The tomato pickers of the farms in Florida have raised the torch of accountability for over a decade now, successfully challenging behemoth food conglomerates in a self-determining struggle for their own welfare.
Where there were once rampant human rights abuses, economic exploitation and a culture of fear peddled by infectious ignorance, there is now the legally binding Fair Food Program, “an initiative consisting of a wage increase supported by…corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes, and a human-rights-based Code of Conduct.” Designed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers—a vanguard group representing the voices of Florida’s tomato pickers—the FFP establishes ongoing audits by an independent council to ensure that the farms supplying tomatoes to the FFP’s corporate signees are upholding these labor standards.
So far, every fast-food corporation that sources its tomatoes from Florida’s farms has signed onto the plan except for Wendy’s.
The international purveyor of square beef patties has steadfastly refused to sign the FFP, a lone maverick among its industry peers like Burger King and Taco Bell. When confronted with letters, phone calls and public rallies over the last two years from farm worker unions, students and activists demanding the company justify its refusal, Wendy’s executives have insisted the company already purchases tomatoes from suppliers operating under the FFP. Advocates argue that such assurances are basically meaningless without any legal mechanism to corroborate the claims, and are demanding a real, written commitment.
To this end, students, farmworkers and food justice activists all over the country poured into the streets the week of November 15—the date Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas launched the franchise—to demand the franchise’s owners sign the FFP. Leading organization efforts has been the Student Farmworker Alliance, which has allied itself with the cause of the Florida farm workers and is using student engagement to force Wendy’s to joining the FFP.
“This is the biggest action we’ve done so far,” says Sarah Vázquez, who serves on the national committee of the Student Farmworker Alliance. “[The action] provides a fine pressure point to engage student populations and engage with Wendy’s on campus, leveraging our power and voices.”
On November 16 in eighteen cities from New York to Miami to the Bay Area, high school and college students joined community activists and farmworkers in demanding Wendy’s agree to the accountability measures outlined in the FFP. In Columbus, Ohio, near the company’s headquarters, more than 200 people gathered by Ohio State University before marching to a Wendy’s restaurant about a mile and a half away.
“Students and residents in Wendy’s home town will not stop until Wendy’s makes a verifiable commitment to the Fair Food Program and does its part to end farm worker exploitation in its supply chain,” said Cruz Bonlarron Martinez of the Student-Farmworker Alliance, as reported in the Examiner.
More than 130 student activists converged on Washington, DC, from a number of regional universities, including American, Georgetown, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania. The group rallied loudly in front of the White House before marching to a nearby Wendy’s restaurant where a delegation of four students handed the manager a letter outlining the protesters’ demands.
Patricia Cipollitti of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee worked in the weeks before the march to bring together students from various socially minded campus organizations. “It’s up to us as student allies to continue to push Wendy’s until it can no longer deny farmworkers the just and dignified working conditions they deserve,” she said, adding, “we can start reverting that trend and building a more dignified and more sustainable food system that pays its farmworkers a living wage.”
At the University of Pennsylvania, the Penn Student Labor Student Action Project (SLAP) has been working with Philly Fair Foods, the wider coalition of Philadelphia residents engaged in food justice issues, to carry out a week of action leading up to the November 16 protests.
“Penn SLAP will not stop demonstrating and organizing actions until Wendy’s does the right thing and signs on to the Fair Food Program,” said Daniel Cooper, a spokesperson for SLAP. “We are equally committed to [removing Wendy’s] from our universities unless Wendy’s becomes the fifth of the top five fast food restaurants to sign the Fair Food Program.
The action taken by students across the nation mirrors that of their counterparts a decade ago, when students at 300 universities and fifty high schools “organiz[ed] educational events and direct actions, participat[ed] in cross-country tours” to force Taco Bell’s hand in signing the newly drafted Fair Food Program. At the time, youth activists went as far as running off Taco Bell franchises from twenty-five campuses during a four-year boycott before the chain finally capitulated in 2005 and became the first corporate participant in the FFP. Ironically, the man who served as Taco Bell’s president at the time—Emil Brolick—is now the current president and CEO of Wendy’s.
Then as now, students are demonstrating that they stand in solidarity with the farmworkers of Florida. Wendy’s ability to shirk accountability largely rests on the cynical hope that consumers will remain indifferent and ignorant toward its human factors of production. They are mistaken; students are engaged and informed, and if history serves as an example, they will only grow more confrontational until Wendy’s formally joins the Fair Food Program.
Susan Collins is supposed to be the last reasonable Republican in the Senate.
The pair of New England Republicans with whom she had aligned in something of a regional caucus—fellow Mainer Olympia Snowe and Scott Brown of Massachusetts—are gone. So, elite media outlets frequently remind us, it’s up to Collins.
But on a fundamental question of democratic governance—accounting for civilians killed by US drone strikes—Collins does not appear to be up for it.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, on which Collins sits, voted this month to require the government to report on the number of civilians who have been being killed by drone strikes, as part of a broader effort to bring the Congress into a proper advise-and-consent role when it comes to killings that are committed in the name of the American people but without their informed consent.
The legislation is a big deal: “Because the U.S. government number is secret, we can’t have a normal democratic debate about the policy,” explains the group Just Foreign Policy. “Government officials anonymously tell the press that civilian deaths from drone strikes have been rare. Independent reporting says otherwise. Government officials anonymously tell the press that the independent reporting isn’t accurate, but they won’t say why it isn’t accurate and they won’t say what is accurate. So the broad public is left with ‘he said, she said.’ Media that reach the broad public won’t challenge the government’s claims about civilian casualties until we can force the government onto the public record to defend its claims.”
Unfortunately, notes Robert Naiman, the policy director for Just Foriegn Policy, Collins voted “no.”
“Because of the way the Senate works, Susan Collins’s opposition could keep this crucial reform of the drone strike policy from becoming law,” Naiman and his Just Foreign Policy colleagues argue.
This is how Collins fits into the equation: “Senator Collins’s support for this provision is crucial because it’s not likely that the Senate will pass it into law unless it attracts some Republican support. Republicans outside the committee tend to defer to Republicans on the committee. But no Republican supported the amendment in committee. Susan Collins is the Republican member of the committee considered most likely to change her position.”
Which takes this debate out of the Intelligence Committee, out of the Capitol and out of Washington.
Drone policy is unlikely to change unless Collins changes her position. But that is not likely to happen, Naiman suggests, “unless there’s some public agitation for it.”
To get that, there has to be a real debate about drone policy—nationally, but especially in Maine.
Nationally, there’s a MoveOn petition campaign urging Collins “to reverse her opposition to telling the public about civilian deaths from US drone strikes.” It has already attracted roughly 15,000 signatures, with thousands of new names being added daily.
But what about Maine?
The longtime executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, recently announced that she would challenge Collins in 2014 as a “Democrat. Libertarian. Progressive.”
Bellows is serious about all three words. And she has a record of taking on both parties on issues ranging from the Patriot Act to freedom of information to drone policy. In fact, she has been a national leader on the final issue, having organized a left-right coalition that got the Maine legislature to pass legislation requiring police agencies to obtain a probable cause warrant before using drones for surveillance. (Governor Paul LePage vetoed the bill but then issued an executive order directing the state’s commissioner of public safety to issue a policy governing law enforcement use and operation of drones.
We need to repeal the Patriot Act and REAL ID.
We need to stop the NSA and the FBI from wasting their time and taxpayer dollars spying on ordinary Americans through our cell phones and email.
We need to place limits on drones.
Bellows argues that Congress has created a constitutional crisis by failing to defend basic liberties, and by failing to serve as a check and balance on executive overreach.
She is right.
And her candidacy highlights a vital constitutional question—that of the right of Congress and the people to information about military missions—on which Collins is wrong.
Political campaigns, by their nature, are competitions for power. But they are also competitions of ideas. They can put issues into play. And they can force entrenched politicians to think anew about stances they have taken. Even those who might not back Shenna Bellows must recognize the value of a candidacy that demands Collins think more deeply about the essential role of the legislative branch in checking and balancing the executive.
Robert Greewald’s film Unmanned adds fuel to the drone debate.
I get it, we need to play defense.
There are 50 million people who are food insecure—meaning they can’t meet their basic food needs and don’t necessarily know where their next meal is coming from—and yet both Democrats and Republicans are debating how much more to cut from a food stamp program that was already cut on November 1 and now has an average benefit of only $1.40 per meal…
We need to play defense.
At a time when the economy needs to add 8.3 million jobs just to return to pre-recession employment levels—and sequestration will result in the loss of nearly 1 million more jobs by the third quarter of 2014…
We need to play defense.
At a time when we have reached crisis levels of poverty for children of color under age 5—more than 42 percent of African-American children and 37 percent of Latino children under age 5 live below the poverty line of $18,300 annually for a family of three—and sequestration has resulted in more than 57,000 children being kicked out of Head Start classrooms…
We need to play defense.
At a time when there are record levels of homeless students in US public schools—nearly 1.2 million in the 2011–12 school year—and sequestration will result in as many as 185,000 low-income families losing housing assistance by the end of 2014…
We clearly need to play defense.
But then there is also this: anger, frustration, worry, rage, sadness and despair across the nation. It’s combustible. Ninety-five percent of the recovery gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent, 60 percent have gone to the top .1 percent who earn more than $1.9 million annually. That doesn’t leave much for anyone else to get ahead.
So isn’t this actually the perfect moment for the anti-poverty community to pivot to offense? To rally around a tight, shared vision—one that appeals to people living in poverty or near poverty, and to the middle class?
In January of this year, I proposed an anti-poverty contract to unite groups around the minimum wage, paid leave, affordable childcare, subsidized jobs/TANF reform and ending childhood hunger. I shared the contract with advocates in DC and outside of the nation’s capital as well. The reaction? Roll soundtrack: crickets chirping (with a few notable exceptions).
As we approach the new year, I still think advocates are too segregated from one another, working on their specific issues, rather than increasing their power and numbers by coming together around a shared vision with popular appeal.
So I again sent some great leaders in the anti-poverty community a scaled back version of my previous proposal, asking whether they thought organizations could and should unite around three or so core issues. For purposes of discussion I proposed:
Raise the minimum wage: no one in America should work full-time, or two or even three part-time jobs, and still be stuck in poverty. Historically, a full-time worker earning the minimum wage could lift a family of three out of poverty. The Harkin-Miller proposal of a $10.10 per hour minimum wage would return us to that standard. (It also would raise the tipped minimum wage—stuck at $2.13 per hour for more than twenty years—to 70 percent of the minimum wage.)
Paid sick and family leave: nobody in this country should have to choose between a paycheck and caring for themselves or a sick family member, and yet only 34 percent of low-wage workers had access to paid sick leave in 2013.
Affordable, quality childcare: it’s tough to go to work and get ahead when there isn’t a safe, affordable place to take your kids for childcare, and yet childcare assistance policies worsened in twenty-four states in 2012. The average annual fee for full-time childcare ranges from $3,900 to $15,000.
The advocates I reached out to include: Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a catholic social justice lobby; Dr. Mariana Chilton, director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities, which includes the Witnesses to Hunger project; Steve Savner, director of public policy for the Center for Community Change; Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs; Melissa Boteach, director of Half in Ten and the Poverty and Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress; and Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
Here are some of the insights they offered and common themes that emerged from our conversations:
There is a need for a shared agenda among advocacy organizations.
Sister Simone Campbell: I’ve been thinking how Speaker John Boehner is not a leader for the twenty-first century. And it got me thinking, ‘What are we doing for the twenty-first century?’ NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus is like a lightning rod for hope and opportunity. That experience for me touched the hunger for community—and there’s a hunger for community not just for folks around the country—but also for those of us who do advocacy in DC.
Dr. Mariana Chilton: Housing groups and hunger groups, labor and immigrants rights groups, childcare groups and education groups—we need to all be talking and all have the same platform. We are too caught up in our own talking points for our own particular issues, and what that does is, ultimately, it chops up regular human beings—we’ve got to pull together as regular human beings, to humanize the issues of poverty, and hunger, and injustice.
Steve Savner: We agree with the idea that we need a small set of key demands that will connect with people in meaningful way. Since no three things will address all of the issues that folks face, the fight on some core demands also needs to connect to a broader vision and narrative about economic justice and eliminating poverty that allows us to build more power as we go from one fight to the next.
Jessica Bartholow: The best efforts to thwart austerity measures will not work unless there is a strong coalition that knows not only what it doesn’t want but what it does want, and that can unite across fissures in coalition and movement building to achieve that. We need to articulate a vision that is simple enough and urgent enough to build momentum in a short period of time, while conceding the need to go much farther with shared work on other issues down the road.
Melissa Boteach: While we definitely have to continue to defend the critical safety net programs under attack, we know we’re not going to reach Half in Ten’s goal of cutting poverty in half from a crouched, defensive posture. Anti-poverty advocates have got to come together and press for an agenda that speaks to the pressing task of rebuilding the middle class, and creating ladders of opportunity so that more people can reach the middle class.
Which issues should be selected and how should they be determined?
Savner: Folks here don’t feel like we are at a place to name the most resonant demands absent, at least for us, more testing on the ground directly in low income communities—both as to content and how to engage a lot more people in the fight. The broader vision behind the demands you name feels right, a decent job that pays fairly and a system that doesn’t force people to choose between a good job and a safe and healthy family. One more element I’d say the vision needs to address is the right to a decent jobs for all who seek them and fair access for those who are struggling to succeed in the labor market, such as people returning home from jail or prison, or who have been excluded from certain industries and occupations, most importantly women and people of color.
Chilton: The people are missing from this idea. If we all just get around these three issues it will just be a little sign-on thing that’s just going to fizzle out, unless you have people who are poor running the show. If it’s just words, ‘we hereby decree,’ it’s not going to get anywhere. The movement can be facilitated by the NGOs and non-profits, but it’s going to have to be the people who are poor that are supposedly represented by these organizations who need to be out front. Also, while I personally like this idea of having a simplified message: minimum wage, paid leave, and childcare as three top-ticket items, there’s a fourth ticket, and that’s people who are low-wage workers need to rise up, and it needs to get beyond the fast food industry and WalMart. People who are on SNAP benefits and working need to protest. And we need to join them.
Deborah Weinstein: It would be interesting to see if we could get broad support for a narrow positive agenda, and if so, what would it include? For me, minimum wage and paid sick leave are two easy choices. If there’s a third, it’s less obvious to me what [it] should be. Increasing the amount of the SNAP food benefit? A renter’s credit (refundable) combined with transforming the home mortgage interest deduction to a credit—which would save money by reducing the huge amounts going to the highest income homeowners? More childcare, perhaps combined with universal pre-k? Immigration reform?
Sr. Simone: I like the idea that we could focus on some key principles and make it proactive—but not as an adversarial scold—but as ‘We the People are better than this.’ And ‘work needs to pay.’ While we need to keep nudging at specific issues, there’s a much bigger hunger to get the community together, to recover ‘We the People…’ If we put the specific issues in that bigger context—they kind of hang together for the benefit of the 100 percent, for everybody. But we have to put it in the communal context without fear of each other.
Boteach: Grassroots partners are already calling for an end to the politics of austerity. To set the positive vision, low-income people have to be leaders in shaping and organizing around the unified agenda, but clearly a few wins on policies that have widespread appeal could make an enormous difference for low-income families. Raising the minimum wage commands strong public support across party lines—we just need to make sure members of Congress get the memo. Paid family leave and investments in childcare and pre-K would not just cut poverty; they’d help families of all income levels balance breadwinning and caregiving.
Bartholow: I read your blog calling for a national contract for shared prosperity on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King. That night, I stayed up laying out the policy asks that had surfaced through coalition work I have been engaged in. In California, we have finally been able to move from a decade of simply defending against cuts to articulating our shared vision for a vibrant, inclusive economy. New alliances have formed between women, immigrants, the working poor, people without homes, people formerly incarcerated, food stamp recipients, labor union members, college students, youth and others. So I shared my draft not only with these communities and organizations I work with, but with colleagues in other states and people working at the national level. Each conversation surfaced new insights, confirmed the need for an organizing vehicle like this, and raised very good—and still somewhat unanswered—questions about the long-term goals of the organizing effort. We hope to roll out our National Call to Action soon.
What would this movement look like if it were to be effective?
Chilton: I think it takes a march—and it has to be massive, bigger than the number of people who showed up for President Obama’s inauguration. It has to show that we are fed up. Then we could signal to the rest of the country that there are many of us just like you that are fed up—join us. I think people are waiting for something massive, for something like a familiar social movement. Something a little different from Occupy Wall Street—something that makes people head to DC with something like a banner of three key demands. Something that really includes and speaks to families with children. But who are the ones that could pull it together? Is it the Community Action people? Is it MomsRising? The labor movement? Who has the people to make it happen—to get the buses going and to roll with it?
Bartholow: Our Call to Action is designed to be an ongoing, relentless campaign informed, inspired and driven by the experiences of the people who are most impacted by stagnant poverty and historic levels of inequality. It will hopefully broaden the anti-poverty community through a time-sensitive, narrowly drawn campaign that supports active federal legislation.
Boteach: If this were to happen, it would mean that there has finally been a realization that the interests of low- and middle-income Americans are aligned. That’s the way we will achieve a broad-based movement. We are committed to working with our partners to make the case, build the power, and hold our leaders accountable to enact policies that cut poverty and rebuild the middle class.
Savner: At the Center for Community Change, we are indeed trying to build a nationwide movement against poverty. The core issue is jobs: making sure that good jobs are available and accessible to everyone. We will start at the local and state level, working with grassroots groups to win breakthroughs and redefine the possible. We’ll support massive new organizing among low-income people, build coalitions at both the state and national level, communicate the problems and the solutions, and working with others, we will make sure that good jobs for all—as a way to address poverty—is a central agenda for politicians who are running for office.
Sr. Simone: If this effort were successful we would know that we have each other’s backs. We would not need to be afraid of being left out…. We can make this happen if we try.
What do you think? Please comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A Tale of Two Thanksgivings
Getting Back to Full Employment with Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein (Tonight, November 25, 6:30–8 pm, Busboys and Poets’ Cullen Room, 5th and K Streets NW DC)
Roundtable on the Promotion of Health Equity and the Elimination of Health Disparities (Thursday, December 5, 8 am Pacific, Beckman Center, Irvine, California) The Institute of Medicine will hold a workshop exploring the history of social movements for lessons and strategies that could inform contemporary efforts to improve the health and well-being of all communities. The workshop will be webcast live.
Witnesses to Hunger 5-Year Anniversary Exhibit & Reception (Wednesday, December 11, 6–9 pm, Drexel University’s Bossone Research Center, First Floor Lobby and Mitchell Auditorium, 3140 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) In 2008, a group of women from North Philadelphia were given cameras to take pictures and speak out about their firsthand experiences with hunger and poverty for a project known as Witnesses to Hunger. Today, there are more than eighty Witnesses in sites from Boston to Baltimore. Join them for a night of reflection, celebration and action.
Clips and other resources
“Paul Ryan, Poverty Warrior? Huh?,” Jared Bernstein
“Getting Back to Full Employment: A Better Bargain for Working People,” Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker
“Inside The Death Of A D.C. Public School,” Kavitha Cardoza
“Inequality Is (Literally) Killing America,” Zoë Carpenter
“Justice Center Helps Reduce Crime and Incarceration in Brooklyn,” Center for Court Innovation
“Infographic: The School-Readiness Gap,” CAP Early Childhood Team
“We Have Skilled Construction Workers−They Need Jobs,” Ross Eisenbrey
“As I See It—Declaring a new war on poverty,” William Elliott III
“Gathering insights from Native American communities,” Lionel Foster
“Congress Must Not Break 40-Year Commitment to Let WIC Provide Most Nutritious Food,” Robert Greenstein
“Child poverty remains high while spending on children falls,” Julie Isaacs
“Expanding Social Security,” Paul Krugman
“The Long-Term Unemployment Trap Could Get Worse,” John Light
“In rural Kentucky, health-care debate takes back seat as the long-uninsured line up,” Stephanie McCrummen
“Education for Homeless Children and Youths Program Data Collection Summary,” National Center for Homeless Education
“Healthy Relationships, Employment and Reentry,” National Transitional Jobs Network
“There is not enough affordable rental housing,” Erika Poethig
“Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters: A Review of the Research,” PolicyLink and The Food Trust
“SNAP Costs Leveling Off, Almost Certain to Fall Next Year,” Dorothy Rosenbaum
“Focus of US Fiscal Policy Must Shift Back to Full Employment,” William Spriggs
“The Detroit Bankruptcy,” Wallace Turbeville
“Breaking Bread to Build a Movement: Harnessing Philanthropy’s Power to Convene,” Luz Vega-Marquis
Why We Raise Up Massachusetts
US poverty (less than $23,492 for a family of four): 46.5 million people, 15 percent.
African American poverty rate: 27.2 percent.
Hispanic poverty rate: 25.6 percent.
White poverty rate: 9.7 percent.
People with disabilities: 28 percent.
Poorest age group: children, 34.6 percent of all people in poverty are children.
Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 21.8 percent, including 38 percent of African-American children, 34 percent of Latino children and 12 percent of white children.
Poverty rate among families with children headed by single mothers: 40.9 percent.
Gender gap: Women 31 percent more likely to be poor than men.
Deep poverty (less than $9,142 for a family of three): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, nearly 10 percent of all children, up from 12.6 million in 2000—an increase of 59 percent.
Homeless students in K-12 public schools: 1.2 million.
Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, approximately one in three Americans.
Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.
Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.
Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.
Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers).
Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.
Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.
Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.
Families receiving cash assistance, 2012: 25 for every 100 families living in poverty.
Impact of public policy, 2011: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.
Number of people 65 or older kept out of poverty by Social Security: 15.3 million, including 9 million women.
Five community members met with Congressional leaders to discuss the dire implications of cuts to food stamp spending.
Twenty-four hours after the big announcement, the editorials and punditry have started to appear, and I will be charting it all here.
At the same time, I’m sure what will not appear: apologies from Bill Keller and Nick Kristof of The New York Times and other liberals for urging US bombing of Syria two months ago—which would have killed (besides a lot of civilians) any Iran deal. Of course, we should also recall that President Obama himself planned to bomb but was deterred by popular protest, and then had the courage to change his mind.
With the Iran deal, we’ll start with the New York Times editorial, posted late Sunday, and add others below. For broad range of Israeli analysis and opinion, go to Haaretz. And don't miss Thomas Friedman ripping Israel, Israeli lobby and U.S. congress members.
From the Times:
The interim nuclear deal between Iran and the major powers is an important step toward resolving the increasingly dangerous dispute over Iran’s progress on production of a nuclear weapon. President Obama and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran deserve credit for resisting fierce domestic opposition and a 30-year history of animosity between the two countries to get to this point….
As with any deal between adversaries, caution is warranted. Iran kept the nuclear program secret for nearly two decades before it was uncovered in 2002 and has resisted full disclosure of its activities. But the interim deal has protections that should make cheating harder, including unprecedented daily inspections of enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordo by United Nations experts.
Inevitably, here’s the take from The Wall Street Journal, which titles it “Iran’s Nuclear Triumph”:
President Obama is hailing a weekend accord that he says has “halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program,” and we devoutly wish this were true. The reality is that the agreement in Geneva with five Western nations takes Iran a giant step closer to becoming a de facto nuclear power….
Mr. Obama seems determined to press ahead with an Iran deal regardless of the details or damage. He views it as a legacy project. A President has enormous leeway on foreign policy, but Congress can signal its bipartisan unhappiness by moving ahead as soon as possible to strengthen sanctions. Mr. Obama warned Congress not to do so in his weekend remarks, but it is the only way now to stop the President from accommodating a nuclear Iran.
John Judis at The New Republic reminds us about our 1987 nuclear pact with th Soviets:
Conservatives denounced Reagan for the pact. National Review called it “Reagan’s suicide pact.” Henry Kissinger charged that it undermined “40 years of NATO.” But, of course, the treaty turned out to be a prelude not only to more comprehensive arms agreements, but to the end of the Cold War.
The hawkish Washington Post says this effort is worth making but, of course, raises many warning signs with Israel, guess what, at center stage.
The first is a rift with Israel and Saudi Arabia and other U.S. Arab allies, which objected to an interim arrangement that would leave Iran’s nuclear infrastructure mostly untouched and which strongly oppose allowing Iran permanent enrichment capacity.
Eli Lake at The Daily Beast calls the deal highly “dangerous.” Chicago Tribune: “hope has triumphed over experience.” USA Today: Yes, there are risks, but this sure “beats the alternative.” Peter Beinart: No, Bill Kristol, this is not another Munich.
Bob Dreyfuss calls the US-Iran deal a “historic first step” in the peace process.
Protests and raised fists have come to life to San Jose State University. For those who have not heard, three white students at San Jose State University have been charged with hate crimes—and a fourth has been suspended—after their African-American roommate was subjected to a series of racist torments that have shocked the entire community. The young man, whose name has not been revealed, had a heavy U-shaped bike lock put around his neck, had racial slurs and swastikas scrawled on dry-erase boards placed around the room and was renamed by the students with whom he was forced to live as “three-fifths” or “fraction”, after the Compromise of 1787, which deemed slaves to be three-fifths of a human being.
At SJSU, there is outrage that a school, which was the incubator of the black athletes’ revolt in the 1960s, could be a place where such a crime could occur. There is also frustration that residential assistants were conscious enough of the situation to ask the alleged tormentors to take a Confederate flag off their door but did not alert anyone in the administration that their black roommate might be in trouble. Then there are doubts that the administration would have even taken it seriously, or whether it all would have been covered up if not for the dogged reporting of the San Jose Mercury News. After the attacks, student leaders asked school president Mo Qayoumi to discuss what could be done. Instead, he chose to keep his commitments at a science and engineering conference in Wisconsin. Students have also gone public with complaints that they cannot get a sit-down with the man about what happened. “This president, unlike the six or seven presidents I’ve seen at SJSU, has the most top-down management style,” Jonathan Karpf, an anthropology lecturer said to the San Jose Mercury News. “He’s not somebody who handles dissent very effectively.”
Now there are students marching with their fists raised like the statue of 1968 Olympic protesters John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the center of their campus.
But if people had been listening, then Ron Davis could have told them that was not only possible but even inevitable. Ron Davis was hired to coach the cross-country team in 2012. But he was more than just another coach. In November of 1962, Ron Davis ran cross-country for San Jose State as part of the first integrated team to win the Division I championship. He was also the student assistant for the 1969 team that won the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championship. Davis was at the heart of the era that saw people like Dr. Harry Edwards, Tommie Smith, Lee Evans and John Carlos make history at the school. Over the next four decades, Davis coached around the world from Canada and Ireland to Mozambique and Nigeria, as well as in colleges across the United States. Here is what the interim athletic director Marie Tuite, said upon hiring Mr. Davis. “He’s a great Spartan. He has such an affection for San Jose State. It’s really an honor for him to recruit young men and women to this university.”
This job was supposed to be a great homecoming and the culmination of a remarkable career. Instead, after one season, one last-place finish (in line with the previous year’s performance), and the hiring of a new athletic director, Ron Davis was not reappointed. He is now suing the school for discrimination, saying that the school draped in civil rights history fired him because of the color of his skin. The school was not content to merely dismiss Mr. Davis. They humiliated him out the door, with written evaluations that mocked his intelligence and his communication abilities, and tried to make this man who had been coaching for over forty years sound like an incompetent.
I was able to get in touch with Mr. Davis, and he e-mailed me the following note.
As a San Jose State University graduate, hall of fame member, and member of the first “integrated” team to win the NCAA National Cross Country Championship I am appalled that such a deplorable racist attack occurred. I appreciated your article last week on the racist attack at San Jose State last week. It exposed the truth about what has been happening at San Jose State regarding on going social injustice to students and faculty. What they practice and what they convey to the community is a dishonor to the statue of Dr. John Carlos and Dr. Tommie Smith who were advocates of human rights. Why did it take so long for the terrorism and humiliation experienced by the Black student to be reported and acted on by the San Jose State Administration?
This question is going to need to be answered. But questions about how administrators handled—or didn’t handle—the racist incident is inextricable from how a school like San Jose State could so casually disrespect its own history by treating Ron Davis so poorly. Using your history only as public relations, and not as a call to arms to build an institution anchored by principles of anti-racism, can no longer cut it. It is no different from Cal Berkeley in 2011 boasting about its history of dissent on its website, while having students tear-gassed in the quad. The 1968 Olympic protests are not a brand. Students are saying that if you are going to be the home for this statue, you need to earn that right every day.
Mychal Denzel Smith talks about how it isn´t about how far we´ve come on racism, but how far we still have to go.
Editors' Note: This post originally stated that unnamed student suffering abuse had a "bike chain" placed around his neck. We have now corrected this to reflect that it was actually a significantly heavier U-shaped bike lock.
The United States and Iran, in conjunction with the P5+1 world powers, have struck a historic accord that paves the way for a final settlement of the long-running dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. On the fourth day of the most recent round of talks, in bargaining that lasted until 3 am, the P5+1 and Iran concluded an interim agreement, as widely expected, to freeze Iran’s nuclear program at roughly its current state. In exchange, the United States and the P5+1 have agreed on a modest but significant relaxation of economic sanctions on Iran. The next step, which the parties expect to take up to six months, is to complete a deal in which an end to sanctions is exchanged for a continued freeze and partial rollback of Iran’s program, in a way—guaranteed by more intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)—that provides clear assurances that Iran is not on the path toward nuclear weapons.
The substance of the accord reached in Geneva is a breakthrough, but the politics of the agreement is equally important. President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry signed the deal in explicit, full-frontal defiance of American hawks, neoconservatives and hardliners, the Israel lobby, and anti-Iran partisans in Congress. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his team, backed by President Hassan Rouhani—elected in June with a mandate to do exactly this—have similarly defied their own country’s hardliners and skeptics, led by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and by what Zarif calls Iran’s own Tea Party. And the United States struck the deal despite outright hostility, bordering on hysteria, from its two chief allies in the Middle East, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
According to the terms of the agreement, Iran has agreed to halt all uranium enrichment above the range of 3.5 to 5 percent purity, which is low-enriched, fuel-grade uranium. Its stockpile of medium-enriched, 20 percent purity uranium will be neutralized by conversion into a product that cannot be used for weapons. It will not produce any new centrifuges except those needed to replace ones that break down, and it will not start spinning those now in place, including advanced centrifuges, that aren’t currently in use. It will not add to its current stockpile of low-enriched uranium, either, although it can continue to refine uranium to 5 percent purity as long as some of it is converted to fuel rods and other, nonmilitary product. Its heavy water reactor at Arak, which could produce material to process into plutonium, will be frozen. And Iran has agreed to far more intrusive IAEA inspections, including daily inspections at Natanz and at the underground facility at Fordow.
Both President Rouhani and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, have endorsed the accord, in part because for the first time the United States and the P5+1 have tacitly recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium under the terms of the Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed, by agreeing to permit Iran’s continuing enrichment to 5 percent. Rouhani said that the deal seals Iran’s “nuclear rights,” and, according to Al Arabiya, Khamenei said: “The nuclear negotiating team should be thanked and appreciated for this achievement. God’s grace and the support of the Iranian nation were the reasons behind this success.”
Obama, speaking from the White House early Sunday, said:
While today’s announcement is just a first step, it achieves a great deal. For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, and key parts of the program will be rolled back. Iran has committed to halting certain levels of enrichment, and neutralizing part of its stockpile. Iran cannot use its next-generation centrifuges—which are used for enriching uranium. Iran cannot install or start up new centrifuges, and its production of centrifuges will be limited. Iran will halt work at its plutonium reactor. And new inspections will provide extensive access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, and allow the international community to verify whether Iran is keeping its commitments.
Interestingly, a statement from the White House early today explicitly rules out the imposition of additional sanctions, which is a direct message to leaders of the US Senate, including majority leader Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who’d hinted that they’d move ahead with yet another round of sanctions in December. The accord, says the White House, commits the parties of the P5+1, including the United States, to “not impose new nuclear-related sanctions for six months, if Iran abides by its commitments under this deal, to the extent permissible within their political systems.”
But the White House, trying to sell the accord to domestic skeptics, including the hawks, risks sounding a little triumphant by touting the sanctions relief provided to Iran as “limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible.” That’s all true—but, of course, Iran’s commitments are equally “reversible.” In fact, the sanctions relief is important in its own right, but it also provides the first movement in the opposition direction in regard to economic sanctions on Iran since the mid-1990s. Under the terms of the accord, Iran will gain access to billions of dollars in frozen accounts over the next six months; it will gain specific relief for its suffering auto and aviation sectors; and the accord will “allow purchases of Iranian oil to remain at their currently significantly reduced levels.” That last phrase means that although the onerous oil and banking sanctions will remain in place, there will be no more pressure to reduce Iran’s oil exports further.
Israel’s reaction is, predictably, apoplectic. Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economic minister, said, “If five years from now a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the deal that was signed this morning.” But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will have trouble playing that card for long, since Israel is drastically isolated from the rest of the world and risks an open break with Washington. Already, some Israel leaders, such as President Shimon Peres and the newly installed leader of the Israeli Labor Party, have issued mild to moderate statements that undermine Netanyahu’s bluster. And, ironically, though, the harsh reaction from Israel will help Rouhani and Zarif sell the deal in Iran, since they can point to Israel’s criticism of the deal as a sign that it was, indeed, a victory for Iran’s “nuclear rights.”
In a background briefing, a senior US official laid out the sanctions relief that Iran will get via the accord. It’s an impressive list:
The components are as follows: We will pause efforts to further reduce Iran’s crude oil sales. This means Iran’s oil exports will remain steady at their current level of around 1 million barrels per day, which is down 60 percent since our oil sanctions took effect in late 2011. And with one exception, the revenue that Iran earns from these sales over the next six months will continue to be restricted by our sanctions, meaning that those funds will not be available to Iran for repatriation or cross-border transfer.
The one exception is that we will allow Iran to transfer $4.2 billion in revenue from these sales in installments over the six-month period.
We will suspend U.S. sanctions on Iran’s petrochemical exports. This could allow Iran to generate some revenue, which we estimate to be a maximum of a billion dollars in new revenue over the six-month period. We will suspend U.S. sanctions on Iran’s trade in gold and precious metals. There is no economic value to Iran from this provision because Iran will have to spend its limited unrestricted foreign currency for any gold purchases. Iran cannot use restricted oil earnings to buy gold.
We will suspend U.S. sanctions on exports to Iran’s auto industry. This could provide Iran some marginal benefit on the order of about $500 million if Iran is able to resume its prior levels of production and revitalizes its auto exports. However, Iran’s auto industry suffers from many problems beyond sanctions, many of which would have to be solved for Iran to benefit from this provision. Moreover, Iran would need to use some of its limited foreign currency to pay for car kits it would import from abroad.
We will allow $400 million in governmental tuition assistance to be transferred from restricted Iranian funds overseas directly to recognized educational institutions in third countries to defray the tuition costs of Iranian students. We will license safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines, and we will establish a financial channel to facilitate humanitarian trade in food, agricultural commodities, medicines, and medical devices for Iran’s domestic needs. Humanitarian transactions have been explicitly exempted from sanctions by Congress, so this channel will not provide Iran access to any new source of funds.
Finally, to the extent permissible within our political system, we have committed to refrain from imposing new nuclear-related sanctions. That does not prevent us from implementing and enforcing our existing nuclear-related sanctions, which, of course, we will do, or from imposing new sanctions targeting Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism or its abysmal human rights record.
Greg Mitchell dissects the media's response to the historic Iran deal.
The Nation’s first regular column was introduced in 1918 under the headline, “In the Driftway.” Some have identified the writer as Carl Van Doren, literary editor from 1919–22, but it is more likely the “Drifter” persona—who always wrote of himself in the third person—was a composite of several contributors writing under that name during the column’s seventeen-year run.
In 1931, the Drifter, describing himself as “usually suspicious a priori of all traditions, hallowed or otherwise,” wrote that it was his “sad duty to report certain misgivings” about President Herbert Hoover’s proclamation for Thanksgiving that year.
With the third winter of widespread unemployment nearly upon us, in all its ugliness, want, and distress, Thanksgiving Day has not a genuine ring. Somehow it sounds ill-suited to the times. The President’s counsel that ‘our people rest from their daily labors’ brings to the Drifter’s mind some ten million jobless to whom that advice will seem more than slightly ironical. And he wonders how many of that army stopped work on Thanksgiving Day in 1929, not realizing that they would still be resting two years later. Will they be duly appreciative, as the President is, that ‘the passing adversity which has come upon us’ is a ‘spiritual’ blessing?
The height of irony, the Drifter felt, was in Hoover’s statement that the country had been “widely blessed with abundant harvests.” The truth was that the 1931 harvest had been so bountiful that crop prices were depressed even further. As one local politician wrote to the governor of Kansas, bemoaning bottomed-out wheat prices, “This is the first time I have ever seen a bumper crop year leave farmers more discouraged than if they had a complete failure.”
“Under our topsy-turvy economics,” the Drifter wrote, “abundant harvests assure us nothing. They are a dubious blessing indeed when rich surpluses leave the farmer poor and the destitute hungry. It were better had the harvest been lean. The well-stocked storehouses would not then present a tantalizing mockery of the knowledge that has multiplied.”
The Drifter then suggested renaming the holiday to “Fact-facing Day,” to reflect “a more realistic purpose.”
Instead of offering spiritual consolation to the needy and expressing pious hopes that by another year the Almighty might have matters adjusted to normal, the nation would unite in facing the facts of our adversity. The Drifter believes this might lead to action which would make abundant harvests mean abundance for all. And should that happen, you would see an ardent campaign to change the name of Fact-facing Day back to Thanksgiving Day.
Presumably the Drifter was more satisfied by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first Thanksgiving proclamation in November 1933:
May we be grateful for the passing of dark days; for the new spirit of dependence one on another; for the closer unity of all parts of our wide land; for the greater friendship between employers and those who toil; for a clearer knowledge by all nations that we seek no conquests and ask only honorable engagements by all peoples to respect the lands and rights of their neighbors; for the brighter day to which we can win through by seeking the help of God in a more unselfish striving for the common bettering of mankind.
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The Life magazine dated November 22, 1963, which would have arrived on newsstands around November 15, featured a terrifying story by Theodore White, author of the groundbreaking bestseller The Making of the President 1960. Titled “Racial Collision,” and subtitled “the Negro-white problem is greatest in the North where the Negro is taking over the cities—and being strangled by them,” it was a terrifying intimation of an imminent racial holocaust. The first of two parts, the conclusion ran in the issue dated November 29—which ordinarily would have appeared on newsstands on November 22 but was held back to put the martyred President Kennedy on the cover, and to include, inside, several thousand words of what must have been some very speedily written copy about his death. That second part was even scarier. It reported terrors like Adam Clayton Powell’s call for “ ‘a Birmingham explosion in New York City’ this fall”; Communist infiltration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s inner circle; a civil rights group’s fears that it would be labeled “a front for the white man” unless a peaceful march was turned into “a violent putsch on government offices”; and some protesters&rssquo; demand for cash reparations for slavery—“There is a warning if such sin-gold is not paid by white Americans to black Americans, the ‘power structure’ is inviting ‘social chaos.’ ” And it quoted James Forman of the Southern Nonviolent Coordinating Committee reaching the following unsettling conclusion: “85% of all Negroes do not adhere to nonviolence.”
Such foreboding was entirely typical of that very tense summer and fall—and the culmination of fears that had been mounting ever since the Bay of Pigs and the Berlin Crisis and the Cuban missile crisis and the Oxford, Mississippi, crisis of 1961 and 1962. The fear escalated after Bull Connor’s fire hoses in Birmingham in the spring of 1963 unleashed what felt to whites like an uncontainable torrent of black rage across the country: in Columbus, Ohio, two men chained themselves to furniture in the state Capitol; in Boston, a black parent told the segregationist city school board “it is too late for pleading, begging, requesting, or even reasoning.” Whites thereby reacted against the rage: George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama. Medgar Evers was shot. Barry Goldwater began looking good to Republicans—and rival bands of Goldwaterites turned the Young Republican National Federation’s convention into a near-riot.
It felt like riots were breaking out everywhere.
On September 15, Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was bombed by Klansmen, killing four little girls.
In Dallas, on October 24, United Nations ambassador Adlai Stevenson was shouted down, spat upon, and physically assaulted on the street by right-wingers.
In Saigon, on November 2, South Vietnam’s president Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated in a US- backed coup.
And in Dallas, on November 22, President Kennedy was supposed to give a speech addressing the widespread feeling that America had become a very scary place, specifically as regarded the 1963 version of Tea Partiers, who had become so scary that many people presumed that they had been the ones that shot him. “In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations,” ran the text he was killed before he could deliver, “voices are heard in the land…preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that…vituperation is as good as victory and peace is a sign of weakness…. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants, far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.”
This was the world that Theodore White, in his next article in Life after his near-prediction of race war proclaimed, until the day John F. Kennedy was killed, “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”
* * *
The story of how the myth of Camelot was invented is wonderfully told in a great little book from 1995 that I’ve never seen referenced before, Theodore H. White and Journalism as Illusion, by media scholar Joyce Hoffman. It begins:
Theodore H. White was in a dentist’s chair on the Upper East Side of Manhattan on a Friday morning in late November 1963, when he learned that Jacqueline Kennedy had telephoned to say she needed him. One week had passed since President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, and now his widow was beseeching the journalist, whom she considered an old friend, to come to Hyannisport. She had something she wanted Life magazine to say to America, and White, she insisted, had to bear the message…. She had summoned White because she was angry, very angry. All week newspaper pundits had served up their instant appraisals of the brief and abruptly ended Kennedy administration. Arthur Krock’s New York Times column had especially rankled her…a lament about the failure of ‘even advanced democracy and self-government to extirpate in mankind the resort to anarchy…. Walter Lippmann’s “Today and Tomorrow’” column just four days after the assassination had spoken of the forces of hatred and ungovernability and how “habit of intemperate speech and thought had become deeply ingrained. It is deepened by the strains of war and the frustrations of this revolutionary age.”
In other words, commentators commentated accurately on the mood of the country. But “Mrs. Kennedy wanted White to rescue her husband’s memory from these men. History should celebrate the Kennedy years as a time of hope and magic, she insisted. White sat mesmerized for more than two hours, listening to the rambling and disjointed monologue…. She sneered at the ‘bitter old men’ who wrote history.” (That’s me!) “Finally, she came to the thought that had become her obsession, a thought embodied in the lyrics of the the Broadway musical—Camelot. Over and over again, she and the president had listened to the words sing out of their ten-year-old Victrola…”
What came next is pretty damned astonishing, a nadir in the history of court journalism, something that better belongs in the annals of the Kremlin. White retreated around midnight to draft his article in the maid’s room, “mindful that Life was holding its presses at a cost of $30,000 an hour. When he finished, Mrs. Kennedy took a pencil to White’s work, crossing out some of his words and adding her own in the margins. She hovered near the kitchen telephone—adamant that her Camelot portrayal remain the dominant theme—as he dictated the revised version to his editors.” The article came out. Arthur Schlesinger, baffled, said, “Jack Kennedy never spoke of Camelot.” One Kennedy hand said, “If Jack Kennedy heard this stuff about Camelot, he would have vomited.”
The whole thing is a great object lesson in the horrors of access journalism—and access history. (“The notes of White’s interview with Jacqueline Kennedy,” writes Joyce Hoffman, “known as the ‘Camelot Papers,’ which White donated to the John F. Kennedy library in 1969, remained under restriction until May 19, 1995, one year after the death of Jaqueline Kennedy Onassis.”) If you hate the kind of writing Bob Woodward does now; if you hate Politico or, going back further, if you hate the kind of things Sally Quinn wrote on Monicagate (“ ‘He came in here and he trashed the place,’ says Washington Post columnist David Broder, ‘and it’s not his place.’ ”), or the childish abuse and systematic distortions meted out to Al Gore in 2000 because he didn’t fit into the Washington insiders’ village, blame Camelot—or “Camelot.” If you heard the public radio documentary this morning We Knew JFK: Unheard Stories from the Kennedy Archive and were as astonished as I was at how many journalists blithely based their admiration for the thirty-sixth president on the nice cocktails he and “Jackie” poured in the White House, or if you’ve seen David Auburn’s neat Broadway play from last year, The Columnist, which depicts the incestuous coziness between Joseph Alsop and John F. Kennedy, you know what I mean.
Teddy White, about whom I have complicated feelings, was a crucial conveyor belt in advancing this awful cultural trend—“High Broderism,” some of our better bloggers used to call it—and Hoffman’s book is an important primer for anyone who wants to learn how it happened. A child of Boston’s Jewish ghetto, Teddy (or, in his parents’ Yiddish-speaking mouths, “Tuddy”) White made his way as a scholarship boy to Harvard, where he came to identify with the clubby culture of the WASP with the zeal of the convert, with all the pseudo-aristocratic abuses of democratic culture that entailed. “White’s style of journalism,” Hoffman explains, “fit a model established by a generation of influential column and reporters who had functioned as a subsidiary of government during World War II and the postwar years…a patriot first and a journalist second.”
Twenty-five years before his “Camelot” coup, she notes, “he had written stories from China that had portrayed Chiang Kai-shek as a similarly heroic character.” Then he realized he was wrong, but it was too late—he had helped create the Frankenstein’s monster’s of America’s romance with Chiang, and thus the McCarthyite reaction to China’s fall to Communism, too; he then had to watch helplessly as that reaction devoured some of his friends. Hoffman argues White then helped created the myth of the presidency itself as some sort of American regency. He was the first to capitalize “Oval Office.” She tells an amazing story of how an interview with Kennedy there, for the last chapter of Making of the President, in which the new president, in his underwear being fitted for a suit, gossips altogether un-presidentially, coarsely insults Nixon and obsesses over how much money White will make on his book. Out of that unpromising raw material, White crafted a panegyric to a godlike man who commanded the eighteen-button telephone console on his desk like “the sword and the mace in the politics of the middle ages.”
White had identified so closely with JFK on the 1960 campaign trail that he wore a Kennedy campaign button. When the manuscript was complete, he showed it to both “Bobby” and “Jack,” acceding to RFK’s requested revisions. He didn’t extend the same courtesy to Nixon. But then again, Nixon didn’t invite Teddy White to his cocktail parties. Here’s a diary entry from 1962: “Mad night at Bobby’s great fun. He set the Caroline [the Kennedys’ pet name for Air Force One] up from Washington, we got aboard at 5:00 followed by Harry Belafonte and his wife Julie…”
This sort of thing had real consequences for the country. It is one of the Big Ideas of my first book, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, that just this sort of consensus-besotted denial of the roiling tensions beneath America’s consensus facade in the early 1960s—the time “before the storm”—made the storms of the later 1960s so much nastier than they would have been, had Americans been better been prepared to accept the ineluctably divisive reality of American life. Instead, the tension burst forth like the return of the repressed.
Anyway, here’s a new Big Idea: journalist sycophants like White helped give us Watergate.
Consider: White felt so guilty at having slighted Nixon in Making of the President 1960 that he turned Making of the President 1968 into a virtual love letter to him, and sent him the book with a fulsome apology. Making of the President 1972 sucked up to Nixon even worse. But then, oops—I discovered this in research for the book I’m finishing now—White had to postpone publication so he could tack on a chapter about a little thing called Watergate, whose seriousness caught him completely by surprise.
Indeed, it was largely the clubbiness of the Washington village press corps that let Nixon get away with Watergate and still win his landslide in 1972. (Read Tim Crouse’s Boys on the Bus for the full story.) Call it Camelot’s revenge: the class of court scribes who made it their profession to uphold a make-believe version of America free of conflict and ruled by noble men helped Nixon get away with it for so long—because, after all, America was ruled by noble men.
Don’t let that be forgot. For who knows what latter-day sycophants and suck-ups in the media might let our leaders get away with next.
Chicago’s deportation blockade. (Credit: Sarah Jane Rhee)
1. On Deportation Day, Youth Blockade the Bus
On November 19, twelve undocumented immigrants and allies temporarily stopped a bus that was headed toward O’Hare Airport to drop off a group of people set to be deported that day. Six of the participants, including myself, stopped the bus by attaching ourselves to one another and to the vehicle with lock-boxes. Inside the bus was Octavio Nava-Cabrera, who several participants in the action had gotten to know through the work and support they had provided for his anti-deportation campaign. Also on the bus was Brigido Acosta, who has a decades-old removal order. After an hour, the participants were detached and the bus made its way to O’Hare. Octavio and Brigido, along with the others on the bus, were deported. We will continue to support our families and continue to demand deportations stop.
2. As UC Stalls, Grad Students Strike
On November 20, graduate students in the UAW Local 2865 Academic Workers union at the University of California held a statewide strike in solidarity with striking service workers. AFSCME 3299 represents custodial staff, shuttle drivers, nurses’ aids and other workers throughout the UC system, and has been in contract bargaining with the UC for more than a year. Last Spring, AFSCME 3299 patient care workers at UC medical facilities held a two-day strike to draw attention to dangerous short-staffing. According to workers, UC managers engaged in a number of unfair labor practices in the run up to that action, including threats and intimidation; the November 20 strike was a response to those tactics. The tutors, teaching assistants and instructors of the UAW 2865 stood on the picket lines to denounce management’s actions. After UAW members announced our intent to walk out in solidarity, management began to harass us as well. In such moments, the truth of that old slogan really shines: an injury to one is an injury to all.
3. In Albuquerque, a Reproductive Justice Majority
This summer, out-of-state activists gathered signatures to place a measure on the Albuquerque ballot that would ban abortion after twenty weeks, the first of its kind to be introduced in a municipal-level election. Alongside other organizations, Young Women United lead the Respect ABQ Women campaign, reflecting the experiences of New Mexican communities of color, people of faith and young people. Leading up to November 19, when voters rejected the measure, young women of color played a key role in mobilizing the student population, leading the campaign’s social media strategy, canvassing and coordinating rides to the polls. Now, with growing energy and support from our communities, we are launching a public education campaign to decriminalize substance use in pregnancy.
4. In Honolulu, a Generational Alliance for Equality
“Hawaii can either be the fifteenth state (to legalize gay marriage) or the fiftieth.” This line stuck with me throughout the many days of legislative testimony from the people of Hawaii. On November 2, after days of waiting—I was 3,942nd in line—I joined other Gay-Straight Alliance members to speak in front of the House, the most liberating experience I’ve had in my life. Although the battle for marriage equality is over, barriers to full equality in Hawaii remain, especially for young people—from social media bullying to derogatory language in daily conversation. In my GSA Club, we are working to address these problems by holding weekly meetings for members of the LGBTQ community, and straight allies, at my school.
5. Athlete’s Death Sparks a Southern Groundswell
In January, 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson walked into Lowndes High School in Valdosta, Georgia, with a book bag and came out in a body bag. The star athlete was found headfirst in a rolled up wrestling mat. From the beginning, the details of the case have been murky. In the initial autopsy, Johnson’s death was labeled “accidental”—he fell into the wrestling mat and choked. But a second autopsy revealed there was definite trauma to his body. Two weeks ago, the coroner’s report was released, stating that the evidence was compromised. Meanwhile, Johnson’s family has been sitting outside the courthouse for ten months, Monday through Friday, demanding the truth. On November 8, Dream Defenders journeyed from Tallahassee to Valdosta to meet with Justice For KJ, a group that formed at Valdosta State University. The following week, some Dream Defenders returned to Valdosta to document the faces and factors involved, which will be pulled together to create a video.
6. Dean’s Resignation Puts Race on Trial
On November 15, a coalition of students rallied for racial equality at the University of Cincinnati. For the first thirty minutes, ten students held signs expressing concerns about racial tension. Within the next hour, fifty more joined them. Among the 42,000 students at UC, 9 percent are black and 84 percent of the newest class of incoming students are white. Racial tension has always existed, but it became more palpable in the recent case of Dr. Ronald Jackson, the first black dean of UC’s largest college, the College of Arts and Sciences. This fall, Jackson resigned amid constant scrutiny, a lack of support by university officials and a racist cartoon.
7. Oregon’s Agenda
On November 15 and 17, more than 500 students from across Oregon, as well as a delegation from Washington, came to Eugene for the annual Oregon Students of Color Conference, this year themed “Opening Eyes in a Colorblind World: Connecting the Dots Between Shared Oppressions.” We addressed violence against women of color, the history of OSCC, grassroots organizing strategy and our statewide legislative agenda. Following this year’s passage of tuition equity, OSCC will be moving forward with public safety reform, focusing on reforming mandatory minimum sentencing, finding more funding for victims’ services, fighting recidivism and implementing cultural competency training for K-12 faculty and staff. We are also supporting the Oregon Students Equal Rights Alliance to add teeth to K-12 bullying policies.
8. CUNY’s Charade
From skyrocketing tuition, to the appointment of General Petraeus at the Macaulay Honors College, to the eviction of the Morales-Shakur Center from its student and community-run space at City College, CUNY students are facing an increasingly militarized, less accessible university. Throughout the fall semester, campus leaders have been working across the CUNY system to build alliances that target the Board of Trustees and campus administrators for their complicity in these policies. This week, students from across CUNY launched a week of action against debt, corporate power, militarism and racism. On Monday, November 25, this will culminate in a direct action at the CUNY Board of Trustees meeting, where we will theatrically crash the wedding between our administrators and corporate interests.
—New York Students Rising
9. When Will ED Act on Gender-Based Violence?
Student organizers continue to push the US Department of Education to improve enforcement of civil rights law regarding gender-based violence. The ED ACT NOW campaign kicked off last July with a rally in front of department headquarters in Washington, where student activists delivered a petition signed by more than 174,000 supporters, followed by meetings with officials from ED, the Department of Justice and the White House. We’ve seen some important initial victories: in August, ED instructed regional investigators to speed up their work so that survivors don’t have to wait years for justice, and just this month, department officials promised to post the findings of future investigations online. But this is only a start. This winter, ED ACT NOW is ramping up demands for transparency regarding current and past investigations into colleges and the results of those investigations; and a guidance to improve universities’ responses to same-sex violence and male survivors. We are calling on students and supporters to take further action online.
—ED ACT NOW
10. What Can Congress Do About the School-to-Prison Pipeline?
Over the past six weeks, North Carolina students have marched, spoken out and mobilized at school board meetings to end the school-to-prison pipeline. On November 21, Ramiyah Robinson, a 14-year-old member of NC HEAT, joined organizers from across the country to brief Congress about school pushout policies. The Dignity in Schools Campaign organized the speakers for a Senate briefing sponsored by Dick Durbin and Chris Murphy. As more students than ever are being suspended, expelled and arrested at school, students will continue advocating for federal policies such as the Youth PROMISE Act and the school discipline provisions of the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, as well as local policy that promotes restorative justice.
—Youth Organizing Institute
Because I write about race and racism in the United States, I’m often asked some variation of this question: are things better now?
I don’t mean to be condescending when I answer, but usually my response is frustrated laughter followed by a firm “no.” It’s the most polite thing I can think to do in the moment. At least, it’s more polite than saying, “That’s a stupid fucking question.”
But that’s how I actually feel. It sounds harsh, but I truly believe “Are things better?” is one of the most useless questions in a discussion about racism. It’s another in a repertoire of rhetorical tricks we use in this country to avoid the hard work of addressing racism in its modern form. By reframing the conversation around how much progress has been made, we further the false narrative that racism is a problem that belongs to history. While we pat ourselves on the back for not being as horrible as we once were, we allow racism to become further entrenched in every aspect of American life.
Of course we’re doing better than chattel slavery. Of course we’re doing better than legal segregation. But what material benefit do we get from the comparison?
What good is better to Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin or Aiyana Stanley-Jones? Does better bring back Jordan Davis, Rekia Boyd and Jonathan Ferrell? Do the millions of black youth who experience stop-and-frisk console themselves by noting how much better things have gotten since the 1860s? Is chronic unemployment made better because there are no longer “whites only” signs decorating the South? Will children in Chicago, Philadelphia and DC sleep well at night knowing that even though their schools are closing and their educational opportunities are being ripped away from them, things are better? Does a racist, for-profit, prison-industrial complex really count as better?
That’s what gets swept aside when we focus so much of the narrative of progress. We absolve the evil of racism in its current form. I don’t wish to contend that we should not look back at our history. We should, and often. Nor am I saying we shouldn’t celebrate our progress. There’s nothing inherently wrong with doing so. But I do believe we keep relearning the wrong lesson.
When we look at how far we’ve come, we conveniently omit what got us here: the tireless and thankless work of people with a radical vision of a society based on fairness, the blood of young people willing to die for their right to assert themselves as full human beings, and a mix of compassion and political opportunism that turned powerful people into unlikely allies. And it will likely take more of the same to get us where we need to go.
We delude ourselves into thinking that, with time, things just get better. Insomuch as we’re willing to admit that racism is still a problem today, we conclude that it will no longer be such once older generations die off. At our peril, we ignore how invested we have become in those racist institutions those older generations created. It’s not just a matter of changing attitudes about skin color. We have to be willing to challenge systems of power. So long as we’re caught up in celebrating our “progress,” we neglect the opportunity to do the necessary work required to actually uproot racism and white supremacy.
It may not be true when I tell people who ask that, no, things have not gotten any better with regards to racism. But I’m also tired of having to say “we’ve made a lot of progress” a dozen times in order to get people to listen about the issues that plague us today. But I will stop saying, “No,” as much as I may want to out of frustration. And I won’t be rude and say, “That’s a stupid fucking question.” I will start saying, “Yes, but it really doesn’t matter.”
Mychal Denzel Smith on the murder of Renisha McBride.