Wednesday, February 29, 2012

All History Is Black History
Why Black History Month? If a people has a past worth learning about, they also must have a future worth caring about.
by Mark LeVine
Mark LeVine is a professor of history at UC Irvine.

28 Feb 2012-

February was chosen as Black History Month because of the births of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln [GALLO/GETTY]

Irvine, CA - When I was a child, Black History Month, which since 1976 has been celebrated in February each year in the United States, used to mean something.

Perhaps it was because I lived in the New York Metropolitan area in the still race-conscious 1970s and 1980s, but during February it was hard not to get at least a hint of an education about African American history and its contribution to the larger American mosaic, whether it was school activities or public service spots on television, or surrounding the growing chorus of voices to make Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday a national holiday.

True, February is the shortest month of the year; but contrary to urban legend that's not why it was chosen as Black History Month. Instead, it was because the birthdays of President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, perhaps the two most important figures before Martin Luther King in the quest for black freedom in the United States, both occurred in mid-February.

There were plenty of reasons to criticise the "ghettoising" of black American history into one short month. But the idea at least had the virtue of getting kids to think about the fact that there was such a thing as a specifically African American narrative within the larger, and largely white, version of American history we were being taught in school. And if you grew up in an urban, significantly black cultural milieu, the focus on history - that is, on black people having a past worth learning about - added a bit of extra gravitas to the increasing dominance of African American artistic production within American culture as a whole.

Futures worth caring about

If a people has a past worth learning about, then they also must have a future worth caring about. This is true whether one is talking about black Americans or Native Americans, Palestinians or Kurds, Roma or Tibetans, or any of the other dozens of peoples whose pasts, presents, and futures have been systematically deprived of them by more powerful peoples and governments.

At least that was the lesson I learned from Black History Month as a child. It might seem trite or even clichéd, until you imagine what impact a "Palestinian History Month" would have in Israel, or Shi'i or Coptic History months in Saudi Arabia or Egypt, or a Jewish history month in Iraq or Lebanon, never mind the impossibility of imagining them in the present climate. The first rule to denying people the right to live freely on their land is to deny them their historical narrative.

So in fact, it would seem that Black History Month, which began in 1926 as the more modest Negro History Week, constituted an important milestone in the growing realisation that black people had a history - and thus a permanent place and inalienable right to be citizens - in the United States. It is certainly true, as historians Leigh Raiford and Michael Cohen write in their Al Jazeera column on Black History Month and the Uses of the Past, that the present corporatised version of Black History Month is but the latest example of how radical black voices, and the ultimately radical vision of black - and through it, American - liberation of figures like Martin Luther King, have been suppressed from the mainstream narrative associated with the month.

But if we consider how much effort conservatives continue to expend to deny President Obama his identity as a natural-born American citizen (never mind a Christian; that is, a bona fide member of the dominant cultural community), it's clear that, if the focus and even substance of the activities surrounding the month can be debated, the need for continued emphasis on the legitimacy of black history in American society, cannot be denied.

And if we consider that Euro-American historiography has for centuries defined sub-Saharan Africans and Africa as literally having no history (as epitomised by the view of that ur-modern philosopher of modernity, G W F Hegel), the long road before us until black history, and through it black power, is as acceptable as its white counterpart, comes more clearly into view.

Black history as relational and world history

A decade before he established Negro History Month, the historian Carter G Woodson created the Journal of Negro History, which in recent years changed its name to the Journal of African American History to reflect the changing politics of black American identity. Reading through the first issues of the journal, I was struck by the the particular vision of "negro history" it heralded. In its pages we do not see negro or black history merely as one slice of a larger mosaic of American history, in which each narrative is placed next to each other to create the "great American melting pot" without actually helping to form the basic identity of other groups.

Instead, it's clear from the first issue of the Journal that negro history shaped the identities of Americans from the inside, while at the same time remained at its heart a world history. Reading through articles on subjects as diverse as the first black inhabitants of Cincinnati and the passing of tradition among African cultures, I understood that one of the main contributions of my own field, the historiography of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is less groundbreaking than I have long imagined.

Specifically, historians of Israel/Palestine have long struggled against the tendency of both national narratives, albeit for opposite reasons, to describe the two movements as essentially separate and autonomously developing entitites who have had little substantive impact on the culture or identity of the other outside of their conflict. Against this innaccurate but common understanding, scholars have developed "implicate" or "relational" histories of the two peoples, which challenge the dominant narrative of exclusivist nationalism by demonstrating how each community's identities and histories have been profoundly shaped through its interactions and evolution with the other.

Without using terms like relational or implicate, early 20th-century negro historians were clearly thinking along similar lines. Take, for example, this minor character described in an article on the (still today) neglected historiography of 18th- and 19th-century African American women, from the Journal's first issue. According to the historian W B Hartgrove's narrative, one Adolphe Richards was

"a native of the Island of Guadaloupe. He was a Latin of some Negro blood, had noble ancestry, and had led an honourable career. Educated in London and resident in Guadaloupe, he spoke both English and French fluently. Because of poor health in later years he was directed by his friends to the salubrious climate of Virginia. He settled at Fredericksburg [Virginia], where he soon became captivated by the charms of the talented Maria Louise Moore. On learning of his marriage, his people and friends marveled that a man of his standing had married a coloured woman or a Southern woman at all.

"Adjusting himself to this new environment, Mr Richards opened a shop for wood-turning, painting and glazing. It is highly probable that he learned these trades in the West Indies, but having adequate means to maintain himself, he had not depended on his mechanical skill. In Fredericksburg he had the respect and support of the best white people, passing as one of such well-to-do free Negroes as the Lees, the Cooks, the De Baptistes, who were contractors, and the Williamses, who were contractors and brickmakers. His success was in a large measure due to the good standing of the family of Mrs Richards and to the wisdom with which she directed this West Indian in his new environment."

It's hard to overstate just how many threads of American history unknown to most Americans - black or white - are woven into Richard's brief biography. But the central theme is one of the inherent globality of African identity and culture in mid-19th-century United States. The triangular circuit between the United States, the Caribbean, and England; usage of the French and English languages, bourgeois and working class positioning, continual and routine interactions between various races; all these belie the simplistic narrative of slavery-to-freedom most of us learn when we study negro, or today African history (Or should it be African-Caribbean-British-American history?).

Another fascinating article from the first issue of the Journal of Negro History, "What the Negro Was Thinking During the Eighteenth Century", seemingly by Woodson himself, offers powerful and eloquent negro voices against slavery, whose claims both to universal and (through the principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence) at that point still uniquely American rights and freedoms call out for a hearing today as much as they did well over two centuries ago.

"Violence that is at the core of our shared history."

As one writer excerpted by Woodson declared in a 1788 article, "Upon no better principle do we plunder the coasts of Africa, and bring away its wretched inhabitants as slaves than that, by which the greater fish swallows up the lesser. Superior power seems only to produce superior brutality; and that weakness and imbecility, which ought to engage our protection, and interest the feelings of social benevolence in behalf of the defenceless, seems only to provoke us to acts of illiberal outrage and unmanly violence."

The language might be politically incorrect by today's standards, but we would be hard-pressed to find a more succinct description of the predatory mercantilist capitalism, which first joined Europe to the Americas on one side and Asia on the other, through millions of stolen Africans. They became the incubator and even engine of a European-dominated capitalist modernity, grounded not so much in any Protestant ethic as in the blood and oppression of unfettered colonialism and racial slavery without which modernity, and the European (or American) "mircales" would never have occurred.
Enslaved African being burned at the stake in New York City- 1741.

Relational or implicate histories, it is clear from the articles in the Journal of Negro History, do not merely teach us that we have common cultural DNA. They also force us to confront the violence that is at the core of our shared history. Without having to focus on it explicitly, reading the Journal reminds us that black people were not just indigenous to another continent; their passage to the Americas constituted the foundation - and along with the genocide of indigenous Americans, the original sin - of modernity, from which the world, and particularly Africa, have yet to recover.

It is in this sense that I argue that all history is ultimately black history. We might be tempted to qualify this by saying that all modern history is ultimately black history, given Africa's and Africans' central if still subaltern role in the history of the modern world. But as another article in the Journal's first issue, "The Passing Tradition and the African Civilisation", argues, in fact the history of civilisation from its start can only be understood as beginning in Africa.

Ethnic studies' country twang
The Golden Coach with enslaved Africans depicted has become the symbol of the Dutch monarchy because they flaunt where their wealth actually came from.

Most Europeans, never mind white Americans, still have a lot of trouble understanding that they owe so much of what they consider to be their unique cultures and achievements to African minds and bodies. Black History Month tried to correct this by pointing out the achievements of individual black American scientists or inventors (the approach celebrated by Stevie Wonder in his seminal song "Black Man"). I prefer to point out to fans of country music that the famous country twang, not to mention the banjo, that define the quintessentially white American "country music", in fact derive directly from black Muslim African melodies and instruments that came to the United States with the black slaves whose cultures and identities were so ruthlessly, if incompletely, stamped out upon arrival.

Sadly, while corporations use Black History Month to erase their continued combination of marginalisation and exploitation of black American communities, the study of black history, and ethnic studies more broadly, is coming under intense attacks from conservative politicians who are desperate to preserve white cultural-political dominance against all forces that might challenge it (Latinos, gays, blacks, the working class) and from budget-conscious university administrators who see ethnic studies - ironically, along with other smaller fields such as the once-dominant European languages and literatures - as easy fodder for drastic reductions in course offerings, if not elimination. Is it a coincidence that these attacks have risen at the same time that a prison-industrial complex arose in the United States, which has so disproportionately criminalised and incarcerated young black men?

"Our common history, whether 100,000 or 100 years ago, is rooted in or passes through the experiences of Africa."

Even at the grade school level, Black History Month seems to have lost much of its heuristic power. As I began to write this column, I asked my children and several of their friends, ranging from the first to sixth grades, what they'd learned from Black History Month this year. "Nothing," they each replied in turn, explaining that none of their teachers had even mentioned it and only one had ever heard of it before I mentioned it to them.

As I tried to ponder the implications of how marginalised Black History Month has become to my children and their friends, the words of Franz Fanon, the seminal Martiniquo philosopher and revolutionary, came to mind. In his Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon argued that "to speak a language is to take on a world, a culture". The problem, however, is that "sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted... And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalise, ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fit in with the core belief".

Whatever its faults, Black History Month - and indeed, the far more powerful realities of negro/black/African-American history - offered a generation of Americans an entree into a language, a culture, and a world that few would otherwise have the chance to engage, but without which it remains impossible to be fully American. Or indeed, to be fully human, since our common history, whether 100,000 or 100 years ago, is rooted in or passes through the experiences of Africa and its peoples as much as - if not more than - any other of the world's major cultures.

This is a lesson that will take a lot more than one month a year to teach. But February is as good a month as any to start.

Mark LeVine is a professor of history at UC Irvine and senior visiting researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden. His most recent books are Heavy Metal Islam (Random House) and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books).

Follow him on Twitter: @culturejamming

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Question of Race Within the Class Struggle...

"To speak of the class struggle is abstract because the real or concrete struggle is being fought by people of color against the various forms of racism which not only disparage and strip people of respect through discrimination, but also dehumanizes them through the reinforcement of economic policies that make resources for People of Color that much worse." WEB DuBois
        Art by Seth Tobocman (from Rethinking Schools)

                  Liberate the schools! Close the prisons!                      
The Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee (RSCC)
We charge genocide …

•  Because NYC schools fail to prepare 87% of Black and Latino students for college, according to official stats.

•  Because the NYPD arrests an average of five students everyday in school, 90% of them Black and Latino, and school policies increasingly put our youth on a pipeline into prison.

•  Because CUNY ended open admissions, abolished remedial programs at its four-year colleges and uses standardized tests and tuition hikes to exclude poor, working-class and oppressed-nationality people.

•  Because the NYPD murdered 18-year-old Ramarley Graham inside his own apartment in the Bronx and then detained his grandmother for five hours at the precinct.

•  Because the NYPD conducted a record-high of more than 680,000 stop-and-frisks last year, 87% of them targeting Black and Latino people.

•  Because the US criminal injustice system keeps about 2.5 million people behind bars and another 5 million under supervision. More Black men today are in prison, on probation, or on parole than were enslaved in 1850.

We charge genocide
, because the system is killing our communities with its schools, its police and its prisons. Schools are closing. Tuition is rising. Everyday, our people are disrespected in the classrooms by Eurocentric teachers and in the streets by rampaging cops. The same system that oppresses us in the hood oppresses our homelands – Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Latin America as a whole, the Philippines and many other places that suffer from US imperialism.

These conditions must be put to an end. We must organize the youth and students to fight for the most dispossessed, exploited and oppressed sections of our communities. We must unite our communities to fight for survival against genocide. We must struggle for fundamental transformation led by those with nothing to lose and a world to win.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Priscilla's Story: Kidnapping, Enslavement, Love & Resistance

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Priscilla’s Story: Family traces roots to slave island

NBC News Correspondent Ron Allen journeys to Bunce Island off the coast of Sierra Leone. Bunce Island was once a slave trading fortress, which served as the beginning of a tragic journey for tens of thousands of Africans transported across the Atlantic into slavery in the United States. One African-American family, the Martins, was able to trace its roots two and a half centuries back to the island and to a little girl named Priscilla who was sold into slavery when she was 10 years old.

BRIAN WILLIAMS: called America 's original sin. While we're all Americans now, back then Africans were brought here to work against their will. After emancipation, that's when the roots of so many African-American families got fuzzy and jumbled up and lost, except for this story you're about to hear. The one case anyone knows where a family 's roots can be traced from right now, present day America , all the way back. It's thanks really to a little girl who paid a terrible price, and tonight Ron Allen tells us Priscilla 's story.

RON ALLEN: Two and a half centuries ago, thousands of miles across the Atlantic , a young girl was kidnapped and held captive in Sierra Leone , West Africa , on an island so remote, so forgotten, few people ever travel there.

Mr. JOE OPALA: It is literally a ghost town. The impact emotionally on people who see it is just extraordinary.

ALLEN: Our guide is historian Joe Opala . Oh, I see this.

Mr. OPALA: 1796 .

ALLEN: He spent much of his life trying to learn what happened to that little girl , and so many prisoners just like her.

Mr. OPALA: Negotiations for the purchase of slaves would have begun right here.

ALLEN: He took us to a place called Bunce Island , and the ruins of one of the most notorious slave trading fortresses the world has ever known. This is the doorway into the slave quarters?

Mr. OPALA: Yeah, into both slave quarters, men...


Mr. OPALA: ...and men on this side, and women and children on the this side. So we're going into the men's yard here. In the place where we're standing here, it could hold between two and 300 men, and that the men were chained together in circles of 10 people each to prevent them from climbing over the walls. They would go through this door first.

ALLEN: Tens of thousands of slaves were shipped from Bunce Island directly to South Carolina and Georgia , including that little girl . On a ship called the Hare , her name in the slave trader 's log was Priscilla . She was 10 years old.

Mr. OPALA: We know who sold Priscilla . We know who bought her. We know how much was paid for her.

ALLEN: Opala had an astonishing trail to follow. Tracing Priscilla 's voyage to Charleston , and what's left of an old rice plantation called Comingtee . Edward Ball , writer and teacher, is a descendant of the family that owned this plantation and some 20 others. He discovered an extraordinary record.

Mr. EDWARD BALL: "June 30th, 1756 ."

ALLEN: One that very few African-Americans have.

Mr. BALL: "I bought four boys and two girls."

ALLEN: A paper trail to their past. Ball 's family kept probably the most extensive slave owner 's property records still in existence, 10,000 pages.

Mr. BALL: "These Negroes underwritten had blankets."

ALLEN: Details about the births, deaths, marriages of some 4,000 men, women and children the Balls owned.

Mr. BALL: "Israel, Black Jack , Quaco, Priscilla ."

ALLEN: Including Priscilla .

Mr. BALL: Because Priscilla was a girl, I could almost sense this abandoned child, and it moved me to see if I could make sense of her story.

ALLEN: Ball became tormented as he spent years immersed in the lives of his ancestors. He felt accountable and wanted to do something for the families that his family enslaved. This was a place a lot of people didn't want you to go.

Mr. BALL: Yeah.

ALLEN: You're opening up old wounds.

Mr. BALL: Yeah.

ALLEN: You're airing dirty laundry , literally the family 's dirty laundry ?

Mr. BALL: Yeah. It was a good way of getting emotions on the table. It's like a wound that if you cut it open and you get the poisons out, then maybe the wound can heal better.

ALLEN: And that's why he grew more and more obsessed with that little girl , Priscilla . He learned she had 10 children, lived to age 65.

Mr. BALL: The records were good. I could see who her children were and her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.

ALLEN: Lattice, Priscilla 's daughter was born.

ALLEN: Remarkably Ball went further, piecing together Priscilla 's entire family tree . It lead him to a retired schoolteacher names Thomas Martin , and then to his daughter, Thomalind Martin Polite , the great-great-great, seventh generation granddaughter of Priscilla . The Martins are believed to be the only African-American family able to trace their ancestry so far back, in such detail on paper. When you think of Priscilla , who was this person?

Ms. THOMALIND MARTIN POLITE: Oh, my God. She was a strong, resilient person is how I describe her. I just couldn't imagine a 10-year-old little girl being kidnapped, taken away from everything that she knows. The only words I can describe are strong, resilient, courageous.

ALLEN: Years after her father first told her of her link to Priscilla , Thomalind and her husband, Antwan , had the almost unheard of opportunity to travel back through her family history to Sierra Leone . The government had learned of her story and invited her to her ancestral home.

Ms. POLITE: Thank you.

ALLEN: And Joe Opala , the historian who has spent years exploring the history of the slave trade from Bunce Island , was there to meet her.

Ms. POLITE: I wish that my father, who started this, could have been here with me, and I vow to represent him and represent my family and represent Priscilla . And I don't think I can say anymore right now. Thank you. That was mind blowing, to be referred to as a little girl who really did exist, you know, who is my ancestor, and to know that the people of Sierra Leone were seeing her spirit. It was sincere, it was real. Just to believe that, you know, Priscilla was here. I'm actually here where she was.

ALLEN: And, of course, she just had to see for herself that powerful and disturbing place, Bunce Island .

Ms. POLITE: Thank you.

ALLEN: Opala took her to the exact spot where his research suggests Priscilla would have been held.

Mr. OPALA: This is the women's and children's area. We cannot rule out that Priscilla was imprisoned in this room. If it's true then they most likely would have taken her first out the door we just came in.

Ms. POLITE: I felt a mix of emotions. I felt, you know, sadness. I felt loneliness, you know, that, you know, gosh, she might have been here by herself. I felt anger, you know, that this happened.

ALLEN: Edward Ball believes as many as 100,000 African- Americans are descendants of slaves his ancestors owned, just like Thomalind and her family . What did you feel like you were giving them?

Mr. BALL: I wanted to give something back, some token, some acknowledgment. Some acknowledgment of what they'd been through.

Ms. POLITE: Like my grandmother always told me, you have to embrace the things that have happened in the past, good and bad, and learn from them so that you can understand the present day and prepare for your future. They gave me this like the very first or second day.

ALLEN: These days Thomalind and her family lead a very private life , for the most part, staying out of the public spotlight, always mindful of their incredible family story.

Ms. POLITE: There are times when I get discouraged with different things that are going on in my life, and I really do stop and I say to myself, come on, Thomalind , look at your situation and look at what your great-great-great-great-great grandmother endured. That strength is passed down definitely through the generations and I have to display that.

WILLIAMS: What a powerful story. Ron , we talk about Black History Month , which we're in the middle of, this is black history .

ALLEN: Mm-hmm.

WILLIAMS: How is this the only one documented thread all the way through?

ALLEN: Well, it's the Ball family papers. It seems to be the most intact collection of papers from that era. So many slave owners burned their papers, destroyed them during the Civil War because they didn't want to get caught with them. The Balls were meticulous record keepers. And these are the birth certificates, the marriage certificates that so many other people have that black people didn't have. We were property back then before emancipation. That's the key to it. And the Martins are talking about this for the first time now because they feel more comfortable with all this. They're a very private family . They've known this for some time, but this is the first time they're sharing this with the public, and that trip to Sierra Leone . They have young children. They didn't want to be icons. They have a very rare story, and now they're really ready to step forward and share it.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for telling it. Ron Allen here with us.
Know Your Capitalist Law--
The 13th Amendment: 
You are "Free" Except When In Prison
Imprisoning some 2.1 million US citizens makes the prison-industrial system, the most profitable domestic industrial sector for the past 20 years. Whether the prisoners are working for Victoria's Secret or ATT or just being warehoused in privatized prisons, the Capitalist Class is benefiting at profit margins far greater than within most of the other industrial sectors.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Still Separate, Still Unequal: Racism, Class and the Attack on Public Education

Still Separate, Still Unequal: Racism, Class and the Attack on Public Education, with Brian Jones from N Alexander on Vimeo.

Public education is under an unprecedented attack. The powerful people who want to privatize our schools are using many different means: charter schools, mayoral control, high stakes standardized testing, school closures, merit pay and attacking teacher unions are all a part of this assault. Often, these "reformers" claim that the sweeping changes they want will bring genuine educational justice for communities that have long been underserved -- especially for African American families. But will privatization actually create racial justice?

Or will it exacerbate the problem? Will these "reforms" strengthen the educational rights of students and parents, or weaken them? Will turning education over to the free market lead to less segregated schools, or more so? Who is behind the effort to privatize education and why are they pursuing these changes? Is there an alternative way to reform our public schools?

Brian Jones is a teacher, actor, and activist in New York City. He is the co-narrator of the film, The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman, and a contributing author to the new book, Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation:

Friday, February 10, 2012

New half-hour Labor Beat video exposes hypocrisy and lies behind the CPS 2012 Hit List

A new video has been released by Chicago's Labor Beat showing the massive protests against what critics are calling the "2012 Hit List" of schools facing closing, phase out, co-location, or "turnaround." The lengthy film discusses the entire process taking place during the 2011 – 2012 school year. The URL for the video is:
Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis speaking to the crowd protesting against the turnaround proposed for Marquette Elementary School during the march and rally on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday (January 16, 2012). Substance photo by Sharon Schmidt.

The video, which features Substance News reporter George N. Schmidt narrating the background of the struggle and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis addressing a march and rally, includes interviews with teachers and students and dramatic footage from the hearings and protests against what people are calling the "2012 Hit List."

Shown among the video footage are interviews with the "Rent A Protesters" who showed up at most of the hearings after having been paid through churches subsidized, in the opinion of critics, by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The video pivots back and forth from the Martin Luther King holiday march at Marquette Elementary School to descriptions of the history and context of how the current situation developed. A lengthy description by one Marquette teacher goes over how the Chicago Board of Education, under four “Chief Executive Officers” since mayoral control began in 1995, has sabotaged Marquette Elementary. But as the video shows, the sabotage of Marquette was taking place at all of the schools on the 2012 Hit List during the same time, and the slander against the teachers and people of Marquette and the other nine schools continues, as CPS and Chicago's mayor try to label the schools as "failing schools" — rather than the society as a failing society which leaves millions of children in dire poverty (and in many cases serious danger).

One of the aspects of the hypocrisy of Chicago's latest attack on the city's public schools comes out as parents, students and teachers from the schools constantly remind the hearing officers and the public of the danger the students will face when the schools face changes. For the schools that are slated to "close" (in one form or another) that danger will be in forcing those children to cross communities to get to their new schools. For the schools facing "turnaround", the danger comes because by replacing teachers and other staff who know the communities with outsiders (supposedly trained in superior methods of teaching), the schools are left vulnerable to the kinds of drug gang problems that were often kept at bay by the flimsiest protections.

Although many people speak about the dangers facing the children, the citywide summary is provided by Substance reporter George Schmidt, who served as Director of Security and Safety at the Chicago Teachers Union from 2002 through 2004. Schmidt's job was to develop programs to keep the city's drug gangs at bay around the city's public schools. He discusses how the city covers up the fact that it has one of the most serious drug gang problems in the USA, noting that parts of the real Chicago are like scenes out of the fictional HBO movie "The Wire."

Among the many witnesses warning against the closing of the schools and the implementation of the 2012 Hit List are Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis and a number of prominent political leaders. In fact, one of the signal facts of the current debate is that not one political leader — from local aldermen to Congressmen — had spoken in support of the 2012 Hit List, while dozens have spoken out against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plans.

The protests that are featured are against all of the schools on the 2012 Hit List, those slated for closing and those facing "turnaround."

The Labor Beat introduction to the video states:

“During January and February of 2012 the Chicago Public Schools, pressured by recent state law to do so, held open hearings on the question of whether to close or turnaround targeted schools in minority and low-income areas of the city. But, as George Schmidt ( points out, 'the hearings are basically show a way [they] are a cruel joke played upon the people from the community.'

“Adding to the fact that CPS has already secretly made their decisions before the 'hearings', another underhanded scheme has been exposed. Paid 'protesters' were bussed in to support the school board's view that the schools should be closed or turned around.

“The rent-a-protester ploy was originally unearthed by in September of 2011, and then in January, 2012 it was picked up by Chicago's corporate media, as the scandal could no longer be ignored. We present dramatic footage exposing the rent-a-protesters, along with scenes from the hearings and demonstrations defending public education.

"Interviews and speeches include: George Schmidt, reporter for; Karen Lewis, President of Chicago Teachers Union; Marcy Hardaloupas, teacher at Marquette School; Chris Beauford, Generation Y/Southwest Youth Collaborative Center for Change; Katrina Richard, teacher at Dyett H.S.; Rico Gutstein, Prof. in Curriculum and Instruction at University of Illinois-Chicago; Martin Ritter, organizer, Chicago Teachers Union; Mark Carter, community activist. "

[Length - 26:15. Produced by Labor Beat. Labor Beat is a CAN TV Community Partner. Labor Beat is a non-profit 501(c)(3) member of IBEW 1220. Views are those of the producer Labor Beat. For info:, 312-226-3330. For other Labor Beat videos, visit YouTube and search "Labor Beat". On Chicago CAN TV Channel 19, Thursdays 9:30 pm; Fridays 4:30 pm. Labor Beat has regular cable slots in Chicago, Evanston, Rockford, Urbana, IL; Philadelphia, PA; Princeton, NJ; and Rochester, NY. For more detailed information, send us a request at…”]

Friday, February 03, 2012



Wet Books: Smuggling Banned Literature Back Into Arizona 

A caravan of cars, full of activists and writers will be heading soon from Houston, Texas, to Tucson, Arizona. 

It's cargo: books that were allegedly banned from the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). The event, called 'Librotraficante' --which translates from Spanish to 'BookTrafficker'-- is set to take place between March 12th-18th. Among the participants of the caravan will be some of the authors whose books were banned in Arizona, together with advocates concerned with preserving First Amendment rights of equal protection and freedom of speech, according to the event's website.

It sounds romantic--the ultimate anti-establishment literary movement, people fighting for their right to access intellectual material. It was a slew of controversial events surrounding ethnic-studies which prompted the convoy.

The 'Librotraficante' caravan is instigated by the alleged banning of books from Mexican-American Studies (MAS) programs by the Tuscon Unified School District (TUSD) earlier this month. Amid protests, these ethnic-studies programs were suspended after Arizona State Superintendent John Huppenthal ruled that the high school MAS courses were in direct violation to ARS 15-112, a segment of the controversial law Arizona HB 2281, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010, according to a TUSD press release. 

ARS 15-112 focuses on "prohibited courses and classes; enforcement" and it states that a program in a school district or charter school in Arizona shall not:
  • Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
  • Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
  • Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  • Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
Based on this criteria, TUSD suspended its MAS program onJanuary 10th. The reaction was immediate, and many TUSD students, 60% of which are of Mexican descent, fled the streets in protest.

But further controversy erupted after books from the Tucson High Magnet School--part of TUSD-- were removed from the MAS course while the class was in motion, in the presence of young students.

There is a debate over the semantics, and over who is to blame for the spectacle of books being taken out of the students hands. 

Cara Rene, the Communication Director of TUSD, said in an email sent yesterday to The Huffington Post that "there is not book ban."

In a press release issued by the school it states that the "books were removed from classrooms because the curriculum has changed in accordance with the ruling from the state superintendent."

The confiscation of books only increased the uproar caused across the state by the law.
"This has been brewing for about a year," said Tony Diaz, founder of Nuestra Palabra, an organization that promotes Latino literature and leader of 'Librotraficantes', to the The Colorado Independent.
"The boiling point was actually canceling the classes and quantifying the books. What really offended us down to our soul - they took the books out of the classes in front of the kids and boxed them up, and that was such a cultural offense we felt we had to do something."

Some of the titles that were taken away from the class were:
  • 'Critical Race Theory' by Richard Delgado
  • '500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures' edited by Elizabeth Martinez
  • 'Message to AZTLAN' by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales
  • 'Chicano! The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement' by Arturo Rosales
  • 'Occupied America: A History of Chicanos' by Rodolfo Acuna
  • 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed' by Paulo Freire
  • 'Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years' by Bill Bigelow
The list of banned books is extensive, and it includes important Latino authors and activists' books that are being banished from classrooms. 

Nicolàs Kanellos, Brown Foundation Professor of Hispanic Studies at University of Houston and Director of Arte Público Press (APP), the largest publisher of contemporary U.S. Latino literature, labelled Corky Gonzales as one of the "most important civil rights leaders," . And, Professor Emeritus Rudy Acuña is a respected, well-known and distinguished historian of Latinos in the United States. 

In response to the removal of these books, Diaz and other activists are now going to smuggle them back into the state. 

"We have to be Librotraficantes," Diaz said. "We have to become outlaws again. We're going to take all the 'wet books' that are illegal in Arizona back across the border."
Banned authors who will participate in the 'Librotraficante' caravan include Sandra Cisneros, Guggenheim Fellow Dagoberto Gilb and best-selling author Luis Alberto Urrea.

According to 'Librotraficante's' website, the goal of the caravan is to raise awareness regarding Latino Studies being banned in Arizona, promote books of banned Latino authors and "celebrate many cultures: children of the American Dream must unite to preserve the civil rights of all Americans."