A Tale of Two Earthquakes

A Tale of Two Earthquakes

Lew Rosenbaum

February 9, 1971 – 50 years ago – barely after 6:00 AM I awoke. For a second I thought I might be in a nightmare. In the next second I realized that the house I lived in really was shaking. My bed was shaking.  The brick and board bookcase perched on my desk swayed back and forth, threatening to spill toward me.  In the third and fourth seconds I remembered that I lived in the fourth, flimsy wooden house up the side of a hill, 86 stairs from the street. It took me about another second to calculate that before I got up and out of the house (without clothes on), the house could go tumbling down the hill; and I had no idea of what manner of peril awaited me if I even got to the door.

I then wrapped myself up in my blankets.  I told myself that if I were going to die on that day, I might as well die comfortably, or as comfortably as I could.  And, curled in that fetal position, I waited through the next five or six seconds of the 12 seconds that the earthquake lasted, the most powerful earthquake in the Los Angeles area in nearly the century preceding it. It’s remarkable how many thoughts can pass through one’s mind in 12 seconds.

That was the Sylmar earthquake or the San Fernando Valley Earthquake of 1971. It played havoc with steel structures, demolished large sections of the Olive View Hospital in Sylmar, upended large sections of major highways, and collapsed a section of the Van Norman dam, which held 3 billion gallons of drinking water for the city. The city forced evacuation of some 80,000 people for several days because of the flooding risk, until the dam was repaired. No flood took place, but after all casualties were counted, 64 died that day. I lived about 20 miles from the fault on which the earthquake erupted that day. The story of the earthquake is remembered in today’s Los Angeles Times.

The 12 seconds ended, I breathed a sigh of relief, recognized the aftershocks as they continued over the next few minutes.  Soon I realized I could not get back to sleep. Got up, got dressed, got breakfast, listened to the radio (KFWB – give us 27 minutes and we’ll give you the world) to understand what was going on, and figured I should go explore.  I was due in at work in a couple of hours, but had no idea whether L.A. County had closed the welfare office where I worked.  I don’t remember whether I worked that day.  But I do remember driving along the streets the long way round to get from Cypress Park to Pasadena, normally a 15 minute drive on the Pasadena Freeway.  I think instead I drove up along San Fernando Road, heading north to Glendale, and then approaching Pasadena from the West.  I don’t think I saw anything as bad as the twisted steel poles of Sylmar, but I did see many storefronts with broken glass windows, plenty of small and unstable structures in disarray, a lot of businesses that would not open that day. 

That was a natural disaster, a force of nature. A different earthquake is roiling society today, a specter is haunting the world. While not a force of nature, it threatens to upend the structures, which humans have built to govern the way we live. Every technological advance today encroaches upon the labor market, more and more people are thrown out of the ability to earn wages sufficient for them to survive.  A fault line has developed and widened: just in the last year as millions are de-employed while corporations rake in trillions of dollars. The political structure of our country is at least as twisted as the steel columns holding the 210 freeway in 1971. 

Today, Feb. 9 2021, begins the impeachment of Donald Trump on charges of inciting insurrection, a charge which reflects the turmoil wracking the country.  Rep. Cori Bush gave the most accurate analysis of why impeachment and conviction is necessary. This is not a question of semantics or whether or not impeachment of a former president is possible. This is not even a battle around insurrection.  This is the question: will the United States finally move beyond a government based on white supremacy as the tool to batter the working class into submission.

What is destroying society today is not the same as the earthquake as 50 years ago.

The battles around the changes at the economic base of society always take place in what is known as the superstructure, i.e. the cultural, social and the political arenas. Here the combatants wage the battle of ideas. Democrat leaders and Republican leaders alike are trying to contain the battle of ideas.  What is the main idea, which is being fought out?  On the surface, in the Congress, it’s whether Trump is guilty.  The fundamental question, which is not being debated, is: Are we going to be a society in which everyone enjoys the fruits of the abundance that is being produced?  Or will we continue to exacerbate the inequity of society and condemn the billions of worldwide poor to death by poverty?  Will corporations strengthen their dictatorship over us, will we allow them to shore up the dam to keep us at bay? Or will we breach the wall of that dam and attain the power to reconstruct society in the interests of all?

There is a specter haunting the world – a real possibility to abolish private property, corporate property.  In 1848 Marx said communism was haunting Europe.  With capitalism expanding, it’s taken almost two centuries to get to the point that capitalism is contracting.   Contraction means many are expelled from having any market relationship to capital. They cannot find work, they cannot buy the necessaries of life.  What can be done, except reorganize society? A century and a half ago abolitionists led a battle to end slavery and thus the practice of holding people as private property. Their demand, resting on the legacy of Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, and John Brown, was that Black lives matter. That war ended legal slavery; but it also elevated industrial and financial private property, a corporate structure which has continued to this day. Conditions have changed. In the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike, pickets carried signs saying “I Am A Man!” Black lives matter. In 2020 some 26 million people demonstrated against the murder of George Floyd, many carrying signs saying Black lives matter. The only thing left for this class of people who have nothing to lose but their chains of poverty and police terror, this world wide new abolitionist class, is to abolish corporate private property and distribute the goods and services of society according to the needs of the people.  That time has come and the outcome of this quake is up to today’s revolutionary class.    

Matt Sedillo interviews Lew Rosenbaum

I, Like You, Am Made of Stars

I, Like You, Am Made of Stars: Matt Sedillo’s Mowing Leaves of Grass

a review essay by Lew Rosenbaum

Anyone listening to Matt Sedillo spit his poems across a crowded room will be mesmerized. It’s the rapid fire of his delivery, the plain speaking, the cadence and rhythm, the word play.  The content.  Yes, it is the content.  After all, none other than Greg Palast calls him the best political poet in America. It’s an important book to read in the midst of a season of uprisings. A new poetics and a new way of seeing the world are needed in a time of rebellion. Having a chance to examine the poems in his book shows that the form you hear in the delivery is there, on the page, too. 

Matt Sedillo. Photos on the wall are from the 1970 Chicano Moratorium. Journalist Ruben Salazar, whose image appears in a poster behind Sedillo’s right shoulder, was killed in the Silver Dollar Cafe by LA Sheriffs on that day.

Take “Once.”  “Once upon a dream” the poem begins, evoking mythic origins.  “I had this dream once,” he continues a few lines later in the poem. ‘”son/There live the rich/And though you and I/ May never get to see it/One day this hill will run red with their blood.” Much of the rest of the poem reviews dialectical pairs of why the hill will run red – “Mendez and Lemon Grove” refer to the Mendez family’s fight against segregation in Lemon Grove, California. “Rodriguez vs. San Antonio” alludes to the 1971 racial and class equity fight of the School Improvement Association in Texas.  “Saul Castro and the blowouts” is actually Sal Castro, and the reference is to the 1968 high school student walkouts for ethnic studies programs, where the opposition was the LA Unified School District and, in particular at the beginning, Lincoln Park High. These class and racial conflicts fuel the rage that will lead to what the poet’s father predicts. If you’ve not heard of these incidents, that’s part of Sedillo’s poetic strategy.  He wants you to find something with which you are familiar, but he wants you to ask questions about what you don’t know, do a little work, realize that there is more to the poem than lies on the surface.  He is challenging you to inquire.

From the same poem, “I head east/ Toward clinics of cruelty/ All humanity stripped from a system/Sadism posed as social work.”  Clinics of cruelty and sadism posed as social work are two of my favorite metaphors in the book and they jump right off the line.  But this is a setup for Sedillo’s third dream.  “I have this dream/Every so often/Of people/ Beyond borders and prisons/Gathered in the distance/Telling tales of time/When women feared the evening/When communities were punished by color/And grown men hunted children/Hardly able to believe/People once lived this way.”  Three dreams and three outcomes.  Origins, retribution, and the world we want to live in. You can’t leave clinics of cruelty unless you can envision the kind of world you want to inhabit. And that is what Sedillo is giving you here.

“The Servant’s Song” goes one step further – the title first makes me think of Chaucer, whose Canterbury Tales are filled with the tales of ordinary folk.  But by the end I see it as an allusion to Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht –Pirate Jenny’s song. At first it is a song of “Captains of industry/Lords of limited liability,” and a celebration of their power.  But in the servants quarters people are dreaming and singing songs of blood and conquest. This hill too will run red with blood. Just like in Brecht’s poem, where hotel maid Jenny welcomes the pirates bombarding the hotel and the capitalists. Definitely songs for our times.

In “Oh Say,” Sedillo riffs on the lines of “Star Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful,” writing not only that he never saw any purple mountain’s majesty, but mixes in a refrain from “Strange Fruit” and hits the reader with the contrast – “black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze.”  How can you square one vision of America with another, he is asking, without questioning the blood at the root? Deep within this poem are references to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the ironic “Oh captain, my captain” and “Oh pioneer.” “The myths/ The hymns/ The bitterness/Of fairy tales/Best woven into song,” he says, including myths of Lincoln and the Civil War.  Words tumble over each other to reach the end of a poem of slashing ironies, of “amber waves of chains.”

The title of the book and the title poem demand that the reader come to terms with Walt Whitman.  The title is a challenge:  cut Whitman down to size, perhaps.

I bought my copy of Leaves of Grass somewhere around 1989 or 1990, after listening to Luis Rodriguez comment about how so many of the talented poets writing in Chicago had not studied the masters, like Whitman, didn’t realize how much we owe to him.  In a 2015 interview, Rodriguez said something similar:  “[Poetry] is not at the center of [our] culture. It’s pushed to the side. And yet we have some of the best, from Walt Whitman to Emily Dickinson all the way to the present.” I confess I’ve still not been able to read all of Leaves of Grass, though I recognize what Whitman meant to the poetic canon. At the time Leaves of Grass was published, it was condemned and admired for its sensuality. Some refer to him as the father of free verse. Most don’t realize that the title, Leaves of Grass, was a pun.  Grass was a term used at the time to describe trash literature, and a leaf is a page of a book. Grass, of course, is also a plant, and Whitman, in part 6 of “Song of Myself,” defines and describes grass.

None of that is Matt Sedillo’s contention.  Whitman, in Sedillo’s view, was a racist who deserves no respect.

George Hutchinson and David Drews, in an essay in the Whitman archive, begin as follows:

“Whitman has commonly been perceived as one of the few white American writers who transcended the racial attitudes of his time, a great prophet celebrating ethnic and racial diversity and embodying egalitarian ideals. He has been adopted as a poetic father by poets of Native American, Asian, African, European, and Chicano descent. Nonetheless, the truth is that Whitman in person largely, though confusedly and idiosyncratically, internalized typical white racial attitudes of his time, place, and class.” 

Some are saying, in the context of taking down statues of slaveholders and confederates, that statues memorializing Whitman should be removed as well. Hutchinson and Drews describe Whitman’s inconsistent racial attitudes that more or less mimic the different views of the time, views inconsistent with the “democratic spirit” of his poetry.  They conclude their essay thus:

Because of the radically democratic and egalitarian aspects of his poetry, readers generally expect, and desire for, Whitman to be among the literary heroes that transcended the racist pressures that abounded in all spheres of public discourse during the nineteenth century. He did not, at least not consistently; nonetheless his poetry has been a model for democratic poets of all nations and races, right up to our own day. How Whitman could have been so prejudiced, and yet so effective in conveying an egalitarian and antiracist sensibility in his poetry, is a puzzle yet to be adequately addressed.

But this is about Matt Sedillo’s Mowing Leaves of Grass, so what does Matt Sedillo say?  The title poem is, in a way, Matt Sedillo’s own “Song of Myself.”  Beginning “I am the as yet written vengeance of Elvira Valdez,” the poet leads us through a litany of Southwestern cities drawing connections to the Chicano past and present on a path through miseducation and misrepresentation and punishment unless we accept the canonic political and literary leaders.  These include Chaucer and Shakespeare and of course Whitman.  “If we let you in/What will become/ Of the canon?” The voice becomes that of the oppressor: “I will show you/ Who you are/ In a book/ And you will believe it/ ‘Cause I said it.”  But the poet seizes control again, says check out my poetry — “The universe/ Is a muralist/ The Cosmos/ Our self-portrait,”  and here comes Joaquin,  “Triumphant/ Marching/ Through the halls of Tucson/Mowing down leaves of grass/Fuck Walt Whitman.”  There it is:  the punch line, followed by the affirmation of what it means to be alive,  “all that we are and all that we have been.”

Whitman worked on a New Orleans newspaper for three months.  Having witnessed slave auctions with revulsion (also described in “Song of Myself”), he returned to Brooklyn, New York and founded a free-soil newspaper.  Free-soilers were not abolitionists, but they played a role in demanding the end of the expansion of slave-owner controlled territory and in opening the fight for the end of slavery.  The leadership of the fight to break the back of the slave power was industrial capital in the north.  Wall Street brought Reconstruction to an end when it reached an accommodation with the slave power and returned the planter aristocracy back to control, now under the domination of northern interests. The freedmen lost what they had gained and were driven back into peonage. This is the context in which all the transcendental poets and writers worked.  A group of New England abolitionists, dubbed the “Secret Six” and connected to the transcendentalists, raised money for John Brown and the raid on Harpers Ferry.  Whitman attended John Brown’s hanging, and joined Thoreau, Melville, and Emerson in condemning the execution. 

Today’s cause is also a form of abolition – a form that strikes deeper into what divides American society than ever before.  When we hear today the call for prison abolition or for abolishing the police, and we engage some of these abolitionists in conversation, we find that they are talking about restructuring society entirely. A secure and safe society is one in which human beings have all their needs met and in which they thrive, not just survive.  If 150 years ago the battle was to end chattel slavery, today increasing permanent unemployment demands why wages are necessary to obtain the abundance available today. Poets have been modernizing the democracy of 150 years ago, taking their verse into the streets with the demonstrators, taking the open mic to the people’s mic.  If free verse liberated poets to write in a more democratic form, contemporary spoken word has dragged poetry into the battle for today’s new world democracy – the democracy of distribution according to need. 

Sal Castro, a teacher at Lincoln High School, one of five high schools who took part in the “blowouts,” a coordinated school walkout in 1968. In the wake of the blowouts, Castro was arrested and charged with 15 counts of conspiracy to disrupt public schools and 15 counts of conspiracy to disturb the peace. The charges were dropped in 1972.

That, in my view, is Matt Sedillo’s genius.  I don’t disagree with Greg Palast, when he assessed Sedillo as America’s most important political poet.  But our new generation comes out of a cauldron that is producing – can’t help but produce – an army of brilliant writers with a vision of a new world.  I think Sedillo himself says this in “El Sereno.”

 “El Sereno” is one of my favorites in this collection, perhaps because the poet so concretely and vividly describes an area of Los Angeles I know well.  He speaks of the “industrial petrified forest,” and the people who worked there.  “As a child/ I could never quite/ Make the connection/Between the broken/ And empty bottles/ Across the steps/ And the broken and empty men/ Poured out the rust factories/From across the tracks,” he writes.  And there’s another, related  connection he could not make. His father “A prince among men/In a backward kingdom,”  Sedillo couldn’t make the connection “Between/ His fingers around my throat/And the anguish/In his chest.” It’s the same anguish he has explored in many of these poems, the same as the black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze.  In the face of all this, and perhaps because of all this, the poet is defiant, but more than defiant. He evokes the communist poet Roque Dalton’s “Como Tu” when he writes “I like You/Am made of stars/ You like me/So full of pain/Are brimming with genius/Listen to no one/Who would make you feel different.” 

Listen to no one who would make you feel different.

Earth Day at 50 — Lenin at 150

“He gave imagination to the writers
His every word became poetry”

by Lew Rosenbaum

On this day, April 22, 2020, perhaps millions of people are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day.  In 1969 then Senator Gaylord Nelson, an environmentalist, called for a national day of teach-ins on the environment for the spring of the following year.  He proposed April 22 as a day when most students would be most likely to participate.  An advertising man suggested that “Earth Day” might be a more broadly appealing name than a day of teach-ins.  And so “Earth Day” was born.  Nelson himself repudiated the idea that the choice of April 22 was a communist plot.  The John Birch Society, among others, had insinuated that the choice of April 22 was driven by the fact that date in 1970 coincided with the 100th anniversary of Vladimir Ilich Ulianov’s (Lenin) birthday.  Nelson quipped that the Birch Society knew more about Lenin than he did;  nevertheless, young people of 1970 knew more about Lenin than he did too.

At the time of the first Earth Day I was 27 and had come rather late to reading the works of the great Bolshevik.  Just a few years later, talking with my niece Ronni, a high school activist organizer working on Earth Day, I asked with a wry smile whether she knew that April 22 was also Lenin’s birthday.  She replied, with the characteristic twinkle in her eye, that was why the date was chosen.

Lenin lives

“Lenin lived, Lenin lives, Lenin shall live forever” V. Mayakovsky

So maybe both stories are true.  Maybe Lenin’s birthday had nothing to do with the choice of April 22; maybe it had everything to do with that choice.  A Talmudic fight about that is really not the point.  The point is the perseverance of Lenin’s influence, even though now, in 2020, when everyone is talking about the 50th Earth Day, little attention is being paid to Lenin’s 150th birthday, which is today.  Here is evidence of that perseverance:  “Lenin in Urdu: His Every Word Became Poetry.” This is one of a number of essays intended to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth.  It is a short review essay of writers in Urdu who have celebrated Lenin.  People who saw him as the embodiment of revolution.  In no small part is this due to the fact that, after the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks in 1917, Lenin was the main force within the Russian Communist Party who understood and fought for at first a minority position:  that what was then called the “national question” was the main form that the fight for socialism was taking, the liberation of the colonial countries from imperialism.

Well of course Lenin is remembered in many more places than in the Urdu language.  Bertolt Brecht wrote numerous poems that refer to Lenin.  One that is a bridge from the peoples of the East is this one:

The Carpet Weavers of Kuyan-Bulak Honour Lenin

Often he was honoured and profusely
The Comrade Lenin. Busts there are and statues.
Cities were named after him and children.
Speeches are made in numerous languages
Rallies there are and demonstrations
From Shanghai to Chicago, in honour of Lenin.
But thus they honoured him
The carpet weavers of Kuyan-Bulak
A small village in southern Turkistan:

Twenty carpet weavers stand there in the evening
Shivering with fever, in front of their humble loom.
Fever runs riot: the railway station
Teeming with buzzing mosquitoes – a thick cloud
Arising from the swamp behind the old camel cemetery.
But the train, which
Once in two weeks brings water and smoke, brings
Also the news one day
That the day for honouring Lenin lies ahead
And so decide the people of Kuyan-Bulak
Carpet weavers, poor folk
That for the Comrade Lenin also in their village

lenin-iqbal

Left – V. I. Lenin; Right – Urdu poet Mohammad Iqbal

A gypsum bust would be installed.
But as the money is collected for the bust
All of them stand
Trembling with fever and contribute
Their hard earned kopecks with wobbling hands.
And the Red Army soldier Stepa Jamal, who
Carefully counts and meticulously watches,
Sees the readiness, to honour Lenin, and is filled with joy.
But he also sees the uncertain hands.
And all of a sudden he makes a proposal
To buy petroleum with the money collected for the bust
In order to pour it on the swamp behind the camel cemetery
From where the mosquitoes come, which
Cause the fever
Thus to combat the fever in Kuyan-Bulak, and indeed
To honour the late, but
Not to be forgotten
Comrade Lenin.

This was agreed to. On the day of paying respect to
Lenin they carried
Their battered buckets, filled with black petroleum
One behind the other
Over there and spread it on the swamp.

So they benefited themselves, in paying homage to Lenin and
Paid homage to him, in that they benefited themselves and had
Therefore understood him well.

                        2

We have heard how the Kuyan-Bulak folk
Paid their respect to Lenin. As now in the evening
The petroleum had been bought and discharged over the swamp
Stood up a man in the assembly, and he demanded
That a commemoration stone be erected at the railway Station
Reporting these events, containing
The altered plan and the exchange
Instead of Lenin’s bust the fever eradicating petroleum barrel,
And all this in honour of Lenin
And they did that too
And mounted the slab.

(Note: Kuyan-Bulak is the railway station of Ferghana in Uzbekistan. The Slab had the text: ‘In this place there should have been a memorial to Lenin, but instead of the memorial, petroleum was brought and poured over the swamp. Thus Kuyan-Bulak, in memory of Lenin and in his Name smothered malaria’. Translator.)

The Jamaica Peace Council, an organization of Jamaicans at home and abroad, published in April 2019 this poem by Langston Hughes:

Lenin

Lenin walks around the world.

Frontiers cannot bar him.

Neither barracks nor barricades impede.

Nor does barbed wire scar him.

Lenin walks around the world.

Black, brown, and white receive him.

Language is no barrier.

The strangest tongues believe him.

Lenin walks around the world.

The sun sets like a scar.

Between the darkness and the dawn

There rises a red star.

As explanation, the author on the site writes:

The poem uses the figure of Vladimir Lenin as a stand-in for the march of social equality across the world, the hope of racial and economic harmony in the world.

Though Hughes didn’t identify as a communist and claimed to have never read Marxist texts at his congressional trial led by the infamous “Red Scare” Senator Joseph McCarthy, his poem describes an awakening in the world among oppressed people of the world for justice.

And of course there is the series of four poems, written from 1920 to 1924, by Vladimir

6db237f41c1e158fcfea5dd94c890250a6244359

V. Mayakovsky

Mayakovsky that celebrated the life of Lenin and commemorated his death. “The time has come,” Mayakovsky wrote:

I begin

the story of Lenin

Not

because the grief

is on the wane,

but because

the bitter anguish

of that moment

has become

a clear-cut,

weighed and fathomed pain.

Time,

speed on,

spread Lenin’s slogans in your whirl!

Not for us

to drown in tears

whatever happens.

There’s no one

more alive

than Lenin in the world,

our strength,

our wisdom,

surest of our weapons.

Poetry, then, is a way into understanding the international reverence for V. I. Lenin, and why he might have been on the minds of the young people in 1970, as perhaps they enjoyed a private joke behind the scenes at the expense of their elders who serendipitously chose April 22, 1970 to launch Earth Day.

Chances are, though, they didn’t know who Lenin really was.  They probably didn’t know that he was a Latin scholar, and that his first introduction to revolutionary writing was through the Russian novelist Chernyshevsky.  They probably had never read the essays he wrote about Tolstoy, a novelist whose writing he loved, but whose worship of Russian mysticism he detested: He could never understand how the revolutionary and the reactionary could coexist in one man.  He read widely in Russian literature (Pushkin, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, Gogol).  All of this and more was reviewed in The Guardian (“How Lenin’s Love of Literature Shaped the Revolution”) in 2017, as a way into looking at Lenin’s contribution to the Russian revolution and to the thinking of revolutionaries generally.

Lenin spent two decades building the foundation for the revolutionary organization capable of toppling the czar and establishing socialism in Russia.  At numerous points in that two decades he found himself in the minority among the revolutionaries.  Often he found himself in a small organization of exiles.  What he did in that twenty years was write furiously.  He wrote about the kind of tasks that were necessary (revolutionaries did not agree on those tasks; they did not agree on what forces in society were revolutionary; they did not agree on what role they should play as World War I got underway). He wrote about the ideological, organizational, and tactical building blocks necessary for the kind of political party he thought was necessary.  Some of these contributed some ideas particular to the revolutionary situation in Russia, ideas that he began to formulate when exiled early in his career to Siberia; when he researched and wrote a book that chronicled the Development of Capitalism in Russia. Here he maintained that despite the minuscule size of the Russian industrial working class, capitalism was already developing in Russia. Despite the general consensus that the Russian peasants were a monolithic class, Lenin described the stratification of peasantry into a wealthy section, a middle section, and the great mass of the peasantry at the level of an agricultural working class and serf.

He wrote the fourth book about the foundation of the necessary political party in 1908, and it was published in Russia in 1909. Here he defended the philosophical principles or world view of dialectical and historical materialism (Materialism and Empiriocriticism). It’s really in this book that he expounds on his idea of Marxism as a method as well as a theory and a doctrine.

Lenin in Russia in 1897 to 1917 faced a situation unlike in Germany, England, or the United States.  In those other countries the industrial revolution was well underway, appeared even complete.  Russia was in the beginning throes of the industrial revolution, much of the country enthralled to the big banks of Europe.  Lenin needed to devise a theory of the Russian revolution.  He did that in his description of the relationship of the various classes in Russia, the role of the working class and the peasantry, and the development of the national question in the Russian empire and beyond.  He did that by describing the objective reality the revolutionary classes faced and the role of the revolutionary organizations.  What is most significant about Lenin is his capacity to describe the reality he faced and the new ideas necessary for the new situation of his time and place.  He was a scientist.

What can we learn from Lenin’s experience on his 150th birthday?  In the 1970s, when I read Lenin I read him as the ideologue that I was.  What is to be Done?, State and Revolution, Left Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder, and Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism were the four books of my Talmud. I do not intend here to dismiss them as unimportant.  No, there are important lessons to be learned from all of them.  But the way we read them is important, especially when we realize we are no longer dealing with a revolution in the midst of industrialization. The great Russian political revolution was part of the 19th to 20th century economic industrial revolution. In fact, the ensuing liberation struggles of the colonies, the struggles that Lenin foresaw as the great movement of the 20th century, pulled those peoples into the orbit of industry and a connection to the capitalist world order, either through a bourgeois or a socialist revolution.  But that era is over.

A new economic revolution is underway.  And there are new Lenins walking the streets of our world, applying their understanding of the real world to develop a theory of today’s revolutionary times.  In 1917 — and from 1917 through the 1960s and the first Earth Day — history has witnessed the completion of the replacement of agricultural private property by industrial-financial private property. Today we are witnessing the demise of capitalism that exists on the exploitation of labor.  That seems counterintuitive, when we see people living in the streets and workers unable to buy the basic necessities of life.  But the robotization of contemporary life points to the end of wage labor.  If labor is excluded from the production of the means of survival, then there is no longer a way to measure the value in exchange of the means of survival. As long as money is the means of exchange, those expelled from the employer-employee relationship have no way to purchase the means of survival. The Lenin’s of our day must be developing a theory of the revolution of the end of the market and the end of private property under new conditions, when the way to resolve the problems we face must mean distribution without money.

On this Earth Day and this 150th birthday of Lenin, it’s time to recognize that the inspiration that Lenin gave to the poets in Urdu, the Russian poets, to Langston Hughes is real and deserving of reverence. We need to cultivate the Lenins of our times. Without discounting his numerous contributions, what we need to revere is Lenin’s scientific outlook and his willingness to find new solutions to solve new problems.

At The Junction — Lew Rosenbaum

[This is the first poem in my new chapbook, “Time’s Arrow.”  Being the January selection, I suppose it is appropriate for a December 31 post.  Each poem in the chapbook is linked to a month; but not all months are represented, and some months have more than one poem. — LR]

At The Junction

by Lew Rosenbaum

Janus

the two faced god

sits at the junction of before and afterjanus

he can’t fully give up the past and

won’t commit to the future

two faced meaning a liar?

perhaps he is telling tales that never were

or forecasts he knows will never come to pass

the counsel for what they call the political class

facing back he is gray-bearded but

looks forward without hair on his chin

this has always been the fascination

the disambiguation

the what’s-in-it-for-me kid

the facialization of January

a hell of a cold welcome for the baby new year

cold as hell

but out of the hell hole heat of the past year

with its wars and famine and

apocalyptic horsemen

hope springs eternal — again —

that this external new year will see no more war

not even bake sales this year for the pentagon

two faced Janus is a dreamer

when we need visionaries

dreaming of what was

trying to bring back

when the good times rolled

those ozzie and harriet days

when america was america

the america that never was for langston hughes

but janus can’t grasp the dialectic

it’s either yesterday or tomorrow

yet there is no tomorrow without yesterday

and if he’s not aiming for all those yesterdays

he’s telling us to close the door

build a wall

dig a moat

between yesterday and today

preserve our purity

the baby has no clothes

but the emperor with all his fascist robes

is naked in his vulturosity

what is my point anyway?

tomorrow is a new year

how new can it be

when we drag our ropa vieja with us

and they don’t fit, never will again,

don’t look back

something may be gaining on us

you can’t fool me

that by adding one day after another

something new strides forth

all those screams and fireworks and horns at midnight

full of sound and ecstasy that signify nothing

but another drunk corporatico plodding in snow

when the day breaks

protecting his stranglehold on his privates property,

the edifice of his wealth and the military that guards it,

the public display of his masturbo-obscenity

so what compels us to ask

what really is new under the sun?

what makes today different from any other

liturgical day

 

either the iron heel of robotofetishism

or the unheard-of abundance of all of us or none

everything or nothing

when the wretched of the earth arise

because we must and because we can

Married to the Revolution by Lew Rosenbaum

Married to the Revolution

 Remembering 41st And Central 50 Years Later

by Lew Rosenbaum

Fifty years ago, December 4, 1969, a Thursday — the same day Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were assassinated by the Chicago Police —  I was making plans in Los Angeles to take my girl friend Pam to San Francisco.  We were co-workers in the welfare department in Pasadena, California.  Tall, slim, with short blond hair and an engaging smile, she and I shared union and social justice interests. And let’s be honest:  Girl friend? we were just beginning to date, and I was looking forward to getting to know Pam better than casual or business conversation in the work environment would allow.

The weekend is now a blur.  Events which were about to happen may have shoved them into a permanent background. Probably they were nothing memorable anyway. I reconnected with a good friend from high school, then practicing optometry in Berkeley. Never saw him again. I tried to meet up with a friend who I’d last seen interning with the San Francisco Mime Troop.  That went nowhere. But I do know we left San Francisco Sunday afternoon in my VW bus, arriving in Los Angeles past midnight, early Monday morning.  I dropped her off at her apartment in Highland Park about 1 A.M. and went to mine, a small bungalow up 87 stairs from Isabel Terrace in the Cypress Park neighborhood.

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41st and Central was destroyed by the SWAT assault.

Then came the phone call that woke me up at about 5 A.M, Monday December 8. Marie Branch, a nurse who coordinated the Black Panthers’ Free Clinic, called me up.  I had come to meet and work with her through activity with the Friends of the Panthers in L.A. She told me that police had massed around the Panther headquarters on Central at 41st St and had attacked it with tear gas and bullets in a shootout that lasted four hours.  Marie wanted to see if I could rouse some of my medical student friends and have them put on their white jackets and offer a “medical presence”  as witnesses. Her team hoped we would provide an incentive for the police to withdraw.  

Within a matter of minutes I was dressed and out the door to pick up Pam as well as two students from the dormitory, Gordon and John.  Gordon had been an SDS member in college and wore his impetuosity on his sleeve; John was an older student, originally from Canada, and politically more mature than most of his U.S. counterparts. Conversation in the car circled around the events four days earlier in Chicago.  We found our way to what was then Santa Barbara Ave. (now renamed for Martin Luther King Jr. and 2 blocks north of 41st) and Central and discovered that Central was blocked by the police.  We turned one block west and again headed south, finding all streets to Central blocked by the police.  Frustrated and foolhardy, Gordon stuck his head out the window and shouted a derisive comment about the pigs (most likely “Off the Pigs”; we didn’t as much say “Fuck the Pigs” back in that day, Fuck 12 was unknown).  In a matter of minutes we were pulled over, spread-eagled against the car and searched.  Once the cops realized they only had some stupid white kids on their hands, they let us go with a warning.  Dawn had come and they had more important work to do than detain us.

We continued to Vernon Avenue, a few blocks south, parked and walked to the corner of Vernon and Central.  The canisters being fired near the headquarters boomed and the acrid smell of tear gas spread and lingered over our intersection.  The Monday morning crowd gathered on the street to catch a bus for work or just to watch and listen and cough in the fumes. From out of tight lipped mouths on taut and fearful faces grumbled and tumbled angry sounds about the occupying police. On the southwest corner of the intersection, in the parking lot of a fast food joint, a man in a brown suit and tie stood on a milk crate and soap-boxed to a crowd that gathered around him.  This street-corner sermonizer preached the gospel of stopping the police invasions of the community, and his instant parishioners nodded their heads in agreement. 

At 8:30 I walked to a nearby phone booth and called the welfare office.  I told my employer the story that Pam and I had concocted.  My van had broken down in San Luis Obispo on the way from the Bay Area, and we couldn’t get it fixed at night on a Sunday.  I said it was being repaired now and we should be on the road in an hour or so and in the office in the afternoon.  When I got back to the corner the cops were forcing their way through the crowd, beating the suited orator, handcuffing him and throwing him to a police vehicle.  Someone from the ACLU was also there to observe and asked us to testify

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LAPD arresting two BPP members after the shootout.  5000 rounds of ammunition were used during the raid.

on the orator’s behalf in court, and we agreed. By about 10 the crowd had mostly dispersed. The smell of tear gas still hung heavy over the corner, and the memory of what we had experienced still seared our brains. The gassing had forced out all the Panthers in the headquarters;  the police had riddled the body of Panther Party member Roland Freeman with bullets, but he survived. And the four of us headed back north, Gordon and John to class, Pam and I to work.

That night, Monday, the Friends of the Panthers called for a rally on Wednesday on the steps of city hall.  I wrote a leaflet explaining what happened and advertising the rally, printed it up and passed it out at work, an informational leaflet sponsored by Local 535 of the Social Workers Union.  My office manager, Esther Matthews, called me in to warn me:  under no circumstances was I to miss work or I would be terminated.  When I got off work I called a friend from medical school who had graduated and was a resident at County Hospital.  I guessed he would be at the rally, and I was right.  Neal offered to meet me there and give me a medical excuse I could take to Matthews.  It was a little more difficult than I thought, because in only two days 5,000 people showed up for the rally. 

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Dec. 11, 1969 on the steps of City Hall, Los Angeles.

But when I found Neal, he turned a gleeful smile in my direction and handed me the excuse.  

 

The story of the shootout is told here (the original article is from the Los Angeles Times) from within the Panther offices, fortified by the efforts of Vietnam War Vet and Panther leader Geronimo Pratt, and defended by youthful Party members until they ran out of ammunition and were suffocated by tear gas.  The SWAT assault on the headquarters begin at 4 AM and ended some four hours later. Reneé “Peaches” Moore, one of the two women in the building, led the defenders out under a white flag. After the events of December 4 in Chicago, the Panthers expected the LAPD to do something similar in Los Angeles.  They had prepared themselves, but they had no way to anticipate the assault of hundreds of police and the deployment of a Defense Department authorized tank. On their part, the cops rethought what kind of nine-lives-of-a-black-pantheroperation they were dealing with and sent their SWAT division for training with the army.  

Wayne Pharr, 19 years old on that day in 1969, was among the first to fire his weapon at the invading SWAT team and drive them out of the building.  In 2014, the Chicago Review Press imprint, Lawrence Hill Books published Pharr’s Nine Lives of a Black Panther which documents the history of the Los Angeles Panthers. Pharr died in September, 2014, at 64 years of age.  This obituary also contains a trailer to the documentary, “41st and Central,” that features a number of the surviving Panthers including Pharr, Pratt, and Freeman.

One more thing about December 4 and Fred Hampton.  These attacks were coordinated nationally against an organization the FBI deemed the greatest threat in the US.  Fred Hampton, who had built a coalition with Appalachian whites as well as Puerto Ricans in Chicago, explains why. “We say primarily that the priority of this struggle is class. That Marx and Lenin and Che Guevara and Mao Tse-Tung, and anybody else who ever said or knew or practiced anything about revolution, always said that a revolution is a class struggle.”  And then, “We might not be back. I might be in jail. I might be anywhere. But when I leave, you’ll remember I said, with the last words on my lips, that I am a revolutionary. And you’re going to have to keep on saying that. You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat; I am the people.”

On a personal note: later on in the week, when I asked Pam to go out to dinner, she told me that we should stop seeing each other.  She said she’d learned something she hadn’t realized before this weekend: that I was already married.  “Married,” she said, “to the revolution.”

Chicago Elections 2019 — The Aftermath

[This article was written for the People’s Tribune Chicago Area Facebook Page.

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Chicago Elections 2019:  The Runoffs –The Aftermath

Lew Rosenbaum

We said the November midterm elections were a wave of resistance. February 26 was just a prologue to what happened in the runoffs April 2. Here is a summary:

5th Ward: Incumbent Leslie Hairston leads Activist William Calloway by about 150 votes

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Jeanette Beatrice Taylor-Azeez (20th Ward)

(Calloway was the young man who made sure that the Laquan McDonald video was made public).  Until the mail ballots are counted, this is considered too close to call. Even if Calloway loses, it speaks to the direction, the possibility of organization around the issues that formed the basis of the Calloway campaign.

15th Ward: Incumbent Ray Lopez beat Rafa Yanez by 20 percentage points (Yanez was backed by unions and had a pretty good program).

20th Ward: Activist Jeanette Beatrice Taylor-Azeez won handily!!! This is very big. Taylor was not only a hunger striker to keep open a school in her neighborhood, but she has been a grass roots activist for 20 years. Working class forces who have been unable to get their demands met for their basic rights, like fully funded public schools, are taking those demands into the electoral arena.

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Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th Ward)

25th Ward: Byron Sigcho-Lopez beat Alex Acevedo!!! Byron has been a public schools activist for many years, a researcher who exposed the corruption in the UNO Charter School network, and is now director of the Pilsen Alliance.  He embraced the five-point program of the Puerto Rican Concerned Voters, a program that calls for basic rights like housing and health care.  He has also supported the People’s Tribune.

30th Ward: Incumbent Ariel Reboyras turned back the challenge of Jessica Gutierrez, only winning by only 300 votes, 4 percentage points (Reboyras is a Rahm shill who supports the cops; Gutierrez is the daughter of former congressman Luis Gutierrez.)

33rd Ward: Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez leads incumbent Deb Mell by 65 votes with all precincts counted. Mail ballots will determine the winner. This will be very big if she wins — Rossana is a declared member of DSA and her words have been highly publicized, opposing the Chicago machine, supporting housing for all. The Mell family has run this ward for 40 years.

40th Ward: Activist Andre Vasquez soundly defeated long time incumbent Pat O’Connor!!! This is likely the most important race in the city. O’Connor has been in office

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Andre Vasquez (40th Ward)

since 1983, was part of the bloc that prevented Harold Washington from getting work done — the Vrdolyak 29 — and is one of the most powerful aldermen. Vasquez also has the flair of hip-hop performer, because he was one;  and he comes right out of the working class, bringing his personal struggles for housing and education to the electoral arena. He is a DSA member. He was endorsed by United Working Families and Reclaim Chicago.

46th Ward: Incumbent James Cappleman leads Marianne Lalonde by the slimmest margin, only 23 votes. Awaiting the mail ballots to determine the outcome. If Lalonde can make up the difference, this will be almost as big as ousting O’Connor, because Cappleman was appointed to chair the Zoning Committee instead of disgraced alderman Danny Solis. Lalonde is a scientist (literally) with roots in community organizations.  Just taking Cappleman down would be a big win.

47th Ward: Matt Martin soundly defeated Rahm surrogate Michael Negron. Martin was backed by a number of progressives and the United Working Families, and his opponent was a supporter of the cops.

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Maria Hadden (49th Ward)

In other words, joining the victories from the February 26 election Daniel La Spata (1),(Sue Garza (10), Mike Rodriguez(22), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa(35),  and Hadden (49)) we have definite victories in 20, 25, 40 and 47; too close to call in 33 and 46; and a remarkable showing in 5. (A quick note that we did not mention Mike Rodriguez earlier. Former staffer for retiring alderman Rick Munoz, Rodriguez was tapped to run by Munoz and was also endorsed by United Working Families.

The characteristic of this election is that a large number of the “ins” were turned out.  In some cases, the incumbents faced challenges like they had never faced before. People are dissatisfied with what government has been able to do for them.  To the extent they still think that they can find some redress in the electoral offices, they came to the polls to express that dissatisfaction. That necessarily is disrupting the political stranglehold the Democratic Party has had on Chicago.  This is not simply an ideological battle for an abstract “socialist” idea.  It is a life and death fight carried out for the right to housing, health care, education. It swarms from the polarization of wealth and poverty, that arises from jobs being automated out of existence forever. The old ability of the “Democratic Party machine” to mobilize voters is dissipating, while organizations like United Working Families is staking a claim for the allegiance of workers. Ten of the UWF endorsees are now on City Council, if Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez wins her seat, and that includes the 5 people who are members of the Democratic Socialists of America.

We can’t forget, however, the losses. In the general election John Arena lost his seat on the basis of some overt racist/anti-working class propaganda about his support of affordable housing;  also in the general election corrupt and indicted alderman Ed Burke won re-election with some 54% of the vote. (This could be considered something of a victory since he nearly was forced into a runoff by Tanya Patino, a good candidate, the first time he has faced a challenger since dinosaurs roamed the earth.  But he won.)

And then there is the mayoral election itself.  The landslide victory of Lori Lightfoot (she won every ward and all but 20 of the 2029 precincts in the city) confirms the conclusion that this was a vote against the “ins.”  Lightfoot was able to project herself as an outsider ready to drain the corrupt swamp, at the same time that she had been a Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointee and a high paid lawyer with a “silk stocking” law firm;  while Preckwinkle ran a campaign that emphasized her experience and demonstrated ability to do the job.  It didn’t help that doing the job meant defending two of the most corrupt Chicago politicians and a very unpopular, regressive tax.

The most consistent opinion in the general election at the grass roots was against Bill Daley, scion of the Daley dynasty. There was very little enthusiasm for anyone. Once the runoff campaign began, the inevitability of an African-American woman mayor dawned not only on the electorate, but on the makers and shakers of Chicago politics.  Public worker unions wound up contributing over $4 million to the Preckwinkle campaign (public worker contracts are coming up in a number of bargaining units; pensions are a big shadow over the Chicago budget).  The building trades unions contributed over $500,000 to the Lightfoot campaign (at stake are union construction jobs at the airport expansion).

Meanwhile a mixture of Democratic Party functionaries endorsed each candidate.  One Rahm functionary after another came down on the side of Lightfoot. In the down ballot races, Rahm’s Chicago Forward PAC contributed to all of his incumbent friends and non-incumbent allies running in open races.  With all the money in the election, the turnout was barely more than 30% of the electorate.  And despite the machine money (Union money and boots on the ground), the weakness of the machine was everywhere evident. One significant exception was the failure to oust incumbents on the South and West sides, long the base of support of the Party machine.

One last way to look at this mayoral election:  the precincts that voted against Harold Washington in 1983, that is, that voted for a Republican rather than a Black Democrat, voted in this election for Lori Lightfoot, some in the highest percentages in the city. That is food for thought about what they expect from this candidate.

The tremendous advances that we’ve seen in this election should only whet our appetite, not satisfy us or make us complacent.  In fact, for all that was accomplished, here are a couple of sobering thoughts.

First of all, again about the election turnout.  What do the majority of Chicagoans think about these candidates?  Does the electorate think that voting makes a difference?   In some wards, the cynicism was rife.  But how can you blame people whose votes are taken for granted and whose elected representatives don’t bother to represent? The signs are there that a sleeping giant is awakening, how quickly we don’t know, but direction is more important than speed.

Second, even though we can toss O’Connor overboard onto the trash heap of history, even if we can get rid of Hairston, Cappleman and Mell, even if in Wards 1, 5, 10, 15, 20, 22, 25, 33, 40, 46 and 47 the winners are ready to fight for a program of the working class, that still leaves a 80% of councilmen in place; council members who graze in the pastures of wealth.  It will be an uphill battle for the working class, and we’d best remember, happy as we are about where we win,  that the victory is less in the seats captured than in forming ourselves into a battle-ready contingent for future encounters.

We won a lot in this election cycle including the runoffs, we have a potential network of grass roots activists developing across this city. We need to celebrate and lick our wounds and get busy. We especially won the right and responsibility to up our game and keep fighting together for that which did energize the electorate:  the right to housing, education,  police accountability and an end to violence, and all the basic needs of the people.

Now comes the real work.

 

Chicago Elections 2019: The (April) Day Of

Chicago Elections 2019:  April 2

by Lew Rosenbaum

This is more than a guide to the election map of April 2, 2019.  Enough people are talking

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Mayor Emanuel isn’t running, but his fingerprints are all over the crime scene.  He has personally given thousands from his campaign war chest; and his PAC, Chicago Forward, has spread money like peanut butter on the campaigns of his allies.  He’s hoping to preserve his “legacy” by ensuring that his friends remain in their seats.

about how this election could transform city council, how there are some exciting candidates as well as a load of incumbents deserving to be retired. We don’t have 20-20 hindsight yet, so we can’t offer perfect predictions of what will happen.  But here’s the deal:  a debate about major questions of our survival is raging across the electoral landscape.  Whether or not you will have a house or home to return to;  whether or not your neighborhood school will be replaced by privatized charters; whether or not mental health clinics will be restored;  whether or not police will continue to terrorize our communities; these are real debates taking place from wards on the south side to the north.

The demands that people have been making, for example for police accountability and for housing as a human right, have pushed a new crop of candidates into the electoral arena.  As much focus has been on the individual candidates, we should be paying at least as much attention to the movement on whose waves these candidates are riding. And while there is a significant amount of simply populist backlash to turn the long term incumbents out, the real catalyst to the emergence of the new crop of challengers is the anger — righteous and deep — of the people.

Let’s look at some of the wards up for grabs.

Ward 5: Activist William Calloway, best known for his efforts to bring the video of the murder of  Laquan McDonald to the public, has forced incumbent Leslie Hairston into a runoff.  His main support comes from the South Shore neighborhood, but he has gotten an endorsement from the other Hairston challenger, Gabriel Piemonte, whose base is in Hyde Park.  Hairston came close to winning outright, so this will be a difficult one to flip. What makes this race even more interesting is that Willie Wilson endorsed Calloway over Hairston (no love lost between Wilson and Rahm Emanuel).  Wilson took more African American majority wards than any other candidate in the February election. A Calloway victory holds the most promise for the workers of the fifth Ward.

Ward 15: Rafa Yanez led 4 other candidates to force Rahm Emanuel rubber stamp Ray Lopez into a runoff, but just barely.  Yanez had union support in the first round and continues with union support and the endorsement of United Working Families.  A former policeman, he has been vocal in supporting the NoCopAcademy campaign and exposing abuse in the police, not as a matter of bad individuals but as a systemic problem.  Rafa Yanez has the movement support that could make a change in the ward.

Ward 20: Nine candidates vied in February to replace retired/indicted alderman Willie

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David Orr retired as County Clerk. He has played a role in the elections often endorsing candidates opposing the incumbents.  This is an indication of fissures developing in the Democratic Party itself.

Cochran.  Of these, Jeanette Taylor and Nicole Johnson made the runoff.  Jeanette, with 29% of the vote, came to the attention of Chicagoans with her participation in a hunger strike to keep Dyett School open.  She earned her right to be part of that group, by decades of volunteer work leading the Local School Councils in the neighborhood.  Her fight for public education is not a whim; it’s life or death, a matter of survival for her, her children and the families where she grew up.  Incidentally, she apparently just joined DSA.  Jeanette Taylor shows something about how the programmatic demands of the people are embodied in the candidates themselves.

Ward 25: In 2015, Byron Sigcho-Lopez and other challengers almost forced Danny Solis into a runoff.  This year Solis decided not to run, after the FBI got him to wear a wire to establish corruption among the aldermen.  Byron is in a runoff this time against Alex Acevedo, a machine hack.  Hilario Dominguez, a teacher and one of the other candidates with progressive endorsement, has endorsed Sigcho-Lopez, who has impressive credentials fighting for public education and against charters (he did a lot of the work uncovering the corruption in the UNO charter network).  He is also an activist in Pilsen Alliance and embraced the “Five Point Program” of the Concerned Puerto Rican Voters, a model of the fight for basic needs.  The movement around Byron Sigcho-Lopez provides an opportunity to develop a citywide network of fighters against gentrification and for public education.

Ward 30: Ariel Reboyras, the incumbent in the ward and Rahm Emanuel shill, is best known this year as the man who went to the West Coast to research police oversight practices, and came back with two proposals to divert from the Chicago Police Accountability Council, or CPAC.  Jessica Gutierrez, daughter of former Congressman Luis Gutierrez, is in the runoff challenging Reboyras. To some extent this campaign reflects an opposition to Emanuel and the whole police accountability question. A vote for Gutierrez could solidify that opposition.

Ward 33: Rossana Rodriguez has become the star of the runoff season.  She actually polled more votes than the incumbent, but not enough to win outright.  Rodriguez has run as a Democratic Socialist;  the incumbent, Deb Mell, is the daughter of long time Chicago pol Dick Mell, a loyal follower of Rahm Emanuel.  More important than her star quality is that Rodriguez has embraced the NoCopAcademy campaign, supports CPAC, wants an elected school board, and seeks housing as a human right.  Endorsed by United Working Families, a citywide movement is coalescing around the Rossana Rodriguez. campaign.

Ward 40: Alderman Pat O’Connor was part of the Vrdolyak 29 that obstructed Mayor Harold Washington’s program in 1983. He never apologized for his participation in this racist, anti-working class cabal.  As the floor leader in city council for Mayor Emanuel, O’Connor did Emanuel’s bidding for the last eight years.  When Alderman Ed Burke was indicted 6 months ago for extortion and then stripped of his chairmanship of the powerful finance committee, Emanuel placed O’Connor in his place.  In that role just last week he prevented a referendum from reaching the floor of the Council that would tax sales of homes more than $1 million.  That tax would provide funds for services for the homeless. Andre Vasquez was the first among challengers to O’Connor’s seat and will face him in the runoff.  Coming out of the hip-hop movement, Vasquez has embraced everything decent that O’Connor opposes.  He’s endorsed by United Working Families and points out that his winning this office would allow for the further development of a Socialist Caucus of aldermen. Ousting O’Connor by itself would be a worthy achievement. As with a number of other wards, here too the movement for affordable housing for all, for public schools, for police accountability could be solidified with the victory of Andre

Erika and other challengers in 46th ward

Before the February 26 election, the challengers in the 46th ward agreed to support whoever got into a runoff against Alderman O’Connor

Vasquez.

Ward 46:When the votes were counted after the February 26 election, less than 300 votes separated the three top challengers to incumbent Jim Cappleman, gentrifier extraordinaire.  Any of the three would have been a vast improvement over the man Emanuel tapped to take Danny Solis’s (the alderman who wore the wire, ward 25) position on the Zoning Committee. That lot fell to Marianne Lalonde, a PhD chemist who is also on the Board of a shelter for homeless women, Sarah’s Circle.  She is a fierce advocate for people experiencing homelessness, a big problem in Uptown where this ward is located.  Cappleman gained about 44% of the vote in February; Lalonde’s chances are improved by the fact that the other challenger candidates have endorsed her. Getting rid of Cappleman would be advantageous by itself.  A victory for Lalonde could strengthen an already strong movement for housing and education in this ward. 

Ward 47:  Alderman Pawar decided not to run for re-election and instead to run for treasurer.  Nine candidates vied for this office. Matt Martin won 40% of the vote and will face Michael Negron in the runoff.  Martin is endorsed by United Working Families and has a good chance of winning this seat.

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On February 26, volunteers pack the 49th Ward office of Maria Hadden turning out the vote that gave her practically a 2 to 1 margin of victory.

We should at least note that Democratic Socialist  Daniel LaSpata beat incumbent Proco “Joe” Moreno by a 2 to 1 margin; and Democratic Socialist Carlos Ramirez Rosa retained his seat with 60% of the vote. Maria Hadden ousted incumbent Joe Moore by an almost 2 to 1 margin; Moore held his seat for 28 years and operated as a gatekeeper for Rahm Emanuel.  But we should also note that John Arena, a champion of affordable housing, lost his seat because of racist and anti-homeless smear by his challenger.   Most of the African American incumbents on the South and West side retained their seats regardless of their sycophant connection to the Democratic Party machine.

The Mayor: If you have read this far, you are perhaps wondering if we are ever going to discuss the mayoral race.  For a race between deeply flawed candidates, this campaign has ignited considerable passion.  Of the original 14 candidates, few would have predicted that two African-American women would face off against each other.  That the next mayor will be an African American woman is pretty remarkable in this city.  One, Lori Lightfoot, is best known as a Rahm Emanuel appointee to the police review board as well as a federal prosecutor and a lawyer for one of the most connected law firms in the city. Her defense of police in, for example, the Rekia Boyd murder, has earned her the enmity of the police accountability movement.  The other, Toni Preckwinkle, chairs the Cook County Democratic Party.  She is the ultimate insider with scads of experience as an alderman and also as the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.  Anyone in politics as long as Preckwinkle would have to have ties to the corrupt (ties to the recently indicted Ed Burke and the disgraced Joe Berrios).

Preckwinkle has raised over $8 million for her campaign, while Lightfoot in excess of $4 million.  Preckwinkle’s top donors include various branches of SEIU for about half of her donations (teachers’ unions have contributed about $400,000).  Lightfoot has gotten about $500,000 from the Laborers Union and has been endorsed by the Plumbers.  It appears that the Building Trades have more confidence in a Lightfoot administration, while public workers and service workers unions think they have more to gain from Preckwinkle winning.  The newspapers (Chicago Tribune, Sun Times, Crain’s) have endorsed Lightfoot. Both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle style themselves as progressive and independent, though their claims make one wonder if we are speaking the same language.

As we said above, the passions are running high in this campaign among activists. The opinions on both sides are understandable, and the objectives (stopping a cop supporter vs dealing a blow to “the machine”) are worthy.  A number of the activists on both sides of the divide recognize that, no matter who wins, the movement is going to have to fight like hell.  And, with respect for the passions of those involved, that is the word we want to leave you with:  no matter who wins, we are going to have to fight like hell.  Thankfully, with the rising movement in the wards around the fight for survival, a citywide movement of those at the bottom will be much more possible.

The Compromise of 1850: Chris Mahin writes about abolitionism then and now

[People’s Tribune correspondent and independent scholar Chris Mahin writes about history so that we can learn from it.  The fight against slavery has a lot to teach us today about the property relations under which we live.  The article challenges us to think about what being “moderate” in today’s world means.  LR]

The Compromise of 1850:

Learn from the uncompromising spirit of the abolitionists!

BY CHRIS MAHIN

He spoke to a packed chamber, in 100-degree heat, for three hours and 11 minutes, barely using his few notes. Afterward, a leader of the fight against slavery declared that the oration had transformed the man who delivered it from a lion into a spaniel. One of the country’s most talented writers composed a famous poem likening him to Satan. A prominent New England minister compared him to Benedict Arnold.

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Daniel Webster, the Senator from Massachusetts, who used his oratory to support the “Compromise of 1850,” and thus was transformed from a lion into a spaniel.

This month marks the anniversary of the day that U.S. Senator Daniel Webster of Massachusetts gave his notorious “Seventh of March” speech in the U.S. Senate. On March 7, 1850, Webster used his considerable eloquence to support the “Compromise of 1850,” a series of measures designed to appease the slaveholding South. The events of 1850 are worth examining because that political crisis has much to teach us about how the fight against unjust property relations unfolds – and who can be trusted in such crises (and who can’t).

The crisis of 1850 had been brewing for a long time. While the United States was founded on slavery, by the middle 1800s, the population and economic capacity of the free North was surpassing that of the slaveholding South. The defenders of the slave system desperately needed to expand slavery into the West. When the settlers of California petitioned Congress for admission into the Union late in 1849, the stage was set for a showdown. Admitting California to the Union as a free state would tip the balance of power in Congress in favor of the free states. To prevent that, representatives of the slave states threatened to secede from the Union.

In response, Kentucky Senator Henry Clay crafted a series of proposed laws. While described as a “compromise,” they were heavily weighted in the South’s favor. California would be admitted into the Union as a free state, but slavery would not be banned in the rest of the vast territory seized from Mexico in the war of 1846-1848. While the slave trade would be banned in the District of Columbia, slavery itself would remain legal there. The “compromise” also included a new, stronger Fugitive Slave Act requiring the free states to send runaway slaves back to slavery. 

Clay’s “compromise” outraged not just those people who advocated the immediate abolition of slavery throughout the United States, but also those who accepted slavery in

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Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, who, since the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had built a reputation as the great compromiser.

the South but were opposed to slavery being spread elsewhere. Daniel Webster had been on record since 1837 as opposing the extension of slavery into the territories. Yet, on March 7, 1850, he vigorously supported Clay’s proposals. Webster argued that preserving the Union was more important than anything else. 

Webster’s speech split the country. Shortly after the speech, the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator published an eight-column analysis refuting Webster’s arguments. Within days of the Massachusetts senator’s appearance on the Senate floor, a mass meeting in Faneuil Hall in Boston condemned Webster’s speech as “unworthy of a wise statesman and a good man,” and resolved that “Constitution or no Constitution, law or no law, we will not allow a fugitive slave to be taken from the state of Massachusetts.”

In his speech, Webster had denounced the abolitionists, referring to them contemptuously as “these agitating people,” and declaring that they had contributed “nothing good or valuable.”

“At the same time,” he declared – with great condescension – “I believe thousands of their members to be honest and good men. … They have excited feelings; … they do not see what else they can do than to contribute to an Abolition press, or to an Abolition society, or to pay an Abolition lecturer.” 

Webster specifically condemned the abolitionists for fighting to convince people that the question of slavery was a moral question. He argued that by posing the slavery question that way, the abolitionists treated morality as if it had the certainty of mathematics and made compromise impossible. 

By the end of September 1850, all the different pieces of the “Compromise of 1850” had been passed by the U.S. Congress – but civil war was only postponed, not averted. The new Fugitive Slave Law allowed slave catchers easier access to their prey – even in Boston, the city where the killing of a runaway slave by British troops had begun the American Revolution.

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The Liberator, a preeminent voice of abolition, inscribed on its masthead, “Our Country is the World, Our Countrymen are all Mankind”

For 10 years after the compromise which was supposed to settle the slavery question in the United States “forever,” the abolitionists hammered home their message about the immorality of slavery. It was not Webster’s willingness to compromise his principles that helped push history forward; it was the abolitionists’ unwillingness to compromise theirs. Today, the world needs revolutionaries willing to be as uncompromising as the advocates of the immediate abolition of slavery were in the 19th century, and willing to proclaim their message as forthrightly as those abolitionists did.[

As we fight an unjust set of property relations today, we should strive to use the revolutionary press and the speaker’s platform as skillfully as the abolitionists did then. Like the abolitionists, we should be bold and insist on describing the existence of massive wealth alongside massive poverty as a moral question – because it is one. If we do that, we will pay the best tribute that can possibly be paid to those “agitating people” of the 19th century with their abolition presses and lecturers and societies, people who – Daniel Webster notwithstanding – contributed something very good and valuable to society indeed. 

[This article originally appeared in the March 2000 edition of the People’s Tribune. We encourage reproduction of articles from the People’s Tribune, so long as you credit the source. Copyright © 2019 People’s Tribune. Visit us at http://peoplestribune.org.
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Chicago Elections 2019: The Day After

Chicago Elections 2019:  The Day After

Lew Rosenbaum

[This article was written for the People’s Tribune Chicago Area Facebook Page.

The People’s Tribune encourages reproduction of articles so long as you credit the source. Copyright © 2019 People’s Tribune. Visit us at http://peoplestribune.org Please donate whatever you can to the People’s Tribune! We are supported by reader donations. We get no grants, have no paid staff and have no advertisements. Donate via PayPal at peoplestribune.org or send to PT, PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654-3524.]

If the November midterm elections were a wave of resistance, how to describe the Chicago general election of February 26, 2019? With sub-freezing weather coupled with a lackluster bevy of 14 mayoral candidates, turnout rose only slightly above record low numbers.  One thing was consistent throughout: the electorate is showing how fed up they are with the officials who ignore them or actively work against them.  The people are taking their fight for housing, healthcare, schools and a safe community to the polls, and candidates are stepping up to respond.

Here is a brief list of what the people of the city of Chicago accomplished yesterday:

  • 1st. Ward: Voted overwhelmingly against corrupt incumbent Proco Joe Moreno, electing in his place Daniel LaSpata
  • 5th Ward: William Calloway, perhaps best known for fighting to have the video of the murder of Laquant McDonald released, appears to have forced Leslie Hairston into a runoff.
  • 10th Ward: Sue Sadlowski Garza won re-election in a deindustrialized South side ward, once a center of steel production in the midwest.
  • 14th Ward: Ed Burke, longest sitting alderman in Chicago history, now under indictment for extortion, retained his seat by an unexpectedly slim margin.  Tanya Patino captured almost a third of the vote in her challenge to Burke.
  • 15th Ward:  Rafa Yanez forced incumbent Raymond Lopez into a runoff.
  • 20th Ward: Jeannette Taylor, long time community activist and leader in the Dyett School hunger strike is the leading candidate in a runoff in a ward without an incumbent running.
  • 25th Ward:  Byron Sigcho-Lopez, an activist in the Pilsen Alliance and in struggles around education, won nearly 30% of the vote to force a runoff in the ward formerly represented by the corrupt former chair of the zoning committee, Danny Solis.
  • 33rd Ward:  Rosanna Rodriguez-Sanchez actually leads incumbent Deb Mell in the vote tally.  Both are polling a little above 40%,  in a ward that will see a runoff in April.
  • 35th Ward: Democratic Socialist Carlos Ramirez-Rosa was reelected.
  • 40th Ward: Andre Vasquez will face incumbent Pat O’Connor in a runoff.   The main issue in this ward, says Vasquez, is affordable housing.  O’Connor has been Emanuel’s floor leader in the City Council, was tapped to head the finance committee when Burke was stripped of his chairmanship of that committee.  One of the most powerful of the City Council, O’Connor only got a third of the votes.
  • 45th Ward: We missed this one in the original article. Jim Gardiner defeated incumbent John Arena in a close race, capturing 51% of the votes.  Arena was elected in 2011 and in 2012 was one of very few alderman willing to walk a Chicago Teachers Union picket line. He was reelected in 2015 by only 30 votes.  In the last years he has taken heat for supporting affordable housing in his ward, assailed by critics who accused him of bringing “Cabrini Green” to his ward — a naked racist slur referencing the now-demolished near north housing project. Kathy Powers writes us: “You missed the 45th ward (Jefferson Park) .We lost the very special John Arena who actually fought and won a NEW building for accessible, affordable housing on Northwest Highway. I protested there a couple of times. The racist SOBs in JP didn’t like it.”
  • 46th Ward: With 3 precincts left to be counted, three challengers are separated by 300 votes in their bid to unseat gentrifier-in-chief James Cappleman.  Maryann Lalonde seems most likely to wind up in the runoff, followed closely by Erika Wozniak Francis and Angela Clay.  The challengers have promised to support whoever gets into the runoff against Cappelman, whom Emanuel has tapped to lead the Zoning committee instead of disgraced Danny Solis.
  • 49th Ward: Maria Hadden trounced 28 year incumbent Joe Moore, winning nearly

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    At the Maria Hadden campaign office on election day, Feb. 26.  Maria is in the right foreground.  Photo taken from her FB page, posted by Jeff Reed

    2/3 of the votes against her opponent.  Hadden announced in her victory speech that the next step would be to mobilize to help other similar candidates in other wards.  This could have important consequences for runoff campaigns, especially the 40th and 46th Wards, where entrenched, reactionary aldermen are vulnerable.

  • Furthermore — incumbents were forced into runoffs in the 16th, 21st, 30th, 31st and 43rd, Wards.  It’s noteworthy that incumbent John Arena lost to James Gardiner in the 45th Ward. It’s also worth mentioning that Ariel Reboyras, the incumbent in the 30th Ward, distinguished himself in the last year by bringing to City Council two police oversight proposals intended to undercut the CPAC (Chicago Police Accountability Commission) proposal, an outgrowth of community, grassroots agitation.

And then there is the mayoral election itself.  While there were some very fervently held opinions about the candidates, the most consistent at the grass roots was against Bill Daley, scion of the Daley dynasty. There was very little enthusiasm for anyone. People often modified their arguments for any candidate  by the proviso, “She’s not perfect, but . . .” All of the top four candidates, who together garnered about 60% of the votes, had ties to the “Chicago Machine.”  Lori Lightfoot, who had never won elected office but had been appointed to various positions in city administration, was the “outsider” and  won the most votes.  Daley, who served in the Obama and Clinton administrations , received $2 million from hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin.  Toni Preckwinkle is Chair of the Cook County Democratic Party.  She occupies a power base in the Party tactically in opposition to Emanuel, but strategically going in the same direction.  Susana Mendoza, on the other hand, has distinct connections to Emanuel.  The indictment of Ed Burke ensnared both Mendoza and Preckwinkle in a web of corruption that they can’t entirely shake.  The runoff between Lightfoot and Preckwinkle will yield the first African American woman mayor of the city.  It will not yield a mayor friendly to the interests of the working class, whatever it’s color.

The tremendous advances that we’ve seen in this election should only whet our appetite, not satisfy us or make us complacent.  In fact, for all that was accomplished, here are a couple of sobering thoughts.

First of all, the election turnout.  What do the majority of Chicagoans think about these candidates?  Does the electorate think that voting makes a difference?  Even in wards like the 49th, the turnout was 40% and rarely in the city exceeded 45%.  In some wards, the cynicism was rife.  But how can you blame people whose votes are taken for granted and whose elected representatives don’t bother to represent? The signs are there that a sleeping giant is awakening, how quickly we don’t know, but direction is more important than speed.

Second, even if we can toss O’Connor and Cappleman overboard onto the trash heap of history, even if in Wards 5, 15, 20, 25, and 33 the winners are ready to fight for a program of the working class, that still leaves a large number of politicians in place that graze in the pastures of wealth.  It will be an uphill battle for the working class, and we’d best remember that the victory is less in the seats captured than in forming ourselves into a battle-ready contingent for future encounters.

We won a lot in this election cycle, which continues now until April 2 and the runoff. No matter what happens in the runoffs, we have a potential network of grass roots activists developing across this city. We especially won the right and responsibility to up our game and keep fighting together for that which did energize the electorate:  the right to housing, education,  police accountability and an end to violence, and all the basic needs of the people.

[See also “The Four Aldermen of the Apocalypse” on this blog.]