represent the "lesser evil" compared to the Democrats.
But the most determined opponents of slavery in this era viewed the Whigs as one wing of a political system that was completely committed to upholding the institution of slavery.
In fact, abolitionist sentiment in the Northern states was sharpened most of all by the compromises negotiated by the Whigs to hold the North and South together. For example, the Compromise of 1850 curbed some of the South's ambitions for slavery's Western expansion, but the cost was a strengthened Fugitive Slave Act that essentially made the federal government responsible for capturing and transporting free Blacks to any Southerner who claimed to have owned them as slaves.
Far from viewing the Whigs as the "lesser evil," the dominant attitude among abolitionists in this era was to reject any participation in the U.S. political system. They believed that the Constitution itself was "infected with the pestilence of slavery," as the abolitionist agitator William Lloyd Garrison put it, and any involvement in politics would corrupt the participants and turn them into compromisers, too.
Gradually, though, some opponents of slavery--Frederick Douglass among them--started moving toward a different strategy. They wouldn't choose between the two evils, Democrats and Whigs, but would support independent parties committed to confronting the slave power more directly.

THE FIRST such challenge came in the 1840 presidential election, and the results were modest. Abolitionist James Birney, running as the candidate of the newly formed Liberty Party, won 0.3 percent of the popular vote.
Undeterred, Birney ran again for the Liberty Party ticket in 1844--this time with Douglass a vocal supporter. He won only 2.3 percent of the popular vote, but the contest between the Whig candidate, Henry Clay, and the Democratic candidate, James Polk, was very close. Polk won the popular vote by less than 40,000 votes.
Birney and the Liberty Party were accused of winning enough support in New York that would have otherwise to Clay to swing that state to Polk--and its 36 electoral votes at the time were the margin of victory for Polk in the Electoral College.
Did that make the abolitionists election "spoilers"? There's no doubt that James Polk was one of the most rabidly pro-slavery Democratic presidents. He launched the U.S. into the Mexican-American War on the strength of the slaveocracy's fantasy of annexing an entire nation's worth of territory where slavery would be legal. The justices he nominated to the Supreme Court were reliably pro-slavery, responsible for such obscenities as the Dred Scott decision in 1857.
But the Whigs, with their compromises, were just as responsible for admitting new slave states into the union. And the pro-slavery laws that the Supreme Court was upholding had been passed by Congress with support from the Whigs.
So those who wanted to see an end to slavery continued to support third party efforts that would actually challenge slavery--first the Free Soil Party formed in the wake of the 1844 election, and finally the Republican Party, founded in 1854.
The Republican Party, like the Free Soil Party before it, was firmly opposed to the expansion of slavery westward, but it didn't stand for abolition.
Much of the party leadership was more moderate than the abolitionists on the question of slavery itself. Their opposition to expansion of slavery was about challenging the power of the Southern ruling class, which, through its control of the federal government, pursued policies that hampered the development of Northern industry and agriculture.
The third party challenges over several decades contributed to a political crisis for the Whigs. By 1856, now running under the name American Party, they fell behind the Republicans in the presidential election, winning just 21 percent of the popular vote to the Republicans' 33 percent.
A more clearly anti-slavery third party had beaten the Whigs and taken its place in the two-party system. But many abolitionists were disappointed in what they saw as compromise and conciliation among Republicans, like their presidential nominee for the 1860 election, Abraham Lincoln.
As Frederick Douglass wrote:
The Republican opposed to the political power of slavery, rather than to slavery itself. It would arrest the spread of the slave system...and defeat all plans for giving slavery any further guarantee of permanence. This is very desirable, but it leaves the great work of abolishing slavery...still to be accomplished. The triumph of the Republican Party will only open the way for this great work.
Nevertheless, Douglass challenged abolitionists who called for boycotting the 1860 election to set aside their doubts. His argument was that a victory for Lincoln and the Republicans really would "open the way for this great work"--by putting the federal government in the hands of a party that would stop the expansion of slavery into new territories, and thereby fatally undermine the power of the South.
As Douglass wrote a few months before the election, "The slaveholders know that the day of their power is over when a Republican president is elected."
Douglass was exactly right. Lincoln won the 1860 election with a 39 percent plurality of the popular vote. The Democratic vote was split between two candidates, one representing the Southern wing of the party, and the other representing the Northern wing. Lincoln won easily in the Electoral College.
Before he had even taken the oath of office, the secession of Southern slave states from the union had begun. The slave power did indeed understand "that the day of their power is over when a Republican president is elected."

LINCOLN, OF course, didn't "free the slaves" by himself. Primary credit goes to the resistance of slaves themselves in carrying out countless revolts, escape plots, confrontations with "fugitive slave" catchers and building up the Underground Railroad.
Blacks in the North were, in turn, leaders of an abolitionist movement that began small, but grew in influence and political strength because of the determination of its supporters to accept no compromise in the struggle to end slavery.
And ultimately, the slave system was only demolished after a four-year-long Civil War--still the deadliest military conflict in U.S. history. Lincoln deserves credit as the commander-in-chief, but the North's victory depended on the sacrifice and commitment of the more than 2 million Union soldiers--10 percent of whom were Black by the war's end--and their families and communities.
Still, Lincoln and the Republicans were a part of the struggle that ended slavery. Their victory in 1860 was both a signal of the strong influence of abolitionist ideas after decades of organizing and a ripening of the deeper conflict between North and South past the point of no return.
Abolitionists were only one factor in the third-party challenges in the decade before the Civil War, but their understanding of what they were fighting for and how they should conduct the struggle holds lessons today. They understood that organizing a political challenge to slavery might mean temporarily tipping the balance in favor of the "greater evil" against the "lesser evil"--but that retreating in the face of this threat would only perpetuate the pro-slavery duopoly.
As the late socialist and veteran Green Party candidate Peter Camejo wrote of the Liberty Party in the 1840s:
[A]mazing as it may sound, the Liberty Party received some of its most hostile reception from people who claimed to oppose slavery, including some committed and active abolitionists. They attacked the new party because of what they perceived as a "spoiler" factor that could take votes from the Whigs, allowing the Democrats to win in close elections.
The Liberty Party responded by saying it was a matter of principle not to vote for political parties that supported slavery. They dared to raise the idea that abolitionists should seek to win control of the U.S. government to abolish slavery.

3 January 2014

IT IS with a heavy heart that I write this in memory of a good friend and influential author, Marta Russell, who passed away in December 2013.
For those who are unfamiliar with Russell or her work, she was a longtime disability rights activist and leaves behind a tremendously significant body of work on disability, oppression and capitalism.
Truly, she blazed a trail in recent years in unflinchingly exposing the way that our society disables individuals with impaired bodies and/or minds. In the age of budget cuts, austerity and neoliberalism, she repeatedly and astutely indicted the simple, calculating callousness that rests at the heart of this system; that all those whose bodies are deemed to be non-profitable or "burdensome" are crushed under the weight of the capitalist imperatives of greed, competition, inequality and oppression.
As her colleague and co-author Ravi Malhotra wrote in an obituary for the New Socialist webzine:
...Marta was like a breath of fresh air, combining passionate advocacy with an understanding of political economy and how disabled people are systematically oppressed by capitalism. Marta was particularly unique in focusing on an anti-capitalist critique of disablement policy in the United States where postmodern analysis of the disabled body has predominated.
With Jean Stewart, she wrote a remarkably biting piece about prisons and disablement for Monthly Review. She was also not shy about criticizing misguided strategies by disability rights movements that she felt were too moderate or co-opted.

Marta Russell
Marta Russell (Keith Rosenthal | SW)

Now more than ever is the time to revisit her articles and books on this subject and spread their message, which remains all-too relevant. Here are just some of her powerful writings:
I also would like to share the following message that I posted to her Facebook wall, which has turned into a memorial space for friends and relatives:
Dear Marta, you will be missed dearly. Your writings and thoughts were, and continue to be, profoundly insightful and empowering. It was only a few months ago that you gave me incredibly helpful and supportive feedback on an article I wrote on disability activism in the 1930s. The brief correspondence that we were able to share recently about this and an array of other topics was very important to me.
I will always remember you as an incredibly thoughtful, kind, open, individual. You tolerated even my most rambling and convoluted of questions with patience and humor.
You had a keen mind and a wonderful heart. In your writings you courageously laid bare the injustices of this too-often wretched society in the hopes that a better, more caring, more inclusive, more just society could be wrought.
I will continue to carry a piece of you in everything that I do.

11 July 2013

IN THE article titled, "21st century sterilization abuse," Nicole Colson points out that the U.S. has a long and horrific history of sterilizing women against their will if they are deemed "unfit" for procreation by private and public officials. This has included women of color, women on welfare or government assistance, and women with disabilities, among others.
In fact, involuntary sterilization is technically still legal in the U.S. And according to data collected by the National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency, its use in recent years appears to be on the increase across the country.
Not only has the 1927 Supreme Court case, Buck v. Bell, which legalized involuntary sterilization, yet to be overturned, but as recently as 2001, a federal appeals court stated that "involuntary sterilization is not always unconstitutional if it is a narrowly tailored means to achieve a compelling government interest."
And while it has been illegal for the federal government to provide funds for involuntary sterilization since 1974, it is completely legal for individual states to engage in the practice. Presently, there are 14 states in the U.S. that allow for the involuntary sterilization of people with mental or developmental disabilities. An additional eight states allow for less-than-voluntary sterilization.
In a recent report released by the NCD, under the subheading, "Parenting with a Disability Today: The Eugenics Movement's Backdoor?", a particularly disturbing case is recounted where the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health in 2011 sought a court order to force a pregnant woman with a psychiatric disability to undergo an abortion and subsequent sterilization against her will.
The judge in the case ruled in favor of the state, even if it meant that the woman had to be "coaxed, bribed, or even ruse" into entering the hospital where she would then be sedated and the procedures would be performed upon her.
Fortunately, this particular ruling was later reversed on appeal, but as the NCD report concludes, "The appropriate result of the proceedings does not erase its troubling genesis--a state agency that intervened to terminate a pregnancy on the basis of the disability of the pregnant woman, despite her objection to having an abortion."
Moreover, even where involuntary sterilizations are prohibited by law, poor women and disabled women are still frequently pressured by welfare officials or medical professionals into undergoing sterilization, often as a condition of keeping their benefits or keeping their current children.
To once more quote the aforementioned NCD report: "Unquestionably, the power of eugenics ideology persists. Today, women with disabilities contend with coercive tactics designed to encourage sterilization or abortions because they are deemed not fit for motherhood."
For disabled women in the U.S., involuntary sterilization is closely connected to a broad range of issues related to reproductive and sexual autonomy. For instance, a majority of states currently have laws which list "disability" as grounds for termination of parental rights. A majority of states also have laws restricting the right of people with disabilities to get married.
Owing to bigoted prejudices regarding disability and sexual activity within the medical profession, studies also reveal that women with disabilities are far less likely than nondisabled women to receive adequate sexual health care when visiting a doctor. This includes not being offered regular pap tests, gynecological exams, screenings for sexually-transmitted diseases, fertility treatments, or family planning consults.

In the wake of the recent revelations surrounding the practice of mass sterilization in California prisons, hopefully the public's attention can be further drawn to the fact that such infringements on the reproductive autonomy of women--especially disabled women, women in prison, poor women, and women of color--is not, unfortunately, an isolated occurrence, but rather a commonplace form of social oppression in the U.S. today.

with Elizabeth Schulte | 12 October 2011

POLICE ATTACKED the Occupy Boston encampment in Dewey Square at 1:30 a.m. on October 11, arresting more than 100 peaceful protesters--military veterans among them.
Inspired by the growing Occupy Wall Street protests and encampment that began September 17 to speak out for the "99 percent," the Occupy Boston encampment had been up and running for more than 10 days without coming into conflict with police. This led some activists to conclude that the Boston cops were somehow "friendlier" to the action than their counterparts in New York City, who were caught on video early on pepper-spraying and beating peaceful protesters with batons.
But with their attack on the encampment this week, Boston police have demonstrated just what they're capable of.
The day before the police attack, activists expanded the Boston encampment to a park adjacent to Dewey Square, the Rose Kennedy Greenway, in order to accommodate the growing numbers of people who want to take part in the movement. The police would later cite this expansion as the reason for their attack--in addition to the presence of "anarchists" among the occupiers.
After the arrests, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis told the Boston Herald, "The group [of occupiers] that was here for the first 10 days was working very closely with us, but they warned us yesterday morning that a new group, the anarchists, wanted to take control."
However, before the expansion of the occupied space had even begun, Mayor Thomas Menino was already indicating his growing frustration with the occupation. In the days before Monday's police attack, Menino told the Boston Herald, "There will be a time when they'll have to leave that [Dewey Square] location."
Clearly, the expansion of the occupation was a pretext for the police to begin laying a broader siege.

OCCUPY BOSTON enjoys much support among Bostonians and has won the endorsement of unions such as the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Massachusetts Nurses Association, Greater Boston AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, among others.
Earlier on the day of the arrests, thousands of students from all over Boston joined local union members in solidarity with Occupy Boston, marching through the streets of Boston and onto the Charleston Street Bridge.


When marchers got the word that police planned to shut down the expanded section of Occupy Boston, hundreds marched back to defend it, said UMass Boston student and occupier Chris Morrill. Despite police threatening to evict and arrest occupiers, some 500 people remained through most of the night.
Morrill described what happened after the media left and the police came in:
Police in riot gear marched in and formed a perimeter around the park, trapping the people in the encampment inside. As some looked on, the police put on their helmets and got their batons and marched in. There were powerful fluorescent lights, so you could see people as they beat them. It was disgusting.
A contingent from Veterans for Peace was there with their flags, in a line, trying to create a buffer between the occupation and the police. The police pushed the veterans to the ground, stomping on their flags, and took them away as well.
It looked like a bloodbath. Police with batons clad like storm troopers. You could see past the bright lights--people were dragged by their hair or thrown to the ground. One officer was strangling a protester before another officer pulled him off.
Amanda Achin, a UMass Boston student occupier who was arrested, described the brutality of the police:
The people who had been pushed down onto the tents were instantly beaten by the police with their riot sticks, and they were attacking single people with at least three cops at a time. I saw one girl being aggressively arrested by the cops, and she was screaming at the top of her lungs.
I have never seen such intense police brutality. It was so chaotic, people running around everywhere, cameras flashing in every direction, crazy angry cops directing other cops where to go next.
"They really attacked,'' Urszula Masny-Latos, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild's Northeast regional office, told the Boston Globe. "They used force that was completely unnecessary...It was just brutal."
Even though she was wearing a green hat with the words "Legal Observer'' on it, Masny-Latos said she was the second person arrested. "Four officers grabbed me and dragged me,'' she said. "I begged them to stop, [told them that that] they were hurting me. I have no idea why they arrested us with such force.''
As this article was being written, the main encampment in Dewey Square remained intact, with those involved expressing their determination to maintain their presence there. "The experience for the occupation in general has been disorienting to people who witnessed such state repression," Morrill said. "Until now, some people have included the police in the 99 percent. That has definitely been questioned after they've seen cops in riot gear brutalizing protesters."
Afterward, activists organized people to defend the original encampment from attack, and to march to the police precinct, only to find out that the arrestees had been dispersed to precincts all over the city. In the end, they were charged with unlawful assembly.
Many occupiers are more determined than ever, Morrill said. The general assembly after the police attack turned out more people than before. "Many are re-evaluating the role of police in society," Morrill said. "And in general, people are saying, 'We were here yesterday. We are here today. We will be here tomorrow.'"
In the days and weeks to come, activists will have to come together and show their support and solidarity with those who were arrested, and see to it that all charges against them are dropped. The police and local officials will attempt to divide our movement by pitting so-called "bad" anarchists against "good" protesters. We are all together in this fight against economic inequality and corporate greed.
The strength of the Occupy movement lies in the solidarity between all those involved, and this will continue to be the key to the movement's longevity.
"We need to get more workers and more people of color involved in the occupation and to take part in this movement," Morrill said. "Some are saying that we brought on the police repression. That's wrong. We have to defend the occupation--ideologically and in real terms."

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