19 November 2013

Alice Embree : Chile and the Politics of Memory

Me gustan los estudiantes. This painting by Austin's Carlos Lowry is the cover art on the Fall 2013 NACLA Report on the Americas.
The contradictions of Chile
and the politics of memory
The elections in Chile take place as the country marks the fortieth anniversary of the bloody military coup that happened with covert U.S. assistance.
By Alice Embree / The Rag Blog / November 20, 2013
“[T]he battle over memory is a struggle over meaning…” -- Steven S. Volk, "The Politics of Memory and the Memory of Politics," Fall 2013 NACLA Report on the Americas.
On Sunday, November 17, Socialist Michelle Bachelet received 47% of the vote in a field of nine Chilean presidential candidates. She will go into a December 15 run-off with a candidate from the hard right, Evelyn Matthei, who received 25% of the vote. Bachelet will likely serve a second term as president of Chile.

Both run-off candidates are daughters of Chilean Air Force officers. Bachelet’s father was an Air Force Brigadier General at the time of the 1973 military coup. Known for his loyalty to the democratic government, he was arrested for treason, tortured, and died in prison. Both Michelle Bachelet and her mother were arrested, tortured, and forced into exile. In stark contrast, Matthei’s father was a key member of the military junta. The memory of military rule for these two women could hardly be more disparate.

The elections in Chile take place as the country marks the fortieth anniversary of the bloody military coup that happened with covert U.S. assistance. The September 11, 1973 coup overthrew the elected Socialist president Salvador Allende. The Fall 2013 NACLA Report on the Americas, published by the nonprofit North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), explores the implications of that coup.

The cover art on the NACLA issue is by Austin artist Carlos Lowry. The painting hangs above our couch. It features Camila Vallejo against a background of jubilant students. The painting's name, Me gustan los estudiantes, is taken from a song by the legendary Chilean folksinger Violeta Parra.

Camila Vallejo, featured on NACLA’s cover, was president of Chile’s largest student federation. She became the well-known face of the 2011 student movement demanding change in an educational system that has left Chilean students among the most indebted in the world. On Sunday, Vallejo was elected to the Chilean Congress. Three other student leaders were also elected.

NACLA’s compilation of articles describes Chile 40 years after the coup. To some, Chile became a neoliberal economic success story. "Shock Doctrine" is what Naomi Klein calls it in a book by that name. Democracy was dismantled and social movements demobilized by military force. Opponents were imprisoned, tortured, “disappeared,” and exiled -- displacing and scattering Chileans across the globe. The public sector was weakened, free market tactics were celebrated, and public services were privatized.

But NACLA deals with another aspect of Chile’s coup -- the success of an international solidarity movement, the exposure of U.S. complicity in the coup through congressional hearings, the mobilization of many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to address human rights abuses, the creation of human rights archives (including one at the University of Texas at Austin), and the genesis of Central American solidarity committees.

NACLA also examines the Chilean student uprising, and contrasts it with Wall Street occupiers and Spain’s indignados. The student movement of Camila Vallejo claimed new space for social movements, and defied the status quo of Chile’s neoliberal economy. Student leaders rejected “politics as usual” as practiced by the dominant coalitions since 1990. The student demand for tax reform sufficient to support free education will become a major challenge from the left for Michelle Bachelet when she takes office again.

The bold student demonstrations, complete with theater, took politics into the streets in ways not seen for decades. Students staged an 1,800-second long "kiss-in" for education and an 1,800-hour-long relay around the presidential palace. The "1,800" symbolized the investment (2.2% percent of Chile’s gross domestic product) required to fully fund public education.

Chile is a territory of contradictions. They are as vast as its geographic extremes -- Andes to ocean, desert to rainforest. It is a country in which neoliberal policies deformed public education, weakened national health care, and caused students to incur burdensome loans. Its new prosperity rests upon severe income disparity.

It is a country that U.S. Republicans have sought to emulate in plans to “privatize” Social Security. Yet, it is a country whose recent student mobilizations have inspired students around the globe. It is a country that just elected Camila Vallejo, a Communist, to office, and is poised to elect Michelle Bachelet, a Socialist, to a second term as president.

[Alice Embree, a contributing editor to The Rag Blog, is a long-time Austin activist, organizer, and member of the Texas State Employees Union. A veteran of SDS and the women's liberation movement, Alice is a former staff member of the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) and of underground newspapers The Rag in Austin and RAT in New York. She now co-chairs the Friends of New Journalism. Read more articles by Alice Embree on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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Paul Krassner : A Tale of Two Alternative Media Conferences

Event organizer Larry Yurdin at the 1970 Alternative Media Conference at Goddard College. Yurdin, who later managed Pacifica radio station KPFT in Houston, also attended the 2013 conference. Image from goddard.edu.
Returning to the scene...
A tale of two alternative media conferences
In 1970, the keynote speech was delivered by Ram Dass, the delightfully stimulating spiritual teacher. The 2013 event began with a celebration of the original conference.
By Paul Krassner / The Rag Blog / November 20, 2013
“In the time when new media was the big idea that was the big idea.” -- Lyric from U2 song, ”Kite”
In June 1970, a charter flight was on its way from San Francisco to the Alternative Media Conference at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont. The passengers consisted entirely of attendees. Larry Bensky, then KPFA news anchor, recalls, “It was one of the craziest trips ever taken by anyone, anywhere, I’m sure. Many on the plane were tripping on acid.”

Photographer Robert Altman was sitting next to an old friend, Dr. Gene Schoenfeld, also known as Dr. Hip for his weekly countercultural advice column, syndicated to underground papers around the country. He shared a joint with Altman, who says, “It stimulated the good doctor with enough brashness and playfulness that he took over the plane’s entire audio system. As he sent raucous rock’n’roll from his portable player through the plane’s microphone, we were dancing, and the crew loved it.”

In addition, KSAN commentator Scoop Nisker played his signature news collages, and Michael Goodwin from Rolling Stone (then a skimpy 25-cent tabloid) remembers somebody reading Allen Ginsberg poetry. “It might even have been me,” he admits, “and if it was, I hereby apologize.”

Forty-three years later, a few months ago, another Alternative Media Conference took place at Goddard. The keynote speech was delivered by Thom Hartmann, the topflight progressive radio talk-show host. When he was 15, in 1966, he published an underground newspaper, The Jurist.

"Our first issue called for the legalization of pot and for teachers to let us smoke cigarettes in classrooms. That got us really in serious trouble, and we were told, ‘Don’t ever publish this thing again.’ But the next issue was about the military-industrial-complex. That got us kicked out of school."

Hartmann emphasized that,
Before Ronald Reagan stopped enforcing the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, it did not say, ‘If you carry an hour of Rush Limbaugh, you have to carry an hour of Thom Hartmann.’ That’s the mythology that Limbaugh and the right have put out all these years, and what they’ve used to beat up the Fairness Doctrine. But it said that the station has to serve public interest.

In ’88, I was driving down the street, listening to the radio, and a news report came on that CBS had just moved their news division under the vice-president of entertainment. And I thought, ‘That’s it, this is the beginning of the end of any kind of media that is genuine.’ All the networks had been losing money on their news divisions, because they were necessary for radio and TV stations to keep their community service component of their license now that Reagan was saying, ‘Hey, that doesn’t matter anymore.’

In addition, in ’82, Reagan stopped the force of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which said that any organization that gets big enough to basically dominate an industry can’t do that, it’s a crime, two years in prison and a big fine, something like that. So between those two things, and then Clinton just put the nail in the coffin in ’96 with the Telecommunications Act.

It used to be that nobody could own more than 40 radio stations, and so what we’ve seen is that local media has become national media, national media has become corporate media, corporate media has eaten everything, and alternative media has been increasingly marginalized as a consequence of that. And then came the Web, and now much of the alternative media is on the Web. We’ve moved our shows onto the Web, as well as livestream, and we have YouTube channels.

But if we want to have vibrant media again -- real media, functional media -- there should be no mainstream media, that is, the concept of mainstream media, the concept of one corporation basically owning the programming -- the Limbaugh show, the Hannity show, the Beck show -- then owning the points of distribution. This should not be. This was done away with in television in the 1970s or 1980s. The networks had to have at least two hours of prime-time television programming that did not come from the TV networks.

Just this whole concept of there being a mainstream media gives legitimacy to what has essentially become corporate media with a corporate message. There is this thing called the mainstream media that is a giant corporate echo chamber that serves multinational corporations of billionaires, and nobody else. It’s destroying this country. It’s destroying democracy...
In 1970, the keynote speech was delivered by Ram Dass, the delightfully stimulating spiritual teacher. The 2013 event began with a celebration of the original conference. Organizer Larry Yurdin pointed out that Ram Dass, beside his outdoor talk, also “led a workshop on stress reduction and conflict resolution, and his guiding mantra and meditation helped to bring the many different clashing progressive agendas into greater harmony.”

Thom Hartmann at 2013 event.
Or at least he tried. Take, for example, the interruption of a presentation by the late Harvey Kurtzman, the creator and editor of Mad, and later -- after he was fired for demanding 51% of Mad’s stock or he would quit -- he became the contributor of a monthly, mildly raunchy full-page comic strip for Playboy titled “Little Annie Fanny.”

Danny Goldberg, who was at the conference as a columnist for Billboard, and is now managing rock artists including Steve Earle and Tom Morello, wrote in his recent book, Bumping Into Genius: My Life in the Rock and Roll Business:
Just as Kurtzman was beginning to describe his take on the Woodstock culture his work helped to spawn, a couple disrobed and started having sex on the floor. Several attendees started clapping their hands in rhythm with the couple’s movements. In response, two feminists angrily yelled at the lecherous attendees to stop clapping. Kurtzman and the other panelists looked perplexed, and the crowd that had come to hear them quickly dispersed.
Art Spiegelman was also there. His first cartoon for The Realist in 1967 depicted a male soldier sitting on the lap of another male soldier, and they’re smooching in front of a sign on the wall, “Make Love, Not War!” Spiegelman has since been the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for his 1991 graphic novel, Maus, and he currently creates covers for the New Yorker, including the poignant one about 9/11, featuring dark ghosts of the Twin Towers against a mournful black background.

“Harvey Kurtzman was the granddaddy of the underground cartoonists,” Spiegelman recalls, "and he was in shock. Basically, it was my first real encounter with feminists. They kind of busted up the underground comics meeting. From my perspective, they were absolutely alien. ‘Why were those chicks so pissed off?’ It was really the very first time somebody was getting so angry in my earshot about the way men treated women. So amazing, what a few decades will do in terms of rearranging your brain circuits."

Indeed, Rona Elliot, who was the PR person at KMPX in San Francisco, recalls, “I told the program director that I’d been invited to the Alternative Media Conference, and he said no woman would go representing his station, so I quit on the spot.”

At that time, the blossoming Women’s Liberation Movement had its own forms of protest: the demonstration at the Miss America pageant; the six feminists taking over the male-dominated underground paper named RAT; Robin Morgan embracing Valerie Solanas, who had attempted to kill Andy Warhol. No wonder a fuck-in taking place at a lake across the road was raided by feminists. “If there’s going to be a fuck-in,” shouted one, “then we’ll decide where and when there’ll be a fuck-in.”

At this year’s conference, one of the participants was Andi Zeisler, co-founder and editorial director of Bitch, the “Feminist Response to Pop Culture.” Their Fall issue features articles ranging from “Helen Thomas [who died after the magazine went to press], Off the Record: A few opinions from the First Lady of the Press” to “Laughing It Off: What happens when women tell rape jokes?” The back cover ad is from She Bop, “A Female Friendly Sex Toy Boutique.”

Nonetheless, Zeisler pointed out that there is still some question on the general utility of print, and that the superficial multi-tasking world of the web has diluted the power of print and constrained the audience power of that medium.

In The Bridge, an independent local newspaper, Dan Jones wrote:
It was evident that the zeitgeist had moved on, and alternative media had been reduced to pleading for access to the mainstream media. One fun session was run by a group of producers from the Onion. What I found truly fascinating was that none of them owned TVs or subscribed to cable. Their news came from NPR and The New York Times. In fact, anecdotal reports from many presenters showed that few admitted watching TV at all. This left me wondering why any of us should be worried about access to the broadcast media if the opinion leaders weren’t even paying attention.
Statistically, a Times survey indicates that one in three millennials watch mostly online video and no broadcast TV. Meanwhile, in a video by a man-in-the-street interviewer, students at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, near Washington D.C., were unable to recognize the names of Vladimir Putin and John Kerry, but they gave detailed explanations on how to twerk.

This article was first published at Alternet.org and was cross-posted to The Rag Blog by the author.

[Paul Krassner edited The Realist, America's premier satirical rag and was an original Yippie. Krassners latest book is an expanded and updated edition of his autobiography, Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counterculture, available at paulkrassner.com. Read more articles by Paul Krassner on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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RAG RADIO / Thorne Dreyer : Singer-Songwriter Slaid Cleaves in Interview and Performance

Slaid Cleaves in the studios of KOOP-FM in Austin, Friday, November 1, 2013. Photos by Roger Baker / The Rag Blog.
Rag Radio podcast:
Acclaimed Austin-based 
singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves
Slaid spins some yarns, tells how his study of philosophy, the inspiration of Woody Guthrie, and his stint as a busker on the streets of Ireland have influenced his music and his life. And he performs live for the Rag Radio audience.
By Rag Radio / The Rag Blog / November 19, 2013

Singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves was our guest on Rag Radio, Friday, November 1, 2013. He joined us in discussion and performed live on the show.

Rag Radio is a weekly syndicated radio program produced and hosted by long-time alternative journalist Thorne Dreyer and recorded at the studios of KOOP 91.7-FM, a cooperatively-run all-volunteer community radio station in Austin, Texas.

Listen to or download the podcast of our November 1, 2013, interview with Slaid Cleaves here:

Thorne Dreyer's guest on Rag Radio is Austin-based singer-songwriter Slaid Cleaves.. A recording artist and full-time touring musician, Cleaves was called "one of the finest songwriters from Texas" by The New York Times.

Slaid was a winner of the prestigious New Folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival, an award previously given to such artists as Nanci Griffith, Robert Earl Keen, and Steve Earle, and his album Broke Down was a hit on the Americana charts. Slaid Cleaves was born in Washington, D.C., was raised in Maine, and attended Tufts University where he majored in English and philosophy.

Slaid Cleaves, right, with Rag Radio's Thorne Dreyer.
Slaid's latest album, Still Fighting the War, is a collection of songs that have garnered kudos from returning vets and their families. (“Men go off to war for a hundred reasons/ But they all come back with the same demons.”)

He does an annual Thanksgiving eve show at Austin’s Saxon Pub and Slaid, who counts Woody Guthrie as a primary influence, will be featured in Jimmy LaFave’s “Walking Woody’s Road” -- along with LaFave, Eliza Gilkyson, and Sam Baker -- at Austin’s One World Theatre in January.

Rag Radio is hosted and produced by Rag Blog editor Thorne Dreyer, a pioneer of the Sixties underground press movement. Tracey Schulz is the show's engineer and co-producer.

Rag Radio has aired since September 2009 on KOOP 91.7-FM, an all-volunteer cooperatively-run community radio station in Austin, Texas. Rag Radio is broadcast live every Friday from 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on KOOP and is rebroadcast on Sundays at 10 a.m. (EDT) on WFTE, 90.3-FM in Mt. Cobb, PA, and 105.7-FM in Scranton, PA. Rag Radio is now also aired on KPFT-HD3 90.1 -- Pacifica radio in Houston -- on Wednesdays at 1 p.m.

The show is streamed live on the web and, after broadcast, all Rag Radio shows are posted as podcasts at the Internet Archive.

Rag Radio is produced in association with The Rag Blog, a progressive Internet newsmagazine, and the New Journalism Project, a Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

Contact Rag Radio at ragradio@koop.org.

Coming up on Rag Radio:
THIS FRIDAY, November 22, 2013: Sam Daley-Harris, author of Reclaiming our Democracy: Healing the break between people and government. 
Friday, November 29, 2013: Methodist minister, spiritual counselor, and longtime civil rights and anti-war activist Bob Breihan, founder of the New Life Institute.

The Rag Blog

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Harry Targ : STEM and the Tyranny of the Meme

The STEM 'crisis' and the 'fear of falling behind' meme.
The tyranny of the meme:
Commies, the arms race, and now STEM
The threats of the United States falling behind some fictional adversaries is a similar 'meme' to those that have been articulated by economic, political, and military elites at least since the end of World War II.
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / November 19, 2013

A spokesperson for Purdue University testified before a Congressional research and technology subcommittee on November 13 warning that the United States is “losing a cadre of innovators that will never come back.” The university spokesperson was echoing warnings that have been coming from his university and major research universities all around the country.

Purdue’s President, Mitch Daniels, not unlike other university presidents, has committed increasing shares of his budget to building so-called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. While support for STEM fields in higher education is not in and of itself a danger to higher education, Daniels has been implying that the United States has been falling behind other, potentially economically and/or militarily competitive nations, because of inadequate STEM funding.

And, he has recommended that expanded allocation of resources for scientific and technological research and education should come from cuts in vital programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In addition, as governor, Daniels was a leading proponent of the privatization of social services and public education.

The threats of the United States falling behind some fictional adversaries is a similar “meme” to those that have been articulated by economic, political, and military elites at least since the end of World War II. A “meme” is generally understood to be an “idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” It is a framework for bundling ideas into a common theme that can be used in speeches, writings, and rituals. The meme or idea of falling behind some imagined competing or threatening force has been misused by political leaders over and over again.

When World War II was coming to an end, members of the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were concerned that the economy would return to the depression of the 1930s. What stimulated economic recovery during the war, of course, was the mobilization of the military, corporations, universities, and workers to engage in massive research and production of war material to defeat fascism.

In the context of the winding down of the war, one CEO serving in government recommended that the United States create a “permanent war economy” to maintain the high level of economic and military mobilization and thus forestall economic decline.

Support for high levels of military spending and corporate/government/university cooperation required a rationale. This rationale became the “meme” of the international communist threat. It justified the misallocation of societal resources for continued war production that has been a central feature of federal policy ever since.

The threat of “falling behind the Soviets” reverberated in the mass media after the shocking October 1957 Soviet projection of an earth satellite into space. All of a sudden Americans were made to believe that their institutions were inferior to the enemy and that a new commitment of resources was needed to beat the Soviets to the moon and expand dramatically the American war machine.

Three years later the threat of falling behind the enemy was used by presidential candidate John Kennedy to mobilize support and encourage new rounds of huge investments in military expansion. Kennedy warned of a “missile gap” that had emerged between the two super powers, a claim that was admitted to be false within a year of the new president’s assuming office.

Twenty years later presidential candidate Ronald Reagan referred to the “window of vulnerability” that had emerged in the 1970s as a result of Soviet/United States arms control negotiations. Although the United States agreed to limitations in arms production, the Soviet Union, he claimed, continued their arms buildup creating this vulnerability to Soviet power. Consequently, President Reagan between 1981 and 1987 spent more on the military than had been spent in the entire period of U.S. history from 1789 to 1981.

With the end of the Cold War, the meme shifted to wars on “drugs,” and today it's “terrorism.” All of these manifestations of the “falling behind” meme led the United States government to waste trillions of dollars and the loss of millions of lives of Americans and peoples in other countries such as Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Returning to “the STEM crisis,” Michael Anft, in a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, points out that there is much research showing that U.S. higher education is not falling behind some possible competing nations, that American universities are producing as many STEM college graduates as are needed, and that the institutional spokespersons, from universities, the corporate sector, technology associations and others, may be motivated more by institutional interest than demonstrated need.

Further, in an article earlier this year, Robert N. Charette challenges a variety of claims made by advocates of more resources for STEM fields. Among these are the following:
  • Many workers in STEM fields do not have STEM degrees and those who hold such degrees do not necessarily find work in their fields.
  • STEM jobs have changed over time. For example, long-term engineering jobs have been reduced while shorter-term project driven hires have increased.
  • With repeated shifts in the economy, it is difficult to project what STEM job needs will be over long periods of time, five or 10 years from now.
  • Some studies find that the supply of STEM trained college students exceeds the demand for their labor. In one study by the Economic Policy Institute it was found that more than one-third of computer science graduates in recent years have not been able to find jobs in their chosen field.
  • Many STEM jobs have been outsourced. In addition, international workers with STEM qualifications have been enticed to take jobs in the United States, often receiving smaller salaries than American workers.
  • Salaries of those working in STEM fields have been stagnant, much like the broader work force. This is so, some economists suggest, because demand for such trained workers has declined over the last several years.
Charette discussed possible reasons for the hyperbolic calls for quantum shifts toward STEM fields in universities and public investment. He refers to a cycle of “alarm, boom, and bust” that has governed phases of the public policy meme affecting foreign and domestic policy. Recently, the federal government has been spending $3 billion each year on 209 STEM-related initiatives, amounting to “about $100 for every U.S. student beyond primary school.”

Charette identifies powerful forces in the country that gain from this massive allocation of societal resources. Corporations want a large pool of trained workers from which to choose, thus cheapening the cost of labor. State governments and the Federal government measure their successes in part by how many scientists and engineers they help produce.

In addition, a third to one-half of the budgets of large universities come from government and corporate research grants in the STEM fields as public funding for universities has declined. And finally, about 50 cents of every dollar in the federal budget goes to the military, homeland security, and space exploration.

As Charette points out; “The result is that many people’s fortunes are now tied to the STEM crisis, real or manufactured.”

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University and is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. He lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, and blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical. Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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18 November 2013

Alice Embree : Anne Lewis' New Website Brings Austin Movement History to Life

Filmmaker Anne Lewis' new website is called Austin Beloved Community.
'Austin Beloved Community':
Anne Lewis' new website
brings movement history to life
'This was designed as cooperative and experimental. It’s really a community organizing art project.'
By Alice Embree / The Rag Blog / November 19, 2013

Austin Beloved Community is a gift. Movement history comes alive in a digital collage of collective memory -- audio, film, photos and maps, and a rich diversity of local recollection.

This website is a gift from Anne Lewis. Lewis makes documentary film. Notably, she was associate director/assistant camera for Harlan County, U.S.A, the Academy Award-winning documentary about a coal country strike. Her most recent work is Anne Braden: Southern Patriot. In this film, Lewis documents the life of a woman praised as “eloquent and prophetic” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Anne Lewis came to Austin in 1998 and teaches her film craft at the University of Texas at Austin. She hardly limits herself to teaching. She can often be seen behind a camera at marches or demonstrations or without a camera holding a picket sign.

As an executive board member of the Texas State Employees Union (TSEU-CWA 6186), she is at the forefront of a current struggle against the University’s plan to downsize, consolidate, and outsource jobs -- a plan that would further corporatize the academic community.

I interviewed Anne Lewis about her recently launched website -- what she calls “a journey through time and memory.” Lewis, who also is a contributor to The Rag Blog, describes the site as “a shared space between organizations, artists, and all who hold close ideas of liberation, equality, and just society.” She reaches back to the 1880s and takes you forward to the present. She even includes a Google map that pinpoints where events occurred and organizations were born.

This is not Austin from the point of view of SXSW or Formula 1 promoters. This is the history of the struggle for social justice told by participants who know that the struggle isn’t over.

Anne Lewis.
Alice Embree: You’ve been in Austin since 1998. Can you tell us what brought you here?

Anne Lewis: Jim [Branson] and I were living in Whitesburg, Kentucky (1,499 people and one grouch) and had a young son. The Texas State Employees Union wanted Jim to come to work as an organizer for the union. I had been [producing films] with Appalshop for 15 years. I could bring my work with me, and the idea of a change seemed good. We were typical Appalachian migrants -- jobs, school, city life -- and we moved as much of our family here as we could, but if we could have gone back every weekend, we would have.

You cover a lot of hidden history -- African Americans, Chicanos, women, the LGBTQ community, labor organizers. How did you get so much input?

This was designed as cooperative and experimental. It’s really a community organizing art project. The project began by picking the kind of folks you name -- their organizations -- and asking each to contribute five uprisings or victories in Austin that mattered to them. We added a number of individuals. People and organizations are on the about page. That meant that we got everything from Homer the Homeless Goose to Mooning the Klan to convict labor at the Capitol and Lady LULAC.

I deliberately put priority on African American, Chicano, Women, LGBTQ, working class organizations -- and made rules for myself like no national organizations unless the Austin chapter was strong and independent, no group on campus, no political groups, no primarily service organizations. I managed to keep myself non-judgmental on events. Anything that was a people’s uprising or victory went on the map. Also I decided not to even try to build a database. I wanted it to be subjective, quirky, open-minded, and fun.

Your work has been with film -- as director, producer, cameraperson and teacher. What prompted you to create a website?

Well I’m not much of a cameraperson but the rest hold. I hate websites -- all those little boxes and all those tabs inside of tabs. I don’t like the idea of clicking as interactivity and I don’t really enjoy choosing my own adventure. Huge qualities of factual information leave me cold and anxious. But on the other hand I knew a wonderful visual artist, Jeanne Stern, and wanted to work with Tom Hammond’s style of tonal shifts of wind for sound design.

I also wanted to bring Anne Braden’s ideas to Austin without driving myself crazy trying to market the film and make people show it. The City of Austin helped fund the Anne Braden film, and helped fund this project as well. So in many ways the start was an animation film idea with social justice events over time as folks remembered them and a tie to Anne Braden’s ideas. The rest developed from the process of arriving at content -- organizations and mapped events, still photographs, a calendar to give back.

I know people will tell you about history that was left out. Is there a way to make this an ongoing effort?

It is already. It’s strange to say this but I want to hear from people about what I left out and what needs correcting. It’s fun doing it. The movement history is still growing. All I need is date, place, event, and a paragraph or link and it can go up. The organizational map is similar. The calendar of events is current. People need to send their events to me though -- especially the strange stuff that goes on here. The stars on the organizations are still slowly lighting up. Resistencia and PODER are the only ones on right now. Then there’s a Facebook page.

What do you hope people learn from viewing Austin Beloved Community?

To trust their own experience. To remember the good stuff and share it around. To join in community. I guess none of that is learning like reading a book (which would be a very good thing to do right now) but I’m getting way too touchy-feely already and hesitate to talk about a city that so many other people know so much better.

If you only browse this site briefly, I suggest you go to Justice Animation. There is a link to a gallery of photos, including the Birth of The Rag. Then watch the short video. Turn the sound on. It begins in silence, but will soon surprise you. Some time in the future, when you are feeling hopeless about what can be done, watch it again.

[Alice Embree, a contributing editor to The Rag Blog, is a long-time Austin activist, organizer, and member of the Texas State Employees Union. A veteran of SDS and the women's liberation movement, Alice is a former staff member of the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) and of underground newspapers The Rag in Austin and RAT in New York. She now co-chairs the Friends of New Journalism. Read more articles by Alice Embree on The Rag Blog.]
  • Listen to Thorne Dreyer's February 22, 2013, Rag Radio interview with documentary filmmaker Anne Lewis.
The Rag Blog

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BOOKS / Ron Jacobs : Marc Myers Tells Us 'Why Jazz Happened'

'Jazz, man, that’s where I’m at':
Chronicling the history of America's music
Myers provides the reader with a deep, rich, and broad perspective on the confluence of jazz and U.S. history in the decades following World War Two.
By Ron Jacobs / The Rag Blog / November 18, 2013

[Why Jazz Happened by Marc Myers (2012: University of California Press); Hardcover; 266 pp; $30.51.]

After a very brief introduction, Walt Myers begins his history of jazz music with the bebop era. Charlie Parker’s saxophone floats in the background as he sets the background for a unique look at the economic, cultural, and even political circumstances of the last 70 or so years of jazz in the United States.

Truman Capote once called the writing of Jack Kerouac “typing, not writing.” A similar mindset met the advent of bebop in the 1940s. This snobbery came from a misunderstanding of the improvisation Beat writing and bebop insisted on. Within a decade, however, bebop had replaced the Big Band swing sound as the dominant force in the music.

Why Jazz Happened details this transformation. There are a multitude of details between the covers of this book. These details require a quality writer to arrange them and make a readable story. Myers performs that task nobly. In doing so, he provides the reader with a deep, rich, and broad perspective on the confluence of jazz and U.S. history in the decades following World War Two.

It may be difficult for anyone who first began listening to music on the radio in the 1960s to believe that jazz was at one time a popular and bestselling musical form. Indeed, concerts by swing band masters like Benny Goodman and shows by masters of the solo instrument like Charlie Parker were the mid-twentieth century equivalent to today’s hip-hop and rock artists. When the phonograph became affordable and the vinyl record common, the popularity of the form grew even greater.

Myers relates the intriguing story of the relationships between jazz artists, producers, electronics corporations, and the recording trade. He tosses into that mix the struggles of composers and performers in gaining compensation for their works and the growth of the musicians’ union. In his telling, the reader gains an understanding of the nature of art in an economy rapidly becoming corporatized, with the accompanying contradiction of simultaneous compartmentalization and centralization monopoly capitalism demands.

Advances in technology did more than enhance accessibility to the music and increase sales. It also changed the music itself. Instead of short solos made for a three minute song -- a virtual necessity on the shellac 78 RPM discs in existence at the beginning of reproducible music -- the advent of the 33⅓ RPM LP enabled producers to lay down extended solos.

Given the nature of bebop, which is defined by long solos by individual band members, the LP provided thousands more jazz listeners with an opportunity to hear their favorite ensembles and soloists. This popularized the music yet also removed its avant-garde allure. Now, anyone with a record player had the potential to be hip.

The downside to the development of vinyl records for jazz music and musicians, especially the shorter playing 45 RPM variety, was that record companies began to record other genres of music that were less established in the industry. This was done in part because many of these artists were less aware of the economic possibilities of the format and therefore easier to exploit.

Indeed, one could reasonably argue that it was the 45 RPM record that popularized both rhythm and blues and rock and roll. Both genres depended on a catchy hook and the songs usually ran less than three minutes each. As anyone who grew up listening to 45s knows, this format was perfect for those little round pieces of plastic with big holes in the middle.

In today’s world of Mp3s, downloading, ITunes, and Bittorrent, the pages Myers devotes to discussing artists’ attempts to gain control over the rights to their work takes on added interest. The story of musicians fighting to make money from other artists performing their works is a long one. It is also one that seems to contain more victories for the corporations that control music publishing and recording than victories for the artists.

The creation of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) in 1914 was the beginning of an organized attempt to distribute the royalties from such performances. Its enhancement in the 1930s and 1940s created a stalemate between the industry and the Musicians Union that was resolved when one record company acceded to the union’s demands, thereby forcing the other corporations involved to do the same or rsik losing their stable of artists to another company.

The incorporation of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) in 1952 added another layer of accountability to the process, albeit one that took a slightly more industry-favorable position than either ASCAP or the union.

Never lost in the story’s telling by Myers are the changes in the music. He chronicles the history of postwar jazz from its bebop and swing roots to the smooth sounds of West Coast jazz to hard bop and into the fusion sounds of the late 1960s and 1970s. In between, he tells the story of avant-garde jazz and its modern music influences from returning GI musicians studying atonal composition and modern classical in university music departments on the GI Bill.

He also discusses the changes wrought by rock music’s British invasion and Berry Gordy’s softer R&B that became known as soul music. The cultural revolution of the 1960s, whether it was the fury and fight for justice boiling up in Black America or the psychedelic brew being mixed in the counterculture of America’s youth, influenced the direction jazz would take, as well.

Myers touches on them all to create a detailed, well-researched and readable history of the essential musical form of the United States.

Why Jazz Happened is a book for anyone interested in jazz music. This history penned by Marc Myers places jazz within the cultural, technological, and economic currents of the period covered. The writing is fluid and accessible. Myers provides a complex story of a cultural phenomenon where the context is more than incidental.

Not only will readers understand jazz music on a deeper level after reading this book, they will also better understand the history of the United States after World War Two.

[Rag Blog contributor Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. He recently released a collection of essays and musings titled Tripping Through the American Night. His novel, The Co-Conspirator's Tale, was published in 2013, along with the third novel in the series All the Sinners Saints. Ron Jacobs can be reached at ronj1955@gmail.com. Find more articles by Ron Jacobs on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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15 November 2013

INTERVIEW / Jonah Raskin : Novelist Beverly Gologorsky Was Shaped by Sixties, Feminism, and The Bronx

Novelist Beverly Gologorsky. Photo by Marion Ettlinger.
An Interview with Beverly Gologorsky:
Novelist and long-time activist's
new book shouts its presence
“Working people are as ubiquitous as Blue Jays. When they fly they’re beautiful."
By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / November 16, 2013

No one wants to be saddled with labels from the past, certainly not that ubiquitous species known as the creative writer. But even writers -- or perhaps especially writers -- have emotional attachments to moments and to spaces from the past. That’s true for Beverly Gologorsky, the author of the 1999 novel, The Things We Do to Make it Home -- and a new novel, Stop Here (Seven Stories; $16.95), the title of which practically shouts its presence.

A long-time activist, Gologorsky edited two anti-war publications -- Viet-Report and Leviathan -- that made a difference by informing and inspiring. She also played a part in the women’s liberation movement in New York in the 1960s and 1970s.

But before the long decade of defiance and resistance to the war and to the patriarchy, she was shaped by her blue collar and pink collar neighborhood in The Bronx where she grew up like everyone else in her generation, in the shadow of war: World War II, the Korean War, and the Cold War. Moreover, like the women characters she writes about in Stop Here, she worked as a waitress.

I’ve known Gologorsky since about 1970 when, if I remember correctly, we rallied in the streets and sat through interminable meetings. I interviewed her in 1999 when her first novel came out. “Writing is the only thing that really makes me happy,” she told me then. When asked the same question recently, she said, “I should have said -- and I feel now -- that I don't always understand myself. Writing is my connection to the universe.”

In many ways, she’s a perfect perfectionist. She writes and rewrites and rewrites some more. Sometimes she’ll rewrite a chapter 12 and 13 times. She’ll put a book away for years, then come back to it and start anew. In her new novel, Stop Here, she writes with the ears of a poet and the eyes of an historian, with compassion and love and with a sense of solidarity, too.

“There’s no way to ignore the warmongering on Fox News, though Ava is trying,” her new book begins. From the start, you know where you’re at, though you don’t know where the book will take you or how it will end. There’s no stopping the momentum of the story once in starts and the characters are unstoppable, too.

Labels are rather limited -- and yet they’re also essential. You could call Gologorsky a daughter of the working class, a feminist and a novelist shaped by the New Left. That’s all true. Still, I’d suggest that you read her novels and forget about the labels. In Stop Here, you’ll want to linger at Murray’s Diner, meet the customers and the employees, and watch as the drama of their lives unfolds against the backdrop of war and resistance.

If you want to read a novel by a radical from the past who’s still a radical, read Stop Here. And if you weren’t a radical then and aren’t one now but you’re curious about the lives of Americans who watch Fox news, this novel has your name written all over it.

Jonah Raskin: Here it is September 11 again. What do you remember about that day in 2001? Where were you?

Beverly Gologorsky: I had just turned on the news in my Upper West Side apartment and after the first sentence the station (NPR) went dead. That was the first plane. Never before have I experienced New York City as quiet of traffic and airplanes as it was in the next three days. Never before had I seen actual shock on ordinary people's faces as I did that day.

Was it a pivotal point in your own life? If so how?

No, though I must admit it remains unforgettable. Particularly, the few days after the event, the sense of burning bodies, the smell, and the sadness of it did permeate all else. No one I knew could work or think about anything except the death and destruction. My doctor friend ran to a hospital to help out, but hardly any bodies needed attending. Horrid. After two days, I went with friends and came as close to the devastation as permitted. The feeling of loss was palpable.

What if anything have Americans learned from 9/11?

Mostly, I fear, the wrong lessons. What should have been seen as a criminal act became a war on state terrorism. So many unnecessary deaths occurred and still do on a lesser basis. Fear was ratcheted up among the populace here, which allowed so much to be done to others in our name that wasn't necessary and was in fact evil. I speak here in particular of Iraq.

It seems to me that American history for the past 80 years or so is a record of war, bombings, invasions, and mass death? How would you describe this last phase of history?

Unfortunately, what you say is true, however, I maintain that people, lots of them, can change policy. It takes a village and it takes patience.

You have written about the impact of war in two novels, The Things We Do to Make it Home from 1999 and your new novel, Stop Here. Why have you focused on war?

I don't see myself focusing on war, per se. Rather, the characters that speak to me happen to be for the most part working class men and women and it has always been their lives that have been affected by war. Also, in my novels, I speak of their relationships to one another not only to the results of war.

The War in Vietnam really was different wasn’t it, as wars go? The opposition was immense, the friendship between the Vietnamese and the American ran really deep, and the solidarity of the global community was awesome. Was that time an aberration in history?

I hope not, and I don't believe so. There are too many reasons for me to go into here, but let me say that many factors keep movements from forming or from not forming.

When I hear writers say that their characters are made up I don’t believe them because we usually find out that their characters -- I’m thinking of Hemingway, for example, or Willa Cather -- are based on actual people. What can you tell us about your main characters?

They are figures from my imagination and composites of various people I've met. But as Gustave Flaubert, the French novelist, said, "Every character, C'est moi."

Much of your new book takes place in a diner -- that all-American institution. It’s what the café is to France and the pub to England. How did the idea of the diner come to you?

It was always the cheapest place to eat, the one where you could sit and rap with your friends or family for hours. I love diners.

One of my favorite authors, B. Traven, said that working people were far more interesting from a novelist’s point of view than rich and famous people? What do you think of that comment?

Working people are as ubiquitous as Blue Jays and when they fly they are beautiful.

You wrote for and edited Leviathan and for other anti-war publications. What did you learn about writing from that experience?

A great deal about challenge and about patience. Many of the encounters with other writers were learning experiences. It was the period in which I was gathering my own worldview.

Women writers talk about the gender imbalance in publishing, reviewing, and publicity. While women read more books than men, buy more books, belong to more book groups, male writers are reviewed more often and get more space. It looks like the patriarchy controls a lot of the book industry. Does that affect you?

Yes. Newspaper and magazine review space has dwindled. It’s barely there, and what little space there is isn't shared evenly, so we need to keep up the pressure so the inequitable coverage will change. We can do that. We have in the past, around other male-dominated venues. So I'm hopeful.

What is it that women today most need to know and appreciate about the women’s liberation movement from the 1960s and 1970s?

Women need to continue to educate other woman about the progress, as well as the failures: to say what needs to be done and perhaps even how to do it.

[Jonah Raskin, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, is a professor emeritus at Sonoma State University and the author of For the Hell of It: The Life and Times of Abbie Hoffman and American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” and the Making of the Beat Generation. Read more articles by Jonah Raskin on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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HISTORY / Bob Feldman : A People's History of Egypt, Part 11, Section 2, 1945-1946

Henri Curiel was the leading figure in the Egyptian communist movement in the 1940s.
A people's history:
The movement to democratize Egypt
Part 11: 1945-1946 period/Section 2 -- Egyptian communist groups grow and face government retaliation.
By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / November 15, 2013

[With all the dramatic activity in Egypt, Bob Feldman's Rag Blog "people's history" series, "The Movement to Democratize Egypt," could not be more timely. Also see Feldman's "Hidden History of Texas" series on The Rag Blog.]

In The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970, Selma Botman noted that some “young, modern, emancipated Egyptian women” in the 1940s “went on to become leaders of students’, women’s and leftist movements” in Egypt and “joined the budding underground communist movement.”

But according to Botman, during the 1940s Egyptian “communist women did not work primarily through existing women’s organizations” in Egypt “like Huda Shaarawi’s Feminist Union or Fatma Nimit Rashid’s Feminist Party, largely because of ideological differences;” but, instead, “set up a new group in 1944-45 called the League of Women Students and Graduates from the University and Egyptian Institutions [Rabitat Fatayat al-Jamia wa al-Maahid al-Mirriyya] which “included some 50 women.”

Four separate Egyptian communist groups existed in Egypt in the early 1940s, but the founder of the Egyptian Movement for National Liberation [al-Haraka al-Mussiyya Tahamar al-Watana], Henri Curiel, was considered “the leading figure in the whole of the Egyptian communist movement in the 1940s,” according to Botman.

In early 1945, Curiel’s Egyptian Movement for National Liberation [EMNL] had founded the Congress of the Union of Workers of Public Companies and Institutions (whose members were shopkeepers, tram workers, cinema workers, textile workers, and electrical industry workers in Egypt) that “was carefully monitored” by the UK-backed monarchical Egyptian government, according to the same book.

So, not surprisingly, when the EMNL “scheduled a mass meeting on May 1, 1946 to coordinate the diverse affairs of Egyptian labor,” the Egyptian government’s “Prime Minister Sidqi prevented the meeting from taking place,” according to The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970.

But on May 1, 1946 EMNL activists and other anti-imperialist Egyptian left nationalists still were able to form a new group, the Congress of the Union of Egyptian Workers, which then made the following demands for the democratization of post-World War II Egyptian society:
  1. the total evacuation of UK imperialist troops from Egypt’s Nile Valley;
  2. the same standards and labor laws for all Egyptian workers;
  3. factory closings in Egypt should be prevented;
  4. the firing of workers from their jobs in Egypt should be prohibited;
  5. all Egyptian workers imprisoned for their involvement in union or patriotic activities should be released;
  6. a 40-hour work limit without any reduction in pay should be established for all Egyptian workers;
  7. all Egyptian workers should receive at least one weekend holiday; and
  8. the first day of May should be established as an annual Labor Day holiday in Egypt.
And besides gaining some mass support from Egyptian workers by 1946, the EMNL, during the 1940s, “also made inroads” into the Egyptian army and among “a group of noncommissioned officers” in the Egyptian air force, according to Botman's book.

Another communist group that existed in Egypt in 1946, Iskra, had been founded in 1942 or 1943 by an Egyptian leftist named Hillel Schwartz. Iskra, however, focused more on recruiting Egyptian intellectuals than did the EMLN group. Although Schwartz’s underground Iskra group had fewer members than Curiel’s EMNL communist group in the 1940s, it had a higher percentage of women in its membership.

As one of its legal front groups, the outlawed underground Iskra also had created in 1944 a House of Scientific Research [Dar al-Abhath al-Ilmiya] -- which published Muhammad Hasan Ahmad’s Egyptian anti-imperialist left critique of the politics of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood group, The Muslim Brotherhood in the Balance [al-Ikhwar al-muslimun fi al-mizan].

According to The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970:
This book...expressed Iskra’s view of the Muslim Brotherhood... The organization was identified as fascist in outlook and as a potentially dangerous competitor. It was criticized for spreading divisive Islamic propaganda the aim of which was to separate Muslims, Copti, and Jews, and for weakening the nationalist movement against imperialism by refusing to participate in joint activity with other political groups. Moreover, it was condemned for diffusing the anticipated opposition by urging Muslim workers to cooperate with Muslim industrialists because of religious communality...
Coincidentally, however, when the Egyptian monarchical government’s Prime Minister Sidqi, “in retaliation against the unity of the people around the National Committee of Workers and Students [NCWS]” in Egypt, according to The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970, “moved against” the anti-imperialist Egyptian left and nationalist left opposition on July 11, 1946, “with the arrest of hundreds of journalists, intellectuals, political and labor leaders, students and professionals, on...trumped up charges,” Iskra’s House of Scientific Research was also closed down by the Egyptian government -- along with 10 other Egyptian political, cultural, and labor organizations and all of the Egyptian left’s journals.

Prior to the July 11, 1946, repression of dissident Egyptian groups, a third Egyptian communist group, the Popular Vanguard for Liberation, had set up a women’s committee to “politicize and organize women comrades” in Egypt, according to Selma Botman’s book, which hoped to accomplish the following political objectives:
  1. to distribute internal propaganda within the Popular Vanguard for Liberation Group to challenge male chauvinist ideology among leftist Egyptian men with respect to Egyptian women’s role in the fight for democracy and a socialist society in Egypt;
  2. to organize women factory workers in Egypt;
  3. to mobilize the wives and sisters of Egyptian leftist men to become more politically active;
  4. to watch for signs of male chauvinist behavior towards their sisters and wives by Egyptian men;
  5. to publicize the special economic and political problems faced by unmarried Egyptian women and Egyptian housewives in 1940s Egyptian society; and
  6. to agitate about the rising cost of living in 1940s Egyptian society.
In its July 11, 1946, crackdown on anti-imperialist left and nationalist Egyptian dissidents, the government  arrested 200 people but only ended up accusing 20 Egyptian left dissidents of “criminal” behavior and only 49 other imprisoned dissidents of “communist activities.”

Besides shutting down Egypt’s House of Scientific University in July 1946, the monarchical regime also shut down at the same time Egypt’s Committee to Spread Popular Culture, Egypt’s Popular University, Egypt’s Union of University Graduates, Egypt’s Center for Popular Culture, Egypt’s Twentieth Century Publishing House, and Egypt’s League of Women Graduates from the University and Higher Institutes, along with three Egyptian bookstores (including the al-Midan bookstore of leftist Egyptian Movement for National Liberation founder Henri Curiel).

In addition, newspapers of the dissident Egyptian groups were banned. And, according to a report of Egypt’s International League of Human Rights cited by The Rise of Egyptian Communism, 1939-1970. “over 250 flats were literally turned upside down,” “every paper, every book was examined,” and “bedrooms were forced open and wives and sisters undressed, were terrorized with armed policemen pointing guns at the bed.”

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

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12 November 2013

David McReynolds : We Are All Wounded Veterans

March to alternative Armistice ceremony in Regents Park in London, November 11, 1938.
Until the guns fall silent:
We are all wounded veterans
In the bad wars -- which are the only wars we have fought for some time now -- there is the terrible knowledge that the enemy was never really the enemy.
By David McReynolds / The Rag Blog / November 12, 2013

There was something infinitely sad and even repellent about the recent celebration of Veterans Day. This was once Armistice Day, the observation of the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day in November 1918, when the guns fell silent and the great war ended. The war to end all wars.

There is certainly a difference between those veterans who survived a war in defense of their country, and those who took part in a war of aggression. Whatever pacifists may feel about war, there was a purpose for those in the Allied forces in World War II who were defending their countries after they had been attacked. Sadly, this cannot be said about the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan.

The whole veteran thing is complex. War, for those who actually experienced it -- who didn't serve their time at a supply base -- is hell. I remember, as a child, wondering how any man could get out of the trenches and walk through a field of death with sounds beyond thunder bursting all around. I still don't know. I only know I would never have the courage to do it.

My father, when a visiting pastor at our church assured the men in the congregation who had served in the military that they need not feel burdened by a sense of guilt over what they might have done, since they had only carried out orders from the state, took the pastor aside after the service and, with barely controlled fury, said, "Don't you dare tell me that I am not guilty for what I did. I did it because I didn't know what else to do, and only the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ can redeem me for the sins of violence".

Even in the best of good wars what of the men on the losing side, who suffered the same horrors but had no brass bands to welcome them home, no mayors and pastors to bless them? The Nazi side was criminal, but the soldiers in their army -- and in the Japanese army -- fought with courage and returned home to ruins.

What can we say of those wars in which we had no real national interest? The Vietnamese did not attack us, Iraq posed no national threat, nor did the Afghans. Our men and women fought because they were ordered to. Some -- a very small handful of them -- enjoyed the violence. Most were terrified or brutalized by it.

Most of all, what I think of on Veterans Day is that, with the miracle of modern medicine, the men and women who in other wars would have died from their wounds, now survive and return without all of their limbs, missing parts of their faces, or brains, facing a life ahead of them of physical therapy.

It is one thing for me, at 84, to remind myself that, if I want to ease the pains of walking, I need to do prescribed exercises. But how unfair that these youth, who should be returning home to run, to play baseball with their children, to make love with vigor, must instead adjust to artificial arms and legs, to endless painful hours of physical therapy.

Those who saw combat do not return whole. Their dreams reek of death, of comrades torn apart, of foreign children shot by accident.

And we do nothing at all to bring to justice those who sent these men and women into wars which were, in a fundamental sense, unjust. And even in the good wars there is still the memory of an enemy who, in death, turned out to be only an adolescent. In the bad wars -- which are the only wars we have fought for some time now -- there is the terrible knowledge that the enemy was never really the enemy. That if there is an enemy it is the government that asks us to celebrate the service of the veterans.

Let us honor the veterans -- all of them, of any nationality. But remember also that in these wars there are other veterans whose fate is not mentioned by Obama, the mothers in Iraq, the wives in Vietnam, the children in Afghanistan, and all the wounded in distant lands, for whom there is no modern medical science. Only dust, blood, and pain.

So our goal, and a goal I suspect I share with a great many veterans, is to work for a world where there are no new veterans and where, perhaps to diminish the chance of such wars, we bring to justice those who so lightly send our young into foreign lands.

[David McReynolds was the Socialist Party's candidate for President in 1980 and 2000, and for 39 years on the staff of the War Resisters League. He also served a term as Chair of the War Resisters International. He is retired and lives with his two cats on New York's lower east side. He can be reached at davidmcreynolds7@gmail.com. His writings can be found on his website, Edgeleft.org. Read more articles by David McReynolds on The Rag Blog.

The Rag Blog

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11 November 2013

RAG RADIO / Thorne Dreyer : October Interviews with Poppy Northcutt, Maneesha James, Seth Holmes, and Thomas Zigal

Frances "Poppy" Northcutt with Rag Radio's Thorne Dreyer in the studios of KPFT-FM in Houston, Friday, October 25, 2013. Photo by Guy Schwartz / The Rag Blog.
Rag Radio podcasts:
Thorne Dreyer interviews Poppy Northcutt,
Maneesha James, Seth Holmes, and Tom Zigal
Our October guests address Texas feminist history, issues involved with death and dying, the plight of migrant farmworkers, and the post-Katrina craziness.
By Rag Radio / The Rag Blog / November 11, 2013

Thorne Dreyer's guests on Rag Radio in October 2013 included pioneering Houston feminist Frances "Poppy" Northcutt, president of both the Houston and Texas chapters of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and a historic figure in the women's movement; psychotherapist, meditation facilitator, and death and dying counselor Maneesha James; anthropologist Seth Holmes, author of Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies about the plight of migrant farmworkers; and novelist Thomas Zigal, author of Many Rivers to Cross set in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Rag Radio is a weekly syndicated radio program produced and hosted by long-time alternative journalist Dreyer and recorded at the studios of KOOP 91.7-FM, a cooperatively-run all-volunteer community radio station in Austin, Texas.

Frances "Poppy" Northcutt

Listen to or download the podcast of Rag Radio's interview with Houston feminist Frances "Poppy" Northcutt here:

Houston attorney Frances "Poppy" Northcutt is president of the Houston and Texas chapters of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Northcutt, who has played a central role in the women’s movement since the mid-Sixties, was the City of Houston’s first Women’s Advocate in 1974-75 under Mayor Fred Hofheinz. In that role she initiated legislative and executive proposals to eliminate sex discrimination in the police and fire departments and elsewhere in city government.

She was also the founding chair in 1974 of the Harris County Women’s Political Caucus. Northcutt was on-site coordinator for the historic National Womens Conference, sponsored by the U.S. State Department and held in Houston in November 1977, drawing 20,000 participants.

Northcutt first gained national attention during the Apollo missions in the mid-Sixties when, as a mathematician and engineer, she was the first woman to work in flight support at NASA’s Mission Control. In a September 1970 Life magazine cover story titled “Women Arise,” Northcutt was one of eight women profiled as "succeeding in a man’s world.”

She was singled out in a 1969 AP story about women playing key roles in the space program and was also featured in Mademoiselle, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Northcutt won a number of awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom Team Award for work in the rescue of the Apollo 13 crew.

This episode of Rag Radio was produced in the studios of KPFT-FM in Houston with the assistance of KPFT news anchor Marlo Blue.

Maneesha James

Maneesha James with Rag Radio's Thorne Dreyer (left) and Tracey Schulz at the KOOP studios, October 18, 2013.
Listen to or download the podcast of Rag Radio's interview with death and dying counselor Maneesha James here:

Born in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, in 1947, Maneesha James offers "psycho-spiritual support in living and dying." She has a background in nursing (general, midwifery, and psychiatric) and is a psychotherapist and meditation facilitator. Maneesha, who lives in London, is co-founder and co-director of the Sammasati Project, which offers a vision of living and dying based on awareness and celebration.

Through her years of meditation and living in the meditation resort of the contemporary mystic, Osho (she was his chief editor), Maneesha has developed and facilitated workshops worldwide on a meditative way of living. She works with people who wish to go through the process of dying with as much awareness as possible -- working on an individual basis with those who are facing imminent death and in workshops with those who want to explore their issues with dying while they are still relatively healthy.

Seth Holmes

Anthropologist Seth Holmes in the studios of KOOP-FM in Austin, October 11, 2013. Photo by Roger Baker / The Rag Blog.
Listen to or download the podcast of Rag Radio's interview with anthropologist Seth Holmes here:

Seth M. Holmes is a cultural and medical anthropologist and physician who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley where he is Martin Sisters Endowed Chair Assistant Professor of Public Health and Medical Anthropology. Holmes is the author of Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States. The book, which “weds the theoretical analysis of the anthropologist with the intimacy of the journalist,” is an “ethnographic witness to the everyday lives and suffering of Mexican migrants.”

The book is based on five years of field research during which time Seth lived with indigenous Mexican families in the mountains of Oaxaca and in farm labor camps in the United States, planted and harvested corn, picked strawberries, accompanied sick workers to clinics and hospitals, participated in healing rituals, and mourned at funerals for friends.

Holmes traveled with migrants through the desert border into Arizona, where they were apprehended and jailed by the Border Patrol. After he was released from jail, and his companions were deported, Holmes interviewed Border Patrol agents, local residents, and armed vigilantes.

Tom Philpott wrote in Mother Jones about Holmes' book: “Here in the U.S., we both utterly rely on immigrants from south of the border to feed us, and erect walls and employ militias to keep them out. In this groundbreaking new book, Holmes goes underground to explore what this bizarre duality means for the people who live it. A brilliant combination of academic rigor and journalistic daring.”

Thomas Zigal

Novelist Thomas Zigal in the KOOP studios in Austin, Friday, October 4, 2013. Photo by Carlos Lowry / The Rag Blog.

Listen to or download the podcast of Rag Radio's interview with novelist Thomas Zigal here:

According to Kirkus Reviews, Novelist Thomas Zigal writes “page-turners with a conscience.” His latest book, Many Rivers to Cross, is set in post-Katrina New Orleans. The White League was also set in New Orleans, as will be a third novel to come. His three popular crime novels, featuring hippie Sheriff Kurt Muller, take place in Aspen. Author Jan Reid wrote that Many Rivers to Cross "is awe-inspiring. Thomas Zigal has entered New Orleans' heart of darkness after Katrina. His story is brave, frightening, and so dramatic that at times you have to get up and walk around the room."

Zigal was born in Galveston and grew up in Texas City where his father worked in an oil refinery. He graduated from the University of Texas -- where he was “an anti-war hippie and an avid reader of The Rag.” He got his masters in creative writing at Stanford and “hung out with writers like Raymond Carver, James Crumley, and Scott Turow.”

He published a literary magazine, The Pawn Review, and was an editor at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Zigal has served as a speech writer for one UT-Austin chancellor and four of the university’s presidents. He is a member of the Authors Guild, the Mystery Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters (of which he is a former vice president), and the Writers League of Texas.

Rag Radio is hosted and produced by Rag Blog editor Thorne Dreyer, a pioneer of the Sixties underground press movement. Dreyer was a founding editor of the original Rag, published in Austin from 1966-1977. Tracey Schulz is the show's engineer and co-producer.

Rag Radio has aired since September 2009 on KOOP 91.7-FM, an all-volunteer cooperatively-run community radio station in Austin, Texas. Rag Radio is broadcast live every Friday from 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on KOOP and is rebroadcast on Sundays at 10 a.m. (EDT) on WFTE, 90.3-FM in Mt. Cobb, PA, and 105.7-FM in Scranton, PA. Rag Radio is also aired on KPFT-HD3 90.1 -- Pacifica radio in Houston -- on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. (CDT).

The show is streamed live on the web and, after broadcast, all Rag Radio shows are posted as podcasts at the Internet Archive.

Rag Radio is produced in association with The Rag Blog, a progressive Internet newsmagazine, and the New Journalism Project, a Texas 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation.

Rag Radio can be contacted at ragradio@koop.org.

Coming up on Rag Radio:
THIS FRIDAY, November 15, 2013: Staffers from the original Rag in '60s Austin: Doyle Niemann, now a leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, and poet/activist Mariann Wizard.
Friday, November 22, 2013: Empowerment activist Sam Daley-Harris, author of Reclaiming our Democracy: Healing the Break Between People and Government.

The Rag Blog

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10 November 2013

Michael James : Going Off Campus, 1965

Sam and Theophilius at sunset in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Photos by Michael James from his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James' Pictures from the Long Haul.
Pictures from the Long Haul:
Going off campus:
Idaho, Wyoming, and Connecticut, 1965
I proceeded to quote Tom Paine: “Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils were I to make a whore of my soul.”
By Michael James / The Rag Blog / November 11, 2013

[In this series, Michael James is sharing images from his rich past, accompanied by reflections about -- and inspired by -- those images. This photo will be included in his forthcoming book, Michael Gaylord James' Pictures from the Long Haul.]

At UC Berkeley in the winter and spring of 1965 the Free Speech Movement battles continued. The court proceedings for the Sproul Hall arrests continued, as did rallies and negotiations. My sentence gave me a choice: 25 days in jail, a year’s probation, or a $250 fine. Believing that a year’s probation would limit my political activities, I took the fine, and said to the judge; “A lot of people across the land are coming to feel as I do,” and proceeded to quote Tom Paine: “Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils were I to make a whore of my soul.”

Eventually the University agreed to permit tables and discussion in Sproul Hall Plaza, and reversed their edict on no political activity. And political activity there was. The U.S. war on the people of Vietnam was in the forefront. I got involved with the Vietnam Day Committee initiated by Jerry Rubin, Stew Alpert, and others. In May we held a two-day teach-in, which thousands attended. Senator Ernest Gruening of Alaska was a featured speaker. He and Oregon’s Wayne Morse were the first Senators to stand in opposition to U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam.

Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters showed up in a wildly painted school bus; Allan Ginsberg, Wavy Gravy, and others were on the scene. Protest singer Phil Ochs came to perform. Before he took to the stage I was fortunate to hang out with him at the home of Neil Blumenthal, a Berkeley psychologist and the Free Speech Movement’s resident shrink.

Man on Harley, Route 53, Connecticut.
For the teach-in I helped compile a pamphlet with articles on Vietnam and the war. While laying it out at the Berkeley Free Press, I leaned on the light table and fell through the glass (no injuries, luckily, and the shop owner took it in stride). When the pamphlet made it to press, I remember the brass bell on the Multilith offset that gave a constant ding-ding at the tempo of the press’s speed. The pressman was David Goines, who became a well-known poster artist.

Students for a Democratic Society was the organization that caught my attention, and then my love and devotion. Back when we surrounded the police car with Jack Weinberg in it -- the event that really set the Free Speech Movement in motion -- I had found a leaflet put out by SDS calling to “build the interracial movement of the poor.” SDS “traveler” (field organizer) Mike Davis, now a noted author, came through town and signed me up into the ranks of SDS. At an SDS party I talked and drank wine with Michael Harrington, who I had heard speak in 1962 at the University of Chicago, along with the old socialist Norman Thomas. Harrington’s ’62 book The Other America exposed the dramatic extent of poverty in the U.S.

The summer of ’65, while the anti-war movement was building at Berkeley and across the land, some of us were making plans to move into West Oakland. We would be among SDS members involved in the Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP), which had begun organizing in 13 cities, trying to build an interracial movement of the poor. Paul Booth, an SDS leader, came to California to help with what would be called the West Oakland Community Project (WOCP). We were idealistic. We said, “Let the people decide.” An SDS button proclaimed Sam Cook’s lyric “A change is gonna come.”

Twelve of us --11 white, one black -- were involved in the WOCP that summer. We had a house at 320 Henry Street near the Southern Pacific Railroad yards. People in the community wondered who we were and what was going on. A ragtag group of men who lived at the Catholic Worker’s Peter Maurin House came by to check us out. [Peter Maurin was a Catholic activist who along with Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement]. They’d been drinking wine and their spokesman was challenging, but mellowed out when we shared our hopes and intentions.

Lots of people were working for change in Oakland. There were freedom schools, summer work projects, and labor projects. The issue that got traction in our efforts was beautification. It may not seem radical, but responding to the way the city was tearing down fences and ruining people’s gardens at Peralta Villa Public Housing without notice or community input, was about letting the people decide, a major SDS principle. The Peralta Villa folks were pissed off, and they let the city know about it. The fence removal was halted, a small but significant victory.

A mostly white group of Berkeley students organizing in a poor black community did not bring us far on the road to a revolution. Perhaps the biggest deterrent to sustained work by WOCP was the exploding growth of opposition to the Vietnam War. There was considerable anti-war activity on campus and energies were pulled in that direction.

To top it off, there were the troop trains, and the efforts by hundreds to stop them. During August there was a demonstration at the railroad tracks in Berkeley. My clearest memory of that day is a soldier’s face, probably a conscript, who was on the Union Pacific train from Fort Riley in Kansas, heading to the Oakland Army Terminal to be shipped off to Nam. He was at the window with a shaved head. His face was laughing yet somehow also fearful as he watched me take the picket sign I held and slap it against the window. “U.S. Out of Viet Nam!” I hope he made it back.

Sam and Theophilus in Wyoming or Nebraska.

At the end of the summer I headed back east. My Staples High School pal, football lineman Sam Whiteside, was on the West Coast. He and I, along with two women from the Oakland Project and a young black SNCC activist named Theopholis Smith, headed east in Sam’s Chevy wagon. Theo had been on a break from his work in the South and was heading back to the voter registration battlefield in Alabama.

I was back on the road, heading east from Berkeley by car for the first time. Sam, like me, was up for a circuitous route, and I had a camera with me. We drove through Nevada, then Idaho, and on to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where at sunset I caught a picture of Sam and Theo climbing a over a fence. Later that night we spotted Indians swaying and staggering along the road. We were riding through a Crow reservation as we neared Dubois, Wyoming. In Dubois we ate at a bar while a piano player tickled the keys. We joined him in song before driving off into the night.

By morning we were in my ancestral homeland of Nebraska. Near Valentine we decided to stop and take a jump into the Niabrara River. Sam cut his foot, and got stitches from a doctor in Valentine. I talked to the doc about the war, which he supported. As my family will attest, this was the beginning of a lifetime of bringing up politics with folks anywhere I am -- in an elevator, at a gas station, attending a wedding, on the phone with an operator at a credit card company in wherever. “And what state are you taking this call in? Hope you guys are going to vote out so-and-so!”

In Chicago we went to the Uptown neighborhood, where the JOIN (Jobs or Income Now) Community Union office was located on Argyle. There I met Sandra Cason, aka Casey Hayden, who had just left her work with SNCC in Mississippi after Stokley Carmichael (Kwame Ture) had booted the white members out. Sam and the others left me there.

Cross, cowboy, Conoco, and Wonder Bread truck in Idaho.
Casey and I visited Old Town, a pioneer hip neighborhood and happening place. The night heat was close to unbearable, and the sidewalks were packed with people. A guy on a motorcycle, his squeeze on the back, was jumpy and jittery as he revved his bike, moving through the crowds crossing the street. I suggested to Casey, “Let’s get out of here!” We took the Chicago Northwestern RR to Lake Forest, 30 miles north. It was cooler there, where we stayed at the home of my anthropology Prof Gerry Gerasimo.

The next morning we said goodbye to Gerry and his wife Dottie, who had been a classmate of mine. Casey and I grabbed our stuff and hitchhiked east, stopping for a night at an SDS ERAP project in Cleveland, located in a mostly poor white neighborhood near the Great Lake Erie. The next day, thumbs out, we hitched rides and made it to Connecticut.

We linked up with fellow Berkeley sociology student Nigel Young and his wife Antonia, serious peace activists from England. Nigel told me about writing “U.S. out of Guatemala” on a wall in London in 1956, when he got arrested while trying to figure out how to spell Guatemala. They were quite a couple, he in mod all black: turtleneck, black pants, short black jacket, and pointy-toe black shoes. Antonia wore a big long fur coat. (This was before there was much talk of animal rights.)

All four of us headed west in a gray 1957 Plymouth station wagon “drive-away” that needed to be delivered to California. We stopped at the Custer Battlefield and Museum in Montana, where the park ranger-guide kept referring to “the hostiles” coming over this hill, and doing this or that. With Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull already heroes in my consciousness, I found his rap to be offensive. In Billings we stopped to eat at a place with an adjacent bar that had a dirt floor and a sign “Check guns at door.” That made sense.

We cruised through Yellowstone National Park, took in the geysers, and had our progress momentarily halted while a bull buffalo decided to mosey along the middle of the road. In Idaho we crossed over a mountain and stopped to eat early in the morning. On the jukebox I noticed Johnny Cash covers of Dylan tunes, and thought: “Wow, something is happening here, the times indeed are a-changing.”

A ranch in Idaho.
On a back road we stopped at an abandoned ranch where I found a branding iron. Down the road we had to stop for a herd of sheep. The shepherd was Basque, didn’t speak English, and wore a jean jacket and pants and engineer boots. Later Nigel enlightened us about the struggles of the Basque people in Spain.

Back at school in Berkeley, I was a graduate teaching assistant. Casey was bereft, missing her comrades in Mississippi, and returned to her family’s home in Victoria, Texas. I tried to restart the Oakland Project along with Vivian Rothstein. From 12 of us, we were down to two. We moved into a different house where neighborhood kids ripped us off. Honest talk led to the goods being returned.

Barry and Betty, both of whom had worked in the Newark Community Union Project (NCUP), soon joined Vivien and me in our efforts. We took a trip to a commune near Big Sur. As we approached we heard beating drums, apparently a sunset ritual to help the sun to go down over the Pacific. A number of longhairs came running at us with clubs, but backed off when Barry yelled he was there to see his sister.

It quickly became clear that the Oakland Project had run out of steam. Though my heart was still with the interracial movement of the poor, I needed to figure out the best place for me to help work toward that vision. Knowing now that I wanted to leave Berkeley, to go off campus and organize, I began contemplating my next moves.

[Michael James is a former SDS national officer, the founder of Rising Up Angry, co-founder of Chicago's Heartland Café (1976 and still going), and co-host of the Saturday morning (9-10 a.m. CDT) Live from the Heartland radio show, here and on YouTube. He is reachable by one and all at michael@heartlandcafe.com. Find more articles by Michael James on The Rag Blog.]

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