The Chicago hunger strike for Dyett High School: Why it matters to us all.

It’s been a tough week for the environment. A chunk of glacier so big it could bury Manhattan in 1000 feet of ice fell into the sea off Greenland. Monstrous forest fires raged in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest with some of those fires weakening the permafrost which protects us from a possible methane apocalypse. Scientists in Europe reported that climate change may be degrading soil quality, threatening a dangerous reduction in the world’s food supply.

And in Chicago’s largely African American Bronzeville, 12 people have been on hunger strike since August 17, demanding a high school in their community that would focus on green technology and global leadership. With humanity facing the greatest environmental crisis in the history of the species we could sure use more green technology and global leadership. Right?

Hunger strikers Jitu Brown and Irene Robinson are joined by
AFT President Randi Weingarten at an August 25 press conference
Well, Mayor Rahm Emanuel sure doesn’t think so. The Coalition to Revitalize Walter H. Dyett School has met nothing but delays and resistance to their proposal to transform the now closed Dyett school building into the Walter H. Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School.

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August 30, 2015 by · Comments Off on The Chicago hunger strike for Dyett High School: Why it matters to us all.
Filed under: Education, Environment, Global issues, Society and Economy 


Confederate flags are coming down but denial of racism remains

Chicagoans gathered to honor the dead from the Charleston terrorist attack

After the terrorist attack in Charleston there were ceremonies across the nation to remember the dead and protest the atrocity.  But prominent Republicans and their allies stumbled all over each other denying that race had anything to do with it. Since then some have retreated a bit and asked that Confederate flags be removed from public buildings, but denial of racism is still running strong both in rightwing political circles and in the mass media.

Denial of racism is a characteristic of 21st century US white supremacy. In its roughly 350 year history on this continent,  racism has demonstrated a Darwinian adaptability to changing socio-economic conditions.

The US racial caste system evolved from the invention of lifetime African American slavery, while white labor was allowed limited freedom. This was a key feature of colonial capitalism and was codified into law by the early 18th century. It was understood by the ruling classes of the time that racial division was necessary for the survival of capitalism as they knew it.

But as capitalism evolved after the abolition of slavery, the racial caste system changed to a combination of legal and informal segregation with the racial division of labor still basically intact.

Today, thanks to the civil rights movement, the US racial caste system is technically illegal. But enforcement of anti-discrimination laws has been weak and inconsistent. That and concealing racism’s outward manifestations in a cloud of obfuscation and denial helps maintain the essentials of its existence.

I doubt most lower and middle class racism denialists really believe what they are saying, but think the racial caste system must continue to ensure their own socio-economic standing, which has become increasingly precarious. A white skin now offers less and less  protection from the ravages of 21st century austerity capitalism, so they cling to the lies of racism like a drowning person reaching for a scrap of wood after a shipwreck.

Some white people have chosen another path, multi-racial solidarity to change a socio-economic system that still requires  a racial caste system based on melanin content. This is a leap of imagination too great for many white people at this time, fraught as it is with the possibilities of social ostracism, danger and unknown consequences.

Yet we know that human beings are a very adaptable species and today’s racism denialist can be tomorrow’s anti-racist activist, once the cloud of lies and delusions is pierced. I’ve seen it happen, though not often enough. Whence, the mass propaganda campaign of denying that racism is a problem or that it even exists anymore.

Personally, I doubt capitalism could even survive racial equality in this country. But if it did it would be a form of capitalism unrecognizable to anyone living today.

After centuries of struggle, racial equality remains a distant goal, yet less distant than before because of the sacrifices made by our predecessors and by those working for it today. Fannie Lou Hamer once said that she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

But she and others like her pushed on anyway, so that yesterday’s Jim Crow-style-in-your-face racism, though hardly extinct as the recent Charleston Massacre demonstrates,  has been forced into a retreat as denial of racism grows in importance.

The future is unwritten and making racial equality a part of that future   continues to be one of the greatest challenges this nation faces.

Denial of racial reality only delays us from reaching that goal.

June 26, 2015 by · Comments Off on Confederate flags are coming down but denial of racism remains
Filed under: Race and gender, Society and Economy, US politics 


When White People Rioted in Baltimore

The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!

This is the opening stanza of “Maryland, My Maryland”, the official state song. You can view  the complete lyrics here. The song refers to an 1861 riot in Baltimore when Union troops traveling through the city to defend Washington DC from a possible Confederate attack were assaulted by a pro-slavery mob. The “despot” referred to was President Lincoln.

This song celebrating a riot by white racists goes on for 8 more stanzas exhorting Maryland to secede from the Union. The words were written by James Ryder Randall and set to the tune of “Oh Tannebaum” by two sisters, Hetty and Jennie Cary. The song became a hit throughout the Confederacy and the two sisters joined the high society of the Confederate aristocracy.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee had his army play the song during the 1862 invasion of Maryland which led to the Battle of Antietam and the single bloodiest day in US history. The song had such an emotional impact on the Confederacy that several pro-Union versions were penned in the North, though none achieved the popularity of the original. Read more

May 12, 2015 by · Comments Off on When White People Rioted in Baltimore
Filed under: Media, Race and gender, Society and Economy 


The Chicago election: the electoral revolution that didn’t happen

It was one helluva an election season on the shores of Lake Michigan. Last summer I was brimming with optimism. The Chicago Teachers Union(CTU) had people out canvassing the neighborhoods. CTU President Karen Lewis was polling well in a possible mayoral bid and it looked like Mayor Rahm Emanuel  was on the run.

I foresaw an electoral revolution in the works. As a veteran of the Harold Washington days, I imagined the charismatic Karen Lewis recruiting a working class army of supporters,  including the the working poor and the unemployed. Energetic reform candidates for City Council would emerge. Many of the largely Black and Brown non-voters would finally have something worth voting for—for a change.

 photo Karen.jpg

Karen Lewis at the New Era Windows workers co-op

A multi-racial rainbow coalition would sweep into power on election day and the day after election day, face the combined wrath of the LaSalle Street bankers and hedge fund bunco artists. But we would not only have people in office, we’d have a powerful movement for social and economic justice to back them up.

It didn’t happen. Karen announced that she was seriously ill with a brain tumor and could not run. She is now undergoing treatment.  (BTW Chicagoans love to call their politicians by their first names).

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April 21, 2015 by · Comments Off on The Chicago election: the electoral revolution that didn’t happen
Filed under: Race and gender, Society and Economy, Unions, US politics 


Hair? Who cares? Apparently a lot of people.

Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens gets a lot of hate mail. Not about the words she dutifully turns out, but about her hair. Yes, her hair.

“How could anyone take seriously anything written by an author whose accompanying picture makes her look like a tramp, with greasy, matted, uncombed hair?” said David.

Really David?

“My neighbors and I give you permission to shoot your hairdresser, ” from Karen.

Uh, Karen, shooting hairdressers is illegal. I hope you know that.

For some very unsettling reasons, people, mostly women according to the author, are offended by her hair. To the point of actually writing to her. She prefers to ignore her hair and focus on other things. I know that hair (or the lack of it) is less of a social issue for men. We do live in a deeply sexist society after all.

Personally I just tuck what’s left of mine under a baseball cap and ignore it. Problem solved. But thanks to our repressive cultural norms, not everyone can adopt such simple solutions as hers or mine without a paying a price.

Paying a price? Yep, sometimes a very steep one, like the charge at the salon or the loss of a job. Really America…haven’t you something better to do than hating somebody’s hair?

Read the her article entire article: “Hate mail lesson: Uncombed hair threatens the natural order”

Heidi Stevens

Heidi Stevens

March 25, 2015 by · Comments Off on Hair? Who cares? Apparently a lot of people.
Filed under: Race and gender, Society and Economy 


Marching on Chicago’s far West Side for $15 an hour and a union

Yesterday March 22, several hundred people shut down a McDonalds at Laramie and North Ave on Chicago’s Far West Side and then marched on and through a Food 4 Less store located further east. It was a major Fight for $15 action. Fight for $15 is the national movement of low wage workers whom are working for a minimum wage of $15 an hour and  union recognition. Chicago’s far West Side is a predominantly African American and Latino working class area and the numerous horn honks demonstrated the popularity of the action as far as local residents were concerned.

Fight for $15 Rally at a Chicago McDonalds.

Rally at the McDonalds. We shut down the store.

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March 22, 2015 by · Comments Off on Marching on Chicago’s far West Side for $15 an hour and a union
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Fight for $15 joins striking BP oil workers on the picketline

(Note: As of this writing there are reports that Shell, the industry leader, has reached a settlement with the United Steel Workers union which is on strike. Picketlines at BP are still up as of Friday afternoon March 13).

“It appeared as if the whole world was one elaborate system, opposed to justice and kindness, and set to making cruelty and pain.” ― Upton Sinclair from his novel OIL!  

When 20th century writer Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!, (about the birth of the petroleum industry) was turned into a film, it was titled “There Will Be Blood”. The film makers weren’t kidding. Humans go to war for oil. Workers die drilling and refining it. People die from pollution when oil is processed or burned. Oil may eventually contribute to the extinction of humanity though runaway climate change.

The small city of Whiting, Indiana is the site of the largest oil refinery in the Midwest. Workers at this sprawling BP facility have been on strike since February 8, 2015, part of a nation-wide strike by the United Steel Workers (USW).

The strike issues revolve mostly around health and safety; not only for the workers inside the plant, but for the Whiting residents whose modest homes extend nearly to the plant gates. Residents are concerned about toxic substances released into the air and water as well as the possibility of catastrophic explosions.

Last week, members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC), rented a bus and rode down to Whiting and joined the striking oil workers picketline for a few hours. WOCC is best known for its Fight for $15 campaign to organize fast food workers for $15 an hour and a union.

WOCC member Teresa Cervantes explained why in this translation from her native Spanish,” I am here to support my fellow workers from Fight for $15 and the BP workers who are on strike today fighting for justice and fair wages.”

Her solidarity sentiments were echoed by her friend Rufina Aranda, a McDonalds worker in Cicero IL and a Fight for $15 veteran.

The BP refinery in Whiting IN

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March 14, 2015 by · Comments Off on Fight for $15 joins striking BP oil workers on the picketline
Filed under: Society and Economy, Unions 


Chicago: It’s about more than just an election

For the past 6 months I worked on the electoral campaign of Zerlina Smith, a progressive candidate for Chicago City Council. She was part of a city-wide electoral revolt against austerity politics led by reform Democrats and political independents. She did not win outright or make the run-off, but some of the candidates did, including  Chuy Garcia who is challenging Mayor Rahm Emanuel in the runoff election. I’ve had  a little time to think about what I experienced.

I left a socialist meeting last night where we spent a couple of hours talking about the recent Chicago election. I think the word “money” came up more than the word “votes”.It was an acknowledgment that in our so-called democracy,  “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”

It reminded me of the training session I attended for candidates and election volunteers sponsored by a progressive political alliance. We were told in complete seriousness that one of the the most important jobs of the candidate was to get on the phone and call everyone that he or she knew—-and ask them for money.

And it was the campaign manager’s job to make sure that the candidate put in their required number of hours on the phone—whether they liked it or not.

Zerlina Smith
Chicago City Council candidate Zerlina Smith speaking to campaign workers.

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March 10, 2015 by · Comments Off on Chicago: It’s about more than just an election
Filed under: Society and Economy, US politics 


How long….how long?

The recent police murders remind me of the most terrifying days of the civil rights movement, when people were being killed with impunity and if the perpetrators were apprehended, were then set free by Jim Crow juries. Or during the days of the Black Panther Party when political assassinations were carried out across the country and in plain sight. Read more

November 29, 2014 by · Comments Off on How long….how long?
Filed under: Race and gender, Society and Economy 


Ferguson means fight back: Thousands march in St. Louis against police violence

When Mike Brown was shot to death in Ferguson MO last summer, his hands up in surrender, he didn’t know when he awoke that morning that he would die that day as yet another victim of American racism. Neither did Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd or countless others, going back to when the first Black slave was killed for resisting their involuntary servitude.

That we are forced to carry signs that read “Black Lives Matter” in 2014 is a measure of how far the USA may have advanced in years but not in wisdom.

So we gathered once again in mourning and in anger. This time it was in downtown St Louis on October 11, part of a month-long series of events called Ferguson October. I boarded a bus at 4:30 am from South Side Chicago sponsored by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and Action Now (a local community organizing group).

By around noon we were on Market Street in St Louis, marching past gray fortress-like court and government buildings that promise to guard justice and democracy, but too often fail to protect either.

Ferguson October: March against police violence Read more

October 12, 2014 by · Comments Off on Ferguson means fight back: Thousands march in St. Louis against police violence
Filed under: Race and gender, Society and Economy, US politics 


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