Friday, January 20, 2017

For a Revival of Abolitionist Politics

This appeared in Lumpen Magazine's 'First 100 Days' Issue. With Donald Trump’s rise to the pinnacle of American politics, many think-pieces have been comparing this era to 1930’s Germany.

But perhaps the better comparison would be 1850’s America, when abolitionism moved from the fringe to the center of American politics.

The Missouri Compromise of 1820 allowed many Northerners to accept an armistice with slave states. While abolitionists organized against slavery, for many Northerners, abolition seemed outside the mainstream. They didn’t like slavery, but it wasn’t in their backyard, so they learned to live with its existence. Likewise, the New Deal allowed the modern Democratic Party to live with Capitalism. socialists, communists and anarchists seemed too extreme to many liberals as long as people could count on minimum wage laws, workplace safety, strong unions, and social security.

However the slave power of the 19th century was not content to exist within it’s borders. The fugitive slave acts, the Dredd Scott decision, Bleeding Kansas, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act made clear that slave owners could exert their power in Northern states, and that given time, they would, as Marx said, transform “all territories of the republic, present and future, from nurseries of free states into nurseries of slavery,” and once they had the voting power in Congress, bully their way to expand slavery across the entire country.

When you actually study history in books like Robin Blackburn’s Marx and Lincoln: an Unfinished Revolution, Matt Karps’ This Vast Southern Empire, or Philip S. Foner’s First Volume of the History of the Labor Movement in the United States, you see just how deceptive is the claim that many revisionist make that slavery's end was inevitable, and that all that activism of abolitionists led to an unnecessary war. History actually shows that it was slavery’s expansion that drove abolitionism to the mainstream, and it was Southern states refusal to accept their political defeat with Lincoln’s election that led them to treason and war against the republic.

Likewise we see today that capital, the 1%, Wall Street, etc is not content with their massive profits and a compromise with labor when they could have even greater profits and no organized labor. The attacks on unions in Wisconsin, Michigan and other so-called ‘right-to-work’ states; the privatization of local, state and federal organizations; corporate globalization’s race to the bottom and more are the precondition for the rise of someone like Trump.

The Democratic Party since the New Deal have been like the old Whig party. The way that Stephen Douglas argued that two systems, slave and free, could coexist, the Democrats have argued the same for capital and labor.

Lincoln’s phrase that a house divided against itself cannot stand, is still true. Today our country is divided, between the top 1% of the top 1% who own the means of production,- vast farmlands, huge factories, global supply chains, and the fictional wealth of brand names, and speculative financial transactions, and the many millions who labor, or struggle without work, who do not own the wealth that their labor creates. Just as there could be no peace between slave state and free state, there can be no peace so long as private tyrannies of corporate power assault the people’s democratic right to control the fruits of their labor. There can be no peace so long as the super-rich have declared war on the 99%. As long as there are the homeless, those who can’t afford health care, those whose schools are underfunded, those who must tolerate harassment at work, those who face discrimination, as long as capital oppresses us, we must fight back.

There are two competing systems that we must choose a side of. On one hand is the principle of 1 dollar 1 vote which is exemplified by how corporations are owned - by those who buy stock, and how our public elections are increasingly being privatized, to allow the richest the greatest ability to influence elections through private, sometimes secret donations, and increased media coverage. On the other hand is the principle which civil rights activists have fought for, and how labor unions and community groups are run - the principle of 1 person 1 vote. As we see the 1% under Trump expand corporate power and undermine the protections and guarantees of the New Deal Compromise between labor and capital, we need to work towards a revival of abolitionist politics. We need to make clear that our goal must be abolition of the capitalist hydra, so that the major industries, large agriculture, and institutional financial planning shall be in the hands of the people, to control as they see democratically fit to meet the needs of all. We must work to bring these politics from the margins to the political mainstream of American life.

What we need, that the party of compromise with tyranny does not, is a vision of what we stand for, of what we want the future to be. The far right has theirs - private tyranny and corporate control. We must have our own vision of an economy managed through democratic means for the collective good of all.

The policies a modern abolitionist movement should pursue must include not only nationalization, but most importantly democratization of the major economic institutions.

When the federal government bailed out the auto manufacturers, they were for a time the majority shareholder in those companies. What did they do? They have ownership of the companies back to the same private interests that have destroyed the industrial midwest, to the same profiteers who would rather send jobs to non-union plants in repressive dictatorships to save a few dollars. Detroit is but the largest example of the destruction left in the wake of the decisions made not by the millions who built the wealth of the auto companies, but by the executives trying to appease the stockholders. Imagine, if when the federal government bailed out the banks, if elections were held to determine the boards of those banks. Imagine if those elections were not limited to those with the money to buy stocks in the company, to to every citizen of the country. Would the people elected to those positions be so inclined to adopt policies that evicted homeowners? Would they be so included to jack up interest rates on homes? Would they leave condos empty when so many need shelter? Imagine, if we required the boards of fortune 500 companies to be elected through the popular vote. What kind of energy future would we have? What kind of access to the internet would we have? What kind of media and culture would we have? The abolitionists of the 1850’s would have thought it absurd to argue that plantation owners deserved their wealth. It was theirs by theft. Likewise we need to emphasize a labor theory of value - that the riches of the wealthy are stolen from those who work to create the it. In all cases, the riches of people like Trump belong rightfully to the 99%. We must also seek to unite abolitionist politics with other progressive movements, and to see how they are all intertwined, that the abolition of capital must be wrapped up in the abolition of white nationalism, sexism, homophobia, religious bias, and more. We must reject false narratives which seek to divide the 99%, and work to embrace a democracy with many voices, from many backgrounds.

What can we do to make abolitionist politics more mainstream? A lot. We should look to what abolitionists did - organized groups, published newspapers, ran the underground railroad, ran for elected office, mobilized religious groups, wrote novels, and more. It used to be that socialist politics where a third rail of American politics. But since the great recession we have seen in poll after poll that young people in particular continue to warm to socialism. Bernie Sanders’ strength should be seen as a reflection of that. Now when I mention socialist ideas to liberals, they nod their heads in agreement, even some staffers, elected officials, and small business people! Running for local office is essential to building a corps of qualified and experienced activists and I think there would be a lot more support from unexpected places for anyone running on an abolitionist platform. We can use direct action. From occupations in public places, to occupying workplaces, or banks. We can organize unions, co-operative workplaces, community-run banks, and neighborhood associations. Abolitionists had John Brown, we need to look to people from the Haymarket Anarchists to Chelsea Manning as our own heros. We can stand up for our civil liberties and for the civil rights of all. We can build alternative media, counter-culture art, and support “the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now”, and be “realists of a larger reality” as Ursula Le Guin said.

With many groups there will be a process for them to realize that there can not be a compromise with Capital. That doesn’t mean we should give up on them.

Fundamentally there is only one way out of the dilemma of a Trump presidency that we face. We must organize. To organize requires a multifaceted approach. We must energize our own base, win over those who can be won over from the enemy, demobilize those who can not be won over, and take actions based not on ‘compromise’ but on what will bring us objectively and materially closer to abolition. That may be policy that improves people’s lives. It may be policy that undercuts our opponents ability to mobilize. We must listen to those we seek to organize. We must seek truth, but we should not be so haughty as to assume that we already know all of it.

It’s a long road, but as Dr. King said,“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” In our quest to reject government of the corporation, by the CEO, for the profit and fight for a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, we should dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work of those who did the same before us, and to put forward the demands to power in ways that the abolitionists of yesteryear would recognize as being a part of the same tradition of struggle for progress and freedom.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Follow up on Scarborough

Several years ago, about a year after graduating from DePaul University in Chicago, I wrote this blog post about Scott Scarborough leaving his post as DePaul's Executive Vice-President of Finances.  I was not a fan of Mr. Scarborough.  Occasionally I've been contacted about the post, as Scarborough has bounced around the country from university gig to university gig.  Different student activists wanted to figure out 'who is this guy?'  They would google him and find my blog.

Recently I've been contacted by several student activists, and even some reporters.  Scarborough is now the President of the University of Akron in Ohio, is make drastic cuts to the school which has led to a 'Graduates Not Greed' campaign which claims that "President Scarborough has proved over and over again that he cares more about lining his pockets than educating students."  They post examples of Scarborough's cuts to essential university services on a facebook page.  They even made this video with paper lunch bag administrators:

This has led people to ask me about my blog post about Scarborough, namely about my sources for claiming that he held extreme anti-gay views while he was President of the University of Texas Austin's Student Government in the mid-1980's. Back in 2007 I heard from verbal sources about Scarborough's past, and dug up articles from the Daily Texan.  I think at the time I had access to an online archive.  Since then I lost the copies of the articles, but still had notes and the wonderful people at the University of Texas Austin's Interlibrary Services were happy to send me scans of the articles I requested.  

There are some really stunningly ignorant anti-LGBTQ quotes and sentiments that Scarborough said back in 1985.  Here's a short list:

  • In 1984 as a student Senator voted to abolish the Subcommittee on Homosexual Affairs.
  • Attempted to amend a resolution to state that 'the senate does not endorse homosexuality'.
  • Led a walkout of other student government senators in an attempt to prevent quorum and block a pro-LGBTQ rights resolution.
  • Defended the walkout by claiming that preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation would 'create a potential health hazard' for restaurant owners.
  • Said that the resolution was an attempt to further a 'political agenda.'
  • Thinks that the LGBTQ movement's intent is to make homosexuality 'more desirable than the traditional family.'    
Scarborough's walkout failed, and the resolution which sought to amend the University of Texas' standards on equal educational and employment opportunity to include the terms 'affectional or sexual orientation' passed.

Now, there is some stuff in my original blog post that isn't verified in these articles.  The stuff about how Scarborough was relieved from DePaul and the activities of the schools former President were more verbal sources than paper documents.  In hindsight I probably wouldn't have posted that if I were writing it today.  As a shit-kicking college activist you want to get stuff online, kick the hornets nest, and see what shakes out.  As an older organizer, I prefer to patiently document every detail.  However, that doesn't mean that there aren't some documents waiting for the right student researcher / journalist at the University of Akron to dig up.  That goes as well for my claim in the original post about Scarborough talking about homosexuals spreading AIDS through fecal matter.  I wrote the blog post about 8 years ago, and so there are two possibilities - either that I had a verbal source for that statement, ran with it, and was planning on correcting it with the documented news articles when I wrote about it in my book 'A People's History of DePaul Univeristy,' or that there is another documented newspaper article where Scarsborough makes those statements, but I didn't have it in my notes and thus was unable to direct the library archivists on where to find it.  Again, something that I'm sure an enterprising student journalist or activist could find out.  Maybe they have access to an online archive or microfilm of the Daily Texan.  Or Maybe they could get funding to travel to Austin and look at the microfilm in their library. 

It might be interesting to find some of the students who knew Scarborough in the 1980's, and to see if they could point us to some of the other things he might have said or believed back then.  I've started by e-mailing Marc Moebius, the original sponsor of the LGBTQ non-discrimination resolution who according to his linkedin went on to Princeton and became a French/English translator in Paris. 

Now Scarborough did all of this 30 years ago.  It's quite possible that as the rest of the country has evolved on LGBTQ rights, that Scarborough has as well.  Someone ought to ask him.  And they can ask him if he's evolved so much on it why he cut funding and fired all staff to the University of Akron's Multicultural Center which sought to "intentionally connect students of all races, genders, cultures, sexual orientation, etc., in a holistic, inclusive, and supportive learning environment" and "to provide resources and a variety of support systems for students as they explore diversity in their classroom experience providing a holistic approach to understanding the various multiplicities of diversity which include: race, ethnicity, gender expression and identity, disability, nationality, spirituality and sexual identity" [emphasis mine].

Further Follow up:  This post certainly ruffled some feathers. I said that there were probably more documents available waiting for someone to dig up and verify Scarborough's anti-gay past.  Sure enough, the activists at Graduates Not Greed did.  They also posted them on their website.  I'm not going to post them here, but did save copies.  Scarborough did take time to renounce his previous views, in an article of HuffPo he said, "Like many people, my views have evolved over the last 30 years...We all have learned much since those days and, if I knew then what I know now, I would not have taken the steps that I did or said what I did as a student in the 1980s. I sincerely regret any offense or concern those past actions or statements have caused.”  And yes, it took 30 years and an avalanche of student pressure for him to say that.  I guess the moral is that student activism works.  I don't think this revelation was the tipping point, but it certainly was a part of the many problems Scarborough brought upon himself that led to his resignation from the University of Akron.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Meet Jeremy Hammond, Arrested Chicago Hacker

This was originally on In These Times ITT List.


On March 6, 2012 FBI agents arrested five hackers alleged to be active in groups related to Anonymous.  They are accused of breaking into a number of corporate and government websites and networks and sharing the information online.

I could be described as a friend to Chicago-based hacker Jeremy Hammond.  We met doing student anti-war organizing in 2004, and I once drove to Toledo, Ohio to bail Hammond and a number of other activists out of jail.  They had traveled to Ohio to protest against a neo-Nazi group and been arrested under a draconian judicial decree that outlawed any gathering of 3 or more people without a permit.

Hammond, 27, has been charged with one count of computer hacking conspiracy, one count of computer hacking and one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud. Each charge carries a maximum ten-year prison sentence. The Anon/LulzSec leader-turned-FBI-informant, a man who went by the alias “Sabu,” helped the FBI track and identify Hammond and other hacktivists.

Prior to his arrest this week, Hammond spent two years in prison for hacking into the website of the conservative pro-war group 'Protest Warrior.' That a fellow hacker was also involved in his previous arrest also has led to a fair amount of derision.

“Like a lot of hackers, [Hammond] combines brains, idealism, and stupidity in equal measures,” writes Whet Moser in a Chicago magazine profile.

But Hammond was in many ways a person well ahead of his time. Groups like Anonymous were practically based on the work he did and the philosophy of 'hacktivism' that he touted.  Hammond ran the hacker training website Hack This Site and was a key person in Hack This Zine. Inspired by groups like the Electro-hippies who take credit for crashing the World Trade Organization's website during the 1999 protests, Hammond played an important role in promoting the use of hacking for Anarchist causes.

In a video from the Hacker conference Def-Con in 2004, Hammond describes his philosophy of “electronic civil disobedience” and challenges the authorities’ designation of hacking as cyber-terrorism: "Terrorism seeks to put fear into the population and hacktivism would rather unite people, bring them together and empower people, to give them the ability, that together we can make a difference, that we can put people on top of unjust corporations and governments."
Hammond is accused of hacking into Strategic Forecasting, Inc. or Stratfor. Stratfor is known as a for-profit corporate version of the CIA. The files, consisting of e-mails and internal documents was posted on WikiLeaks.

In describing the Stratfor documents, the Guardian has described a number of ethical and possible legal violations the company had made. The memo's show that Stratfor had been "seeking to profit by disrupting journalists and activist groups," including groups like the Bhopal Medical Appeal, which sought to protest DOW Chemical for not cleaning up the toxic waste in Bhopal as a result of the Union Carbide gas explosion in 1984.

The Guardian also points out that Stratfor's process of buying information from government and corporate insiders and then seeking to profit from that information could attract unwanted attention from the Securities and Exchange Commission:

By its very nature, of course, such information is secret and often protected by government order. Nothing short of a major congressional investigation will be able to drill down into this intelligence-industrial cartel to assess not just the quality of the information and the way it was obtained, but whether or not any of it serves the public interest—or the very opposite. That is, unless Anonymous or WikiLeaks gets there and does the work first.
In many ways, whoever hacked Stratfor was living up the Hacker Credo that "Information Wants to be Free." It has led to a number of questions about the operations of a company that might put profit over ethics and legality.

Hammond is also charged with charging the credit cards of Stratfor's clients to various progressive groups. This has led some to call him a digital Robin Hood.  While some activists may cheer releasing corporate information, many balk at using those corporate clients credit cards without authorization.

However. the history of civil disobedience has shown that financial tolls on powerful corporations and governments are often the most effective form of protest. No one has accused Hammond of using the money for himself.  A "freegan" who protests the wastefulness of the food industry by dumpster diving and eating food that has been thrown away, he could have bought much nicer things for himself.  Although, if he had used the money on himself, he might have been able to evade capture by the authorities by moving out of the country.

If Hammond did hack Stratfor, it is entirely possible that he was a victim of entrapment.  A target by the FBI because of his politics and previous arrests, he may have been persuaded and pressured into hacking a company that he might not have known of before. Considering the possibility of corruption in Stratfor, Hammonds arrest should only fuel the distrust of the government from many in the Anonymous and Occupy movements.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Catholics (Including Those He Went to School With) Ambivalent About Santorum

This article was originally posted on In These Times ITT List.


In recent days, national polls have shown Rick Santorum leading Mitt Romney for the first time in the GOP race. Santorum is 15 points ahead in Romney's home state of Michigan, and enjoys almost twice as much support as Romney among conservatives, Tea Party supporters and white evangelicals.
Santorum has been playing to the evangelical base of late, picking up the endorsement of evangelical leaders in January. But signs of support among the Catholic community from which he hails are so far decidedly more mixed.
In a Huffington Post article entitled, “Is Rick Santorum an Evangelical or a Catholic?” David Brody, the chief political correspondent for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, is quoted as insisting that “Rick Santorum is an evangelical at heart.”

Many of his positions are also more in line with those of evangelicals. As a House member and Senator, Santorum built a career on social conservative issues while citing his Catholic faith.  He opposed LGBTQ rights, teaching evolution, contraception and a woman's right to choose. But he has recently been asked to account for some key areas where his positions diverge from those of the Church—including health care and immigration reform.
Some clues to Santorum’s political apostasy come from his roots in Illinois, where he graduated from Carmel Catholic High School. Last weekend, the school held its annual fundraiser, where far-flung alumni gathered and criticism of Santorum abounded.

Many Catholics who attended Carmel Catholic aren't connecting with Santorum’s brand of socially conservative Catholicism.  Over 300 alumni and students of his own high school have joined a facebook page "Carmel Catholic Alumni Against Rick Santorum."  John Beltramo, an alumni from Santorum's class of 1976 said, "I find him to be an embarrassment to our graduating class and to the school as a whole.  Catholic faith notwithstanding, there's no room for this brand of bigotry and exclusion in public service."

Perhaps Santorum's disconnect has to do with his few ties to the Catholic community he came from.  His father worked for the VA and moved the family around often (as a result, Santorum attended Carmel Catholic for only his senior year).  Few alumni even remembered him.  He wasn't active in clubs or sports.

Martha Ann Cahill Weaver, class of 1967, is active with her local chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) "I'm embarrassed that Santorum attended Carmel. . . I am deeply saddened that he could so easily write off an entire group of human beings."
Santorum cites his Catholic faith as guiding his social conservatism, yet there is no requirement for one to be opposed to LGBTQ rights in Catholicism.  The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Pope have issued statements condemning the LGBTQ movement, but the Pope has never given an official declaration of infalliability regarding LGBTQ issues or abortion.  The teachings of bishops on these issues are not at the level of Church dogma, which you must believe in order to be considered Catholic by the Church.

Indeed, as has been widely noted, most American Catholics have far more liberal views on social issues than do the bishops.  In addition to the widely-cited finding that 98% of sexually active Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lives, the latest Public Religion Research Institute poll shows that a majority of Catholics believe employers should be required to provide for health insurance that covers contraception. (Though this poll was taken before Obama's proposed compromise.)

A similar poll from the PRRI showed a high level of Catholic support for gay rights.   71% of Catholics support civil marriage equality and 56% do not consider same-sex relationships to be a sin.

Santorum has picked and chosen which statements of Catholic Bishops he agrees with.  While he agrees with their statements against gay rights, he diverges when it come to his support for the war in Iraq, immigrant and labor rights, and even evolution, something that the Pope has spoken in support of since the 1950's.  The current Pope, Benedict XVI called the debate between creationism and evolution science "absurd," as faith and science can coexist. Benedict explained that "there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.”

Jim Wilkins, a 1976 Carmel Catholic alumni (the same class as Santorum) said, "two key things I was taught at Carmel & Santa Maria were that you treat everyone fairly & equally and how you treat the most disadvantaged among us defines you as a person. Santorum fails on both points."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Following Politicized Dismissal, Norm Finkelstein Gives Details of Tenure Battle

This article was originally posted on the ITT List on In These Times.


Norman Finkelstein’s lecture at DePaul's Lincoln Park campus last week marked the first time that the political science professor has returned to the Chicago university since his controversial departure in 2007. The now-infamous decision by DePaul to deny Finkelstein tenure resulted in part from conservative academics’ campaign to paint Finkelstein, whose research was critical of Israel, as a Holocaust denier.

Speaking to a crowded lecture hall on January 17, Finkelstein discussed the experience and for the first time revealed some of the details of his settlement with DePaul.

"DePaul's plot to deny me tenure had nothing to do with my faults,” Finkelstein said. "In fact, and ironically, it viciously attacked me and destroyed my career because of my virtues. Which, although few in number, they still found threatening."

Full disclosure: I was a student of Finkelstein's prior to his departure from DePaul.

Finkelstein taught political science at DePaul University, the largest Catholic University in the U.S., for six years. He is the author of several books and has lectured around the world about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His parents survived the Nazi Holocaust, and he frequently criticizes what he sees as attempts to use the Holocaust as cover for Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip.

When he was denied tenure in 2007, he consistently had among the highest student evaluations of any teacher in the political science department at DePaul. Many of his students were outraged, and camped out in the office of the President of DePaul for three days and two nights in protest. Many have commented that Finkelstein's problem was that he touched the third rail of American politics—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—before he had obtained the protection of tenure.

When a university denies tenure to a professor, the professor is usually allowed to finish one more year at the school in order to seek other employment. Finkelstein's tenure-track contract actually had another year on it, but DePaul refused to allow Finkelstein to teach that year. As a result, Finkelstein reached a settlement with the school, much of which is still confidential--but part of which was that he would be barred from campus.

Finkelstein returned to campus, however, after asserting that DePaul had violated the terms of the settlement, which he said he had fully documented. "I have 500 pages of correspondence. I feel completely confident that if I am challenged on any word spoken today, I can carry the day in the court of public opinion."

Asked why he was "reopening the wound," Finkelstein replied, "I did not reopen the wound. The wound never healed, and it can not heal. I can not move on. DePaul destroyed my professional calling. There's no where else to move."

Citing the precedent that had been recently set where DePaul president Fr. Holtschneider reversed a denial of tenure for chemistry professor, Quinetta Shelby, Finkelstein made a proposal to DePaul's administration and board of directors: "if you acknowledge your wrongdoing in my case, if you apologize for the wrongdoing, and grant me the tenure that I earned, and that I deserve, then I would consider the matter closed." So far, the administration has not taken Finkelstein up on this offer.

Finkelstein went on to assert that the events in 2007 had constituted a “plot” to destroy his professional career, saying that many of those who participated in it had gone on to receive promotions.

While he did not name the attackers, it was clear to this writer and those assembled from the DePaul community who he was talking about.
He described the Dean of Liberal Arts and Science, Charles Suchar, who recommended against tenuring Finkelstein, even after the College of Liberal Arts and Science tenure committee voted unanimously to grant him tenure. Suchar then spread rumors to faculty that he had "secret information" on Finkelstein.

Finkelstein said that "after the settlement agreement had been signed and in flagrant breach of it," a DePaul administrator told an outside professor that Finkelstein had been denied tenure because of the “secret information.”

One might ask, what was this "secret information" that tainted the tenure process?

Another DePaul administrator accused Finkelstein of violent assault and of promoting "bestiality, incest and rape" in his classes, which could have been referring to a lecture on John Stuart Mill's book, On Liberty, taken horribly out of context. Finkelstein described how DePaul's provost dropped all the charges when he threatened to go public with this "filthy frame-up."

Then there are the rumors and claims associated with Alan Dershowitz. Finkelstein had angered the Harvard law professor by repeatedly challenging Dershowitz's scholarship on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Dershowitz, a supporter of legalizing torture and apologist for Israel's worst war crimes in the occupied territories, launched an effort to smear Finkelstein's reputation.

According to Finkelstein, the chair of the political science department, Pat Callahan, entered into a correspondence with Alan Dershowitz and "conspired with him to prevent me from getting tenure." Dershowitz claimed that Finkelstein was a Holocaust minimizer at best, a Holocaust denier at worst. This charge was issued despite the fact that Finkelstein's parents had survived the Holocaust and Finkelstein had dedicated many of his books to their memory.

DePaul's law school launched their own investigation of Finkelstein, with information from Dershowitz that mischaracterized many of Finkelstein's positions and took his statements out of context. "Two DePaul law professors told the law school faculty that I was a Holocaust denier. That I was a part of the Iranian-Venezualian worldwide conspiracy to deny the Holocaust," said Finkelstein.

Despite this heavy-handed intervention, Dershowtiz claimed at the time that he had only intervened in DePaul's tenure process when he was asked to by Callahan.

Later, however, Fr. Holtschnieder told students supporting Finkelstein that in fact Dershowitz had repeatedly sent letters and attempted to meet with him--attempts that, according to Holtschnieder, were turned down.
The smear campaign against Finkelstein was so effective that his department chair called Finkelstein’s book, Beyond Chutzpah, “worthless.” This same chair ranked Finkelstein as the worst professor in the department, despite having among the highest student evaluations of any professor in the department.

Finkelstein invited the chief figures involved in his tenure case to the lecture, and offered them the full right to reply. None of them attended or spoke.

This episode with Finkelstein has also highlighted broader problems with DePaul’s tenure system as it impacts academic freedom. DePaul's denial of tenure of a range of professors who didn't fit a particular mold stands as a bleak reminder of who actually controls high education today. In one example, the school denied tenure to Melissa Bradshaw, who spearheaded the foundation of the school's LGBTQ studies program, the first of its kind at any Catholic university.

The school also has an established pattern of denying tenure to faculty of color. According to attorney Lynne Bernabei, "Over a 20 year period prior to 2009-2010, minority applicants for tenure at DePaul were twice as likely as white applicants to be denied."

Namita Goswami, a philosophy professor hired to teach post-colonial theory, was  denied tenure for not teaching enough “continental” (read: European) philosophy.

Despite having his teaching career ruined, Finkelstein is pushing ahead with plans to publish three books this year, including one about Ghandi and his lessons for the struggles to end the Israeli occupation. He has even been invited to speak to the oldest Jewish society at Yale, whose last speaker was former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

Upon his return to campus, DePaul alumni Stephanie Willding told Finkelstein,
On behalf of some of your former students, everything you said is horrific, they have robbed you of something. But what they can't rob you of is the impact that you had on all of us, who had the honor and privilege of being your students. There are very few big moments of my life where I don't think of something you said in class, or remember the things you taught me. The few classes that I took with you have had a bigger impact on me that probably most things in my life, and that's something that DePaul's administration can never take from any of us, or you.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"To Lose the Clinics Would be a Way of Dying"

Over 100 people gathered for a "People's Budget Hearing" in the Chicago Temple at 77 W. Washington on Tuesday November 15. They were upset over the budget that the city was poised to pass, the first budget passed since Rahm Emmanuel was elected mayor. In particular the crowd was upset that the budget would close 6 of city's 12 mental health clinics, privatize all 7 city neighborhood health clinics and layoff over 150 workers from city department of public health.

"Does anyone see Rahm Emmanuel in the building?" the man at the podium asked. The crowd responded loudly, "No!"

"Because the mayor's not here, we have to go to him.... we need to make sure we get the attention of city hall and make sure that they understand that this is an important issue."

 The crowd marched across the street to city hall, and up to the the mayors office on the 5th floor. When they got there, a group of 10 or so was already sitting in front of the the mayors office wearing lab coats and signs that plead to keep the cities mental health clinics public and open.

Organizer Matt Ginsberg-Jaeckle told the police gathering around them, "We are here until the mayor comes. We won't let them close our clinics." Later he explained, "The only two ways we're leaving, is if they give us back our clinics, or take us away in handcuffs."

The crowd excitedly chanted, "no clinics, no votes" for several minutes.

The crowd then began to tell testimonies, using themselves as human microphones. People who relied on the clinics testified to how they had been impacted by the clinics and how they were terrified of what they would do if they were cut or privatized.

"It's a matter of expense for me, if Beverly Morgan park clinic is closed, I'll have to go to a private clinic and pay $15 a week. I don't have that money." One of those sitting in said.

Another one described her struggle with depression, "I know I will die if I don't go to my clinic. He (her therapist) means a lot to me because I have no where else to go. I have a family full of mental illness or other disabilities. So this really impacts me. It makes me so mad that I shake and get nervous because I can't deal with my life. I sit there and I cry and I panic and I think that suicide is the way out. And it's not the way out. So far I've made it and I know that this (the protest) is my calling."

Margaret Sullivan shouted from the floor in front of the mayor's office, "from 2003 - 2006 they (her clinic) calculated my medicines and kept me from committing suicide, for which I had a plan that included pills, Dramamine and a bathtub. I'm sure the new mayor doesn't care that I didn't die, but these people," she pointed to those sitting besides her, "these people do!"

Madonna Carter, described her three suicide attempts, and how she struggled with depression since she was 11 years old, "being able to be at the clinic has helped me not want to die every day. " She continued, "to lose the clinics would be a way of dying."

The rally was sponsored by many community, labor, and health groups, including AFSCME Council 31, SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana, SEIU Local 1, Illinois Single Payer Coalition, Mental Health Movement, Occupy Chicago, Southside Organizing for Power, and others.

Many in the crowd spoke. One person called the city's budget one for the 1%, not for the 99%. Another pointed out that the biggest mental health clinic in cook county is the cook county jail, as many of those without access to mental health clinics will end up in jail, costing tax payers even more than the clinics would have.

Another activist said that the police 'babysitting' the sit-in could be dealing with other criminals, like those at Lasalle and Jackson in the cities financial district who caused the economic crises.

After 10 hours, those who remained a part of the sit in were arrested by the police. While some alderman expressed regret that they clinics were not provided for in the budget, the budget was passed in a unanimous 50 to 0 vote.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

#Occupy the Police

"In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, transport and communication workers, garbagemen and firemen. These people - the employed, the somewhat privileged - are drawn into alliance with the elite.

They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system fails. That will happen, I think, only when all of us who are slightly privileged and slightly uneasy begin to see that we are like the guards in the prison uprising at Attica - expendable; that the Establishment, whatever rewards it gives us, will also, if necessary to maintain its control, kill us....

there is evidence of growing dissatisfaction among the guards. We have known for some time that the poor and ignored were nonvoters, alienated from a political system they felt didn't care about them, and about which they could do little. Now alienation has spread upward into families above the poverty line."

"In the twenties there was a similar estrangement in the middle classes, which could have gone in various directions - the Ku Klux Klan had millions of members at that time - but in the thirties the work of an organized left wing mobilized much of this feeling into trade unions, farmers unions, socialist movement."

"We may, in the coming years, be in a race for the mobilization of middle-class discontent."
-Howard Zinn People's History of the United States

The #Occupy movement has done an incredible job of raising class consciousness in America. From Wall Street to the occupations in smaller cities around the country, it's demand for more equal wealth distribution and for the lower 99% to have a greater say in how the economy is run, has agitated millions of Americans about the unfairness of American Capitalism.

However the movement goes back and forth on a critical issue. How to relate to the police. Many discussions have turned into shouting arguments, with some protesters arguing that they want to have good relations with the police, pointing out that they are public blue collar workers, "we're fighting for your jobs" is a common thing to hear them say to the police. Other activists will argue that the police only exist to serve the rich, and point to a long history of police brutality against labor organizers, people of color, and protesters.

Which is it?

Well it's both. Like just about every job in this society, the workers face contradictory interests and will have to go through a dialectical process if they are going to join with the forces of liberation.

I was in Ohio for several months, working to repeal Senate Bill 5, an anti-union law that would have limited the things that public employees could bargain over. Unlike the 'Budget Repair' bill that Scott Walker pushed in Wisconsin, SB5 in Ohio would have taken away bargaining rights from police and firefighters as well. We successfully repealed the law, with 61% of Ohio voters supporting union rights.

What was surreal was that the victory party I attended was at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge.
I'm used to police in riot gear surrounding a protest march I'm in. It was different to have the police fighting for union rights and joining me at the same victory party. Many of the police there had never been involved in politics before, but were now becoming involved in labor activism. A few were Republican, but now swore to never vote Republican again.

I was speaking with one of my Anarchist friends about the discussions within #Occupy about the police. He described his annoyance with those who fawn over how the police are part of the 99%, "We're fighting for your jobs, we're fighting for your jobs, well, I'm fighting for a world where police are not needed." He then described how in Sweden, the police give rides to people who are too stoned to drive.

When the Iraq war began, many of us protesting against the war were called unpatriotic, and told that we didn't 'support the troops.' We were glad when Iraq Veterans Against the War began. Veterans spoke out against a war that did not serve the interests of working people in America or in Iraq.

IVAW helped service members file for Conscientious Objector status, and supported those who refused to oppress Iraqi's.

Why is there not a similar group for police and #Occupy? How do we get the police to stop serving the rich, and to support the 99% of which they are materially a part of?

We have to be smart about it. What have we tried thus far? Shouting slogans at anonymous police from the picket line? It hasn't been very effective. When was the last time you followed the advice of someone you didn't know shouting at you?

Let me propose two ideas.

1.) We organize the rank and file. Let's talk to our friends and family who are in the police, and organize a day of police solidarity with #occupy.

2.) Also, we can approach police organizations, the Fraternal Order of Police, etc and speak to them in their terms in order to gain their support. Lets talk to them about their pension, about training, about staffing levels, about their own safety. Let us seek common ground in support of working class issues and against austerity.

The biggest obstacle we may face is their consciousness. They have probably never read Marx, and probably never will. It will be our task to raise their consciousness, through material struggle over their real life concerns as working people, so that they can join us and fight alongside the 99%, instead of against it.

The other obstacle we will face will be our own consciousness in relation to the police. Yes, many police join for the barbarity and ability to have a license to oppress others. It is important to support efforts to hold those individuals, institutions and cultures accountable to the people. Many in #Occupy will say that the police know what they have chosen to do is to support the 1% and brutality. Well, not always. Many police officers join to be able to serve their community's, and to have a steady paycheck for their families.

This is more than just a moral question, this is a strategic question for the movement - will it attempt to unite all who can be united, will it attempt to peel away the layers of support that prop up the system? Or will it take a puritan approach that anyone who has in any way supported the system as it stands is incapable of change or becoming an ally of the 99%?

Yes, many in the police have put the private interests of the rich and powerful ahead of serving and protecting the public. Like our public governments, we have watched as private power has hollowed out what we should hold in common.

We need to enlarge the discussion about private power over our public institutions by asking whether we as a society want public safety or private security.

Do we want a police force that will take drunk drivers off the road, help rape victims, break the silence around police brutality, and protect the rights of the 99%? Or do we want a police force that will act as strikebreakers, cover-up police brutality, and serve the interests of the 1%?

Will we automatically write off all those who are not 'as-left-wing-as-us' as incapable of joining the forces of social justice?

The answer, will be in what the movement does.

Intense Debate Comments