It IS Happening Here: Reunite Families, Deport Trump

Rogers-Immigrant-Children-Featured
An editorial cartoon by Rob Rogers, formerly of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette. Rogers, a long time editorial cartoonist for the paper, was fired recently for his work criticizing President Donald Trump.

My mother developed polio as a child. It left her paralyzed from the waist down. She is one of the few remaining polio survivors still alive.

She often reflects on how much more difficult it was to be a person with a disability in the 1950s, prior to any disability rights laws. Indeed, growing up with a physical handicap was like being a non-person.

Teachers were openly cruel and belittling to her. One teacher once chastised her, in front of her classmates, for being a “burden” on taxpayers, who would, she assured my mother, end up having to pay for her living expenses. As a result, the teacher continued her berating lecture, my mom needn’t worry about studying hard and applying herself, academically, since “nobody would hire” her, anyway.

(I suspect many people, including employers, still harbor such views toward the disabled. They merely keep them to themselves. Unless, that is, they are Donald Trump or his ableist supporters.)

After contracting polio, my mother was taken to a rehab facility, where she lived for several months. She was only about 4-years-old, and the experience of being taken away from her parents and home was extremely traumatizing for her. The nurses were wicked to her and the other patients, openly mocking their disabilities. The facility was cold, dark, and antiseptic. My mom cried every night for her salad — a staple of her dinner routine back home.

My mom’s parents, based on the advice of the hospital staff, never called or visited her during her lengthy stay. My mother, for all she knew, had been abandoned — given up as so much defective trash. Indeed, my grandparents, in keeping with the discriminatory attitudes of the time, viewed their daughter’s disability as a source of family shame. My grandfather, in particular, never truly came to terms with it.

I relate my mother’s story because it is the only comparable one I know of to what immigrant families, torn apart by the Trump administration’s egregious, “zero tolerance” crackdown on border crossings, are currently experiencing.

Last week, ProPublica released audio of immigrant children and infants held in a detention center at the border, crying for their parents. As the children scream, “Mami! Papa!” a border patrol agent can be heard, sarcastically replying, in Spanish, “Well, we have an orchestra here. What’s missing is a conductor.”

According to a story by The Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux, the Trump administration has taken more than 3,700 children from their parents, thus far. And, as the headline states, the government has “no plan for returning them.”

A June 19 editorial in Socialist Worker calls the makeshift “desert tent cities,” and “Walmart concentration camps for children,” a “deliberate spectacle of sadism — a moral and humanitarian crisis knowingly orchestrated by Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to inflict suffering on migrant parents and children…”

Earlier this week, it seemed activists had scored something of a minor victory, with Trump’s abrupt issuing of an executive order mandating immigrant families remain together throughout the detention process. Trump clearly caved to the mounting pressure coming not just from immigrant rights’ activists, but also a newly-emboldened media, and, according to some sources, members of his own family.

However, even this symbolic victory was short-lived. In a pattern that has become all too familiar in this disorganized administration, Trump’s hastily signed executive order was met with confusion on the part of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, as well as members of the president’s own cabinet who, apparently, had not been briefed about the order.

Many of these immigrants are asylum-seekers fleeing violence and civil unrest in war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Somalia. These families are desperate victims of U.S. imperialism — which, contrary to liberal opinion, increased under President Barack Obama. To bomb these people’s neighborhoods, and destabilize their countries through military force, and then sanctimoniously lecture them about their disregard for “the law,” as they attempt to flee the criminal violence we have inflicted upon them is a particularly pernicious form of hypocrisy.

In fact, to deny asylum-seekers entrance into the country is a violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Furthermore, capitalists, corporate CEOs, Wall Street traders, and small business owners routinely engage in criminal behavior and justify it as merely the “cost of doing business.” They violate labor and regulatory laws, environmental protections, and commit tax evasion. Based on the right’s apparent reverence for The Law, these criminal capitalists should all be thrown out of the country. Let’s start with Trump.

“The goal of the Trump administration’s state-sponsored kidnapping is to scare potential future migrants and refugees from making the journey,” the Socialist Worker editors write, “as well as to create leverage on congressional Democrats to concede to White House demands for draconian policies against future immigration, legal and illegal.

But the cruelty of the family separation policy isn’t just as a means to these ends. Cruelty itself is the goal — another lurch in the Trumpist project of shifting the mainstream political spectrum so far to the right, that fascism, or something close to it, defines one end, while the other is the tepid liberalism put forward by the Democratic Party and MSNBC.

Yet, as the editorial argues, we cannot wait until the November midterm elections to take action against Trump’s family separations and deportations. Immigrant families certainly cannot wait. The left must mobilize against Trump now.

And, while Trump and his cabinet of swamp monsters certainly make for easy targets, it is important to understand that the United States’ anti-immigrant laws and history of scapegoating “The Other,” have been a bipartisan project for decades. As xenophobic as Trump has been toward immigrants, Obama still holds the dubious distinction of having deported more immigrants than any other president in history.

Thus, when it comes to challenging Trump’s xenophobia, the left’s goal cannot be to simply return to the “status quo,” or the way things were under the previous administration. The entire capitalist system — not just the policies of one or two particular presidents — is to blame. It must be smashed and replaced with one that recognizes the intrinsic value of all people — regardless of their nationality, gender, race, or physical ability.

Socialists ultimately believe in a world without borders, walls, and barriers. We believe no human being is “illegal.” People should be free to live and roam where they please — or perhaps more accurately for a warming planet increasingly characterized by droughts, floods, famines, and forest fires, wherever is most habitable. Indeed, climate change is already playing a role in mass migration throughout the globe, as island and coastal nations find themselves at risk to rising sea levels.

Ripping mothers apart from their children and throwing them in concentration camp surroundings is a cruel, heartless, and inhumane form of punishment. Our short-term goal must be the immediate reunification of families. The longer term project, however, is to create a world without borders — a world where no human being is illegal.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

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A Win for Labor in “Trump Country”

WV Victory

The successful teachers strike in West Virginia that resulted in a five percent pay increase for all of the state’s public workers is a major victory for the labor movement — the first such victory in a long time. Strikes like this one can give confidence to workers in other states and in other industries.

After years of inactivity and workers feeling demoralized, could we be witnessing the rebirth of the U.S. labor movement?

The strike was a decade in the making. For years teachers in West Virginia public schools have been grappling with overcrowded classrooms and underfunded budgets — largely the result of then-Gov. Joe Manchin’s 2008 corporate tax giveaways, which left little money for education.

The nine-day wildcat strike was the longest strike in West Virginia history. (A “wildcat” strike is one undertaken without the official support or approval of the union leadership. West Virginia is one of 28 “right-to-work” states throughout the country.)

Teachers in West Virginia are among the lowest paid in the country.

One of the most notable aspects of the strike is the teachers’ ironclad discipline. Numerous times throughout the strike, Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-back-to-Republican Gov. Jim Justice offered the teachers minor concessions or halfhearted promises. Yet each time the teachers rejected nothing less than their initial demand of a five percent raise — which benefits all state workers.

“We were not ready to return to the classroom just on a promise,” said Katie Endicott, a high school English teacher in Central Mingo High School, during a recent interview on Democracy Now!

Endicott spoke about the importance of the strike:

We saw democracy in action. We saw the power of unity. People from all across the state were coming together, unified with one goal, with one mindset. And we achieved it against all odds. There were so many people who said that we would never get what we wanted. There were so many people who said they would laugh us out of the Capitol. They did not laugh us out of the Capitol, because we did not leave the Capitol.

The significance of the teacher strike cannot be underestimated. Though West Virginia has long been the site of major labor struggles, as Eric Blanc writes in a story published in both Socialist Worker and Jacobin magazine, there is something different about this most recent strike.

“This strike was statewide, it was illegal, it went wildcat, and it seems to be spreading,” Blanc writes.

West Virginia’s upsurge shares many similarities with the rank-and-file militancy of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But there are some critical differences. Whereas labor struggles four decades ago came in the wake of a postwar economic boom and the inspiring successes of the civil rights movement, this labor upheaval erupted in a period of virtually uninterrupted working-class defeats and economic austerity.

Readers would be excused for knowing little about the strike. The corporate media — including “liberal” outlets like the New York Times, NPR, and MSNBC — all but ignored the massive strike. This is, perhaps, further proof that it is not the media’s lies of commission (or “fake news”) that has left working-class citizens ignorant and disempowered. Rather, it is their lies of omission.

Indeed, the victorious teachers strike and the strict discipline with which it was carried out seem quite at odds with the picture the capitalist media frequently paints of “red state” West Virginia. During the 2016 presidential campaign reporters seemed to hold up West Virginia as the poster child for the so-called “white working class”: Ignorant, reactionary, racist, and full of rage at Washington elites like Hillary Clinton that had thrown them under the bus. Donald Trump received more support from West Virginia voters than from any other state.

While that working-class rage is certainly real (and, I would argue, justified), striking teachers like Endicott are about as far from your average Trump supporter as you can get.

Furthermore, the media’s one-sided portrayal of West Virginia (“Coal Country”) as the heart of backward, white working class despair ignores the state’s volatile history as the focal point of decisive — and often violent — labor clashes. Those clashes include the Battle of Blair Mountain in Logan County, in 1921, which was the largest, most violent labor uprising in United States history.

The Battle of Blair Mountain was the culmination of a years-long struggle between the coal companies and miners — most of whom lived in company towns and were paid in company scrip rather than actual U.S. currency. The coal companies had carried out a series of assassinations of union activists, hiring the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency and other citizen-led militias to do their dirty work. When 13,000 armed miners seized Blair Mountain, the coal company called in the National Guard to crush the uprising. Over 100 miners were killed, while nearly 1,000 were later indicted for murder and treason.

Like so much of this country’s bloody labor history — easily the most violent in the industrial world — the Battle of Blair Mountain has been conveniently scrubbed from high school history textbooks and popular culture.

Could the teachers’ strike be the beginning of a return to West Virginia’s radical labor roots? Already, teachers are poised to go on strike in Oklahoma, Arizona, and New Jersey. And they are no doubt taking cues and gaining confidence from West Virginia.

Yet, just as labor seems on the verge of a long overdue comeback, the state is prepared to deliver what could be the final blow to union organizing. The right-wing Supreme Court is currently debating the constitutionality of mandatory union dues in the case, Janus v. AFSCME Council 13. Should the court declare such dues unconstitutional, unions will be virtually destroyed. The entire United States would effectively become a “right-to-work” country. Such a ruling would constitute the culmination of the capitalist state’s decades-long assault on labor and the working class.

So what lessons can the left draw from West Virginia’s victory? Blanc outlines a few in his article. Chief among them is that “class struggle gets the goods.”

In stark contrast to labor management’s decades of cooperation with employers, which has only led to concession after concession for workers, Blanc writes, “… the bottom-up militancy and strike action of West Virginia’s teachers and school employees has reinvigorated working-class organization…”

From day one, the active participation of rank-and-filers — and their remarkable ability at critical junctures to overcome the inertia or compromises of the top union leadership — has been the central motor driving West Virginia’s strike forward. Through the empowering dynamics of mass struggle, many individuals who only two weeks ago were politically inexperienced and unorganized have become respected leaders among their co-workers.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

Should the Left Care About “Russiagate”?

Trump-Russia-Cast-Characters

If the left is serious about resisting not just Donald Trump, but the entire racist, misogynist, nativist, capitalist system that spawned him in the first place, then we must move beyond the narrow, unsubstantiated, and increasingly hysterical confines of “Russiagate.”

I am referring here, of course, to the corporate media’s ceaseless (and highly dubious) allegations that the Russian government covertly meddled in the 2016 presidential election in a coordinated effort to sway the election to Trump.

The “Russiagate” drama continued to unfold over the weekend, when special prosecutor and former FBI director, Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian officials on charges of “interfering” with the presidential election — with, like, Facebook ads, or something …

Meanwhile, the U.S. intelligence agencies primarily responsible for perpetuating the “Russiagate” claims — the CIA, FBI, and NSA — are warning that Russia is already targeting state races in November’s midterm elections.

What should socialists make of “Russiagate”? Could the scandal be the key to removing Trump from office? Or is it merely the left’s version of “Benghazi”?

For the record, there is still no substantive, compelling evidence that Russia “stole” the election for Trump. Nor, for that matter, has it been determined that the Russian government or an agent acting within Russia is responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) private email account (the so-called “Podesta emails”), and passing the contents on to WikiLeaks, which made the emails public.

Those emails contained incriminating accounts of the behind-the-scenes dealings between the DNC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. They outlined plans to undermine Clinton’s primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, by painting him as sexist (“Bernie Bros”), unrealistic, and even proposed using anti-Semitic attacks against him. The DNC emails provide further evidence that the Democratic primary campaign was rigged against Sanders.

The U.S. intelligence community’s Russia allegations consist entirely of speculation, suspicion, and classified information from anonymous sources — a practice journalist, Glenn Greenwald, considers “shoddy” and “unreliable.”

It is worth taking a closer look at the “deep state” sources behind these accusations.

The CIA, in particular, is the same institution that used lies and fabricated intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s non-existent stockpile of “weapons of mass destruction” to sell us the Iraq war, in 2003. The National Security Agency (NSA), likewise, continues its widespread, “Big Brother”-style surveillance of American citizens. Readers may recall then-NSA director, James Clapper, blatantly lied to a Senate intelligence committee about the program’s existence, shortly after Edward Snowden exposed the warrantless surveillance program, in 2013.

And the FBI has a long, sordid history of spying on, infiltrating, harassing, beating, and blackmailing anti-war protesters, socialists, anti-racists, and other left-wing activists. The organization kept extensive files on leaders of the Black Panther Party, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Howard Zinn. The FBI even went so far as to attempt to blackmail King into committing suicide.

Indeed, given the FBI’s history of antagonism toward the left, liberals’ newfound support for the organization according to recent polls, is not only bizarre, but unnerving. Liberals and conservatives have basically swapped places in their views on the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies, with a majority of liberals, for the first time in decades, viewing them more favorably than conservatives.

These state institutions are comprised of “professional, systematic liars,” as Greenwald wrote in The Intercept, shortly after the CIA released its initial claims of Russian hacking. “[T]hey lie constantly, by design, and with great skill, and have for many decades …”

But the lack of evidence aside, the CIA’s claims of Russian hacking are also deeply hypocritical. The United States, which has done more to undermine, subvert, sabotage, ignore or violently overturn the election results of democratic nations throughout the world when their citizens voted the “wrong way,” is shocked — shocked! — at the remote possibility that another country may have undermined the “sanctity” of our own vaunted “democracy.”

Noam Chomsky calls this double-standard approach to international law the reigning “single standard,” which views international law and treatises as “private contractual rules,” which the U.S. is “free to apply or disregard as it sees fit.”

Karma, as my brother likes to say, is a bitch.

Perhaps most importantly, “Russiagate” obscures the fact that the presidential election was stolen — not by the Russians, but by the slave-owning Founding Fathers’ archaic Electoral College.

Hillary Clinton received three million more votes than Trump. Yet, for the second time in the last 16 years, the democracy-blunting Electoral College allowed the loser to serve as president. This tangible, objective fact of Trump’s illegitimacy — not some farfetched notion of Trump as a real-life “Manchurian Candidate” — should be our starting point when debating with leftists who fully buy into the Russia narrative.

In the absence of convincing evidence, “Russiagate” comes off as yet another desperate, pathetic attempt by the Democratic Party to blame anyone and everyone for its electoral loss. Anyone that is except for, you know … themselves.

To wit, the Democrats’ rogue’s gallery of “People Responsible for Hillary Clinton’s Loss” includes Jill Stein, James Comey, Susan Sarandon, Facebook, WikiLeaks, “fake news,” Bernie Sanders, “Bernie Bros,” Julian Assange, sexism, the media, and the racist, ignorant, “deplorable” voters themselves. Now we can add Russian hackers to the list.

The truth is the Democratic Party will never be a vehicle for working-class struggle. Leftists’ attempts to “take over” or “take back” the Democratic Party are, as history has demonstrated time and again, a doomed endeavor. Workers need their own party independent of the Wall Street-captured Democrats.

Don’t get me wrong: I want to see the Cheetos-skinned, Tweeter-in-Chief defenestrated from office just as much as anyone. (Though I am frankly unsure how the appointment of Mike Pence to the presidency would necessarily constitute an improvement…)

It is quite likely Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have shady business deals with the Russians which they simply do not want to come to light. And it is clear Trump’s sons attempted to meet with Russian officials during the campaign in an effort to dig up dirt on Clinton.

But it seems unlikely the “scandal” extends much beyond that. Even Fire and Fury author, Michael Wolff, calls the notion of the tragically inept Trump campaign colluding with Russia (or really, anybody, for that matter) “implausible if not farcical.”

In sum, “Russiagate” is not a viable path to defeating both Trump and Trumpism. Indeed, the longer the left remains myopically mired in this 21st century Red Scare, the greater the danger that it further emboldens Trump’s elite minority of supporters, thus ensuring he is re-elected in 2020.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Perils of Ultra-Leftism

Women's March 2018

Last weekend’s Women’s Marches, while nowhere near the size and magnitude of last year’s historic Women’s March on Washington which drew four million people, were nonetheless inspirational.

Indeed, the various women-themed marches that took place Jan. 20 throughout the country were far larger than many anticipated. To be honest, I expected the one-year anniversary of the Women’s March — the single largest day of protest in U.S. history — to pass mostly without incident given the general fatigue and demoralization among the left after a year of Donald Trump’s train wreck of a presidency.

Fortunately, I was wrong.

The latest women’s marches brought out over 120,000 protesters in New York City. Over 300,000 people demonstrated in Chicago and Los Angeles, according to official accounts. (And LA Mayor Eric Garcetti estimates double that number.) The number of protesters in Washington, D.C., “swelled to the thousands,” according to the New York Times.

And, here in Maine, a rally in Augusta drew about 2,500 people.

Much of this momentum and renewed commitment to feminism is, no doubt, due to the #MeToo movement, which has brought down powerful and seemingly unassailable sexual predators in Hollywood, Congress, and corporate newsrooms. (However, one particularly vile serial sexual abuser continues to occupy the halls of government…)

All of these displays of resistance are extremely encouraging as we head into “Year 2” of the Trump presidency.

Yet there remain many on the left who do not seem to share my enthusiasm for the women’s protests. Quite the reverse in fact, these dismissive “ultra-leftists” would much rather ridicule, disparage, and denounce the Women’s Marches from afar, than participate in them.

The women’s marches, these detractors claim, are “too white,” “too middle-class,” “too liberal,” and “too ‘cisgender,’” a word nobody outside of academia or activist circles actually uses in everyday conversation.

Members of the left made these same criticisms of the original Women’s March a year ago. Some of them, like Black Girl in Maine blogger, Shay Stewart-Bouley, made them without even attending the march. Her entire assessment of the Women’s March (“too white”) is based on a handful of online videos she watched from the comfort of her home.

These holier-than-thou dismissals are just as juvenile today as they were then. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor called such ultra-leftism of the original Women’s March, “a sign of political immaturity that continues to stunt the growth of the American left.”

“This isn’t leadership, it’s infantile,” Taylor wrote in a Jan. 24, 2017 article for The Guardian. “It’s also a recipe for how to keep a movement tiny and irrelevant. If you want a movement of the politically pure and already committed, then you and your select friends should go right ahead and be the resistance to Trump.”

The fact is most activists start out as liberals. (I know I did.) It is only through class struggle and constant debate that liberal-leaning activists begin to become more radical. Our job as socialists is to show up to these protests (regardless of how politically tepid or even confused they may be) with our own signs, banners, and messages, and engage with others there. We must try to meet liberal activists where they are at, while still patiently and confidently arguing our own politics. And we must do this with the clear understanding that we will not win over everyone at once — or at all.

This is, no doubt, often slow and frustrating work. But sitting on the sidelines and arrogantly condemning protesters for not being as “woke” as you are does absolutely nothing to build a movement.

“Ultra-leftism,” a term coined by Vladimir Lenin in his classic Marxist essay, “Left-Wing” Communism, an Infantile Disorder published in 1920, refers to an elite tendency among certain hardened sections of the left to reject strategies aimed at involving the largest, broadest number of the working class.

Lenin, for instance, criticizes the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany (KAPD) for its staunch refusal to work with trade unions or run candidates for Parliament, believing those institutions to be insufficiently radical. While Lenin agreed that the rank and file in the German trade unions were mostly liberal-leaning, he argued the way to change that was to work with the unions and run openly communist candidates for Parliament. Only by engaging with these admittedly weak political organs, Lenin argued, could the left spread its politics to a broader mass of the working class.

“It is far more difficult — and far more useful — to be a revolutionary,” Lenin writes, “when the conditions for direct, open, really mass and really revolutionary struggle do not yet exist.” [Emphasis his.]

This is not to suggest the women’s marches (or the nascent #MeToo campaign, for that matter) are perfect. They are far from it. Nor does it mean we cannot offer legitimate, thoughtful criticism of the march organizers’ aims, tactics or overall goals.

Could the marches be more diverse? Absolutely. Are the protesters’ goals radical? Not really (though here it is worth noting that the women’s marches represent a broad swath of liberal, left, and radical groups, organizations, and politics).

And I think we can all agree the silly pink pussy hats need to be retired, ASAP.

The biggest problem with this second round of women’s marches is how they have been co-opted by the Democratic Party. The Democrats are hoping to funnel all of the genuine anger and outrage at Trump’s swamp monster administration into the “proper channels” of the November 2018 midterm elections. Thus, the slogans, “March to the Polls,” and “#Power to the Polls” were ubiquitous during the recent women’s marches.

And this is, historically, the role the Democratic Party — history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party — has always played. Little wonder the Democrats are known as the “graveyard of social movements.”

The Democrats will not save us. Leftists’ illusions of “taking over” or “taking back” the Democratic Party (and the latter phrase suggests it was ever really our party to begin with) are just that. Electing more Democrats to Congress or the White House is simply not a viable route to working class revolution.

But we cannot make these arguments with progressive activists if we take a holier-than-thou position and refuse to participate in these demonstrations.

As Elizabeth Schulte writes in a recent piece for Socialist Worker, titled “In Defense of the Women’s Marches,”

When leftists insist that only protests and action organized around a radical, working-class agenda are worth taking seriously, they risk missing the audience for socialist politics among attendees of a protest that actually happened. They also miss out on the impact that large demonstrations, even ones dominated by liberal politics from the front, can have.

“… Creating a space, during and after the march, to have discussions about what it will take to build the resistance requires that socialists have patience, but also a clear set of arguments to make,” writes Schulte. “Whether we passed those tests this time around is an open question, but those whose cynicism kept them from even engaging with the Women’s Marches definitely didn’t.”

 

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

Notes From a Shithole Country

Airport Uprising
Thousands protest Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban at JFK airport in New York City, on Jan. 27, 2017.

One year into Donald Trump’s nightmarish presidency the United States government has shut down. It is, indeed, an ironic — and highly fitting —symbol to mark the one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.

Trump, rather than “draining the swamp,” as he childishly promised on the campaign trail, has merely flooded it with even more raw sewage and swamp monsters. For all his disparaging remarks about “shithole countries” (by which he referred to El Salvador, Haiti, and the “country” of Africa), the U.S. is rapidly devolving into such a shithole. Or perhaps it always was one. Take your pick.

At the heart of this latest government shutdown is the fate of Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers a “path to citizenship” for young adult immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

I put the phrase, “path to citizenship” in quotes because there is no such thing as an “illegal” human being. Additionally, the entire concept of “legal citizenship” is a relatively recent concept. Up until the 19th century, immigration laws were virtually nonexistent. Though many assume their ancestors came to the country “legally” or utilized the “proper channels,” according to the American Immigration Council, “unauthorized immigration has been a reality for generations.”

DACA currently shields some 800,000 immigrants who live and work in the country from deportation. For many of these young immigrants, America is the only home they have ever known. Trump’s elimination of the program would tear families apart and inflict unnecessary suffering upon thousands of working-class people.

“It’s not just affecting one person in the family,” said Patricia Jaramillo, a 23-year-old DACA recipient from Van Nuys, California of Trump’s efforts to phase out the program. “It’s a ripple effect that affects entire communities, entire families…”

Furthermore, local manufacturing businesses like Cozy Harbor Seafood and Barber Foods rely heavily on these immigrants’ labor power — which is cheaper and easier to exploit than that of “native” U.S. citizens. These processing plant jobs — which take place in cold, pungent conditions — are mundane, repulsive, and often involve long hours of standing and repetitive motions.

Workers in these degrading jobs are routinely denied bathroom breaks — to the point where many poultry workers have resorted to wearing diapers to work, according to a 2016 report by Oxfam America. While denying adult employees basic necessities like bathroom breaks may seem patently illegal, the fact is worker protection laws in this country are weak and rarely enforced. The near disappearance of unions has only further eroded workplace protections.

And, as if to add insult to injury, workers at these processing plants are often carefully monitored by numerous surveillance cameras while they work. (This is the case at Cozy Harbor Seafood, where I once worked as an office temp.)

Trump railed on immigration and America’s supposedly “weak” boarder control laws to stoke working-class fear and resentment of “the Other.” During his now-infamous campaign announcement speech, the xenophobic Trump singled out immigrants from Mexico. “They are bringing drugs,” Trump said of Mexican immigrants. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Republicans howl that DACA is an illegal program — that we are a “nation of laws,” and we must “respect the rule of law.” Yet where was this reverence for the “rule of law” last summer when Trump pardoned corrupt, racist Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio? The right was suspiciously silent about the vaunted “rule of law,” then.

Indeed, capitalists engage in illegal behavior every day and justify it as merely the “cost of doing business.” Perhaps we should deport all of them?

While the Democrats should be applauded (for once) for holding the line on preserving DACA in the latest government shutdown squabble, I fear their stance has more to do with electoral maneuvering than any genuine concern for DACA recipients. It is worth recalling that Barack Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in U.S. history — including Trump.

As of this writing, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already offered Trump funding for his coveted border wall in exchange for maintaining DACA.

(Just to review, we have money for border walls to keep “illegal” immigrants out of the country, but our elected elites insist single-payer health care is “too expensive.”)

This is further evidence that the left cannot rely on the capitalist Democratic Party to save us. Only mass mobilizations — similar to the Muslim ban protests that shut down major airports last year — can protect immigrant families.

But our efforts cannot stop at merely preserving DACA — though that is an important immediate goal. The left must also put forward a real socialist alternative to the failed immigration policies of both capitalist parties.

Socialists ultimately believe in a world without walls and borders. We believe in a world where people are free to live and roam as they please — or, perhaps more accurately for a warming planet increasingly characterized by droughts, floods, famine, and forest fires, wherever is most habitable. Indeed, climate change is already playing a role in mass migration throughout the globe.

Likewise, many of the Sudanese, Syrian, and Iraqi refugees fleeing to America are victims of our imperialist wars and occupations. To bomb these people’s nations and destabilize them through military force, and then cruelly deny them entry to our shores as they attempt to flee the violence we have inflicted is a particularly sinister form of hypocrisy.

The point is that few immigrants truly have a “choice” in migrating to the U.S. or to any other country. And the ruling class’ concept of a “path to citizenship” for immigrants is, as Socialist Worker’s Danny Katch explains, equally misleading.

As Katch writes in a March 15, 2016 article:

The “path to citizenship” is more like a road to nowhere, a long march that forces undocumented immigrants to go “to the back of the line” of a system in which many have to wait up to 24 years to get green cards. Along the way are many roadblocks, from fines that may be unaffordable, to proving they have been steadily employed — in a country where layoffs and temporary work are becoming the norm for all workers …

The fight to preserve DACA and protect immigrant families is a crucial one. And it is a fight that has the potential to mobilize a new generation of radicals to struggle for a world without walls and borders — a world where no human being is illegal.

Let’s Bury the Myth: Black Voters ARE Feeling the Bern

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It is time to bury the pernicious myth that African Americans do not support Bernie Sanders, and that their lack of support cost him the 2016 presidential primary.

Liberal, Clinton-supporting pundits constantly trotted out this baseless talking point to attack and marginalize the Vermont U.S. senator throughout his campaign. In focusing primarily on class and issues of economic justice, these commentators argued, Sanders downplayed or ignored racial concerns.

A simple Google search of “Bernie Sanders” and “black voters” illustrates the extent of this propaganda campaign.

“Bernie Sanders isn’t winning minority votes — and it’s his own fault,” lectures The Guardian’s Steven W. Thrasher (5/03/2016); “The Far Left is Still Out of Touch With Black Voters,” reads a headline in the appropriately titled, The Establishment (4/27/2017); and Politico purports to explain “Why Black Voters Don’t Feel the Bern,” (3/07/2016) — one of several snarky send-ups of the campaign’s ubiquitous tagline.

All of these articles attempt to portray the senator from lily-white Vermont as thoroughly tone-deaf to the concerns of black voters. They paint Sanders’ supporters as exclusively white and male. Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s campaign attempted — somewhat successfully, I would argue — to mount a similar smear campaign in portraying Sanders’ supporters as sexist, hyper-masculine “Bernie Bros.”

Portland Phoenix columnist and Black Girl in Maine blogger, Shay Stewart-Bouley recently revisited this theme. “During last year’s presidential primaries,” Stewart-Bouley writes in her Dec. 21, 2017 column for the Phoenix, “a lot of Black people quickly soured on Bernie Sanders.”

But this is untrue. You would never know it from liberal identitarians like Stewart-Bouley or Clinton-shills like Paul Krugman, but Sanders actually has strong support among African Americans.

For starters, Sanders is currently the most popular politician in Washington. Fifty-four percent of Americans have a favorable view of the Vermont senator, according to a Harvard-Harris poll released last August.

And that support is not limited to white voters. The poll finds Sanders’ support highest among blacks — at 73 percent. That is compared to 68 percent approval from Latinos, 62 percent among Asian Americans, and 52 percent among whites. And these results were unchanged from a similar poll from spring of 2017, which also found Sanders ranking highest (73 percent) among black voters.

Black voters are overwhelmingly attracted to Sanders’ platform of economic justice. It is no mystery why. According to Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s contribution to the book, The ABCs of Socialism, “By every barometer in American society — health care, education, employment, poverty — African Americans are worse off.”

Thus, 85 percent of black Americans support single-payer health care, one of Sanders’ signature campaign proposals. Same goes for black support of a $15 minimum wage. Indeed, minimum wage workers are disproportionately people of color and women.

In fact, after eight years of the country’s first African American president, blacks have lost ground in every major economic category.

And therein lies the problem in claiming Sanders “ignored race.” The accusation creates a false dichotomy between “race” and “class.”

Liberals, particularly those oriented exclusively around identity politics, are constantly trying to separate “race” and “class” into two disparate categories. According to identitarians like Stewart-Bouley, the left can either champion issues of racism (or sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.), or it can focus on economic inequality. It cannot, however, do both.

Clinton reinforced this false dichotomy on the campaign trail when she asked a crowd, rhetorically, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow … would that end racism? Would that end sexism?”

Never mind, apparently, that many of the “too big to fail” banks that caused the sub-prime housing crisis that triggered the Great Recession deliberately targeted black homeowners, disingenuously selling them fraudulent refinance loans they knew the owners could not pay back.

As Stewart-Bouley writes in her column:

[Sanders] didn’t really want to talk about race. He wanted to lump it together with class. And while class and race issues have overlap and we need more meetings across those lines, the fact is that racism has its own special considerations and concerns. [Emphasis added.]

It is absolutely correct that racism and other forms of oppression have their own “special considerations.” People of color, people with disabilities, immigrants, and women (black and white) all face greater, more pervasive forms of oppression than straight white men do.

But all workers are ultimately oppressed under capitalism — an acknowledgement that is virtually absent from the reductionist lens of identity politics.

Karl Marx understood race and class to be inextricably intertwined.

“In the United States of America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic,” Marx wrote in 1867 in Volume One of his three-part economic treatise, Capital. “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

Famed abolitionist, Frederick Douglass, arrived at similar conclusions.

“The slaveholders, in encouraging the enmity of the poor laboring white man against the blacks,” Douglass wrote, “succeeded in making the said white man almost as much of a slave as the black himself.”

“Both,” he added, “are plundered by the same plunderer.”

Sanders’ presidential campaign was not without its faults, as I have previously enumerated in this space. And it is true that Sanders needed a lot of prodding from Black Lives Matter activists to incorporate their fight against police brutality into his campaign agenda.

But perhaps his greatest contribution to the left was in clearly and unapologetically pointing to where the real levers of power in this country lie: Not with “privileged” working-class white men, but with Wall Street and the monied elites. They — not “white people” or even just “whiteness” — are the real enemies of the working class and those who struggle for racial justice.

University of Pennsylvania professor, Adolph Reed, Jr. — a prominent supporter of Sanders — dismissed criticisms that the candidate failed to connect with black voters as having “no concrete content.”

“How is it ‘economic reductionism’ to campaign on a program that seeks to unite the broad working class around concerns shared throughout the class across race, gender and other lines?” Reed countered in an Aug. 8, 2016 interview with Jacobin magazine. “Ironically, in American politics now we have a Left for which any reference to political economy can be castigated as ‘economic reductionism.’”

None of this is to suggest class is “more important” than race. Nor is it a call against workers organizing around the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, physical ability, or sexual orientation.

But even Sanders himself has acknowledged the limits of identity politics. In a widely mischaracterized, post-election speech in Boston, on Nov. 20, 2016, Sanders stated:

It goes without saying that as we fight to end all forms of discrimination, as we fight to bring more and more women into the political process, Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans — all of that is enormously important, and count me in as somebody who wants to see that happen.

…..

But … It is not good enough for someone to say, “I’m a woman! Vote for me!” No, that is not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.

 

 

Beyond “Toxic Masculinity”

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Women’s oppression is inextricably linked to capitalism. 

The widespread allegations of sexual assault leveled at Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, from an ever growing list of celebrity women and actresses, has pushed the issue of sexism into the forefront of the media like nothing before it. And unlike previous sexual assault cases, the unfolding Weinstein story shows no sign of fading from the headlines, anytime soon.

Yet the discourse surrounding Weinstein and the rampant sexism and misogyny that characterize not just Hollywood, but numerous sectors of life has, unfortunately, lent itself to shallow—and, frankly, predictable—liberal analyses of why sexism continues to pervade society.

I have a liberal friend, for instance, who, commenting on the scandal concludes merely, “Men suck.” Others have similarly chalked it up to “toxic masculinity,” or “male privilege.”

But these pithy buzz-phrases do little to elaborate on the social and economic conditions that create women’s oppression. If we are serious about ridding the world of sexism (as well as homophobia, racism, ableism, etc.), then we need to understand where oppression comes from. Only then will leftists have a political framework for how to dismantle such oppression.

First, let’s be clear: Weinstein’s decades-long history of abusing, humiliating, sexually harassing, and allegedly raping women is nothing less than abhorrent. The only thing more alarming than how long Weinstein was able to get away with his chauvinistic behavior, is how many seemingly progressive male Hollywood actors (including liberal stalwarts like, George Clooney and Matt Damon) turned a blind-eye to Weinstein’s womanizing.

The Weinstein scandal is augmented by the fact that the sitting president has his own long, sordid history of abusing, denigrating, and sexually assaulting women.

A year ago around this time, Trump’s now infamous Access Hollywood, “hot mic” video was leaked to the press, in which Trump bragged to actor, Billy Bush, about his penchant for grabbing women “by the pussy.”

By every conceivable rationale, the tape should have sunk Trump’s presidential campaign. Instead, he won. And while it would be a gross oversimplification to blame sexism (or, for that matter, racism), alone for Trump’s victory, it is undeniable that both forms of discrimination played some role.

“Many of Trump’s voters were not primarily driven by ‘whitelash’ or ‘malelash’ sentiments,” writes Naomi Klein in her latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. “Plenty of them said they voted for Trump because they liked what he said about trade and jobs …”

But there’s a problem with these stories. You cannot cast a ballot for a person who is openly riling up hatred based on race, gender or physical ability unless, on some level, you think those issues aren’t important. That the lives of people being put in tangible danger by this rhetoric (and the policies that flow from it) matter less than your life and the lives of people who look more like you. You can’t do it unless you are willing to sacrifice those other categories of people for your (hoped-for) gain.

“To put it bluntly,” Klein adds, “a vote for Trump might not reflect active hatred, but there is still, at best, a troubling indifference behind the act.”

Trump, in typically hypocritical fashion, has condemned Weinstein’s actions, telling the press he is “not at all surprised,” about the revelations. When asked by a reporter how Weinstein’s mistreatment of women differs from his own, Trump just brushed off his Access Hollywood comments as “That’s locker room [talk].”

With repugnant misogynists like Trump and Weinstein (not to mention Bill Cosby, Bill O’ Reilly and Ben Affleck) in power is it any wonder Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale has spent 35 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list?

Marxism locates female oppression in women’s historically subordinate role within the family. Marx and Engels referred to the excess amount of housework women have traditionally been responsible for (cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, caretaking, etc.) as “unpaid domestic labor.”

And, while many families have made an effort to more evenly divide the household work in recent years (consider, for instance, one of the most lasting effects of the Great Recession: The rise of the “stay-at-home-dad”), surveys continue to indicate that the majority of domestic chores fall disproportionately on the shoulders of women. This has remained the case even as women entered the workforce after the Second World War.

Capitalism also charges working-class women with the crucial, yet largely unacknowledged role of creating more workers. As author Sharon Smith writes of this role in her book, Women and Socialism: Class, Race, and Capital, “In capitalist societies, women in property-holding families reproduce heirs; women in working-class families reproduce workers for the system.”

Smith continues:

The capitalist class has become dependent on this method of “privatized reproduction” within the working-class family because it lessens capitalists’ own financial responsibility for the reproduction of labor power, which is instead largely supplied by unpaid domestic labor performed primarily by women. The precondition for women’s liberation thus requires an end to their unpaid labor inside the family. This, in turn, necessitates a socialist transformation of society, which cannot be achieved gradually but only through a process of social revolution, in a decisive battle between classes.

In other words, no serious discussion of ending women’s oppression can ignore the system (i.e. capitalism) that creates—and, indeed, relies on–that oppression in the first place.

There is no biological or psychological evidence to suggest that men are naturally sexist. Nor, for that matter, is there anything inherently “toxic” about masculinity—though capitalism and the military certainly have a way of conditioning men to behave in aggressive, combative ways.

While the women’s rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s won significant victories in advancing female equality, the feminist movement has stalled in recent decades, largely due to its co-option with what Socialist Worker‘s Elizabeth Schulte calls “trickle-down feminism.”

This brand of pseudo-feminism suggests that if we simply had more female CEOs, corporate managers, and executive directors, then the work of feminism will be complete. Trickle-down feminism holds up billionaire celebrity figures like Oprah Winfrey (net worth: $3.1 billion), Sheryl Sandberg ($1.57 billion), and Walmart heir, Alice Walton ($33.8 billion) as models working-class women should attempt to emulate.

But there is nothing truly radical about this form of corporate feminism. It is little more than identity-politics. While we absolutely should strive to level the playing-field between men and women, trickle-down feminism is aimed squarely at middle-class women–not the poor, or the struggling single-parents.

The media drumbeat over our supposed “post-feminist” era, Schulte writes, “rarely address[es] the concerns of the vast majority of women who are part of the working class.”

The media, Schulte writes,

measure the success of women at large by the success stories of a few corporate executives or political officials at the top–and argue that these examples of “having it all” will eventually trickle down to all women. The inevitable focus of these [post-feminist] articles and books is what women can do personally to succeed. (Italics hers.)

Should men do more, individually, to combat sexism in the workplace, among friends and in public, as liberal commentator, Alex Steed, suggests? Absolutely.

But we cannot limit our opposition to sexism to these interpersonal exchanges. All of us–women and men–must also “call out” the capitalist system that relies on sexist stereotypes and ideas to function. We must rediscover the language of radical feminists like Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Flynn, a labor activist in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in her autobiography, Rebel Girl:

A domestic life and possibly a large family had no attraction for me. … I wanted to speak and write, to travel, to meet people, to see places, to organize for the I.W.W. I saw no reason why I, as a woman, should give up my work for this…

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If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!