Readers’ Views, May-June 2011

June 8, 2011

From the new issue of NEWS & LETTERS, May-June 2011:

Readers’ Views




Abahlali BaseMjondoloA call by Abahlali baseMjondolo for Madikizela to step down as MEC [Member of the Executive Council of Western Cape] followed a number of illegal evictions and demolitions carried out by the provincial human settlement department he heads. After our Western Cape organization had staged a number of protests calling on Madikizela to resign, we are protesting again in front of the housing department to demand a signed letter of resignation by Madikizela. For more information on illegal evictions at Gugulethu, please call Mncedisi Twalo, who is the Chairperson of Gugulethu Anti-eviction Campaign and a co-coordinator of Western Cape Anti-eviction Campaign, at: 078 580 8646.

–Abahlali baseMjondolo, South Africa


The Movement is growing and events are unfolding rapidly at the University of San Francisco (USF). After the secret sale of the community radio station KUSF (see March-April N&L), USF planned to evict Upward Bound, a Civil Rights era college-prep program which has served low-income students on the campus for 45 years. The program has allowed thousands of students who never considered college to have access to higher education.

Protests by students, faculty and community members–against the Jesuit university administration’s continuing abandonment of its professed ideals of social responsibility and service to the community–have now had a positive result: it pays to fight back. Still reeling from the ongoing demonstrations against the closing of KUSF, the administration reversed its course on April 15 and will continue to sponsor Upward Bound, though it will now be providing an off-campus space for it.

The Movement is feeling its strength. We will fight for as long and hard as it takes to get KUSF back and to make full access to education a living right for everyone.

–Students, faculty, and community fighters for justice, San Francisco


The enactment of labor safety laws, spurred by the Triangle Waist Company factory fire 100 years ago, was the culmination of the intense labor, feminist and anti-racist struggles that had followed the Civil War. Yet today, despite boycotts of sweatshop garments by college students, and worldwide resistance, sweatshops continue to operate, including in the U.S. Recently in Bangladesh, a sweatshop caught fire and over 20 young women died–some, like the Triangle workers, jumped ten stories to their death.

Today, even organized labor must fight for its right to exist. The attack on the right to collective bargaining is a stab at its very heart. People fought and died to win the power of uniting to resist the domination of capital. While much of the commemoration here in New York this year focused on finding the unknown grave sites of some of the 149 victims of the Triangle Fire, it is understanding the historic threads which led to labor victories in the past that will retain and develop those achievements for the future. That is the surest means of honoring the Triangle Fire victims.

–Susan Van Gelder, New York

Recent studies of old railroad documents have brought to light grim new revelations about U.S. labor history. In June 1832, a group of 57 Irish immigrant workers arrived at Duffy’s Cut, just west of Philadelphia, to work on the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad. Within two months all were dead and buried in a mass grave.

At first it was believed that they had all died of cholera, but a recent discovery of Pennsylvania Railroad documents and an archeological dig of the mass grave have revealed that most appear to have died from a mass murder by local vigilantes, by blunt trauma to the head and bullet wounds. Rather than treat them for cholera, the contractor considered them to be expendable. The remains that can be identified will be repatriated to Ireland, and others will be re-buried in a nearby cemetery for which a new marker is being prepared in memory of all the workers who died there.

Donations for the marker can be sent to: Duffy’s Cut Project, Box 667, Immaculata University, Immaculata, PA 19345 or call William Watson at the university. (610) 647-4400 Ext. 3491.

–D. Cheneville, California

A new book, 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart, seems to me to back up Raya Dunayevskaya’s view that it was the Black slaves themselves, through their drive for freedom, who brought about a revolution in the minds of Northern whites, and made the Civil War into a revolutionary war of liberation. It’s not exactly how the author put it, but he definitely caught something.

He shows that the slaves shook things up from the very beginning of the war just by taking refuge with Union troops, who began to recognize the drive for freedom in people they had little understood. Eventually even President Lincoln’s thinking was changed. Goodheart quotes Lincoln’s Secretary of State Seward: “The Emancipation Proclamation was uttered in the first gun fired at Sumter, and we have been the last to hear it.”

–Marxist-Humanist, Chicago


On March 19, 80 people gathered in the Lynwood suburb of Los Angeles at the spot where 20-year-old Johnathan Cuevas was killed by L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies on Oct. 10, 2010. Deputies had confronted Johnathan while he was walking with friends. An eyewitness stated that he was shot in the back while running away, then was turned over by an officer and shot in the front. There has been no information released by the deputies to the family, not even the deputy’s name.

Members of Youth Justice Coalition, Southern California Immigration Coalition, Justice for Oscar Grant and the October 22 Coalition were present to support Johnathan’s family. “Family and Friends of Victims of Police Violence” protesters held photos of other recent “stolen lives,” mostly Black and Brown unarmed youths shot and killed with impunity by police, sometimes with 20 to 40 shots. More than 100 people have been killed in officer-involved shootings in L.A. County in less than two years.

The protesters marched over a mile to an L.A. County Sheriff station/detention center. Inside the lobby we held a candlelight vigil, chanting, “Stop Killer Cops” and “No Justice, No Peace.” We heard poetry and speeches against police brutality and violations of civil rights and human rights. Johnathan’s mother said that the deputies claimed he was a gang member, but he wasn’t. She said he was loving, that he always let her know where he was and with whom. She wants the Sheriff to answer some of her questions, like why they didn’t use tasers or rubber bullets or chase and tackle? Why did it take ten minutes to get him to a hospital only three minutes away?

–Protester, Los Angeles


I was at a “men’s” rally where hundreds of thousands of Yemenis marched through Sana’a’s streets. I marched with them. Keep in mind that Yemeni women never march with men for social, cultural and/or religious reasons, but I did it! It was an amazing feeling. I had nothing but looks of respect and care from the men demonstrators. Long live my beloved people and my country.

–Afrah Nasser, Yemen

When the Democrats sacrificed poor Black women in Washington, D.C., to placate Republicans’ insane drive to cut all funding for Planned Parenthood, they forbade the district from using its own tax dollars to pay for poor women’s abortions. The National Network for Abortion Funds (NNAF) says that, in doing so, 28 women who had appointments for abortions in D.C. found out at midnight before their procedures, that their funding was cut off and their appointments canceled. NNAF was called for help and reported that all 28 were able to have the procedure. To help make it possible for other poor women to get an abortion, please send a contribution to: NNAF, PO Box 170280, Boston, MA 02117.

–Women’s Liberationist, Chicago

An emphatic “yes” was the answer by the panel titled “Does Marxism Have Gender Trouble?” at the Left Forum in New York in March. Philosophy Professor Cinzia Arruzza discussed Queer Theory as a challenge to the post-Marx Marxist approach of a hierarchy of oppressions. I was especially interested in the concept of “gender performativity…as a transformative perspective offering a common ground for both Socialist and Queer Theory.” I think Arruzza means by performance that women’s activities for freedom are inextricably bound to the ideas and concepts of what freedom means, and to constantly re-creating and deepening the idea and actuality of freedom. It sounds to me a lot like what Raya Dunayevskaya found right within Marx’s own work: the concept of “revolution in permanence.” This idea flows directly from Marx’s grounding in the Hegelian dialectic, but most post-Marx Marxists fail to see women’s liberation as a concretization of Marx’s Marxism.

–Women’s Liberationist, Detroit


The Detroit Symphony, under the baton of Leonard Slatkin, was greeted back from its six-month strike on April 9, with a cheering and raucous celebration of what was called by many, “more than the end of a bitter labor dispute.” The New York Times reporter who covered it noted, “It finally meant some good news in a town so often described as hollowed out, shriveled up, and abandoned.”

This orchestra has always been known as the pride of “the blue-collar town” Detroit represents. During the strike, many of the players were invited to fill in as substitutes in other orchestras, in a time-honored tradition. The strike was over the kinds of pay cuts and changes in work rules all workers are facing today, and though they had to accept large salary reductions, they did preserve their health insurance and even improved their pensions. The other major orchestras, including those in Philadelphia, New York and Boston, who will be facing negotiations for new contracts, are all surely studying this one.

–Orchestra Fan, Detroit


I came across the issue of The Chicago Defender that carried an article on the passing of John Alan. But it was N&L‘smemorial that focused on his Black/Red View that makes me want to tell him: “Mr. John Alan, your column was just that. From the beginning to the end and every point in between. You made it clear by putting your view in print. Thank you. Forever you will be Black/Red–Noir/Rouge.

–George W. Smith, Jr., Chicago

The memorial to John Alan in the March-April N&L gives a real sense of the important dimension he brought not only to the newspaper but to the ongoing freedom movements in general. Yet Alan never gave the impression that “you’re nothing without me.” Rather, he would tell us, “The revolution is going to happen with or without you. The question is: what are you going to say about it?” In other words, pay attention, get your thoughts together and be ready to express them.

–David, Bay Area

I was hired by Allen Willis as the first woman camera person at KQED. In an interview for the job I was asked if I had experience as a news camera person. I had just got out of school and thought this was the end of that job. I said “no”–and his answer was “Great! We don’t want anybody who has had that experience, we want to do something new.” By hiring me, he gave me a start on my career as a documentary filmmaker. He took a risk. It was at the beginning of the feminist movement, of People’s Park, of Haight-Ashbury. It was a fantastic time to be in the Bay Area and participate the way I was able to, because he had hired me.

–Emiko Omori, California

Allen was an extraordinary person. His knowledge of history was not just American history, although that was great. He taught me about my own history. He knew ancient history, modern history, Persian history, Greek and Persian wars. He would teach you about you and yet, for a young intellectual like me who knew not very much about the States, he helped me get grounded in America.

Anywhere there was a movement for freedom, Allen was touched by it. He was not a detached intellectual. He was in touch with reality, with aspirations of people for emancipation. I became the person I am because of my encounters and contact with Allen Willis.

–Raha, Iranian exile in USA

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