JVP denounces Zoom, Facebook and YouTube for censoring Palestinians

Jewish Voice for Peace

Edward Said Mural at San Francisco State University, host to the censored event

New York City, NY (September 24, 2020) — In an unprecedented campaign of coordinated repression, Zoom, Facebook and YouTube shut down an open classroom academic event dedicated to the voices of Palestinians and other political prisoners organized by Professor Rabab Abdulhadi, founding director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) Studies program, and Professor Tomomi Kinukawa, lecturer in the Women and Gender Studies Department at San Francisco State University.

The virtual open classroom featured Palestinian resistance icon Leila Khaled in conversation with Professors Abdulhadi and Kinukawa, along with academics and former political prisoners from South Africa, the United States, and Palestine, including JVP member Laura Whitehorn.

Abdulhadi and Kinukawa were joined by a team of graduate and undergraduate students from several institutions, including Saliem Shehadeh, UCLA doctoral candidate and AMED lecturer, Anais Amer, president of Arab Women Organization and leader of Students for Justice in Palestine at Wellesley College, and the full Board of the General Union of Palestinian Students-Sabreen Imtair, Ashar Abdallah, Daniella Shofani, Ariana Al-Khatib, and Lena Azzouz.

This is an extreme example of a well-documented and deeply troubling pattern of repression against and silencing of Palestinian scholarship and advocacy, both in the academy and on social media platforms. At a time when Facebook, YouTube and Zoom are regularly criticized for their failures to halt the rabid growth of white supremacist hate speech and calls for violence on their platforms, it is reprehensible that these businesses instead chose to silence an academic discussion about the voices of political prisoners across the world – including Palestinians.

As a Jewish organization committed to equality and dignity for all people in Palestine/Israel, we cannot allow this censorship to stand. The “Facebook, Stop Censoring Palestine” campaign, which we are proud to be a part of, calls on Facebook to stop its suppression of Palestine and Palestinian voices. Zoom, Facebook and YouTube’s censorship underscore the urgency of combatting the silencing of human rights struggles worldwide.

We demand an immediate, strong response from SFSU ensuring that they will do everything in their power to ensure that Palestinian voices are not censored on campus. We also hope to see from SFSU a strong statement naming the actions today by Zoom, Facebook and Youtube as a dangerous overreach and a chilling precedent.

Rabbi Alissa Wise, Deputy Director, Jewish Voice for Peace: “We know that the machinery of antisemitism is being wielded by those in power to divide us, and we refuse to have our pain used to repress others. Palestinians deserve to be heard, and we will repeat until its heard: Criticism of the Israeli state is not antisemitic.”

Dr. Tallie Ben Daniel, Director of Special Projects at Jewish Voice for Peace: “This latest censorship is especially frightening as so many universities now use  Zoom or similar software. In this time of increased digital learning, we believe tech companies have a special responsibility to ensure debates and discussions continue unobstructed by right-wing political forces.”

Ellen Brotsky, JVP-Bay Area member: “The JVP-Bay Area chapter was outraged to learn today that Facebook removed our event page for the webinar “Whose Narratives?” featuring a conversation with Laila Khaled, Palestinian activist and leader. We co-sponsored this webinar because we believe that Palestinian voices must be lifted up and heard by people in the United States, even when those voices are critical of Israel and Zionism and may cause discomfort to some. We are even more outraged that all three media platforms – Facebook, Zoom and YouTube – caved to anti-Palestinian pressure and pulled the plug on the webinar. We stand with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom, land and human rights and we stand against all attempts to censor Palestinian voices.”

Dr. Rosalind Petchesky, Distinguished Professor Emerita at the City University of New York and JVP-NYC member: “Given the decades of intensive repression of Palestinians and their allies, it is no surprise that the issue of Palestinian rights is the first to be subject to such an overt campaign of coordinated censorship by these tech giants. Private corporations deciding what is acceptable speech on a college campus should scare us all. Dr. Abdulhadi has built a career as one of the foremost authorities on Arab and Palestinian feminisms in U.S. academia and the world — despite enormous pushback and discrimination against her field and her personal self as a Palestinian scholar. It is an outrage that her hundreds of students were denied exposure to the historic panel of speakers she assembled for today’s webinar.”

JVP staff and members are available for interviews.

This press release was issued by Jewish Voice for Peace on September 24, 2020. It appears on the JVP website here. Listen to Professor Rabab Abdulhadi speak on the situation in Palestine and the growth of the global solidarity movement in this webinar Justice Is Indivisible.

YouTube, Zoom and Facebook censor Leila Khaled for Israel

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Leila Khaled was censored on major internet platforms at the behest of Israel lobby groups and the Israeli government. (Fira Literal Barcelona)

Major Silicon Valley companies censored an event at San Francisco State University on Wednesday.

This means that during the pandemic, private companies closely aligned with the government have immense power over what can be said, even in an academic setting.

Zoom, the web-based videoconferencing platform, announced Tuesday evening that it was prohibiting SFSU from using its software to host a planned webinar on Wednesday with Leila Khaled, the Palestinian resistance icon who is now in her seventies and lives in Jordan.

The event was also restricted by Facebook, which has a lengthy history of censoring Palestinians on behalf of Israel.

On Wednesday, the event went ahead via YouTube, but shortly after it began, the company cut off the video stream, replacing it with a notice that said “This video has been removed for violating YouTube’s Terms of Service.”

According to an email seen by The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday, professor Rabab Abdulhadi, director of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora program at SFSU, and the event’s co-moderator professor Tomomi Kinukawa, say they expected the university to “seriously and publicly challenge Zoom’s attempt to control higher education and the content of our curriculum and classrooms.”

The professors add that “the privatization of our education is a serious development. As a public institution, SFSU must refuse and resist.”

Zoom’s announcement was a capitulation to the Israeli government and anti-Palestinian groups – including the Anti-Defamation League, StandWithUs and the Lawfare Project – which have pressured the company for weeks over the planned event.

Last week, Israeli lawmakers publicly denounced the event and smeared its organizers as anti-Semitic.

A member of the left-wing political group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Khaled is best known for her role in a series of plane hijackings in 1969 and 1970. She has not been involved in any armed resistance activities in decades.

Act.IL, the Israeli government-funded astroturfing app that sends its users on “missions” to promote Israel, also encouraged its users to send emails to the university system’s board of trustees.

Act.IL declared “victory” on Wednesday morning.

It had then urged its users to disrupt the YouTube stream while it was in progress.

Khaled would have been speaking alongside South African anti-apartheid military leader Ronnie Kasrils, US activists and former political prisoners Sekou Odinga and Laura Whitehorn, and scholar Rula Abu Dahou, director of the women’s studies institute at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank.

SFSU president Lynn Mahoney had defended the planned event on academic freedom grounds.

But in a bizarre statement, Mahoney said on Wednesday that Zoom’s refusal to host the webinar is as “wounding to some” as Khaled’s participation in a classroom discussion.

She did not say if the administration was going to do more to challenge the company’s policy.

Abdulhadi accuses the SFSU administration of systematically undermining her AMED program, including canceling Palestine-specific courses and gutting its budget.

Pushing back

Israel lobby organizations attempted to get federal and state governments involved in shutting down the webinar.

The Lawfare Project, a pro-Israel group that uses lawsuits to harass supporters of Palestinian rights, recently sent a letter to the National Security Division of the US Department of Justice.

It claimed that SFSU hosting Khaled would constitute “material support” to US-designated “terrorists,” even though Khaled is not being compensated for her involvement in the webinar.

The Lawfare Project has been one of Abdulhadi’s most vicious attackers, attempting – but failing – to silence her.

Additionally, the Zionist group AMCHA Initiative claimed that the event violates two California laws.

However, free speech defense organization FIRE said neither of those laws applies.

Supporters of Palestinian rights and academic freedom have been pushing back.

The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI) declared “its unflinching support” for the webinar and for Abdulhadi and called Israel lobby efforts to smear and silence those advocating for justice “poisonous and destructive.”

Private companies as arbiters of speech

After earlier failing to get the university to cancel the event, anti-Palestinian groups pivoted to pressuring Zoom, with the Lawfare Project threatening the company under the same “material support” clause.

Israel advocates also protested outside Zoom’s headquarters on Tuesday.

“In light of the speaker’s reported affiliation or membership in a US-designated foreign terrorist organization, and SFSU’s inability to confirm otherwise, we determined the meeting is in violation of Zoom’s Terms of Service and told SFSU they may not use Zoom for this particular event,” the company stated later that day.

As a private company, Zoom sets its own terms of service (ToS) and can decide what it will allow on its platform.

But with most public discourse and even education now dependent on such platforms, companies like Zoom, YouTube and Facebook are now essentially the arbiters of free speech.

Israel lobby groups celebrated Zoom’s censorship.

Abdulhadi said what happened is part of a pattern by Israel lobby groups.

“What they’re trying to do – these attacks and vilifications, the smearing and bullying – is to deflect the discussion,” Abdulhadi told The Electronic Intifada.

“They are bothered by the ways in which we are focusing on questions of Black liberation, Palestinian liberation and prison abolition, and the connections between these movements,” Abdulhadi said.

This article appeared on the Electronic Intifada website on September 23, 2020 here. Listen to Professor Rabab Abdulhadi speak on the situation in Palestine and the growth of the global solidarity movement in this webinar Justice Is Indivisible.

Re-imagining union organizing

Ann Finkel

Black Lives Matter at School poster (www.blacklivesmatteratschool.com/)

In her Organizing Upgrade article, From Resolutions to Transformation: How Unions Are Organizing for Racial Justice, Stephanie Luce reported on how teachers, nursing home workers and telephone workers are re-imagining what “union” demands and organizing look like. Here, Boston teacher Ann Finkel reflects on her experience in light of Luce’s article.

As a member of the Boston Teachers Union (BTU), I appreciated reading Stephanie Luce’s article on how a number of unions are organizing for racial justice. Our country is clearly in the middle of multifaceted crises that make the need for rank-and-file organizing in this moment especially critical and exciting.

As Luce discusses, in June the BTU passed a “Resolution to Build an Anti-Racist Union.” While I was not involved in writing or organizing around this resolution, from the receiving end I can say the recruitment to show up to the meeting was very effective. I have only attended a handful of membership meetings before being involved in BTU Caucus of Rank and File Educators (BTUCORE), but after receiving emails over four different lists, texts from three colleagues, and one voicemail asking me to attend this particular meeting, I was certainly committed to attending.

This resolution comes at a time when staff at my school, and at schools across the district, are meeting to figure out how to talk with students about racism and the Black Lives Matter movement, and white teachers are starting to have conversations about how to educate ourselves in the ways that racism plays out in our own classrooms. Showing up to vote for this resolution was a first step in turning this talk into action by putting our commitments down on paper. Now, as a union, we can move forward with the hard work of turning these commitments into reality.

We are in a moment when COVID necessitates that school be completely reimagined. By passing this resolution, the BTU proactively put forward a vision for schools in which every student has ethnic studies courses, special ed students receive the services they are entitled to in high-quality inclusion classes, there is a fulltime mental health professional in every school, teachers are trained in anti-racism practices, and the halls are free of school police.

Getting rid of school police was the contentious item in the resolution, with some teachers being resistant. While some no doubt have concerns arising from deep-seated racism, others have very legitimate concerns about safety.

We see time again a school or district begin to implement an initiative, and then watch as the training and funding fizzle out prematurely, and responsibility for follow-through ultimately lands solely on the shoulders of already-overburdened educators. Teachers then get faulted for the inevitable shortcomings of these initiatives, when in reality the fault lies in the systems which made success impossible in the first place.

In order to remove police from schools successfully, there has to be a commitment from the city and the district to fully fund mental health professionals, hire folks trained in de-escalation, and properly implement restorative justice practices.

BTUCORE, the rank-and-file caucus in the BTU, is in the process of forming, and we will eagerly join with rank-and-file members of other unions in organizing for racial justice, and demand that we are given the tools to follow through on our anti-racism commitments.

NBA Players Demand Democratic Reform

K Mann

With an average height of 6’6” versus 5’9” for the general U.S. population professional basketball players are giants in the conventional physical sense. They recently proved they are moral and political giants as well. First, with the Milwaukee Bucks leading the charge, they halted play in the midst of their playoffs to state their opposition to racist police violence following the brutal shooting and paralysis of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 23. (See Athletes Making Sports Matter.)

Then, the players demanded that the sports arenas they play in — large airy structures with great potential for social distancing — be used as polling stations for the November elections. In so doing, the players are making not only a statement, but a demand — which has been reportedly accepted — in favor of ensuring a basic democratic right: elections open to all eligible voters.

They also reportedly won agreement that game time advertisements, which are worth huge sums, will include voter registration information. Such measures complement the efforts of NBA superstar LeBron James’ efforts to assure voting participation through the recruitment of poll workers.

Even before the NBA players actions professional athletes from Colin Kaepernick to, most recently, the women’s NBA (WNBA) have taken strong public positions in favor of racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

The assault on African American voting rights has been a cornerstone of white supremacy since the end of Reconstruction in 1877. Poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and for Black and white women before the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, blanket exclusion, topped off by white violence were the methods of Black disenfranchisement until the sending of federal troops to southern states and the passage of the 1964 Voting Rights Act.

The current methods used to disenfranchise African Americans include the closing of polling stations, the removal of mail sorting machines in the U.S. Post Office by a Trump political hack, gerrymandering, and other dirty tricks, all designed to help Trump and the Republicans at the polls.

The demand that the stadiums be used as polling stations is a measure to assure both public safety and democratic participation. It is also of political and symbolic importance. Urban residents, many of whom are of color and occupy the lowest rungs of the labor market, are at greatest risk of both Covid-19 and disenfranchisement. They often live in the shadow of these stadiums, the price of whose tickets are well beyond their reach.

Many poor people of color have been displaced to make room for the stadiums. Often the stadiums have been paid for with bonds bought up by wealthy investors who can purchase tickets and attend the game, usually in sky boxes whose very presence drives up ticket prices for the regular seats, and write off the price of their tickets as business expenses. The bonds are paid back through the use of regressive sales taxes which fall most heavily on the shoulders of these same victims of economic exploitations, excessive exposure to the risks of Covid-19, and political disenfranchisement.

The demand to open up sports arenas as polling stations is deeply democratic and a rational safe approach to public health. It’s a bold demand that helps us imagine how sports stadiums could be transformed from citadels of displacement and inequality to places where all, regardless of ability to pay, could find a seat to the game, safe shelter if necessary in time of disaster, and a safe space to vote in time of a pandemic.

The demand of NBA players to use sports stadiums for polling places brings the social justice game of professional athletes to the next level in ways that make them truly giants.

David Graeber, Anthropologist and Activist of the 99%

Hannah Archambault

David Graeber’s heartbreaking early death is a great loss to leftist scholarship, popular political discourse, and political action. His work was broad-ranging and explicitly anti-capitalist, and he wrote and advocated along these lines for decades. He wrote extensively on theories of anarchist practice and tactics in terms of direct action and prefigurative politics, principles that he applied in his own activist work throughout his life.

In addition to his fundamental role in shaping the Occupy movement and the rise of “The 99%”, he was also deeply involved in promoting and supporting the Rojava project in Syria. The Kurdish-led movement was deeply influenced by Abdullah Öcalan’s democratic confederalism, which was in turn inspired by Murray Bookchin’s social ecology and libertarian munincipalism, and this framework was compatible with Graeber’s politics.

One of his two most widely read books, Debt: The First 5000 Years, challenged mainstream theories and genealogies of debt and money. The other, Bullshit Jobs, focused on the fundamental alienation of work in capitalist society, and the psychic damage it inflicts on working people. His work is overarchingly about the ways that capitalism inhibits human liberation and community, and the ways that we might overcome capitalism and its trappings and develop a new world for ourselves.

David Graeber was a professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics (LSE) from 2013 until his untimely death earlier this month at the age of 59. Prior to his appointment at LSE he was famously rejected for tenure at Yale despite widespread support from faculty and students, apparently for his anarchist political orientation and related activist work.

This turmoil in his professional career within academia was not reflected in his success as a public intellectual and activist — his contributions were pivotal not just to contemporary anarchist thought (although this is true), but to huge swaths of people across the political spectrum. This spectacular success in extending his analysis and writing beyond academia and into popular audiences was, perhaps, Graeber’s greatest skill. His popular works were exciting to read, his writing was incisive and charmingly acerbic, and only very infrequently slipping into didacticism or sectarianism. His books usually culminated in a case for an anti-authoritarian, generally explicitly anarchist, anti-capitalist politics and future, but reading his work never felt like a lecture on his particular politics.

This has been apparent in my own experience as an economics educator working with undergraduate students at a large state university. I’ve discussed both Bullshit Jobs and Debt: the First 5000 Years with my students at some length, either assigned by me or by another instructor over the last few years. The economics department I am in is a heterodox department, but many of our students are not leftists by any stretch of the imagination. Our students are likely to be equally invested in the finance, business or management departments as they are in our left-leaning econ department, and some of our students are quite conservative.

The impressive thing, then, is that I cannot remember a student reading Graeber and then saying that they got nothing out of it. Students across the board said that they found some part of the books illuminating, or, more importantly, they saw their experiences reflected in it.

Seeing their own life experiences reflected and reframed increased student curiosity, and encouraged them to read further, outside of the assigned materials, to expand on what they learned and the analysis they were building. As far as educators go, this is the best-case scenario — assigning a reading and students being moved to learn more of their own accord.

In Bullshit Jobs Graeber says, “This is not a book about a particular solution. It’s a book about a problem — one that most people don’t even acknowledge exists.”

Graeber’s writing makes the job of an educator easier by teasing out the most meaningful bits of human experience and encouraging students to expand their knowledge, but without explicitly telling them what to do or think. One professor who teaches classes on finance, money, and banking, called Debt: the First 5000 Years “a gift to humanity”.

Graeber’s intellectual endeavors were a part of his activist work. He believed that learning and exploring are aspects of teaching, and this was reflected in research methods. In Bullshit Jobs, he used personal discussions in Twitter direct messaging as material for ethnographic study — meeting people where they’re at in the truest sense.

Graeber’s method wasn’t to analyze the world from above, but to understand it from the where the action is, and to actively work towards the liberated world he hoped his writing was helping to advance. He was actively involved in significant protest movements around the world — the original anti-globalization protests, the Occupy movement, support for the Rojava project in Syria — and, using a variant of his own methodology, if Twitter posts are any indication, he responded to practically everyone who contacted him.

This is not to say that Graeber wasn’t controversial — certainly his staunch political anarchism and overarching rejection of Marxist methods and categories meant that his work was rejected outright by some elements of the left. My own Marxist method butted up against some of Graeber’s ideas, but our visions of the future were closely aligned.

Graeber looked forward to a future that rejected hierarchy, in which life was lived in conjunction and cooperation with the whole community, where human beings were able to live their fullest life, free of the coercion and violence that capitalism inflicts upon the human spirit as much as our bodies.

Despite potential differences in our analysis of the roots of capitalist exploitation, or tactics on how to get out of it, this shared view of capitalism as incompatible with human liberation and counterposed to efforts to build a just world, tied him to me and to all of us building towards the future beyond capitalism.

Hannah Archambault is a PhD student in Economics at UMass Amherst.

University of Michigan grad students strike for COVID-19, anti-policing demands

Robin Zheng

Photo: U-M Graduate Employees’ Organization

During the 1975 month-long strike that garnered the University of Michigan Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) its first contract, agreements on affirmative action and non-discrimination were secured within the first week after more than half the undergraduate students boycotted their classes in solidarity.

Since then, GEO has maintained a consistent record of hard-fought, precedent-setting contract victories that prioritize the well-being of historically disadvantaged groups, both within and beyond its own membership. These include childcare subsidies (2002, after a one-day walkout), trans-inclusive and trans-specific healthcare (2006 onward, including significant gains in 2020), improved disability accommodations (2011), fertility treatments (2014, a benefit secured for employees across the university), and the creation of paid positions for graduate students performing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work (2017, after a strike authorization).

On the picket line in 2020, GEO members regularly invoke this history of “bargaining for the common good” (or “social justice unionism”) as part of their motivations for striking. Their demands for “A Safe and Just Pandemic Response for All” boldly address the two intertwined global crises that have come to define our times: the disastrous failure of our institutions to respond adequately to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the deadly state-sanctioned violence ceaselessly inflicted on communities of color by the police.

GEO’s COVID-19 demands include a more robust testing and contact tracing program, a universal right to work remotely, more flexible subsidies for parents and caregivers, and support for international students; while their anti-policing demands include disarming and demilitarizing campus police, reallocating 50% of U-M Division of Public Safety and Security funds, and cutting ties with the Ann Arbor Police Department and ICE.

This is an abolitionist strike, a historic development unimaginable (and, to many, unintelligible) just a few years ago. But over the span of a summer, the American populace has been confronted head-on with the glaring fact that the people in our society who perform the most valuable work of all — the essential work of caring for others — are also the most exploited of workers, who are disproportionately people of color. Instead of funding health, education, housing, jobs and benefits for all who need it, our collective wealth is poured into the prisons and police forces whose function is to protect private property and profits.

This obvious betrayal of the “Wolverine Culture of Care,” widely recognized across the campus and broader community, has been critical to GEO’s strike. One day after GEO celebrated Labor Day with news of their strike, over 40% of the undergraduate residential staff (residential advisors and diversity peer educators) declared their own strike. The day after that, undergraduate dining hall workers also announced plans to walk out.

These non-unionized student workers have witnessed first-hand how promised safety measures were ineffective (as when university-issued branded facemasks failed the “flame test” recommended by the university’s own residential staff training) and unenforced (as evidenced by shoulder-to-shoulder lines outside dining halls). At least one residential adviser was put directly in harm’s way in carrying out orders to interact with a COVID-positive student.

Such conditions appear even more outrageous when we recall that these workers represent precisely the population of financially and otherwise disadvantaged students — who must earn their room and board to stay in school — that deserve the most protection.

Thus, when the union claims that it is striking on behalf of the entire community, it is no mere slogan or rhetorical flourish. GEO members feel keenly that all the benefits and protections of being in a union, earned by prior generations of graduate student workers fighting tooth and nail before them, simultaneously produce serious responsibilities.

Right up until the strike authorization ballot went out, much of the membership remained unconvinced that it was the right course of action. A decisive factor in changing their minds was witnessing the concerns expressed by the U-M Faculty Senate, which is expected to hold a (mostly symbolic) vote of no confidence in the U-M administration on Wednesday, September 16.

Similarly, during a 4-hour virtual General Membership Meeting on the second day of the strike, in which a record 1,250 members deliberated over whether or not to accept the administration’s initial offer, a majority of the membership started off in favor of accepting the tiny concessions that had been delivered alongside a threat of retaliation. But by the end, the offer was rejected by a margin of about 2 to 1.

Many were swayed by the evidence of widespread community support as well as emotional testimonies from their fellow members, which included perspectives on being a member of color and being out on 5 AM picket lines in the pouring rain.

Perhaps still feeling the weight of contract negotiations settled earlier this year during which the university refused to bargain over planks on disarming and demilitarizing the campus police (as well as divestment from fossil fuels, ICE, and the private prison industry), members asserted that the meager wins on offer simply did not represent what and whom they are fighting for.

As part of a well-organized union, GEO members are capable of coordinating a large-scale action that (1) has a real shot at forcing concrete concessions, due to its disruptive potential, and (2) does not leave isolated individuals or groups to shoulder the challenges and risks of speaking out. Clearly, they see it as their duty to use this collective power — including their most effective weapon, the strike — on behalf of not only GEO membership, but all the other students, staff, and even faculty on campus who have been trying but not been able to make their voices heard.

GEO has worked assiduously to build transparent lines of communication with these wider constituencies, using a variety of innovative means. They wrote a letter to parents of U-M students, explaining: “We have voted to strike because it is the lesser of two disruptions to our students’ education… Many of our demands will directly improve the quality of your children’s instruction.”

They scheduled “virtual picket lines,” open to supporters anywhere, in which participants collectively made phone calls, sent emails, and reflected on the strike. They held a Town Hall for faculty, attended by 600 people and repeated a second time by request, after which meeting minutes were made publicly available.

They wrote up an FAQ in response to U-M leadership emails painting the strike as unnecessary and illegal, and conducted an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit. They created a link tree with easy access to information on joining pickets, donating supplies and money for the strike fund, and a live-updating compilation of media coverage.

When striking residential staff broke the news that COVID-positive students in quarantine were provided with virtually no supplies and given chips, nuts, and granola bars in lieu of hot meals, GEO organized donations of food and toilet paper.

The tremendous outpouring of public support for the GEO and residential staff strikes is a testament to how successfully their message has been understood by the local community (and beyond). Since the very first day of the strike, significant numbers of undergraduates have turned out for picket shifts beginning at 5AM, distributed flyers, offered strikers free produce, and, according to one touching account, pooled their money to buy sandwiches for the picket line.

A U-M faculty letter of support had 436 signatories by the time it was published in the student newspaper; indeed, a number of faculty themselves participated in the nationwide #ScholarStrike for racial justice that dovetailed with the first two days of the GEO strike.

U-M Facilities and Ann Arbor Area Transport Authority bus drivers honked their support when passing the picket. Community organizations like the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, Washtenaw County Poor People’s Campaign, Ann Arbor Tenants’ Union, and Huron Valley DSA published statements of support and sent their members to the pickets.

Strikers spontaneously started car rallies, faculty and students organized solidarity marches and rallies, and a virtual university-wide Speak-Out was organized by the U-M All-Campus Labor Council (ACLC) which prominently featured the voices of non-tenure track lecturers, nurses, and hospital workers across all three Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn campuses.

On social media, GEO received support and donations from academic labor unions around the country, public figures ranging from Keaanga Yahmatta-Taylor to N. K. Jemisin to Rashida Tlaib, and Black Lives Matter Michigan — to which GEO replied: “We owe our momentum, especially for our anti-policing demands, to the history of Black-led abolitionist activism in Washtenaw County and beyond.”

Perhaps most significantly, a sizable number of unionized workers on campus construction sites, including electrical workers, bricklayers, plumbers and pipefitters, steelworkers, operating engineers, and the laborers’ union, walked off their job sites in solidarity, despite heated disagreement over GEO’s anti-policing demands.

When GEO members (AFT Local 3550) were confronted with the charge that teachers often cross other picket lines, they were able to point to their recent participation in a successful 7-day informational picket organized by IBEW Local 252 that forced U-M to reverse its decision to hire a non-union contractor (an attempt to “test the waters” after the 2018 repeal of prevailing wage legislation which was widely viewed as an attack on the wage rates of all the local building trades).

Still, they were forced to acknowledge that GEO must in turn do more on their part to show greater and more consistent solidarity with local unions — particularly if they hope for the broader labor movement to adopt their social justice demands. This is a lesson, of course, that all progressive movements would do well to learn.

There can be little doubt that we will soon see more attacks on labor unions; on U-M “workers, patients, students, and the community” (in the words of the ACLC); and on communities of color. On Friday, September 11, U-M filed an unfair labor practice in an effort to quell the strike rather than address the issues that led to it.

Meanwhile, GEO has signed up more than 350 new members and received over $40,000 in donations over the past week. As one member put it: “The historical conjuncture calls for boldness and people feel it in their bones.”

Whatever the ultimate outcome of the GEO strike, which was re-authorized over the weekend for another 5 days, at the very least they will have shown us the critical importance of “whole worker” solidarity in the darkest moments of crisis — and the ability of organized labor to stand on the frontlines of struggles for transformative social change. They will have given light and hope to supporters everywhere, a voice to the most vulnerable, and a powerful demonstration of what it means to fight back.

Robin Zheng is a University of Michigan alumna and former president of the Graduate Employees’ Organization.

Athletes Making Sports Matter

David Finkel

The court and benches are empty of players and coaches at the scheduled start of an NBA basketball first round playoff game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Orlando Magic, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool) SOURCE: Ashley Landis

APRIL 5, 1968 — the night after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. — was the opening of a crucial playoff series between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Reluctantly, the players from both teams went ahead with the game, although their hearts weren’t in it in an atmosphere that sportswriter Leonard Koppett called “subdued.” It’s never been clear to me how much pressure they may have been under, but evidently those players, some of whom were civil rights fighters, felt they couldn’t refuse to take the floor.

Later that same year, U.S. track athletes John Carlos and Tommy Smith were infamously vilified for their fisted salute on the Mexico City Olympic victory podium, then were peremptorily recalled home and had their careers trashed. On the culture wars front, guitar superstar Jose Feliciano and Detroit Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell came in for heavy criticism after Feliciano, at Harwell’s invitation, performed at a Tiger Stadium World Series game a gently swinging rendition of the national anthem that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow today.

Times have changed. The 2020 National Basketball Association playoffs inside the Orlando COVID-free bubble were abruptly suspended on Wednesday, August 26 when the players of the Milwaukee Bucks, rapidly followed by other teams, voted unanimously not to play their scheduled game in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. The Bucks read a statement demanding that the Wisconsin state legislature take immediate action for police reform and accountability.

TNT commentator and former NBA player Kenny Smith announced on the air that in solidarity he didn’t feel he should be working the broadcast, and left the studio as Shaquille O’Neal remarked, “I respect that.” This kind of action is unheard of in the tightly corporate world of sports entertainment.

It didn’t stop there. The Milwaukee Brewers baseball team also called off their game, while the WNBA didn’t play after the Washington Mystics players showed up with letters on their uniform fronts spelling Jacob Blake’s name, and each with seven bullet holes drawn on the back. The WNBA players have already dedicated the league’s 2020 season to the memory and demand for justice for Breonna Taylor. As one Mystics player put it, “We’re not just basketball players. When we go home, most of us are still Black.”

Major League Soccer followed the others’ example. This was all on the night when Mike Pence told the Republican Convention that under his and Donald Trump’s rule, “we will never defund the police — never,” while a far-right youthful militia admirer gunned down protesters in Kenosha.

It was four years ago that Trump bellowed that any “son of a bitch” football player who followed Colin Kaepernick’s example of taking a knee during the anthem should be “FIRED — FIRED!” Today, with the beginning of the National Football League season a couple weeks away, some teams beginning with the Detroit Lions have cancelled practice sessions.

The contrast between the white-nationalist-promoting, virus-super-spreading president and the dignified militant stance of today’s generation of professional athletes could hardly be greater. At this writing on Thursday, August 27 the situation is fluid. Tonight’s NBA playoff games are also postponed, while players are meeting to determine their demands and course of action.

According to some accounts, LeBron James has called for cancelling the entire multi-billion dollar NBA playoffs, while other reports indicate that the schedule will resume this weekend. Many developments are likely to have happened by the time you’re reading this article. As I’m finishing it, it turns out that in response to players’ demands, the majority-Canadian and mostly-white National Hockey League has suspended its playoff games for tonight and tomorrow August 27-28.

What happens next remains to be seen, but certainly this “wildcat athletes’ strike” is not over, and it’s a powerful and hopeful sign at a time of calamity in a deeply sick society.

The Significance of August 5th and Prospects for the Future

Radical Socialist

Destruction of the Babri Mosque. Ayodhya, India, December 6, 1992.

On August 5, 2020 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi performed the Bhoomi Pujan ceremony and laid the foundation stone of the Ram Temple to be built on the ruins of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, India. On December 6, 1992 the mosque was destroyed by a mob of Hindu nationalist supporters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the fascist movement behind Modi’s government. In this article Radical Socialist, the Indian organization associated with the Fourth International, explains the significance of the event and prospects for the future.

August 5th will go down in Indian history as the day aggressive, chauvinistic nationalism, in its most fascistic form, but also with a deeper implantation in society than any other ultra-right fascist-type force, succeeded in throttling the First Indian Republic.

It is incontestable that the constitution, the political practices, of independent India always had a Hindu, and Brahminical tilt. However, what was one element among many became, in the hands of the RSS, and the entire range of political and ‘socio-cultural’ organisations it floated, the core and overwhelming thrust. That is why, on one hand, the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party, the RSS-sponsored governing party] has been able to claim the nationalist high ground, and on the other hand, the Congress and other bourgeois parties have not been able to, and cannot, resist them on principled grounds. Rather than upholding secular principles, the Congress is currently competing with BJP over the ownership of Ram.

August 5th has been chosen deliberately as the date for the bhoomi puja [ceremony to begin construction] of the Ram Temple to come up. One year back, it was on August 5th that by a total disregard for even India’s previous, scarcely democratic procedures in Jammu and Kashmir, that the residual autonomy of the province was finally and totally smashed, by illegally turning it into two Union Territories. In the name of integration of the province into India, this marked the final step in an all out colonisation, since now the land, the resources of the province were up for grabs in a way they could not be done in the past, and the relatively progressive reforms of the early Abdullah regime were set to be overturned. Also, for an entire year, Kashmir has been under total despotism with the Supreme Court accepting claims made by the government, so that all arms of the state are united.

By linking the same date for the bhoomi puja, a whole set of coded messages are being sent out. This temple is being constructed through a judgement, whereby India’s Supreme Court admitted that a mosque had been destroyed in a criminal action, but still went on to tell the government to spend public money to build a religious institution for the majority community. Each step of the verdict was thus a blow against the principles of secularism. By choosing August 5th as the date, the Central Government is signalling that its actions are in one line. Muslim majority Kashmir is threatened with forced population changes in a bid to silence the decades long struggles there. The nation is being identified in an unabashed way with aggressive Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] politics, and with a Brahminical, north Indian brand of Hinduism.

There is no doubt that people will continue to fight oppression and exploitation. But the entire record of the past decades show, that unless India fights for the rights of Kashmir, India cannot get democracy, justice, social progress anywhere. The toiling people, workers and peasants, dalits and adivasis and other oppressed communities, women and other marginalised and oppressed genders, have to unite, have to come out of the hegemony of bourgeois politics, and Brahminical-Hindutva ideology.

They have to build struggles that do not create hierarchies according to one so called main enemy, in the name of fighting whom, all special oppressions, all class exploitation must be forgotten. That is how bourgeois politics and its tail-ending by the reformist left for the entire period since the Emergency of 1975-77 has led us into this destructive situation.

There is no short cut. The struggle will be long. But the Hindutva triumphs of August 5th can only be fought back by unity based on real understanding of each oppression, the building of a mass united front, and a rejection of all bourgeois parties.

Socialism is the only alternative to barbarism. Not the pipe dream of holding aloft the flag of a spurious real bourgeois democracy abandoned by the bourgeoisie, but the need is for a sustained and protracted struggle for a proletarian revolution under specific Indian conditions, which is possible only by becoming the voice of all the oppressed and exploited.

The Pandemic and the Vote

Against the Current Editors

Detroit, Michigan – The Black Lives Matter Memorial. John Thorn placed the crosses on the lawn of his home to represent the many African-Americans who have died at the hands of police or in other violent incidents. (Photo: Jim West)

BY ALL POLITICAL leading indicators, Donald Trump is taking down the Republican Party to its most shattering electoral debacle in decades. “Presiding,” if that’s a word for anything Trump does, over the entirely preventable health and economic COVID-19 calamity, he’s proving himself willing to sacrifice anything for his own interests.

As Dr. Anthony Fauci warned of 100,000 new daily coronavirus infections by November, Trump’s dispatching federal marshals and border patrol thugs to face off against Black Lives Matter marches, was deliberately calculated to inflame chaos in American cities on the pretext of “restoring law and order.” When that didn’t work he turned to another chaos-inducing ploy, announcing that the November election is “rigged” by mail-in voting. In anything like normal political times, a poll-slumping president’s call to “postpone” a looming election would be an occasion for his party to save itself from oblivion by dumping him.

That same day, we learned that the Census Bureau was ordered to cut short household visits in order to deliberately undercount communities of color. This happened immediately after the White House instructed hospitals to report COVID statistics to Health and Human Services instead of the Centers for Disease Control — where the HHS bureaucracy can bury and falsify them. Mercifully, after Trump’s super-spreader campaign rallies from Tulsa, to Phoenix, to the Black Hills of South Dakota left more virus outbreaks in their wake, the GOP convention in Jacksonville, the Florida epicenter of the pandemic, finally had to be cancelled.

This administration — tragicomic in its incompetence, vicious and sadistic in its treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers, grasping dangerously although ineptly for authoritarian presidentialist rule — presents the most repellent picture to an increasingly desperate domestic population and a disbelieving world.

At present, the likely margin of Trump’s defeat looks to be too great to allow the election to be stolen either by rightwing voter suppression or, as several widely circulated articles have warned, post-election manipulation by Republican-controlled state legislatures. In the present climate, however, no outcome can be taken as certain. Polls have been wrong before; voter intimidation and suppression are escalating; dirty tricks close to the election are inevitable; and we know too well that the anachronistic Electoral College can produce fluky and disastrous results.

At the outer improbable extreme, a Trump/GOP Grand Theft Election could create not just a contested outcome but an existential crisis for the constitutional system that has served U.S. ruling elites so well through more than two centuries. That’s another whole scenario. But here’s what we know for sure: Following the November vote, the United States will remain a country bitterly polarized — between insurgent anti-racist and social justice movements, and vicious reaction spearheaded by white nationalism.

The United States will still face a coronavirus calamity and severe economic shocks, neither of which are ending soon — with tens of millions of people facing eviction, long-term unemployment, loss of health care, the destruction of public education and whole communities, with the prospect of mass misery on a scale not seen since the 1930s Great Depression.

The unfolding climate catastrophe, and a global pandemic with huge loss of life in the global South, are layered on top of numerous looming international conflicts, particularly the U.S.-China confrontation. The cancer of rising authoritarian regimes is spreading. And we know that win or lose, some 40%+ of the U.S. electorate will cast its votes for the candidate, and what has become the Trump party, of open white supremacy.

Is this really new? No, and yes. Certainly we’ve seen blatant racial presidential campaign appeals before — Richard Nixon’s 1968 Southern strategy, Ronald Reagan’s 1980 “welfare queens,” George H.W. Bush’s 1988 Willie Horton ad, and plenty other repulsive spectacles. Yet not in living memory has a sitting president actively embraced the Confederate flag, the symbol of human slavery in America — not since Woodrow Wilson proudly screened “Birth of a Nation” in the White House.

The Trump reelection campaign is reduced to its essentials: open promotion of white racism, pandering to corporate greed, and Trump’s incomprehensible denial of the scale of the COVID-19 nightmare that exposes even his own support base to the risk of mass death. With the economy cratering, he has nothing else left to run on.

What’s New, and Not

There is indeed something new here — both in the magnificent rise of the Black-led, multiracial insurgency against murderous police brutality and the systemic racism and obscene social inequality at the roots of this society, and in the virulence of the entrenched opposition. The tectonic conflict of these forces will define the coming decade.

If the gulf on social issues between the two U.S. capitalist parties has grown to historic levels, what’s not new in any fundamental sense is the Democratic Party. Much attention focuses on the growth of a “progressive” and sometimes oppositional wing of the party, which has energized the voting base. But the levers of policy-making and power remain firmly in the hands of the Pelosi-Schumer leadership, which answers to the party’s corporate donors.

The Democratic candidate Joe Biden offers a hardly inspiring option — continuation of the stagnant neoliberalism of the Clinton, and with some variations the Obama, administrations. Despite its verbal gestures toward the progressive wing and (much more) toward the movements in the streets, the Biden campaign is a consistent message of No: No to Medicare for All, No to the Green New Deal, No to defunding and demilitarizing police. Yes to platitudes, no to meaningful concrete change.

Some of Biden’s announcements, on the environment for example, look half-decent on paper, and so does the Democratic platform — that meaningless document, influenced as usual by the liberal and progressive wing. What counts aren’t words, but what a president and potential governing party will be prepared to seriously fight for. Remember for example how president Obama in 2009 put forward a “public option” for health care but withdrew it without a struggle. As for Biden, behind shopworn phrases about “healing America“ that mean nothing substantive, his honest campaign theme might be: I’ll fight for nothing, and that’s what I’ll deliver.

It should hardly be necessary to detail the fact that nothing in Biden’s political record deserves progressive, let alone socialist, support. His Senate career runs from presiding over the Senate character assassination of Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings, to enthusiastic advocacy of “tough on crime” legislation leading to mass incarceration in America, to supporting the disastrous and criminal Iraq war, from “ending welfare as we know it” to sweetheart sponsorship of the interests of the credit card industry headquartered in Delaware.

All this establishes Biden’s credentials as a 100% corporate Democrat. Like the Clintons, Biden has performed the formidable political trick of winning the support of blue-collar working class and especially Black voters, while spearheading the awful neoliberal programs that have brought pain and destruction to so many in those communities. Those very policies ultimately brought us the Donald Trump presidency, from whose disintegration Biden now stands to benefit.

Dozens if not hundreds of Trump executive orders need to be immediately cancelled — the Muslim travel ban, mass immigrant detention and family separation, massive assaults on the environment and women’s rights. It’s entirely unclear whether Biden would repeal these peremptorily, or even if he’s been asked about them. Beyond that, it should be clear by now that facing the economic carnage caused by COVID-19 requires a massive economic stimulus, to bail out people not banks and corporations — by some estimates amounting to 40% of the annual U.S. GDP (as estimated for example by leftwing economist Jack Rasmus).

That’s vastly beyond the inadequate post-2008 program of the Obama administration. Nothing suggests that Biden is interested in fighting for anything on that scale, without which the likelihood of a prolonged and deep Depression looms.

The Alternatives?

The horrific implications of a second Trump term can’t be overstated, however unlikely it may presently appear. An irresistible imperative — the removal of Trump and the white-supremacist Republican administration, by the largest possible vote — confronts an immovable object, the corporate neoliberalism of the real Democratic Party led by Pelosi, Schumer, Biden, the Clintons, and, yes, Obama.

We don’t think that many folks on the left have illusions that Joe Biden himself represents anything positive beyond being not-Trump. There are, and will be, differing views about how much the Democratic progressive wing could influence his administration (more than verbally). In any case, the difficult choice facing serious progressive folks in this presidential election, we believe, needs to be posed this way: What electoral choice can both oust Trump and advance the prospects for the movements that are challenging the brutal racial capitalism of this society and spearheading the struggles for social justice, for human rights, for labor, for a future without climate and environmental collapse?

The argument to “vote for the Democratic lesser evil to defeat the rightwing menace,” repeated on an endless feedback loop ever electoral cycle, has no attraction for us — but that doesn’t automatically tell us what’s appropriate this time.

There are two basic options (in addition to work on local races and ballot initiatives). One is summed up in the formula “Dump Trump, Fight Biden,” seeing a vote for Biden and Kamala Harris as an unavoidable necessity — at least in states where the outcome is not certain while the struggle against what he represents must also begin immediately.

This argument holds that the imperative to defeat Trump in 2020 outweighs whatever openings might exist for an independent progressive, third-party alternative — and that no such alternative is presently strong enough to be meaningful.

The alternative argument contends that precisely now, the importance of supporting independent, anti-capitalist politics is paramount, and that in the 2020 election that option is embodied in the Green Party campaign of Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker, on an unabashed ecosocialist program. (See Howie Hawkins’ “Which Green New Deal?” and his statement on running for president published in ATC 203, November-December 2019.)

Throughout his campaign for the Green Party nomination, Hawkins has stressed not only its program but also the importance of building the party as a meaningful political force and voice of the movements. Due to restrictive and oppressive ballot access laws backed by both capitalist parties, the Green Party is on the ballot in between 27-32 states. [See Angela Walker’s statement in this issue.]

Hawkins has stated that “for the Greens, every state is a battleground,” and we have no doubt that the consciousness of many dedicated activists is a battleground as well. Among members of the socialist-feminist organization Solidarity that sponsors this magazine, opinion is divided — as we expect it is in other currents on the left. (While making no formal endorsement, Solidarity held a poll of the membership to establish the balance of views.)

In any case, we don’t see “sitting it out” as a viable option.Whatever choice any of our readers make, the crisis and the struggles ahead will last long past the nasty, brutish and long U.S. electoral slog. The changes we most desperately need will come, as they always do, through mass action from below. The mass movements have won the significant gains in recent years for LGBT rights, progress toward decent wages, and a modicum of protection, however fragile it remains, for immigrant youth.

Most dramatically, #Black Lives Matter has put racial justice, police violence and mass incarceration on the political agenda and in cultural expression, from street paintings to sports uniforms and even corporate promos. To be sure, all that’s both a signifier of changing consciousness and the system’s effort to safely contain it. What’s been achieved remains a very long way from the deep changes we need, but the discussion in society has changed, and the task is to sustain and accelerate it.

This article will appear in the September-October 2020 issue of Against the Current.

Solidarity’s Election Poll

David Finkel, for the Solidarity National Committee

Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden. (Photo: Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

SOLIDARITY, THE SOCIALIST organization that sponsors Against the Current, is taking no formal position regarding the 2020 U.S. presidential election. In view of the complexity of the issues and the impossibility of in-person meetings during the coronavirus pandemic, the National Committee organized an online poll to test the balance of opinion of the membership. Three options were offered, and members were also encouraged to submit comments.

OPTION 1: To support the Green Party campaign of Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker, seeing this as the expression in this election of an independent, anti-capitalist and openly ecosocialist alternative to both the ultra-reactionary Trump Republican presidency and the false promises and neoliberal capitalist politics of the Democratic Party and Joe Biden — the same anti-working class politics that helped elevate Trump to the presidency. Members of Solidarity who are involved in the Green Party have formed a working group to support the Hawkins/Walker campaign as well as Green candidates in local and state races.

OPTION 2: To vote Green in those states where the outcome of the presidential vote seems assured, while voting for the Biden/Harris Democratic ticket in closely contested states where the danger of a Trump victory could decide the election. This tactic expresses our advocacy of the urgent need for independent politics, while also making clear within the movements our understanding of the importance of preventing the catastrophe of a second Trump term.

OPTION 3: “Dump Trump, Fight Biden,” meaning a vote for the Democratic ticket to get rid of Trump, while making clear that a Biden presidency, despite its standard-issue progressive campaign postures, doesn’t represent any progressive alternative to the neoliberal policies of the capitalist ruling class, or to pervasive systemic racism, or to U.S. imperialism, nor a fight for anything resembling an adequate response to the environmental catastrophe. It is a recognition that defeating Trump is the immediate overriding imperative but that the struggle for a different politics, rooted in popular struggle, is not postponable.

The results of the poll were: OPTION 1: 47%; OPTION 2: 27%; OPTION 3: 21%. Slightly over 5% expressed no preference, but submitted comments.

In the face of Trump’s ominous threats and anti-democratic maneuvers, it should also be clear that in the event of a stolen election leading to a massive political crisis, everyone on the left should participate in the mass mobilizations to defend the right to vote, for votes to be properly counted, and the results to be respected.

This article will appear in the September-October 2020 issue of Against the Current.