Review of Men, Mobs, and Law: Anti-lynching and Labor Defense in U.S. Radical History

One section of Master’s Thesis research included legal analysis with politically chilling effects upon anti-lynching and leftist movements in The United States of America from Harper’s Ferry to the late 1960’s. The way in which the law laid force upon the bodies that broke with expected behavior and the means by which police facilitated “corrective” behavior for these violations differs drastically. And dialectically. To suppress suppress either labor, racial and leftist political struggles is to repress the three progressive aspects of society that have been driving emancipatory ideas and practiced encased in institutions. Because of this, of course I read Men, Mobs, and Law: Anti-lynching and Labor Defense in U.S. Radical History by Rebecca N. Hill.

Hill’s history has a pleasantly journalistic feel to it. The main characters are of course detailed – the defendant – whomever she’s describing in that section – and the plaintiff – the State in the place that they were arrested – are both described and all their relationships therein. Who were those involved with the crime, what brought them to where they were right before they just were arrested, arraigned, transported, processed, jailed, for days, jailed, for months, jailed, for years, then brought to court, etc.etc.

It combines this description of their time and those around them with legal exegesis of the components of the case. This combined with local socio-political factors involved in such cases, such as the manner in which popular movements sought to impress their influence upon the courts, had a number of legal implications on social movements involved with race, class and/or labor struggles. While Sacco and Vanzetti are name dropped in the highly underrated, very funny movie War On Everyone with Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Pena. Anyway…

 

The book is organized around several dramatic cases, starting with John Brown’s trial. From this heavily police involved form of repressive behavior the the narrative goes to where the law played a less involved roll. Lynching throughout the south in the United States was a true horror that kills thousands of African Americans. Police slowed their roll on the road towards justice and would often falsify or forge documentary information, not intervene while militant bigots exercised their force upon them and, well, all around oppressed them.

Racial, Labor and Leftist social justice warriors – a term that ought be associated with esteem – sought to impress their demands that the state more justly apply it’s purported universalism, an inherently conservative position. The other says the state is unjust and wants to replace it along democratic, centralist lines rather than plutocratic ones – the preconditions for the most active ire. Labor wants the state to join its side in demanding more benefits but are not connected to the Leftists either because of lack of class conscious or lack of practical use value in linkage, a serious consideration to make considering the effect that associating with Reds could have on your work life.

While John Brown clearly engaged in the behavior he was charged with, the obverse is true of the Haymarket Martyrs. Their case spawned a holiday celebrated nearly everywhere in the world except the USA – May Day. If you’re not familiar with the case, you should look it up. What I found interesting as though Hill does not spend much time on the material evidence, of which there is none, and instead writes about the majority-immigrant leftist responses. Of course every people has a culture, but that of Chicago – the Second City, was unlike many others due to the habitus brought over from the German revolutionaries. Gymnastic, parading, militant Anarchist culture practiced by Germans and a number of other stocks from across the shore shocked the sensibilities of the local bourgeoisie.

After an incident that was, essentially, the pretext for the public execution of the Opposition Leadership Anarchist newspapers fought not just to save members but leaders. Newspapers which shared workers stories about their conditions, pay, bosses and other things now started to include writing from those inside. Rather than becoming devotional, religious character associated with sublimity their writings subverted the abolitionist martyrs sharing stories and expressions of romantic, sexual love. Anarchist newspapers published the love letters of the Chicago anarchists and their wives and girlfriends, another practice that was taken up by most socialist defense campaigns.

Hill’s history ends with the equally tragic tale of the Black Panther’s Party. With an emphasis on the Party’s organized defense apparatus raised to support George Jackson, Hill shows a man imprisoned due to political caprice rather than justice. Like The Haymarket Martyrs and Sacco and Vanzetti, his writings behind bars and public adoration of Assata were used as gristle to further help people find sympathy in their story. Having recently read their published letters and accounts – I get it!

All these and more arrests and trials forms responses with historically dependent forms of action. Organizations along class and/or racial/ethnic alliances were highly limited by place, history and the interests and powers of the state and local elite. In some cases the popular struggles were able to save the subject of their organization. Other’s no.

Hill’s history shows radicals creating interconnected networks of protest and resistance activity as well as volunteering time and donating money for massive fundraising undertakings that spanned the globe. Success in obtaining government guaranteed rights often depended on how loud and disruptive supporters could be to the normal functioning of government.

Mixed in is to this journalistic, documentary history are comments pulling together some of the themes evident in today’s world:

“Once admired as the heritage of manly individual freedom, Puritanism in the 1920s became associated with the Ku Klux Klan, along with fundamentalism, racism, capitalism, and prohibition.”

The heritage of many organizations racism persist in various ways. And yet to point this out is to become a public persona non grata. Example K:

Example on the opposite side? Trump the tee-totaller and Sacrosanct “States Rights” Sessions just did a 180 on over over a decade of federal drug enforcement policy.

These broader points build and intersperse Rebecca Hill’s account. Along with the legal proceedings, are a few interesting asides as well – such as The Red and the Black being George Jackson’s favorite novel.

Her conclusion does not lay out a platform upon which a group might be able to exercise their collective social power in order to achieve this, nor should she have to. The conditions by which that they would need to be changed would always depend upon the locals activities. What she does, however, is provide a powerful ethical imperative:

“The capacity to imagine a different world might begin with the ability to refuse to accept the characterizations of people who were willing to recklessly go against the rules of the society in which they live as wicked, misguided, wrong, foolish, or criminal. It is much harder to see the face of the “handsome sailor” on an imperfect human than it is to accept the underlying message of the modern-day nation-state that the only real heroes are the cops and soldiers who protect “us” from the rest of the world”

Review of October: The Story of the Russian Revolution

 

Based on a number of recommendations and awareness of his political bent, for quite some time I’ve been intending to read the science fiction writings of China Midvale. I’d yet, however, to get around to doing so when I saw that Verso Press was holding a contest to promote his new book  October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. I submitted an entry and sure enough was one of the lucky winners of a free signed copy of this work of non-fiction.

Excepting events in America, the buildup to and aftermath of the Russian Revolution is probably my most read about world historical event. I’ve read books solely on the subject written by those that were present, such as John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World or Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution as well as essays by Emma Goldman and Victor Serge and, of course, Lenin’s Essential Works. I’ve read a few left and right wing histories published after the 1990s as well. I share this to establish if not a specialization of knowledge on the issue, than at least an above average familiarity with the events one would expect on such a subject. Anyway, to the book…

As a whole October is a very different creature from most of the texts that I mentioned above. This, however, is not necessarily bad. Trotsky’s writing on this period is simply magisterial and Reed’s journalistic descriptions of the sundry meetings unrest are at times nail-biting. These men had clear agendas that were intimately tied to the events that they were describing. Mieville, it seems to me, is writing this as a means of popularizing knowledge about the events in Russia and trying to do so at a distance. Because of this, as well as what I believe is a desire to avoid getting caught up in the debates of that time through extended focus on particular persons/issues it lacks some of the same passion. And yet no matter what side of the political spectrum one is on, I feel that this could be appealing to even those that aren’t Reds. I expected some sort of propagandistic asides peppered throughout the book prior to reading it, but none were there.

I could see myself assigning this book for a history class as not only does he do such an even handed job, but also as there is a glossary of terms in the back that would assist those not versed with the terms of the revolution. After a very brief historical context, Mieville begins the Story of the Russian Revolution in February, following the first revolution. It closes eight months later, in October.

Instead of highlighting an identified-with hero (Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin,etc.), Mieville focuses on the sufferings of the soldiers being ground up by the Kaiser’s troops, the unrest of the peasants, the plight of the industrial workers in St. Petersburg and Moscow, the incompetence of the Kerensky government, the rifts between the socialist parties and within the armed services. In this Mieville does a great job and consistently uses the words of those he’s writing about. As a means for creating tension, however, this is not a great technique. Since the only real character development is that of the people of the city that once paid little heed to the Bolsheviks to then viewing them as representative of their political will – I found this somewhat disappointing as well. Not that the anecdotes aren’t fascinating or the style of writing isn’t good, however my familiarity with it all made me hope for something that this wasn’t. As such I’d say that this was more for those that were unfamiliar with the topic.

Review of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor is a history of the cultural and political forces that have shaped the African-American experience.

What sets Taylor’s book apart from others on the subject, however, is how far she goes beyond simply documenting the seemingly endless dimensions of racial oppression in the United States. Instead of just describing its dynamics, she also includes a class based method so that activists may contest it – a recurrent theme of Haymarket Press’s publications. Taylor starts her overview in the 1930s, when blacks were not given the same treatment as white workers during the New Deal. After a sufficient period of education, agitation and organization, however, blacks were able to so disrupt the normal functioning of governance that Lyndon Johnson had to address their grievances.

Taylor’s understanding of the manner in which capitalism operates in America is tied explicitly to racist ideology. Though only beginning in the 1960s, she points out how racist ideologies which use the “culture of poverty” argument to explain relative deprivation of the black community have a dual function in political discourse: not only do they serve to scapegoat African Americans for their conditions rather than lack of a full Reconstruction program, but, by racializing poverty, it also conceals white poverty. This designation of workers in the lowest income sectors as disposable thus obfuscates the structural dynamics of American capitalism.

Rather than merely focusing criticism just on whites, Taylor shows through a number of examples how the class differentiation which has taken place in the Black community since the Civil Rights Movement has mean that liberal black politicians who have come to power on the hopes of ameliorating problems in the black community have taken over the task of disciplining blacks. In addition to this she points out how black capitalism boosters going back to Garvey fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the economy that they were working in. Rather than upward mobility through this means, she endorses Liberation.

Taylor emphasizes the need for working class unity and then explains how “colorblind” language and politics in the US operates to stoke racial tensions and mystify historical relations. The language of colorblindness was first used by Richard Nixon and the Republicans. While a good means of mobilizing sentiment against racial discrimination, as the black civil rights movement became compromised and co-opted by capital, it came to replicate the same effects as the racial justifications of policy thru class-based discrimination.

If this seems removed from the present as there was a black president, it’s worth pointing out that during the tenure of Barack Obama African-American’s were disproportionately unaffected by the steps taken to bolster sections of the struggling economy, that Obama distanced himself from the needs and grievances of the black community, the Supreme Court has struck down sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act as no longer relevant and that in a number of NGOs point out that in historically racist places it is now increasingly difficult for people of color to vote or live without harassment.

While the hash tag first shared by Alicia Garza, #blacklivesmatter, has certainly been useful as an organizing medium – Taylor shows through historic examples of how such organizations have become co-opted and rendered a form of palliative care for the black community. In order to ameliorate these conditions, Taylor states, black and white (and brown) class based unity is the answer. BLM has moved in that direction – their most recent platform contains a number of planks that speak to the condition of the working poor. However spreading solidarity has been a historically difficult task in America and given the wont of crypto-racists to tar and declaim BLM as a racist organization hints at the difficulties they face as they are currently composed.

*

Interviews with Taylor below:

http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35103-achieving-black-liberation-a-conversation-with-keeanga-yamahtta-taylor

https://roarmag.org/magazine/black-awakening-class-rebellion/

 

Noam Chomsky’s Love Poem to His Wife

That desire felt by imperialist Europeans when
First discovering a resource rich region
With a population still primarily organized along tribal lines
And no modern military apparatus
Is nothing next what I felt when I first laid eyes upon you.

My heart burns hotter for you
Than the napalm dropped
On civilian non-combatants and crops
Of Vietnamese and Cambodians
So that the U.S. could maintain
Military and economic influence
Near the regional centers
between with the world’s largest populaces.

Oh so unlike the hundreds of bodies
Of indigenous Guatemalan villagers
Tortured, killed and dumped in mass graves
By soldiers trained
At the School of the Americas
In order to protect U.S. investments
And overthrow yet another democratically elected
Avowedly socialist government,
I’ve never tried to hide my feelings for you.

Whereas newspapers
Such as the Wall Street Journal,
Washington Post and New York Times
All publish to serve the interests of the capitalists that
Control the world’s countries through their political cronies –
I have never said a word that could be construed as a lie
So when I say that I love you until the end of my life
You know that this is true.

Whenever I am around you
I feel like I am glowing –
A sensation similarly reported by those children
That have spent time playing on and around
The Russian tanks destroyed by the US’s
Depleted uranium shells in Iraq during
The first Gulf War –
And my life anxieties disappear
Like environmental activists in
South and Central America and Africa trying
To bring attention to the dispossession of indigenous peoples
And the destruction of their means of subsistence
For the benefit of foreign oil and mineral corporations.

Though you’ll never depend on me
In the same way that many
Third world satraps of US interest do –
For I cannot provide you with loans, guns, tanks, bombs
Computers, training, helicopters to throw dissidents out of,
Lists of people to be dealt with and other such spook stuff –
I hope you know that should things ever get rough
I will be the rock on which you can rely upon.

**

If you enjoyed reading this poem consider purchasing my first collection of love poetry or the first part of my serial novel.

**

Review of “Angela Davis: an Autobiography”

 

When you read an account of how someone describes the highs and lows of their existence in their early 20s it tells a lot about their character. Most people are trapped in the pursuit of selfish interests, a good job, obtaining good housing and a lover to share their time with. There is nothing wrong per se with such pursuits, however often there is no balance and actions to promote community development is ignored.

Angela Davis: An Autobiography is the inverse of this typical selfish pursuit of happiness, one informed by an insightful political and philosophical recognition that as long as historically repressed and exploited communities in the U.S. were politically and economically marginalized that she, as a black woman, would always be a second class citizen if not de jure but de facto. The personal narrative that frames it makes this book something beyond a jeremiad against American Society. Instead she describes how her hopes, dreams, and aspirations along with most others with dark skins were unable to follow through on them due to the oppressive ignorance of numerous Whites.

For many years Angela Davis studied under the German Marxist Philosopher Herbert Marcuse in Europe and in California. Distinguishing herself as a serious scholar in her field, she obtained entry into prestigious study abroad programs that placed her in the center of radical student life in Europe – an important connection for subsequent speaking engagement in support of legal defense fees – while also studying historical materialism. Her engagement with historical materialism, or the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism, combined with her desire for a practical outlet for her education besides being a professor is what drew her to become a member of the Communist Party USA.

Davis likes to conclude some of her anecdotes with a “lesson learned” message advocating steps to increase political awareness, make cadres function better, etc. There’s not enough of them where it reads like anecdotes mixed with catechism, but they do open up what I thought was a number of ambiguities and contradictions. In her description of working with SNCC and other parties, for instance, she claims that certain Black Nationalist groups are overly fixated upon the nationalist question, are unduly critical of socialism as a “white man’s thing” and the need for working with like-minded people. However these criticisms are said in such passing that they offer little in the way of political education to those uninitiated in the debates surrounding these and other topics.

One of the recurrent narrative elements of all of the Black Panthers stories is their arrest by police and being charged with crimes that courts of law subsequently are determine to not have been committed by them. Huey, Assata, the Panther 21, many others. Escaping with years of their lives in jails makes them a lucky one. George Jackson, for example, was killed while serving time. The prison guards staged a riot and shot him down. His death greatly affected Angela. They had formed a romantic relationship through their letters. While not able to make their affections physical, I found the connection evident from reading his letters mentioning her and her reactions here to be very compelling.

Marxist Paul Saba published a highly critical review of the autobiography in the first issue of Class Struggle magazine, stating that class which Davis praises the most and adopts is that of “…the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie, with firm reliance, not on the working class, but on the liberals, the intellectuals, lawyers and professors. This is combined with the condemnation of any movements among the people which base themselves on class struggle rather than the capitulation of the revisionists.” Considering the large amount of the book which is devoted to praising legal professionals and uncritically describing her academic studies with Herbert Marcuse, that the CPUSA has largely foregone working class and African-American struggles I think that this is a fair assessment. I think the criticism is, however, unduly harsh. While I’d agree to an extent with Saba’s claim that there’s a fair degree of distance between her and African-Americans generally – a result of her education and class privilege stemming from her profession – I think the book does great service to showing the traps and barriers faced by radical activists. One can certainly think that more should be done while still respecting the effort. Rather than performing the same old song and dance about the correctness of one’s foundation of political action, as Saba does, in order to claim theoretical superiority – I think it’s better to praise the exemplary courage and determination to better the world despite the risks inherent to one’s life and liberty. This perspective, critical but also respectful, seems to me to be on display in Shepard Fairey’s poster below.

Final note: Those preferring to read the book digitally can find a free copy here.

Review of The Autobiography of Assata Shakur

A former Black Liberation Army member that has obtained political asylum in Cuba for perceived lack of evidence for crimes connected to the murder of two police officers, Assata Shakur is a polarizing figure. She is still wanted by the FBI and talk of her possible return to America was discussed between respective nations bilateral trade meetings leading to online talk of her spiking to numbers not seen since legal defense committees received donations in her name for other sham trials in the late 1960s. Assata was one of many black political and cultural activists that were falsely imprisoned for hours to years based upon the whims of the judicial system. The Autobiography of Assata Shakur memoirs describes the evidence against her, the conditions of her trial, penetrating and poetic social insights, her treatment in the prison as well as her socialization with white communities under Jim Crow, her work with the Black Panther Party, etc. It is, another word, wonderful for touching on so many of the important issues of that epoch.

At a young age Assata describes herself as being very sensitive to the Jim Crow conditions which she grew up under. She tells of the isolations of being unable to play with neighborhood children because of her families purchase of a home in a white community. She describes how the low level of intellectual abilities that her classmates first had for her.  Later she will also describe in detail her close relationship to two of the five young girls killed in a church bombing that happened a short distance from her childhood home.

Yet her anger is not without a certain sense of revolutionary irony. Revolutionary as while recognizing the seriousness of the situation – racially informed class oppression – she is also able to recognize the base absurdity of its claims and the essential precariousness of the various power allegiances keeping it together. For example she describes going into a shoe shop in Montgomery with her friend as a young teen. A white clerk and overweight customer look at her in red-faced anger and terror quickly take on a tone of deference granted as they speak with a French affectation and claim to be from the Martinique. They are Caribbean, the social thought of the day went, therefore exotic and ergo not black. They are conversed with by the staff as they try on shoes.  Assata, at the time named Josephine, speaks in her best accent and finally breaks character. The initial angry attitudes return, however the girls can’t stop laughing. Now speaking in plain English, as they leave the store, she calls the people present out for their bigotry. There are many poetic turns of phrase and local color captured in these and other exchanges, all of which is to sound please but be immoral. Given these exclusionary experiences it is no wonder that she begins to have increased involvement in black nationalist cultural and political networks and organizations.

What makes this such a compelling book is not just the everyday heroics that comes to be displayed but also it’s structure. After childhood and arrest are covered the structure shifts to a back and forth between a horrifying depiction of what life is like in jail and narrative of her work as an activist. First one starts to become painfully aware of the cruelties of the treatment afforded her because she was a political prisoner, such as being forced to live in an isolation room for 21 months on end – a practice which was only stopped after a long struggle to get an independent investigator of the court to verify Assata’s claims. Following this Assata describes her work at a Black Panther Party breakfast program for children. She would wake up at 4am in the morning and cook for all of the children and come up with various educational programs for them to help get in the learning mood before going to school. She describes the paranoia and fears of briefly having to live an underground life as she’s just discovered that she’s again being promoted in the media as responsible for a crime that she’s not committed. And what helped her face such COINTELPRO actions? Her good skill set was recognized and she was promoted to New York to help the Party be more efficient.

Assata’s autobiography is good not only for the above, but she also reminds the reader that there were many others targeted for assassination, observation, infiltration, and social subversion through ruses, rumors, and other sorts of intelligence campaigns designed to delegitimize and destroy trust. She names three people that were connected to high ranking members of the Party that were used in FBI conceived plots to entrap or bring harm to Members. She is not, however, wholly uncritical of the Party. Some of the members are upbraided for their misogyny when she first arrives in New York. She eventually left the group as she found Newton’s ideology to be incompatible with her own, as she thought they needed to have less of a focus on the thoughts of a greater leader and more information on black history. Certainly anyone seeking to learn about black history is well served by reading this story and her other writings.

Review of Malcolm X Speaks

While a sophomore in college I’d read, of my own volition, The Autobiography of Malcolm X and was incredibly impressed with his intransigence will towards combatting cultural white supremacy and political/economic Jim Crowism. There were poetic qualities not only in the language recorded by Alex Haley and also in the courage Malcolm displayed in his decision to readjust his perspective from personal amelioration of systemic injustice through petty crime to Human Rights leader. I decided to read Malcolm X Speaks as it’s highly praised in George Jackson and Huey P. Newton’s autobiographies as an ur-text in their political development.

The speeches, letters and interviews contained in this collection all were made during the last eight months of his life. They follow his break with the Nation of Islam, his adoption of “True Islam” and the founding of his own organization, the Organization of African-American Unity. This group diverged radically from the Nation of Islam, was considered extremely dangerous by the FBI – which is no surprise as following his trip to Mecca and Africa, a continent heady from the number of anti-colonial nationalist revolutions which had recently transpired, Malcolm X transition from Black Nationalist to an Internationalist. In these speeches you can see the hopes that Malcolm had for the OAAU and how the Black Panther Party was in many ways an attempt to incarnate the political perspective described in these collected thoughts.

The historical materialist analysis contained within as well as the program to obtain it have deep overlaps with Marxist-Leninist modes of thought. This is not that surprising since Communists and Socialists have traditionally been the allies of those fighting for black liberation from white oppression, and also explains why he was frequently invited to speak at Socialist Clubs, was published in the Socialist press and why, following his death, the Socialist Workers Party’s Pathfinders press has published several book by and about Malcolm X.

Malcolm’s analysis recognized that there were direct connections between oppression of blacks in Mississippi and Alabama with imperialist military action by the United States in Africa. He makes a compelling case that Black people in America were analogous to native people in a colonial setting and went so far as to encourage the development of domestic insurgency to obtain political equity with whites in a manner akin to the Mau Mau’s should they meet resistance in obtaining it equally. Malcolm is incredibly dismissive of liberals and Democrats, pointing out how the Southern Wing of the Democratic Party, pilloried in public by their northern counterparts, were the privately acquiescent to their racism as it meant their maintenance of political power. Malcolm shows how a number of politicians are two-faced and manage to perpetuate a racist, imperialist agenda all while projecting the image of the White Savior. LBJ and JFK are singled out for excessive vitriol for their pseudo-progressivism.

As one can tell from reading the speeches and letters contained within Malcolm’s political rhetoric also shifted from Civil to Human rights. In this period. The stated purpose for this was so that more people would be willing to back proceedings against the United States in the UN International Court of Justice for Systemic Violation of Human Rights. While it’s debatable how effective this would be given that even today the politicians in the Federal Government are entirely dismissive of this body’s policy prescriptions, images and analogies he uses to explain this perspective are so incredibly powerful that it’s likely were he to have lived he’d have been able to create an organization that the U.S. Government would have to recognize and dialogue with.

Lastly, I want to point out that in here there is some amazing cultural analysis that is very much aligned with the tenor of the Frankfurt school but is done, IMHO, in a much more effective way due to the lack of obtuse language. Highly recommend this book to everyone!

First Seven Jobs; or How I Learned to Love Workers Collectives

While co-workers or workers in the same field will often talk about the conditions of their employment, most of the time “shop talk” gets shut down as a topic of conversation. Understandably so, as at least from my experience it’s primary functional is a form of catharsis rather than attempt to reach a solution to recurrent, everyday problems. Unions used to prove an avenue and forum for workplace issues, however as you can see from the below chart, many of those who first grew up in the 80s haven’t had such a practical-democratic experience.

Union Wages
Union density and wages over time – break this down into more complicated graphs and it gets even scarier

This directly relates to the crisis of legitimacy in political institutions that has been becoming more exacerbated as wealth inequality has reached dramatic proportions. If we value the preservation of the conditions which allow for the flourishing of genuinely democratic institutions, this much change and collective decision making must increase.

All that said, since a number of people are now posting on social media their first seven jobs, I wanted to do the same – but in such a way so that people will understand why I support unions/workplace democracy. I think the anecdotes herein will show that though management often views themselves as superior to “regular employees,” they are often not and thus the pay and power dynamic gap which exists is largely unjustified. Speaking of power dynamics at play, please notice how I’ve excluded my work experience in my current field education. What that means is up to you to figure out. That said, on to the first seven jobs!

(1) Regal Movie Theaters

My first “real” job, even though the pay wasn’t great I received a few cash bonuses as I always enthusiastically recited the upsell prompts we were supposed to say and mystery shoppers validated that I did this. That was nice, but working concessions in general was awful. The manager verbally degraded me for weeks after I’d unwittingly hit on his girlfriend at the ticket counter as I wasn’t yet in on the open secret. He’d frequently mess with my schedule. Sometimes, right after clocking in for a shift, he would told me to go home “because they were overstaffed”. I’ve worked in enough service jobs since to know that this is sometimes the case, however I was the only one that this ever happened to and he’d also consistently assign me to hours that were illegal under Florida law as I was 16.

Even at 30 hours a week, while being in 10th grade full time, the pay barely covered the cost of gas and insurance for my car. Employees frequently stole from the tills. One day I came in and learned that several cashiers and an assistant manager had been fired for this The girlfriend, of course, became the new assistant manager. Three months after I left, this manager was arrested for embezzling $40,000 from the operations.

(2) Taco Bell

I was awarded employee of the month three of the four months I worked here. I found out that one of the other drive-thru employees I sometimes worked with had a side job of selling marijuana while on the clock. The store manager had let the night manager know that this was OK as none of the other people who had worked there before Larry (not his real name) had done a job half as good as him nor stayed more than a month. Larry, who was so charismatic I admit I looked up to him a little, even managed to keep his job after he got caught being in collusion with one of the line cooks for occasionally not ringing up orders but making it anyway and pocketing the money after the split.

When I asked what was going to happen – she said that she was going to keep a better eye on him and then admitted that her job was primarily to keep the place running smoothly, and that meant little issues like those above, as long as corporate didn’t found out, was fine with her. She said after a preamble stressing her age and life experience, that she wasn’t paid enough to worry that much about these little things.

(3) PacSun

Four hours into my third day working, I informed the manager that I was going to clock out and take my break. He said that he was fine with my clocking out, but after I did so I was to work the next thirty-minute break mandated by Florida Law because they had to get the newest shipment out onto the floor. I said I wouldn’t do that. He said that if that was my attitude, then I should leave. I did.

(4) Books-A-Million

The cents-above-minimum wage pay meant again that morale was low and internal theft was high. One of the managers set the standards of the business operations by openly stealing CDs. He’d put them in the trash in the back office and recover them from the dumpster after closing. After I learned of this I explained to him that Napster made this unnecessary, but his motivation for the theft stemmed from resentment towards the company rather than need for the music.

About three months into my job a new store manager was brought in from another location. I didn’t realize this until a week after he left four months later, but he had initiated sexual relationships with two of the female workers there – 10 and 15 years his junior – by promising them raises and threatening to fire them if they said anything to anyone. He mistakenly mistexed, which lead confused new assistant manager to discover the situation and report it to HR in a fit of rage. The aforementioned manager was not fired, but moved to yet another store. I never investigated of something similar had transpired before or after, but the impression I received was that this company didn’t mind his sexual predation on subordinates as long as he was kept the books clearly updated and the procedures were properly followed.

(5) Hollywood Video

Before Netflix the people of Jupiter, Florida that wanted to get a movie to watch would usually be forced to encounter one of the creepiest and weirdest dudes I’ve ever met to date. He looked like Jeff Albertson from The Simpsons, had a taste for extremely graphic horror films like Face of Death and would make lecherous comments to the young girls that came in alone or in small groups. He would leave me alone in the store sometimes, saying he had to do paperwork in the back. I’d called out to him a few times while we were having an unusual for a Thursday rush but got no response. I went to the back and through the crack in the office area could see that he was pleasuring himself to paused security camera video of a girl that had come in maybe fifteen minutes earlier wearing a bikini top and daisy dukes. I said nothing, finished my shift, and then called in sick the next day. I called the HR department number in the paperwork I’d been given my first day and after told them what happened. After much awkwardness, they said there was nothing they could do about it as there was no real hard evidence or anyone to corroborate my story. I’m sympathetic to this line of reasoning, but it still didn’t sit right with me so the next day I called in again and said I wasn’t coming back and to please just mail my check to me.

(6) Starbucks

Unlike most of the above places, I genuinely liked working here. The tips we made at this time was made prior to the opening of a million other coffee shops in downtown Delray Beach and averaged about $4-5 cash an hour – so a whole extra 1/3 in addition to our base pay.

As part of a Sociology class at FAU, however, I researched the company and learned of a number of issues that reframed my perceptions. For one, just how profitable the company was and roughly how much they were making off of my labor. I did some statistical math based on their own figures and determined that they’d be able to give a wage increase of almost a dollar an hour and still be profitable. At the time they’d just decided to give all of their “partners” who’d been with the company more than a year an extra $1000, but as I was only there for 10 months I was excluded.

I also learned that the Ethos water that we stocked at the time, which had a retail cost of $2.60, had a production/distribution cost of $.07. Given that this marketed as a way of donating money to water-assistance NGOs in Africa and that the percentage turned over equated to $.05 I was rather bothered. I learned that other stores with people also becoming more aware of their exploitation and were unionizing. I tried, without any organizing experience, to do the same and had my hours cut to nothing for two weeks due to a “scheduling mistake”.

(7) HD Repair – Internet Marketing:

In retrospect it seems dumb on my part to trust business owner that asked me to do online reputation management in addition to the content marketing/SEO optimization that I was already doing for him. I had some reservations, but I really wanted to believe Robert Roxberry’s promise that the work I was doing would be that which would launch me into a much larger marketing/content production project that he described the outlines of and that I was able to easily fill in with my imagination. I admit it! I was taken in by the fantasy he presented.

Immediately after I’d finished a month’s of work for him and our contract for marketing services was over, he disconnected my company email, had security disallow me to enter the building to talk to him and threatened to call that cops from me and all because he decided he didn’t want to pay me the second payment on the contract we’d verbally outlined. It came out to me as loss of $3000. I spent some time researching how to take him to small claims court, but then decided to just chalk up the whole thing as a learning experience.

Amusingly enough a few months after I left a class action lawsuit was brought against him by unpaid sub-contractors. Another one was brought by one of the TV manufacturers he contracted for.

 

Review of The FARC: The Longest Insurgency

Written by an investigative journalist who’s spent decades with the FARC, including some times as their captive, Gary Leech’s book The FARC: The Longest Insurgency presents the largest and oldest Marxist-Leninist insurgency movement in North America. They are, I believe, second only in size in the world to the Naxalite movement in India. FARC-EP, the group’s official name, stands for Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army.

The origins of the group stemmed from the country’s gross economic inequality and lack of access campesinos had to fertile land. Since Independence, the descendants of the Spaniard ruling class used their access to capital and arms to dispossess indigenous peoples and peasants of their land. Purchasing foreign made goods and directing the state to invest more in men to protect private property than democratic institutions, uneven development transpired in a way that put the people at odds with the State. Inspired by the revolutionary movements in Latin American and abroad that followed the Second World War, the group started advocating and fighting on behalf of the agricultural workers.

The beginning of cocaine production in the Southern/Putumayo region in the 80s gave the organization a new influx of money. Such an influx of money wasn’t without additional problems – as narco-traffickers started buying large tracts of land and dispossessing others until they became the largest class of landowners in the country conflict between the two groups became inevitable. As the Medellin cartel had greater access to capital, they were dominated them though reached a modicum of peace as they needed to redirect their forces to fight the Cali Cartel, which had allied itself with the DEA and the Colombian Government. While reading I was bemused, though not surprised, that the growers in the region under the control of the FARC consistently made more money from their coca crops than did those under the control of the Cartels.

In discussing the issue of human rights as it relates to the FARC, Leech presents a view that is nuanced, yet does not get bogged down in the details. He shows how it conceives of itself, an alternative to the official state that functions as a judiciary and sponsor of economic development in the areas it controls. While he does find some faults with it, compared to the official Colombian state as well as its paramilitary apparatus it is adjudged as the superior adherent to human rights. It’s this and the long history of the organization which ought to justify the categorization of the guerillas as combatants rather than narco-terrorists or, alternately, just terrorists.

 

 

 

Leech addresses a number of the reasons why, despite their clearly not being as responsible for reprehensible acts of terroristic violence against civilian populations as right-wing paramilitaries, they are vilified. For one there is Colombia’s long history of violence against and assassinations of leftists. Such campaigns were not limited only to guerillas but also those journalists who brought greater clarity and context to the stakes of the violence in their writings. Operating under the dialectics of suspicion, those that were considered sympathizers were equated with the actual combatants and seen as fair game for AUC and others. Secondarily, as a covert organization it is difficult to hold press conferences and talk with reporters that are already wary of being seen as sympathetic to the FARC. As a result many reporters fail to investigate the veracity of the press conference spectacles held by the military. Third, the news largely reflects the political interests of the owners. Stories published and broadcast highlight the kidnappings by the FARC for ransom, conceived of as a just response to non-payment of taxes, and typically ignore those narratives about human displacement caused by corporately funded paramilitary operations. Thus the stories of rich people being kidnapped, an act which at it’s height peaked around the 1,200 mark and has since decreased to around the 100s, silences the between 3.2 and 4.9 million people that have been forced to relocate due to violence.

The relationship between the FARC and the Government as well as the United States role in providing assistance to the latter is another area the Leech extensively reports upon. Since the passage of Plan Colombia in 1998, which made the country the second largest recipient of U.S. aide, casualties have mounted and the FARC has lost much of it’s territory. As far as I’m aware the La Gabarra, False-Positives and other scandals that illustrate the depth of cruelty of the Uribe government haven’t made the news, though high profile scandals, such as the kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt and U.S. missionaries have despite the former issues being bloodier.

In his conclusion Leech is not hopeful that there will be peace anytime soon between the AUC, the FARC and the Government as the government has consistently pursued neo-liberal policies and made these exempt from negotiations during their peace accords. Since the conditions that lead to the FARC in the first place aren’t dealt with and the Colombian and U.S. government have made liability for engagement in civilian dispossessions and massacres to protect corporate profits, any future peace is likely not to be long-lasting.

Review of Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson

Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson are selected letters written by a Black Panther’s Party member who was not involved with the group on the streets of Oakland or elsewhere but one who nevertheless contributed to the group through his articles published through the Party paper. Jackson was convicted of stealing $70 from a gas station and was given a prison sentence of one-year-to-life of which he served eleven years.

The letters cover a five-year period and are addressed to people such as his mother and father as well as radical luminaries such as Angela Davis. In them he describes the psychological effects of being imprisoned by corrections officers that openly voice racist views and encourage violence between the inmates, how he has kept his spirit alive despite almost eight years being in solitary confinement, his views on Amerikan society, education, black culture and the affairs of the third-world. Throughout these letters he displays cutting insights gleaned from reflection on his experience as well as his prodigious reading.

In these letters we Jackson states familiarity with the works of Karl Marx, V.I. Lenin, Franz Fanon, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and others. These thinkers helped Jackson form a critical analysis of politics, economics, history, and psychology such that he believes that the current struggles for community patrols and armed self-defense from police action will one day turn into a more intensified militant struggle by linking the plight of the poor blacks in the USA to the colonized people abroad.

Making these connections between American military involvement in Indochina with police repression domestically is, he recognizes, incredibly dangerous to the status quo political establishment. He goes so far as to presciently state that t’s likely that he will be killed for stating his views through the articles smuggled out of prison and publicized through the Black Panther Party newspaper. Ten months after the publication of these letters, Jackson was killed allegedly trying to escape.

Despite the above statements about the content of the letters, the majority of them are not short essays by any means. A number of them deal with Jackson trying to proselytize to his father to adopt a more activist, militant stance for how he carries himself in the white world. His intentions are good, Jackson states, but he still defers to white cultural values of how to act proper rather than be assertive. This is considered preferable to the “niggerism” which Jackson decries, which is the replication of white predatory behavior by blacks upon blacks but it still, according to Jackson, perpetuates white supremacist thinking and action. When addressing himself to his mother Jackson is more gentle with in his imprecations

Jackson, like his hero Malcolm X, came to a viewpoint that advocated for black power, but not out of a sense of racial superiority but from a sense of radical revolutionary solidarity with those oppressed in the world. It is perhaps not surprising that he, like so many others that advocated this position in the 60s and were considered leaders of some sort, was murdered but through these at times banal and at times beautiful letters, we get a greater insight into a great soul.