Saturday, November 10, 2007

Corporate Cronies Complain Again: Rangel's Tax Bill

I was just reading the business section of the NYT when I came across this article about congress's attempt to reform the "alternative minimum tax" and was once again confirmed in my view that the business page contains the most important news stories. I checked the WSJ for stories on the bill and found this story, which frames the problem as one of the Democrats trying to maintain fiscal responsibility and keep in line with "pay as you go" rules that call for off-setting any spending with changes in taxes or spending cuts. A similar story in Forbes focuses on the "tax-the-rich" vs. "tax-the-middle-class" aspect of the story, as does the New York Times. Both papers say it is unlikely that the senate will pass the bill, but if they do, Bush has promised to veto it.
The policy advocated in this new House bill, written by Charles Rangel, seems reasonable. It would keep "upper-middle-class" taxpayers from being caught by the Alternative Minimum Tax, and pay for it by closing a loophole that benefits ultra-wealthy hedge-fund managers, who currently pay 20% less in taxes than most other people. As Citizens for Tax Justice puts it, the bill calls for the end of the ongoing use of middle-class tax dollars to subsidize multi-millionaires. Real-Estate interests have responded by hiring a major Bush economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, to spin the story by suggesting that increasing the taxes on hedge-fund managers to the regular rate instead of keeping it at an especially low-rate will hurt real-estate in a time of crisis. Karl Rove goes beyond that, obfuscating the issue with scare tactics, and claims that proposed tax changes in the house threaten a general "$ 1 trillion tax increase." Here's how Rove got there. According to an article by Lisa Lerer,,
Repealing the AMT would reduce federal tax revenue by more than $800 billion over the next 10 years — and that’s assuming the Bush tax cuts expire in 2010. With the tax cuts in place, the costs would near $1 trillion.

But of course, Rangel's proposal does not create a big gap in the budget without paying for it; it shifts the tax-burden to hit more of those ultra-wealthy people that got major tax-cuts from Bush. The tax-increases in the bill include:
a surtax of four percentage points on married couples with adjusted gross income of more than $200,000 and 4.4 percentage points for couples with more than $500,000 in income.
The bill also targets the managers of hedge funds and private-equity firms. The executives' earnings would be taxed at ordinary income tax rates, which are more than double the capital gains rate they now pay. Hedge fund operators would also lose their ability to defer income taxes through the use of offshore havens.

Ultimately, the $1 trillion tax-hike that Rove and Republicans are proclaiming would effect the wealthy people that have benefited most from the hugely expensive Bush tax-cuts. The Tax Policy Center breaks down Rangel's bill like this:

* About 86 million households (57 percent of the total) would get a tax cut in 2008.
* About 3.6 million households (2.4 percent) would pay higher taxes.
* Almost no one earning less than $100,000 would receive a tax increase.
* Almost 80 percent of households earning more than $500,000 would face higher taxes.

As Sam Pizzigati of the blog "Too Much" argues, it doesn't reverse that much of the damage; it's a modest proposal, after all.

Given the clarity of what the bill does, the questions are: 1) will the American public get clear enough information to see that the bill is in the interest of the middle class? and 2)Will Democrats have the courage to support it when it goes to the senate?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Lyrics of the Day: Two Professors Describe Their Work Weeks

Last night, I was co-emcee with Blanche Weisen Cook at the Professional Staff Congress event "Our CUNY vs. Their CUNY." The event featured satirical pieces by union members who teach at Brooklyn College, The CUNY Grad Center, Hunter, Laguardia Community College, BMCC, and John Jay. Since I also wrote and directed a short musical theater piece for the event (in which I also performed)), today's lyrics are by me. They are two songs about the work-load at the CUNY's community colleges.

The first is a duet between a professor Shifrin, who teaches writing-intensive courses, and Professor Stone, the department "suck-up" It's called "the 27 hour blues" with music by Joyce Moorman, of CUNY's music department. The 27 hours in the title refers to 27 credit hours, which means five classes one semester and four classes in the next. Or a "fifteen hour week" in one semester and a "twelve hour week" in the next. As the song explains, teaching involves more work than what's done in the classroom.

The 27 Hour Blues

I teach 27 hours a year,
It makes me crazy
Oh, 27 hours a year
It makes me crazy

You mean that's all you do?
I think you're lazy
We get the summers off too
You and your whining really amaze me

If you knew how hard I work
You wouldn't be so scornful
When you hear my 27-hours-a-year blues
you'll know why I'm so mournful

STONE: If you think you can explain
I'll try not to interrupt
Maybe I'll feel your pain

We call forty hours a regular week
So how can 27 be so bad?
I'll break it down for you piece by piece

STONE: It can't be really bad just take it from me

According to a study by a Texas professor
It takes twenty minutes to grade a student's paper
With twenty-five students that 's 500 minutes
Or more than eight hours before your work is finished
And if you teach four classes the hours are 33
But if you're teaching five classes, it's 42 you see

And if you add prep time the total comes 57
Do you believe me yet when I say this job isn't heaven?

If you add the hours spent in class the total hits 72
Now do you see why I've got the blues?

SULLIVAN: You forgot the office hours - aren't three required?

SHIFRIN: That makes it 75 !

STONE: Now I think I see your point

That leaves me with 93 hours a week.

SULLIVAN: You have to sleep!

Subtracting sleep leaves 37
subtracting three for meetings
and another two for email reading
leaves thirty two!

SHIFRIN AND SULLIVAN: which divided by seven leaves four hours a day

Time off we need it
We need it all
If we remembered the work-load
we wouldn't come back in the fall
Don't make us come back early
Vacation is short
Time off we need it!
We need it all!

I see why some run from a job at CUNY,
It's not just the lousy pay

Time off we need it
We need it all
If we remembered the work-load
we wouldn't come back in the fall
Don't make us come back early
Vacation is short
Time off we need it!
We need it all!

The second song was sung by "professor Sullivan" who responded to Shifrin's song with the comment that her work-week wasn't as bad because she didn't teach writing-intensive classes. However, as we see in this song, sung to the tune of Gilbert and Sullivan's "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General,"
perhaps she spoke too soon....

I am a very conscientious history professor
I spend ten hours reading books before I give each lecture
From Spartacus to Reconstruction, Manitou to mass production
I answer student’s questions with the facts and not conjecture
I’m very well acquainted too with matters technological
I use computers in my class because it’s pedagogical
I spend seven hours weekly on those methods Paolo-Freirean (hmm, Paolo Freireran...)
And if I have two preps it’s twenty-seven hours I’m carryin’

I’m fifteen hours in the classroom and five more in the office clime
I do more than I’m asked because it seems to me I’ve got the time
The students really need me see, they visit on the regular -
I am a very conscientious history professor

It’s 47 hours and we haven’t got to grading yet
I write my own exams and quizzes, that’s at least two hours I bet
Add another five for grading - piles which are so very thick
The total's now at 54 - I think I might be getting sick
Administrative meetings are another duty of my week
The emails that I must respond to are another hour at least
Let’s round it off at sixty hours, I thought I had it easier…
But when I think of finals week it makes me even queasier.

It's blue books by the pound and their handwriting is so hard to read
And multiplied by 35 it’s really quite a task indeed.
With twenty minutes for each one, it’s 12 more hours before I’m done
And multiplied by five it means I hardly see my kids at home.

Gosh I didn't know that I worked 120 hours a week
That leaves just 48 for me, I see that I am up shit’s creek.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Anti-War Demonstration News Round Up and comments

I'm so out of the loop that I completely forgot about ANSWER's demonstration in Washington today, because I'm planning to go to one of UFPJ's marches next month and I'm now in the rare position of trying to figure out what the demonstration was like based only on news coverage. First, take a look at these photos posted at the DC indymedia site. The presence of uniformed veterans and their participation in civil disobedience is striking. Sycamore's Diary at Dailykos also has pictures, interesting comments and thoughts from "Kossacks" who were also a presence at the march. What it may have lacked in numbers, it seems to have made up for in spirit. UFPJ's strategy has clearly been to stop doing major DC mobilizations, partly because they don't want to deal with ANSWER. There are a number of local and regional actions planned for the entire month. I would say that the most effective way to get these going among a larger percentage of the population would be to do them through schools and workplaces, neighborhood clubs, etc., which is probably the idea. My question to readers is, do these need to happen on a national basis to be effective? Or is the activism at the regional and local level more meaningful?

* * *
Both the NY Times and the Washington Post had stories comparing the demonstration to the spirit of Anti-Vietnam protests because it became "rowdy" and involved 189 arrests. The Post story reported on the major presence of uniformed Iraq war veterans from IVAW; the Times ignored their presence, and both papers gave substantial coverage to pro-war counter-demonstraters. While one paper referred to "dozens of arrests," the number was close to 200, which I think may be the highest of any mass national anti-Iraq war protest.
More so than usual, the papers suggest that the pro-war demonstrators were equal to the anti-war activists. However, this reportgives the number of 1,000 for the pro-war protesters and the organizers' estimate of 100,000 anti-war protesters. (closer numbers were reported on Indymedia as 50,000 anti-war demonstrators and 500 pro-war demonstrators)
For thoughts on the relatively small size of yesterday's posters, the comments section of Marc Fisher's Washington Post column yields an interesting "view from the American street" on the war, the media, and anti-war activism. Common Dreams, which has the AP story and another set of commentsgives a view from the left.
And now it's time for me to head out. Sorry I've been off the blog so much. I haven't felt motivated by ongoing events and news coverage. Jon Stewart had the best comment on the Petraeus report that I've seen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

From May to July in My Garden

Scroll down to see the progress from spring to summer.
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Monday, August 13, 2007

Let the Joyous News At Last Be Spread.....

No, it's not clear yet whether it's time to break out the festive brews here in Munchkin Land -

We've got to verify it legally to see
if he
is morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, positively, absolutely, undeniably and reliably (of course I mean politically) dead.

But I jumped like a kid on Christmas morning when I heard Amy Goodman say "Karl Rove is stepping down." Was I dreaming? Apparently not. I may try to get more together later, but for now, I like the headline at The Huffington Post, the comments at Daily Kos,and the article by Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Hoping for the Fall of the Torture Czar

It was with glee that I sat in the Kings County court's jurors' lounge and saw that justice was again creeping slowly after the Bush administration, its nose filled with the essence of Brimstone seeping from under the collar of Atty General Alberto Gonzales. My jaw may have even dropped when I read that it might finally catch up with that wicked toad, Karl Rove.
Patrick Leahy has used strong language, comparing the attorneys scandal to the dark days of Nixon, and this is reason for hope. Still, I can't help but wish that these men had lied about sex, which most Americans seem to care about (we can relate to it, you see), instead of spying on us, because then something might come of it. What if, instead of just approving illegal torture and flouting the Geneva Convention in direct public statements that Gonzales had misbehavedin his bedroom?
I wish that Rove, instead of orchestrating the stealing of three presidential elections, had gotten caught out in the wrong bed.

* * *
After the much anticipated "Fitzmas" following the investigation of the Plame leak, I am only reluctantly optimistic about the notion that justice will ever catch up to these Bushies. It seems likely that despite the 2006 elections we will just continue to read with sick fascination the compilation of crimes at sites such as TPM'smuckraker, along with the detailed accounts of iniquity by such excellent reporters such as Robert Parry, who has a new book out, and Murray Waas, but that nothing will actually result from this knowledge. At least we will know in painful detail about the ongoing, and yet unpunished crimes of an unrepentant political elite. Someone I met on jury-duty told me about the new Comedy Central show L'il Bush and I thought it sounded like the kind of theater that was popular on the streets of France before the revolution: the comedy that you reach for when the people who govern you are completely unaccountable. Although they were royals claiming divine right, and we have "elected" representatives, in what real democracy would a policy developed by a president with a 30% approval rating still manage to surive ?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Pitchfork Festival Round Up, Better Late than Never

Or...sometimes music is more fun in the hot sun.

My big vacation event of the summer was going to the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago on Bastille Day weekend with my friend from that excellent blog, The Pagan Science Monitor.
For those who don't know, Pitchfork is an internet music guide that notoriously sets the snark n' snob standards for hipsters everywhere, and yet remains an invaluable resource for the rest of us. In addition to all that, they now produce a remarkably un-snarky and incredibly cheap annual music festival. I have put my own concert-going cellphone videos on youtube so that everyone can experience just what it's like to be five feet tall at an outdoor rock show on flat ground. The sound is pretty good on these, so enjoy. And all you tall people, perhaps you'll gain a new perspective on the world.
And now...for the run down (including links to videos from people who could actually see the bands).


On the first day, the fest featured three full album performances sponsored by the concert series All Tomorrow's Parties/ Don't Look Back: Slint performing "Spiderland", GZA performing "Liquid Swords" and Sonic Youth doing their full double-album "Daydream Nation."
Needless to say, it was a fantastic first night of music.
GZA: Although the pitchfork vids on youtube show The 4th Chamber the peak of the GZA show, for me anyway, was their rendition of ODB's "I Like it Raw," a weird epitaph if there ever was one.
Sonic Youth: As you can tell from these assorted videos, Sonic Youth's energy was even more massive than usual.


The second day my friend and I started off well with locals, Califone,and we seemed to be standing near the band's family members. You can also see a video of theirs here.
After a too-short, but nonetheless blissful 45 minutes of Califone we were a bit indecisive about which bands we wanted to see. We heard the beginning of, but were not that enthused about Battles so we headed over to see Fujiya and Miyagi, where the sound mix was so terrible that we gave up. Instead, we collected our favorite overheard absurdities (coming soon on TPSM?), looked at the fashions on parade, ate some vegan food, drank some beer, all the while listening to an unintentional live mash-up that we dubbed "Fujiya Battles Miyagi" - it surpassed both bands on their own.
On our way to the next stage, I liked what I heard of Professor Murder, but thought I'd see them so easily in NY that I'd rather hear someone else. I wasn't sorry to miss the tedious Iron and Wine. (Jeezus, I ask you, what has happened to the indie scene?) I sort of liked Mastodon, but my friend judged them not authentic metal and I found Clipse unbelievably bad.
However, those mixed experiences were more than made up for by Cat Power's completely gaff-free performance and Yoko Ono's chthonic set with Thurston Moore. For a brief thrill, check this link for someone's clips from both shows. The Cat Power video clip linked above has better sound than most of what I found on Youtube. She did a great performance of Satisfaction but no one on youtube seems to have captured a good video of it with good sound. Here's one with a nice picture and muted sound but you can get the idea of what the song sounded like.
Yoko Ono's show was profound, the beautiful surprise of the day. My friend says that he was not expecting that much of her, but was so affected by the show that he couldn't talk about it without tearing up for two days. I'd seen her live before - in Central Park w/John Zorn and her son, Sean, about twelve years ago when her album Rising came out, so, I thought she would be good, but this show was considerably better than that one. Thurston Moore came out as her special guest for the show-stopping "Mulberry".
Hers was both emotionally rich and far and away the most politically conscious performance of the festival. Given all the negativity directed toward her even from audience members, I thought it was sadly significant that she was the only person at Pitchfork who I heard mention the war. She also is so clearly a feminist performer, and I noticed that the young men in the audience were the ones who did the most mocking. Clearly, they were uncomfortable with the way she rolled out with all that simultaneous power and vulnerability. The young women seemed to being paying more attention. As well they should; she has that witchy energy that I associate with seventies-era feminism and the earnest, bright-eyed experimentalism that seems to have left the avant-garde since the commercialized art scene of the eighties. I felt nostalgic and came home to listen to "Double Fantasy" on vinyl when I got back to NY.


The third day, we started with another Chicago band, The Ponys, who rocked up a sweat, then went over to check out Menomena, whose new record I love, but in the live, outdoor setting, they weren't equal to the sweet layered melodies of their studio recordings. Yeah, if you liked that, here's another one.
We spent the rest of the day hanging out near the shady stage. First, we had to visit the Readymade Magazine stand, where people were making their own t-shirts, We then spent the rest of the day at the "Balance stage" listening to three totally enjoyable sets: The very jazzy kids from Ann Arbor,Nomo, the very hilarious Cool Kids from Chicago who referred to themselves as "the Black version of the Beastie Boys" and Canadian rapper extroardinaire: Cadence Weapon, who just wowed us. He was lyrically inventive, his delivery was right on, he hopped up and down and crowd surfed, and to top it off, his crafty DJ, Weez-L turned out to be a young, skinny bearded white kid who liked like he was dressed up as ZZ top for Halloween.

We skipped both hipster favorites Of Montreal & Sea and Cake (who I think I enjoyed listening to while I was waiting in line for the bathroom), to check out the record and poster fairs.
Sadly, in order to see the big hip-hop acts, we missed both Stephen Malkmus, whose set was supposed to be great, and the late-starting Klaxons, who are playing Madison Square Garden w/Bjork the next time they come to this 'burg.
It was worth it, however, as we ended our Pitchfork experience with the ever-righteous De La Soul who cracked many jokes, got the party going, and brought out Prince Paul as a "substitute DJ" on the pretense that Pacemaster Mase had to go to the bathroom.

Three days of hip-hop, rock and even a wild feminist peace-happening later, I headed back to NY where the summer concert season continues...If I can get it together to write about them, I'll tell all y'all about Mavis Staples, The Noisettes, MIA, Eric Bachman, Neko Case and the ever-ready, Hold Steady.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

This Just in: "Toxic Sludge is STILL Good for You" - NOT!

Back in 1995, John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton of "PR Watch" wrote the book Toxic Sludge is Good For You, exposing the PR industry. Since then, flaks for big corporations are still at it, most recently to NY Times' readers' disgust, in the form of the Hoover Institute's Dr. Henry I. Miller, who was also at the FDA during the first Bush administration, and is considered by PR watch to be one of the "usual suspects" or "junkyard dogs" of science, because of his shilling for industry and promoting right-wing views of scientific research. According to them, Miller,
regularly grinds an ax against what he considers the FDA's "extraordinarily burdensome regulations" regarding genetically engineered foods and new drugs. In 1996, Miller also editorialized against the FDA's proposal to regulate tobacco. "The FDA's anti-tobacco initiative . . . has not been without its own costs to American consumers and taxpayers," he stated, describing FDA commissioner David Kessler as "personally consumed by this single issue."

True to form, his Op-ed piece in last week Times' pooh-poohs the claims of activists who oppose the use of bovine growth hormone, and inspired seven people to write letters to the Times. One of those people was my stepfather, who wrote:

To the Editor:

Henry I. Miller argues that we should “embrace” the use of bovine growth hormone (rBST) in order to feed people more cheaply, save the environment and so on. He characterizes opponents of rBST as “cynical,” but I read Dr. Miller’s arguments as cynical.

I have no idea if rBST is safe. But I do know that the dairy industry and its lobbyists do not want to require labeling milk produced with rBST. In fact, they are so intent on reducing information available to consumers that they are lobbying to prevent dairies from labeling their milk as “rBST-free”!

There’s good reason for cynicism. George Entenman

Chapel Hill, N.C., June 29, 2007

You can find all the letters at here.

Of the letters in the paper responding to that particular Op-Ed piece, only two supported it, and interestingly, the Times identified the authors as 1)vice-president of a biotechnology company and 2)a person who has previously collaborated with Miller on published articles.

Immediately, I wondered if my favorite media watchdogs were on the trail as well. The first thing that came up when I googled Miller's name along with "FAIR" was a Media Matters article about how this same doctor had "diagnosed" Al Gore with "narcissistic personality disorder" in 2004 in the National Review Online. There's another article about Miller and his Op-Ed piece at the website eating liberally.
My step-dad is right - and literally, "on the money." Miller is cynical indeed.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Social Forum Part Three

Saturday was the last day of workshops at the Social Forum, and I only went to two of them. My major goal by then was to attend things that I hadn't gotten a chance to do during the rest of the day. One was to go to a hip-hop session; there were several at the conference, but the one I had tried to attend on Friday was restricted to people of color only. The one I chose was called "COINTELPRO to Rapintelpro." While the name suggested government surveillance, the panel's most interesting feature was the inside discussion of "urban radio" marketing that we got from Davey D, an Oakland activist who once worked at AOL/Time Warner and Clear Channel.
The government element in the presentation was the recent NYCLU subpoena of NYPD documentsrelated to the 2004 RNC convention, which revealed that the police had been spying on people as "radical" and "way out" as Alicia Keys and Jay Z, but that was not such new news.
The corporate aspect of the censorship was also chilling. Davey D. talked about the way commercial radio has tried to get audiences to focus on brands (Yo MTV raps; Summerjams, etc) instead of artists, and described what programming directors would say when refusing to play artists such as Talib Kweli on urban radio ("our audience is not intelligent enough for that.") while record companies chose to market him and other political or "conscious" rappers through surfing and skateboarding magazines. The audience for this event was diverse and the conversation, while limited because the people in the front had so much to say, interesting.

** *
I had workshop fatigue and skipped the middle of the day to go to the "solidarity tents" and buy a t-shirt.
Then I headed for a 3:30 workshop by the group that had the buzz of the forum: Right to the City, a national alliance of urban community organizations working against gentrification. The workshop I went to was not the most popular one they did, and started off a little slowly, but became interesting later on. (My friend Alex said that he'd encountered this at another workshop, and thought that the audience of the social forum was such that workshop organizers would have to pitch their discussions past the introductory level in order to maintain interest.) So, for example, when people at this workshop were just talking about the basics of what they did in their groups, and answering questions with rather obvious platitudes, people were leaving. When people started to get into the nitty gritty of leadership development, and then - finally - the relationship of paid staff to membership organizations, it got much more interesting. That last issue in particular led to a dialogue between workshop presenters and audience members, who included people such as members of New York's Picture the Homeless and the fabulous FIERCE.

and that's all for now.

Project South's Popular Education Project in Action

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Envisioning a New Society

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Social Forum Part Two

I've finally caught up on my sleep after four days of workshops in Atlanta, and have more to say about everything. As I said, I'll pick up first with the Friday evening workshop run by Project South (they also have a myspacepage). Project South is an organization that works on "popular education" and their workshop was designed to have us try out their training tools and see if we could take them back to our own organizations. One thing I liked at the outset was that they clearly stated a set of guidelines: the respect for time-limits, a way for people to interrupt by saying "whoa!" when they hear something they are bothered by, and the "step up/step back" rule was explicit (we'll call less on people who talk a lot/more on people who talk less).
The workshop starts with what they call an "Aha" moment. The exercise is to have people talk in small groups about the moment when they first felt themselves to be activists and to then identify the year. Everyone in the room also has a copy of a time-line including events in the history of global capitalism and social movements in the US. Given a smaller group and more time, there would then be a large group discussion about people's aha moments, placing them on the big timeline so that people could see clusters (say around the beginning of the current war, or around the 1960s). In addition to being an interesting demonstration of people's situation in a broader history, it also allows the group leaders to know the experience level of the people in the room.
The rest of the workshop that I attended had to do with how people compare their own vision of what they want the society to look like with what they think the society actually looks like. The group leaders distributed poster boards, tape, markers and little cards with words on them like "money (capital)"; "health care" and "environment," that each group was to put on the board in the order that the society wanted them in. The process of putting the cards on the board was very interesting in my group, which made up primarily of college student activists who had become active around the war in Iraq. Our biggest question was what "the society" meant - the people in power? or the people in general? (the people in power was the answer we got from Project South) When the groups came back to the large group, there was a lot of agreement about how what the values of the powerful were. Then we went to step two - designing the world/US *we* wanted, there was also a lot of agreement - and a lot of interesting creativity. Almost everyone made a circle instead of a line and put "people" in the middle. One group took the word Money (capital), shredded it, and taped the pieces all around the board to show redistribution. I can imagine a version of this workshop might work well in my union. When it shows broad agreement, it helps shoot past petty conflicts, and it also can illuminate reasons for conflicts by highlighting disagreements in a way that doesn't immediately lead to a big argument.
The pictures above are the beginning of the first step: showing society's priorities. The second one shows the end of part two, when small groups shared their vision of a new society with the large group.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


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US Social Forum: My First Three Days

I'm writing now from the lobby of a big fancy hotel where I am staying because I am attending the big, but not that fancy, US Social Forum,an event that I had no idea would be as rich as it already has been.

The forum is more than a series of meetings, so even before I boarded the plane from New York City to Atlanta for the forum I was in the forum - without even knowing it. I shared my plane ride with thirty or more members of Community Voices Heard, a New York City low-income organizing group, two professors from Adelphi College who were bringing students, and one of my union brothers from the Professional Staff Congress of CUNY. Since that moment, I've been in one conversation about organizing and activism after another.

By the time I was contemplating whether or not to go to the forum's opening march, I admit that I was not terribly enthusiastic. It was 90 degrees, I hadn't eaten, and I'd been travelling all day. Nonetheless, I met some Puerto Rican activists in the hotel who were going and decided I should go. We joined up to figure out the rail system and head to the demo. While in the rail station, of course I ran into an acquaintance from seven years ago in Minneapolis - we all exchanged "how d'you dos" and went off to town. By the time we got to the midway point, I left my new acquaintances and went outside to look for food. I thought I was totally lost, but within fifteen minutes, I'd spotted the tail end of the demonstration. I rushed off, joined it and despite my hunger and tiredness, found it to be one of the most spirited and diverse - in terms of race, age, and general demeanor - marches I'd been on in a very long time. It filled me with excitement about the days to come.
Later on in the evening, I ventured to the Civic Center, which was surrounded by "Solidarity Tents" and even a few food vendors. I managed to meet up with the rest of my union friends and get a snack. On my way home from there, I asked a woman outside the train station if she knew of a grocery store nearby. As she was a social forum participant, she offered to take me to a grocery store that was one station away from my hotel on the train system. Being a New Yorker, I had assumed that she meant that we'd get out of the train and find the store right there, but Atlanta is different, and it turned out that, in the spirit of the social forum, Crystal who is from Atlanta, but works with a Seattle group called LELO (Legacy of Equality, Leadership, and Organizing) drove me from the station to a grocery store and back to the metro. Clearly, it was going to be a good couple of days.

Early in the morning, I again chatted away on the buses and trains from my hotel to town with other social forum attendees. There was a guy from Finland with his mother and daughter, and a couple of artist /immigrant rights' activists from Providence.
The first session I went to at 10:30 am was a tiny group, but perhaps because of the size it became a powerful and intimate conversation between the session's "audience" and the organizers of the "Faces of Homelessness" campaign of the Washington, DC based "National Coalition for the Homeless." The panel began with an overview of general conditions of homelessness, causes of homelessness, and the current upswing in hate-crimes against homeless people perpetrated by young people. The main event of the panel were the stories of Joann Jackson and David Pirtle. Jackson, the director of the Faces of Homelessness speakers bureau told the story of growing up in a family that did not value education, which meant that despite being admitted to Howard University in 1965, she wound up working as a janitor after finishing at the top of her highschool class. Fortunately for her, her boss noticed her, promoted her to payroll clerk, and eventually helped her start her own business through a Small business administration loan. Despite her success, she became depressed, fell into alcholism and crack addiction. Although she maintained her business for a time as a "functioning alcholic" she wound up selling it, spending the money on drugs, and ultimately was living on the streets. Today, she lives in an apartment and is a national organizer giving a face to the experience of homelessness. The other speaker, David Pirtle, spoke about many of his experiences as a homeless youth with schizophrenia: sleeping in an abandoned house in Manhattan and waking up one night covered in rats ("I was the warmest thing nearby") and going back to sleep, and living more comfortably on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Eventually, he went into a shelter and received psychiatric treatment. He became an activist when the city tried to sell the homeless shelter where he lived to developers who wanted to make it a luxury hotel. Through that action, he said, he became empowered to ultimately get out of the shelter and get his own apartment.
Such stories are not didactic lessons in political strategy, but hearing the stories and talking with these formerly-homeless individuals highlighted the power of our society's hatred of the homeless simply by showing how the reality differs from the stereotype. In addition to that profound work, the workshop organizers talked about their project to have violence against homeless people classified as a hate-crime and about challenging local laws that criminalize homelessness. The media is one source of contempt for the homeless, but the laws directed at homeless (such as those that ban sleeping or lying down in public parks) are a more direct and serious problem - and those laws come from the real-estate developers and others involved in gentrification. Here, I also met to New York activists and exchanged information, in hopes that we could bring the "faces of homelessness" speakers to my school. My first impression of the Social Forum panels would hold true for most of the others: the session involved not just experts preaching to the converted, but became a conversation among a group of committed activists focused on a particular problem.

At 1:00 pm, I made it to the Jobs With Justice discussion and heard about struggles at Allied-Barton in Phildelphia, and Verizon. However, as would happen again, the most interesting speech was from a member of the audiene. Mid-discussion, Larry Newsome a 19 year employee of Blue Diamond almonds, told us about the chemical hazards of that work. Demonstrations and solidarity campaigns were announced, people got up and spoke with passion. It was a wide-ranging talk about union power in general.

At 3:30, I went to a session provocatively titled SAY WHAT?! featuring a dramatic reading of the US government's testimony to the UN human rights commission on their handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in the Gulf Coast region. The panel began with a woman shouting/chanting a poem about the events, telling us how to participate "When you hear THE MAN!" she said, pointing at a man in a suit seated behind the table, "say a lie you say "SAY WHAT?!" When I say, "SAY WHAT" you say "I Want My Human Rights Today!"
The audience went right along with the program, shouting "SAY WHAT!?" Every time one of the dramatic readers of US government testimony read a piece. In addition to the audience's shouted response, members of the group stood up and read prepared statements about what the real conditions were in New Orleans and Mississippi, not only in those first few weeks, but continuing today. Not only was this a unique way to deliver information to the audience, but the group's analysis was sharp and exciting. They asked us whether we, and progressives outside the Gulf have "Katrina Fatigue." They talked about making Katrina a microcosm of the problems of the US. These speakers also discussed environmental racism, the criminalization of the poor in New Orleans, and the continued displacement of Louisianans from the region. The discussion was my first face-to-face encounter with organizers from New Orleans and I could see, after leaving there, that the left in general has much to learn from such organizers...the point is not just "helping" New Orleans, but seeing New Orleans activists as leaders and shapers of an improved US human rights movement fueled with a new sense of urgency. That was certainly the message that this panel meant to give, and I was convinced.
* * *
The evening plenary was also about New Orleans, and featured some of the speakers I had just heard, but also an Ecuadoran activist who had come to New Orleans to work. After describing the horrendous working conditions, withholding of pay, and general disregarding of human rights experienced by Latino immigrants he said, he didn't come to New Orleans to "steal" anyone's job. Rather, he said, we should united "The New Slaves with the Old Slaves." The audience responded with applause of chants of 'Si Se Puede!"
When the floor opened for comments, Mama D(scroll down till you get to 12/06) gave a rather sensational speech which began with her chanting in a deep, slow voice "WE DON'T NEED NO MORE N-----" and included criticisms of non-profit 501-C3 organizations, racism, capitalism in general, and with the defiant comment that she couldn't respect the plenary time-limits on speakers because we needed timet to heal.

* * *

I went to three sessions on Friday, although of the first one I tried to go to (about gender in the Palestinian movements), was cancelled. I ran into someone I knew from several years ago, and we chose a nearby session on US war crimes to attend. That turned out to be a session of the Bush Crimes Commission featuring Marjorie Cohn of the National Lawyers Guild, C. Clark Kissinger of the RCP, Dennis Brutus, and Ann Wright. They argued that it's important to get people to talk about the acts of the Bush administration as war crimes, not mistakes. They also believe that the movement to impeach Bush may come back. Although most of what they were saying was familiar to me, Ann Wright, a career army colonel who resigned because of her opposition to the US war in Iraq was quite amazing to hear, and I would love to see a film of her testimony in congress on US war crimes.
* * *
The second session I went to was about the debate between two different alternatives to contemporary globalization. One was global Fair Trade. The other was localized farming. This panel, set up by the grassroots organizing initiative and the Center for Popular Economics, staged a debate between two economists who played the opposing sides, and then featured comments by activists from other perspectives. The audience generally found the local position untenable in its pure form, though nice in principle, citing the problem of calling on denuded, deforested, and pillaged countries to produce locally despite a likely lack of resources. The most interesting speaker on that panel was Omar Freilla of the Greenworker collective in the South Bronx. His local cooperative in the Bronx was born of deep-roots in that communty as well as intensive study of other cooperative endeavors including tiny towns in the Basque country of Spain.

The third (and final) session I went to on Friday was a popular education program run by Project South, who were among the forum's main organizers. I'll say more about it in a separate post, with pictures....later.

I skipped the evening plenary to attend a meeting of Students for a Democratic Society with members of Bob Moses' Algebra project. I had been told that this would be a meeting of students and teachers about anti-war activism, and it wasn't quite that - but it was inspiring to listen to the process as a group of young high school and college activists tried to plan future actions.

And now, readers, it's almost two am, and there are more sessions tomorrow, so I'd better get to bed.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Social Forum Opening March with Pictures

I can't write much this morning because if I want to get a seat at the 10:30 "Right to the City" panel, I've got to leave my hotel in about fifteen minutes. Look below for pictures from the very spirited opening march of the US Social Forum in Atlanta from Wednesday June 27th.
I arrived in Atlanta that afternoon at about 12:30, and for the rest of the day just about everyone I met was also here for the events. I had a little trouble figuring out where everything was, but I was lucky enough to run into the opening march before it ended. As you enjoy the pics imagine the sound: an extraordinarily good drum section, and a blaring hip-hop against patriarchy truck shouting "down with coca cola" "Down with the war" - not to mention the conscious rhymes. Atlanta's business people were gaping on the sidewalks and the Hooters waitresses, in hot-pants came out to cheer and do a kick line. Was it for the "End Patriarchy" message? or the fresh beats?
Who knows, but it made me feel that:
....Another World is Possible; Another US is Necessary!

Hip Hop Against Patriarchy at the Social Forum Opening March

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Getting Down at the Hip Hop Truck Social Forum Opening

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New Orleans at Social Forum

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new orleans at social forum

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social forum opening

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