Events This Week: (There are a lot more than these . . .)

Some events this week:

Global Climate Convergence is moderating a national 10 day series of actions intended to connect the environmental movement of survival with the movements for economic survival.  For the entire calendar of events please check the following site:
Some of the Chicago highlights include:

  • April 22 Earth Day march assembles 4:30 PM at Thompson Center; march 5:15 PM
  • April 25 Critical Mass Bike Ride begins at Daley Plaza 5:30 PM
  • April 26 Environmental Justice March 10:30 AM at East 106th St & State Line Ave

April 23:  The Chicago Board of Education meets to review school turnarounds and charter schools.  125 S. Clark.  The Board meets at 10 AM but people begin gathering around 8 AM.

April 26 Workers United celebrates Earth Day with presentations by local labor leaders as well as music and other entertainment  Workers United Hall, 333 S Ashland. See:

April 25 and 26 the Guild Complex presents “Voices of Protest,” with a film screening and reading by two exiled Middle Eastern poets:  see

May Day celebrations include the annual gathering at Haymarket Square where this year a representative of French labor will dedicate a plaque to be affixed to the monument.

At 3 PM the annual May Day March for Immigrant Rights steps off from Haymarket Square, Desplaines and Randolph.  Destination is the ICE headquarters on Congress. See:

Earth Day to May Day! Presented by Workers United April 26

Global Climate Convergence:  Earth Day to May Day Celebration at Workers United Union Hall




May Day Celebration and March for Immigrants’ Rights: Stop Deportations!

125 years ago, the international workers’ movement declared our own holiday — May 1st. Workers the world over have been marching as one on this day, continuing the struggle for justice, the right to organize, the right to jobs for all at a living wage. The power of the May Day tradition is ever more important in this age of corporate globalization.

This year’s commemorative plaque will be placed on the Haymarket Memorial by the French General Confederation of Labor (CGT). After our ceremony, we’ll join the annual march for Immigration Justice.

The annual May Day immigrants’ rights march steps off from Haymarket Square May 1 at 3 PM.

May Day

The Guild Complex Presents Voices of Protest: Screening and Reading


This is an extraordinary event of tremendous consequence!



Working Class Perspectives: Inequality After Occupy by Penny Lewis

Inequality After Occupy

by Penny Lewis

When the media became aware of the protest centered at Wall Street during the fall of 2011, a predictable line of questioning immediately appeared – whatever in the world are they protesting? “The cause . . . was virtually impossible to decipher,” intoned the New York Times, joining the bulk of the mainstream coverage of the protest in its early weeks, which together professed confusion at the sight of the rag-tag group of occupiers.

Of course, to crib Liza Featherstone, covering the protests for another NY daily, the opposite was closer to the truth: everyone who came near Zuccotti Park knew exactly why the protesters were there.  Given the scale of the economic crisis, Main Street’s bailout of Wall Street, and ongoing oligarchy, the “only surprise [was that it took] so long for the citizenry to take to these particular streets.” The graphic polarization of their chant, “We Are the 99%” made it all the more clear:  it’s the (unequal) economy, stupid.

In the years since the destruction of the occupations, this critique of inequality – one, broad part of what Occupy was all about – has only broadened and deepened in the US.  Occupy should claim credit for getting it on the map, while political iterations old and new have been keeping it there.  Today, the fight against inequality is taking greater institutional shape, and seemingly exerting more leverage, in places inspired by Occupy but moving beyond its initial tactics.

Studying Occupy Wall Street in New York from its inception and through 2012, my colleagues and I traced the “enduring impact” of OWS through various measures, including the ongoing movement participation of core participants and the proliferation of “Occupy after Occupy” efforts – what journalist Nathan Schneider described as a “productively subdivided movement of movements.”

Joining most observers, we noted that Occupy’s impact was most easily traced in the extent to which it had shifted the discourse in the United States.  “Income inequality” was suddenly in the headlines.  We included a graph that showed how frequently the phrase was invoked by the media pre-, during, and post-Occupy.  We found that news mentions of “income inequality” rose dramatically with the outset of Occupy, and in the aftermath remained substantially higher through the end of 2012 (up about a third from pre-Occupy levels).

I ran the numbers again this week, and I have to admit I was surprised by the results.

LexisNexis Academic Database, all news (English), United States

LexisNexis Academic Database, all news (English), United States

As we’d seen before, in the year after Occupy’s peak, the numbers stayed higher – 30-50% of the pre-Occupy discussion.  But beginning in the fall of 2013, the numbers reached Occupy levels again, and this time rising to over 2000 mentions of the phrase “income inequality” in December 2013 – over 50% more than Occupy’s peak.

Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see this rise. The occupations have gone away, but neither the crisis nor the resistance has disappeared.  Low-wage and precarious workers are at the forefront of the fights today, and they are keeping inequality in the spotlight.  This past fall and winter we’ve seen fast food strikes and the “Fight for $15”; other minimum wage fights around the country; Walmart workers demanding $25,000; university adjuncts organizing and striking.  Workers, unionists and Occupy veterans, through both traditional labor and “alt-labor” organizations are elevating the fights around income inequality and pushing for concrete change.  Tailing these developments, figures from President Obama and the Gap are now simultaneously pushing for (highly inadequate) wage increases.

Media attention to inequality reflects recent electoral shifts as well.  Mayors who ran left were decisively elected in New York, Seattle, and Boston.  (Occupations existed all over the country, but it would be interesting to probe the relationship between those Occupations and new electoral outcomes. Certainly, these three cities were home to sustained and popular occupations in fall 2011.) Labor’s candidates and initiatives did well overall, in the 2013 local election cycle; and in Seattle, Occupy activist and socialist Kshama Sawant was elected to the City Council.  While many of the core Occupy activists eschewed electoral politics, we nevertheless see the outlines of their critique emerge in race after race.

As important as Occupy’s inspiration has been as the carrot encouraging these new movements and electoral shifts, the ongoing crisis that working people are experiencing and the desperate straits that unions and other progressives find themselves in provide the stick. . Labor, in particular, has been working hard to shift course for many years.  Occupy’s eruption was a major shot in the arm, but many of the campaigns we see today have their roots pre-Occupy.

However, the energy and audacity in today’s movements are fueled in part by the experience of Occupy (and the organizers who started the occupations and emerged from them). Direct action and prefigurative practices inform many of the efforts that contribute to today’s groundswell, such as the strikes and walkouts.  But unions are also exploring worker cooperatives, community groups and activists are forestalling foreclosures through occupations, and activists are tying collective student debt refusal to the demand for free higher education.

The Occupy activists we spoke with two years ago continuously echoed each other, saying that the movement needs to “take the long view” and remember that change doesn’t happen overnight.  I haven’t spoken with enough of those activists today to know their assessment of the fights they see and are participating in today.  They are not out there, all day, all week, occupying Wall Street – and it wasn’t enough when they were. The scale of necessary social transformation remains daunting, and questions of both strategy and power loom large. But all day, and all week, more people are talking about inequality and directly fighting against it.  And workplace by workplace, franchise by franchise, ordinance by ordinance, council member by council member, co-op by co-op, the struggle continues.

Penny Lewis

Penny Lewis is an Assistant Professor at the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, School of Professional Studies, CUNY.  She is also the author  of Hardhats, Hippies and Hawks, The Vietnam Antiwar Movement as Myth and Memory.

Working Class Perspectives on Pete Seeger by Kathy Newman

Sing Out! Lessons from the Extraordinary Life of Pete Seeger

(reprinted from the Working Class Studies Blog)

th-4Like thousands of fellow Americans, I have spent the last week listening to Pete Seeger’s recordings, poring over his many obits, and inhaling Alec Wilkinson’s wonderful short biography, The Protest Singer: An Intimate Portrait of Pete Seeger. With this work behind me, I offer seven lessons that those of us committed to working-class justice and working-class studies can glean from Seeger’s extraordinary life.

Scholars of working-class culture have a lot to offer working-class movements. Some of Seeger’s first paid work was for the legendary folk music authority, John Lomax. As Wilkinson notes in his bio of Seeger, each week Seeger listened to hundreds of records at the Library of Congress—“English and Scotch Irish ballads kept alive in the thSouth, rural blues, farmer songs, widow’s laments, millworker songs, soldier songs, sea shanties, slave songs, tramp songs, and coal miner songs.” By the end of Seeger’s time in the archive, he had flagged a collection of protest songs that he wanted to make into a book, but “his father thought it too controversial.”But soon enough Seeger found someone like himself, Lee Hays, who had “compiled a book of union songs.” Hays and his roommate, Mill Lampell, along with Woody Guthrie, became the nucleus of Seeger’s first band: The Almanacs.  Click here to read more


Mandela and the Kingdom Come: 1990 Essay by June Jordan

The death of Nelson Mandela is being commemorated around the world.  President Obama even described his own political awakening in terms that paid tribute to the struggle in South Africa and Mandela in particular.  Mostly the praises are heaped in palatable shovelfuls that cover over the dangerous meaning of his symbolic and actual life.  Poet Matt Sedillo said it best:

History is complex. The US media is not. Mandela is presented here in America as a great man for embracing Apartheid era politicians and American political leaders. His embrace of revolutionaries fighting in the national liberation process is completely whitewashed. Basic point Mandela and the ANC in its inception was essentially a communist organization. Almost all liberation forces of the 20th century were communist. The communist struggle was a struggle against exploitation. Imperialism and colonialism are exploitative processes. Whoever Mandela was the portrayal of him as a great man for embracing American imperialists and racist South Africans is indicative of the racist imperialist values of this country and have very little to do with the actual and complex legacy of Nelson Mandela.

The other important corollary to Matt’s comment is that nearly all of the gigantic national liberation struggles of the 20th century fell under the leadership and control of the national bourgeoisie of those struggles. This in no way undermines either their importance or Nelson Mandela’s contribution to the revolutionary struggles of the 20th century, but instead speaks to the limitations of those times. Communism 50 and 60 years ago was ideology welded with a practical struggle against imperialism. Today it is a practical movement of those expelled from capitalist relations of production against capitalism itself. Nelson Mandela represents the best of that struggle against that exploitative system. His death reminds us of the continuing struggle under different and vastly more promising conditions.

As Matt also points out:

Indeed  the aims of all actual and not just rhetorical nationalist movements in the 20th century was to industrialize or at least dramatically alter the relationship between industrial power and said nation. The motion to industrialize sets the groundwork for the struggle between the political formations of industrial proletariat and the bourgeoisie over in whose name industrialization would take place. Whether you were Mao or Atatürk industrialization was a must. This process took place in America as well under Lincoln, Prussia under Bismarck, Japan under Meiji in the same manner nearly a century earlier. Conditions once again are changing. The forces that must contend for the shape of society are in turn shaped by these changes.

Another poet wrote a startling essay on the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990.  Here is June Jordan’s column in The Progressive from that time.

Mandela and the Kingdom Come

by June Jordan

The world watches for the face of this MandelaKingdomCome
man. This is the face hidden and for­
bidden by force. These are the
cheeks and these are the lips and this is
the nose and these are the ears and the eyes
of the head of a country buried in hatred
and blood.
It’s 5:35 A.M. when I switch on the TV,
and somebody’s complaining that Man­
dela’s “really late.” He’d been scheduled
to appear more than half an hour ago. So
he’s late. After twenty-seven years in
prison, after seventy-one years of impris­
onment inside South African apartheid, he
is not, the reporter complains, on time.
What could possibly explain the delay?
Didn’t he realize that hundreds of top in­
ternational media personnel expected and
needed him to show up? Didn’t he un­
derstand that this remarkably elite press
corps felt very uncomfortable? It was hot.
All morning the sun burned above them th-2
and they could find no shade. There didn’t
seem to be a cold beer available, for miles.
But suddenly the helicopters rose into
the sky. And, like a badly lit, slow-motion
movie, you could see a short, pale caravan
of cars making its approach to the prison
gates. Within minutes, it was happening.
He was there. He was here. Hand-in-hand
with his comrade and wife, he stood still
and he did not smile. And then the two of th-3
them began to move: He walked like a
man who does not take the earth for
granted. He took one step after another
with obvious care and delight. Right next
to him, Winnie Mandela stayed close, at­
tuned and alert, and radiant.
My spirit divided between terror and
tears. Would he be shot? In the American
tradition of Dr. King and Malcolm X, was
I about to see another black man felled and
bleeding beyond recall?
But this miracle was no kind of re-run!
This Nelson Mandela a.k.a. terrorist a.k.a. th-4
communist a.k.a. felon who had vowed to
resist violence with violence, to acknowl­
edge respect with respect, and to confront
the catastrophe of time with total rebellion
against the waste and the weakening that
time entails, this same Mandela was re­
turning to near-universal tribute and ac­
claim: “His freedom,” a white man on the
radio declared, “is the moment the world
has been waiting for.”

No one would shoot Mandela. He had
outlived the usual meanings of mortality.
His resolute endurance of hard labor and
three decades of solitude and confinement
and love suspended and fatherhood th-5
snatched away completely mocked the al­
leged power of only death. You could
shoot Mandela but Mandela could not be
killed. He would not die. He would not
consent to that. We would not consent to
He had borne the unimaginable and so
he had become the unimaginable among
us: A brilliant, steady lover who will nei­
ther fawn nor forgive nor forget. This was
the man South Africa had hoped to erad­
icate. This was the life and the dignity that
apartheid means to efface. This was the
leader that stone and whips and censor­
ship and stone and night after night of no
respite and no remnant caress and stone,
and the de facto annulment.of marriage,
the ridicule of desire, the torture of prin­
cipled conviction, night after night after
night of stone and rock and lifting an ax
to the rock and smashing the rock for the
stone after stone, this was the leader the th-6
lover-in-exile that nothing (not even age)
could diminish or destroy.
His voice is not deep. His words do not
roll and break, mellifluous. He reads from
pieces of paper blown by the wind. He hes­
itates. The page will not turn. He waits.
He tries again. The page turns. He goes
He is not young. He does not move
easily, or fast. He stands tall. His arms rise,
effortless, to the clenched fist salute of
black power.

I am crying because I am overwhelmed by
victory: The cost is not forgivable. Tears
come from someplace uncontrollable
and free and right around now anything
uncontrollable and everything free looks
and feels pretty good to me. I am crying
because last week two white men accosted
me, calling me “Bitch!” and calling me
“Nigger!” and last week Mr. Nelson Man­
dela was still locked away, a prisoner of
racist white men, and I was not sure about
the swift and certain demise of apartheid
but this morning I am sure. It’s over.
His victory is big news. Enemies of his freedom th-7

have died or they will die or they
must welcome him. This is not about the
falling apart of the Berlin Wall. This is
white Western hegemony acceding to the
non-European future of the planet. You
cannot rule somebody who would rather
die than kneel. You cannot intimidate
somebody seeking his freedom or your
His victory is big news. This is an Af­
rican black man who says, “I stand here
before you not as a prophet, but as a hum­
ble servant of you, the people.” Mandela
is not a man of the cloth. The African Na­
tional Congress is not the Church. Um-
khonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the
ANC that Mandela founded in 1960, sig­
nified and continues to signify armed
struggle, here and now, for the kingdom
to come, here and now.
He personifies a secular revolt against
here and now violations of human rights.
He calls on no authority beyond the au­
thority of the pain and the degradation of
living in black South Africa.
Mandela’s rhetoric avoids religious or
other abstract allusions. He remains spe­
cific. He speaks a language appropriate to
a task-force committee meeting of actual
men and women. He proceeds, meticu­
lous, in his matter-of-fact giving of thanks
to “Comrade Oliver Tambo” and to the
South African Communist Party and to
the South African white women of The
Black Sash and to “the mothers and the
wives and the sisters” and to his “beloved
wife and family” and to “the world com­
munity” and he does not, anywhere, thank
Mandela bodies forth a humanist, dem­
ocratic vision in which all human life oc­
cupies the first and last position of con­
cern. Human beings create tyrannous
conditions: Human beings must over­
throw these tyrannies. His practical, prag­
matic vocabulary does not accommodate
delusion or despair. His summoning forth
of “a democratic and free society in which
all persons live together in harmony and
with equal opportunities” resonates as
common sense.
There is a man lifting his daughter high
above his own head so that she can see the
leader who believes she has the power to
be free. There is a young boy climbing the
rough hard wall of Capetown’s City Hall.
He never looks down and he never looks
behind him as he rises high enough to
glimpse Mandela just about to address a
world that wants to hear whatever he will
say. After twenty-seven years of silence
imposed by the innermost prisons of
South Africa, Mandela chooses this one
word from Xhosa, his native language:
He hurls the word into the darkness:
AMANDLA! (POWER!) And the standing
throng of 20,000 instantly responds:
OURS!). So be it.

12 / APRIL 1990
June Jordan appears in this space every
other month. Her latest book, “Naming
Our Destiny: New and Selected Poems,” is
available from Thunder’s Mouth Press in
New York City.


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