Video: Cheri Honkala Appeared at Mess Hall, Presented by Occupy Rogers Park Saturday, Jan 19, 2013

A Video of the entire teachin can be found here.

Mess Hall had a capacity audience of over 60 people who stayed to converse and share experiences and ask questions.  It was an extraordinary event!  Thanks to all who came!!

Cheri in RP jpeg

Hard Times In Chicago: Destruction of Wisconsin Steel, Exit Zero Project Reviewed

Hard times in Chicago

MIT anthropologist’s new book recounts the painful aftermath when steel plants suddenly closed in the American heartland.
Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office
January 18, 2013

In March 1980, when the industrial firm Wisconsin Steel abruptly closed its main mill in southeast Chicago, longtime employee Charles Walley was among 3,400 people who lost their jobs. The plant closure — which led to protests, controversy and lawsuits — had an enormous impact on Walley, a third-generation steelworker. He found intermittent employment as a tollbooth attendant, a janitor and a security guard, among other things, but never landed a better job, and remained bitter and depressed about his situation until his death in 2005.

“Yeah, we thought we were middle class there for a while,” one of his daughters once overheard him musing aloud. “We were almost middle class.”

The daughter who heard that comment, Christine Walley, is now an associate professor of anthropology at MIT and author of a new book, “Exit Zero,” about the impact of deindustrialization on the lives of blue-collar workers in Chicago. In the book, published this month by the University of Chicago Press, Walley explores the lasting economic and psychological toll of such plant closings on her father and other working-class people like him.

In the book, Walley also builds an argument that rapid deindustrialization in the United States was not simply the result of seemingly inevitable shifts in the global economy, but a consequence of corporate-friendly policies, and a new emphasis on raising short-term share prices, that pitted the interests of management against the long-term interests of companies and their workers.

“If you really want to understand why there is this expanding class inequality in the United States, one of the places you have to look is the long-term impact of deindustrialization,” Walley says. “We have to think historically about how we got into this position and how we can come out of it.”

While the steel industry is a notable sector in which American industry has downsized, the same issue has been borne out in many areas of manufacturing and many parts of the country. As Walley notes, in 1960, one-third of all American laborers not working on farms had jobs in manufacturing, while in 2010, only one-eighth worked in the sector.

“The stories from Chicago are so similar in so many other communities that have experienced deindustrialization, I think it does have resonance with a lot of other places in the U.S.,” Walley says.

The paycheck and self-respect

Most anthropologists do their research by immersing themselves in other cultures. But in Walley’s case, she was immersed in the working-class neighborhoods of industrial southeast Chicago from birth. It was an area, Walley writes in “Exit Zero,” where “neat lawns and never going on public assistance were quintessential points of pride.”

“If you really want to understand why there is this expanding class inequality in the United States, one of the places you have to look is the long-term impact of deindustrialization.”

Associate Professor of Anthropology
Christine Walley

But when several mills closed in the early 1980s, the tens of thousands of newly unemployed steelworkers in Chicago and the surrounding area had massive problems keeping themselves, and their families, afloat. Within a decade of the Wisconsin Steel closure, 800 of its 3,400 former workers had died, many after struggles with alcoholism or other problems tied to their unemployment and lack of other options. Many steelworkers felt that because of their membership in unions, they were discriminated against when looking for other work; in many households, wives had to go back to work to keep families going, a further humiliation to the steelworkers.

“It was my father’s paycheck from the mills that was his source of manhood and self-respect,” Walley writes.

Walley also asserts that we should reconsider the “dominant narrative” of the decline of the American steel industry, which many observers characterized as having grown inefficient. Actually, Walley asserts, empirical research has shown that American steel mills were still more profitable in the 1970s, just before the shutdowns commenced, than their state-subsidized Japanese competitors. The problem, she writes, was that “they weren’t profitable enough, in comparison to … high finance.”

In this way, Walley says, the Wisconsin Steel case is an early example of contemporary corporate practices, linked to the financialization of the economy, which occur at the expense of workers and their communities. Controversially, the firm had been sold in the late 1970s in what was effectively a leveraged buyout; the legal maneuvering around the firm’s closure allowed the holding company to force the government to pick up the tab for its unfunded pension guarantees. More generally, this kind of buyout, followed by asset-stripping and closure, Walley notes, allows enterprises to steer cash to more lucrative investments in financial markets, instead of being bound to bricks-and-mortar businesses.

Cancer and class

“Exit Zero” takes an unexpected twist when Walley recounts how, at age 27, she was diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer. While her treatment was successful, she suspects, but cannot prove, that her illness was related to environmental conditions in southeast Chicago, where many potential carcinogens were released.

More generally, Walley states, exposure to environmental hazards is yet another way that class stratification manifests itself in America. As she writes, “just as throughout our lives we drag our class experiences and the related aspects of who we are with us, our bodies also carry this legacy of chemical exposures as we move into the future.”

Walley’s book is part of a larger project on industrial southeast Chicago — accompanied by a documentary film to be completed this year, also called “Exit Zero,” that Walley has produced in collaboration with her husband, documentary filmmaker Chris Boebel. She is also helping to develop a related website, in conjunction with the Southeast Chicago Historical Museum, intended to feature archival materials and oral accounts from others who experienced the same economic changes. A daylong event featuring the book and film will be held at Chicago’s Field Museum in April.

“Exit Zero” has been praised by other scholars of labor; David Bensman, a professor at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations, has called the book an “illuminating” analysis that makes clear that “the working-class world is poorly understood both in popular culture and in mainstream academic literature.”

As Walley acknowledges, her family’s story is just one historical thread within the large, complicated fabric of American industry. But precisely by making her account a personal one, she says, she aims to show to a general audience the human effects of economic changes that public figures often describe in abstract, impersonal terms.

“This is a book of stories … but those stories are the terrain for further analysis,” Walley says. “I wanted it to be accessible to many kinds of readers, including those who don’t normally read academic work, as a way of having a discussion about these issues.”

Who Is Stealing Our Education? Teach-Ins Begin with Bill Watkins

Who Is Stealing Our Education?

Begins Saturday, Jan 12, 2012

ORP Teachins jpeg

150 Years Later — What Was Revolutionary About the Emancipation Proclamation

Chris Mahin wrote this article 10 years ago, on the 140th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Much is being said to decry the significance of the deed.  The Proclamation was a product of the time in which it was written, and so its influence and importance needs to placed within that context.  What then are the implications for today?  Surely not that we need a great leader to follow.  That might be the lesson if we took from history the idea that Lincoln, with the stroke of the pen, freed the slaves.  That isn’t what happened, and the celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation need not enshrine that myth.  The issue today, the 1% vs the 99% as Occupy phrases it, is similar to the issue then, when a handful of the richest people in the United States had the right to own, as their private property, 4 million slaves.  The Proclamation was a step across a nodal line of ending a form of private property.  It raises questions about how we treat the right of billionaires today to own what should be public property.

  People’s Tribune/Tribuno del Pueblo (Online Edition)
                  Vol. 30 No. 1/ January, 2003

                 P.O. Box 3524, Chicago, IL  60654



By Chris Mahin

th-1The document makes dull reading — but it inspired millions. No music rings from its carefully constructed sentences — but it sounded the death knell of slavery. Deliberately understated in form, its content gave a bloody war a higher, more noble purpose.

Jan. 1, 2003 marks the 140th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Much has changed in the United States since the Civil War, but the story of how the proclamation came to be issued, and what it wrought, contains important lessons for the
struggle for justice today.

Despite its dry, legalistic tone, the Emancipation Proclamation was a radical document. It declared that all persons held as slaves in states or parts of states in rebellion against the United States on Jan. 1, 1863 were free — forever. Because this step affected over 3 million people at a time when the selling price of a slave averaged $1000, the proclamation removed over $3 billion of legally obtained property from the slaveowners without any compensation whatsoever. Since slavery in the United States was an especially brutal form of capitalism, at its time the Emancipation Proclamation decreed the greatest single expropriation of capitalist private property in human history. (It retained that distinction until the Soviet Revolution).

The Emancipation Proclamation changed the course of the Civil War.In the beginning, the Lincoln government insisted that it was fighting the war because rebellious forces in most slave states had conspired to organize secession, not because those states permitted slavery within their borders. (Most supporters of the Union felt that secession was illegal, even treasonous. While many of them abhorred slavery, most felt that it was protected by the Constitution, and that as a result the federal government could not interfere with slavery in those states where it had always been legal.)

At first, the Lincoln government adhered to this policy so rigidly that it was official policy for the Union Army to return to their masters those slaves who fled to its battle lines and offered to help the Union cause. This callous obsession with the absolute letter of federal law meant that the war dragged on, casualties mounted, pro-Confederate traitors inside the Union wreaked havoc, and international support for the federal government could not be fully mobilized. Perhaps most dangerous of all, this policy prevented the Union from aiming at the secessionists’ Achilles Heel: the presence of more than 3 million slaves in Confederate territory who would act against the Confederacy if they could be sure that acting would help them win freedom.

As the bloodletting continued, and the Union suffered numerous defeats, the situation reached a crisis. Either the war could continue to be fought on the basis of the narrow legal technicalities it was begun on in April 1861 — without disturbing the property relations in the states where secession had taken place — or it could be fought in a revolutionary way. By late 1862, the Union had to face a stark fact: The only way to save the country, to stop the rebellion, would be to end slavery.

At this point, Northern society began to respond to the action of the slaves who ran away to the Union Army’s battle lines and to the heartfelt appeals of abolitionists who urged the government to adopt an openly anti-slavery policy. Slowly but surely, more and more people began to feel that if the only way to defeat the rebels was to abolish slavery, then slavery would have to go. After Union forces stopped an attempted invasion of the North by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia in the fall of 1862, Lincoln announced his plans to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

The proclamation had immediate effects. Racist whites were disgusted by it, and vowed to cease fighting for the Union. But opponents of slavery, black and white, were elated, and galvanized into action. Sympathy for the Union skyrocketed all over the world.

While the proclamation applied only to those states and parts of states in rebellion against the United States, and did not apply at all to the 800,000 slaves in those parts of the United States not in rebellion, it was a first step. Everyone understood that after Jan. 1, 1863, there was no turning back; the war was now a battle over whether slavery would exist in the United States or not. Through the telegraphic power of the grapevine, many slaves in the Confederacy soon learned that they would be free forever if they could reach Union lines.

There is a lesson in this for our time. Today — just as in late 1862 — the people of this country have to make a choice. At the beginning of the Civil War, the survival of the United States was threatened by about 475,000 slaveowners who possessed billions of dollars worth of wealth. Today, this country’s survival is threatened by a tiny class of exploiters who are also worth billions. A continuation of the rule of this class threatens America with economic disaster and moral ruin.

In fighting this tiny class of billionaires, we should build on the best in the past of this country. Exactly 140 years ago, the Emancipation Proclamation established the principle that when one section of society’s property rights destroy the human rights of millions of other people, when those property rights threaten the forward progress of society, humanity has a right to change the property relations. The Emancipation Proclamation was a public declaration that there is nothing sacred about the legally obtained private property of brutal exploiters. There are moments in history when society cannot move forward unless that property is taken away and new social relations established.

In the seven score years since Abraham Lincoln took a gold pen and signed the Emancipation Proclamation in the White House on New Year’s Day 1863, it has become fashionable in some political circles to stress what the Emancipation Proclamation did not do. But instead of disparaging the proclamation, real revolutionaries ought to squeeze every ounce of political energy possible out of the moral precedent it established. On this Emancipation Day 2003, we should honor the valiant abolitionist agitators, runaway slaves, and Union soldiers who made the Emancipation Proclamation possible — by declaring: If it was right to wrest the source of strength away from one kind of exploiter in 1863, it is right to take society away from all exploiters today!

This article originated in the PEOPLE’S TRIBUNE/TRIBUNO DEL PUEBLO
Vol. 30 No. 1/ January, 2003; P.O. Box 3524,
Chicago, IL 60654

Art, Culture and Resistance: Democracy Now Special Report

Democracy Now reviews art, culture and resistance in 2012.  Highlights include Walter Mosely on class politics and obituaries of Adrienne Rich and Whitney Houston, musicians Tom Morello and Steve Earle:  click here to view the video.

The New America Is Not About Identity Politics: Digging Below the Conventional Interpretations of the Changing Electorate by Charles Derber in Truthout

The New America Is Not About Identity Politics

Monday, 31 December 2012 00:00 By Charles Derber, Truthout | Op-Ed

Supporters wait for President Barack Obama to depart his home in Chicago, November 7, 2012. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times) Supporters wait for President Barack Obama to depart his home in Chicago, November 7, 2012. (Photo: Doug Mills / The New York Times) The prevailing narrative is that President Obama’s re-election and hopes for long-term Democratic Party control are rooted in a demographic revolution, in which Hispanics, African-Americans and other nonwhite minorities are becoming the new American majority. This view is not wrong, but it is incomplete and misleading.

The deeper narrative is economic, pointing to a socio-economic transformation in which majorities of all races depend increasingly on government protection and public investment. The two narratives, while they agree on the demographic statistics, have different policy implications, with the current interpretation of the demographic story belying the deeper change that both parties must make.

Whites, currently 63 percent of the population, will become a minority by 2050, according to a November 7, 2012, Pew Research Center Report. Republicans, fearful of permanent minority status, are rethinking immigration policy as a way to appeal to Hispanic voters and other minorities, while also eyeing 2016 potential White House candidates such as Florida Senator Marco Rubio, son of Cuban immigrants, and his mentor, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, married to a Mexican-American and fluent in Spanish. Meanwhile, the Democrats consider moving immigration policy to the front burner to hold onto the Hispanic vote.

But this is where the reigning demographic story misleads. It suggests that minorities are voting identity politics, with dark-skinned candidates or immigration the key way to their hearts and ballot. And it focuses on policy toward minorities rather than toward whites, a misreading of how to win in the new America.

The economic narrative argues that minorities, like the majority of whites, while not at all indifferent to identity appeals and often promoting important identity politics agendas, are voting mainly their socio-economic interests, especially jobs, but also broader social government protections of education, health and the environment.

This interpretation is supported by The New York Times exit polling data showing that lower-income Americans of all colors supported President Obama at higher rates than higher-income voters. As shown by the Pew Report, economic logic – a strong need for government protection – helps explain why minorities, women and singles voted for Obama and have long expressed more support for an activist government than whites, men and married people.

But the same economic narrative helps explain crucial differences among white voters. President Obama won re-election because he held his “firewall” in crucial Midwestern states such as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Minority turnout was crucially important, but so was the vote of working-class whites.

Unions mobilized to promote economic-based voting among culturally conservative white workers. Obama gave the unions the necessary ammunition with his auto bailout, the policy that secured his re-election. Jobs in Ohio and other vital Midwest swing states depend on the auto and auto-parts sectors. When Obama delivered a strongly progressive economic policy – temporary nationalization of GM and Chrysler, with the US owning 61 percent of GM shares of stock in August 2010 – he guaranteed Ohio jobs and gave white workers a strong economic reason to vote for him. And – according to exit polls – a majority of lower-income Ohio, Michigan and other Midwestern white workers did vote for Obama, in contrast to upper-income whites, who voted overwhelmingly for Romney.

Obama, pushed by labor and other progressive movements, delivered activist government, helping economics trump identity politics.

Such activist government is color-blind. It is the kind of policy in the new America – a land not only of a minority majority but of surplus people of all colors looking for jobs – that will guarantee future political success. In the new America, minorities are likely to vote Democratic and support broader and deeper progressive agendas, not mainly because the Party’s leaders are black or brown, but because they are more likely to promote the activist government that minorities disproportionately require.

The economic narrative means that there are no easy answers for Republicans. Their brand is based on small government and slashing entitlements. In the new America, this will not win over minorities nor the necessary percentages of working-class whites, except possibly Southern whites.

The Democrats, though, cannot sit back and bask in the illusions of identity politics. As the crisis of surplus Americans intensifies, the Democratic Party will have to develop a far more robust economic policy protecting both whites and minorities, promoted aggressively by coalitions of all progressive social movements, including labor and identity movements.

This will require more than emergency interventions such as the auto bailout. It will necessitate preventive strategy – a new and profoundly ambitious new New Deal of green coloring – the most promising policy to ensure that the majority of Americans of any color in the new America will find work and prosper. It will be the foundational agenda of progressive social movements in the 21st century, which must lead the Democrats where they will not go on their own.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission

© 2012 Truthout

Lower Wacker Drive and the Homeless

Lower Wacker Drive is once again a place that homeless gather, recently documented in this report.  After two years of renovation, Lower Wacker is once again open to traffic, and at least for the time being, the homeless can find some refuge away from the bluster of the icy winds and snow.  Wacker has always been some kind of refuge in a city that will not care for the destitute.  Here is a photo that appeared in the Oct. 11, 1930 edition of the Federation News, the weekly paper of the Chicago Federation of Labor.

Homeless City on Lower Wacker Drive

Homeless City on Lower Wacker Drive (note Krochs Bookstore sign in the back)