Against the Current, No. 163, March/April 2013

— The Editors

FOUR MONTHS AFTER the November 2012 election registered a small but measurable leftward shift in the population, it’s an open question whether the result will be continued political “gridlock” – or something much worse.

Millions of African and Latino, immigrant, youth, women and working class voters came out to repudiate the Romney-Ryan platform and the hideous social policies of the Republicans. Same-sex marriage rights made progress, and state referenda for legalizing marijuana possession passed in Colorado and Washington State. These are important partial gains in the face of a socially repressive climate, and a repudiation of the penal victimization of youth and African Americans in particular for nonviolent drug “crimes.”...

— The Editors

THE CARNAGE IN Newtown, Chicago and probably a city near you has forced onto the agenda the issues of “gun control” and that sacred scripture of the National Rifle Association, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution: “ A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

As with sacred scripture in general, the big fights center around what the hell the text means. In 1787, “a well regulated militia” might have been considered an alternative to a standing army, which the Constitution’s framers rightly feared. Or it might have meant the need for slaveowners arming to prevent Black slave escapes and uprisings, which were surely deadly threats “to the security of a free state.”...

— Malik Miah

TWO IMPORTANT FIILMS have brought the issues of slavery, emancipation and equality to the public’s attention as many Americans look back at our history. Both, along with a television miniseries, provide insight to the role of slavery in the U.S. economy, the emancipation, and how those events impact past and current political debate and policies — including the rightwing drive to erode and roll back voting rights for minorities, attack women’s reproductive rights, scapegoat and deport undocumented families, and deny marriage equality and continue to discriminate against Gay and Lesbian citizens.

The most prominent is Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” which details the inside game of Congress in its decision to pass the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishing slavery in 1865....

— Diana C. Sierra Becerra

THE GENERAL MOTORS subsidiary in Colombia, Colmotores, fired over 200 workers who were injured on the job, ranging from spinal fractures to cancer. To disappear medical records, falsify documents, and hide evidence of poor working conditions, Colmotores resorted to bribing judges, lawyers, journalists and public officials, particularly from the Ministry of Labor and Ministry of Social Protection.

During the economic crises of 2008-09, Colmotores maximized profits as other plants in Latin America faced decreased profits or bankruptcy. Colmotores increased production from approximately 80 cars per day on a mixed assembly line, to 140....

— Joaquin Bustelo

THE INTRODUCTION OF “immigration reform” legislation is a tribute first and foremost to the heroic activism of proud “Undocumented and Afraid” youth coming forward to demand their rights and refusing to live in the shadows. It also raises a host of new issues. Socialists call for open borders, amnesty for so-called “illegal” immigrants and citizenship for those who wish it, but we also need to develop a concrete attitude toward specific proposals. Do these reform proposals make the situation better and less repressive in people’s real lives, or worse? Do they open pathways for further reforms, or create barriers blocking new progress?...

— Bill Chandler

ON TUESDAY, JANUARY 29th, Missis­sippi’s Secretary of State Delbert Hoseman, a professed “States Rights” proponent, submitted Mississippi’s proposed voter ID rules to the United States Justice Department for preclearance. This follows the passage of a state constitutional amendment during the 2011 Mississippi state election.

Hoseman’s submission is part of the state’s process of seeking federal approval of the law that would require every voter to show a driver’s license or other photo ID every time they vote. Nineteen other states have enacted voter suppression laws....

DESPITE UNCOMFORTABLY COLD weather in Washington, DC the February 17 mobilization to stop the Keystone XL Alberta-U.S. tar sands pipeline drew a crowd conservatively estimated at over 20,000.

Crowd size estimates vary, of course; but the potential significance of this march for the environmental movement may be analogous to that of the first national march against the War in Vietnam, in 1965, which sparked a movement that within three years would sweep the nation....

— Ursula McTaggart

OCCUPY CINCINNATI WAS “an event, not a movement.” So says one participant, who asks to be known only as James. This activist argues that viewing Occupy — both in Cincinnati and nationally — as a movement, causes it to be seen as something that is now over, diminishing its significance. As an event it was a catalyst that brought new members to the larger anti-capitalist movement — and as such it was successful.

Although I continue to see Occupy as a movement, James’s analysis is useful as it draws attention to the potential future of Occupy, rather than declaring it moribund. Moreover, it highlights the question of whether “occupation” itself is so fundamental to Occupy Wall Street that the end of the physical occupation means the end of the movement — or whether it can genuinely and adequately live on in new ways....

— Charlie Post

THE TALK PUBLISHED below was given in Spring 2012, and unfortunately its analysis stands the test of time. The bi-partisan austerity offensive — corresponding to the logical of capitalist profitability and accumulation — continues. We should not be confused by Obama’s refusal to lower federal income tax rates for the wealthiest households — their tax rate of 39.6% in 2013 is essentially the same (adjusted for inflation) as 1987 and remains around 57% of the rate before 1981. Nor should we be taken in by the pseudo-liberal rhetoric of Obama’s inaugural address — which promises “equality of opportunity” for people of color, women and the LGBT community, but no new programs to achieve actual equality of outcome.

Obama, during the strictly tactical debates on the “fiscal cliff,” signaled his willingness...

— Sam Friedman

FORTY YEARS AGO, I used to hold up signs about “Workers Power” at demonstrations.  I rarely do that any more. This is because almost no one understands what “workers power” might mean. They also do not know what “worker” means.

As I think about the dialectical nature of the terms “class” and of “working class” in particular, their meanings vary as capitalism changes and, beyond that, depending on the purposes of the person using the term.

Though I write this from a particular Marxist perspective, these thoughts are relevant to a wide range of radical traditions and ways of thought....

— Dianne Feeley

ON AUGUST 26, 1970, when U.S. women marched “out of the kitchens and into the streets” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the three main demands were equal pay for equal work, free abortion on demand and 24-hour quality child care.

If none of these demands have been met, women have nonetheless continued to struggle for our rights. The passage of a number of laws and the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion has altered the ground. This is not only true of the women’s movement, but of the civil rights movement too....

— an interview with Ninotchka Rosca

NINOTCHKA ROSCA, A writer of poetry and fiction as well as a long-time feminist and revolutionary activist, received the American Book Award for her novel Twice Blessed. Forced into exile from the Philippines in 1977, Rosca has lived and worked in the United States while maintaining close ties with the revolutionary and women’s movements in the Philippines. In 2010, she helped to found Af3irm (Association of Filipinas, Feminists Fighting Imperialism, Re-feudalization and Marginalization), an anti-imperialist, transnational feminist women’s organization (www.af3irm.org). Johanna Brenner interviewed her for Against the Current.

Johanna Brenner: How has your feminist perspective and activism evolved in relation to the experiences you have had, as a revolutionary, as a diasporic writer, as an advocate of women’s liberation?...

— Soma Marik

AS AN HISTORIAN, I know that the actions often have unintended consequences. Historical turning points occur, not because deep planning willed them into existence, but at the intersection of many cross-currents. So it is today: Activists in India have long demanded changes in rape laws and attitudes, but it was not our repeated campaigns that managed to shake the entire country.

It was, on the surface, a single incident: the Delhi bus gang rape in early December 2012. Vast numbers of people have come out, demanding punishment and government action. As long-term activists, we need:

• To understand, why this tremendous anger, and how do we relate to it? Hopefully the feminist movement can help the current movement deepen its awareness of how pervasive sexual assault is and its commitment to eradicating it....

— Robbie Lieberman
Feminism, the Left, and Postwar Literary Culture
by Kathlene McDonald
Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012,
132 pages, $55 hardcover.

KATHLENE McDONALD’S STUDY, Feminism, the Left, and Postwar Literary Culture, focuses tightly on the left-wing roots of feminism and opens up avenues of inquiry that merit further attention from activists and scholars exploring the continuities of American radicalism.

There is a substantial body of work on the “long” civil rights movement and political links between Old and New Lefts. But McDonald is uniquely interested in how anti-fascist rhetoric shaped left feminist thought, especially in relation to imaginative literature....

— Linda Gordon

GERDA LERNER HAS BEEN the single most influential figure in the development of women’s and gender history since the 1960s. Over the course of 50 years, a handful of brave and potentially marginal historians created a field with thousands of PhDs. The field expanded from Lerner’s development of an MA program at Sarah Lawrence College in 1972 to the presence of Women’s History faculty in the great majority of U.S. colleges and universities.

While most feminist historians understand our debt to Lerner, many other Leftists do not grasp her contributions as an activist and historian. Her death at age 92 on January 2, 2013, in Madison, Wisconsin, makes this a moment not merely to honor and appreciate her but also to discuss the meaning of her life’s work....

— Dianne Feeley

ROSA PARKS WAS a veteran militant of many civil rights battles long before she became an icon. Born Rosa Louise McCauley on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama, she grew up on her maternal grandparents’ farm outside Montgomery. Having dropped out of high school to care for her grandmother, she married Raymond Parks in 1932 and finished high school with his encouragement. Both were registered voters and members of the Voters’ League.

When she joined the Montgomery NAACP in 1943, Rosa Parks was its only female member; shortly afterward she became the chapter’s secretary. The following year she traveled to Abbeville to defend a 24-year-old mother who had been kidnapped on her way home from church by seven armed white men who gang-raped and left her on the side of the road....

— Kevin Young
Red October:
Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia
By Jeffery Webber
Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers, 2011/Chicago: Haymarket, 2012, 376 pages, $28 paper.

IN THE YOUNG 21st century, few places offer as much inspiration for the worldwide left as Bolivia. From 2000 to 2005 the country witnessed a surge of popular mobilizations against resource privatization, heightening inequality, authoritarianism, and other hallmarks of neoliberalism. Protesters successfully prevented water privatization in the city of Cochabamba, toppled two neoliberal presidents, and paved the way for the election of a left-of-center indigenous president in December 2005....

— Ansar Fayyazuddin
Darwin’s Ghosts
by Rebecca Stott
Spiegel & Grau/Random House, 2012, 416 pages, $17 paperback.

REBECCA STOTT’S DARWIN’S Ghosts is structured as a collection of episodes in the history of biology. The episodes, labeled by the names of individuals and an associated date, are chapters in a prehistory of evolution. Conceived initially as tracing Darwin's attempt at identifying historical precursors to his own theory of evolution, the book in the end becomes Stott's own personal and idiosyncratic take on this history, which by its nature is incomplete, yet highly instructive and enjoyable.

In the preface, the author explains her own relationship to Darwinian thought....

— Barry Eidlin
Guerillas in the Industrial Jungle:
Radicalism’s Primitive and Industrial Rhetoric
by Ursula McTaggart
State University of New York Press, 2012, 247 pages, $24.95 paper.

MOVEMENTS NEED META­PHORS. While they address very concrete social problems that affect people’s lives in very real ways, it is movements’ imagery and rhetoric that incite people to action and give movements cohesion. We saw this most recently with the Occupy movement and its powerful image of the 99% versus the 1%, but there are many examples: “Teamsters and Turtles” at the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle, Rosa Parks sitting on the bus in Montgomery, self-immolating monks protesting the Vietnam War, to name a few....

— The Editors

LAST FALL, WE asked ATC subscribers to contribute to our “one half of one percent” appeal — hoping to raise that fraction of the one million dollars that an email blast from Al Gore requested for a Democratic Senate campaign in Ohio. As expected we received nothing from Big Al, but our readers responded in fantastic fashion with donations ranging from $10 up to $500. Between Halloween and Super Bowl Sunday, we raised $4961 — 99.2% of what was frankly a very ambitious goal. Thanks so much for your loyal and generous support!

March/April 2013, ATC 163