From the May-June 2023 issue of News & Letters
VIOLENCE AND RACISM STILL PUT U.S. IN THE DOCK
Regarding “Police murder of Tyre Nichols puts U.S. civilization on trial yet again” (March-April 2023 N&L): It took Kansas City protesters marching on April 16 to the site where 16-year-old Ralph Yarl had been shot twice for ringing a doorbell, to coax the Clay County Prosecutor to bring charges against the shooter. Andrew Lester was allowed to turn himself in two days later, not to face an attempted murder charge but only first-degree assault. This is despite Lester firing a bullet through the storm door and another on the stoop, that entered Yarl’s brain. Immediately after his arrest, Lester was released on low bail. A march the next day by 1,500 students at North Kansas City High School was a strong show of support for their fellow student. It seems that Lester will invoke Missouri’s Stand Your Ground law as a defense, despite the locked door protecting him from a non-intruder. New York Times columnist, John McWhorter, tried to defend Lester against the obvious charge that racism motivated his shooting Yarl without a word exchanged between them, because the same week another homeowner with a gun had killed a white teenager in his driveway. At least there has not been the outpouring of support for Lester like the $2 million donated to the ex-Marine who killed homeless man Jordan Neely with a chokehold on a New York subway car.
It was great for me to turn on CNN to get some news and see them covering the story about the Tennessee legislature’s ridiculous expulsion of two Black lawmakers. I loved knowing that the rest of the country was hearing of just one instance of how the ultra-right politicians here have kept Jim Crow alive and active. This is the kind of thing that regularly finds me yelling expletives at my TV screen.
AMERICAN CIVILIZATION ON TRIAL
The two-page spread on American Civilization on Trial in the March-April N&L was great to see. (“From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya: The vanguard role of Black masses in American freedom movements” and “The Todayness of a Marxist-Humanist Classic: American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard”) Sixty years after it was written, this small book speaks powerfully to the present moment. Two reasons: First, that Black Liberation struggle is very much here and now, still putting American civilization on trial in terms of democracy and freedom. Second, Dunayevskaya and News and Letters Committees created enduring historical categories, among them: the American roots of Marxism as seen in Marx’s relationship to the Abolitionists, to the Civil War, and his writing of Capital; the vanguard nature of the Black mass movement in the U.S.; the intertwining of Black and labor in American development. I appreciated the headline calling attention to DeSantis (and many others) trying to bury the teaching of Black history in schools. I used American Civilization on Trial in the Freedom School I participated in during the 1964 Mississippi Summer Project. It could be used today where, despite great recent scholarship and writings by Black women and men, there is little discussion of Black and Red (Black Liberation and Marx’s Marxism) and their needed unity as we struggle for social transformation.
CRITICAL RACE THEORY
Critical Race Theory tries to explain why Black people get the bottom of the heap. For example: the difference in punishment between crack and cocaine crimes. American Civilization on Trial would be banned as “Critical Race Theory.” We are fighting a new kind of “battle of ideas” against a perversion of ideas for political purpose. Social media feeds this spiral; it’s one thing that is hateful about social media. Noise, irrespective of content, builds on people’s emotions. Abstract stimulation doesn’t promote critical thinking. But that’s exactly what the book-burners want to get rid of.
CRITICAL THINKING AND EDUCATION
Another teacher gave me a sign: “Please be quiet, testing in progress,” to put up on my classroom door for ACCESS testing. Then she asked: When are we not testing? Standardized testing does not promote critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, problem-solving skills or letting students lead. Maybe in some private schools these qualities are nurtured, but even the college system doesn’t promote them. Now there is an explosion of strikes at Rutgers, Eastern Illinois, Chicago State, for a living wage. College faculty and some Teaching Assistants are involved. College teachers also don’t have time to talk or counsel students. They are data counting instead, and most of the data concerned isn’t valuable.
2SLGBTQIA+ GOOD AND BAD NEWS
I’m happy to hear good news for 2SLGBTQIA+ people because there is so much bad news, especially attacks on Trans people in the U.S. Isn’t the U.S. supposed to be the land of the free, with liberty and justice for all? I guess not. Thank you, Spain, for expanding rights for Queer people, including self-identification being sufficient for gender recognition.
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore signed a bill requiring Medicaid to cover gender-affirming care. Jesse Ehrenfeld, an out Gay man soon to be president of the American Medical Association, vowed to fight bans of gender-affirming care. These are some of the people fighting for human rights.
IS COVID OVER?
“Is COVID Over When Thousands Still Die?” (March-April 2023 N&L) is hugely important. COVID is the most dramatic indication of where our healthcare is. But it’s not alone: infant and maternal mortality are the worst in the “developed” world. In inner cities it’s worse than Latin America or Africa. You are constantly told to get cancer screenings. But now they are scheduled six months out. It takes two years to get mental health care. Housing is now a front line of struggle in the U.S. I guess we need a revolution, but as soon as you win a victory, it is stolen by the wizard behind the green curtain. And they rewrite history with no accountability. We need a human revolution, not just a change of power.
Disability rights activist
REMEMBERING THE VIETNAM WAR
Recently in the “Today in History” column in the Battle Creek Enquirer: “1973: The last U.S. combat troops left South Vietnam, ending America’s direct involvement in the Vietnam War.” This was the only thing that I saw about it—nothing on CNN, network TV, etc. This is in contrast to 1995 and the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. I remember all the celebrations and the monumental monument that was erected in Wash., DC. In WWII, the U.S. and its allies defeated the genocidal Nazis and Japanese imperialists, but in Vietnam, the U.S. committed genocide. To this day, again, in contrast to how the German and Japanese people came to terms with the atrocities that were committed in their name, the U.S. has never done this. Maybe it’s a good thing that there aren’t any parades celebrating this genocide. But the lessons of history are being ignored, and we are suffering the consequences. As Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Former member of The War Resisters League Battle Creek, Mich.
SYRIA GENOCIDE WHITEWASHED
The Arab league reinstating Syrian president Bashar al Assad is too shameful for words. Assad is a monster. He slaughtered his own people, crushing a revolution and in the process bombing civilians, leveling hospitals, schools, school buses filled with children—you name it, there is no atrocity he has not done, including using poison gas on cities and using civilians as human shields, especially women and children. The slaughter continues even now. Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan have shown how low they have fallen that they are willing to partner with such a monster. There are no reasons—however pragmatic—that can turn a mass murderer into something other than what he is.
FANATICISM OF REACTIONARIES
Every day, the news has been full of hullabaloo about the debt crisis and falling off a financial cliff. But it is really a foil for the right-wing Republicans to impose their retrogressive agenda on the American people. Even though they were not able to force through their full reactionary program, they did damage—more work requirements (which is a way to kick people off of food stamps and Temporary Aid for Needy Families), and fast permitting for constructing a natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia, among other things. All this is only a down payment on what these reactionaries want to force upon us in the near future.
Republicans reveal themselves as fanatics in so many ways. Two weeks after a historical marker was put up in New Hampshire at Concord where labor activist Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was born, two ignorant, anti-history Republican Concord executive council members insisted it be taken down—and it was. They claimed because she was “a devout communist” she didn’t “deserve” it. These markers are not a glorification, just historical fact. It’s not a question of “deserving” anything. There’s a marker in Memphis where anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells Barnett’s good friend’s grocery store once stood. The marker reveals the history of the lynching of that grocer because whites were angry that a Black man ran a successful business, competing with theirs. Did they “deserve” a marker? No, but history, even if you don’t like it or disagree, is important. The world needs to know about Flynn, even, or perhaps especially, if one disagrees with her ideas.