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Michael Munk PDX Historian
September 10, 2020Bette Lee
A few days ago on September 5, the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland reached a milestone, 100 days and nights of protests. Over 400 people attended a rally at Ventura Park to celebrate this event with speakers, musicians and poets, who urged us to keep up the struggle.
In the past few weeks, groups of hardcore protestors including Antifa and anarchists have been confronting the police at various precincts around the city. They number around 200-250, much less than the thousands who had previously protested at the courthouse to demand the removal of Trump’s federal thugs. In a nightly ritual of resistance, the protestors defy police orders to disperse. They respond with defiant “Fuck you” and taunts to “quit your jobs!” The police have attacked them, using tear gas, pepper spray, batons, rubber bullets and other munitions. Most times, the police have attacked them with little or no provocation.
This night was no different. As they were getting ready to leave the park around 9 PM, the police declared “an unlawful assembly” in a preemptive strike to prevent them from marching to the nearby police precinct. As usual, the protestors refused to obey their marching orders, and started moving down Stark Street.
A few blocks ahead, the police had cordoned off Stark Avenue and 113th Street. Suddenly, the night sky lit up with fireworks thrown by the protestors. It was a surreal and beautiful sight, and the sudden festive scene created a strange dissonance against the menacing riot cops, primed and ready to rambo. Then three molotov cocktails were thrown in the cops’ direction. This was the first time that has happened. None of the cops were harmed, but unfortunately, a man was injured when his pants caught on fire. Several protestors rushed to put out the fire, preventing any serious injury.
The police immediately declared a riot. The protestors at the frontline seemed ready for the police onslaught. They looked young, defiant and determined. All were dressed in black, holding up hand-made shields with the words “100 days, 100 nights” and “Abolish the cops” written on them. One young man with a megaphone urged them to “Stay together, stay tight! We do this every night!”
Then, like a well-choreographed ritual, the police fired rounds of tear gas and stun grenades at us. All hell broke loose, as everyone tried to run away from the charging cops, who were surprisingly fast. 59 protestors were arrested, the largest number on any single night. Most of them were charged with disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor which the Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt had stated he would dismiss.
The next few days, social media were filled with comments by people condemning the use of molotov cocktails, which they believe will most likely escalate the situation, especially from the police who will use this to justify using even more violence on us. Many suspected that they had been thrown by undercover cops or agent provocateurs to malign the BLM protests.
The more strident criticism came from the corporate media and liberals. They have vociferously criticized the “violence”since the protests began after George Floyd was killed in late May. Their paradigm has always been to divide us into good vs. bad protestors. The good ones are the “peaceful” protestors who do what they’re told by the police and authorities, and ask for permits. The bad ones are uncontrollable, violent criminals who loot, riot, and clash with the police.
This narrative was recycled in an Oregonian editorial on Sept. 6, which announced that it was “time to stand down.” The editors accused certain unnamed “individuals” of coopting the BLM message with their “destructive acts” to “further their own agendas.” They made no mention of police violence. They dismissed the demands for the abolition of the police as “unproductive.” They explained that some of the police’s “fiercest critics acknowledge a fundamental need for the police to exist” and that families whose loved ones have been killed by the police are “desperate for police attention to their cases.” They concluded, “It shouldn’t be so hard to stand up for peace.” All we have to do is “stand down.” WTF? This jibberish coming from the mouths of privileged and pompous people is not surprising. It reveals a clear disconnect from the common folks and the BLM protestors out in the streets.
The protestors will not stop protesting against racism, police violence, injustice and inequality. They want to abolish the police. They see the police as the attack dogs of the power elites, the real masters that the cops serve and protect. They know that any significant rebellion that threatens the wealth, property and power of the ruling elites will be repressed with state-sanctioned violence from militarized cops, which no amount of “police reform” or defunding can change. As BLM organizer MacSmiff said at the rally, “We will go home when you go home….We will not stop. And you will be fired.”
The mostly white kids know that America was never a “great” country. It was founded on “stolen land and stolen labor.” They believe that “America is a Scam,” words scrawled outside the federal courthouse. They believe Black Lives Matter, but so do their own. They woke up to the reality that the American Dream is dead, or a lie, or both.. They believe they have “no future in a fascist regime,” as the Sex Pistols warned us decades ago. But what is alive and keeps them going is their resistance.
Some adults think the kids are insane. They are not. They are just trying to find a way out of a world gone mad after years of looting, destruction and terrorism run by mad men—sociopaths and psychopaths, bloated with insatiable greed and corruption, drunk on power and hubris. What is insane is asking and hoping that the very people responsible for creating all this bullshit mess in the first place are going to fix it. As David Graeber cautioned, “The system cannot save us; we have to save ourselves.”
The youth have come up with a new paradigm for upcoming protests on their social networks. “Be water, spread fire.” They know it’s time to rethink their strategies, to change, adapt and keep moving like water. That is a good thing. The counter narrative that BLM protests have been coopted by disorderly kids and “violent” agitators, perpetrated by the liberals and BLM critics, is gaining momentum, especially after the recent killing of a Patriot Prayer man by an alleged ANTIFA supporter. The deployment of molotov cocktails on Sept. 6, which harmed 1 or 2 people, has proven to be counterproductive. Narratives are useful because they are powerful. They can create or destroy support for popular movements or resistance, like BLM.
After 100 nights, the protestors are at a critical point. They will have to decide whether continuing their nightly protests against the police, which are now a predictable ritual, has become counterproductive. Ending police violence and racism are crucially important, but so is expanding the resistance against the endless wars of the American Empire, the hollowing out of hard-won social programs and benefits by neoliberal policies, the immiseration of workers stuck in shit jobs for shit pay, destruction of the earth, and the unrelenting class war perpetrated by the ruling elites against the rest of us.
One thing is clear for us all: to find effective ways to “spread fire”—the power of the people, armed with creativity and courage to imagine a different, better world and to fight for it, as David Graeber inspired us to do. In his words, “The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.”
All photos by Bette Lee.
Bette Lee is a 70 year-old Asian American activist, who’s been involved in the struggle for justice and equality for over 30 years. She is a substitute teacher at an alternative high school for mostly Black and Brown students. She currently resides (and resists) in Portland.
APRIL 19, 2019BRETT WILKINS
The only US president to complete his term without war, military attack or occupation has called the United States “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.”
During his regular Sunday school lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia, Jimmy Carter revealed that he had recently spoken with President Donald Trump about China. Carter, 94, said Trump was worried about China’s growing economy and expressed concern that “China is getting ahead of us.”
Carter, who normalized diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing in 1979, said he told Trump that much of China’s success was due to its peaceful foreign policy.
“Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody?” Carter asked.
Carter then said the US has been at peace for only 16 of its 242 years as a nation. Counting wars, military attacks and military occupations, there have actually only been five years of peace in US history — 1976, the last year of the Gerald Ford administration and 1977-80, the entirety of Carter’s presidency. Carter then referred to the US as “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” a result, he said, of the US forcing other countries to “adopt our American principles.”
China’s peace dividend has allowed and enhanced its economic growth, Carter said. “How many miles of high-speed railroad do we have in this country?” he asked. China has around 18,000 miles (29,000 km) of high speed rail lines while the US has “wasted, I think, $3 trillion” on military spending. According to a November 2018 study by Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs, the US has spent $5.9 trillion waging war in Iraq,
Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other nations since 2001.
“It’s more than you can imagine,” Carter said of US war spending. “China has not wasted a single penny on war, and that’s why they’re ahead of us. In almost every way.”
“And I think the difference is if you take $3 trillion and put it in American infrastructure you’d probably have $2 trillion leftover,” Carter told his congregation. “We’d have high-speed railroad. We’d have bridges that aren’t collapsing, we’d have roads that are maintained properly. Our education system would be as good as that of say South Korea or Hong Kong.”
While there is a prevalent belief in the United States that the country almost always wages war for noble purposes and in defense of freedom, global public opinion and facts paint a very different picture. Most countries surveyed in a 2013 WIN/Gallup poll identified the United States as the greatest threat to world peace, and a 2017 Pew Research poll found that a record number of people in 30 surveyed nations viewed US power and influence as a “major threat.”
The US has also invaded or bombed dozens of countries and supported nearly every single right wing dictatorship in the world since the end of World War II. It has overthrown or attempted to overthrow dozens of foreign governments since 1949 and has actively sought to crush nearly every single people’s liberation movement over that same period. It has also meddled in scores of elections, in countries that are allies and adversaries alike.
More articles by:BRETT WILKINS
Brett Wilkins is editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. Based in San Francisco, his work covers issues of social justice, human rights and war and peace.
Donald Cox was the Black Panther Party’s Field Marshal. He trained party members in the use and care of weapons. During the time he was involved with the Party in the United States, he served as a primary strategist for various operations. After he left the US, he went to Algeria where he was a guard for the Panther compound in Algiers. He left the compound and the Party in 1971. He moved to France where he spent the rest of his life. Cox died in 2011.
His memoir of that time was recently published. Titled Just Another N*gger: My Life in the Black Panther Party, Cox’s volume is a narrative of a time when revolution was a possibility seriously considered. Men and women gave up their previous lives to commit themselves to creating a world where liberation and socialism would become reality. From Oakland, CA to Hanoi, from Paris to Palestine and all around the world, millions of people were actively involved in a struggle against capitalism and US imperialism. In the United States, the Black Panther Party was considered by many to be at the front of that struggle. The reasons for this were numerous, but the essential one was the Party’s militancy in the face of police and the system the police defended.
Cox begins his memoir with the story of his youth in rural Missouri. It was there that he learned how to shoot a rifle and his family’s past in slave-holding territory. At the age of seventeen, he took a train to Oakland. He spent the next several months living with his aunt’s family in San Mateo, going to school and working. Eventually, he moved out of his aunt’s house, got a job as a printer and married. He also began freelancing as a photographer. Politically, he remained an observer, following the news especially as it related to the growing civil rights movement. A friend of his introduced him to Black and socialist writers, including WEB DuBois and James Baldwin. Cox joined the civil rights organization CORE in fall of 1963. By 1967, when the Black Panthers began observing and documenting police interactions with Black citizens in Oakland, Cox and some of his friends were ready to join them. However, they waited and undertook their own guerrilla attacks on police installations in response to murders of Blacks by police. By 1968, he was a main representative of the newly formed San Francisco chapter of the Black Panther Party.
The party Cox describes is the Party that existed from 1967 until around 1973. It is one more set of recollections of the Party’s activities and politics told by a high-ranking member. Given that his focus was the military element of the party, Cox’s narrative mostly focuses on that aspect. Although he ended up in Algiers with Eldridge Cleaver and the Panthers’ international wing, his telling is quite free of the negative criticism of the Oakland wing led by Huey Newton after his release from prison. His text, while slim in volume, is filled with insights regarding the differences between the West Coast branches of the Party and those on the East Coast. It also confirms the disastrous role played by law enforcement, US intelligence agencies and those informers in their pay as part of the COINTELPRO program.
Even so, Cox downplays the effects of COINTELPRO in his afterword. He argues that every time COINTELPRO repression came down hard, it actually brought the Party more support. While this may be true, I think it can be fairly argued that the long term effects of he counterinsurgency waged against the Black Panthers was instrumental in destroying it. After all, it removed dozens of its leaders via assassination and imprisonment, destroyed the reputations of many members by spreading lies about their allegiances, and placed informants inside the Party who made certain the Party’s politics and actions would alienate its long-term support. At the same time, Cox’s assertion that the Party did things that caused it to self-destruct is true. Among these practices was the treatment of women in the Party by some of its male members. In what might be his most insightful observation regarding the mistakes of the Panthers, he points out that the near idolization of Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver was a mistake. This wasn’t because of the particular individuals, but because that idolization limited both the leaders and the rank and file from seeing and rectifying their faults. Cox wrote: “We killed Huey with our love!” Like other left formations, personality superseded politics, a scenario which can lead to a cult or organizational suicide.
Just Another N*gger is an important addition to the growing library of Panther histories and memoirs. Plainspoken and direct, Cox’s writing achieves an eloquence that makes it exceedingly readable, never losing the drama of the story he is telling.
More articles by:RON JACOBS
Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Illustration by Nathaniel St. Clair
American economic sanctions have been the worst crime against humanity since World War Two. America’s economic sanctions have killed more innocent people than all of the nuclear, biological and chemical weapons ever used in the history of mankind.
The fact that for America the issue in Venezuela is oil, not democracy, will surprise only those who watch the news and ignore history. Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves on the planet.
America seeks control of Venezuela because it sits atop the strategic intersection of the Caribbean, South and Central American worlds. Control of the nation, has always been a remarkably effective way to project power into these three regions and beyond.
From the first moment Hugo Chavez took office, the United States has been trying to overthrow Venezuela’s socialist movement by using sanctions, coup attempts, and funding the opposition parties. After all, there is nothing more undemocratic than a coup d’état.
United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas, recommended, just a few days ago, that the International Criminal Court investigate economic sanctions against Venezuela as a possible crime against humanity perpetrated by America.
Over the past five years, American sanctions have cut Venezuela off from most financial markets, which have caused local oil production to plummet. Consequently, Venezuela has experienced the largest decline in living standards of any country in recorded Latin American history.
Prior to American sanctions, socialism in Venezuela had reduced inequality and poverty whilst pensions expanded. During the same time period in America, it has been the absolute reverse. President Chavez funneled Venezuela’s oil revenues into social spending such as free+6 healthcare, education, subsidized food networks, and housing construction.
In order to fully understand why America is waging economic war on the people of Venezuela one must analyse the historical relationship between the petrodollar system and Sanctions of Mass Destruction: Prior to the 20th century, the value of money was tied to gold. When banks lent money they were constrained by the size of their gold reserves. But in 1971, U.S. President Richard Nixon took the country off the gold standard. Nixon and Saudi Arabia came to an Oil For Dollars agreement that would change the course of history and become the root cause of countless wars for oil. Under this petrodollar agreement the only currency that Saudi Arabia could sell its oil in was the US dollar. The Saudi Kingdom would in turn ensure that its oil profits flow back into U.S. government treasuries and American banks.
In exchange, America pledged to provide the Saudi Royal family’s regime with military protection and military hardware.
It was the start of something truly great for America. Access to oil defined 20th-century empires and the petrodollar agreement was the key to the ascendancy of the United States as the world’s sole superpower. America’s war machine runs on, is funded by, and exists in protection of oil.
Threats by any nation to undermine the petrodollar system are viewed by Washington as tantamount to a declaration of war against the United States of America.
Within the last two decades Iraq, Iran, Libya and Venezuela have all threatened to sell their oil in other currencies. Consequently, they have all been subject to crippling U.S. sanctions.
Over time the petrodollar system spread beyond oil and the U.S. dollar slowly but surely became the reserve currency for global trades in most commodities and goods. This system allows America to maintain its position of dominance as the world’s only superpower, despite being a staggering $23 trillion in debt.
With billions of dollars worth of minerals in the ground and with the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela should not only be wealthy, but her people the envy of the developing world. But the nation is essentially broke because American sanctions have cut them off from the international financial system and cost the economy $6 billion over the last five years. Without sanctions, Venezuela could recover easily by collateralizing some of its abundant resources or its $8 billion of gold reserves, in order to get the loans necessary to kick-start their economy.
In order to fully understand the insidious nature of the Venezuelan crisis, it is necessary to understand the genesis of economic sanctions. At the height of World War Two, President Truman issued an order for American bombers to drop “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing 140,000 people instantly. The gruesome images that emerged from the rubble were broadcast through television sets across the world and caused unprecedented outrage. The political backlash forced U.S. policy makers to devise a more subtle weapon of mass destruction: economic sanctions.
The term “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) was first defined by the United Nations in 1948 as “atomic explosive weapons, radioactive material weapons, lethal chemical and biological weapons, and any weapons developed in the future which have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb or other weapons mentioned above”.
Sanctions are clearly the 21st century’s deadliest weapon of mass destruction.
In 2001, the U.S. administration told us that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction; Iraq was a terrorist state; Iraq was tied to Al Qaeda. It all amounted to nothing. In fact, America already knew that the only weapons of mass destruction that Saddam had were not nuclear in nature, but rather chemical and biological. The only reason they knew this in advance was because America sold the weapons to Saddam to use on Iran in 1991.
What the U.S. administration did not tell us was that Saddam Hussein used to be a strong ally of the United States. The main reason for toppling Saddam and putting sanctions on the people of Iraq was the fact that Iraq had ditched the Dollar-for-Oil sales.
The United Nations estimates that 1.7 million Iraqis died due to Bill Clinton’s sanctions; 500,000 of whom were children. In 1996, a journalist asked former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, about these UN reports, specifically about the children. America’s top foreign policy official, Albright, replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.” Clearly, U.S. sanctions policies are nothing short of state-sanctioned genocide.
Over the last five years, sanctions have caused Venezuelan per capita incomes to drop by 40 percent, which is a decline similar to that of war torn Iraq and Syria at the height of their armed conflicts. Millions of Venezuelans have had to flee the country. If America is so concerned about refugees, Trump should stop furthering disastrous foreign policies that actually createthem. Under Chavez, Venezuela had a policy of welcoming refugees. President Chavez turned Venezuela into the wealthiest society in Latin America with the best income equality.
Another much vilified leader who used oil wealth to enrich his people, only to be put under severe sanctions, is Muammar Gaddafi. In 1967 Colonel Gaddafi inherited one of the poorest nations in Africa; however, by the time he was assassinated, Gaddafi had turned Libya into Africa’s wealthiest nation. Perhaps, Gaddafi’s greatest crime, in the eyes of NATO, was his quest to quit selling Libyan oil in U.S. Dollars and denominate crude sales in a new gold backed common African currency. In fact, in August 2011, President Obama confiscated $30 billion from Libya’s Central Bank, which Gaddafi had earmarked for the establishment of an African Central Bank and the African gold-backed Dinar currency.
Africa has the fastest growing oil industry in the world and oil sales in a common African currency would have been especially devastating for the American dollar, the U.S. economy, and particularly the elite in charge of the petrodollar system.
It is for this reason that President Clinton signed the now infamous Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, which the United Nations Children’s Fund said caused widespread suffering among civilians by “severely limiting supplies of fuel, access to cash, and the means of replenishing stocks of food and essential medications.” Clearly, U.S. sanctions are weapons of mass destruction.
Not so long ago, Iraq and Libya were the two most modern and secular states in the Middle East and North Africa, with the highest regional standards of living. Nowadays, U.S. Military intervention and economic sanctions have turned Libya and Iraq into two of the world’s most failed nations.
“They want to seize Libya’s oil and they care nothing about the lives of the Libyan people,” remarked Chavez during the Western intervention in Libya in 2011.
In September 2017, President Maduro made good on Chavez’s promise to list oil sales in Yuan rather than the US dollar. Weeks later Trump signed a round of crippling sanctions on the people of Venezuela.
On Monday, U.S. National Security adviser John Bolton announced new sanctions that essentially steal $7 billion from Venezuela’s state owned oil company. At that press conference Bolton brazenly flashed a note pad that ominously said “5,000 troops to Colombia”. When confronted about it by the media, Bolton simply said, “President Trump stated that all options are on the table”.
America’s media is unquestionably the most corrupt institution in America. The nation’s media may quibble about Trump’s domestic policies but when it comes to starting wars for oil abroad they sing in remarkable unison. Fox News, CNN and the New York Times all cheered the nation into war in Iraq over fictitious weapons of mass destruction, whilst America was actually using sanctions of mass destruction on the Iraqi people. They did it in Libya and now they are doing it again in Venezuela. Democracy and freedom have always been the smoke screen in front of capitalist expansion for oil, and the Western Media owns the smoke machine. Economic warfare has long since been under way against Venezuela but military warfare is now imminent.
Trump just hired Elliot Abrams as U.S. Special Envoy for Venezuela, who has a long and torrid history in Latin America. Abrams pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Iran Contra affair, which involved America funding deadly communist rebels, and was the worst scandal in the Reagan Era. Abrams was later pardoned by George Bush Senior. America’s new point man on Venezuela also lied about the largest mass killing in recent Latin American history by U.S. trained forces in El Salvador.
There is nothing more undemocratic than a coup d’état. A UN Human Rights Council Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas, pointed out that America’s aim in Venezuela is to “crush this government and bring in a neoliberal government that is going to privatise everything and is going to sell out, a lot of transitional corporations stand to gain enormous profits and the United States is driven by the transnational corporations.”
Ever since 1980, the United States has steadily devolved from the status of the world’s top creditor country to the world’s most indebted country. But thanks to the petrodollar system’s huge global artificial demand for U.S. dollars, America can continue exponential military expansion, record breaking deficits and unrestrained spending.
America’s largest export used to be manufactured goods made proudly in America. Today, America’s largest export is the U.S. dollar. Any nation like Venezuela that threatens that export is met with America’s second largest export: weapons, chief amongst which are sanctions of mass destruction.
More articles by:GARIKAI CHENGU
Garikai Chengu is an Ancient African historian. He has been a scholar at Harvard, Stanford and Columbia University. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org
OCTOBER 12, 2018JOEL A. HARRISON
Our current fragmented, dysfunctional, for-profit health care system is broken. Internationally we rank poorly in both process and outcomes; yet, we are by far the most expensive health care system in the world. Not only we do we not get a bang for our bucks; but for many of us from a moral perspective we are morally bankrupt, allowing far too many people to suffer and die unnecessarily.The solution is a non-profit single-payer healthcare system,
"People have only as much liberty as they have the intelligence to want
and the courage to take.” Emma Goldman
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