The Montana election, the Democratic Party failure and the progressive success; and some social movement history

Comments (0) Politics

Partisanship at an election rally, with body-slamming and more. A campaign rally in Middlesex, England, 1768. For notes on the image and some social movement (and art)  history, click here.

It seemed impossible to win the Montana special election, and so the Democratic Party leadership chose not to fund Rob Quist’s campaign. But then he came close to beating multi-millionaire, right-wing nutter Greg Gianforte, who won by only 6 points in a state Trump won by 20. The money came in too late. So did Gianforte’s assault on the Guardian reporter who had the nerve to ask his position on the Republican health care bill; 69% of the voters had already cast their ballots.

Gianforte won by a margin small enough to suggest Democrats can win the house in 2018, or come close, according to FiveThirtyEight. You can see this as a Democratic Party loss, but also as a victory for progressives, who once again showed that without serious party backing they can mount a credible challenge in the most Republican states.

Here are a few angles from which people have been evaluating the results — some that may be familiar, but then one that interests me more and that I think needs more attention. (more…)

Read article

The March for Science — moment or movement?

Comments (2) Activism, Politics

40,000 marched for science in Chicago April 22 . Photo: (CC BY 2.0)

The March for Science (MfS) was a peculiar demonstration — there had never been a mobilization quite like this before. This activism is not over individual issues, such as evolution or reproductive rights. It’s the culture wars raised to a new level — it’s about the place of science and evidence-based policy in society. The marchers frame their activism as reason and knowledge against prejudice and ignorance, evidence against fiction and lies. Now the organizers want to build on its success — hundreds of thousands of people marched worldwide — to turn it into a movement. What kind of march, and what kind of a movement?

We all knew one subtext of the “bipartisan” march was a protest against the Trump administration. Photo: (CC BY 2.0).

Some scientists criticized the march before it began for “politicizing science,” and some activists criticized the march organizers for a lack of diversity. Those criticisms can be revealing in many ways, but first here are some observations about the march from a social movement perspective.


Read article

North Korea: To make war, they need us to forget history

Comments (0) Uncategorized

The use of napalm on civilians in the Vietnam War was widely known, its use in Korea widely ignored, hardly remembered. Anonymous Vietnam War poster.

The worst lies can be silence and forgetting, essential for all warmaking. A “bipartisan consensus”  is emerging in Washington that the US needs to force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons with a military attack — even regime change. North Korea is another “rogue state,” with leaders so evil and irrational there is no point in diplomacy; if talk is pointless, military force must be the only option. Strange as the regime is, the demonization should make us suspicious; we’ve heard it before as a justification for horrors.

Tough choices, as our leaders like to say; and here are the tough facts which finally dissuaded previous US administrations from military attacks on North Korea.

  • There are 10,000 artillery in the mountains within range of Seoul, which has 1/3 of South Korea’s population.
  • North Korea has a vast underground network of military facilities.
  • North Korea positions 80% of their troops near the border, to frustrate both a nuclear attack and an invasion.
  • Now, added to these defensive advantages, North Korea has nuclear weapons, with mobile launchers and launch sites deep underground.

The Clinton administration negotiated a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs and North Korea even agreed to sell off its medium and long-range weapons in exchange for an end to US threats and the beginning of normalization of relations. But then Bush named North Korea a part of the “axis of evil” and threatened regime change and nuclear first strike. Why ever did those crazy North Koreans rush to resume their nuclear program?

Bruce Cumings, a historian of the Korean War and its aftermath, says, “The simple fact is that Pyongyang would have no nuclear weapons if Clinton’s agreements had been sustained.”

We read about the North Korean provocations but not about their context. Many of them are responses to US threats, such as the yearly US-South Korea war games,  this year involving 300 000 South Korean troops, 17,000 US troops, with ground, air, naval and special operations services. These rehearse “surgical strikes on North Korea’s main nuclear and missile facilities and ‘decapitation raids’ by special forces targeting the North’s leadership.” This year they include Seal Team Six, the team that killed bin Laden.

North Korea agreed to a “suspension for a suspension” — a suspension of their weapons programs in exchange for the US suspension of war games; the US refused. Apparently the US again is waiting for the North Korea to either surrender its nuclear program in return for nothing — or maybe waiting for the regime to collapse, relying on China to impose sanctions to help it along. That hasn’t worked in the past, for fairly obvious geopolitical reasons. First, North Korea has shown remarkable stability, it is fiercely independent, and it has resisted Chinese pressure in the past. It’s not in China’s interest to see a crisis in North Korea that could bring hundreds of thousands of refugees into China.  China also values North Korea as a buffer state —South Korea is a US military ally with US bases, and the US strategy has long been to encircle China with bases in South Korea, Japan, Philippines (uh-oh), and maybe one day Vietnam and Thailand.

But the history the media forget, that is always present in North Korea, should tell us why North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons. In the Korean War, North Korea lost 1/5 to 1/3 of its population, as the US carpet bombed the terrain, leveling almost every city and village, making the whole country into a free fire zone, even bombing the dams and reservoirs to wash away villages and people and destroy the rice supply. Strategic bombing failed yet again, as it did in the US wars against Germany, Japan and Vietnam; the North Korean response was to learn to live underground — they moved their dwellings, their factories, their military installations underground.

The Korean War was more devastating than the Vietnam War, forgotten here, not in North Korea.

Since then, after decades of economic warfare, threats of invasion and even nuclear attack, their response was to develop nuclear weapons. That was the lesson of the Iraq invasion to North Korea or any small country which wants to remain independent of great powers — if Saddam Hussein actually had nuclear weapons, would the US have invaded? Expect more nuclear proliferation, the price we all pay when the US threatens some other small country.

Where is the antiwar movement? Where are those millions of people, here and in Europe, who went into the streets to protest the Iraq War? The millions who forced Nixon and Kissinger to withdraw troops from Vietnam and showed our elites that they can never again send hundreds of thousands of US troops into a ground war?

We can thank Trump. “Resistance” is so focused on his removing him from office that it is hard to focus on any one area, and when we do, it’s his attacks on people in the US.

But we can also thank Obama for this deflection from US warmaking. He carried on the war policies of Bush at the end of his administration, which as you remember was forced to withdraw troops in Iraq, a withdrawal later completed by Obama. Obama sent 70,000 more troops into Afghanistan, our longest war, and then left Libya in shambles. But, then, this was Obama —he was a Democrat, he was the good president. He couldn’t pacify any foreign land, but he pacified us.

Now as US warmaking escalates in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, making new threats of military action against North Korea, we no longer have Obama in office. But there is still no antiwar presence.

Why do you think? Send me your thoughts.

To read more about North Korea:

Any of Bruce Cumings’ books, in particular: “Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History” and “North Korea: Another Country.”


Read article

Middlebury protest Part II: Evaluating tactics, including the school’s

Comments (0) Activism, Media

“Rough music” or the “Skimmington,” with townspeople assaulting their target with noise and insults. The victim is placed backwards on a horse, with his wife beating him with a ladle. Charles Murray got off easy, compared to this sorry bloke. Wm Hogarth, engraving, 1726.

[This is the second part of an article on the Middlebury College protest against Charles Murray. If you read it, please read it after the first part. The first critiqued stereotyped student protest reporting and the conventional wisdom about the rights of speakers on campus. This post looks at the tactics of college officials and student activists.]

Tactics: What else could school officials have done?

What else could the administration have done? Before the event, the campus newspaper published protest letters  from over 600 students, over 50 faculty and over 500 alumni.   The college’s response, to give Murray an enthusiastic and generous welcome, was so normal that few thought it odd that President Patton chose to do so despite such widespread opposition from her campus. School officials were clearly out of touch with their students and faculty, had no idea how serious the opposition would be, no idea how quickly they would lose control, and now are in the position of hunting down students whom many in their community feel should be honored. Bad leadership, egregious mismanagement, pitiful listening skills? Yet the college officials escape all criticism from the respectable commentators.

The school not only legitimized Murray and his views by allowing the invitation; they also hosted him and treated him as an honored guest, even taking him out to dinner afterwards. They arranged this as a major college event in a large hall; the school president introduced him, the political science department co-hosted  (over the strong objections of some of their faculty), and they made the format a collegial exchange of ideas between Murray and one of their professors. Would they have done more for a visit from a Nobel Laureate? This extra effort was so strange and foolish, so out of touch with the climate on campus, it requires an explanation all its own. (more…)

Read article

The Middlebury protest: Do racists have the right to speak? Do students have the right to disrupt?

Comments (1) Activism, Media

The Latin caption, in translation: “Hercules and Iolaus defend their campus against hate-spewing Prof. Hydra.” Maybe the professor shouldn’t have claimed that Hercules was genetically defective. Hans Sebald Beham, 16th c. engraving, Wikimedia Commons.

The stereotyped student protest narrative

There is a mainstream version of what happened at Middlebury College when right-wing ideologue Charles Murray came to speak. The details hardly matter, because the narrative is so familiar and the conventional wisdom so clear. Student activists disrupt a guest speaker, the protest turns violent, the protesters deny his right to speak, and liberals and conservatives unite in condemning the affront to democratic values.

This sounds also like the Berkeley protest against Milo Yiannopoulos, but for that matter like any student protest against guest speakers that gets headlines. These speakers have included provocateurs like Iannopoulos, apologists for white supremacy and inequality like Murray, or people responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in unjust wars, like Condoleezza Rice or Ehud Olmert.

The received version repeats these details about the Middlebury protest: Conservative students invite Murray to speak; the Political Science Department decides to co-sponsor and Prof. Allison Stanger volunteers to hold a Q and A with him; Middlebury President Laurie Patton gets behind the event; students organize and demand the college not host him. He comes amid a large student protest; the hall is full of chanting protesters; he and Stanger move to a closed location and stream the event; then as he and Stanger leave, protesters block their way, Stanger suffers a neck injury when her hair is pulled by a protester, the car is surrounded, and they leave. And this is the one detail which everyone who remembers this narrative will remember: Protesters attacked and injured the professor.

Like many stereotyped narratives, you know the outline and the moral before you read it; no need for any effort at judgment, thinking or analysis because, as with all stereotyped narratives, you’ve done that long ago. You can read dozens of reports and opinion pieces in the mainstream media, and they mostly are the same.

Why there is always more to the story

Yet there is much more to each one of these stories, because they are all individual events with different people, different backgrounds, and details you won’t see even in the better mainstream reports. If you read the news critically, the way a historian would, you will ask questions such as, Did the reporter witness the event, and, if not, who did she interview? (“Consider the source,” always!)


Read article

Beyond the Democrats’ inner-party struggle; W. E. B. Du Bois and graphic art; bathrooms, Uber and power

Comments (1) Art, Politics

William Hogarth, “Canvassing for Votes.” 1784. Whig and Tory agents try to bribe the innkeeper, a woman sits on the statue of the British lion, counting her bribes. Nowadays, it’s the candidates who get the bribes, and the voters … not much. Wikipedia.

“Establishment favorite” Tom Perez, defeated Sanders-backed progressive Keith Ellison in the contest for chair of the Democratic National Committee. Obama worked the phones to pitch Perez to DNC members, as did Biden and former White House staff. A victory of the Clinton-Obama, corporate wing of the party over the progressives? Yes, but it’s not so clear what the vote means for the party, or where the line can be drawn between “establishment” and “progressive.” Chuck Schumer gave Ellison an early endorsement, and he’s Senate Minority Leader and the senator from Wall Street New York; Perez’s first move was to make Ellison deputy chair, and Ellison told supporters, “If they trust me, they need to come on and trust Tom Perez as well.” The alignment of forces seems somewhat opaque and complicated. What does the DNC vote mean for the party’s future? How it will respond to its defeat and the angry demands for change from its base? (more…)

Read article

Public radio fires transgender reporter — is “objectivity dead”? “Free” tuition; how artists depict Trump; sanctuary colleges

Comments (0) Politics

In this post: Fired: National radio’s “only out transgender reporter”; How journalists should respond to Trump’s attack on news media: more on “objectivity”; Mario Garcia on news designers feasting on Trump; Sanctuary colleges can’t shield data from feds; problems with NY Gov Cuomo’s free college tuition plan.

Fired: National radio’s “only out transgender reporter”

They’ll even censor the poet Horace for making political comments. Charles Vernier, Le Charivari, 1848.

“Objectivity is dead, and I’m OK with it!”

That was the title of a short essay reporter Lewis Wallace posted on his blog on Medium. Wallace reports for Marketplace, the public radio program you can hear daily on WBEZ, with a segment on Morning Edition. Wallace soon followed with  “I was fired from my journalism job ten days into Trump.”

Marketplace fired its only out transgender reporter — maybe the only out transgender reporter for a national outlet — for saying that while he stood for “truth and fairness in reporting,” he questioned whether journalists could be or should be “neutral.” Neutral about whether transgender people have a right to exist, neutral about racial persecution … or any other atrocity.

He published “Objectivity is dead”; then he was suspended without discussion and told to take the piece down. He took it down, but he wasn’t reinstated, and when he wrote a letter “asking for a chance to debate the issues,” he was fired with no opportunity for discussion. Maybe there’s more to the story, but the timing and sequence of events support his version.

“Neutrality isn’t real: Neutrality is impossible for me, and you should admit that it is for you, too. As a member of a marginalized community (I am transgender), I’ve never had the opportunity to pretend I can be ‘neutral.’ After years of silence/denial about our existence, the media has finally picked up trans stories, but the nature of the debate is over whether or not we should be allowed to live and participate in society, use public facilities and expect not to be harassed, fired or even killed. Obviously, I can’t be neutral or centrist in a debate over my own humanity. The idea that I don’t have a right to exist is not an opinion, it is a falsehood. On that note, can people of color be expected to give credence to ‘both sides’ of a dispute with a white supremacist, a person who holds unscientific and morally reprehensible views on the very nature of being human? Should any of us do that?” (Wallace, “Objectivity is dead, and I’m okay with it.”)

It’s not surprising that the Marketplace bosses wouldn’t discuss Wallace’s comments with him. Their response was corporate: they fired him by email. But then, it could be embarrassing to dispute any of Wallace’s arguments. (more…)

Read article

A few notes: Women’s march, Repeal and Replace, artist tributes to MLK, and drawing beautiful tragic data

Comments (0) Activism, Art, Politics

The Women’s March: The look of a movement matters

Liza Donovan, “Hear Our Voice.” Courtesy of Amplifier Foundation.

Artists sent 5000 poster designs when the Women’s March on Washington organizers put out a public call for submissions. The Amplifier Foundation announced they will print more than 30,000 posters and banners, and five of the posters can be downloaded from their website. You can find local artists at work for protest actions in cities all over the US, and you can probably find their images in your social media feeds.

The look of a movement matters — everything from the color of the activists to the clothes they wear, the signs they carry and the street theater they perform. When protesters carry their own signs, with creative slogans and artwork, they inspire and raise the spirits of the marchers in a way that the printed signs of the organizations can’t. The individual creativity can itself become serious rule-breaking, a disruption of conformity and a subversion of obedience to even progressive authority. The autonomy and commitment raises the threat level to the authorities and teaches the participants to make their movement a celebration of  their aspirations, identity and solidarity.

The great mass movements, of course, have always had signs at their actions and posters announcing them. I’ve looked at photos of their demonstrations through years of teaching social movement history, but I haven’t seen the colorful printed and hand-drawn work that characterizes demonstrations from the sixties on.

What explains the changes? One thing that changed is the centrality of young people in the movements. The traditional left was succeeded and eclipsed by radicalized students, in movements shaped by minority rebellions, a youth counterculture and the women’s and gay liberation movements. Add to these the demographic and cultural changes, the technologies that made cheap, professional-level design and printing accessible, and then the easy proliferation of art on the web and in social media.

I look forward to the signs, the pastels and paintings, the paper mache effigies, and to the photos spreading through social media the morning after the inauguration.

Here’s an example of protest art from the rally of thousands that forced Trump to cancel his appearance at University of Illinois-Chicago, and alongside it a spectacle produced in another women’s march on Washington.

  • A poster from a left organization on the ground, with the real voice of the people up front: “Cats Against Trump,” “We Shall OverCOMB,” “I’ll Swap 1 Trump for 10,000 Refugees.” Photo: Considered Sources. CC by 2.0.
  • In the women’s march on Washington in March 1913, the marchers may not have made their own signs, but they captured the imagination with performances. Here German actress Hedwig Reicher becomes Columbia, in a claim that her cause is patriotic and American. Library of Congress.
  • No signs at this student antifascist rally at CCNY, but there was a two-headed effigy of Mussolini and the college president.
  • 1919 Steel Strike. Strikers hold signs printed by their union.


Read article

The Democrats’ — and the left’s — white worker problem

Comments (2) Activism, Politics

Photo by AK Rockefeller. “USA Industry.” CC BY-SA 2.0.

Today, a month after the election, I read a half-dozen new articles with the same arguments and explanations I saw on November 9, and key-word searches turned up dozens more appearing just this last week. They are all about the white working-class vote.

Voter suppression, Russian hacking and Wikileaks, Comey, media bias,  Jill Stein as the “Nader of 2016” — any one of them could have made the difference in a close election decided by some 80,000 votes in three states. But one factor stands out, because both movement and Democratic Party strategy depends on how it is understood: the role of whites who voted for Obama twice and either stayed home, voted  third party, or voted Trump this time. These are people who could — or could not, depending on your views — be part of a winning Democratic coalition, or part of an independent mass movement for radical change.

Nate Cohn in the Times made the point in a carefully argued conversation: “Democrats have to grapple with the fact that they lost this election because millions of white working-class voters across the United States voted for Obama and then switched to Trump. …  she lost this election because millions of white voters without a college degree decided to vote for Trump. This was an electorate that she could have and should have won, based on pre-election polls and probably her team’s own data.”

For the Democrats, this group is crucial: The Republican Party has for the foreseeable future virtually conceded to the Democrats decisive swathes of  minorities, youth, professionals and the most of the college educated. What the Clinton campaign got wrong: In this election, and for the foreseeable future, the competition between the parties is mainly over rustbelt whites, those swing voters in a few swing states.

The debate among progressives can be passionate and angry, because what is at stake goes beyond the next election and movement strategy. Our understanding of this group makes a difference to how we think we can bring about social change. But the debate is also about how each of us understands our world, ourselves, how we relate to each other and the values which define us. (more…)

Read article

Why the Clinton Scandals Mattered: The politics of scandal

Comments (3) Media, Politics

In this post:

  • alien-in-slammer

    The scandal the Clinton machine couldn’t suppress! Anonymous sources will never be silenced!

    Explaining the Clinton scandals

  • Broader context: Trust, politicide and the battle for symbolic power
  • Strange historical analogy that explains a lot: the role of political pornography in the French Revolution … illustrated! (Trigger warning on those illustrations: scurrilous misogyny, yet fun to some because they target royalty.)
  • Is there any hope of winning against scandal politics?

Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost for a variety of reasons, but Hillary Clinton and many others blame FBI Director Comey’s announcements in the last weeks that reminded people of the email scandal. The loss was narrow, so this and many different explanations people advance are correct in part. But let’s narrow the question to those 12% of the voters who were undecided in the last weeks – and especially those among  fewer than a hundred thousand whites who voted for Obama twice but for Trump this time: Like 62% of voters, they said Clinton was untrustworthy.

But why did scandals sink Clinton and not Trump, who is a defendant in at least 75 open court cases — who committed fraud with Trump University, used foundation funds for personal legal fees, cheated the IRS with a phony net operating loss of almost a billion dollars, not to mention wide-ranging hate speech and sex scandals as bad as Bill Clinton’s? Why Hillary and not Donald?

Here too there is more than one explanation, but let’s look at scandal in a broader context — scandal as a preferred weapon in political warfare. And in particular, scandals involving powerful women … are powerful weapons.

“Indeed, anywhere we look into the history of societies around  the world, the politics of scandal is a more rooted and typical form of power struggle than the conduct of orderly political competition as per the rules of the state.”—Manuel Castells, Communication Power (2009), p. 242.


Read article