Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Winfred Rembert’s American Journey – posted 3/26/2023

March 26, 2023 Leave a comment

No American artist has a story like Winfred Rembert. What artists have survived a near-lynching? Or grew up picking cotton at age 5 with other family members? Or worked on a chain gang while serving seven years in state prison?

Rembert, who died in 2021 at age 75, survived the most degrading and brutal circumstances. At the same time, he created beautiful works of art out of his painful and joyful experiences. His love for his home town of Cuthbert, Georgia shines through his art. Rembert’s story reflects an American experience that many endured but, to this day, it remains under-acknowledged. America likes to pretend it wasn’t what it was.

In his autobiography, Chasing Me to My Grave, Rembert collects and exposes the truths of his life. Tragically rejected by his mother and with a father who disappeared, Rembert faced very long odds in his life. He was raised by his great-aunt Lillian. From very early, he wanted to escape a dead-end life of picking cotton which seemed like it might become his lot in life.

He grew up in a world where white supremacy reigned. There were separate and unequal facilities for everything. A survivor and a rebellious spirit, Rembert was always being pursued by the police. About white people, Rembert wrote, “…they treated us like they would treat a pig, a cow or a hog”. The whites carried sticks and whips or things with which they could hit blacks for no reason. There was no law to stop the mistreatment and whites could act out with no consequence.

On the town green in Cuthbert there was something called the laughing barrel. White folks would say “Come here n—er!” And they would make blacks stick their head in that barrel and laugh at a joke. The joke was typically at the black person’s expense. If you didn’t laugh in the laughing barrel, you would get six weeks jail time. Lillian told Rembert that the key to survival was not to make any waves. You had to take the abuse or white people would kill you.

A turning point in Rembert’s life came in 1965 with the civil rights movement. White people were attacking blacks who protested or who tried to register to vote. Rembert joined a civil rights demonstration in Americus, Georgia. Armed white people violently attacked the demonstrators. Two white men with shotguns chased Rembert down an alley. To save himself, Rembert jumped into a car that had keys left in it and he drove off.

The police caught him and put him in jail. He languished for a year and no charges were ever filed. Out of frustration. Rembert stuffed a toilet with toilet paper so it overflowed. An angry deputy sheriff came into his cell, kicked him in the face and beat him. Rembert fought back and the deputy went for his gun. Rembert wrestled the gun away, locked the deputy in the cell and fled.

The police again caught Rembert and stuffed him in the trunk of a car. When they pulled him out of the trunk at a country location, there was a mob of white people with a rope hanging from a tree. Rembert was stripped naked and hung from a tree limb by his feet. The mob proceeded to beat Rembert with sticks and bats.

The deputy whom Rembert locked up appeared with a hawk-billed knife, grabbed Rembert’s private parts and viciously sank the blade in there. Bleeding profusely, Rembert wrote his scream could have been heard for miles. Right when Rembert thought he was a goner, another white man stepped forward and stopped the lynching saying “we have better things we could do with the n—er”. They shackled Rembert by the neck, waist and feet and marched him through the black neighborhood in Cuthbert.

Bryan Stevenson, the leader of Equal Justice Initiative, has written that near-lynchings were not uncommon. He wrote:

“Most people don’t ever feel secure enough to talk about this although we’re hearing more of these stories now. But Winfred was such a compelling storyteller, his personal narrative always included this and he was able to talk about it in a direct way.”

Before he saw any judge, Rembert served two years in jail. When he was taken to court, he had no lawyer and there was no trial. The judge looked at him and said:

“N—er, I’m gonna give you some time. I’m going to give you one year for escape. I’m going to give you one year for pointing a pistol. And I’m going to give you twenty for robbery.”

The judge sentenced Rembert to Georgia State Prison. He ended up serving seven years. In prison Rembert learned to read and write. He was locked up with a couple school teachers who were doing time for civil rights activities. They taught him. An excellent letter writer, Rembert helped other illiterate inmates by writing letters to their wives and girl friends.

From another inmate, he learned the art of leather craft. Beginning with making wallets, purses, belts and pocketbooks, Rembert moved on to drawing on leather, using assorted tools and dyes. His wife Patsy inspired him to use his art to tell stories from his life. Rembert’s life outside prison was a constant economic struggle until he started his art work at age 51. He worked many jobs, including longshoreman, cleaner and laborer.

Chasing Me To My Grave contains 75 photos of Rembert’s art. He drew juke joints, cotton field laboring, pool rooms, chain gangs, his search for his mother, his own near-lynching as well as other lynchings and their aftermath. It is a tour de force of witnessing. With great originality and in brilliant colors, Rembert depicts the Jim Crow South. For those especially interested in Rembert, there is also a documentary about him, All Me, written by Vivian Ducat and available on Prime.

Rembert’s work is a window into the past and where we have come from as a nation. Too often America wants to forget or pretend to a phony past but Rembert’s work is unforgettable.

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On not learning from the Iraq War – posted 3/19/2023

March 19, 2023 3 comments

This March marks the twentieth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It is amazing how little public reflection there has been about the American role in that endeavor. The Iraq War was not an error or a tragic mistake. It was a crime, a needless war fought on false pretenses.

The American ruling class, Republican and Democratic, has utterly failed any test of accountability for what it did to Iraq. There has been no reckoning, making the likelihood of future Iraq-type invasions, probable. When I call the war a crime, I am not being hyperbolic. After World War II, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg wrote:

“War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

The U.N. Charter forbids military aggression unless in self-defense or if the Security Council authorizes it. Neither allowing criteria applied here. In this instance, an invasion proceeded because our government systematically lied. The U.S. government committed the supreme international crime.

After 9/11, instead of focusing on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the George W. Bush administration claimed Iraq and Saddam Hussein were to blame. This was in spite of the fact Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. Why the Bush administration shifted focus to Iraq remains something of a mystery. Possibly it had to do with Iraq’s immense oil reserves and possibly it had to do with Bush’s dislike of Saddam because Saddam had wanted to kill Bush Sr.

The Bush administration created a false narrative around weapons of mass destruction (or WMD) existing in Iraq. They spread entirely unfounded lies about Iraq possessing lethal weapons including biological weapons, chemical weapons and nuclear bombs. In January 2003, national security advisor Condoleeza Rice famously said to Wolf Blitzer:

“..there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he (Saddam) can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Vice-President Dick Cheney repeatedly declared…”there’s no doubt Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction”. In January 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared Saddam “has large unaccounted for stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, including VX, sarin, mustard gas, anthrax, botulism and possibly smallpox”. The Bush administration fabricated conclusions from intelligence in many statements even though the CIA had told them there was no reliable evidence about WMD.

Hans Blix, the UN Weapons Inspector, had found no WMD in Iraq but he was ignored. The Bush administration did not want to wait to see what Blix found. There was a rush to war.

A complacent and willing mass media acquiesced in the Bush fantasy about WMD. The list of Iraq War cheerleaders was bi-partisan, including many liberals as well as neo-conservatives. All shared a colonialist mentality. In its coverage of the war, the Fourth Estate failed America by buying into lies and deception and regurgitating the propaganda.They lent a helping hand to American imperialism.

Still, before the war was fought, many millions around the world saw through the falsity and knew the war lacked any justification. Absolutely massive anti-war demonstrations flared up around the globe. I recall marching in front of the State House in Concord with many others. The anti-war voices were ignored though and what ensued was a monumental and predictable debacle.

Forty-three days after the “shock and awe” start of the war, Bush dressed up in a military flight suit and appeared on the deck of an aircraft carrier in front of a large banner declaring “Mission Accomplished”. In cocky fashion, Bush and company had predicted a quick victory but the only thing accomplished was massive death and destruction and a terrible worsening of the quality of life in Iraq. The invasion led to a lengthy and unexpected occupation, insurgency, sectarian violence and the rise of the Islamic State..

In the Iraq war 4,418 Americans died and 31,994 were wounded. That statistic doesn’t capture the full picture of the harm done to our troops. In her book, They Were Soldiers, Ann Jones quotes a military Mortuary Affairs specialist, Jessica Goodell:

“War is disgusting and horrific. It never leaves the people who were involved in it. The damage is far greater than the list of casualties or cost in dollars. It permeates lifestyles. It infects cultures and people and worldviews. The war is never over for us. The fighting stops. The troops get called back. But the war goes on for those damaged by war.”

Then there is the matter of veteran suicides. Since 9/11 the number of veteran and service members who have died by suicide has dramatically spiked up. The trend greatly outpaces the suicide rate of the general population.

As for the Iraqis, it is estimated 275,000 to 306,000 Iraqi civilians were killed by violence in the war. Many more died from indirect causes like poor health care, degraded infrastructure and increased lawlessness. Four million Iraqis were displaced and 1.5 million Iraqis left the country.

We left a legacy of torture at Abu Ghraib and other black sites. We got rid of Saddam but the country remains a kleptocracy with millions mired in poverty. Food scarcity and lack of clean drinking water are common. Corruption is rampant and dangerous militias roam the streets and threaten perceived enemies. Women remain enslaved by extremist religion and lack freedoms. The only winner appears to be Iran whose influence has increased.

The American perpetrators of the Iraq War, including war hawks like Bush, Cheney, Condoleeza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and Paul Bremer, have faced no consequences. They have effectively been rehabilitated. They are not in the dock at the Hague waiting for war crimes prosecutions. It is like America is in the grip of collective amnesia and delusion. There is no recognition or statement of regret or contrition for how the Iraqi war came about nor how it was conducted.

When our leaders critique Russia’s imperialist invasion of Ukraine, they fail to recognize that we lack any moral standing in the eyes of most of the world because of our own imperialist mis-adventure in Iraq.

The lies of the Iraq war paved the way for a pathological liar and fascist like Donald Trump. Government lies conditioned the public to an acceptance of a war on truth. I wish I could say we have learned lessons from Iraq but we clearly have not. The military-industrial complex and our capitalist system are heavily invested in war-fighting. It remains to be seen whether our policy makers will avoid future disasters as foolish, unnecessary and destructive as the Iraq war.

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The little-known legal lynching that sparked the civil rights movement – posted 3/15/2023

March 15, 2023 7 comments

In Greenwood Mississippi, there is a statue of Emmett Till that pays homage to the 14 year old who was murdered in the summer of 1955. Till’s murder fueled the burgeoning civil rights movement. There is now a movie, Till, starring Danielle Deadwyler, which recreates the story. Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, forced public awareness by having an open coffin funeral that revealed Emmett’s horrific injuries. The photos of Till shocked the conscience of the nation.

What is not remembered is that at almost the same time there was another case which also played an extremely consequential role in propelling the civil rights movement forward. That is the case of Jeremiah Reeves Jr., an Alabama high school student who was falsely convicted and executed for a series of rapes and assaults that occurred in Montgomery in 1951.

As often happens with history, some stories which should be widely known, disappear. Almost as much as the Till case, Reeves’ kangaroo court conviction and later execution enraged the black community and all who supported the civil rights movement. The case had a galvanizing effect on a generation of activists including Rosa Parks, Claudette Colvin and Martin Luther King Jr. but now it is not remembered.

Reeves’ story goes back to 1951 when he was sixteen. According to Jerome Ennels, author of Hold Back the Night, the definitive book about the case, Reeves was a model teenager. He had excellent grades and he was a talented drummer in the school band and in local black jazz bands. His family believed he had a very bright future. He was a stylish dresser and quite handsome. On the side, he worked along with his father in a delivery business.

When making deliveries, Reeves met some young white women who lured him into their homes on the pretense of needing something done inside. They then seduced him. Reeves was having consensual affairs with several white women. At that time, a black man having an affair with a white woman was extremely dangerous for both parties. Ennels writes:

“…a black man having an affair with several white women was nothing short of suicidal. In the case of Reeves, his sexual relationship with several white women made him a “menace” to Southern society and a threat to the “purity of white southern womanhood”. “

The fact of Reeves’ affairs became known by neighbors who noticed the frequency of his deliveries. A peeping tom neighbor reported Reeves to the police. Around the same time, Montgomery police were under pressure to find a “Phantom Attacker” who had committed six unsolved assaults in the last year. Although the police had no case against Reeves, they pursued him.

Any black man would do but they particularly wanted to convict someone who committed the ultimate transgression against southern mores. They picked up Reeves, booked him at the local jail, and immediately drove him to the Kilby maximum security prison.

Then the torture began. Prison officials sprayed Reeves with the insecticide DDT and then used a water hose to wash off the chemicals before giving him a septic bath. Without being convicted of any crime or even charged, Reeves received a maximum security prisoner classification. He was taken to Death Row and put in a Death Cell next to the prison’s bright yellow electric chair known as Yellow Mama.

For the next three days, police questioned, cursed and threatened Reeves. They allowed him no contact or calls with anyone. They did not let him sleep. After allowing him to doze for 20 minutes, they woke him and moved him into the death chamber, strapped him into Yellow Mama, and continued the interrogation.

The police told him he would be electrocuted unless he confessed. They also threatened they would get his family members. Reeves was repeatedly told the only way to save himself from the electric chair was to confess. On the third day of essentially non-stop interrogation, in a state of absolute exhaustion and terror, Reeves agreed to sign any statement and “say anything”. With the coerced confession, the state prosecuted Reeves for all six assaults.

However, when the assault victims were brought in for line-up identification they failed to identify Reeves as their assailant. The police read the women Reeves’ coerced statements and told them he was the perpetrator. Only one woman was willing to participate in the coached farce and she gave a completely different physical description of her attacker than the small 130 pound Reeves.

After a two day trial, an all-white jury deliberated for less than thirty minutes and convicted Reeves. He was sentenced to death. Reeves recanted his signed statements but the trial judge excluded the jury from hearing evidence of the police torture used to extract the confession.

The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. The NAACP and Thurgood Marshall took the case on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. In January 1955, the Supreme Court reversed and vacated the conviction because an illegally obtained confession was used at trial and also because black people were systematically excluded from juries in Montgomery County, Alabama.

The case was re-tried before the same trial court judge who had heard the case the first time. In spite of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, again an all-white jury sat on the case. After hearing the evidence, the jury retired for deliberation and quickly asked the Court for a lunch break. When they returned from lunch, they took 35 minutes to find Reeves guilty and to sentence him to death. There was an absolute paucity of evidence against Reeves.

The Defense again appealed to the state Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court but this time the High Court voted not to accept the appeal. The Governor of Alabama then denied clemency. The state of Alabama electrocuted Jeremiah Reeves in Yellow Mama, the same chair he had previously been strapped into, on March 28, 1958. He was 22 years old. The state had to wait until he was old enough to execute.

Jeanne Theoharis, Rosa Parks’ biographer, said about the Reeves case:

“This was a legal lynching in parallel in many ways to the lynching of Emmett Till.”

The effect of the Reeves’ case on the black community was explosive. Both Rosa Parks and Claudette Colvin (who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus for a white woman nine months before Rosa Parks) became fired-up activists, defying bus segregation rules that still were in effect across the South.

Reeves’ punishment was a warning message the Southern white power structure sent not to challenge white supremacy. His prosecution was not instigated by a handful of Southern white extremists. Leaders in the Alabama white community, especially judges and law enforcement, countenanced the torture and execution.

It is important to remember Jeremiah Reeves and the many unknown others like him. His story should be known. A culture of silence compounds the harm and it is a statement of devaluation. To this day, neither state nor federal officials acknowledged their inaction in the face of a legal lynching.

Among other things, Jeremiah Reeves was a poet. While in prison, he published this poem in the Christmas 1953 issue of the Birmingham World newspaper:

“I am tired of worrying and shedding tears,
Behind these lonely walls even hours seem
like years,
True love is one thing I’ve never known,
In this make believe world of my very own.”

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Why New England’s role in the transatlantic slave trade matters – posted 3/5/2023

March 5, 2023 5 comments

New England has a reputation as a historic, progressive and culturally rich region. Probably no area in the country can match our colleges and universities. In the 19th century New England played a prominent role in the movement to abolish slavery. As a region, we have tilted undeniably blue.

So it was with shock that I recently learned much more about New England’s significant role in the transatlantic slave trade. The Legacy Museum in Montgomery Alabama, set up by Bryan Stevenson and his organization, Equal Justice Initiative, presents a detailed chronology of the evolution and history of the transatlantic slave trade. They present an overview of the East Coast’s regional areas’ participation in the slave trade.

New England’s role is little understood and has been minimized. It has largely escaped scrutiny because most conventional historians begin their inquiries with the years around the American revolution. History before that gets little attention as has been pointed out by the 1619 Project. I also think New Englanders like to maintain the conceit that we are much better than the South. The history of abolitionism dictates a pass for the early history.

That posturing gets in the way both of looking at the actual history and thinking about how it affects us today and what we can do about it.

Starting back in the 15th century, European powers sent ships and troops across the ocean to exploit new lands for wealth and profit. Quite a few European powers including England, France Spain and Portugal sought to extract wealth in the New World and wherever they could.

In the process, between 1501-1867, 13 million African people were kidnapped, forced into European and American ships and trafficked. Two million died in the Middle Passage. The Legacy Museum, through sculptures and visual representations, forces a reckoning with the dehumanizing brutality of the Middle Passage and slavery.

Barbaric conditions were the norm. Slaves were stowed away below deck like sardines, “locked spoonways” together, naked, shackled and forced to lie in urine, feces and blood with little to no fresh air. During the journey across the ocean, the Africans were chained and manacled for weeks, unable to stretch or stand except during limited time on deck.

The Middle Passage lasted roughly 80 days on ships that ranged from small schooners to massive slave ships. For the enslaved, the Middle Passage followed traumatic removal from family which must have been both disorienting and extremely distressing.

Initially the Europeans tried to utilize indigenous people to supply labor but massive numbers died from disease or were killed. Because that was largely unsuccessful, colonists in New England resorted to enslaving Africans.

Slavery existed long before the formation of the United States. In 1641, Massachusetts became the first North American colony to legalize slavery. New Hampshire followed in 1645. The enslavement remained legal in Massachusetts for 140 years until 1783. The New Hampshire legislature didn’t officially eliminate slavery until 1857.

Slavery was justified on a narrative of racial difference that categorized black people as sub-human. Part of the justification was the idea it was not wrong to take the Africans because they were being Christianized and saved. By 1640, enslavement was codified as a hereditary and permanent legal status that all the New England colonies followed.

The slave trade grew dramatically and New Englanders profited from the kidnapping and trafficking of African people. The buying and selling of black people included many New England business owners, not just large firms. New England docks, especially in Rhode Island and Boston, were critical for the traffickers. Equal Justice Initiative writes:

“In what became known as the “Triangle Trade”, New England traders imported sugar and molasses produced by enslaved people on Caribbean plantations and manufactured rum that they shipped to West Africa, where it was exchanged for enslaved Africans, who were sold to Caribbean plantations for more sugar.”

Until the American revolution, rum production was New England’s largest manufacturing business. Massachusetts and Rhode Island taxed the traffickers for each person they kidnapped and brought to the colonies through 1732. New Hampshire declined to impose a tax on the traffickers in order to lure more ships to its ports.

Along with rum production, other New England industries were also reliant on enslaved labor. Between 1790 and 1860, 300 textile mills opened in Rhode Island alone. They relied on cotton harvested by slaves who worked on Southern plantations or in the West Indies. New England merchants profited enormously not just from trafficking humans and using their labor but also from trading raw goods produced by enslaved people.

Until the 1850’s, insurance companies in Connecticut issued policies to enslavers and shipowners that promised to pay enslavers hundreds of dollars for each enslaved person who died on board or while laboring. The scheme incentivized murder. In one case in 1781, shipowners threw 133 sick Africans overboard the slave ship Zong so they could collect on the insurance.

Slavery was integral to the building of much New England infrastructure. There was no cash crop in the region and the number of enslaved people was much smaller than in the South but enslaved people were a backbone of the economic system that did emerge.

The history I cite has not been integrated into most accounts of American history. I would suggest that the stories we tell ourselves about our history matter. It is about honesty and intellectual integrity. We all benefit from a more informed and thoughtful understanding of race-based slavery.

Experiencing the Legacy Museum made me wonder about questions like: how much are racial hierarchy and economic inequality rooted in the transatlantic slave trade? And how long does the obligation to right historical wrongs persist? And what would righting those wrongs mean?

I would say that like most of America, New Englanders have buried this important discussion rather than embracing it. We could do much more to acknowledge the history and to think about what rectification would mean. A different understanding of the past would very likely dictate a different political and economic agenda for the future.

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Elizabeth Eckford, the Little Rock Nine and Desegregation – posted 2/26/2023

February 26, 2023 1 comment

Before going south on a civil rights trip organized by the Nation Magazine, I had never been to Little Rock, Arkansas. I was only vaguely familiar with the struggle to integrate schools there in the 1950’s. There was an iconic photograph I knew about. It showed a young African-American girl with an angry mob behind her.

On the trip, we got to meet Elizabeth Eckford, who was that girl and who was one of the Little Rock Nine who integrated Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. It was an epic confrontation that is little talked about today.

In the first part of the 1950’s, schools were not integrated in Arkansas. Then Brown v Board of Education happened and there was Brown II in 1955 where the U.S. Supreme Court ordered desegregation with “all deliberate speed”. Still, blacks who took action against segregation could be arrested, beaten or killed, especially if they entered whites-only areas.

Although 200 students volunteered, Little Rock school officials picked nine teenagers to become Central High’s first African-American students. On the first day of school on September 3, 1957, a mob formed and the nine did not go to school. They planned to go the next day. Because her family did not have a phone, Eckford missed the coordinating call and she made her way to school separately. She did not see the other eight students.

When she got to school, she was all alone except for the mob of several hundred white people screaming things like “Go back to where you came from” and “Go home! Whites have rights too!”. As Eckford approached the school’s entrance, she saw soldiers with rifles. She believed the soldiers were there to protect her but instead of helping, they blocked her way. They were members of the Arkansas National Guard sent by Gov. Orville Faubus who opposed desegregation.

Turned away and spat upon, Eckford walked away followed by a harassing and threatening crowd. A white teenager behind her screamed “Go home n—er!”. One person in the crowd suggested to drag her to a tree and hang her. A group of reporters formed a protective ring around her while Eckford waited at a bus stop to go home.

A white woman, Grace Lorch, who was a supporter of civil rights, came to Eckford’s aid. She scolded the crowd saying “She’s just a little girl”. She helped a terrified Eckford get on the bus and protected her against the mob.

When the other eight students got to the high school, the soldiers also blocked them. For more than two weeks, the black students stayed home until a federal court judge ruled against use of National Guard troops to block them. When the students returned, a riot ensued after the black students entered the school. The students had to flee for safety reasons. Photo images of Little Rock went the equivalent of viral, internationally.

At that point, President Eisenhower sent 101st Airborne Division troops into Little Rock. He also federalized the Arkansas National Guard. The students were then able to enter the high school escorted by soldiers. Gov. Faubus continued to oppose desegregation saying, “We are now an occupied territory”. Faubus argued that the Supreme Court had overstepped its constitutional authority in Brown.

For the next year, the nine black students endured an almost unbelievable amount of physical and verbal abuse. Eckford described the treatment. A group of white students made it their business to torment the black students. Although troops were there for protection, the tormenters attacked when the troops were out of eyesight. They physically attacked and shoved the black students, spat on them, tripped them and threw sharp pencils at them.

The tormenters scalded them in the locker room showers after gym class. They threw food at them. The school received bomb threats. One of the nine, Minnijean Brown-Trickey, got expelled in February 1958 for dropping chili on two boys who had attacked and harassed her. In May 1958, Ernest Green became the first black students to graduate from Central High School.

Eckford experiences PTSD still as a result of her school-related trauma. She remains very sensitive to any loud noises or light flashes.

That summer in 1958, Gov. Faubus made a decision to close all the schools in Little Rock. Little Rock residents voted 19,470- 7,561 to oppose integration. The school board tried to fire 44 teachers who favored integration. During the year the high school was closed, 97% of white students found an educational alternative. Only 50% of black students did.

In June 1959, a court found the school closing unconstitutional. Public schools re-opened in August 1959. Many white students left public school permanently to attend all-white segregation academies. Only two of the nine black students went back to Central. It took until 1972 for Little Rock to be fully integrated. I would note that President Eisenhower was the first president since Reconstruction to use federal troops to enforce civil rights.

In a podcast with Chris Hayes, I heard Minnijean Brown-Trickey explain that she went to Central because people did not want her to be there. She described herself as “irrepressible”. She wanted to disprove the myth that white kids were smarter than black kids.

The Little Rock struggle is now 66 years ago. While student bodies in America are more diverse than ever before, public schools remain highly segregated along racial, ethnic and socioeconomic lines. Black children are still relegated to separate and unequal schools. They are five times as likely as white students to attend schools that are highly segregated by race and ethnicity.

Ignoring the Brown court decision, school re-segregation has been America’s de facto agenda. Reasons for the backsliding include lifting of court desegregation orders, discriminatory housing practices that foster racially segregated neighborhoods and a failure of will to follow through on desegregation. The retrenchment is rooted in a vast complacency and a massive unwillingness to acknowledge the problem.

The Little Rock Nine provide a compelling counter-narrative that shows desegregation can be done. We all owe a debt to Elizabeth Eckford and the eight other brave students who had the courage to face down a monster.

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Unsung heroes of the Mississippi movement – posted 2/21/2023

February 22, 2023 5 comments

We have all heard the expression “living history”. When I was in college, I had several professors who could make learning come alive but as an adult, it seems rare to have that “on fire” type experience. So I feel very lucky that I just came back from a week long trip south that embodied that extra passionate learning dimension.

The trip was a civil rights tour organized by the Nation Magazine that started in Jackson and moved to Little Rock, Memphis, Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery. A group of over 20 got a chance to meet with activists who were in the thick of the struggle.

When considering how social, racial and political change has successfully advanced in America, there is no better crucible to look at than the civil rights movement of the 1950’s-1960’s. While there is so much more that needs to be done, that movement is a case study in success, even if won at a terrible cost.

There would have been no Great Society programs or voting and civil rights legislation without the pressure from below. Racism lost ground and both black and white people gained because of the civil rights movement. One thing that has struck me are the number of heroes, some known and most little known, who made the change possible. To this day, that heroism remains under-appreciated and insufficiently acknowledged.

While there were heroes in all the Southern states, the Mississippi movement deserves special mention. Mississippi was the heart of darkness. Back then, it was a hellhole of segregation. There was a reason Nina Simone sang “Mississippi Goddamn”.

Slavery’s legacy was brutal. In 1823, Mississippi passed its own legal code restricting slave movements and activities. Slaves could not buy or sell goods. They could not own or possess firearms. They were forbidden to learn to read or write. After Reconstruction and after federal troops left the South, white supremacists went on to impose a fascist type regime characterized by lynching, terrorism and voter intimidation.

Still, before the worst happened, Mississippi had two Black U.S..Senators, Hiram Revels who served from 1870-1871 and Blanche K. Bruce who served from 1875-1881. Revels was picked to fill and finish a Senate term and Bruce was elected by the Mississippi legislature to serve a full term. Mississippi had had no senators since it withdrew from the Union in 1861. Revels and Bruce were the first two African Americans to serve in the U.S. Senate.

Shortly after, the law totally abandoned black people. Although black people made up a sizable part of the Mississippi population, the system of segregation and white supremacy never changed fundamentally until the civil rights movement came along. Civil rights workers walked into the lion’s den and death was frequently right around the corner. I wanted to highlight five activists who personified the bravery of the Mississippi movement:

Medgar Evers gave his life for the civil rights struggle. Before he was shot in the back and assassinated in 1963, he had traveled the state of Mississippi for years as field secretary of the NAACP. He spoke at mass meetings, documented acts of brutality, encouraged voter registration and coordinated protests. His family’s home was firebombed in 1962. Evers said. “I am looking to be shot any time I step out of my car…If I die, it will be in a good cause. I’ve been fighting for America just as much as the soldiers in Vietnam”.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, Medgar’s wife, was also an ardent activist and she worked with him on voter registration drives and on organizing civil rights demonstrations. They were both targeted for death by white supremacists. After her husband was murdered, Ms. Evers-Williams fought hard to see his killer brought to justice. It took three trials and 30 years before the assassin was convicted. After Medgar’s death, she continued her activist life, including becoming chairperson of the NAACP in 1995.

James Meredith met with our group. He is now 89 years old. He had served eight years in the Air Force. In September 1962, when Meredith attempted to enroll at the University of Mississippi, the university sent him a telegram denying admission. Meredith sued and after a long court battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1962 that he had to be admitted. When he attempted to register, racists provoked a bloody riot. President Kennedy had to ultimately call in national guard and army troops. 23,000 soldiers stood guard over the Ole Miss campus. Federal marshals suffered 180 injuries including 28 gunshot wounds. Two people died. Protected by armed soldiers, Meredith enrolled at Ole Miss. Federal marshals escorted him during his entire year on campus.

Hezekiah Watkins, now 75, was the youngest Freedom Rider in Mississippi. He was 13 when arrested at the Greyhound Bus Depot in downtown Jackson. Watkins also met with our tour group and generously told us all his story. Accidentally pushed into the Greyhound building where blacks were not allowed, he was immediately arrested and taken to Parchman Penitentiary where he was put on death row for five days. In his book Pushing Forward, he says he asked an inmate at Parchman what it meant to be on Death Row, The inmate replied, “Your ass is gonna be fried”. As a 13 year old Watkins describes his initial incomprehension and how the experience changed him.

Rabbi Perry Nussbaum, a Toronto native, moved to Jackson in 1954 to lead Jackson’s Beth Israel Congregation. In his sermons he spoke out against segregation. Moved by the sacrifice of the Freedom Riders, he tried to organize the state’s rabbis to visit them at Parchman since about a third of the Freedom Riders were Jewish. None of the rabbis agreed so Nussbaum did it alone. Every week he drove to the prison in Sunflower County to deliver personal items and to lead a short worship service. In 1964, Rabbi Nussbaum organized a Committee of Concern which raised money to rebuild black churches. Due to his efforts, Rabbi Nussbaum’s temple and home were bombed.

When people talk about the civil rights movement so much focus is on Dr King and his outstanding contribution. Without taking anything away from Dr King, learning about the Mississippi movement requires way more appreciation of the lesser known foot soldiers who sacrificed and sometimes died.

Since February has been Black history month, remembering and honoring the Mississippi movement is very appropriate. I would suggest that all the talk about critical race theory and being woke is a diversion. It is a way to shift focus away from Black history. Teaching American history honestly means, in part, learning about Mississippi history. I cannot help but think about words I saw on the wall at the Legacy Museum:

“For the hanged and beaten.
For the shot, drowned and burned.
For the tortured, tormented and terrorized.
For those abandoned by the rule of law.
We will remember.
With hope because hopelessness is the enemy of justice.
With courage because peace requires bravery.
With persistence because justice is a constant struggle.
With faith because we shall overcome.”

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Backtracking on guns and domestic violence – posted 2/15/2023

February 15, 2023 2 comments

Domestic violence often disappears from the headlines. Usually only stories like an intimate partner homicide or another mass shooting break through public inattention.

Court decisions about domestic violence mostly do not register but on February 2, there was a decision that I found jolting. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, a federal appeals court with jurisdiction over Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, issued a shocker decision in the case of United States v Rahimi. The Court ruled a federal law prohibiting individuals from owning or possessing a firearm while under a domestic violence restraining order is unconstitutional.

At present that ruling only applies in those three states but it is very likely that the case will ultimately land at the U.S. Supreme Court. The government is likely to appeal the Court’s ruling.

The Fifth Circuit decision on Rahimi follows from another 2022 decision issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v Bruen. That case, an opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas, offered the most expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment yet. Offering a novel legal test, Justice Thomas opined that the government has the burden of proving that a gun regulation “is inconsistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation”.

Without getting too deep into the legal weeds, what that means is that the Court will look to early American history to determine if there was a deeply rooted tradition of disarming individuals under a restraining order for domestic violence. The Court found that the historical record showed domestic violence abusers were not routinely disarmed in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The result is a court decision that found that people with a history of violent abuse of their intimate partners do, in fact, have a Second Amendment right to own and possess guns even if a court had determined they are a credible threat to the physical safety of their intimate partner.

It is hard to overstate how dangerous and wrong-headed the Fifth Circuit’s opinion is. Using a cherry-picked version of history and originalism, the Court embraced a far right ideology that is steeped in sexism and disregard for women. Domestic violence was not considered a crime for most of U.S. history. It is a 20th century notion that men should not be allowed to abuse women.

The writer Ian Millhiser says that early on in American history wife-beating was considered “a familial affair” beyond the province of courts. It was seen as a natural part of private family life. Domestic violence regulation did not exist in the 1790’s. Back then, women were not allowed to vote or serve in office. Married women couldn’t own property or enter into contracts. Women were essentially the property of their husbands.

The Fifth Circuit evinced no awareness of this history. They also downplayed the serious danger to public safety embodied in their analysis. About Mr. Rahimi they wrote in their opinion:

“ Between December 2020 and January 2021, Rahimi was involved in five shootings in and around Arlington, Texas. On December 1, after selling narcotics to an individual, he fired multiple shots into that individual’s residence. The following day, Rahimi was involved in a car accident. He exited the vehicle, shot at the other driver, and fled the scene. He returned to the scene in a different vehicle and shot at the other driver’s car. On December 22, Rahimi shot at a constable’s vehicle. On January 7, Rahimi fired multiple shots in the air after his friend’s credit card was declined at a Whataburger restaurant.”

Rahimi was seriously out-of-control. He was subject to a restraining order for assault on his ex-girlfreind. When the police executed a search warrant of his residence because of these later events they found a rifle and a pistol. Prosecutors charged and convicted him for unlawful possession of his guns in violation of the restraining order.

You do not have to be a legal scholar to realize how badly the Fifth Circuit has stumbled here. It make no sense to look to the 18th century for a rationale to address a problem only fully recognized in the 21st century.. The decision will have lethal consequences for many, many women. It is an egregious misinterpretation of the Second Amendment. The quality of legal reasoning reflected in the decision is embarrassing.

There are compelling reasons why government must disarm domestic violence abusers. An American woman is shot and killed by an intimate partner every 14 hours. More than one half of intimate partner homicides are committed with guns. Research has shown that abusers’ access to guns makes domestic violence victims risk of death five times higher.

In 2021, the last year figures are available, 7,454 offenders were convicted in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi under the gun/domestic violence statute the Fifth Circuit invalidated. If the decision stands after all appeals are exhausted, it is a safe bet that women will needlessly die because of this court decision. Firearms have been established as the weapon of choice for domestic violence homicide. Female intimate partners are more likely to be murdered by a gun than by all other methods combined.

In protecting abusers’ rights to own guns, the Court misses the whole dynamic about how they are used to intimidate and cow victims into submission. Showing off guns and threats displaying them are part of the process of subjugation. There is no mention or appreciation of this dark side in the Rahimi court opinion.

The three judge panel who ruled unanimously in Rahimi demonstrated an out-of-touch quality that can ultimately only breed disrespect for the rule of law. I wish I had faith that the U.S. Supreme Court will rectify the situation.. We have been witnessing the triumph of right wing ideology over public safety, women’s health and common sense.

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The irrationality of conspiracy theories and disinformation – posted 2/5/2023

February 5, 2023 1 comment

We have reached a point where conspiracy theories have proliferated so much that they have lost the ability to surprise. The entire right wing ecosphere has been polluted. False information that is intended to mislead has wide range and is everyday fare.

Take the profoundly disturbing example of the attack on Paul Pelosi, the former House Speaker’s husband. When the assault happened last October, the response was telling. Donald Trump Jr. posted an image of a hammer and a pair of underwear with the words “Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready”. Elon Musk linked to an article claiming that at the time of the assault, an inebriated Pelosi was arguing with a male prostitute. He fed the story of a gay tryst gone wrong.

Many high profile conservatives got in on the act and made fun of the attack on Pelosi including Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and FOX host Tucker Carlson. Apparently attacking an 82 year old man with a hammer is supposed to be funny. Isn’t it unambiguously clear that whatever someone’s politics, such assaults are absolutely unacceptable and beyond the pale?

The recent release of video about the October event confirms the seriousness of the assault. The attacker David DePape violently broke into the Pelosi residence and viciously fractured Pelosi’s skull with a hammer after the police told him to drop it. Pelosi is lucky to still be alive.

DePape has a history as a far right blogger and Trump supporter who embraced QAnon and the Big Lie about the 2020 election being stolen. Contrary to the facts, Sen. Cruz tweeted that DePape was “a hippie nudist from Berkeley”.

This is similar to the Trump effort to blame the January 6 insurrection on Antifa. The right wing ecosphere is often claiming false flag where they attempt to link a perpetrator to their opponents. The classic example is Alex Jones claiming Sandy Hook was staged by gun control advocates to create a pretext to restrict gun ownership.

It is evident now how vulnerable millions are to disinformation no matter how absurd. Repetition of Big Lies can turn listeners into Big Believers. It is a pattern we have seen demonstrated most conspicuously with QAnon. Abner Hauge, the chief editor of Left Coast Right Watch writes:

“Conspiracy theories don’t rely on facts, they weaponize them. The idea of a conspiracy theory is you have an end point you want to get to and you construct reality around that.”

Nowhere is this more true than in the rhetoric around COVID-19 and Dr. Anthony Fauci. The far right wing has swallowed and digested anti-scientific poison. Over-the-top messaging from the far right claims Dr. Fauci has committed very serious crimes and that he should be jailed.

Just to give a few examples (and there are many), I would mention unsuccessful Washington state candidate Joe Kent who called for Dr. Fauci to be charged with murder for “the scam that is COVID”. Kari Lake, failed Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate, said “that liar” Fauci should be locked up and “I think it is extremely wrong for government, business, and schools to mandate this vaccine”.

Tucker Carlson also has said Fauci “committed very serious crimes” and that he is a “dangerous fraud” who “engineered the single most devastating event in modern American history”. Science Magazine fact-checked Carlson. They wrote:

“The analysis shows Carlson took facts out of context and cited long-debunked studies or reports to attack Fauci. He also repeatedly blamed Fauci and other scientists for changing their minds based on new evidence – the bedrock of scientific progress. In Carlson’s calculus, such reversals equal lying.”

There is no evidence Dr. Fauci has committed any crime. Nor did he engineer the COVID-19 pandemic or lie about it but many want to believe he is corrupt or falsifying data. Dr. Fauci has had a long honorable career as a public health doctor, serving under seven presidents. He won the Medal of Freedom under Republican President George W. Bush. Of course, he has made mistakes and said things that he later regretted. Everyone has.

In the latest incident of COVID wackiness, many far right influencers, like podcaster Stew Peters, have insisted Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin died from COVID-19 vaccine shots after he collapsed in a game millions watched on TV. Far right influencers said Hamlin has been replaced by a body double. Tucker Carlson has lent support to the false claim that cardiac arrests have increased among athletes because of the vaccine.

As Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis positions himself for a 2024 presidential run, his COVID “expert”, Dr. Jon Ward, a dermatologist, has said “Fauci should face a firing squad” because of his work. Last August at a campaign rally DeSantis said about Fauci “Someone needs to grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac”.

DeSantis must be thinking it is good politics to run against the medical establishment and any mandate for COVID vaccines. He has falsely claimed people are more likely to get infected with the bivalent booster. He and Trump are competing for who sounds most opposed to COVID vaccines. DeSantis now wants the Florida Supreme Court to empanel a grand jury to investigate potential wrongdoing by the medical community regarding how it informed Floridians about COVID vaccines and their efficacy.

Maybe next to Trump, no one did more to downplay the gravity of the pandemic than DeSantis. Since March 2020, more than a million Americans died from COVID-19 and more than 83,000 Floridians. That is a frightening record. The coronavirus killed more people aged 65 and over in Florida than any other state in the nation. No wonder DeSantis wants to retreat from the actual facts.

It is no exaggeration to recognize that the Republican Party, including its leaders, has been captured by voices of irrationality and science-denial. This helps to explain the Party’s intellectual degeneration. Instead of offering any ideas to improve the actual lives of Americans, the Party is lost in a circus of attention-grabbling performative stunts like flying immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard or arresting Florida black voters who thought they could vote.

Bad thinking inevitably leads to bad endings. We are watching a major party rot on the vine.

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The DeSantis Advanced Placement Stunt – posted 1/29/2023

January 29, 2023 6 comments

One of the more blatant publicity-seeking stunts pulled by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been his effort to kill an Advanced Placement course in African-American studies. Following DeSantis’s lead, the Florida Department of Education rejected the AP African-American studies course as “woke indoctrination” and not “historically accurate”.

Florida’s Department of Education cited the inclusion of readings from many African-American scholars, activists and writers who discuss reparations, Black feminism, Black queer theory and intersectionality (how racism, sexism and other forms of oppression work together and build on one another). They singled out Angela Davis, Kimberle Crenshaw and bell hooks as unacceptable. They stated the AP studies class “lacks educational value”.

I have some familiarity with advanced placement courses. Back in 1967-1968, I was in an AP class in American history in high school. A benefit of AP courses is that they allow high school students to obtain college credit. For me it meant not having to take required college courses I otherwise would have had to take.

My high school had no minority students. The American history we learned was entirely devoid of the African-American experience. I do recall a racist take on the lessons in Reconstruction but mostly the history featured exclusion of any Black voices, including the most prominent.

It is peculiar to be banning this AP course in a context where the norm is still minimal offerings in any African-American history. The assumption that teaching AP African American history is “woke indoctrination” is pure speculation and something made up by DeSantis. It is a right wing talking point and it has no reality.

Likely equally pernicious is the chilling effect on teachers. All Florida teachers must make a calculation about what is allowable to teach. What will cross the line and get them reported? Safety would dictate a sanitized history.

In looking at what Florida is doing now, I see a continuation of the erasure of historical memory. Our national deeper problem is a white blind spot where we refuse to look at the real history. Black experience in America has never been given its due and that is true not only in Florida.

Florida has a particularly rancid history though that can match Mississippi and Alabama history. Business leaders have evoked the image of the sunshine state to cover a virulently racist past. Certainly it is not the whole history but there is a nasty underbelly that is typically overlooked.

In the 1830’s, the Florida territory passed a law that stated that a free black person who left the territory could not return and that any white person could detain any Negro, slave or free, for any reason. In 1832, the Florida territory enacted another law prohibiting “Negroes to congregate for any purpose except to work or attend divine worship”.

Between 1880 and 1930, Florida had the highest number of lynchings per capita of all former Confederate and border states. 282 black people were lynched in Florida during these years. White supremacy was about keeping black people in their place through extra-legal violence and intimidation.

The largest known mass lynching in Florida happened in Newberry, near Gainesville, in 1916. At least six black people were murdered for alleged hog-stealing. They were dragged from the local jail by an uncontrollable mob and hung from a large oak tree. Hordes came to view the dangling, lynched bodies. No arrests were ever made for the six murders even though the lynchings were viewed by deputy sheriffs and a state senator.

One hundred years ago in 1923, a racist mob destroyed the black Florida town of Rosewood. Possibly readers saw the John Singleton film Rosewood which was inspired by that event. The massacre happened after a white woman claimed she was assaulted by a Rosewood resident. Six were murdered and black residents had to run for their lives, hiding in swamps and woods. No law enforcement agency ever investigated or charged crimes for these events.

I would note two other lynchings. In 1934, a black man, 23 year old Claude Neal, was arrested for allegedly raping and killing a white woman. News media advertised the lynching in advance. A huge crowd gathered for the spectacle. A small group in the mob tortured, mutilated and murdered Neal in secret. They then tied his body to the back of a truck and dragged him to another location where a white crowd estimated at 2000 attacked the corpse with sticks and knives.

The mob then again hung Neal’s body from a tree. The sheriff cut his body down. The next day another mob formed demanding that the body be hanged again so they could view it. When the sheriff refused, the mob rioted, injuring 200 and attempting to drive black people from the county. The Neal lynching was legendary for its brutality. It demonstrated the failure of local, state and federal authorities to curtail the practice of lynching and it propelled federal anti-lynching legislation.

Then there is the story of Willie Howard, a 15 year old who lived in Live Oaks. He was lynched for giving a Christmas card to a white girl. Two white men took Willie and his father to the Suwannee River at gunpoint.They bound Willie’s hands and feet and gave him a choice between getting shot and being drowned in the river. Willie was drowned. No murder charges were ever filed in the case. The case is often compared to Emmett Till’s but it has been lesser known.

Up until the civil rights movement, Florida maintained segregation. Separate water fountains, bathrooms, public accommodations, beaches, and segregated schools and universities were the norm defended by legal authorities. Until the 1950’s blacks were not allowed on juries. In his books, The Beast in Florida and Florida Through Black Eyes, the African-American Professor Marvin Dunn lays it all out and it’s not pretty.

This is a history white supremacists will never acknowledge so they bury it.

As DeSantis prepares for a 2024 presidential run, banning the AP course is just another performative stunt designed to outflank Trump on the far right. It is part of his effort to win over the MAGA base. The damage is in how much his anti-woke law will intimidate teachers.

Should DeSantis win the nomination and get elected in 2024, we can expect a nation-wide rollout of a plan like this. You have to ask: what makes DeSantis an authority to decide what is acceptable for America’s students about black history?

As they should, three Florida high school students are challenging the DeSantis action in court and it will be litigated. The AP stunt is a serious threat to academic freedom.

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The Supreme Court stands poised to undermine the right to strike – posted 1/22/2023

January 23, 2023 1 comment

After stripping women of their reproductive rights, the far right majority of the U.S. Supreme Court is now on the verge of weakening workers’ rights and the whole labor union movement. The Court just heard oral arguments in the case of Glacier Northwest Inc. v International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174, a case that threatens workers’ right to strike.

Back in 2017, the drivers of cement-mixing trucks went on strike after they were frustrated by the failure of collective bargaining negotiations with their employer. Glacier Northwest, a Seattle-based ready-mix concrete company. Eighty five truck drivers walked off the job and went on strike. Sixteen of the drivers had trucks filled with concrete that had not yet been delivered. These workers drove their trucks back to company headquarters and left the trucks running.

The workers took the precaution of leaving their trucks running with their drums rotating so the cement would not harden and spoil. However, Glacier lacked the personnel to deliver all the concrete. The wet cement hardened and the company had to dispose of it. There was no damage to any truck. The strike settled a week later.

Afterward, Glacier sued the union in Washington state court for the intentional destruction of company property even though the ruined concrete was incidental to the strike and the workers took steps to avoid damage. The case made its way through Washington state courts. Ultimately, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Glacier’s case on the grounds it lacked jurisdiction.

The Washington Supreme Court said the case had to be heard by the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB. State court tort claims like Glacier’s are usually superseded by federal law. For a long time, the NLRB has had almost exclusive jurisdiction of strikes. The NLRB has a wealth of background, expertise and experience in labor disputes like Glacier’s.

The NLRB is a federal agency set up during the New Deal after huge strike waves in the 1930’s. The right to strike is federally protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The statute was s response to violent suppression of workers’ organizing by employers and the government. The NLRB was intended to equalize the power imbalance where workers were outgunned by corporate power.

The history of strikes in America has been an untold story and it is largely forgotten. In his classic book, Strike!, Jeremy Brecher writes:

“This book is the story of repeated, massive and often violent revolts by ordinary working people in America…The story includes virtual nation-wide general strikes, the seizure of vast industrial establishments, guerrilla warfare and armed battles with artillery and aircraft.”

To appreciate the reasons for the NLRB, it is essential to understand our labor history with its many violent episodes. In the Glacier situation, the Teamsters filed an unfair labor practice charge against the company and the NLRB issued a complaint charging the company with that unfair labor practice. Rather than accepting the NLRB’s jurisdiction, the company did an end run and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

There has been a narrow exception to NLRB’s jurisdiction if a union intended to damage or vandalize property. In this instance, Glacier is saying the union intended to destroy property and they intentionally sabotaged company operations. The Court appears eager to use the case to further its anti-union agenda.

I believe the Court has two goals in taking the case. First, it wants to narrow the NLRB’s jurisdiction. Second, it wants to expose the Teamsters (and all unions) to the possibility of having to pay damages for engaging in strikes. To quote Cathy Creighton:

“Who’s going to go on strike when you know that if your strike is successful, you’ll be sued.”

The threat of being sued and sustaining damages could be a significant disincentive for any strike option. It would certainly add to any calculation. It is no accident that this is happening at a time of increased worker organizing and union resurgence. There were 316 strikes in America in 2022, up from 257 in 2021. 240 Starbucks locations unionized in the past year as well as the large Amazon warehouse in New York.

Faced with a newly invigorated labor movement, the Supreme Court is out to hobble workers’ right to strike. Withholding labor by going on strike is labor’s most powerful tool. Based on the track record of the far right Supreme Court majority, clipping labor’s wings is part of their agenda. Any Supreme Court observer can look back over the last 50 years and have a hard time finding even a single case where the justices ruled on the side of workers and against corporations.

It is a plutocrats’ court. By always siding with the rich and corporations against working people, the Court has discredited itself. Law and justice have often had a tenuous relationship but this Court is an outlier devoted to worsening economic inequality.

Back in 1971, not-yet-Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, then a corporate attorney, wrote a very influential secret memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce titled “Attack on America’s Free Enterprise System”. It embodied the long-range conservative political and legal vision. The present Court is the realization of Powell’s plan to reassert corporate power in the policy arena.

The goal of the far right conservative legal movement remains the destruction of New Deal programs created under the Franklin Roosevelt administration including a federal right to unionize. Far right conservatives have never believed the government had the legal authority to create the administrative state that has been with us for almost 100 years. They long to return to a pre-1937 view of the Constitution.

The Glacier case looks to be a step in that direction. A decision is expected later this spring or early summer.

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