Category Archives: Theory

This is My Life… Where is Our Future?

[Originally posted to kasamaproject.org]

by Rosa Harris

Rosa Harris, photo: Monte

I live confined to this housing project, surrounded by bone-hard poverty and everything it brings with it.

If our car is broken, we are literally pinned down. We can’t get out – not to doctors, not to meet political comrades.

But there is something deeper about the hole we are trapped in… My son thinks of little other than getting out. And he isn’t thinking so much about getting “the people” out – but of getting away from the people.

My mind has always dreamed of a better world,  but my daily experience  is here, in a place where you just can’t romanticize “the oppressed.” Up close, people are often caught up in some terrible stuff. It’s not just the capitalists  who live in a dog-eat-dog world, it’s us too. The dominant ideas of an epoch become dominant ideas among the people themselves.

I’m not going to apologize again for my  moods and my conflicted thoughts — even though I feel I need to. The other day something happened that made me feel very ashamed and hurt.

Mary, one of my few friends here in this project is a crack user. Her daughter is a prostitute. And her son recently got out of prison.

I’ve never understood completely what the word “lumpen” means in our communist language – but these are part of a broken section of the people. Desperate. And at times, using each other… badly. And yet, she is one of my only friends here. And what does that say about me, and my life?

I should tell the whole story I suppose. I know you won’t blame me.

Mary brought her son by. To meet me, she said.

My boy friend was getting ready to take me to the store and we were practically out the door. I walked into the kitchen and Mary handed me a  sack in each hand – each small, wrapped in cellophane. I looked at what they were and tried to put them back into her hands. She kept pressing them toward me.

I don’t know why she was trying to hand them to me in the first place. I could tell she was cracked out. Was she wanting to hide it in my place?

I said “I got to go to the bathroom” – just to get out of the situation.

I didn’t want to out to my boyfriend that they had brought this shit into our apartment. We don’t use it. We don’t want it around. And he doesn’t want me hanging with Mary.  I’m always covering for my friend when she does stupid stuff like that when she’s cracking out on me. Mary had stolen my laptop once – which is one of the few things of value I own– my connection to the world. But then we got it back afterwards.

I went to the store, came back and went to her place to let her know that this had not been ok..

Her son and daughter showed up and confronted me. They said they wanted “their money.” Even though I don’t use that shit, even though I was angry they had brought it over, even though I hadn’t bought anything. He was threatening me. And made me go to the ATM with them. They were desperate for quick cash, and the whole thing was an excuse. It was theft.

I’ve known the daughter for a long time, and she never treated me this way before. My friend Mary watched this, saying nothing. She didn’t stand up for me, or call him off. I couldn’t believe this was happening. It felt like being raped  — like I’m watching myself and my life, and my pain happening outside me — powerless.

I feel like an idiot for not just outing them in front of my boy friend – cuz it meant he was not there standing with me. I feel like an idiot for staying friends with them even though they had hurt me before.  But I’m just so alone at times.

But suddenly I was “going” with them to the ATM, and giving them all my remaining money – a few hundred dollars. Everything.

I need people, and these women were among my the only friends – and yet  they turned on me, and ripped me off. Something that happens every day here, among the people.

It is so hard and desperate here. My kid gets threatened and arrives home breathing hard. He talks of things he’s seen, and things he fears. He thinks of arming himself (which terrifies me) or simply act invisible… or somehow getting out.

It took me a few days to even tell my boy friend because I was afraid of what he would say. He turned out to be very understanding, but still said “You shouldn’t hang out with people like that” — which puts blame on me again.

I have the horrible feeling I should be blamed. Now I am also out a friend and my money. But don’t we also lose our hope — piece by piece?

And part of me knows, of course, where the blame belongs. There is a system that put us here. There is a hopelessness we are all injected with. There are circuits of empire that bring the drugs here, and run the prisons (which are just training camps for brutalization and mutual torture).

But often that system feels far away. And that blame feels very abstract. And our immediate oppressors are so often each other… as we claw each other, and brutalize each other in our despair and madness.

I even wonder why I use “we” here. I don’t claw anyone. I don’t brutalize anyone. We divide up, don’t we, once again, into victims, abusers and indifferent observers. We live in a time when, here a least, there is so little solidarity or glimpse of a bigger picture. Here  people are often broken, and it is hard to imagine where the unity or vision could come for changing anything.

My son said “The people here are so fucked up, they don’t deserve communism and would mess it up if they had it.”

I don’t believe that, of course. I never have. But I just want to share, honestly, how from here everything just feels so bleak sometimes. How do we show up here, as communists, and change people’s choice, and change the people themselves?

Are these really the people that can become the rulers of society? And how do we help that happen?

This has been a hard moment, and right now the whole world seems dark to me. And, the money thing really bothers me. I’m lucky its December – the food pantries give away a lot of food during the holidays.

And I have you, my comrades, around the world: I have your ear, and I have whatever we manage to create together.

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Filed under class struggle, Communism, Gulf States, housing, Public housing, Southern Identity, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, The Left, Theory, Uncategorized, United States, Women, workers

George Galloway prevented from Entering U.S., addresses Louisianians via Skype

 
 
 

By hastenawait, December 14, 2010

 

The Muslim Legal Fund of America is a non-profit organization which has existed since 2001. It supports legal cases across the country which impact civil rights, freedoms, liberties and principles of justice in America, particularly where Muslims are concerned. The organization focuses on important cases which affect the Muslim community and public policy. Their decisions about which cases to take up, therefore, are strategic.

Last night the MLFA hosted a benefit dinner in Kenner, Louisiana . Kenner is a smaller city that borders New Orleans. The benefit was intended to raise funds for the organization’s work and to raise awareness about ongoing injustices facing Muslims in the United States. Around 100 people attended, with the majority being Louisiana Muslim community members. A handful of non-Muslims were there as well.

Speakers included Adulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-born New Orleans businessman who has achieved a degree of fame because he rode out hurricane Katrina and then went around rescuing people in his canoe. For his good work he was arrested, labeled a terrorist and imprisoned for 23 days.

The daughter of Shukri Abu Baker also spoke. Baker was the president of the Holy Land Foundation, which was the largest Muslim charity in the United States. In the aftermath of September 11, the Bush regime charged the organization with supporting Hamas in Palestine. The organization was subsequently shut down and Baker is now serving a 65-year prison sentence, essentially for providing charitable aid to victims of the ongoing genocide in Palestine. All of the speakers gave powerful and moving presentations.

The keynote speaker was former U.K.-parliamentarian and long-time activist, George Galloway. Galloway is known for his activist work in support of Palestine. He is a founding member of a charitable organization called Viva Palestina, whose mission is to break the blockade of the Gaza strip by bringing badly-needed aid. For these activities, he was denied entry into Canada from March of 2009 until October 2010. He has not, however, been officially blocked from entering the United States.

You can imagine the surprise of the audience last night when it was announced that Galloway would not be speaking with them in person, as he had been denied entry into the United States over the weekend. He was supposed to be traveling the country for a multi-city speaking tour, but was told by airline officials that he would not be able to enter the U.S. because there were problems with his visa.

Undeterred, Galloway instead addressed the crowd in Kenner via the computer program Skype. A laptop was hooked up to a projector, and a live video could be seen on two large screens in a convention room of the Crown Plaza hotel, where the event was held. During his talk Galloway stated that it is not clear whether his being denied entry was the result of a technical or bureaucratic glitch, or whether it was a political measure carried out in secrecy. He explained that efforts were made to resolve the situation throughout the weekend, but that nothing came of it.

 
 
 

Galloway addressing audience in Kenner, Louisiana

 

The main body of his talk concerned human rights violations carried out by the U.S. government against Muslims worldwide, and particularly the grave humanitarian situation in Palestine, which has resulted from Israeli-U.S. imperialist settler policies.

Because his being denied entry to the U.S. may be an instance of political repression (and we know that this is not unlikely) he reiterated his resolve to not be silenced. He said boldly : “Nothing will stop me. Not the government of what they call Israel; not the government of Canada or the U.S.” He continued: “I cannot be silenced…I hope the U.S. government understands that. We live in the age of Skype, YouTube and Facebook. There will always be a way for me to speak.”

He went on to describe his speaking visit to New Orleans last year. He said that New Orleans is a city which he loves deeply, and that he has every intention of visiting it again, and speaking to New Orleanians again. He vowed that he would fight to get back into the United States and that this event would be rescheduled.

When speaking about the Muslims, solidarity activists and charitable workers who have been the target of political repression in the United States since 9/11, he argued: “Anyone of you as I look around this hall could be the next one to hear the knock on the door, to be unjustly accused…even because you’re doing charitable work for a country that has been wiped off the map.” He was referring to Palestine.

Galloway’s provocative statement that he “cannot be silenced” because “we live in the age of Skype, YouTube and Facebook” is particularly pertinent at this time. People have been talking about the political implications of the digital revolution since it began, just as people in other eras discussed the political implications of other media and technological shifts. But in the wake of the WikiLeaks revelations and other events this year (such as FBI raids on anti-war activists) the contradictions implicit in this social revolution are perhaps clearer than ever – and they are certainly heightened. These contradictions are increasingly characterizing the contemporary world, and, broadly speaking, they boil down to this: the new digital media open up the way for new democratic transformations and unprecedented levels of openness in public institutions on the one hand; on the other, they open up possibilities for frightening forms of surveillance, opacity and authoritarianism. A resume of U.S. government activities since the Bush administration should leave no doubt about the latter tendency.

At one level these contradictions are overdetermined by another prevailing social contradiction which is inherent to capitalism, and that is the contradiction between massively-socialized production and economic life generally, on the one hand, and private ownership on the other. (The struggles over intellectual property, file sharing etc. all take place within the trajectory of this contradiction.) At its base, this contradiction is about who has power in society and who does not.

It is increasingly clear that the new digital technologies make governments, corporations and other powerful entities newly powerful but at the same time newly vulnerable (just look at the attacks on the websites of Visa and MasterCard by “hacktivists” following the latest round of leaks by WikiLeaks). The same is true of the people who are resisting the powerful. For example, these technologies make it easier for governments to spy on activists, but they also provide the means of organization for those activists. It should be noted, in regard to the 2010 FBI raids on anti-war activists, that because of social networking sites like Facebook, an organized response was beginning the very day that the raids were taking place. Within hours there were videos on YouTube. Press conferences, demonstrations and the like were all in the works.

Galloway’s appearance via Skype last night highlights the liberatory dimension opened up by these technologies. Whether the U.S. government is in fact preventing him from entering the country, or whether there was a technical glitch does not change this. The fact is that his lack of physical presence did not prevent him from addressing Louisiana community members. He was not prevented from speaking.

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Filed under Anti-Imperialism, Anti-War, Censorship, Digital Media, Human Rights, Imperialism, Islam, Leftist media, Middle East, National Oppression, New Orleans, Palestine, Race, Solidarity, Southern United States, Technology, The Left, Theory, Uncategorized, United States, Wikileaks

Psychosis, Phallus, and Ronnie Van Zant’s Ashes

Submitted by Isolau Vanickova

 

In 2000 the tombs of Lynyrd Skynyrd front man Ronnie Van Zant and one of his band mates were vandalized near their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. For uncertain reasons, the vandals had attempted to remove part of Van Zant’s cremated remains. Many speculated on whether the perpetrators were doing it out of disrespect or adoration. Either situation seemed plausible, with the ubiquity in that band’s hometown of raging drunk “free bird” criers and their distraught and rebellious children alike. For many southerners in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s heyday, Van Zant’s message was a sort of vindication. Unavoidably embedded in the spirits of the times around them, many of the young whites in the South wanted neither to allow for the bigoted system to triumph nor to pander to northern paternalism, such as that criticized by Van Zant and company in “Sweet Home Alabama,” his tongue-in-cheek response to Neil Young from 1974.

The message seemed clear enough: We can do it ourselves, “Montgomery has the answer.” In fact, it is precisely in the song’s lyrics expressing the progressives’ collective national disdain for pro-segregation Alabama governor George Wallace that the particularizing blow against Young is delivered:

“Well I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don’t need him around anyhow…”

Young, for his part, adored the independent solidarity expressed by his musical counterparts. If the “southern man” was thus vindicated, both reunited with his comrades to the north and unimpeded by their economic and cultural dominance, then the formula for a certain change had been created. Perhaps the most important example of that change can be found today not in the change to unity between southern freedom riders and northern student protestors, but in the change in Governor Wallace to a particular sort of born-again Christianity. Although he publically claimed that a 1972 assassination attempt had changed his perspective on race, one cannot help but think that Wallace’s future political ideology – one thriving if not predominant today – had already been arrived at by Young and Van Zant. As the man who had once physically stood in the path of federal troops at the University of Alabama to prevent its integration began to seek the black vote, those in the young white vote had already begun to seek new terms for their place in American society. This new ideology, shared by Van Zant and Wallace alike, came to be known as “states’ rights”.

“States’ rights” had long been the calling card of pro-segregationists in the south as it had been of their pro-slavery civil-war era ancestors. Opposition to the federalist system has never been exclusively southern nor exclusively conservative as it is most familiar to us today, but what was unique about Wallace’s political craftsmanship was its ability to so thoroughly alter the entire nation’s future. Arriving at an appropriate time, the populist call to smaller government has become what has been called the “Southernization” of American politics, and of America in general. As the lyrics go: “Now Watergate does not bother me/ Does your conscience bother you?” So it is that the striking out against the paternalistic north has become the striking out against the paternalistic federal state, where we’re all, with a healthy dose of defiance, going back to Sweet Home Alabama.

It is no wonder then that for some of a later generation in the South the figure of Ronnie Van Zant would loom so ominously over them as an unbearable paternalistic symbol itself. Thus the attempt to steal his ashes begs the Lacanian questions: Was this a vulgar attempt to capture a relic of phallic significance on the part of the Skynyrd generation? Or, was this an attack on the Primordial Signifier (the Name-of-the-Father)? For the sake of psychoanalytic questioning, both questions are important. What is the contemporary political ideology without its phallus, the “southern man”? Maybe even more important, if it is the father’s phallic signification that is being attacked, what must the continued import of such signification be if the ultimate result of an oppositional struggle is not to result in psychosis, lacking the symbolic connection between the imaginary and real orders? The threatening echo that the “southern man don’t need [one] around anyhow” continues to ring true with the surreal comic and horrific qualities of Slim Pickens riding an atom bomb to oblivion.

The mystery of the would-be grave robbers still continues unsolved. Ronnie Van Zant’s remains have since been relocated, allegedly buried in an impenetrable concrete vault. They rest in Jacksonville’s Memorial Park in the newly gentrified, liberal- and art-promoted Riverside neighborhood, the recent site of racist graffiti bearing tea-party sympathies. His final resting place remains unmarked.

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Filed under Gender, Psychoanalysis, Southern Identity, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, Theory, Uncategorized, United States