Taksim Square Book Club: George Henton in Aljazeera

In Pictures: The Taksim Square Book Club
published in Aljazeera, June 24, 2013
Protesters stand silently and read books in central Istanbul, in stark contrast with scenes of violence.

George Henton

Istanbul, Turkey – After weeks of violent clashes between police and protesters across Turkey a new form of resistance has emerged – the “Standing Man”.
Standing silently, and initially alone, Turkish performance artist Erdem Gunduz stood, with his hands in his pockets, facing the Ataturk Cultural Centre in Taksim Square, Istanbul, for eight hours.
With extraordinary speed, Gunduz become the latest symbol of the resistance movement. In days that followed, thousands of people would emulate his solitary act, standing silently, for minutes or hours, in places across Turkey.

The contrast with the images of tear gas clouds and water cannon could not have been greater. Faces obscured by masks and helmets were revealed to show expressions of quiet contemplation.
Violent scenes are still occurring around Turkey, including in Istanbul once again this past weekend, but the Standing Man protests continue unabated.
The following images explore one aspect of the protest in Taksim Square, ongoing since before the communal standing took off. Public reading and informal education has been notable since the earliest days of the protest, but has since merged with the Standing Man to form “The Taksim Square Book Club”.
The chosen reading material of many of those who take their stand is reflective, in part, of the thoughtfulness of those who have chosen this motionless protest to express their discontent. Click this link to find the photos.

Gettysburg 150 Years Later

Gettysburg, 150 Years Later

by Lew Rosenbaum

This is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

July 1-3, 1863, Confederate General Robert E Lee attacked the Union army in his second attempt to invade the North.  Many consider this, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, its turning point.  After three days of bitter fighting, Lee was forced to retreat South.  More than 50,000 soldiers died as a result of the battle.  In November, at the memorial service on the dedication of the Gettysburg cemetery, Lincoln delivered his well-known address.

The concise, 10 sentence speech by Lincoln took place 11 months after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect.  When Lincoln spoke of the founding fathers bringing forth “a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,”  he was speaking in the context of the Civil War.  He was, in a sense, addressing the unfinished business of a flawed Constitution.  In his few words, he summarized the meaning of the battle, and the war,  “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom .“ It was a new birth of freedom that was to be betrayed 14 years later, with the end of Reconstruction.

The Battle of Gettysburg was commemorated thereafter, for many years, as an epic moment in the fight for the “Lost Cause,” the way the South elevated their defeat to a kind of heroic myth.  Democrat Woodrow Wilson was the first president to speak at a major national commemoration of the battle’s anniversary in 1913, the 50th anniversary. His speech, again in the context of the times, reflected the political victory of the South following Reconstruction, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, and at the same time the subordination of the South to Wall Street. Wilson did not mention slavery or emancipation at all in his speech, nor did he allude to the special place of the battle in defeating the South. He referred to the men both in blue and gray who had given their lives, and that the United States emerged a single country at the end of the war. No hard feelings. In W.E.B. DuBois’ famous dictum: “Wall Street controls the South and the South controls the nation.”

For the 75th anniversary in 1938, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt commemorated the battle.  His remarks paralleled Wilson’s speech.  He also spoke of the honor of blue and gray, without any mention of slavery, emancipation, or the condition of Blacks in his own time (At the beginning of his first term, the case of the eight “Scottsboro Boys,” falsely accused in Alabama of rape, was a celebrated cause).  Through all the years, from the Civil War to Roosevelt’s time, the heart of the Democrat Party was in the South and based in Southern politics.  It had been the split in the Democrats that was fundamental to Lincoln’s Republican victory in the presidential election in 1860.  Fissures were beginning to appear in the Democrats, though, as the labor and other social legislation Roosevelt championed reorganized the traditional power base of Democrats and oriented them more toward Northern cities and financial and industrial centers.

Twenty-five years later, Southern Democrat Lyndon Johnson explicitly paid tribute to the unfinished struggle of Blacks for freedom.  Speaking at a Memorial Day commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg, a date that was still a month away, Johnson said: “One hundred years ago, the slave was freed, One hundred years later, the Negro remains in bondage to the color of his skin.” Johnson here foreshadowed the civil rights legislation that would be a hallmark of his administration.

Here was an individual recognizing the march of history and choosing to march with it;  recognizing that the Democrat Party he represented could not return to the base it once held in the South while building a base in the factories and cities of the North.  In capitalism’s fight to compete globally, it had to present a different face to those countries emerging from European direct colonialism, a face that would project that a benign neocolonial relationship with the United States was possible.

This is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and July 4 is the date, also in 1863, when Grant took Vicksburg.  The road from Gettysburg and Vicksburg to Appomattox was a grinding one but inexorable.  We are clearly not living in a post-racial society, any more than we were in 1963.  Witness the ruling against Johnson’s Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court. The march of technology, which has displaced so many from the secure jobs of 50 years ago, has hurt African-American and Latino workers disproportionately.

If we are to take one lesson from the tortuous road from Appomattox to today, however, we should learn that poverty is widespread among all ethnicities; and that the state is launching an attack on all poor people, using the historic racial divisions to accomplish this.    In 1861 Lincoln was able to say,  “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed.” Today we are able to take that concept much farther.

As Gettysburg was the turning point in the war to end slavery, we should organize ourselves, not simply for the repeal of this or that assault against us, but for the turning point in the battles to end all exploitation.

“Accidental Racist” — Special from Rock & Rap Confidential

RRC Extra No. 40: “Accidental Racist”–Days of Future Passed

Originally published in the June 2013 issue

of CounterPunch

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Lee Ballinger writes: LL Cool J was seventeen years old when I met him in 1985 at a screening of the rap film Krush Groove. He was straight out of middle class Queens, home to many who were taking hip-hop from ground zero in the South Bronx to the rest of the world. LL was near the cutting edge with diamond hard anthems like “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” and “Rock the Bells” with its war cry of “LL Cool J is hard as hell!” Today he’s soft, just another family-friendly TV star who occasionally puts out hip-hop albums that are, without exception, so bland as to be unlistenable.

Yet there he is on country star Brad Paisley’s new album, Wheelhouse, standing in for all black Americans on the song “Accidental Racist.” The track is turgid and clumsy, surprising coming from an artist as talented as Paisley. But what it says is even more surprising, given that Paisley’s 2009 album American Saturday Night turned country music stereotypes on their heads with its embrace of technology, immigration, and the civil rights movement.

“Accidental Racist” is a sung/rapped dialogue between Paisley and LL Cool J in which the country singer says he doesn’t mean anything offensive by wearing a T-shirt with a Confederate flag on it: “I’m just a white man….caught between southern pride and southern blame.” He’s full of good intentions (“I try to put myself in your shoes and that’s a good place to begin”) but insists he’s “a proud rebel son.” There’s the standard apologia about how slavery (not mentioned by name) was a mistake that some other folks made a long time ago.

LL Cool J chimes in with a plea to be understood even though he wears sagging pants and gold chains. He says he’s always equated guys in cowboy hats with men in white hoods. After condemning slavery (this time by name), he apologizes for Sherman’s March and gives a shout-out to Robert E. Lee. LL declares that “If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains.”

In his review of Paisley’s Wheelhouse in PopMatters, Dave Heaton responds that “Accidental Racist is “saying we should forget about slavery—after all, it wasn’t our fault, it was just our ancestors—and ignore the ways that the legacy of slavery is still around us, every day, manifesting itself in flawed structures and situations within our society.”

On that song, Brad Paisley sings that he’s a “proud rebel son.” But he grew up in West Virginia, which became a Union state when it seceded from the Confederacy because it opposed slavery. Paisley now lives in Los Angeles (not too far from LL Cool J) where he’s married to Hollywood actress Kimberly Williams, a native of Rye, New York. Paisley isn’t speaking as himself on “Accidental Racist.” He’s casting himself in a role, playing a character who claims to speak for the white South.

Well, does he? There’s no simple answer to that question.

In 2001 in Mississippi, there was a vote on whether the 1894 state flag, with the Confederate battle flag reproduced in its upper left corner, should be retained or whether the state should adopt a new flag without the Stars and Bars. There was a large turnout and the 1894 flag won by a nearly two to one margin. The vote split almost entirely along racial lines.

On “Accidental Racist,” Brad Paisley says “When I put on that shirt the only thing I meant to say is I’m a Skynyrd fan.” Even though personal, it’s hard to accept his benign assessment of the Confederate flag on a T-shirt as accurate. “Accidental Racist” venerates Confederate commander Robert E. Lee and skewers Union general William Tecumseh Sherman, whose march to the sea across Georgia helped to end the Civil War and the slavery which caused it.

The Confederate flag is not a symbol of misunderstandings about cowboy hats and gold chains. The Stars and Bars is the battle flag of a class of slaveowners who went to war in an attempt to expand slavery throughout the Western hemisphere. In Marbury, Alabama, Confederate flags fly each day at Confederate Memorial Park, which has an annual budget of $542,000, paid for entirely by taxpayers, both black and white. The more than one hundred thousand Southern whites and the hundreds of thousands of slaves who fought for the Union are not honored there or anywhere else.

“The slavery of the new Cotton Kingdom in the nineteenth century must either die or conquer a nation—it could not hesitate or pause.”—W.E.B. DuBois

Brad Paisley positions himself as a symbol of a monolithic white South. There is no such thing. A closer look at history shows there have always been two white Souths. Before the civil war, slaveowners forcefully ended poor whites’ traditional practice of using land in common for raising food and livestock. During the Civil War, there were massive desertions of whites from the Confederate army while the soldiers’ wives led bread riots across the South. After the Civil War, there were six million white sharecroppers as compared to five million black sharecroppers. Today, Southern-based oil barons control much of the world while in Mississippi there is a foreclosure every 22 minutes and the majority of these soon-to-be-homeless are white. The Confederate flag represents only one half of these unequal equations—the Southern one per cent.

One reason for confusion about this is that for so long the South seemed to be a society defined entirely by race. Blacks and whites were kept separate–at first by law, then by custom and coercion. But that reality is changing.

In 1963, the state of Virginia prosecuted an interracial couple for getting married. Eight years later, Duane Allman and Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band spent two days in an Alabama jail for the “crime” of attempting to have breakfast with a black man (their drummer). A generation after that, I found myself speaking to the Aliceville, Alabama High School football team. The school had been recently integrated because some white parents could no longer afford to send their children to segregated private academies. When I finished, some of the white players came up to me and thanked me for recognizing that not all Southern whites are racist.

On Super Tuesday in 1988, Presidential candidate Jesse Jackson got a shockingly big chunk of the white vote: 15 per cent in Georgia, 16 per cent in Mississippi, 20 per cent in Louisiana, and 25 per cent in South Carolina. Jackson did so well because he was a constant presence on picket lines, at homeless shelters, and at rallies of bankrupt farmers.

Between 1980 and 2010, the number of new marriages between blacks and whites in the South grew rapidly until it almost doubled the national average. Virginia—a state which once prosecuted an interracial married couple all the way to the Supreme Court—led the pack. One reason for the rapid increase in interracial marriages is what’s happening in the high schools.

In 1994 in Wedowee, Alabama, principal Hulond Humphries tried to prevent interracial dating at the prom for Randolph High School, which was 62% white. Humphries told junior class president ReVonda Bowen, who had a white father and a black mother, that her parents had “made a mistake” in conceiving her. This led to demonstrations and the establishment of freedom schools in African-American churches. The integrated prom did take place. Mayor Terry Graham said: “Black and white kids ride to the Dairy Queen together, they go to ball games and most people don’t think anything of it.”

In Charleston, Mississippi, the first integrated prom ever took place in 2008. In direct competition with a separate white prom, it won hands down. In 2013, the same thing happened at Wilcox County High School in southern Georgia, where the county school system is so poor that students attend classes just four days a week. Mixed dating is common there and three times as many kids went to the first integrated prom as to the white one.

This push for social integration didn’t take place in Southern hipster enclaves like Austin, Oxford, or Athens. It happened in desperately poor small towns, the kind of places that are often casually dismissed as “redneck.”

In 2009, I was at a planning meeting for a march that would go from the Mississippi Delta to Detroit for the 2010 U.S. Social Forum. The meeting was held in Glendora, Mississippi, a small impoverished town not far from legendary Highway 61. On the same day we were taken to see the spot in the river where the body of lynching victim Emmett Till was found in 1954, we watched two prisoners from the nearby private prison pick up the garbage in Glendora. They wore striped uniforms. They were white and their supervisor was black. When you turn off Highway 61 on the way to Glendora, you soon run into a magnificent new mansion right by the road, just a stone’s throw from the Hopson plantation. Its owners are black. In nearby Clarksdale, some black families now have the money to send their kids to private academies.

Poverty (and wealth) continue to spread across racial lines, yet despite recent changes, the South is hardly post-racial. For instance, black median income in Mississippi is only 51% of white median income. A white friend of mine who lives in the South and is married to a black woman tells me that not only are they harassed but that in his small town young men driving pickup trucks and waving Confederate flags often chase blacks at night. As Dave Heaton wrote, “The legacy of slavery is still around us.”

It wasn’t long ago that “Southern” was assumed simply to mean “white.” Today, according to The New Mind of the South author Tracy Thompson, black people who live in the South are more likely than their white neighbors to identify themselves as Southerners. Meanwhile, there are millions of Mexican immigrants living all across the South. Houston, Dallas, Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh, and Orlando have some of the nation’s fastest-growing foreign populations. There is more internal migration in the United States to the South than to any other region.

The pace of change below the Mason-Dixon line is likely to increase. White Southerners under 30 voted for Obama in 2012 at roughly the same rate (40 per cent) as white Americans generally (43%). The fact that Obama is no improvement on his predecessor doesn’t diminish the fact that an important social barrier is being breached. There is a growing generation gap in the South and all the former Confederate states except Mississippi and Louisiana gained between 5 and 10 per cent in under age ten population in the last decade (Texas was at 17 per cent). During the same period of time, under age ten populations declined in Illinois, Michigan, New York, and California.

The multi-racial, multi-lingual South will have a major impact on the 21st century. “Accidental Racist,” despite its flaws, is one reflection of that. It’s one of many rap/country collaborations (Taylor Swift/T-Pain, Tim McGraw/Nelly, Snoop Dogg/Willie Nelson) that reflect the blurring of racial lines. Nashville insiders tell me that not only is the motive behind these records mostly to create new marketing tools, but that they are being promoted only to country audiences. But that’s just typical music industry cynicism and ignorance. If combining rap and country reaches a larger audience, that indicates that the country audience is becoming more open-minded. Can country music serve to counter the media image of the black thug? Can hip-hop be a vehicle for overcoming redneck stereotypes? We may be about to find out.

But the potential implications of the rap/country fusion go far beyond the “forgive and forget” mantra of “Accidental Racist.” There are indications that a significant section of the South is straining to find a way to move forward politically.

For example, a study by the Institute for Southern Studies revealed the South to be the most anti-war region of the country. Blacks and whites in Tennessee sat in at the Democratic governor’s office for over three months to try to prevent the end of their health care coverage. In 2004, Alabama voters opted to keep the section of their state constitution which said that there is no right to public education. But in 2012, that relic of segregation was voted out by 61% of voters. They were influenced by the fact that during the previous five years funding for public education in Alabama had been cut by more than $1 billion.

Even the Mississippi elections of the early 21st century, which seemed to verify the strength of the old segregated South, revealed that something new was struggling to be born.

“Consider the case of Senate District 4, which occupies the far northeastern corner of the state” write Jere Nash and Andy Taggart in Mississippi Politics: The Struggle for Power 1976-2006. “Less than 10 per cent of its voters are African American and, since 1992 Travis Little has served as its senator. If there is a family that is synonymous with the local politics of a county, it is the Little family in Alcorn County. In 2003, Little switched parties and ran for reelection as a Republican. His lone Democratic opponent was Eric Powell, a native of Alcorn County who worked at the local paper mill in Tishomingo County. What makes this story noteworthy is that Powell is black. The new flag received 2,161 votes in this district compared to 12,865 for the 1894 flag. In the 2003 general election, however, Powell came close to winning, receiving 7,819 votes to Little’s 8,449 votes. The contrast was even more telling in Powell’s home county of Tishomingo, where the 1894 flag won 2,262 to 163 in those areas allocated to his senate district. Powell defeated Little in those same precincts 1,664 to 1,271.”

A black worker nearly defeats a scion of the Mississippi ruling class in a district that’s over 90 per cent white. Not only that, five years later Eric Powell was elected State Senator from District 4. One of his first acts in office was to successfully sponsor a bill which raised unemployment benefits.

All in all, it sounds like a different song of the South is being written. We should be ready to hear it.

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Music/Poetry/Change from Rock & Rap Confidential

Recent years have seen not only a growing synergy between music and poetry, but a growing synergy between culture and the world’s restless surge toward social change.
For example, in May several artists gathered at the Ice House, an artists complex in the heart of Orange County, California. Orange County is often stereotyped as being defined by Disneyland but there’s a lot more than Mickey Mouse going on as you can see here.
This is the 50 second trailer for “Power of Word,” the third episode of Live at the Icehouse: http://youtu.be/ItSuJBNIghw
This is the full nineteen minute full episode: http://www.liveicehouse.com/episodes/003.html
All of this was done to help promote 100,000 Poets and Musicians for Change. This movement continues to gain worldwide traction. During the ongoing upheavals in Turkey, the cultural component has been led by affiliates of 100,000 Poets and Musicians for Change. For more information on how all this is manifesting all over the planet, check out 100TPC.org.