Saturday, August 22, 2009

My other other Blog

I've ended my long stretch as a bad blog-team member and added something to the Food blog my twitter friend Carlo was nice enough to invite me to join. You can read about me trying Atlanta BBQ here.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Democracy is in the Streets

This one goes out to all the wanna-be revolutionaries, frustrated leftists, and boomers who are still living in 1968 I have met during my time in the humanities in the American Public University system.

It is time for us to get off our asses.

Have you been watching the news? Have you been monitoring any of the many forms of informational media we have available to us in our 21st century ecology of spectacle?

If you have, then you will have noticed what I have noticed, namely, that we are getting our asses kicked. The crazy right has organized to intimidate, harass, and shout down the elected officials we worked so hard to elect over the last two campaign cycles, as those officials campaign for health care reform that will literally save lives.

Its working. The shouting mobs are swinging the media narrative to the right, creating the impression of "grassroots" opposition to reforming our expensive, broken, ineffective health care system. Robert Reich fears lawmakers may be swayed to pass weak, ineffective reforms, reforms that might provide little real help for under-insured and uninsured Americans and thus weaken public confidence on the very notion of "health care reform."

There is only one way to fix this, we need more bodies in the town-hall meeting rooms, we need our people to be in front of the TV cameras, not just theirs!

We need to get off our asses.

So lets go! We've been waiting for this! The good fight waits to be fought, Democracy is in the Streets again.

You can find health-care events and meetings near you via the FireDogLake campaign silo widget, which I've embedded on the right hand side of this blog, or via HCAN, which also has tips for effective actions in the face of the Teabag mobsters.

This is our fight to lose. Get mad. Get organized.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Gates, the Police and the History of Race in America

As usual, I'm well behind the ball on this, but I did just want to say one thing about the whole Henry Louis Gates affair. There has been a lot of good commentary on this, but one thing I've been surprised by is the constant drumbeat of "responsible" advice dished out by many well-meaning commentators, white and black alike, who stress the importance of never, ever raising your voice to a Police officer. One particularly egregious example can be found in the recent Salon article by Gene Lyons: Black men, white cops and media mind readers. In it Lyons tells us that Gates' arrest is justified since, "it's not a crime to act like a jackass, but cops can't have crowds seeing them cowered by a loudmouth." Lyon's conclusion is that the whole arrest can be blamed squarely on Gates, who could have avoided the incident if he had acted with, "a degree of self-control."

In other cases, the advice to avoid raising one's voice to, arguing with, or otherwise aggravating officers of the law is explicitly positioned as "survival advice" for Black men. In a recent piece on NPR, King Anyi Howell describes the techniques he has developed for dealing with the undue Police attention he finds he attracts simply by "Living While Black." He writes:
And I've been profiled so often that I've almost developed an art form for asserting my rights, while not offending the officer. I read recently that black men, when pulled over, have to be some odd combination of Samuel L. Jackson and Sydney Poitier, the former being known for his aggression and the latter for his eloquence. It may sound appalling to some, but that's exactly the tightrope I've learned to walk in dealing with the blue line of racial profiling. There's an unspoken understanding between the offending cop and me when I get pulled over. We both know it's not necessarily because a taillight is out, or my music is playing too loudly. And we both know it will likely end up in some sort of search. I don't act indignant because I'm the Jedi master, employing mind control to get us both out of the situation as quickly as possible.

I'm disturbed by two things here, the first is the notion that some or all citizens should show automatic and unquestioning deference to officers of the law, men and women who, if I understand the constitution correctly, are ultimately answerable to the sovereign people of the United States of America, bound to "Protect and Serve" not to command arbitrary respect based on arbitrary authority. The second is that no one seems to want to mention that when people of color are advised that they must always be careful not to act in a manner that might be seen as aggressive or threatening in the presence of a Police officer, this advice, however well meaning and well informed by the situation at hand it may be, implicitly conditions people to think of themselves as second-class citizens, hemmed in by arbitrary power beyond their control. I'm reminded of a passage from Richard Wright's "The Ethics of Living Jim Crow," in which he describes his Mother's actions after she found him injured in a fight with white boys in the neighborhood.
She grabbed a barrel stave, dragged me home, stripped me naked, and beat me till I had a fever of one hundred and two. She would smack my rump with the stave, and, while the skin was still smarting, impart to me gems of Jim Crow wisdom. I was never to throw cinders anymore. I was never to fight any more wars. I was never, never, under any conditions, to fight white folks again. And they were absolutely right in clouting me with a broken milk bottle. Didn't I know she was working every day hard in the hot kitchens of white folks to take care of me? When was I ever going to learn to be a good boy? She couldn't be bothered with my fights. She finished by telling me that I ought to be thankful to God as long as I lived that they didn't kill me.

It is difficult not to feel some sympathy for Wright's mother here, after all, she just wants to keep her boy safe. But can a system that makes keeping your loved ones safe mean teaching them to be subservient ever be just? In the end, the responsibility for changing that system rests with us, the sovereign people of the United States. Why do I fear with have become too fond of the shallow stability provided by our near-police-state to take up that responsibility and see justice served.