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Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
The following report comes from World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime:
There is great urgency to continuing to push forward and bring forth a massive movement that can drive out the Bush Regime. The following initial report on the October 5th actions to drive out the Bush Regime is from Sunsara Taylor of the World Can’t Wait Advisory Board with input from Prachi Noor of the World Can’t Wait national steering committee. We are reprinting it from the World Can’t Wait web site (worldcantwait.org).
World Can’t Wait held organizing meetings on Oct. 12th through 14th in dozens of cities across the country, and is calling for Emergency Teach-Ins Oct. 26-30. At their website, they say, “We must not stop, we must go forward. No matter who is elected, we ourselves, the people, by our OWN active initiative, have to now set entirely different political terms than the ones presently accepted as ‘realistic’.”
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Something new is rising—a movement of thousands of very diverse kinds of people from hundreds of cities and towns across the country who see the need to drive the Bush regime from power and are taking responsibility to do it. These thousands are consciously breaking with the dominant pattern of day by day accommodating to new outrages. Many of them feel very acutely that the fate of humanity is hinging on what people living in this country do now, but this is not weighing them down. Instead, they are shaking off denial and despair and stepping into unfamiliar territory of taking history into their own hands—and they are expressing a lot of joy and determination at having connected with a nation-wide movement to drive the Bush regime from power.
On October 5th protests were held from coast to coast and beyond U.S. borders, in over 230 locations. Several thousand took to the streets in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, hundreds, or more, acted in cities such as Tucson, Portland, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Austin, and in many small towns and cities scores of people went to intersections, town centers, local beaches, and wherever they thought they would reach the most people with the message that: This Regime Does Not Represent Us and We Will Drive it Out.
At the same time, it is simply a fact that size of these outpourings fell short of the numbers organizers had correctly aimed for (tens of thousands in the country’s largest cities and at least 100,000 nation-wide). Reversing the momentum and direction that society is being moved in, changing the political discourse so that driving out the regime is being debated, and creating a political situation where the Bush regime is driven from office required—and now all the more urgently requires—the political mobilization of hundreds of thousands.
There is still time to do this, but not much time. The Bush regime has not slowed, but quickened its pace towards remaking the world in a fascist way that will have implications for generations and, despite the huge numbers of people who are horrified and disgusted by this direction, the vast majority of them are not yet acting on the necessity of coming out into the streets in massive numbers to reverse this. Meanwhile, the Bush regime is moving each day to close down the space in society from which an opposition to its program can be mobilized. This huge problem must be confronted, understood, and overcome very quickly through the collective struggle of the thousands who have courageously become the nucleus of this movement.
This will require deeply appreciating and building upon the very important advances that have been made in this last round as well as understanding and overcoming the significant shortfalls of this critical effort to change the course of history—including by very immediately and sharply confronting millions in this country who want, and are being counted on by the world, to act in a meaningful way against the disastrous course down which the Bush regime is dragging this country and the world. The following observations are a contribution towards this process.
New Voices Advocating for Driving Out the Regime
In the months leading into the October 5th protests there was significant growth in the breadth of individuals and organizations taking up the movement to Drive Out the Bush Regime as their own. Coming from different perspectives, many new people went into print and onto the airwaves advocating for mass political action aimed at driving out the regime. Some had never spoken publicly about politics in this way before while others had done so but never as part of a nation-wide movement. This took courage and set a very positive standard and example for others.
Debate was opened up and proved necessary within a significant number of organizations over whether and how to participate in driving out the regime. Among those who took this up, there was a greater level of unity than in the past over the necessity of going into the streets to drive out the regime. Still, there are many organizations—particularly among those who are tied to the Democratic Party—who have stood aside from, and advocated against, this form of political mobilization because they see this as an obstacle to getting the Democrats elected. This notion—of subordinating principle, fundamental rights, and the fate of whole peoples—in order to achieve an electoral “victory” must be much more fully and sharply challenged (whatever one’s view of the Democratic Party, generally) and many more organizations must be won to act in ways that official politics now is suppressing.
Snowballing Momentum in the Weeks Leading Up to October 5th
One of the most conspicuous strengths was the mushrooming of protests planned across the country—including in many states and counties that had voted for Bush in 2004, as well as in others. In places like New Paltz , Tucson, Minneapolis, and Portland, the number of people who protested ranged from 600 to 1,500. In places like Tampa, Greensboro, and Charlotte, there were 100—200 people. In Florida and North Carolina, there were more than a dozen protests in each state. In Texas, Bush’s home state, there were 15. In Alabama there were four, including in Florence where 80 protested.
The immediate impetus for this growth outside the country’s largest cities was the placement of a full-page USA Today ad, after which the number of protests planned began to snowball from about 50 to more than 230 a little over a week.
A great many of these protests were marked by the coherence and strength of their message: the need to drive out the Bush regime because the world can’t wait. An excerpt from the Marietta, Ohio local newspaper gives an example of how a great many of these protests kept their focus on the need to drive out the Bush regime:
“I just learned about worldcantwait.org a few days ago, but my hands were shaking over the ‘torture bill’ Congress passed last Thursday,” said James Gawthrop, 53, of Marietta, referring to the recently approved Military Commissions Act of 2006. “Now the Bush administration can detain anybody suspected of being a terrorist indefinitely. They can use secret evidence to hold you. They can even use torture,” he said.
“Some people are here to protest the war, some are against global warming, some are against the budget deficit,” Gawthrop said. “Our goal is to become a big enough tidal wave of people to drive the Bush administration out of power. There’s a sense of urgency now. The ordinary means aren’t working.
“People showing up every two to four years and voting Republican or Democrat just isn’t going to get it this time,” he said.—Marietta Times, Ohio, October 6, 2006
World Can’t Wait’s quick and uncompromising response to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 is part of what galvanized many of those who got involved. In just three days a successful event was pulled together at New York City’s Cooper Union where 600 audience members, prominent individuals and experts came together to respond. People learned deeply about the consequences of the new legislation which enabled them to go out and speak about it to others and by coming together quickly were emboldened to do so.
Within a week, WCW was able to write, design and fund a full-page New York Times ad responding to this new legislation as well. This ad, which broke through the confusion that was consciously generated by all the talk of a “compromise” with Bush, provoked the largest response of phone calls and emails of any ad WCW has yet placed and contributed to the numbers of people in the streets on October 5th.
World Can’t Wait reached into the national media mainly through its three striking full-page ads in the New York Times and one in USA Today. These featured a new logo of the globe in flames and put the question of driving the regime from power through mass independent political action before millions. This attracted new donors, many new chapters, and stoked a controversy in places that mainly never hear an uncompromising anti-Bush program message.
These ads were funded through the efforts of thousands, mainly giving donations of 200 or less and a relative handful of people giving $500 or more. This shows the great strength of a mass base, but still needs to be complemented by many more with greater resources contributing with proportionality as this movement is still hamstrung at every level due to lack of funds, including a debt.
Air America ads—recorded by Olympia Dukakis, Michelle Phillips, Edward Asner, Mark Ruffalo, and others—generated new chapters and spurred many to attend the local protests. The MySpace and Facebook ads became the principal way that the students and youth got organized. As soon as the MySpace ad began running, emails began coming into the student and youth organizer’s at about 6 per minute.
The media coverage of October 5th was significantly greater than in the past but still did not present this movement as a major national event that must be responded to. Of the approximately 400 articles that were published about October 5th the overwhelming majority correctly identified the purpose of the protests, the name of World Can’t Wait, the fact that protests were happening in more than 100 areas, and were mainly positive. There were a few dozen radio interviews leading into the protests.
There was also significant international media coverage throughout Latin America, Pakistan, India, South Africa and Europe. There was real interest from international media because people all over the world are looking for large numbers of people inside this country standing up, taking responsibility to act.
The White House was asked to comment on the protests in at least two reports, though they avoided speaking directly to the World Can’t Wait’s specific goals.
In the lead up to October 5th, WCW released a statement that read in part, “Think of all the people who are deeply distressed over the direction in which the Bush regime is dragging the country—and the world… Imagine if, from out of this huge reservoir of people, a great wave were unleashed, moving together on the same occasion, making, through their firm stand and their massive numbers, a powerful political statement that could not be ignored, rallying and marching, letting it be known that they are determined to bring this whole disastrous course to a halt by driving out the Bush Regime through the mobilization of massive political opposition. If that were done, then the possibility of turning things around and onto a much more favorable direction would take on a whole new dimension of reality.”
In the final weeks before October 5th, momentum was building in a way that led many WCW organizers, as well as police and some pundits to expect that the turn-out in the major cities would be much higher: into the tens of thousands. This higher turn-out is still what is urgently needed to change the political conversation in this country and what options people see as viable and make driving out this regime through mass political action a goal that millions see worth struggling to accomplish.
Many of those who built for Oct 5 have already begun talking about these questions, as a crucial part of going ahead. Some initial considerations of what held others back include: lack of knowledge about the day, fear of repression, fear of stepping out of politics-as-usual, loss of hope, lack of clarity of what protest could accomplish, a view that aiming to mobilize people to drive out the Bush regime would be disruptive to getting Democrats elected this fall, ignorance about the actual policies and plans of the Bush administration, and the fact that people are learning to accept things they never dreamed they would have years ago. But now, everyone in and around this movement must take part in learning very deeply what held people back so that this can be transformed rapidly.
The upcoming mass meetings of World Can’t Wait should begin wrestling with these questions. At these meetings we should discuss and unite around a strategy and approach that challenges people to break from the paralysis of fear or indifference, or another form of paralysis that results from going through the motions of politics as usual, instead of acting, now, in a way that measures up to the situation we face—-in Iraq, in Iran, in secret torture prisons, in the shredding of fundamental rights. Starting with our plan of teach ins, wearing orange to sound the alarm that torture has just been legitimized and institutionalized, and being ready to respond now to any October, or November, surprise from this Regime, we need to go forward and lay the basis for a new levels of mass response…urgently.
Which future we get is up to us.
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
This call was issued by The World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime and the Bush Crimes Commission.
The world faces a grave emergency. The very nature of U.S. society and its relationship to other countries are being reshaped in a horrific ways before our eyes. Yet the full implications of these sweeping changes are not widely understood, even among those who oppose the Bush administration. This must change!
Consider—the U.S. government has now legalized torture and shredded constitutional promises of the basic and foundational rights of due process. This unprecedented action is not an isolated incident; it is part of a larger Bush administration package that includes:
Each of these actions exacts an enormous human toll, and taken together the whole package is far worse. It is unrelenting and extremely dangerous. As the call for The World Can’t Wait–Drive Out the Bush Regime states: “The Bush regime is setting out to radically remake society very quickly, in a fascist way, and for generations to come. We must act now; the future is in the balance.”
Neither the full magnitude nor the staggering implications of the Bush program are well understood. The administration systematically lies about its actions and agenda, while the major media and Democrats allow it to frame the overall discussion. As a result, the most crucial issues are not discussed truthfully either in the public arena or in election campaigns. This is a major reason why public resistance to Bush’s outrages is nowhere near what it urgently needed.
This is why “The World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime” organization, in conjunction with the Bush Crimes Commission and others, are calling for emergency teach-ins—in communities, on campuses, and in homes—to explore the actual content of the Bush program and where it is taking the people of the world.
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To contact the national teach-in organizers, please write email@example.com.
Please take steps immediately to organize an event on your campus or in your community, or hold a house party to watch one of the Bush Crimes Commission videos and discuss these issues.
We’re aiming for a nationwide impact building off October 5. Having hundreds of teach-ins on campuses and in communities across the country on the same day (or days) will make a statement that many, many people want to learn and discuss the truth about the Bush regime, not media spin and election-driven propaganda. This is a concerted push to raise and discuss the crucial issues of the day which can reframe discussion and break through the suffocating and false terms that characterizes what passes for debate in this country.
More info at Bush Crimes Commission: http://www.bushcommission.org
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
Interview with Nicholas Heyward Sr. on Oct. 22
Carl Dix, National Spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, recently talked to Nicholas Heyward Sr., the father of Nicholas Jr. who was killed by a New York City housing police officer in September 27, 1994, in Brooklyn, NY. He is a member of Parents Against Police Brutality and of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.
Nicholas Heyward, Sr. and Juanita Young (whose son Malcolm Ferguson was shot point blank by a cop in 2000), New York City, October 22, 2005
Carl Dix: Can you tell our readers about how your son Nicholas Heyward Jr. was killed?
Nicholas Heyward Sr.: Sept. 22, 1994, Nicholas, who was 13 years old, was playing with some friends of his in the Gowanus Houses in Brooklyn. They were playing in the stairwell of one of the buildings. It was first told to me that the officer was on a 911 call to the building—he responded alone, he went to the 14th floor where the children were playing. Stairwell was dimly lit, the officer heard a clicking sound in the stairwell; he fired into dimly lit stairwell, and he hit Nicholas in the abdomen. Nicholas died 8 hours later.
My son was playing with a toy gun, a plastic cork pop gun. It was called pop gun; it was one them plastic guns you put the corks into it. You cock it and you squeeze it, and the corks pop out of it. And it looks nothing like a real gun—It was plastic with orange stripes.
When my wife heard what had happened, she ran across the courtyard to the building, ran up 14 flights of stairs, to try to comfort her son. When she got to l4th floor, police would not allow her to see Nicholas. Asked her who she was, asked her for ID, “who are you, you can’t go behind that door,” and that kind of stuff. They rushed Nicholas out the other exit while the officer was talking to my wife, and they took Nicholas not to the hospital 6 blocks away, but they took him into Manhattan. He died there. The district attorney never presented the case to a grand jury, there was no indictment, he basically blamed the killing on a realistic looking toy gun and said that the officer feared for his life.
In a deposition done on the officer about 2 years after the killing, the officer stated that he was not on 9ll call, that he was just basically on routine patrol, that the stairway was not dimly lit, that he was able to see very well, and that things did not happen in a split second, which was all of Charles Hynes’ reasoning for closing the case and not presenting it to a grand jury. But still they never reopened the case or presented it to a grand jury…
I was messed up for quite a while, a few years. Didn’t know who to turn to, didn’t know where to go, didn’t know who to trust. And it’s real hard in the beginning even to speak out on what happened to your children. Even today it’s still kind of hard. I still get kind of choked up talking about my son’s case. After 12 years I understand the realities of death—there’s no coming back. Just don’t understand how they just allow this officer get away with killing an innocent boy. Even though today I know how the system is, the reality is that they just don’t give a shit. I still from time to time say how the hell do they just allow the cop to get away with this?
Carl Dix: October 22nd is coming up. This will be the 11th annual National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. Can you give our readers what you see as the significance of this day and the nationwide movement that’s developed around the October 22nd Coalition?
Nicholas Heyward Sr.: I think it’s a very important event. Police brutality has been on the rise since 9/11. There are still innocent people being murdered out here in New York City and across the country. And I’m still fighting very hard—for justice for my son and because there’s so many innocent people being killed by the police, and so many people constantly justifying each and every killing, not only in New York but across this country. It’s very hard to convict the officer, even to have the officer be brought to trial.
It’s very important to let the people know what’s actually going on, what’s happening with police brutality, police murders, because there’s a lot of people who really don’t know what’s actually happening, what’s taking place, in New York City and across the country with all these killings.
So I think the October 22nd National Day of Protest is a major event for me, and a major event for a lot of the parents also. It gives an opportunity to present to the people the reality, of what happened in our cases—the cover-ups that happened in every single case involving police killing innocent people. I think that if you feel that what’s going on is wrong, if you believe that these things should not happen, you should be a part of this movement.
Carl Dix: When we began October 22 back in the mid ‘90s, we pointed out that there’s a nationwide epidemic of police brutality. This movement did a couple of things: one, it took people who were fighting cases one by one and brought them together and gave them a power they didn’t have by themselves alone. And the other thing that happened is that people who were unaware of the widespread nature of this and thought it was just a case of an isolated incident here and there, began to see that something much more broad was going on. So it both gave a platform for those families and loved ones who have been victimized by brutality and even murder at the hands of law enforcement, and it also brought to their side broader allies.
I’m looking at the Call for October 22nd this year. And it just runs down people killed by the police all across the country. So it’s still going on. Especially since September 11, it has been a struggle to continue the fight against police brutality. So October 22nd and the mobilization around it is trying to keep the reality of police brutality out there in front of people.
Nicholas Heyward: I really can remember when I first heard of October 22nd, and actually it was in an article that appeared in the Amsterdam News. It was talking about organizing the National Day of Protest, and this must’ve been in 1995 or 1996. The article was basically saying that there’s an epidemic of police violence that was going on in New York City and across the country. And at that time I wasn’t doing much of protest at that time. I didn’t know there was anything I can actually do.
October 22nd helped me and the families to organize. Back in the ‘90s, the early ‘90s we were strong. I remember the Baez family, the Calderon family, Frankie Arzuaga, a bunch of us, there was so many parents and there was so many killings that was going on. I mean one behind the other. Anthony Rosario and Hilton Vega. All these parents were fighting hard for their children but they didn’t know what was going to come out from all of this rallying and all of this protest. But the thing was we found out is it had given us an opportunity to speak to the people on the realities of what happened. ‘Cause when they kill our children they constantly covering the stories up, making it look justified and trying to justify each and every case. And it’s painful enough for a parent having their son killed by those supposedly protecting them, and then to have them lies coming … it’s just too many cover ups in cases involving police killings. Lots of these cases, the innocent person don’t even have a weapon.
After 9/11 it’s almost like police brutality had heightened and got even worse. It was like a shock wave to a lot of the parents because 9/11 happened in 2001 and I just remember October 22, 2000, we had so many parents out there on October 22, 2000. After 9/11 there was just maybe a handful of parents that just came out. The reason for that, I spoke to lot of the parents, and I myself, I felt regardless of what happened 9/11, police brutality did not die on 9/11. And I wanted to continue to organize the parents to come out for the October 22nd National Day of Protest. And some of them just wanted to stay in at that point on October 22, 2001. A lot of them were fearful of retaliation from the police. This is what they told me on a personal level, that they were fearful of retaliation from the police on that day. The reality for me is that police brutality still exists and needs to be exposed so I continue to speak out on what was taking place.
Carl Dix: After September 11th there has been a lot of talk about police as heroes. And any criticisms of them are considered unjustified. This movement to stop police brutality takes on an added significance because following September 11th, George Bush said, “People have to sacrifice to keep this way of life in effect.” And when you look at this way of life, you see that one of its built-in ingredients is a green light to the police to brutalize and even murder with almost an assurance they won’t be penalized.
Nicholas Heyward: You know, Carl? I never looked at police officers as being heroes, even before my son was killed. Never looked at any police officer not even close to a hero.
You can’t consider yourself a hero if you’re going around killing innocent people, lying and covering up. Even in the course of our rallies and demonstrating, you can observe the officers laughing amongst themselves. You can hear them talking about the rally and stuff there. These are parents speaking about the children that they lost, and here the police are in the background laughing. Heroes to me are… Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks—people who stood up for a cause, for freedom, justice and equality. And that’s not something the officers are doing. The police are just here to arrest and brutalize people for violating a law.
When they come into this community that I live at, they’re not trying to help youth or seniors or anything like that. They’re looking to see if you’re breaking the law, and if you are, they’re going to lock you up, bust you upside the head. It ain’t a thing where they are trying to educate anyone, they’re not trying to helped anyone. They’re not trying to be of service to anyone–not in this community, and I don’t think they do that in any community. So as far as looking at an officer as being an hero, I have never looked at an officer as being a hero.
Since 9/11, this whole situation with police brutality has heightened so much, that it is more important today that October 22nd continues to demonstrate and bring out the reality of what’s happening. If you are someone who has fought against or spoke out against police brutality in the past, it should be essential for you to be at October 22nd National Day of Protest.
Carl Dix: People will be taking to the streets on Oct 22, 2006 in dozens of cities all across the country. If people want to get information about what’s happening in their part of the country, they can go to the website—which is www.october22.org, and there’s a phone number…
Nicholas Heyward: There’s a toll free phone number they could call which is 1-888-NO-BRUTALITY
Carl Dix: And on the bottom of the Call for Oct 22, 2006, it says, “Join the Struggle! Fight Back! On October 22nd, Wear Black!”
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
This call was issued by the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation:
October 22, 2005 protest in Los Angeles
Two police officers in San Francisco, CA shot and killed a man they found in an apartment that they believed was vacant. Police claimed that 25-year-old Asa Sullivan had a gun, but in reality, he was only carrying an eyeglass case. In Baltimore, MD a 15-year-old, was shot at by police when they assumed the cell phone he was reaching for was a gun. 49-year-old Cindy Conolly was in Oxnard, CA to attend her son’s wedding, but was killed instantly while sunbathing on the beach when two police patrolling the beach drove their vehicle over her. Air marshals in Miami, FL shot and killed 44-year-old Rigoberto Alpizar over a suspected “bomb” in his backpack, which turned out to be non-existent. 31-year-old Tarance Hall was shot and killed by Las Vegas cops for playing his car radio too loudly. 34-year-old James Wilcox was shot and killed by Rhode Island police for shoplifting baby formula. In Los Angeles, CA, Elio Carrion, a 21-year-old on leave from the Air Force, was arrested and forced to lie down on the ground after a car chase. A video recording clearly shows the sheriff ordering Carrion to “get up,” Carrion saying out loud that he is getting up, and the sheriff shooting him three times as he pushes himself up. Mentally ill Ronald Madison, the 40-year-old who was one of the two running across Danziger Bridge who were shot and killed by New Orleans police soon after Hurricane Katrina hit, was said to have “reached into his waistband” and “turned on the officers,” according to police, but CNN’s recent lawsuit against the coroner’s office revealed that Madison had five entry wounds in the back. His brother Lance, also on the bridge, was arrested and jailed for six months for shooting at the cops, even though he didn’t have a weapon. These outrageous scenes blip across the TV and in print news for a few days and then are buried, not allowed to stay long in the national consciousness. But as the Stolen Lives Project of the October 22nd Coalition continues to document, police brutality and murder nationwide are on the rise.
Family members of those
Why isn’t the escalation of police brutality and murder in recent years headline news? Perhaps because these images don’t comply well with the need to project images of police as “defenders against terrorism.” Since September 11, 2001, law enforcement agents (including border patrols) have been given greater license to increase and broaden repression. Steps were even taken to grant more worth to a police officer’s life, with the “heroes law” enacted in New York State, for which the governor originally called for a death sentence for anyone who shoots a cop. At the same time, the cop who killed African immigrant Ousmane Zongo in New York, after a rare conviction (criminally negligent homicide) was sentenced with probation and community service. Torture, brutality, detentions, domestic spying, profiling, and other attacks on human and civil liberties have been made part of the routine of daily life that we are asked to accept without question. At airports, subways, transportation centers, and more we are asked to “welcome” bag searches, check points, invasion of privacy, stripping away of civil liberties, all in the name of “national security.”
Attempts to criminalize immigrants even further are being pushed by lawmakers. Demonstrations and political protests are increasingly penned in, attacked, spied upon, videotaped, and outright denied by authorities. Protesters in support of LGBT rights and reproductive freedom in Pennsylvania were charged for violating the USA PATRIOT Act after being beaten and arrested by police. General Michael Hayden, who headed up some of the government’s most secret and controversial domestic spying under the NSA, was rewarded for his work by being made head of the CIA. A former NSA intelligence agent, Russell Tice, warned that the nation was decaying into a “police state.” The war abroad has its corresponding part in the war on people at home, where law enforcement agents step up their harassment and criminalization of certain neighborhoods and populations.
What can we do? Why should you come out on October 22, 2006?
We resist so that we will not be crushed. Our resistance gives other people courage. The work of the October 22nd Coalition over the last ten years has shown that when we expose what is happening and drag their crimes out into the light of day, it puts the “checkpoint” back on them! On October 22nd, we remember those whose lives have been stolen from us. Through our actions, we bring out the stories that have been covered over. Families speak out and tell the truth about so many cases that too many times people haven’t even heard of: Virginia Verdee, 12 years old, run over and killed by Bronx police; 15-year-old Brandon McCloud, shot by Cleveland police in his bed at 5 a.m. before he got up to go to school; Samson Bounthisane, an 18-year-old shot and killed by Seattle sheriff’s deputies; Michael Ellerbee, 12 years old, shot in the back by a PA state trooper; and too many thousands more. October 22nd is the day when people all over the country come together to STOP police violence, repression, and the criminalization of a generation. Across the country, in different cities and through different means of expression, we raise a resounding “NO” to their steadily increasing moves towards a police state. Link up to the nationwide protests through the October 22nd website, www.october22.org. Organize an event in your neighborhood, school or church. Email information on your plans to firstname.lastname@example.org. Endorse this call, give financially, and spread the word. Join the struggle! Fight Back! On October 22nd, wear Black!
(as of 10/2/06)
Families of People Killed by Law Enforcement
Individuals and Organizations
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
Submitted by a reader
As many of your readers know, there has been a huge controversy in New York (and elsewhere) since the Minutemen speech at Columbia University. As Jim Gilchrist, leader of the Minutemen, began to speak, students took the stage with banners expressing their views that “No Human Being is Illegal”; Minutemen sympathizers attacked the students, and the speech ended.
I wanted to write on a few important questions that have come up in the course of this debate.
1) Do we need freedom of speech?
Yes, we do, and on a whole other level. We need the clash of ideas in order to more fully understand reality. And we need to understand reality as deeply as possible not only for its own sake, but in order to change it (and there is plenty that needs changing). People need to be free to follow their thinking where it takes them, and to air unpopular ideas and argue them out with others. This is essential in getting at and discovering the truth.
In capitalist society, the dominant ideas reflect and serve the interests of the dominant class in society, the capitalists. In that context, contending ideas are, at best, viewed as competing commodities in the “marketplace of ideas.” This is a framework that stifles the exchange of ideas and severely restricts the search for truth. Even in this context, supposed guarantees of freedom of speech are at best sharply contested under capitalism, and usually observed in theory only. There is a whole history in the United States, for instance, of the state jailing and even murdering revolutionaries and progressives—either through kangaroo trials, police assassination, sponsoring or turning a blind eye to lynchings, etc. Police, national guard and even the army have been called out to suppress people demanding equality or unions or opposing imperialist wars—again, all through U.S. history. In everyday life there is an ongoing pressure and chill not to get out of line, lest you lose your job or worse. And this doesn’t even begin to get to the ways that the major media and forms of dissemination of ideas are dominated by the most powerful imperialists, the everyday ways that public opinion is manipulated and opposing ideas suppressed. This is the reality of capitalist dictatorship beneath the democratic rhetoric: a climate of enforced conformity backed up when necessary by violent state suppression to protect imperialist interests.
Today the climate is especially chilling. From President Bush’s press spokesman telling everyone to “watch what they say,” to his minions threatening the New York Times with treason charges for exposing (illegal) government wiretapping programs; from the Patriot Act which allows all kinds of government spying and harassment to the new bill legalizing torture: this is the order of the day from the highest offices of the land. In New York, we have the great champion of “free speech” Mayor Bloomberg—who just two years ago refused people permits to demonstrate against the Republican Convention. At least two suits filed in Manhattan federal court said police detained more than 1,800 people during the convention, many of whom were not even demonstrators. From top to bottom, the state and those who support this state are embarked on a drastic program of fascist-style suppression.
And yes, as part of this, free speech and academic freedom are very much under assault on campus. But the assault comes straight from the right. The University of Colorado moves to fire Ward Churchill on the flimsiest of pretexts—when everyone knows it was really for his speech after 9/11. Meanwhile, David Horowitz puts out lists of “suspect” teachers for his storm-trooping students to hound and harass. He flies all over the country and gets tons of TV time, right-wing money, and support from Karl Rove to carry out his McCarthyite campaign. A real and justified fear of suppression stalks the campuses.
This is the real fascist threat to free speech in society right now; this is what must be opposed and fought.
2) What about the Minutemen at Columbia?
The Minutemen is a racist vigilante group. Their entire raison d’etre consists of patrolling of the border with guns in order to terrorize and hunt down immigrants, and to force them into ever more dangerous and even deadly situations. This is not something the Minutemen just advocate; this is something they do, and something they want to do more of, and everything they do serves that end. Their speeches are little more than the vocal equivalent of KKK cross-burnings and have no place on campus or anywhere else.
[Editor’s Note: For a revealing and chilling picture of this, see “Arizona Showdown: High-powered firearms, militia maneuvers and racism at the Minuteman Project” by David Holthouse, at the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center (splcenter.org)]
And in actual fact, these thugs were NOT suppressed at Columbia. They came on campus and found themselves confronted by people who went on stage to hold banners to oppose them. This was not the state suppressing the Minutemen; these were masses challenging them. The Minutemen supporters attacked those holding the banners—and this can be seen on the Youtube videos—and then, like the bullies they are, these Minutemen posed as the victims. Now this has been whipped into a cause celebre throughout society—distorted and exaggerated by outright fascists like David Horowitz, the high commissioner of campus witchhunts and the pied piper of the modern-day equivalent of the Hitler Youth, and Bill O’Reilly, who can hardly let a show pass by without calling for the trial of one dissenter or another on charges of treason. They and the more powerful forces behind them pursue a larger agenda: they intend to destroy the campuses as any kind of space for free inquiry or critical thinking, as a key part an entire agenda that is attempting to cement U.S. power in the world as unchallenged and unchallengeable, and to hammer together social cohesion within the U.S. during a period of big changes and turmoil in society.
This whole Minuteman incident is a provocation, a smokescreen, and has been seized on to reverse right and wrong and further push forward a repressive and reactionary agenda. And now there is talk of bringing in the state to punish these students—students!—for talking back during a reactionary, hate-mongering speech.
3) Would there be freedom of speech and academic freedom under socialism?
Yes there would be—and much more of it, by several orders of magnitude and in a qualitatively different way. Again, we need the fullest possible contesting of ideas and wrangling to get to the truth, and unlike the current system, this will not be distorted and suppressed on account of the basically irreconcilable contradiction between preserving the rule of capitalism on the one hand, and the more or less unfettered pursuit of the truth on the other. There is a joy in the process of coming to know the truth, and even more there is the necessity to know the truth, in as much of its complexity as possible, if one wants to change the world in a way corresponding to reality—and the state in socialist society must be all about changing the world, getting to a society totally free of exploitation and exploitative relations, of oppressive institutions and relations between people, and of the ideas that reflect those relations. And this society-wide contesting will be possible, for the first time, because access to means of getting out ideas will no longer be constrained by how much capital you control (or how well you serve those who do control it) and more generally by market relations. The state will NOT be set up as it is today, under capitalism, to suppress the masses of people and to keep whatever wrangling is allowed to exist within strict limits, and/or divert it into pathways that serve the maintenance of the status quo of exploitation and oppression, in one form or another. Instead the state will involve the broadest possible masses (with the exception of proven counter-revolutionaries) in wrangling over the future of society, as a necessary part of both overcoming exploitative and oppressive relations and institutions and ideas, and preventing and, yes, suppressing attempts at capitalist restoration from within and without.
This doesn’t mean that every single theory will be taught in academia or get “equal time.” There will never be unlimited resources for publishing books, producing movies, and so on, and there will need to be leadership given to which ideas are generally considered to be true and acted upon (even as they remain open to inquiry and debate), which ideas should be key focuses of debate, and which ones not really given much attention to at all. Things that have been proven to be untrue—theories that the universe was created by a god in six days, or that demons cause epilepsy—will not be taught in the schools, or widely publicized (though people will still be able to voice such theories). What is known to be true will be the basis for curricula in schools—though there will be room for debate over that, for all the reasons cited above, as well as the very important fact that what is understood to be true today can often be shown to be wrong, or at least incomplete, tomorrow.
Again, going forward requires not only basing ourselves on and going by what has proven to be true at any given time, and on that basis unleashing people to transform reality, but fostering widespread debate and dissent in order to constantly deepen our understanding of reality. This includes people being able to express opposition not only to government policy, but to socialism itself and to demand a return to capitalism; even though that would be wrong, it would also be wrong to suppress it, and for two reasons. First, because such suppression would put a chill more broadly on society. And second, because people raising those demands may have an element of truth to criticisms that they are making, or their criticisms may reflect important contradictions in society, and finding out about and debating these will help people learn more deeply about the world—even if the thrust and weight of their criticisms and advocacy are wrong and even destructive. These questions will be resolved by debate and struggle, not suppression—whether openly or by threats.
But there is a crucial difference in socialist society between advocating that the socialist state be replaced by capitalism, and actually carrying out criminal actions against that state. These would NOT be allowed. Socialist states have in the past (when they existed) and will in the future face real threats and cannot hesitate to forcefully respond to those. But again, the socialist state should NOT in doing that confound real counter-revolutionary attempts with people merely expressing opposing ideas, and we have to do much better on that in the future socialist states. This will be difficult and very complex but must be done, in order to move forward to a society of freely associating human beings, and a world ultimately without the need for states and apparatuses of repression. And that is a goal well worth moving toward and a road—a challenging and tortuous road but also an exciting road, full of intellectual ferment and stimulation—well worth exploring, and taking!
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
Statement by New York City Branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party,USA:
Wednesday, October 4, students at Columbia University took the stage with a banner saying “No One Is Illegal” in three languages to protest the appearance of Jim Gilchrist and two other leaders of the Minutemen hosted by the College Republicans of Columbia University. These students were widely supported on campus, by the audience at the event and by hundreds of demonstrators on the street outside. When they unfurled their banner they were physically attacked by the campus Republicans hosting the event (see video at youtube.com) and the event was then shut down.
A frenzy of accusations that the Minutemen were victimized by “progressive secular fascists” exploded on Fox News, the internet and in New York’s tabloid newspapers. Bill O’Reilly’s Talking Points of October 6th said: “All over the country these kinds of fascist tactics are being used by fanatical secular progressives who seek to impose their views on others, and silence and/or harm people who oppose them… This kind of anti-American behavior must be condemned by all Americans.”
New York City Mayor Bloomberg and Columbia University President Bollinger both issued statements attacking the students in the name of “academic freedom.” Campus security is investigating activists, including combing FaceBook, a huge campus-oriented internet network, for on-line organizing for the action. The university is under intense political lynch-mob pressure to penalize the students, with demands from Bill O’Reilly et al: “Columbia University must be held to account. Alumni should stop all donations to Columbia.”
Who are these Minutemen?
The Minutemen are a fascist paramilitary organization that advocates and deploys armed patrols on the border to hunt down immigrants like animals. They advocate and organize the removal of water and food stations maintained by religious and other concerned individuals to save the lives of people forced to cross through dangerous and isolated desert terrain.
Quoted in Revolution newspaper, Enrique Morones of the group Border Angels said, “Before I.N.S.’s Operation Gatekeeper, which was implemented in 1994, there was one estimated death along the border every month. Since then, an estimated 4,000 people have died trying to cross the border.” Morones told Revolution that 4,000 bodies have been accounted for, but that the realistic number may be considerably higher, “possibly as much as 10,000 deaths.” According to Morones, “This increased militarization and vigilantes like the Minutemen have forced migrants to more extreme and remote parts of the desert. Since last year, there have been over 464 migrant deaths—a number higher than the previous year.” ("The Minutemen - Enforcers of Death on the Border & Promoters of Racist Hatred," Revolution #45, revcom.us)
Today huge migrations of people are thrown from one end of the world to another by the race of imperialist capital for the highest profit. Under NAFTA and other treaties, millions of small corn farmers and others in Mexico have been destroyed and are forced to cross over to “El Norte” through the most dangerous border areas. They live and work in super-exploited conditions in the shadows of American society.
These are the vicious imperialist relations that vigilantes like the Minutemen have a special place in enforcing.
Now the students who went on stage to protest the Minutemen at Columbia have been slammed in the name of “academic freedom” and “freedom of speech.” Look. The Minutemen have nothing to do with contributing to academic freedom or freedom of speech any more than the Ku Klux Klan would be promoting critical thinking by coming to Columbia University. Do we need much more debate, dissent and critical thinking throughout all of society, on the big questions confronting people in this country and the world? YES WE DO. Do we need much more academic freedom and inquiry on campuses everywhere? YES WE DO. This is essential for humanity to understand the world as it is and bring about any kind of future worth living in. The Minutemen and the Klan are about just the opposite. They are first cousins whose only reason for existing is to enforce — with the noose and the gun — the nightmare of those living at the bottom of the most powerful imperialist country in the world.
Let’s talk about what IS happening with “academic freedom” at Columbia University and academia throughout the US, and what these rants about the “left wing dictatorship” at Columbia are in the service of.
Much more critical thinking and inquiry is needed on campuses and in all of society. In fact, a political and intellectual chill has been imposed on campuses across the country in the name of opposition to a supposed “left-wing dictatorship.” Right-wing operative David Horowitz’s spring 2006 book “The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America,” brands as “terrorists, racists, and communists” a list that includes 9 Columbia professors — more than at any other campus — along with many more of the most distinguished scholars and public intellectuals in the country. Hitler youth-types are fielded by Horowitz’s “Students for Academic Freedom” and others to secretly record lectures by progressive professors to feed to the “Right Wing Noise Machine” and to use as pretexts for formal complaints.
These forces are the spearhead on college campuses for the overall Bushite program of empire and theocratic fascism. They are determined to shut down the small remaining space in academic and intellectual discourse where some basic truths about the US — like the genocide of Native Americans, the theft of one-third of Mexico, the slavery of Black people and a history of patriarchy, and today’s real consequences of US empire on people around the world — are researched and taught.
The demands of the Horowitz forces for “balance in academia” might appear on the surface to be reasonable and fair. But under the cover is a witch-hunt aimed at suppressing critical thinking altogether, especially views that challenge imperialist narratives of the “greatest country on Earth,” etc., etc. Unchallenged imperialist narratives are essential in the cultivation of a base of support among people in this country for the expansion of brutal empire-building from Iraq to Iran (including the active planning for deployment of tactical nuclear weapons), for the legalization of torture and secret indefinite detention of so-called “enemy combatants” (a designation to be made solely by the President with no legal recourse), for the wholesale shredding of basic rights and legal protections, and for increased repression on the border, including measures to build a huge wall on substantial sections.
Witness the Horowitz-led attacks on University of Colorado Professor Ward Churchill for his anti-imperialist statements, and on the Columbia MEALAC (Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Culture Department) and Prof. Massad in 2004 for teaching the truth about Israel’s acts and policies against the Palestinian people. As a result of this attack in 2004, MEALAC is now run under receivership. “New ground rules are being established: any criticism or even questioning of the institutional foundations of the United States, or of the motives and interests behind its policies, will be treated as essentially treasonous. Left unopposed, this trajectory will lead to a situation of uncontested indoctrination enforced by the state.” [www.defendcriticalthinking.org, an on-line statement initiated by academics opposed to the suppression of critical thinking in the universities.]
The College Republicans of Columbia University are directly connected to the Horowitz forces. Their President, Chris Kulawik (also the president of the Columbia College Conservative Club), is a poster on Horowitz’s Frontpage.com website and wrote a 2005 article in the Columbia Spectator entitled “In Defense of McCarthy” and believes that “The claims levied against Senator Joseph McCarthy, historical fallacies which have stuck through the decades, have wrought a grave injustice.” Senator Joseph McCarthy led a witch hunt in the 50s that blacklisted thousands of intellectuals, actors and others out of positions and political life on the basis of accusations of being communists. THIS is the “academic freedom” being promoted in opposition to supposed “left-wing dictatorship” on campuses.
From the article “Nazi Cleansing of America’s Universities: Could It Happen Here?” by Reggie Dylan in Revolution newspaper #65:
“…The answer to the question ‘Could this [Nazi cleansing of universities] happen here?’ is, YES. But it could also be prevented, and something much, much better brought into being. As an important part of that, there is a need for political, ideological, and theoretical debate and clarity around the importance not only of challenging the direction the country as a whole is being driven toward, and the role the universities should play in society at this time, but also the need to fiercely defend, while deepening, an understanding of the scientific approach to reality. This must go right up against the onslaught by reactionaries gathered around Horowitz and ACTA (American Council of Trustees and Alumni), as well as by the Christian fascists, who would impose their absolutist concepts of ‘Biblically revealed truth’ with all the horrors that means for humanity.”
Support the protesters at Columbia — No Charges! No Human Being is Illegal!
Revolutionary Communist Party, New York Branch
Literature available at:
Hear Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP on:
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
A set of seven important talks by Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, is available for audio download at bobavakian.net and revcom.us. Twenty-two questions and answers, and concluding remarks, are also available for download. The questions and answers include this question, with an answer by Bob Avakian:
“My question deals with some of the material from the two series: ‘Views on Socialism and Communism’ and ‘The Basis, the Goals, and the Methods of the Communist Revolution.’
“I’ve been thinking about two things: One is a statement by Arundhati Roy in an interview where she basically said (this is paraphrasing), ‘I support the Maoists in India even though I would probably be the first person they would kill.’ Second I’ve also been thinking about this in relation to the need to make a distinction as you’ve emphasized between those who are actively plotting to overthrow the socialist state and those who are just dissenting or even vehemently opposed to it, but not actively plotting to overthrow it.
“My question is—taking into account the socialist experience and the very secondary aspect where Arundhati Roy might have a point based on what happened in China and also taking into account the particularity of India and the particularities of this country: what should communists say to the Arundhati Roys of the world in relation to this contradiction and why should they believe us?”
The next issue of Revolution will run a transcript of the answer given by Bob Avakian to that question.
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
Declared Enemy Combatant, Then Brutalized in Military Prison
Jose Padilla has now documented the torture that was inflicted on him during the 3 years and 8 months he was held in extreme isolation and interrogations in U.S. military prison.
Over 4 years ago, on May 8, 2002, Jose Padilla was seized and then made to “disappear” by federal agents as he arrived in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. George W. Bush declared Padilla an “enemy combatant.” Then-Attorney General Ashcroft announced in a press conference that Padilla had been plotting to use a “dirty bomb” on U.S. targets. No evidence was ever presented. Padilla, a Brooklyn-born U.S. citizen, was thrown in prison—and federal authorities denied him even the most basic rights to a lawyer, a hearing or a trial.
In a motion filed in federal court on October 6, 2006, Padilla describes how torture was used to break him down physically and mentally.
The following are some of the abuse reported in this legal document:
All this is the kind of torture, and these are the kinds of torturers, that the U.S. President and the U.S. Congress have worked to legitimize and protect from prosecution.
The tortures and cruel treatment that Padilla describes are acts that have long been categorized as war crimes under both the U.S. War Crimes Act and the international treaties called the Geneva Conventions. And these are exactly the kinds of tortures and cruel treatments that the White House intends to legalize retroactively, by having the wording of War Crimes Act rewritten in the new Military Commissions Act.
While Padilla was being held and tortured, with no rights at all, a federal court case was filed challenging his imprisonment without trial. The White House moved to prevent the Supreme Court from ruling on whether a president could seize and hold U.S. citizens like this, without charges, by officially pressing charges against Jose Padilla in November 2005. This after holding him for almost 4 years of imprisonment and torture. There are now plans to bring Padilla to trial in January 2007. The U.S. government did not actually charge Padilla with planning any armed attacks within the U.S.—despite the public accusations for years associating him with plans for so-called “dirty bomb” attacks. And yet he still faces life in prison if convicted of the charges they did make.
Throughout the last 4 years, the U.S. government has never presented any evidence to back any of their accusations against Padilla. There have been reports that the U.S. government forced other prisoners, under torture, to implicate Padilla, but such coerced statements prove nothing other than the cruelty and ruthlessness of the U.S. government.
The motion Padilla’s attorney filed demands that all charges against Padilla now be dropped because of the “outrageous government conduct.”
* * * * *
The motion filed in U.S. District Court in Miami on Padilla’s behalf is available online: http://www.discourse.net/archives/docs/Padilla_Outrageous_Government_Conduct.pdf
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
New Study Reveals:
654,965. According to a new study, this is how many Iraqi civilians have died, between the U.S. invasion in March 2003 and July 2006.
The study, released October 11 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, identifies these deaths as “in excess” of the number of civilian deaths that could have been expected based on pre-war mortality rates. And it is three times the number of deaths that the same researchers estimated in a 2004 study they did which covered Iraqi deaths from 2002–2004.
These deaths are a direct consequence of the U.S. war and occupation which has brought bombings, shootings, torture and roundups plus all the massive destruction of infrastructure and the accompanying disintegration of the health, sanitation, housing, and food systems.
The figures compiled in this study also include people killed in the sectarian violence that has erupted since the war began. This factional fighting is also a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation, which has fostered and unleashed, then alternately backed and raided, various competing militias, death squads, and warlords that target rival groups as well as innocent civilians.
The Johns Hopkins study used scientific statistical sampling methods which are internationally accepted. The estimate of 654,965 was extrapolated based on representative samples of 50 clusters randomly selected from among the 16 government jurisdictions (“Governorates”) in Iraq. In each cluster, people in 40 households were personally interviewed and death certificates were examined. The total samples were 12,801 individuals in 1849 households throughout Iraq.
Previously, the most well known non-government tally of civilian deaths in Iraq—of 50,000—was done by Iraq Body Count. But this number is based only on compiling media reports—which do not accurately reflect the total number of deaths.
Despite the fact that this new report is the most comprehensive and scientifically rigorous study done on civilian deaths in Iraq, it has come under severe attack. Not surprisingly, U.S. President Bush dismissed the new study, saying its methodology was “pretty well discredited.” Bush stands by the figure of 30,000 civilian deaths, put out by the Pentagon. Even if this figure were true, it would be horrible enough. But the U.S. government has released almost no scientific data to back up their statistics, other than numbers of Iraqi bodies that have been delivered to morgues in Iraq. This is in line with U.S. General Tommy Franks proclaiming at the beginning of the U.S. invasion in 2003, “We don’t do body counts.”
What should we believe? Systematic, scientific research? Or statistics from a president who initiated this war based on blatant lies about weapons of mass destruction and fabricated stories of Iraqi ties to Al Queda?
654,965. And the death toll continues to mount, every day, every hour—of Iraqi men, women, and children killed in an immoral, unlawful, and criminal war being carried out by a U.S. superpower hell-bent on carving out an unprecedented world empire.
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
The U.S. government is charging someone with treason—resurrecting an extreme and very rarely used legal charge. This is an ominous development where the U.S. government intends to assert and exercise the power to hunt down, imprison, and potentially execute someone simply because of their public statements.
The man charged in this case is Azzam al-Amriki (formerly known as Adam Gadahn), a 28-year-old U.S. citizen raised in southern California who converted to Islam. Announcing this indictment on October 11, 2006, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said that al-Amriki is charged with treason because “he chose to join our enemy and to provide it with aid and comfort by acting as a propagandist for al Qaida.” Al-Amriki has now been added to the U.S. government’s “Most Wanted Terrorists List.”
U.S. Attorney Debra Wong Yang of the Central District of California said, as the indictment was announced: “The charges returned today by a federal grand jury demonstrate that the criminal justice system will not sit passively by while a United States citizen engages in such activities.”
The “activities” Yang referred to are simply speech. Al-Amriki is not accused of planning or participating in any attacks. He is accused, as McNulty made clear, of being “a propagandist”—who allegedly made statement upholding armed attacks on U.S. targets, claiming support for al-Qaeda, and calling on U.S. soldiers to desert. In fact, the only evidence filed against him with the grand jury was five videotapes containing statements he made on behalf of al-Qaeda.
Al-Qaeda is a completely reactionary group that does not represent the interests of the masses of people anywhere in the world. But the U.S. government's charge of treason, punishable by death, against an alleged supporter of al-Qaeda for making public statements is a dangerous precedent. In announcing the indictment, McNulty deliberately described the charge of treason as “exceptionally severe.”
This treason law has not been used since the early 1950s, at a time when the U.S. ruling class was seriously considering launching a new world war against the then-socialist countries, the Soviet Union and China. Hysteria and punishment over “treason” played a part in fanning the great repression and anti-communist political witchhunts of that time—where critical thinking was suppressed and tremendous conservative conformity was demanded of everyone.
The Bush administration is now applying this charge of treason to an alleged supporter of the al-Qaeda jihadist movement. But it is clear that influential and outspoken forces within the U.S. are demanding that this charge of treason be applied far more broadly—to threaten and repress many different political forces within the U.S.
The fascist mouthpiece Ann Coulter has appeared over and over on television and in the press to insist that the great bulk of the Democratic Party are simply traitors who should be treated as criminals. In her book Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, she writes, “The inevitable logic of the liberal position is to be for treason.” In a 2005 speech at the University of Florida she said, “They [liberals] are always accusing us of repressing their speech. I say let’s do it. Let’s repress them.”
The Christian fascist lunatic-and-presidential-adviser Pat Robertson argued on his 700 Club TV show (Dec. 7, 2005): “One of the fundamental principles we have in America is that the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces and attempts to undermine the commander in chief during time of war amounts to treason. I know we have an opportunity to express our points of view, but there is a time when we’re engaged in a combat situation that carping criticism against the commander in chief just doesn’t cut it.”
The next day this accusation of treason was seconded on the Fox Channel when the raving right-wing commentator Bill O’Reilly said: “The ACLU is doing what they think is best for the country they envision, not the country we have now, but certainly is aiding and abetting the enemy…”
After the World Can’t Wait movement placed full page ads in major newspapers like the USA Today and New York Times, these ads and the signatories to World Can’t Wait’s call were denounced by Gary Bauer, a prominent Christian fascist and former Republican presidential candidate. Of the ad, Bauer is quoted as saying: “If that’s not treasonous, I don’t know what is.” (See “Anti-Bush Ad, Call for Ouster ‘Treasonous,’ Says Bauer,” Agape press service, October 5, 2006.)
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
Part 3: Dungeon “Justice” and Slave Labor
This series is based on a 141-page report, “Abandoned & Abused: Orleans Parish Prisoners in the Wake of Hurricane Katrina,” released on August 10, 2006, by the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project. Based on questionnaires received from 1,300 prisoners, as well as interviews with current and recently released Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) prisoners, the report contains extensive and damning testimony and evidence of the inhuman and racist torture-like conditions and treatment that OPP prisoners have been subjected to. Part 1 of this series, “Locked Cells in Rising Water,” tells how prisoners were abandoned when Katrina hit and water flooded into the prison, and recounts how deputies later came back and used mace, tasers, batons, and shotguns against prisoners who were struggling to survive. Part 2 is about how prisoners were evacuated under inhuman and brutal conditions. And Part 3 tells the story of how thousands of prisoners have been strewn about the state, left with no legal representation, and how prison labor is an integral part of the New Orleans prison system.
448 dollars. This is how much Greg Davis owed in court fines. And this is why he was in Orleans Parish Prison when Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005. It was seven months later, in March 2006, when he was released. And he got out only after Tulane Law School students took on his case. When the students first talked to Greg Davis, he didn’t have any idea why he was still being held in prison.
Many other prisoners evacuated from OPP have ended up spending months in prison on minor charges without seeing a lawyer or appearing in court. It was like being thrown in a dungeon—with no lawyer, no contact with the outside world, no way to reach family, no way to get any kind of justice.
Many of these prisoners had not even been found guilty of any crime. And when they finally had their “day in court,” many had already served more time in prison than they ever would have received had they been found guilty of the crime they were charged with.
85 percent, 75 percent, 9 months. 85 percent of people arrested in New Orleans are too poor to hire their own lawyers and need to be represented by a public defender.
And how has the public defender’s office been funded in New Orleans? Almost entirely from fees attached to traffic fines.
So in the months after Katrina, with no revenue from traffic violations, the public defender’s office lost 75% of its attorneys. This left thousands of New Orleans prisoners, who were now in other facilities across the state, stranded without any access at all to legal counsel.
From September 2005 until June 2006—for nine months, there were no criminal trials in New Orleans. And the court system in New Orleans is now backed up with some 6,000 cases. The makes the “right to a speedy trial” or even the right to a hearing nothing but a cruel joke. Prisoners evacuated after Katrina had to wait 9 or 10 months to appear in court. They were stuck in prisons all around the state and because there was no space in OPP, they were unable to return to New Orleans, even if they had a scheduled court hearing.
The ACLU report “Abandoned and Abused” quotes Calvin Johnson, Chief Judge of the Criminal District Court in New Orleans. Talking about how they had a limited number of jail spaces, he said, “We can’t fill them with people charged with minor offenses, such as disturbing the peace, trespassing or spitting on the sidewalk… I’m not exaggerating: There were people in jail for spitting on the sidewalk.”
What this means is that thousands of people were kept in horrendous prison conditions, locked away with no access to a lawyer, with little or no contact with their families—for as many as 10 months, for something as minor as spitting on the sidewalk!
398 dollars. Pearl Cornelia Bland’s story is profiled in the ACLU report. She was arrested in August 2005 on a charge of possessing prohibited drug paraphernalia. When she was arraigned on August 11 she plead guilty as charged, and the judge ordered that she be released on August 12 for placement in the intensive drug rehabilitation program. The judge waived fines and fees for Pearl Bland because she was indigent. But she was not released. Why? Because she owed $398 in fines and fees from an old conviction.
Along with thousands of others, Pearl Bland was evacuated after Hurricane Katrina. In June 2006 she contacted the ACLU from the prison she had been evacuated to in Avoyelles Parish. At that point she had spent more than 10 months in jail for her failure to pay $398 in outstanding fines and fees. Finally, on June 28, 2006, an attorney from the Tulane Law Clinic appeared in court on her behalf and obtained a release order.
22 dollars and 39 cents. The city of New Orleans pays the Sheriff’s office $22.39 per day for each local prisoner that OPP houses. Before Katrina this came to about $100,000 a day. For each state prisoner housed at the jail, the state pays the city $24.39. And the city gets an additional minimum of $7.00 per day for each state prisoner who requires mental health care. For federal prisoners, including immigration detainees, the city can get nearly twice this much.
This “business side of incarceration” is reflected in the way the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriffs discuss the trafficking of prisoners.
Speaking of the period between 2000 and 2002, when the number of state prisoners housed at OPP dropped, then-Sheriff Foti said, “If you were in the stock market you would call this a slow-growth period.” And commenting on the fact that the amount of money received for housing federal prisoners was a lot higher than what they got from state or local prisoners, Foti commented that he “wished there were more high-profit prisoners.”
The Sheriff who came after Foti, Bill Hunter, said that “fewer inmates translates into less revenue for the jail.” And, as the ACLU report points out, “In fact, when the Sheriff’s office requests payment from New Orleans for housing city prisoners, the ‘invoice’ refers to prisoners as units and lists a ‘Unit Price’ of $22.39 per day.”
600,000–700,000 pounds. Prison labor has been another side of the business of incarceration at OPP. The Times-Picayune has reported on how private citizens and companies can hire prisoners to perform work at minimum wages. And from these wages the sheriff’s office can deduct living expenses, travel expenses, support costs of the prisoners’ dependents, and payment of the prisoners’ debts. Any remaining money, if there is any, goes to the prisoner.
As prisoners who had been evacuated after Katrina began to return to New Orleans, OPP quickly got back into the business of hiring out prison labor.
According to the ACLU report, OPP recently built an aquaculture facility—run entirely by prison labor. This is being used to raise about 600,000 to 700,000 pounds of tilapia fish per year.
When running for office in 2003, Sheriff Marlin Gusman had promised just this kind of profit making off of prisoners. He told the League of Women Voters, “I will work with the city administration to reduce the burden on the general fund and provide more prisoner labor to augment city services.”
So, after Hurricane Katrina, after the whole way that thousands of prisoners were abandoned and locked up with rising floodwaters, after the whole way they were brutalized and then cruelly evacuated and denied their rights—after all this, now as they are being returned to New Orleans, prison officials are accelerating the exploitation of their labor.
Sheriff Gusman promised to make the prisoners at OPP—the majority of whom have not even been convicted, or have been convicted on very minor offenses—available to be work crews for the cleanup and revival of the city.
This hearkens back to another period of rebuilding and betrayal in the South.
The ACLU report points out, “This use of prisoners amounts to modern slavery—or a throwback to the notoriously racist convict-lease and state-use prison labor systems that proliferated in the South after Reconstruction.”
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
It has been almost 5 months since the teachers and their supporters took over the Oaxaca City zocalo town square, shut down the highways, blocked government buildings and took over the radio and television stations, broadcasting the people’s voices, demanding a living wage, and uniting a movement around the demand that the governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO), be driven from office.
To this day, the teachers and the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) are refusing to back down from their demand that URO be driven out and this has Mexico’s rulers on the horns of a huge dilemma. The forces of the National Action Party (PAN), the party of President Vicente Fox and the President-elect, Felipe Calderón, are under tremendous pressure to resolve this situation, both because it would give them more credibility in establishing their ability to rule, but also because the “contagion” is spreading and the same contradictions that have given rise to this struggle in Oaxaca exist in other parts of the country. One pundit in Mexico, Rogelio Hernandez of the College of Mexico, gave voice to the dilemma: “Believe me, I don’t defend Ruiz, but forcing out an elected official will only legitimize a group that has acted outside the margins of the law.” (Quoted in SF Chronicle, 10/12)
In late September, several thousand teachers and the APPO marched out of Oaxaca and walked 480 km (about 300 miles) for 19 days through 25 pueblos to Mexico City. Despite a huge media campaign to instill fear of the caravan, the teachers’ caravan—headed up with a burro with huge ears ridiculing URO—was greeted by thousands of people in Mexico City. Crowds of thousands—which included many who had been part of the encampments organized by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) to challenge Calderón’s election, as well as UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) students, street vendors, and others—gathered and chanted “we are all Oaxaca.” The streets were festive with the sounds of firecrackers and car horns. People held up their homemade signs in support of the APPO and Oaxaca and against URO and Calderón and others greeted the caravan with red carnations and chrysanthemums.
They had to fight through police lines to arrive at the doors of the Senate. They chanted “Ulises has fallen and Calderón is next!” They had finally arrived in Mexico City. Since then, they have set up a planton—a blockade—in front of the Senate and have focused the eyes of the nation on what is decided there around this conflict.
What began as a local struggle has become to some extent a national concentration point of the very intense contradictions Mexico is experiencing now. The rulers are just coming off a fraudulent presidential election, and those who backed Calderón are having a very difficult time imposing him. The long history of exploitation, oppression and misery is calling out the people’s resistance. And the rulers just witnessed the end of the encampments and resistance for 45 days in Mexico City in support of the PRD presidential contender AMLO claims that he was denied victory through fraud. (See Revolution #59, 60, & 61.) The PAN, the ruling party, and the PRI (Party of the Institutional Revolution) which ruled Mexico for 70 years, are trying to forge an alliance and in doing so ace out the PRD (which is also a ruling class party but which has a different agenda for the country and which poses as representing the interests of the downpressed in Mexican society). But it’s not so easy, and forcing the PRI governor of a state to resign could torpedo this arrangement. At the same time, the costs of resolving this situation with the use of armed force against the people could be very high, heating up the social conflicts already at play.
All this is coming to a head as Calderón is trying to forge his new government which will take effect on December 1. The different forces among the rulers are contending over how to force through a resolution without bringing forth massive new explosions of struggle throughout the country.
* * * *
The Mexican rulers have mobilized major military force—and while the government is trying to negotiate some kind of deal, through all the maneuvering there is a major threat of clampdown and there has been occupation of indigenous communities by troops. On Sunday, October 1, military helicopters—like the military helicopters that shot tear gas into the teachers’ encampments this summer—were seen flying low when people and tourists filled the downtown area. Officials said that the helicopters were “refueling,” but the people saw this for what it was: an attempt to intimidate people into giving up their demand of driving URO out of office. A food vendor said, “This is just to intimidate us. Are we at war? Well, you know what, every night there are gun shots here.”
The government is exerting huge pressure on the masses to negotiate a resolution of the struggle, using carrots and sticks, but all under the looming threat of armed attack on the people.
Since the end of September the government has flooded the state with 20,000 troops and the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) in a military mobilization that had not been seen since the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas.
Troops have disembarked by sea, air, and land. Under this tremendous tension, the people have maintained their defiance. They have reinforced the barricades and called on surrounding areas to send human shields to protect the blockade in case of an attack. When the military helicopters started flying low, people painted huge messages on the pavement and the roofs of buildings: “PFP Bienvenidos a Oaxaca” (PFP—Welcome to Oaxaca) and “Fuera URO de Oaxaca” (URO—get out of Oaxaca”). Speaking about the threat of the use of armed force against the APPO encampment in Oaxaca, one of the striking teachers stated that the people have lost their fear: “We know that we are at a total disadvantage up against the PFP, but we think we will defend it with our lives.” (La Jornada, 10/14)
Last weekend, the newspaper La Jornada reported that they had received secret documents detailing plans to invade the center of Oaxaca City with over 2000 police and to retake the TV and radio stations that are in the hands of the people. The plan includes the use of paid paramilitary thugs made up of elite military personnel that would cause chaos and give an excuse for a massive invasion of the 20,000 military forces standing by.
Carlos Abascal, secretary of Gobernación (the Interior Ministry, which includes the PFP and other forces of the state), said, “In Oaxaca, the limit is very near” and that if the dialogue doesn’t work, they will use “the instruments of the State.” After months in which the rulers did little but hope the teachers would give up as has happened in previous years, Abascal is now working almost full time to impose a solution in benefit of the state’s interests. In the midst of this, police and undercover agents fired on the people connected to APPO in the city of Oaxaca, injuring 4 people, and further infuriating the people.
As we go to press the situation is highly charged and in flux. It has been reported in the U.S. press that the federal government and the teachers have agreed that the local and state police in Oaxaca should be replaced with a citizen commission and a federal police representative, but as yet there is no agreement and the situation is far from resolved. The demand that URO be thrown out remains the key demand of the teachers and APPO. The Senate has sent a government commission to investigate the status and situation of the government in Oaxaca and whether it should be dissolved and an interim governor appointed. The government has advanced offers of wage hikes if the teachers return to school on Monday, Oct. 16, but the teachers have stated that they will return to classes only after hearing the outcome of the Senate commission’s investigation around the dissolving of the URO government. The commission is not expected to report until Tuesday.
The three ruling parties are divided on what should be done with URO. The PRD insists that the only solution is to get rid of him. The PAN says “maybe” and hopes that he resign, with the leader of the party insisting that the dissolution of powers does not lie within the power of the Senate. The PRI expresses unconditional support for URO and other governors from its ranks. The head of the PRI party in the Senate, Emilio Gamboa, said, “I don’t think that through pressure by the teachers and a subversive group they should be able to overthrow a governor. I think it would be a terrible event for Mexico. If Ulises goes through pressure, who’s next? Next is the sitting president and after him the president elect, there’s no doubt.”
Oaxaca: The City and State
In Oaxaca, it is not just the capital city that is in resistance, but the whole state. The masses of peasants and Indians have been coming down out of the hills to the city, to strengthen the barricades. The army has been setting up checkpoints to keep people from coming down from the mountains, but someone commented: “What they don’t know is that most of them have already come down.”
In the Mixteca—an indigenous (Indian) peasant region in the mountains of Oaxaca, which is very poor, with large numbers of people having to migrate to El Norte—when the teachers marched through the region the people were heard saying, “We Mexicans have now awakened and we will achieve a new social order” and, “The APPO march has entered into the consciousness of the Mexicans. It’s started to leave its footprint to transform this nation through and through. That’s what we want, a revolt of ideas and a debate in the whole country to end the injustices.”
In the region of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, peasants and Indians continue mobilizing to block access to the valves and pipelines of Pemex, due to the damage this state-owned oil company has caused to crops and animals
From Radio APPO, calls go out for supplies needed at the barricades and support comes from the masses and other sections of the people: water, food, an elderly woman contributing her whole life’s savings—10,000 pesos in a plastic bag. At night, fires are lit at the barricades and those manning them sit and talk. Through the smoke, as people mill about, families can be seen bringing pots of food and coffee. Thousands have organized in the barricades, not sleeping, ready to be in the streets at any moment. As a man from the town of Miahuatlán commented, “They’ve created a psychosis in our children. They’re intelligent. They know that their parents go out at night, that they’re involved in this, that they might not come back. But in Oaxaca we are many thousands against hunger, against those in power that are on top of the whole people.”
Because the police no longer enter downtown Oaxaca, the masses apply law and order. With whistles they call for help to prevent crime. The APPO organized its own taxi fleet, and the street vendors, removed from downtown by the previous government, are allowed back in by the APPO administration. Some of these vendors were once loyal to the governor’s party.
Forces like the Mexican Human Rights League, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and José Luis Soberanes, the national human rights ombudsman, are investigating aggressions by police and paramilitaries dressed in civilian clothes against the movement, and calling for a political solution.
The Caravan to Mexico City
The march of 5,000 people from Oaxaca—teachers, mass organizations, APPO, peasants, workers, retired folks, etc.—traveled through the states of Oaxaca, Puebla, Morelos, and Mexico. They have had major and enthusiastic receptions all along the way—people lining the streets and highways, with cheers, firecrackers, food and water, and all kinds of material and spiritual support. APPOs have been organized in other states. For example, in Guerrero, another very downpressed and poor state, the local Asamblea is calling to run out the Secretary of Education. A marcher commented that “in the Senate they are afraid that the mobilization becomes ‘oaxacanized.’”
The media and PRI authorities have been building a fear campaign—saying the marchers are looters, violent, guerrillas, etc. But the people have learned some new things in this struggle: the government and the media lie. One concrete example put the lie to them: In the small village of El Pitayo, 4,000 marchers spent the night among the 500 residents—the other 500 live in the U.S. One resident, Concepción Colotla, contributed a half a ton of tortillas.
The march was well-organized including seven commissions: finances, food, press, transport, medical services, advance guard, and liaison with Oaxaca and Mexico City. Funds were raised in towns and along the highway among drivers going by. Along the way many people provided food and water. The Autonomous University “Benito Juarez” of Oaxaca loaned an ambulance and supplies — mainly long needles to lance blisters and drain out the liquid, and zinc oxide to dry them up.
Many have lost their jobs through the long resistance and plan to stay in Mexico City until the governor is run out. They have nothing to lose.
* * * * *
The situation in Mexico is very complex with lots of contradictions, motion, maneuvering, and difficulties on all sides. There are great material forces in motion, moving different sections of the population in different directions—forcing open cracks in the camp of the rulers, and bringing new allies to the fore in the people’s movement against the status quo.
The recent election juncture and resistance coincided with the Oaxaca movement, and things have busted out a lot more than was ever expected. It has gone from being an economic struggle to having a political character and has affected the internal security of the country. The outcome of this struggle is not yet clear. The masses are like a huge, powerful genie that has escaped its bottle through the course of the election turmoil of the late summer and early fall. This is a genie that can act unpredictably with tremendous power. The rulers are thrashing about with the bottle, looking for an outcome that will once again safely imprison the genie within the confines of the state institutions and reinstate the superstitious awe and the passivity it brings to enable the oppressors to govern and enforce the rule that goes against the interests of the masses broadly.
What will happen is not clear, but the question that is on the table is: what future will the masses of Mexico have? The strength and determination the masses have shown in Oaxaca and all this has brought is something that can inspire a great deal more struggle for a different future.
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
from a reader
"Extreme liberals, they have to look at this and start shaking in their boots."
- Pastor Becky Fischer in Jesus Camp
“Think of it as boot camp for the future army of God.”
- Neva Chonin, San Francisco Chronicle
Jesus Camp follows a group of young children to Pastor Becky Fischer’s “Kid’s on Fire Summer Camp” where kids are taught to become dedicated soldiers in “God’s army” and are schooled in how to take back America for Christ.
It’s easy to see the damage being done to these youth by the Christian fundamentalism being forced down their throats. Eleven-year-old Tori, one of the three children that the film focuses on, loves dancing to Christian heavy metal, but frets that it's not always easy to dance for God instead of "dancing for the flesh." Pastor Becky warns the kids of the dangers of Harry Potter. “Warlocks are the enemies of God,” she rails. “If Harry Potter were in the Bible he would have been put to death,” she tells the ten-year-olds.
However, the damage to individual youth is not the biggest horror. Pastor Becky says that she wants the same level of religious frenzy among the youth at her camp as exists at schools that train youth as Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombers. "I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are in Palestine, Pakistan and all those different places," Fisher said, mentioning that children in these countries are ready to put on bomb belts and carry AK’s. "We have to stand up and take back the land," she adds.
At the beginning of the camp the youth do a militaristic dance number, with the boys wearing combat fatigues and face paint. "We’re being trained to be God’s Army, ” one of the children says.
In one of the most chilling scenes in the movie, a counselor takes the stage and asks the 6- to 11-year-olds whether they are ready to “give their lives to Jesus.” He rants about how the enemies of God have taken religion out of the public schools and leads the youth in chanting to “break the power of the devil in this nation.” This reaches a frenzy level when the youth smash ceramic cups with the word “government” written on them while Pastor Becky starts shouting over and over into the microphone, “This is war! Are you a part of it or not!”
In another scene a counselor brings in a life-size cardboard cutout of President Bush. The children are told to “bless the President because he has surrounded himself with spirit-filled people.” The children lay their hands on the cardboard and are led to chant “one nation UNDER GOD” and “Righteous Judges” [this is a reference to the nomination of conservative Justice Alito to the Supreme Court which was taking place as the film was being made].
Becky Fischer and her camp are not just a small group of crazies. She is a foot soldier in the Christian Fascist movement.
Toward its end, the film shifts to a Colorado Springs mega-church run by Ted Haggard, a national leader of the Christian fascist movement. Thousands of people attend Haggard’s sermons, and he is the president of the 30-million-member National Association of Evangelicals. He is one of a group of right-wing Christians who talk to President Bush every week.
Haggard’s sermon was chilling. “We’ve decided that the Bible is the word of God, and we don’t need to have an assembly because we know what the Bible says.” This brought to mind all the things that the Bible does say—from the death penalty for homosexuals, rebellious children, and unbelievers, to the subservient role of women, to its instructions that slaves should obey their masters, even if they are cruel. “It’s massive warfare every day. Let the battle begin,” Haggard continues.
Training youth to be part of an army for god is part of a strategy that has been formulated by high-level operatives in the Christian fascist movement. Michael Farris, the founder and president of Patrick Henry College, named the movement to turn Christian home-schooled students into political operatives Generation Joshua. (In the Bible, Joshua was Moses’ military commander. Moses led the Israelites out of bondage and to the “promised land,” but it was Joshua who led them in seizing the land in battle.)
Farris is a long-time Christian fascist. He is a protégé of Tim LaHaye (author of the Left Behind series) and was chief counsel for Concerned Women of America. In 1983, he founded the Home School Legal Defense Association, which has helped pave the way for the growth of home schooling. In his book Generation Joshua, Farris writes that the home-schooling movement “will succeed when our children, the Joshua Generation, engage wholeheartedly in the struggle to take back the land.”
All of the students followed in Jesus Camp were home schooled. The number of home-schooled children has risen exponentially in recent years from a few tens of thousands in the 1980s to an estimate of somewhere between 1.1 million and 2.1 million, today. According to Jesus Camp, 75% of these children are home schooled by parents who are evangelical Christians.
A whole industry has grown up providing textbooks, videos, and other “educational materials” to Christian home schooling parents that teach why evolution is wrong, that the earth is only 6,000 years old, that the U.S. was founded as a “Christian nation,” that the Grand Canyon was formed by Noah’s flood, that humans coexisted with dinosaurs in the “Garden of Eden,” and other nonsense.
Lest anybody think this is a strategy without much chance of success, check out the impact this is having today. Farris’s Patrick Henry College, which caters specifically to home-schooled evangelical students, provided 7% of all White House interns in 2004. Twenty-two congressmen have employed one or more Patrick Henry interns, and a Patrick Henry graduate works on Karl Rove’s staff. Not bad for a school which accepts fewer than 100 students each year.
A political organization called Generation Joshua was formed in 2004. It sent teams of indoctrinated youth to help in Senate campaigns like those of Tom Colburn (who called for the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions) and Jim DeMint (who said that gays and unmarried pregnant women should not be allowed to teach in public schools).
Everyone who is concerned about the future needs to see Jesus Camp. It is shocking and scary to confront the mobilization of a Christian fascist movement in this country that is working to convert the U.S. into a Christian state. This is a movement, with backing from high levels of the ruling class, which has been built up over decades and is very determined to reach its goal. And, to be honest, they are very far down their road. Those who want to see a different future than the one planned by these would-be ayatollahs need to struggle with increased determination and a great sense of urgency to change the direction in which this society is headed.
* A madrassa is an Islamic religious school. During the 1980s, when Islamic forces armed and backed by the United States fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, a new kind of madrassa emerged along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, teaching a rigid form of fundamentalist Islam. Many of the Taliban were educated in these madrassas. [back]
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
A model of Tiktaalik roseae, depicted in what scientists believe to be the animal's environment about 375 million years ago.
In April, the science journal Nature published news of an exciting new discovery. A group of paleontologists had found fossilized skeletons of a 375-million-year-old fish that is an evolutionary intermediate between fish and the first early amphibians. (Amphibians are cold-blooded vertebrates, animals with a spinal cord that typically live on land but breed in water, like frogs and salamanders.)
H. Richard Lane of the National Science Foundation said of the new finds, “These exciting new discoveries are providing fossil ‘Rosetta Stones’ for a deeper understanding of this evolutionary milestone—fish to land-roaming tetrapods.” (The Rosetta Stone, found in 1799 with Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions on it, was key to the deciphering of hieroglyphics. Tetrapods are vertebrate animals with four limbs or limblike appendages.)
Shallow Water Fish
The new species has been named Tiktaalik roseae. The word Tiktaalik (pronounced tic-TAH-lick) means “shallow water fish” in the language of the Nunavut people who live in the Canadian arctic, where the fossils were found.
Tiktaalik appears to have been a predator from 4 to 9 feet long, with sharp teeth and a head resembling a crocodile.
From analysis of fossil evidence, scientists have known for some time that the early amphibians that first fully took to land (and that later gave rise to reptiles, birds, and all mammals, including humans) evolved from lobe-finned fish. Lobe-finned fish have fins supported by a central appendage—made of bones and muscles—that is potentially useful for supporting the body on land, and some of them developed the ability to breathe air.
Scientists can establish relationships between fossils by comparing their physical features and ages (and also living species). They can group and separate species and lineages according to features they share in common or don’t share, even drawing out a graphical picture of this called a phylogenetic tree.
Before the discovery of Tiktaalik, paleontologists had already found a series of evolutionary intermediates from the middle to late Devonian geologic period (365-385 million years ago) linking the lobe-finned fish to early tetrapod amphibians. But the understanding of the steps in the major transformations of anatomy had remained quite limited. Tiktaalik appears to be a clear intermediate in body structure and age, shedding new light on the transition. Dating methods place it in between a fish with some tetrapod traits—Panderichthys, which lived about 385 million years ago—and the first clearly tetrapod species, Acanthostega and Icthyostega, of 365 million years ago.
The exact ancestral lines and relationships of these various species is not fully fleshed out, and more remains to be understood. But as a whole they provide proof of the evolution of amphibians from lobe-finned fish.
Tiktaalik retains many features of fish—a primitive jaw, scales, bone structure indicating it had gills to breathe, etc. The placement of its eyes on the top of its head shows that it spent much time under the water at the bottom looking up. But Tiktaalik has a mobile neck and a rib structure more characteristic of early amphibians.
Most striking are Tiktaalik’s fins. The co-leader of the project that found the fossil, University of Chicago Professor Neil Shubin, said, “Most of the major joints of the fin are functional in this fish. The shoulder, elbow and even parts of the wrist are already there and working in ways similar to the earliest land-living animals.” Tiktaalik’s distal (farthest away from the wrist) fin bones resemble primitive digits, such as amphibians have.
Shubin believes the origin of land animals’ limbs probably involved further development and change of the features seen in the Tiktaalik fin.
Tiktaalik’s fin-limbs and skeleton indicate it “could support its body under the force of gravity whether in very shallow water or on land,” according to Farish Jenkins from Harvard University, co-author of the Nature article. Together, this evidence suggests Tiktaalik lived in shallow water but was also able to breathe air and may have even been able to move about briefly on land.
The Tiktaalik fossils were found on Ellesmere Island, 600 miles from the North Pole. This region contains exposed river sediments from the Devonian period, where fossils from the fish-amphibian transition were likely to be found. The scientists planning the search knew that during the Devonian, this part of North America had been part of a single land mass located at the equator, where it was known other species marking this transition had originally lived. That land mass has broken apart and shifted in the hundreds of millions of years since then to what exists now.
The Truth of Evolution
The Tiktaalik fossils are a snapshot of a transition which took place over tens of millions of years. It wasn’t “bound to happen” that fish evolved into tetrapods, but it did occur—through a whole process of genetic mutation, natural selection, and other evolutionary processes.
The transition from water to land is almost certainly an example of “adaptive radiation.” This is a well-known process in evolution whereby creatures that evolve certain novel traits (such as primitive limbs to walk or ways to breathe air, arising from genetic transformations and mutations that are inheritable) are able to move into new habitats with new survival advantages (due to new food sources, less danger of predators, less competition with other species, etc).
Being able to live in previously unoccupied habitats, first in shallow waters and then on land, would likely have given a survival advantage to the creatures undergoing this change, and therefore a “reproductive advantage,” allowing the newly inherited features to be spread through the population. Under these conditions, arising species can relatively quickly (in some cases in a time span of only thousands of years) bud off other new species in the bush of life.
The Tiktaalik finds have happened at a time when evolution and the scientific method itself are under attack from religious fundamentalists, from the President on down. And the Creationists, including “intelligent design” forces (who argue life is too complex to have evolved and must be the work of a supernatural designer, i.e., “God”), have attacked the significance of the Tiktaalik.
But this new discovery knocks even more holes in the claims of Creationists that the fossil record doesn’t show transitional links between such different forms of life. As Michael Novacek, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, said in the New York Times, “We’ve got the Archaeopteryx (transitional fossil linking reptiles to birds), an early whale that lived on land, and now this animal showing the transition from fish to tetrapod. What more do we need from the fossil record to show that the creationists are flatly wrong?”
To be clear, it is not the case that the Tiktaalik find is important because evolution needs more confirmation. All lines of scientific inquiry from every field of science for the past 150 years have firmly established that evolution happened, just as firmly as we know that the earth isn’t flat. The Tiktaalik finds provide more insight into how life evolved:
First, in an overall sense, scientists have found key evidence of transitional intermediate fossils linking lobe-finned fish to tetrapods, once again confirming life has evolved through a process of “descent with modification,” as opposed to notions of any intelligent design or creation.
Second, the finds further fill in the picture of specific form changes and timing in this profound transition of life from water to land. Tiktaalik features are snapshots in the evolution of fins to limbs, in skull shape, development of a skeleton that supports air breathing, etc. And scientific dating methods also place Tiktaalik fossils as intermediate between the more fish-like fossils and the clearly tetrapod fossils that have already been found.
Finally, Tiktaalik limbs and other structures reveal (as have many other discoveries) evolutionary pathways where ancestral features and structures with certain functions can become modified, through genetic mutation and the process of natural selection, to allow entirely new functions—opening up the possibility of speciation and adaptive radiation.
Learning about the truth of evolution is essential if people are to have a scientific and accurate understanding of the world and how it changes.
(We urge readers to delve deeper into the exciting world of evolutionary science. See Ardea Skybreak’s book The Science of Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, published by Insight Press. Go to www.insight-press.com for more information.)
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
First in a series
Revolution #66, October 22, 2006
Monday night, September 25. New Orleans Saints against the Atlanta Falcons. First game of the 2006 football season. Home advantage.
Who could forget the horrifying scene at the Superdome a year ago? The sight of 30,000 people, overwhelmingly Black and poor, packed into the stadium in the most inhumane conditions — brought to mind images of a modern day slave ship. Victims of Hurricane Katrina abandoned by the government, brutalized by the police, and heartlessly evacuated.
$185 million was spent on renovating the Louisiana Superdome. $94 million of this came from FEMA—the agency of Homeland Security which oversaw the criminal neglect of the people of New Orleans after Katrina and is still failing to really help people move back and get their lives back together.
An ESPN announcer says: “The most daunting task is to scrub away memories of the Superdome as a cesspool of human misery.”
But nothing, let alone a re-make at the scene of the crime, will erase the nightmare memories of those who were subjected to the more horrific conditions in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina. And nothing can—or should—let us forget the crimes the government carried out against the victims of Katrina.
* * *
Meanwhile, cheers to Fab 5 Freddy for confronting Bush Sr. on the war in Iraq.
Former host of Yo! MTV Raps, Fab 5 Freddy, was at the Saints opening game with MTV’s CEO Judy McGrath, ex-Viacom CEO Tom Freston, and Viacom’s John Sykes. When the three stepped on to the field to hear performances by U2 and Green Day, George Bush Sr. walked by. Barbara—who people will remember said “things were working out well” for the victims of Katrina packed into the Houston Astrodome—didn’t seem to be around at the time. Bush Senior had been invited to do the opening coin toss at the game that decides which team will have possession of the ball first.
Fab 5 Freddy told the New York Post, “I got in his way and [yelled], ‘We need to bring the troops home!’” According to Freddy, Bush Sr. replied “We must win this war.” Fab 5 Freddy said he reiterated his call to bring the troops home to Bush, who was being shuffled away by associates. And Bush then came back and said, “I don’t really have anything to do with it.”