The Grand Rapids Infoshop, the Bloom Collective, will be hosting a speaker later this month on tour with the US/Mexico Solidarity Network.
The event is entitled, “Sowing Struggle: Urban and rural social movements in Tlaxcala, Mexico,” and will feature Luz Rivera Martinez of the Consejo National Urbano Campesino (CNUC).
Luz Rivera Martinez will speak about her 20 years of experience constructing autonomy, organizing outside the electoral system, and resisting free trade. Luz is an inspiring speaker and her talk will have important lessons for anyone interested in women’s, peasant, and labor movements.
According to the Bloom Collective Facebook event page:
During the Mexican Revolution support for Emiliano Zapata was strong in Tlaxcala, and under the slogan of “the land belongs to those who work it” many peasants occupied the plantations their families had labored on as serfs for generations.
Today, the Revolution lives on through the work of the Consejo Nacional Urbano Campesino (CNUC). Luz established CNUC in the early 1990s to coordinate resistance to the impending North American Free Trade Agreement, especially regarding its dismemberment of Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, which enshrined peasants’ right to communally own the ejido farm lands redistributed during the Revolution.
As CNUC’s lead organizer, Luz has worked tirelessly to demand government accountability, defend family farms, resist the use of GMO seeds, and build inspiring, community-based autonomous projects. CNUC has a long history of disposing of corrupt leaders, democratizing the budget, coordinating community-driven infrastructure projects, including peoples’ history in education, and expanding access to healthcare.
Luz and CNUC also work closely with the Apizaco merchants union, a bus-drivers’ cooperative, and the National Assembly of Braceros. CNUC is also a member of the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign, an international network of organizations struggling against neoliberalism and for autonomy from the grassroots.
This event is free and open to the public, although donations will be accepted. Luz will also be bringing items from Mexico to sell.
The Bloom Collective
Wednesday, April 17
8 Jefferson SE, Grand Rapids
This article by Robert McChesney is re-posted from ZNet.
In 1787, as the Constitution was being drafted in Philadelphia, Thomas Jefferson was ensconced in Paris as this young, undefined nation’s minister to France. From afar he corresponded on the matter of what was required for successful democratic governance. The formation of a free press was a central concern. Jefferson wrote:
The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.
For Jefferson, having the right to speak without government censorship is a necessary but insufficient condition for a free press and therefore democracy, which also demands that there be a literate public, a viable press system and easy access to this press by the people.
But why, exactly, was this such an obsession to Jefferson? In the same letter, he praised Native American societies for being largely classless and happy, and he criticizes European societies—like the France he was witnessing firsthand on the eve of its revolution—in no uncertain terms for being their opposite. Jefferson described the central role of the press in stark class terms when he described its role in preventing exploitation and domination of the poor by the rich:
Among [European societies], under pretence of governing they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate. This is a true picture of Europe. Cherish therefore the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them. If once they become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress, and Assemblies, judges and governors shall all become wolves. It seems to be the law of our general nature, in spite of individual exceptions; and experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.
In short, the press has the obligation to undermine the natural tendency of propertied classes to dominate politics, open the doors to corruption, reduce the masses to powerlessness and eventually terminate self-government.
Jefferson was not alone. In the early republic, with no controversy, the government instituted massive postal and printing subsidies to found a viable press system. There was no illusion that the private sector was up to the task without these investments. For the first century of American history, most newspapers were distributed by mail, and the Post Office’s delivery charge for newspapers was very small. Newspapers constituted 90 to 95 percent of its weighted traffic, yet provided only 10 to 12 percent of its revenues.
As Jefferson noted in his assessment of the situation in 1787, one group definitely benefits from a lack of journalism and from information inequality: those who dominate society. The Wall Street banks, energy corporations, health insurance firms, defense contractors and agribusinesses are Jefferson’s wolves. None of them desires a journalism that will engage the electorate and draw the poor and working class into the political system. They might not say so in public, but their actions speak louder than words. Journalism? No, thank you.
The extent of the crisis in journalism is underappreciated by most Americans, including many serious news and political junkies. The primary reason may well be the Internet itself. Because many people envelop themselves in their favored news sites and access so much material online, even surfing out onto the “long tail,” the extent to which we are living in what veteran editor Tom Stites terms a “news desert” has been obscured. Moreover, using dissident websites, social media and smartphones, activists have sometimes “bypassed the gatekeepers” in what The Nation’s John Nichols calls the “next media system.” Its value is striking during periods of public protest and upheaval, but the illusion that this constitutes satisfactory journalism is growing thinner. Nothing demonstrates the situation better than the release by WikiLeaks of an immense number of secret U.S. government documents between 2009 and 2011. To some this was investigative journalism at its best, and WikiLeaks had established how superior the Internet was as an information source. It clearly threatened those in power, so this was exactly the sort of Fourth Estate a free people needed. Thanks to the Internet, some claimed, we were now truly free and had the power to hold leaders accountable.
In fact, the WikiLeaks episode demonstrates precisely the opposite. WikiLeaks was not a journalistic organization. It released secret documents to the public, but the “documents languished online and only came to the public’s attention when they were written up by professional journalists,” as journalist Heather Brooke put it. “Raw material alone wasn’t enough.” Journalism had to give the material credibility, and journalists had to do the hard work of vetting the material and analyzing it to find out what it meant. That required paid, full-time journalists with institutional support. The United States has too few of these, and those it has are too closely attached to the power structure, so most of the material still has not been studied and summarized for a popular audience—and it may never be in our lifetimes.
Moreover, there was no independent journalism to respond when the U.S. government launched a successful PR and media blitz to discredit WikiLeaks. Attention largely shifted from the content of these documents to overblown and unsubstantiated claims that WikiLeaks was costing innocent lives, and to a personal focus on WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange. Columnist Glenn Greenwald was only slightly exaggerating when he stated, “There was almost a full and complete consensus that WikiLeaks was satanic.” The onslaught discredited and isolated WikiLeaks, despite the dramatic content that could be found in the documents WikiLeaks had published. The point was to get U.S. editors and reporters to think twice before opening the WikiLeaks door. It worked.
It seems obvious that if the Internet is really reviving American democracy, as its celebrants claim, it’s taking a roundabout route. The hand of capital seems heavier and heavier on the steering wheel, taking us to places way off the democratic grid, and nowhere is the Internet’s failure clearer or the stakes higher than in journalism.
The Internet and the broader digital revolution are not inexorably determined by technology; they are shaped by how society elects to develop them. Reciprocally, our chosen way of development will shape us and our society, probably dramatically. We ought to be debating a number of policy issues and suggesting the type of reforms that could put the Internet and our society on a very different trajectory, changing America for the better and making it a much more democratic society. Yet none of these policy reforms has a chance because of the corruption of the policy-making process.
This situation results not necessarily from a conspiracy, but from the quite visible, unabashed logic of capitalism itself. Capitalism is a system based on people trying to make endless profits by any means necessary. You can never have too much. Endless greed—behavior that is derided as insanity in all noncapitalist societies—is the value system of those atop the economy. The ethos explicitly rejects any worries about social complications, or “externalities.”
Capitalists are constantly locating new places to generate profits, and sometimes that entails taking what had been plentiful and making it scarce. So it is for the Internet. Information on it is virtually free, but commercial interests are working to make it scarce. To the extent they succeed, the GDP may grow, but society will be poorer.
Pause to consider how far the digital revolution has traveled from the halcyon days of the 1980s and early 1990s to where it is today. People thought that the Internet would provide instant free global access to all human knowledge. It would be a noncommercial zone, a genuine public sphere, leading to far greater public awareness, stronger communities and greater political participation. It would sound the death knell for widespread inequality and political tyranny, as well as corporate monopolies. Work would become more efficient, engaging, cooperative and humane. To the contrary, at what seems like every possible turn, the Internet has been commercialized, copyrighted, patented, privatized, data-inspected and monopolized; scarcity has been created. One 2012 survey concludes that digital technologies, far from relieving workloads, have made it possible for the typical American worker to provide as much as a month and a half of unpaid overtime annually, just by using their smartphones and computers for work at all hours while outside the workplace: “Almost half feel they have no choice.” The economy is topped by gazillionaires who have succeeded in creating digital fiefdoms and adding to the GDP, but the public wealth is much less. Our wealth of information is increasingly accessible only by entering walled gardens of proprietary control feeding into monopolistic pricing systems. To make the Internet a capitalist gold mine, people have sacrificed not just their privacy—and to skeptics, their humanity—but much of the great promise that once seemed possible.
To win any of the Internet policy fights will require a broader political movement motivated by a general progressive agenda, not one specifically focused on the Internet or media. Only then will there be the enormous numbers possible to defeat the power of big money. As the legendary community organizer Saul Alinsky put it, the only thing that can beat organized money is organized people, lots of them.
In “normal” times, such movements are mostly hypothetical in the United States. The political economy has been successful enough to prevent a groundswell of grassroots popular opposition. But these are not normal times, and we are getting further away from normal with every passing day. One need only look at the great protests of 2011—the likes of which we have not seen for decades—against rampant inequality, corporate domination of the economy and politics, a deathlike embrace of austerity, endless war making, and a stagnant political economy that has no apparent use for young people, workers or nature.
Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz captured the spirit of the protest movements in the United States and worldwide in 2012:
Underlying most of the protests were old grievances that took on new forms and a new urgency. There was a widespread feeling that something is wrong with our economic system, and the political system as well, because rather than correcting our economic system, it reinforced the failures. The gap between what our economic and political system is supposed to do—what we were told that it did do—and what it actually does became too large to be ignored. … universal values of freedom and fairness had been sacrificed to the greed of the few.
Those primarily concerned with Internet policies and hesitant to stick their toes into deeper political waters need to grasp the nature of our times. This isn’t a business as-usual period, when the system is ensconced and reformers need the benediction of those in power to win marginal reforms. The system is failing, conventional policies and institutions are increasingly discredited and fundamental changes of one form or another are likely to come, for better or worse.
Can one reform the Internet and make it a public good with capitalism still intact? Information technology accounts for some 40 percent of all nonresidential private investment in the U.S., quadrupling the figure from 50 years ago. Internet-related corporations now comprise nearly one half of the 30 largest firms in the U.S. in terms of market value. If one challenges the prerogatives of the Internet giants, odes to the catechism notwithstanding, one is challenging the dominant component of really existing capitalism.
This is an important question, too, for those who have paid little attention to Internet policies but are deeply concerned about injustice, poverty, inequality and corruption. At times, one senses among such activists the celebrants’ notion that digital technologies can create a new capitalist economy that is dramatically superior and that the existing Internet giants are allies, not adversaries, in creating a new friendly capitalism that will deliver the goods. The logic is sound: In the past, massive investments in railroads and automobiles (and related spin-off industries) propelled entire eras of capitalism to much higher growth rates and standards of living. When seeing the enormous investments in information technology, one wonders why it can’t be that way again, and this time without all the environmental damage? The problem is simple: Despite endless claims about the great new capitalism just around the bend thanks to digital technologies, there is little evidence to back them up. In particular, the Internet giants comprise 13 of the 30 most valuable U.S. firms, but only make up four of the 30 largest private employers. There is clearly a lot of money for those at the top—who want to keep it that way—but little evidence that it is passing benefits down the food chain. Quite the contrary.
Efforts to reform or replace capitalism but leave the Internet giants riding high will not reform or replace really existing capitalism. The Internet giants are not a progressive force. Their massive profits are the result of monopoly privileges, network effects, commercialism, exploited labor, and a number of government policies and subsidies. The growth model for the Internet giants, as one leading business analyst put it, is “harvesting intellectual property,” i.e., making scarce what should be abundant.
Internet and media issues must be in the center of any credible popular democratic uprising. Given the extent to which the digital revolution permeates and defines nearly every aspect of our social lives, any other course would be absurd.
For an increasing number of people, the logic suggests one thing: It is time to give serious consideration to the establishment of a new economy. “The capitalist system was able to thrive, on and off, during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries,” Jerry Mander wrote in 2012. “But it’s now obsolete, nonmalleable, and increasingly destructive.” Capitalism “had its day. If we care about the future well-being of humans and nature, it’s time to move on.”
Mander’s conclusions elicit incredible fury in the contemporary United States. Capitalism has become what Mander terms “a kind of ‘third rail’ of politics—forbidden to touch.” He acknowledges, “It remains okay to critique certain aspects of the system,” but the capitalist system itself “occupies a virtually permanent existence, like a religion, a gift of God, infallible.” The reason is obvious: Those in power do not wish the system that makes them powerful to be questioned. Keeping capitalism off-limits to critical review is essential for that system, because it generates demoralization, disengagement and apathy. This is not a political economy that can withstand much engaged political participation.
During the depths of the Great Depression, Keynes wrote an extraordinary essay acknowledging that economists, as well as business and political leaders, had been woefully wrong about the economy and how to make it work for the bulk of the population. “The decadent international but individualistic capitalism, in the hands of which we found ourselves after the war,” Keynes wrote in 1933, “is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous—and it doesn’t deliver the goods.” He argued that what was necessary was a wide-open period of debate and experimentation because the existing theories and policies had proven so disastrous and bankrupt.
What Keynes proposed in the early 1930s is precisely the approach we need today. We need to be open-minded and to experiment. We have to escape the shackles of the current system and see what can work. We “need to imagine a different social order,” Chris Hayes writes, “to conceive of what more egalitarian institutions would look like.” Certain values appear in most writing on the subject, especially from economists like Richard Wolff, Juliet Schor and Gar Alperovitz:
- The wealth of a community has to be controlled by the people of that community.
- Decentralized and local community control should be emphasized, with the state reinforcing local planning.
- There must be a strong commitment to a variety of cooperatives and nonprofit organizations.
Democratic control of enterprises by their workers is imperative.
Environmentally sound production and distribution must be emphasized.
In the American context, such words can make someone question an author’s sanity; they seem so far removed from existing reality and conventional wisdom. But beneath the surface, there has been a rise in new kinds of economic ventures. In distressed communities like Cleveland, they are a source of promise for the future. We are beginning to develop some experience about what a democratic, post-capitalist economy might look like and how it could function. There will be markets, there will be for-profit enterprises, but under the overarching logic of the system, the surplus will be mostly under nonprofit community control.
Absolutely central to building this new political economy will be constructing nonprofit and noncommercial operations to do journalism, produce culture, provide Internet access and serve as bedrock local institutions. These can range from community radio and television stations and Internet media centers to cultural centers, sports leagues and community ISPs.
Left on their current course and driven by the needs of capital, digital technologies can be deployed in ways that are extraordinarily inimical to freedom, democracy and anything remotely connected to the good life. Therefore, battles over the Internet are of central importance for all those seeking to build a better society. When the dust clears on this critical juncture, if our societies have not been fundamentally transformed for the better, if democracy has not triumphed over capital, the digital revolution may prove to have been a revolution in name only, an ironic, tragic reminder of the growing gap between the potential and the reality of human society.
Below is a list of new materials that we have read/watched in recent weeks. The comments are not a “review” of the material, instead sort of an endorsement of ideas and investigations that can provide solid analysis and even inspiration in the struggle for change. All these items are available at The Bloom Collective, so check them out and stimulate your mind.
Behind the Kitchen Door, by Saru Jayaraman – With all the talk about eating healthy and eating local, one would think that there would be lots of discussion about how workers are treated at restaurants. Well, this is exactly what one gets with this new book that exposes the restaurant industry in the US. More importantly, this powerful book is about the experiences and courage of workers who have joined one of the fastest growing unions in the country, the Restaurant Workers Centers United. Restaurant workers are one of the few industries that do not pay minimum wage and utilize a disproportionately large number of recent immigrants, thus allowing them to further take advantage of workers. An excellent book for those who care about justice when eating out, those who care about worker rights and those looking for inspiration from workers who have organized themselves to fight for dignity.
Edible Landscaping, by Rosalind Creasy – This book is packed with ideas for how to use urban space for growing food using non-traditional methods. Challenging the notion that vegetable gardens must be in rows and not mixed with other plant life, this book demonstrates that we all could grow more of our own food and create beautiful urban spaces at the same time. While the book tends to offer some ideas for those with more stable incomes, one can still use the ideas presented to design food-growing spaces wherever they live. Edible Landscaping is a valuable resource for anyone interested in local food production and food justice.
Everyday AntiRacism: Getting Real About Race in School, edited by Mica Pollock – In Everyday Antiracism leading educators deal with the most challenging questions about race in school, offering invaluable and effective advice. The contributors describe concrete ways to analyze classroom interactions that may or may not be “racial,” deal with racial inequality and “diversity,” and teach to high standards across racial lines. Topics range from using racial incidents as teachable moments and responding to the “n-word” to valuing students’ home worlds, dealing daily with achievement gaps, and helping parents fight ethnic and racial misconceptions about their children. Questions following each essay prompt readers to examine and discuss everyday issues of race and opportunity in their own classrooms and schools. An valuable resource for educators, parents and student who are committed to racial justice.
How Racism Harms White Americans (DVD) – Distinguished historian John H. Bracey Jr. offers a provocative analysis of the devastating economic, political, and social effects of racism on white Americans. In a departure from analyses of racism that have focused primarily on white power and privilege, Bracey trains his focus on the high price that white people, especially working class whites, have paid for more than two centuries of divisive race-based policies and attitudes. Whether he’s discussing the pivotal role slavery played in the war for independence, the two million white Americans who died in a civil war fought over the question of slavery, or how business owners took advantage of the segregation of America’s first labor unions and used low-wage, non-unionized black workers to undercut the bargaining power of white workers, Bracey’s central point is that failing to acknowledge the centrality of race, and racism, to the American project not only minimizes the suffering of black people, but also blinds us to how white people have been harmed as well.
This video is re-posted from The Real News Network.
Every year Palestinians and solidarity activists commemorate the Land Day events of 1976. This year the demonstrations seem as relevant as ever, while Israel pushes to confiscate additional Bedouin land and to expand colonies.
This article by Vandana Shiva is re-posted from ZNet.
“Monsanto is an agricultural company. We apply innovation and technology to help farmers around the world produce more while conserving more.” “Producing more, Conserving more, Improving farmers lives.”
These are the promises Monsanto India’s website makes, alongside pictures of smiling, prosperous farmers from the state of Maharashtra. This is a desperate attempt by Monsanto and its PR machinery to delink the epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India from the company’s growing control over cotton seed supply — 95 per cent of India’s cotton seed is now controlled by Monsanto.
Control over seed is the first link in the food chain because seed is the source of life. When a corporation controls seed, it controls life, especially the life of farmers.
Monsanto’s concentrated control over the seed sector in India as well as across the world is very worrying. This is what connects farmers’ suicides in India to Monsanto vs Percy Schmeiser in Canada, to Monsanto vs Bowman in the US, and to farmers in Brazil suing Monsanto for $2.2 billion for unfair collection of royalty.
Through patents on seed, Monsanto has become the “Life Lord” of our planet, collecting rents for life’s renewal from farmers, the original breeders.
Patents on seed are illegitimate because putting a toxic gene into a plant cell is not “creating” or “inventing” a plant. These are seeds of deception — the deception that Monsanto is the creator of seeds and life; the deception that while Monsanto sues farmers and traps them in debt, it pretends to be working for farmers’ welfare, and the deception that GMOs feed the world. GMOs are failing to control pests and weeds, and have instead led to the emergence of superpests and superweeds.
The entry of Monsanto in the Indian seed sector was made possible with a 1988 Seed Policy imposed by the World Bank, requiring the Government of India to deregulate the seed sector. Five things changed with Monsanto’s entry: First, Indian companies were locked into joint-ventures and licensing arrangements, and concentration over the seed sector increased. Second, seed which had been the farmers’ common resource became the “intellectual property” of Monsanto, for which it started collecting royalties, thus raising the costs of seed. Third, open pollinated cotton seeds were displaced by hybrids, including GMO hybrids. A renewable resource became a non-renewable, patented commodity. Fourth, cotton which had earlier been grown as a mixture with food crops now had to be grown as a monoculture, with higher vulnerability to pests, disease, drought and crop failure. Fifth, Monsanto started to subvert India’s regulatory processes and, in fact, started to use public resources to push its non-renewable hybrids and GMOs through so-called public-private partnerships (PPP).
In 1995, Monsanto introduced its Bt technology in India through a joint-venture with the Indian company Mahyco. In 1997-98, Monsanto started open field trials of its GMO Bt cotton illegally and announced that it would be selling the seeds commercially the following year. India has rules for regulating GMOs since 1989, under the Environment Protection Act. It is mandatory to get approval from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee under the ministry of environment for GMO trials. The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology sued Monsanto in the Supreme Court of India and Monsanto could not start the commercial sales of its Bt cotton seeds until 2002.
And, after the damning report of India’s parliamentary committee on Bt crops in August 2012, the panel of technical experts appointed by the Supreme Court recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all GM food and termination of all ongoing trials of transgenic crops.
Monsanto’s seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides and agrarian distress which is driving the farmers’ suicide epidemic in India. This systemic control has been intensified with Bt cotton. That is why most suicides are in the cotton belt.
An internal advisory by the agricultural ministry of India in January 2012 had this to say to the cotton-growing states in India — “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.”
The highest acreage of Bt cotton is in Maharashtra and this is also where the highest farmer suicides are. Suicides increased after Bt cotton was introduced — Monsanto’s royalty extraction, and the high costs of seed and chemicals have created a debt trap. According to Government of India data, nearly 75 per cent rural debt is due to purchase inputs. As Monsanto’s profits grow, farmers’ debt grows. It is in this systemic sense that Monsanto’s seeds are seeds of suicide.
The ultimate seeds of suicide is Monsanto’s patented technology to create sterile seeds. (Called “Terminator technology” by the media, sterile seed technology is a type of Gene Use Restriction Technology, GRUT, in which seed produced by a crop will not grow — crops will not produce viable offspring seeds or will produce viable seeds with specific genes switched off.) The Convention on Biological Diversity has banned its use, otherwise Monsanto would be collecting even higher profits from seed.
Monsanto’s talk of “technology” tries to hide its real objectives of ownership and control over seed where genetic engineering is just a means to control seed and the food system through patents and intellectual property rights.
A Monsanto representative admitted that they were “the patient’s diagnostician, and physician all in one” in writing the patents on life-forms, from micro-organisms to plants, in the TRIPS’ agreement of WTO. Stopping farmers from saving seeds and exercising their seed sovereignty was the main objective. Monsanto is now extending its patents to conventionally bred seed, as in the case of broccoli and capsicum, or the low gluten wheat it had pirated from India which we challenged as a biopiracy case in the European Patent office.
That is why we have started Fibres of Freedom in the heart of Monsanto’s Bt cotton/suicide belt in Vidharba. We have created community seed banks with indigenous seeds and helped farmers go organic. No GMO seeds, no debt, no suicides.
Labor Solidarity and the Poor People’s Campaign: On the 45th anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination
On this day, April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee, in what scholars like William Pepper called a state execution. Pepper’s thesis, which is supported by sound sources, claims that the FBI and the State Police of Tennessee were involved in the assassination of Dr. King.
Whoever pulled the trigger(s) in the end is not as relevant as what brought Dr. King to Memphis in the spring of 1968. King came to Memphis to support sanitation workers who were on strike. The strike, which had been in effect for months before King came, was an important campaign, since the White power structure in Memphis was not going to allow the mostly Black sanitation workers to demand anything.
The sanitation workers struggle is well documented in Michael Honey’s book, Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign. Sanitation workers were faced with brutal working conditions and little pay. The call for a strike came when one worker was crushed inside of a garbage truck and no compensation was provided for his family.
The sanitation workers called for a strike and got lots of support from the community and some outside unions, but not as much support from organized labor as they had hoped. The lack of organized labor support was due to big labor’s relationship with the Democratic Party in the South, which continued to support racial apartheid in states like Tennessee.
The strike campaign expanded when the workers began targeting companies doing business in Memphis, such as Coca Cola, which Dr. King identifies as one of the corporations to boycott in his April 3 speech in Memphis.
King’s decision to come to Memphis was important on several fronts. First, it demonstrated the continued political maturation of the most visible Civil Rights leader at that time. King had begun to see that desegregation and civil rights were woefully inadequate as long as institutional racism was embedded in every major sector of American society, as long as the government spend billions on war on not social programs and as long as poverty plagued the Black community.
The second reason why King’s trip to Memphis was so important is that it signaled a growing realization that the civil rights movement needed to build a larger coalition of justice movements, like the labor movement.
In his book, All Labor has Dignity, Michael Honey demonstrates that King had a long relationship to organized labor, going back as far as the late 50s. However, King did not fully realize the power of organizing workers until later in life, particularly after he moved his campaign to the North and came to terms with the brutality of neoliberal capitalism in places like Chicago and Detroit.
King’s growing interaction with groups that had a class-based analysis is reflected in his later speeches and was the centerpiece for his Poor People’s Campaign, a campaign that King and others had been organizing for over a year before his assassination.
King and others wanted to make poverty and economic injustice the center of this campaign and wanted to bring over a million working poor, both employed and unemployed, to the nation’s capitol. King was calling for massive civil disobedience and for redistribution of wealth. Such a campaign scared the shit out of the power structure and even raised serious concerns for many of the mainstream liberal groups that King had been associated with, who felt that these were demands that they could not get behind.
King sought the support from as many unions as possible and travel the country to places like New York City to speak in front of labor groups to gain support for the Poor People’s Campaign.
In a speech he gave to Local 1199 in New York City on March 10, 1968, King said,
“When there is massive unemployment in the black community, it’s called a social problem. But when there is massive unemployment in the white community, it’s called a depression.”
And this is why we’re going to Washington. I wish I had time to talk to you about it in detail tonight. I’ve been through the ghettos of our nation, been in the Delta of Mississippi. I’ve been all over and people are frustrated. They’re confused, they’re bewildered, and they’ve said that they want a way out of their dilemma. They are angry and many are on the verge, on the brink of despair.
Now, I know that something has to be done. I can’t advise them not to riot. I don’t need to make a long speech tonight. You know my views on nonviolence. And I’m still absolutely convinced that nonviolence, massively organized, powerfully executed, militantly developed, is still the most potent weapon available to the black man in his struggle in the United States of America.
The problem with a riot is that it can always be halted by superior force, so I couldn’t advise that. On the other hand, I couldn’t advise following a path of Martin Luther King just sitting around signing statements, and writing articles condemning the rioters, or engaging in a process of timid supplications for justice. The fact is that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed……that is the long, sometimes tragic and turbulent story of history. And if people who are enslaved sit around and feel that freedom is some kind of lavish dish that will be passed out on a silver platter by the federal government or by the white man while the negro merely furnishes the appetite, he will never get his freedom.”
King was actually in Memphis on March 18, on the invitation from AFSCME and then again on April 3 of 1968, where he delivered his I’ve been to the Mountaintop speech, the day before his assassination.
What we can and must do on this anniversary and any future remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is not let anyone murder his message. We must keep alive the bold and brave analysis that challenged white supremacy and economic injustice. We must fight for freedom, for as King said, it will never be voluntarily given to us.
This article is re-posted from Eco-Watch.
Filmmaker Jim Tittle previewed his new documentary film, The Price of Sand, at the historic Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing, Minnesota, to a full house last week. With original interviews, coverage of recent events and local music about frac-sand mining, this visually rich 57-minute film explores the controversy surrounding frac-sand mining.
Minnesota and Wisconsin are experiencing a mining boom because both states have plentiful deposits of pure silica sand, a necessary component in hydraulic fracturing or fracking. A Minnesota legislator recently compared the current demand for frac-sand to a new gold rush. This session, the Minnesota Legislature is considering a one-year moratorium on silica sand mining to allow further study of potential impacts including health risks, depressed property values, excessive noise and truck traffic, water pollution and disruption of the tourist industry.
Tittle became interested in frac-sand mining two years ago after an oil company secretly acquired land near his mother’s house in Hay Creek Township, near Red Wing, MN. The company announced plans to build a 150-acre open pit industrial silica mine
As neighbors organized against the oil company, Tittle learned that mines were already operating in nearby Wisconsin. He produced a series of short YouTube videos on frac sand mining that got more than 10,000 views in the first three months. Current views exceed 55,000.
In November 2011, Tittle embarked on a more ambitious project, crowd-sourcing $6,800 in small donations to make his first feature-length documentary film, The Price of Sand. Tittle interviewed more than four dozen business owners, small town mayors, farmers and truckers. The Price of Sand tells the stories of real people and as Tittle says, explores “the real price of frac sand, not just in dollars, but in lives, communities and the future of our region.”
Silica sand from Minnesota and Wisconsin is transported by rail to fracking operations in North Dakota and Texas and other major oil fields. Huge trains carrying uncovered loads of silica travel through the Twin Cities, and can be seen regularly in the St. Anthony Park rail yards.
When frac-sand arrives at an oil field, it is mixed with water and chemicals, and injected into wells under high pressure. The hard, round grains of sand are wedged into cracks in the oil-bearing rock, and keep them propped open after the fracking fluid has been cleaned out. Oil and gas are then extracted.
To show what huge open pit frac-sand mines look like, Tittle had to be resourceful. Since many mines aren’t visible from public property, he built a custom mount for a sports action camera and attached it to small airplane. This low-altitude video footage presents a striking view of what may be in store for Minnesota.
The Price of Sand also includes Tittle’s original footage of airborne silica dust and microscopic sand particles. A University of Wisconsin Eau Claire professor explains how the dust affects humans,and why it is toxic. A Wisconsin farmer tells about the asthma she developed after a frac-sand mine opened near her home.
Tittle realized that many of the small towns affected by the frac-sand boom have vibrant art communities. To encourage artists to express their opinions and find unique music for his film, Tittle sponsored a “Best Frac Sand Song” contest on his film’s Facebook page. Music from the contest is featured in the film’s soundtrack.
DVDs are available for purchase on the film’s website.