AWL statement on Syria

August 31, 2013 at 8:59 pm (AWL, internationalism, Marxism, Middle East, posted by JD, Syria)

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Above: US ‘Answer’: even crazier and more blatantly pro-Assad than the UK ‘Stop The War’

In stark contrast to the thinly-disguised pro-Assad propaganda of the Stop The War Coalition, and (even more blatant) the US ‘Answer’ movement, the Alliance for Workers Liberty has put out the following statement:

No support for US bombs: but Assad is the main enemy

Syria’s disgusting, murderous, one-party state is responsible for mass murder, torture on a vast scale, and an enormous humanitarian disaster inside Syria, where whole towns have been razed to rubble.

Over four million are internally displaced, nearly two million have fled the country, seven million are in immediate need of humanitarian aid, the economy has collapsed, and over 100,000 are dead.

The main responsibility for this utterly avoidable catastrophe belongs to the Syrian government and military.

Bashar Assad’s small ruling inner circle has chosen to reinforce and exploit sectarian divisions in Syria in order to cling on to power. Some of the ruling group are also parasites, who have accumulated great wealth through membership of the ruling family or cliques that control the state. The unscrupulous elite want to protect their power and riches.

In 2012 US President Barack Obama declared that use or movement of chemical weapons by the Syrian state would constitute a ‘red line’, without spelling out the exact consequences for Syria if they were used. Obama wants to see an end to the war in Syria but has not acted openly and decisively for fear of making the situation worse, not better. The US fears – rightly – that Syria might fragment and collapse into utter chaos with swathes of territory run by al-Qaeda aligned Islamist militias if the US helps the armed opposition to victory.

In the past months the Syrian state has been testing the likely Western response to the use of chemical weapons against its own population. Assad has probably used chemical weapons in small quantities on several occasions over the last year. A 20-strong UN team is now in the capital, Damascus, sent there to investigate past attacks.

Emboldened by recent victories over the opposition on Wednesday 21 August the Syrian army bombed a civilian area in north east Damascus. Some of their rockets almost certainly carried chemical payloads. This was an attack on a different scale to previous chemical use.

Doctors Without Borders reported that three hospitals it supports in the area around Damascus received 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms. The political opposition, the Syrian National Coalition, claimed 1300 had been killed during the bombardment, mainly by poison gas. It seems certain that several hundred died.

This is a war crime committed by a regime against its own, unarmed people, sleeping in their beds. The people were being punished and terrorised simply because live in an area held by opposition militias.

The more extreme militias have pledged sectarian revenge on the Alawite minority community that Assad’s family is part of. The al-Nusra Front leader, Abu Muhammad al-Joulani, has apparently stated: “We are announcing a series of revenge operations called ‘An Eye for an Eye.’ Your Alawite villages will pay a very dear price for every chemical rocket that you’ve launched against our people.” The cycle of tit-for-tat sectarian outrages is speeding up.

Now there is great pressure on the US to be seen to respond. They may use cruise missiles against government targets in Syria. They have already allowed hundreds of tonnes of Saudi arms, stockpiled in Turkey for months, to be released to opposition fighters.

What should the left say?

Firstly it is not our job to advocate the US intervenes. We do not trust the US. It is by no means clear that Western military intervention will improve the chances for peace and democracy in Syria. On the contrary, it may speed up the disintegration of the country.

Equally, if the US destroys the bases used by Syria’s military to massacre its own citizens you will not find the AWL on the streets protesting.

Some of the more disorientated left will ask us to “defend Syria” against US intervention. These are leftists who allow their politics to be determined by simply negating the US’s policies – no matter how bad the alternative that they thus implicitly or explicitly support.

The main problem in Syria is Assad’s policy, not the US. And if the UK’s left wants to oppose meddling foreign powers – and we should – it should start with demanding Iranian forces and Hezbollah militia get out of Syria.

The main enemy here is not America.

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Seumus Heaney

August 30, 2013 at 3:54 pm (Ireland, Jim D, literature, poetry, RIP)

Seamus Heaney  13 April 1939 – 30 Aug 2013

Most of his poems can be found here. One of my personal favourites is below:

Seamus Heaney



He would drink by himself
And raise a weathered thumb
Towards the high shelf,
Calling another rum
And blackcurrant, without
Having to raise his voice,
Or order a quick stout
By a lifting of the eyes
And a discreet dumb-show
Of pulling off the top;
At closing time would go
In waders and peaked cap
Into the showery dark,
A dole-kept breadwinner
But a natural for work.
I loved his whole manner,
Sure-footed but too sly,
His deadpan sidling tact,
His fisherman’s quick eye
And turned observant back.

To him, my other life.
Sometimes on the high stool,
Too busy with his knife
At a tobacco plug
And not meeting my eye,
In the pause after a slug
He mentioned poetry.
We would be on our own
And, always politic
And shy of condescension,
I would manage by some trick
To switch the talk to eels
Or lore of the horse and cart
Or the Provisionals.

But my tentative art
His turned back watches too:
He was blown to bits
Out drinking in a curfew
Others obeyed, three nights
After they shot dead
The thirteen men in Derry.
PARAS THIRTEEN, the walls said,
BOGSIDE NIL. That Wednesday
Everyone held
His breath and trembled.


It was a day of cold
Raw silence, wind-blown
Surplice and soutane:
Rained-on, flower-laden
Coffin after coffin
Seemed to float from the door
Of the packed cathedral
Like blossoms on slow water.
The common funeral
Unrolled its swaddling band,
Lapping, tightening
Till we were braced and bound
Like brothers in a ring.

But he would not be held
At home by his own crowd
Whatever threats were phoned,
Whatever black flags waved.
I see him as he turned
In that bombed offending place,
Remorse fused with terror
In his still knowable face,
His cornered outfaced stare
Blinding in the flash.

He had gone miles away
For he drank like a fish
Nightly, naturally
Swimming towards the lure
Of warm lit-up places,
The blurred mesh and murmur
Drifting among glasses
In the gregarious smoke.
How culpable was he
That last night when he broke
Our tribe’s complicity?
‘Now, you’re supposed to be
An educated man,’
I hear him say. ‘Puzzle me
The right answer to that one.’


I missed his funeral,
Those quiet walkers
And sideways talkers
Shoaling out of his lane
To the respectable
Purring of the hearse…
They move in equal pace
With the habitual
Slow consolation
Of a dawdling engine,
The line lifted, hand
Over fist, cold sunshine
On the water, the land
Banked under fog: that morning
I was taken in his boat,
The screw purling, turning
Indolent fathoms white,
I tasted freedom with him.
To get out early, haul
Steadily off the bottom,
Dispraise the catch, and smile
As you find a rhythm
Working you, slow mile by mile,
Into your proper haunt
Somewhere, well out, beyond…

Dawn-sniffing revenant,
Plodder through midnight rain,
Question me again.

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Carry on, Assad

August 29, 2013 at 10:48 pm (Champagne Charlie, fascism, hell, Human rights, internationalism, Middle East, Stop The War, Syria)

The vote was probably, on balance, the least-bad outcome on offer, but be in no doubt that it will give encouragement to Assad. And it was an expression of rightist, petty bourgeois isolationism (combined with Labour guilt-assuagement over Iraq), not any kind of “anti-imperialism.”

As far as can be judged, Syrians in Britain tend to take a different view to that of MPs:

Above: counter-demo of Syrians against ‘Stop The War’ isolationists on Wednesday

Thought for the day:

“One in four people in Lebanon are now Syrians. The gassing of hundreds in the outskirts of Damascus has now taken Syria across another of the West’s famous ‘red lines’ — and yet again, only words come from Washington and London. No wonder the Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt,  quoting Hannah Arendt and holding the Assad regime responsible last week, referred to the ‘banality of evil’. The West’s whittering and twittering — over Cairo just as much as Damascus – is a form of ‘banalising’ violence” Robert Fisk, The Independent, 26 August.

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After the Great March (by Max Shachtman)

August 29, 2013 at 9:33 am (Anti-Racism, AWL, civil rights, class, Democratic Party, history, posted by JD, protest, Racism, Shachtman, socialism, solidarity, unions, United States)

Max Shachtman

Above: Max Shachtman 

From the Workers Liberty website:

This speech was made by Max Shachtman soon after the famous March on Washington for civil rights of 28 August 1963, and appeared in New America, the paper of the Socialist Party (USA), on 24 September 1963.

It is not the revolutionary Shachtman of the 1940s and early 50s, but the call for an alliance with the labour movement is interesting and valuable.

The superb demonstration for civil rights has come to its grandiose conclusion, as you know. And we of the Socialist Party are immensely proud and gratified over its spectacular triumph.

Not because we invented this movement, not because we led this movement – we did not; but because its triumph is our triumph, as it is that of all people who cherish freedom, democracy, and human equality. Every achievement in this fight for human rights is, as we see it, a milestone on the road to that complete socialist democracy which at once our ideal and our political goal.

Our pride is sustained by the thought that today and tomorrow, as from the beginning, we have been supporters, firm and without reservation, of the civil rights movement and of its goal. I say firm and without reservation – and also without partisan interest or concern. We socialists have no “instructions”, or as they say nowadays, “directives”, to give the civil rights movement.

We shun such a role, in the first place. And in the second place, we have no criticism to make of a movement that has achieved so brilliant a record of success in mobilising millions, literally millions, in struggles all over the nation.

The spokesmen for the March were united in proclaiming it, at Lincoln Memorial, as only a beginning. And with the end of the March, the question naturally rises: What next?

We socialists are obliged to be true to ourselves. We are a political organisation. Politics is our means. It is our justification for existence. And I want to confine my remarks to nothing than an explanation, an explanation, of how we see the political strategy that can under these difficult circumstances multiply and speed the goal that we socialists and the civil rights movement seek in common.

The demonstrations and the battles that preceded it as surely as they will follow it have been superb, as I said, and as you well know. Now, after seven years of this brave American movement, it is time to draw up some provisional balance sheets, at the least.

What have been the results? What have been the results of this cry from the bottom of the hearts of millions of people who for a century have waited so patiently?

We now have the civil rights bill sponsored by the Administration limping along in Congress. We have many friendly statements which were not forthcoming until the Negro people in this country began to put on the pressure, the statements from the most respectable circles of this country.

There has been a little integration in the South, a little. Some airports are now available to absorb the masses of Negroes who travel by plane. There are some golflinks the large majority of Negro people can play on, just as you and I. There are some restaurants where we can have a quick coca-cola. Some jobs have been given to Negroes here and there, that’s all, just a few here and a few there. And a few other things – a very few other things.

It is very considerable, I would say, as compared with what was the status quo several years ago. But it is still trivial in comparison with both the need and the aspiration. And that is the problem.

The other day I read a report in the New York Times from Los Angeles about the activity of the civil rights movement there. The civil rights movements, organisations, are combined there, as in many places, into what is called the Civil Rights Committee. It has, as do so many other civil rights organisations, an employment committee, which is headed by a man named Eugene Franklin, according to the report.

Upon being questioned by the reporter from the Times on what progress has been made, he says, “Oh yes. Everybody’s issuing policy statements supporting us. But we haven’t put any people to work yet”.

Now, I want deliberately to exaggerate without caricaturing the reality. And say that everything – I’m exaggerating, but not by much – everything depends upon jobs.

The living standards of the Negro, unspeakably and abominably low, depend on jobs. For the Negro in particular, access to whatever educational facilities there are especially in the higher categories, depends on jobs, not on poverty.

The facilities that are available for medical care and housing – if you can call the dismal quarters reserved for most Negroes “housing” today – depend on jobs. The power which almost every group in the country has utilised to advance its interests requires the economic power is given to you by work,  by jobs, by important jobs, by necessary jobs, by indispensable jobs, so that you can withdraw your power in order to enforce your demands. To the greatly underemployed Negro mass, this power is not sufficiently available without jobs.

I do not want to speak extensively on that subject that will be dealt with elsewhere, but I want to go to the next aspect of it.

Jobs, in turn, depend upon the state of the economy. You may be for jobs and I may be for jobs, but if the economy is not working, even to the extent that our dubious prosperity under American capitalism allows it to work, there will be no jobs.

There will be no jobs for the “superior” people, and if there are no jobs for the “superior” people, there will certainly be no jobs for the “inferior” people.

And the economy is in terrible shape. We are lagging behind this country, we are told, and we are lagging behind that country. In fact, sometimes the world seems to be divided between the US and the countries it is lagging behind. That’s how it is in a wealthy country like this, in an unimaginably wealthy country like this, where continual mass unemployment is made even weightier by the number of resolutions and promises to liquidate it which do not change the number of unemployed. And here’s where I see politics come in.

All important steps of progress in the US today, in so far as they depend upon government enactments, government initiatives, are stalled today, as yesterday, by the existence of the power of the great anonymous party in the US. That anonymous party which, though it submits no candidates formally to the electorate, is known more popularly – popularly? no, it is known more widely – as the Dixiecrat-Republican coalition.

It is not the whole evil in this country, but it is one of the most poisonous roots of the evil in this country. It is the prop, in turn of our two traditional big political parties in the US. It is the prop, in its own way, of the Administration and of the official opposition.

And existing side by side with it is an unutilised power of immense proportions, the political power of the Negro people in the US. This is not just 10% of the population, that statistic tells us nothing. It is a very important 10%, because it is a concentrated 10%.

It is 10% in the nation. But while it is not 10% in Wyoming, it is almost 50% in NY. It is not 10% of Kansas, of all such states which do not have such great importance, but it is 25% of Chicago, it is a third or so of St Louis, and so on and so forth throughout the country in the most important political and economic centres.

It is a concentrated political power, and in many centres it can be the balance of political power.

I’d like to see, if I may intrude on this subject, I would like to see the Negro people in this country, starting with a few who speedily become the great number, become imbued with an active consciousness of their tremendous political power in American society, and of how greatly all political decisions made in this country are dependent on this power and how it is exercised. And I would like to see the adoption of a political strategy by the civil rights movement, and not by it alone, which starts by putting forth as its main slogan – not the only one, but the main slogan for the present period: Drive the Dixiecrats out of power in the United States!

I have my radical moments, you know, and I would go even further. I would say: drive them out of politics altogether. But I know that’s a very radical idea and I won’t insist on it.

I heard the Dixiecrat spokesman on TV in the very midst of the demonstration at Lincoln Memorial, a person whose name I don’t like to mention in polite and civilised society. He says he find nothing wrong in the country. Not that he has any prejudices against Negroies, but there’s nothing wrong, they enjoy the greatest freedom of any people in the entire world. Now, that man has a unman form, more or less, but since he is not a civilised person he should be removed from the field of politics. For by his own admission he does not understand the first thing about what is happening in this country, and a statesman or a representative has no right to occupy a public office unless he understands at least the first thing about what’s going on in the country. Drive the Dixiecrats out of power!

Now you may say: them alone? No. But from my teachers I learned the great, profound socialists and agricultural truth: every season has its vegetable. This season – drive the Dixiecrats out of power. If you succeed, and to the extent you succeed, in driving them out of power, you have broken the backbone of the Dixiecrat-Republican coalition. In itself, it is small. But due to the constellation of political forces in this country, it presents an enormous obstacle to all forms of social progress in this country.

Without the Dixiecrats, the Republicans, from the populous states of the Mid-west, from the mountains and from the deserts and from the rivers and all the other important population centres, have no significant political power in this country.

To smash the Dixiecrats will not only break the power of the coalition, it will break the backbone, as I understand it, of what is called, and this is the popular sociological term today, the power structure – I never heard this stuff when I was a kid, but it’s mighty popular now – it will break the backbone of the power structure in the United Startes. Its success will lift us all onto a new stage of political revolution in the land.

You may well ask: what about the North? There are no pronounced, conspicuous, influential Dixiecrats there. That’s true. But there are people who are in the same party as Dixiecrats. They are no Dixiecrats, they’re civilised people. But their civilisedness is kept under extreme control. They say: “We have our differences with our Southern brothers; they are Democrats of one kind, we of another; we cannot be held responsible for them, and on occasion we vote differently from them”.

To every political spokesman in the North must be put the question, and not in too polite a way – no, that sounds too bad; in a polite way, in a polite and insistent and unintermittent way – not the question: Do you differ with the Dixiecrat? but: Will you break with the Dixiecrats? Will you repudiate the Dixiecrats? Will you isolate the Dixiecrats? Will you help drive the Dixiecrats out of power? Or are your promises about liberalism, about which we have heard so much – white liberalism, and, if I may say so without offence, black liberalism – just so many nice words? Read the rest of this entry »

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The marchers who made the Dream

August 28, 2013 at 12:04 am (Anti-Racism, civil rights, class, history, humanism, Jim D, United States)

The 1963 March on Washington is one of the most-remembered events of the civil rights movement — but what you learned in school left out a lot, writes Elizabeth Schulte at the US Socialist Worker website (no longer associated with the Brit SWP):

The front ranks of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (National Archives)

The march was about jobs and housing, as well as racism

THEY CAME from every corner of the country–from New York, Ohio, Georgia, Mississippi–to be at the largest demonstration that Washington, D.C. had ever seen.

Organizer Bayard Rustin captured the mood of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, held 50 years ago this August. “It wasn’t the Harry Belafontes and the greats from Hollywood that made the march,” Rustin said. “What made the march was that Black people voted that day with their feet. They came from every state, they came in jalopies, on trains, buses, anything they could get–some walked.”

More than 30 chartered trains and 2,000 buses brought people to the nation’s capital. The Brooklyn chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) walked the 230 miles from New York City to D.C.–over a period of 13 days.

The United Auto Workers, one of the march sponsors, printed hundreds of signs with slogans such as “UAW Says Jobs and Freedom for Every American.” But other marchers brought homemade signs, with messages like “There Would Be More of Us Here, But So Many of Us Are in Jail. Freedom Now” and “Stop Legal Murders.”

An airplane full of celebrities, including Ossie Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Sidney Poitier, Lena Horne, Paul Newman, Josephine Baker and Marlon Brando, was organized by Harry Belafonte. Singers Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and the Freedom Singers performed. CBS canceled all its daytime shows to broadcast the entire event, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was televised around the world.

By 9:30 a.m., some 40,000 people had gathered in the Mall. Two hours later, there were twice as many. When the march stepped off, the crowd was estimated at a quarter of a million people. They were of all ages–college students, union members, families with children, older people. About a fifth of the crowd was white–this was overwhelmingly an African American march for jobs and freedom.

Excitement among the protesters was so great that they began marching on their own–the official heads of the march had to run to get to the front.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE YEARS leading up to the historic 1963 march were marked by explosive civil rights battles throughout the South and a growing radicalization among many of the people who took part.

The second wave of the civil rights movement had been kicked off three years before by a handful of students in North Carolina who organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters starting in February 1960. In two months’ time, lunch counter sit-ins had spread across the South, involving some 50,000 Black and white youth.

In 1961, activists from the recently formed Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) joined the Freedom Rides organized by CORE. The goal of the Freedom Rides was to desegregate interstate bus lines throughout the South. The Freedom Riders were attacked by racist mobs, as local cops looked on.

The instinct of the national Democrats–who the civil rights activists initially looked to–was to try to tame the struggle. Attorney General Robert Kennedy offered civil rights activists tax-free status if they would agree to abandon their sit-ins and Freedom Rides, and focus on voter registration.

Recognizing this opportunity for further activism, activists seized on the offer and set up headquarters in Mississippi to register Blacks to vote. Organizers from CORE, SNCC and other groups initiated a campaign to register as many Black voters as possible in Mississippi. In the process, they established Freedom Schools, community centers and other initiatives to aid Blacks living in the poorest state in the country.

At every step of the way, the activists were met with violence from racist terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens’ Councils. While they were harassed, jailed and beaten, the Kennedy administration, unwilling to intervene for fear of offending the segregationist Southern Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic Party, continued to look the other way.

In April 1963, civil rights activists targeted Birmingham, Ala.–home to notorious segregationist Gov. George Wallace and racist Police Chief Eugene “Bull” Connor. When Connor ordered his cops to use clubs, dogs and fire hoses on peaceful protesters, it was televised, showing the whole world what Jim Crow rule in the South looked like.

For the activists, the violence begged the question: Why isn’t the Kennedy administration doing anything to stop it? And furthermore: How can a country that proclaims itself to be a beacon of democracy to the world be attacking Black children in its streets?

The event helped educate a wider audience about racism in the U.S. South. According to polls at the time, only 4 percent of Americans saw civil rights as a pressing issue before Birmingham. Afterward, that number grew to 52 percent.

The movement didn’t stop with the streets of Birmingham. The fight for civil rights spread across the South and around the country. 1963 saw more than 900 demonstrations in more than 100 cities, with more than 20,000 arrested and at least 10 deaths to the civil rights struggle. These protests were putting the Kennedy administration on the spot–pressuring it to make good on its promises of passing stalled civil rights legislation.

The 1963 March on Washington would bring together activists from the movement, but also people who had been radicalized by these events–and by the realities of everyday life for Blacks in the North and the South.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE OUTRAGE over Bull Connor’s crackdown forced Kennedy to introduce a civil rights bill in Congress–and fueled the enormous turnout to the March on Washington. But the aims of the Kennedy administration–and the leadership of the march as well–didn’t always match the aspirations of marchers.

In their conception of the march, many SNCC activists, including John Lewis, envisioned mass civil disobedience–staging sit-ins and lie-ins across Washington, particularly in the offices of Southern members of Congress. But these more radical plans were halted by more conservative forces that seized leadership of the march organizing.

President John F. Kennedy had tried to stop the march from happening. When that failed, he set out to co-opt it.

In July, there was a march organizing meeting involving the “Big Six” civil rights leaders–A. Philip Randolph, who had led the aborted March on Washington movement in 1941; Roy Wilkins of the NAACP; James Farmer of CORE; John Lewis of SNCC; Whitney Young Jr. of the Urban League; and Martin Luther King, representing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

In the eyes of the more militant activists of CORE and SNCC, the march should be an expression of the growing frustration of Blacks at the federal government failing to take a side in the fight against the Jim Crow South. But for the more conservative civil rights leaders, such as the NAACP’s Wilkins, the focus was on simply getting a Kennedy-backed civil rights bill through Congress. The self-appointed march leaders made every effort to keep the march acceptable to the administration.

This didn’t stop FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover–who was particularly inflamed by the march button’s image of black and white hands clasped in solidarity–from treating the demonstration as a terrorist plot in the making.

When telling Kennedy that King was under the influence of communists didn’t get the march called off, Hoover spared no expense preparing for the violence that never came. Kennedy and the military even drafted a proclamation that would give the go-ahead for 4,000 troops assembled in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.–and 15,000 paratroopers–to break up the demonstration.

Meanwhile, march leaders cut speakers who might sound too radical, such as writer James Baldwin. Others were censored. The day before the march, the planned speech by SNCC John Lewis was revised by organizers. ” The original version, to which several SNCC activists had contributed, read:

In good consciousness, we cannot support the administration’s civil rights bill, for it is too little, too late. There’s not one thing in the bill that will protect our people from police brutality…What is in the bill that will protect the homeless and starving people of this nation? What is there in this bill to ensure the equality of a maid that makes $5 a week in the home of a family whose income is $100,000 a year?

Objections were also raised to Lewis’ angry tone in the original speech, exemplified by this section:

We will march through the South, through the Heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We will pursue our own “scorched-earth” policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground–nonviolently. We will fragment the South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of democracy.

Even with the revisions, however, the speech Lewis did ask a critical question: “Where is our party? Where is the party that will make it unnecessary for us to march on Washington? Where is the political party that will make it unnecessary to march in the streets of Birmingham?”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE CLIMAX of the day in Washington was King’s speech. In it, he gave voice to the widespread frustration with the unkept promise of racial equality in the U.S.

[W]e have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

King expressed the urgency of these demands for the civil rights movement–and the fact that activists were no longer content to sit and wait for equality:

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of the Negro. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality.

Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

For most people, this is King’s most recognized speech. It’s been used and misused by politicians of many political stripes. As Gary Younge notes in his new book The Speech:

The ability of America’s powerful to co-opt and rebrand resistance to past inequities as evidence of the nation’s essential and unique genius is as impressive as it is cynical. Such sleight of hand is often exercised at the same time as attempts to correct the inequalities that made such resistance necessary in the first place are ignored or marginalized… Sanctified after his death, King’s speech would eventually be celebrated by those who actively opposed his efforts whilst he lived.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE MORE radical version of King–for example, the man who spoke out against the U.S. war in Vietnam a few years later at the Riverside Church in Harlem–hasn’t been included in the history books.

By the same token, when we talk about the march itself, it’s important to emphasize the struggles that came before and after–including the many much smaller and modest actions and events. The activists who defied Jim Crow to organize the movement should be remembered as the heart and soul of the March on Washington–more so than the people who spoke from the front.

The march drew together both the activists from these fierce struggles, as well as people who were inspired by them–and because of this, it was inspirational on many levels. But it didn’t mean that the fight was anywhere near over. The Democratic Party, in particular, continued to drag its feet on civil rights legislation, while simultaneously trying to curb the movement’s more radical demands.

After Kennedy’s assassination later in 1963, his successor, Lyndon Johnson, pushed the Civil Rights Act through Congress in 1964, finally outlawing Jim Crow segregation. This was followed the next year by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which guaranteed Southern Blacks the right to vote.

The laws passed not because Democratic politicians had a change of heart, but because of the pressure of the mass civil rights movement across the South and throughout the U.S.

The Democratic Party establishment showed its real allegiances again at the 1964 national convention in Atlantic City. SNCC had organized delegates from the non-segregated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to claim the state’s seats from the Dixiecrat delegation. But party liberals led the way in trying to push a rotten compromise on the MFDP. When civil rights delegates refused the urging of figures like Hubert Humphrey–and even Martin Luther King–to retreat, they were escorted out of the convention by police.

These and other betrayals would lead some civil rights activists to reject relying on the Democratic Party–and turn to the more radical ideas, like those of Malcolm X. This set the stage for the the Black Power movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. “Never again,” SNCC’s Cleveland Sellers later recalled, “were we lulled into believing that our task was exposing injustices so that the ‘good’ people of American could eliminate them. After Atlantic City, our struggle was not for civil rights, but for liberation.”

Others, like John Lewis, would dedicate themselves to the Democratic Party, despite its broken promises.

One of the greatest lessons of the civil rights era is that what we do makes a difference. It was the mass mobilization across the South that defeated Jim Crow segregation–and it was the hundreds of thousands who came to D.C. who made the March on Washington the historic occasion it was.

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Syria: no-win for us or the ruling class … or the Syrian people

August 27, 2013 at 5:46 pm (conspiracy theories, hell, Human rights, Jim D, Middle East, murder, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Syria, terror, UN, United States, USSR, war)

Ben Jennings 27.08.2013

Cartoon from the Guardian

The international ruling classes are clearly in a quandary over Syria. But so is the serious left (the word “serious” meaning discounting Assad-supporters and hypocritical fake-Westphalians who’ve been looking forward to western intervention for the past two years and more, just so’s they can have something to protest about).

Shiraz Socialist does not oppose foreign intervention in principle, especially when a country is descending into sectarian mass-murder. Also, the use of chemical weapons should be recognised as a “red line” and, if possible, the perpetrators punished.

The problem with regard to Syria is not any “principled” objection to “outside” intervention, but the fact that the opposition seems to be a bunch of sectarian Islamists who are already attacking Kurds, Allowites, Christians, Shias and others.

The best result  now would be a cease-fire arrived at by a conference brokered and enforced on the ground by the UN, Arab League or, indeed, NATO. Frankly, that’s not very likely.

It looks like Labour are going to opposes unilateral military action

The left in general, perhapd due to the bank holiday, has yet to react. There are a few voices though – Owen jones opposes military action but, against all the evidence, appears to doubt that  the Assad regieme launched the chemical attack. He calls on the international court to bring charges and for UN peace talks: “There’s no question that those who use chemical weapons must be  arraigned in an international court. But a UN-brokered peace process  involving all the local and regional players remains the only solution.”

The wretched Lindsey German and ‘Stop the War’ are entirely predictable. They call it a proxy war but conveniently only mention the Western and Saudi arming of the rebels, not Russia or Iran who have been sending arms and troops to aid Assad.  They call for peace talks, but really they’re in support of Assad:

Others (eg: Galloway) are spreading conspiracy theories about who did the gassing: Mossad, Al Quida, the FSA, Turkish intelligence, Saudi Intelligence-  take your pick.
Assad supporter John Wight at the Socialist Unity blog thinks it’s all of them conspiring to take out Assad because he is part of the “Axis of Resistance”:
A few voices of sanity, solidarity and common decency:
* Coatsey
* Louis Proyect
* The AWL

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Bayard Rustin: the forgotten man behind the 1963 march

August 26, 2013 at 5:27 pm (Anti-Racism, civil rights, gay, good people, history, homophobia, political groups, protest, Shachtman, trotskyism, United States)

Above: Bayard Rustin

As the world gears up for the fiftieth anniversary of the great 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom, the Social Democrats USA remember the crucial role of Bayard Rustin, and the “Shachtmanite” organisation, of which he was a member: their role has been figuratively airbrushed out of official histories. Rustin was the key figure linking the Civil Rights movement and the unions:

By David Hacker

The 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington is [this coming Wednesday]. Everyone knows about Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech that he delivered at the rally outside the Lincoln Memorial for this event. What most do not know is that the entire march was conceived and planned by the Shachtmanites. A Philip Randolph conceived it. But Max Shachtman also had a hand in the idea for the march. He also chose Rustin to be the main organizer for the march. When Rustin was caught and arrested for homosexual conduct in a men’s room in Washington, Shachtman (though he was a homophobe) outlined for Bayard a defense of his action. Randolph was being pressured to fire Rustin and Southern Senators, such as Strom Thurmond, were attacking him on the issue of immorality. But as a result of Shachtman’s defense, Rustin continued to be the main organizer of the march (though his official position was downgraded a bit.), and he hired many Shachtmanites such as Norman Hill and Tom Kahn to assist him. At the same time, Bogdan Denitch organized the West Coast version of the march in California. At the rally itself, Kahn wrote the controversial speech by SNCC chair John Lewis in which the advanced text contained attacks on the Kennedy Administration and stated that “the revolution is at hand. We will take matters in our own hands and create a source of power, outside of any national structure that could and would assure us a victory…If any radical social, political and economic changes are to take place in our society, the people, the masses, must bring them about.” Then Att. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy said that Lewis shouldn’t be allowed to deliver his speech at the March. Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle, the Catholic prelate of Washington protested that he wouldn’t deliver the invocation for the rally if Lewis delivered his speech. Randolph, King, Rustin, Kahn and Lewis and other leaders of SNCC argued about revising the speech while the rally had already started. Finally, Lewis agreed to a rewritten speech and he was allowed to address the masses gathered at the Lincoln Memorial. (Lewis is now a Democratic congressman from Atlanta.)

What most history books do not tell you about is the Socialist Party conference that was held in Washington after the rally was over. It was entitled, “Socialist Party National Conference on the Civil Rights Revolution”. This was a 2 day affair held at the Burlington Hotel from Thursday August 29-Friday August 30, 1963. (The SP had a party for Marchers and Conference participants on the evening of August 28th after the conclusion of the March on Washington and rally.) The first session was Thursday morning with the theme: “Toward Full Equality in a Progressive America. Chairman of the session was Richard Parrish ( who was the chairman of the Civil Rights Committee of the United Federation of Teachers, Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers and Treasurer of the Negro-American Labor Council. Parrish was also running on the SP line for a special election for NYC Councilmember at Large in Manhattan and was supported enthusiastically by all factions of the SP.) Speakers were Norman Thomas, Floyd McKissick, Chairman of CORE (spoke in place of James Farmer, who was in jail in Louisiana), A. Philip Randolph and Congressman William Fitts Ryan (D-NY), a leader of the reform Democrats. Special remarks by Samuel H. Friedman, SP VP candidate in 1952 and 1956 and former editor of the Socialist Call. The afternoon session was entitled: “The New Phase: A Prospectus for Civil Rights.” Chairman of the session was long time SP activists Seymour Steinsapir. Speakers were Bayard Rustin, Deputy Director March on Washington. Responding to Rustin’s address were Robert Moses, Field Secretary, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Ike Reynolds, Task Force, CORE and Tom Kahn, Staff, March on Washington. The evening sessions theme was “A Political Strategy for Civil Rights. The sessions’s chairman was Eleanor Holmes, now DC Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. She introduced the conference’s keynote speaker, Max Shachtman, who spoke on the topic, “Drive Out Dixiecrats For Jobs and Freedom.” Responding to Shachtman’s address were Ernest Calloway, President, St Louis Chapter of the Negro-American Labor Council, and Wiloughby Abner, Vice-President, NALC, National Staff, UAW. The final session of the Conference took place on Friday morning. It’s subject was “Fair Employment-Full Employment. The chairman of the meeting was Warren Morse (a name I am unfamiliar with). Speakers were Lewis Carliner, Assistant to the Director, International Affairs Dept., UAW, Norman Hill, Assistant Program Director, CORE, Cleveland Robinson, Secretary Treasurer, District 65 RWDSU, Co-Chairman of March, Herman Roseman, Economist. Closing Remarks and Summary by Norman Thomas.

Thus, well known figures took part in this conference. such as leaders of CORE, SNCC, Randolph, Rustin, Norman Thomas, Norm Hill, Kahn, prominent folk singers like Joan Baez, etc. But my main point is that the Shachtmanites, militant civil rights leaders, labor, were all united seemingly in the same broad realignment movement of the democratic Left. SDS was still also a part of this coalition, despite of Harrington’s tirade against them over the Port Huron Statement, the year before. As long as the Shachtmanite-militant civil rights alliances continued, it would be counter-productive for SDS to seem to be against this realignment coalition. This is the very positive aspect of the Shachtmanites activities in the SP that too many are unfortunately not aware of. Harrington was not at the March. He was in Paris writing his second book, The Accidental Century.

David Hacker is Vice Chair of Social Democrats USA.  The above article is excerpted from a book he is writing about Max Shachtman.  Historical note: The Socialist Party in existence in 1963 would be renamed Social Democrats, USA in 1972.  Harrington chose to leave the organization at that time.  But organized labor stayed and so did Bayard Rustin, becoming National Chairman.


More on Rustin’s role in the Civil Rights Movement, and his subsequent political evolution, here

Gary Younge in the Gruan doesn’t even mention Rustin’s Shachtmanism

H/t: Bruce

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Salif Keita and the threats of the BDS campaign

August 26, 2013 at 9:31 am (africa, anti-semitism, Human rights, humanism, israel, Jim D, music, palestine, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, song, truth)

Sarah AB, over at That Place and also at Engage, has described the circumstances leading to the Malian singer-songwriter Salif Keita to cancelling an appearance in Jerusalem. We have argued many times here at Shiraz, that the BDS campaign to boycott and “delegitimise” Israel is counterproductive, of no real use to the Palestinian people and generally more about hatred of Israel than about solidarity with the Palestinian people.

I thought it would be useful to republish this statement from Salif Keita’s Facebook page:

Salif Keita forced to cancel Jerusalem Festival due to dangerous threats by BDS

August 22, 2013 at 4:40pm

August 22, 2013

 Dear Sacred Music Festival, Hadassah Hospital, Salif Keita fans,

 On behalf of Salif Keita and the Salif Keita Global Foundation, we would like to thank you for organizing a magnificent unifying music festival, and a visit of the albinism treatment center in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, Mr. Keita will not be able to attend either events because of the cancellation of his show at the Sacred Music Festival.

 Although, the show was cancelled, Mr. Keita (and his foundation for albinism) would like to convey his most sincere apologies to all concerned, such as the concert organizers, the Albinism Treatment Center and especially all his wonderful and diverse fans in Israel. The reason for the cancellation is not one which was made by Mr. Keita, but by his agents who were bombarded with hundreds of  threats, blackmail attempts, intimidation, social media harrassment and slander stating that Mr Keita was to perform in Israel, “not for peace, but for apartheid.”  

These threats were made by a group named BDS, who also threatened to keep increasing an anti-Salif Keita campaign, which they had already started on social media, and to work diligently at ruining the reputation and career that Mr. Keita has worked 40 years to achieve not only professionally, but for human rights and albinism.

 Of course, we do not agree with any of these tactics or false propaganda, but management’s concern is to protect the artist from being harmed personnally and professionally. Although, we love Israel and all his fans here, and the fantastic spirit of unity of the Sacred Music Festival, as well as the important work your hospital is doing for albinism, we did not agree with the scare tactics and bullying used by BDS;  therefore management decided to act cautiously when faced with an extremist group, as we believe BDS to be.

 In addition, Mr. Keita is not a politician who plays for governments, but a musician who performs for his fans who are of all faiths and origins in Jerusalem.  It is unfortunate that artists like him are threatened by this group who falsely claim to defend  human rights, when they should take their concerns to governments or ask for support of their cause in a lawful way, and not by endangering the freedom of expression of artists, or using harrassment and intimidation of artists who play for peace and for all people, in order to bring some kind of justice to the Palestinians they claim to represent.

 Since Mr. Keita, during his stay and performance in Jerusalem, had planned to visit the Hadassah Hospital and albinism center, he had also planned to make a donation of certain goods to the hospital which he would still like to offer. The boxes are already in Jerusalem and were shipped for his planned visit to the hospital. The modest donation consists of about a couple of hundred new UV protected sunglasses, as well as UV protected clothing, swimgear and hats for patients with albinism.

 Again, we thank you for your invitation to Jerusalem, and are deeply saddened and disappointed by the outcome of this planned performance and visit. We hope that you will receive this donation with the love it was intended to bring to the patients, as we determine a future time to be able to perform in Israel, and  visit your important center for albinism and skin cancer treatment.


 Salif Keita and Coumba Makalou

The Salif Keita Global Foundation INC

Washington, DC


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Marian McPartland, jazzwoman

August 25, 2013 at 8:15 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D, music, RIP, sexism, women)

RIP: Marian McPartland, jazz pianist and broadcaster, b March 20 1918, d August 20 2013

Great Day in Harlem: Marian, Mary Lou and Monk

Jazz can be proud of its anti-racist traditions and of how, from the early twentieth century, black and white musicians defied Jim Crow in order to work together to make great music. Jazz played a major role in the civil rights movement and – long before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson for the 1946 season – helped convince white America that black people were at least their equals, and had an awful lot to contribute to the American Way Of Life, if only given the chance.

Jazz’s record on sexism and women’s rights is less honourable. Until quite recently, women were scarcely tolerated in jazz, and even then only as fans, hangers-on and singers. The few female instrumentalists that there were in the 1930s, 40s and 50s tended to be treated with condescension or (as with pianist Mary Lou Williams, whose talent could not be denied), as novelties if not downright freaks.

When British-born pianist Marian McPartland arrived in the US in 1946, having married the American cornetist Jimmy McPartland, the influential jazz critic Leonard Feather (himself a Brit) declared, “Oh, she’ll never make it: she’s English, white and a woman.”

Marian went on to prove him, and many other detractors, wrong. On her arrival in America, she sought out the great Mary Lou Williams and, no doubt, received some tips about “making it” in the macho world of the US jazz scene. And she didn’t depend upon the reputation or the contacts of her husband Jimmy: he was a well-established “hot” traditionalist (“Dixielander” if you must) who’d taken over from Bix Beiderbecke in the Wolverine Orchestra in the 1920s, whereas she had more modern ideas and was more at home with bop and post-bop players. In the famous 1958  ‘Great Day in Harlem’ photograph Marian stands at the front with Mary Lou Williams, Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins. Husband Jimmy isn’t present, though cronies like George Wettling, Bud Freeman and Pee Wee Russell are there, forming a distinct little group a couple of rows behind Marian.

By that time, in any case, the McPartland marriage was in trouble, due at least in part to Jimmy’s heavy drinking. Marian, meanwhile, began a long-standing affair with drummer Joe Morello. Jimmy and Marian finally divorced in 1972, but remained friends and continued to work with each other from time to time. Jimmy even quipped: “All married people (should) get divorced and start treating each other like human beings.”

Further unpleasantness in Marian’s life was caused by Benny Goodman, who in 1963 asked her to join his band only to decide that he didn’t like her playing after all, giving her a miserable time on tour, and driving her into therapy. Marian eventually sort-of forgave Goodman, noting that he had unwittingly done her a favour: her time in therapy gave her an opportunity to re-think her life and resulted in a second career as a radio broadcaster specialising in interviews with fellow jazz musicians. Her series Piano Jazz on NPR ran for 33 years and was syndicated throughout America and beyond (though regrettably, not in the UK). Marian said she treated her role as an interviewer in the same way as she approached working in a jazz group: knowing when to contribute, and when to shut up. The show began, in 1978, with Marion interviewing and playing alongside fellow jazz pianists, as in this wonderful encounter with Dick Wellstood. But the show evolved (perhaps as Marian became more confident) and she eventually began interviewing non pianists and, indeed, musicians who might not, strictly, be considered jazz at all: here she is with members of Steely Dan.

But Marian remained active as a pianist, and her stylistic range continued to develop. She continued to perform in public until her late 80s and before she turned 90, composed a symphonic piece, A Portrait of Rachel Carson in memory of the author of the environmental book Silent Spring.

And throughout it all, she and Jimmy remained friends. In fact, just before Jimmy died in 1991, they remarried.

Here they are, playing together at a jam session in 1975. It’s more Jimmy’s scene than Marian’s: most of the musicians are old cronies from the 1920s, 30s and 40s (note the presence of violinist Joe Venuti, for instance). But it’s a great opportunity to see and hear Jimmy and Marian playing together. The marriage may have had its ups and downs, but the music was always great:

New York Times obit, here.

Marian McPartland: A Life in Jazz (2009 tribute), here.

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50 years on from The March and The Dream

August 24, 2013 at 4:11 pm (Anti-Racism, civil rights, democracy, history, posted by JD, protest, Racism, solidarity, United States)

Marching against racial profiling and the murder of Trayvon Martin in Houston (Ed Uthman)

As marchers assemble in Washington to honour the memory of Martin Luther King and the continuing relevance of the 1963 March For Jobs and Freedom, the US Socialist Worker (once, but no longer, affiliated to the UK SWP), has published this  important report:

Taking our struggles to Washington

Elizabeth Schulte, Laura Lising, Gaston Lau and Ann Coleman report on local organizing for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

BY AUGUST 1963, brave civil rights struggles across the U.S. South had thrust the ugly face of Jim Crow segregation–symbolized by the scenes of police attacking Black children with German shepherds and high-pressure fire hoses in Birmingham, Ala.–into the national consciousness.

For many participants, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom represented a coming together of the different battles for civil rights, as well as many people inspired by those struggles. The unexpected and unprecedented turnout of some 250,000 people showed the reach of the movement.

On the 50th anniversary of the famous march where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech, the situation is different, of course. We aren’t witnessing the crest of a mass movement. In fact, many of the gains of the civil rights struggles of half a century ago, like legalized desegregation in public schools and housing, are being eroded. And thanks to the popularity of the idea that we are living in a “post-racial society”–as evidenced by the fact that an African American occupies the White House–opponents of racism often find themselves struggling to push the conditions that Black America endures into the national spotlight.

But the murder of Trayvon Martin last year gave a clear picture of racism in “post-racial” America–and the outpouring of anger after his murderer George Zimmerman was acquitted in July showed the potential for protest, even if they were relatively short-lived. As a result, what might have been mostly a commemoration of the 1963 march 50 years on has taken on a new spirit and urgency.

At least some people will come to Washington this year to speak out about the often localized civil rights issues of today that they have been organizing around–against stop-and-frisk and racial profiling, against police violence and the New Jim Crow, for jobs and union rights, for housing and education justice, against voter ID laws and disenfranchisement, against the relentless austerity agenda.

The August 24 march represents the first time in many years that established civil rights organizations like the NAACP and National Action Network (NAN) have called for a national mobilization and put real resources behind it. Unions have taken up the call–around 15 unions have endorsed officially, including the American Federation of Teachers, AFSCME and the United Auto Workers.

The weight of established liberal organizations in the official apparatus of the demonstration means that some of burning issues on marchers’ minds will be addressed from the speakers’ podium, but others will not. After all, many march organizers like Rev. Al Sharpton of NAN have so far failed to criticize the Obama administration, despite how little it has delivered for Black America.

But the same was true of the 1963 March on Washington, at least as radicals of the day, like Malcolm X, viewed it. Yet the 1963 demonstration is remembered not only for the famous words spoken from the front of the demonstration, but for the spirit and determination of the demonstrators.

There’s no way to tell how many people will attend this year, but reports from around the country indicate the march is inspiring more people to get on the bus than anyone expected a few months ago. In some cities, organizers say spaces on buses are selling out fast.

Lauren Byers of the University of Florida chapter of the Dream Defenders, a group of antiracist youths who occupied the Florida Capitol for a month after Zimmerman’s acquittal, said, “We are named after that historic speech by Dr. King, and we understand that the dream he died trying to accomplish has yet to flourish into reality.”

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN NEW York City, buses are filling up fast. The United Federation of Teachers booked some 25 buses, and the seats were quickly taken.

Many longtime criminal justice activists are traveling as a group from New York and marching together with the formerly incarcerated and other longtime activists. Anti-criminal justice system activist and socialist Lee Wengraf said she was excited about how march organizing is drawing together people around issues of solitary confinement, conditions at the prison on Rikers Island, police brutality and other similar issues.

Constance Malcolm is one of them. She’s the mother of Ramarley Graham, the unarmed 18-year-old who was shot and killed by New York City police in his home. Since her son’s murder, Constance and her family have fought for justice for their son, along with the families of other victims of police violence. Last week, a grand jury refused to re-indict the police officer who killed Ramarley.

Constance explained the importance of attending this march:

We want to go to Washington because this is where Eric Holder, the head of Justice Department, is. We want him to take up Ramarley’s case–not just look into it, but take up this case. We want them to know who Ramarley is in Washington. The same way that Trayvon Martin became a household name, we need them to know that Ramarley was here. It was a police officer who murdered Ramarley, and Zimmerman was a wannabe police officer.

The everyday racism of the NYPD were in the national spotlight last week when a federal judge ruled in Floyd et al v. the City of New York that the department’s stop-and-frisk policy violated the constitutional rights of its hundreds of thousands of victims each year. The cracks in the criminal justice system are showing.

Joseph “Jazz” Hayden of the Campaign to End the New Jim Crow in New York City explains that if activists are going to win this fight, we’re going to have to push forward our own demands:

The people initiating this march, I don’t know that we should be restricted to their agenda. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were products of mass demonstrations. The movement brought into question U.S. foreign policy around the globe–whether it was about democracy and fairness and human rights.

With that in mind, I looked at the Floyd decision that was just rendered in New York against stop-and-frisk and the announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder that he wants to reform federal sentencing laws and mandatory minimums. I think the Obama administration is aware of this mass population of predominately people of color descending on Washington. I think that has our first Black president concerned.

I think that these are incremental reforms–giving the appearance of moving in the right direction and finally recognizing the issues that impact poor people of color, which he has ignore totally throughout his administration. This march should be done for the purpose of holding their feet to the fire. We need to ask why haven’t they addressed the issue of mass incarceration in the U.S., of growing poverty, lack of affordable housing.

Moreover, said Hayden, the march is an opportunity to make connections toward building a national movement. “We saw the grassroots response to the Trayvon Martin decision, which led to demonstrations in over 100 cities across the country. Imagine if we were organized in 100 cities across the country. Anytime we decided we wanted to put something on the national agenda, we could put it out there instantly.”

Yusef Salaam of the Central Park Five–innocent Black youth who were framed for a high-profile rape and assault in 1989–spoke to the demands of the original march that remain unmet:

I think we can be sure that we are still in need of Jobs and Freedom, which are inclusive of our civil and economic rights. The progress we need isn’t satisfied by piecemeal gains for a few, but requires advancement for all. Marching lets the world know we are still at odds with a system that refuses to allow for this gain to take place.

Enough is enough! I want a brighter future for us and future generations, as I’m sure our predecessors wanted for us. As a member of the Central Park Five, I know all too well what it means to wear skin of a darker hue in a system that sees it as beneath them and as a tool of exploitation. Enough is enough!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN CHICAGO, activists organizing to attend the march are drawing the connection between the 1963 march’s demand for “Jobs and Freedom” with the unfinished fight for economic and racial justice today. At a meeting at the Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist Church, activists invited attendees to join their Chicago Labor Freedom Riders caravan.

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) Recording Secretary Michael Brunson began the meeting by talking about the real legacy of the civil rights movement:

It was not until I did studying on my own that I learned how deeply concerned Martin Luther King was with the issue of labor. He not only spoke about it, but you must never forget that he lost his life when he went down to Memphis to stand with sanitation workers. So like the memory of the march, the memory of Martin Luther King himself has been condensed, circumscribed and sanitized.

Dr. Timuel Black, a 94-year-old veteran Chicago teacher and labor activist, described his own education as an activist:

Watching my father and his peers as they began to participate in union activities of United Steel Workers and later the United Packinghouse workers, I began to learn that in unity, there is strength…We began to organize…and we could tell the people that controlled the jobs: If you don’t hire us at a decent wage, we’re going to put you out of business.

Black attended the March on Washington in 1963, and when he got back, he helped organize a successful boycott movement in the Chicago Public Schools to demand equal education for Black children.

Brandon Johnson of the CTU’s Black Caucus explained how the gains in the fight for public education in the 1960s are being undermined today:

This attack on public education is very much an attack on Black labor. Public education and public-sector jobs are overwhelmingly held by Blacks, women in particular. So these conversations about privatization of public education are very much a threat to the working class, to middle-class Black families…

We have to make sure that the conversation about public education, housing, transportation and so on isn’t separated from racial, social and economic justice.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that guts the 1965 Voting Rights Act, seven Southern states have passed or implemented new restrictions that target people of color. This was very much on the mind of Martese Chism, a registered nurse at Cook County Hospital and member of National Nurses United.

Chism told the story of how her great grandmother Birdia, along with fellow Charleston, Miss., Freedom Riders, traveled to Jackson, Miss., in 1965 to give testimony at a voting rights hearing, despite death threats from the Ku Klux Klan. “On the way back home, just outside of Greenwood, Miss., their car was forced off the road,” she said. The women were removed from the car, marched to the edge of the wood and killed, and their bodies were mutilated. As Chism said:

Fifty years later, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that Birdia and Miss Hamlet testified in support of has been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court…Striking down the 1965 Voting Rights Act is like striking down hypertension medicine for a hypertension patient…We are riding for my great grandmother Birdia, for the schoolteacher Miss Hamlet…and for Main Street. Get on the bus.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN BOSTON, back in 1963, organizers were only able to provide one bus to go to the March on Washington, and most people who wanted to go had to find their own way there. This year, the Boston branch of the NAACP is organizing four buses for the march.

At a meeting in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood on August 15, victims of police violence spoke about why the August 24 march was an opportunity for individual campaigns against police violence, led mostly by family members, to connect with other organizations and individuals to lay the basis for future organizing efforts.

Wayne Dozier is the grandfather of DJ Henry, a 20-year-old Pace University student who was shot through the windshield of his car by a Mount Pleasant, N.Y., officer in 2010. Through the family’s organizing efforts, it has been revealed that police conspired to lie about what happened the night Henry was killed.

After sharing the story of his grandson, Dozier pointed to a pin for Ramarley Graham on his shirt. He wears the pin to remind him that our struggles are connected, and that judges and courts from Boston to California support police violence. “March on Washington with a new cause and sense of purpose,” he said. “We need to question why we have more Black men in prison today than we had slaves in 1850.”

In May, Anwar Luckman was riding his bike when Brookline police surrounded him, causing him to crash, and then pepper sprayed and handcuffed him. Now, Anwar is facing up to $700 in fines or two-and-a-half years of prison. “It has to be a collective effort,” Anwar said. “We need different shades and shapes of people so we can’t be overlooked.”

Other attendees at the 75-person meeting included Carla Sheffield, mother of Bo (Burrell) Ramsey-White, a 26-year-old who was murdered by Boston police in August 2012, as well as mothers from Legacy Lives On, a nonprofit for family members who have lost loved ones to homicide or street violence.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN WASHINGTON, D.C., networks of activists have come together over issues related to criminal justice and are planning a special feeder march for the August 24 demonstration.

The activists first connected at an event celebrating the abolition of the death penalty in Maryland in May, which brought together former death row prisoners, antiracist activists, death row lawyers and people who have been part of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and other criminal justice activism.

Afterward, a handful of people started meeting to discuss launching a new campaign, building on the changed political climate following the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia in 2011 and the popularity of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.

When George Zimmerman was acquitted in July, activists organized rallies, meetings and speak-outs. When a report was released revealing rampant racial profiling in D.C., activists organized a press conference linking the struggle for justice for Trayvon Martin and an end to racial profiling by police. There, they called for a rally and march on the morning of August 24, which would then link up with the 50th Anniversary march.

Momentum for the feeder rally and march has been building, say organizers, with a packed forum on August 15 where community members spoke out about their treatment at the hands of the D.C. police. TeOnna Ross, who was distributing flyers the weekend before the rally, said:

As people of color, we know we can’t trust the police, and we teach our children to watch out for them. But the statistics in the report made the issues come to light in a new way. The report and the forum and the rally are all ways to pull people into this struggle against racial profiling.

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ON THE West Coast, activists are organizing their own actions on August 24 to coincide with the March on Washington.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, working-class Blacks, Latinos and Asians are being pushed out of the city centers and into suburban ghettos. Over the last 30 years, the Black population of San Francisco has fallen from 14 percent of the population to 4 percent.

Between 2008 and 2012 alone, 1,465 homes in one of the last remaining Black neighborhoods, the Bayview neighborhood, faced foreclosure–84 percent of which have been conducted illegally. As gentrification spreads across the Bay, the Black population in Oakland has dropped by a quarter over the past decade.

In the face of the housing crisis, the city of Oakland has increased its police department budget by $90 million since 2001. The priorities are clear, and the plight of Black and working-class people have been once again put off to the side.

In response, members of the Coalition of Black Trade Unions and Bay Area Black Worker Center have organized a solidarity action for August 24 in Mosswood Park, a historic meeting place for the Black Panthers.

Organizing efforts have been drawing together different pockets of anti-racist forces. For example, the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP has voted to endorse the August 24 action. The organizing has also incorporated younger community members, such as students from the University of California-Berkeley Black Student Union.

Local activists hope that efforts like these that will lead to future struggle and lay the ground for an ongoing fight against racism.

Trenton Brooks and Lee Wengraf contributed to this article.

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