For those of us who have been stolen by Edna Bonhomme

Those of us who have been stolen speak Creole,

Patoi

French 

Dutch

English

Portuguese

We practice Santeria, Catholicism, Islam and Atheism

Those of us who have been stolen hold on to our rituals

our music

our language

our braids

our kink

 We were stolen from a land that our

mothers,

grandmothers,

and great grandmothers never knew

Rather, they heard folklores of our siblings who extracted herbal plants,

those who transcended gender,

those who adored sunsets.

Those of us who have been stolen bear the markings of slavery and the power of resistance.

Those of us who have been stolen continue to survive. 

 

-e. bonhomme (August 2018)

Note: Poem inspired by a conversation with Skye Skyetshookii

 

 

Sickness and Health in Yemen during a time of War by Edna Bonhomme

Death lurks in Yemen. Not just in the unintended consequences of war led by the Saudi coalition against the Houthis, but it crops up in the built environment--one saturated with political insecurity, military bombing, and social anguish. The Arab uprisings of 2010-2011 were a brief period of hope that have mutated into horror for millions of people in Yemen. 'Amaliyyat 'Āṣifat al-Ḥazm, otherwise known as Operation Decisive Storm, is a military operation that was initiated by Saudi Arabia in 2015 against Houthi militias. While Saudi Arabia continues to be the main agent leading the attack, other Arab countries such as Egypt, Morocco, and United Arab Emirates have provided material supports for the military intervention. Support extends even further with the United States government providing logistical and military support.

The airstrikes have been deleterious for everyday life. In early August 2018, an airstrike killed over 40 people believed to be school children; another 60 are being treated for injuries. This confrontation with mass death has been frequent and ghastly as cited by the United Nations and various Human Rights groups. To date, the United Nations estimates the death toll is 16,000 with an additional 22 million people in Yemen needing aid. These figures are not merely numbers but they bear a moral obligation to the people in Yemen--those who continue to have their humanity disregarded by war.

People are on the fringe of death not only because of the Saudi-led 'Amaliyyat 'Āṣifat al-Ḥazm, but because of a cholera epidemic that is perpetuated by destruction. The disease emerges from the bacteria, Vibrio cholerae, and can easily be treated with clean water and antibiotics. Yet, the constant military attacks by Saudi Arabia leaves little room for a thorough public health solution. As the cholera epidemic continues to proliferate in Yemen, the destruction to life is further amplified with the assault on schools, hospitals and public health infrastructure. If we value those who are currently living and want to honor those who have perished from this casaulty, it means calling for an end to this Saudi-led military campaign. 

Marielle Franco, presenté! by Edna Bonhomme

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"To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing."

~ Raymond Williams.

 

Today, approximately 300 people gathered in Berlin to honor the life of Marielle Franco, the Black Brazilian queer socialist who was recently assassinated in Rio de Janeiro. As an elected representative of the PSOL party, she denounced police presence in poor and working class neighborhoods. Her comrades have pointed to that the political murder was an attempt to repress the growing resistance against the Temer regime. As they noted:

We have reached a limit point. We go to the streets to do justice for Marielle, and to keep alive his agenda: defending the life of the black and poor people of the peripheries of the country, and fighting for a dignified life for our people. To defend our freedoms, the little democracy we still have. For our rights!

A multiethnic group of people in Berlin, mostly speaking Portuguese convened at May-Ayim-Ufer. The event's location was admirable because it bears the name of the late Afro-German poet May Ayim, a public intellectual who sought make deep links within the African diaspora. Audre Lorde was her mentor and formative for her analysis about being a Black woman in Germany. Unfortunately, anti-Black racism in Germany contributed to her depression and eventual suicide in Kreuzberg, a neighborhood in central Berlin. Institutional racism does not only provide physical violence but it eats away at one's inner core.

Turning to today's solidarity demonstration, it was a moment for people to take stock of what happened to Marielle and all those who have stood up against racism and tyranny. The group encircled with a collection of notes and artifacts for Marielle. People sang Brazilian folk songs and Tracy Chapman's "Talking 'Bout a Revolution" showing the cultural and political links between Black people in Brazil and the United States. Yet, even deeper, the struggle to fight austerity alongside police brutality show how prescient Black lives are cut short. Nevertheless, Franco was a champion for the poor, a resident of the favela, and a freedom fighter. She opposed the militarization and the policing in her community. She looked to Black radical women such as Angela Davis to rally her community.

Her death is a tragedy, as is the murder of so many people who suffer from police brutality. Yet, this shock has awakened people globally in Brazil, North America, and here in Berlin, Germany. Black people in the United States and in Brazil have been fighting back and the world is seeing the contradictions in societies that proclaim to be egalitarian yet use reveal massive inequalities. What Mike Brown's murder in 2014 and Marielle Franco's murder show is that all it takes a spark to reveal the rage that Black people--and the oppressed more broadly--feel in society but once we gather in mass, we can begin to break the chains.

Berlin acknowledged despair and Marielle's passing but the demonstration displayed a declaration of hope, love and solidarity. May her memory flare like a phoenix rising from the ashes.

 

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227 years fighting power: Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Specter of Black Internationalism by Edna Bonhomme

 

 

I wish you could know

What it means to be me

Then you’d see and agree

That every man should be free

-“I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to Be Free”

 

In 1967, Nina Simone performed “I wish I knew How it Would Feel to be Free,” which was popularized during the Civil Rights movement. The song resonates with those who have felt the omnipotent pressures of being shackled and silenced by society. The ballad echoes with those who yearned for freedom and envisioned soaring through the sky—yet it renders freedom as a fleeting and impossible dream. That aura unfurls in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years In Power:  An American Tragedy. For Coates, racism’s salience weaves throughout his text, opining a Manichean perspective on trauma in Black America. Yet, Coates’ pessimism does not emerge from vacuity but it emanates from his experience of growing up Black in America—on the edges of a Civil Rights movement and at the locus of poverty.

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates was raised in a segregated, mostly Black neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland—the location of the popularly known TV series, The Wire. As of 2015, 17% of Black people in Baltimore were living in concentrated poverty compared to 2% of white people living in Baltimore. Black poverty is not random but it is by design—mostly part of the aftermath of systematic anti-Black discrimination in education, housing, and labor. For the formative years of his life, Coates moved through a world where Black poverty was visible and destructive. Yet, this was on the heels of Black resistance and the erasure of legal segregation, popularly known as Jim Crow. His father, William Paul Coates, was a member of the Black Panther Party, a Marxist revolutionary group that added a material nature to the Black power movement during the 1960s and 1970s. The augmentation of Black poverty and the implosion of Black radical struggle are factors that explain Coates’s worldview—and they surface throughout We Were Eights Years in Power.

 

Unbeknownst to Coates, his book sparked a dynamic debate in the United States about racism, class, and resistance. The most polemical critique arose from the acclaimed Harvard University Professor Cornel West who characterized Coates as part of a “neoliberal wing that sounds militant about white supremacy but renders black fight back invisible.” Although West’s tone and mannerism were strident, leaving Coates to abandon Twitter, West is (rightly) concerned about the gaps in Coates’ book for not directly taking on capitalism, patriarchy, and homophobia. The Marxist historian Robin D.G. Kelley provided a sober rejoinder to the Coates-West debate by pointing to the long tradition of Black American scholars, with Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois serving as the archetype of the liberal-radical divide. As Naomi Klein and Opal Tomati have noted, books cannot address all of our concerns but they can provide the space to understand parallels between racism in the United States and the tentacles of American imperialism abroad.

 

That debate concerning We Were Eight Years in Power is sparking deeper questions about black liberation and internationalism and it is providing the space for people to inquire about "sources of resistance" not just in the United States but also on a global scale. Political debates can provide the space to heighten strategy and tactics and a major critique, among the left, concerning We Were Eight Years in Power is that the pessimistic framework within the text elides the mass struggle by oppressed people around the world. The text falls short but not for the reasons that West describes, but rather, for its insularity. How do we reckon with Black intellectual thought that overshadows the voices of the oppressed and the contributions freedom fighters? What does it mean to write about the state of Black politics and Black self-determination in the current moment?

 

Eight Years in Power

We Were Eight Years in Power is a diachronic history of race relations in the United States told through framework of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ development as a writer. The eight chapters in the book glide through the Civil War period, the Civil Rights movement, and the Barack Obama administration. Not only does Coates provides snapshots of Black enslavement, mass incarceration and racial segregation, he tries to explain where his starting point was and how white supremacy is the political legacy of the United States.  

 

We Were Eight Years in Power shows the limits of a Black nationalist framework and what an internationalist one can offer in expanding our horizon for justice. While Coates is notable for having criticized liberal politics at the height of Barack Obama's presidency, this led him to radical demands, principally that for reparations. Coates lack of a thorough class analysis has to do with two monsters of class erasure: the attacks of US government on the leftist struggles and the failure of the left to grow with newly radical people.

 

There are gestures to radical politics but they fall short in describing the opposition to Black struggle. When Coates argues, “…there is the actual enslavement and all that has followed from it, from Reconstruction to Jim Crow to mass incarceration,” he is invoking the work of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. [1] In the footnotes, Coates praises her contributions but affirms that mass incarceration is “appropriate only if you already believe that certain people weren’t really fit for freedom in the first place.” This affirmation rests on an ideological perspective on discrimination—not one built on the capital and profit that emerges from slavery and mass incarceration. At the same, he acknowledges that reading Michelle Alexander’s work shifted his consciousness because it provided the foundation and language to understand the sociological and economic conditions for racism.

Coates departure from the immaterial realms of hatred towards the material impact of racism is most grounded in his chapter “The Case for Reparations.” It is here that he turns away from liberalism and make direct links between anti-Black discrimination and capital. He writes:

“Since the country’s wealth was distributed along the lines of race and because black families were cordoned off, resources accrued and compounded for whites while relative poverty accrued for blacks. And so it was not simply that black people were more likely to be poor but that black people—of all classes were more likely to live in poor neighborhoods.”

 

It is at this moment that he articulates his political development from a person who opposed reparations into someone who advocated for it. He provides ethnographic accounts that vividly show how African American families went from being slaves to sharecroppers to indebted. By advocating for reparations, he wants to elide white guilt and replace it with redistribution of wealth—something that could extend to the working class as a whole. The aforementioned quote matters because it shows—contrary to West’s critique—that Coates is slowly developing an analysis about the relationship between race and class and that he is doing so through a rigorous case study. Even further, it shows that a shift in political consciousness is possible when the texts, voices, and lives of the Black working class are made palpable.

 

These hints of trauma and strength were also overshadowed from what Haitian American acclaimed writer Roxane Gay described as “a glaring absence of reckoning with the intersection of race and gender.” This begs the question, how did Black women contribute and change the world? How does history writing take a feminist perspective? As the historian Robyn V. Spencer writes, “History is not fiction but the mechanisms that silence Black women’s intellectual production even while seeming to herald their numerical presence is present in each realm.” The narrative that Coates offers presents Black women’s suffering and their occasional resistance but not their intellectual production. It is not enough to bring Black women in because they are missing, but it is necessary because they import a particular virtuosity stemming from their insights.

 

In “Notes from the Fifth Year,” Coates places his ideology to the legacy of Black women who resisted slavery and Jim Crow segregation. One ancestor was Celia, a Black enslaved woman who was hung for murdering her white slave owner. Another forebear was the African American journalist and organizer, Ida B. Wells, who led anti-lynching and anti-rape campaigns. While these women endured, they are positioned in isolation, as if they operated on their own. The text falls short of including the Black women who played a significant role in broad-based movements such as: the Haymarket rebellion, Socialist Party, trade unions, and the free Scottsboro movement. It warrants pointing to their contributions because they were not separate from progressive change but they were integral to the liberation process in the United States, yet their version of freedom, their truth, and their loves are overwhelming omitted.

 

Internationalism

Coates presents a story about Black America to the exclusion of the African diaspora in North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. The Americas rest on the ghosts of indigenous groups that were murdered by Europeans and on the blood of African slaves who toiled the land. These are perilous histories that have mutated into a living nightmare that continue to haunt Black people from Brazil to Puerto Rico.

 

Politics and political imagination needs the space and time for people to reflect on their vision of the world, which are present in visionaries like Claudia Jones, Aimé Césaire, and Frantz Fanon. Like Coates, these Black Caribbean scholars were descendants of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Unlike Coates, they were grounded in in an internationalist Black radical tradition rather than a parochial Black Nationalist tradition. Black intellectual thought and radicalism is a work in progress insofar that the political moment can inspire people to collectively organize for their liberation and to dream for other futures.

 

The move towards internationalism emerges in Coates when he speaks of Malcolm X’s political shift. He writes, “As Malcolm traveled to Africa and the Middle East, as he debated at Oxford and Harvard, he encountered a torrent of new ideas, new ways of thinking that batted him back and forth.”[2] What one gathers is that internationalism—something that Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party flirted with—allowed the space for radicals to move beyond borders imposed upon them and to imagine the dynamics of social struggle. The Black Panther Party, of which Coates’ father was a member, was a group that reached international lines and was a symbol of resistance amongst Algerians during the postcolonial moment and Maori who resisted white settler colonialism in New Zealdn. Given Coates’ direct link to the Black Panther Party, it is no coincidence that he was integral to the reemergence and popularization of the Marvel Black Panther comic, and subsequently the film. The Black Panther motion picture has generated a host of commentary by intersectional theorists, leftists, and postcolonial scholars. While the film does not fully appeal to the radical tenure of the comics—as Professor Christopher Lebron notes—it has opened a set of questions about the legacy of the Black Panther Party, Afrofuturism, and the limits of isolationist policies. Coates made Black Panther in its current cultural iteration possible, but it should not end there.

 

 

From Afropessimism and Black Nationalism to Afrofuturism and Black Internationalism

In We Were Eight Years in Power, Coates is less concerned about moments of resistance and possibility and more about how a hegemonic white America imposes its hate on Black Americans. The goal of the Left is to give social movements a historical materialist framework that captures the real lessons from freedom fighters around the world, rather than providing broad and superficial strokes that pit class and race against each other. The Black Marxist C.L.R. James astutely described the power of the Haitian Revolution and liberation in The Black Jacobins,

 

The transformation of slaves, trembling in hundreds before a single white man, into a people able to organize themselves and defeat the most powerful European nations of their day, is one of the great epics of revolutionary struggle and achievement. Why and how this happened is the theme of this book.[3]

 

History writing is a ceaseless activity that accumulates the tragedies with the moments of liberation, yet the insurrection of Black slaves in San Domingue altered the course of chattel slavery in the Americas and offered liberation to other Latin American countries. Delving into resistance allows the space for society to collectively recognize past crimes, acknowledge the contributions of non-elites, and honor the gains that were made. In doing so we begin to find hope for resistance from what society would consider the unlikeliest sources, be it Black slaves who freed themselves, Claudia Jones, Ella Baker, or Angela Davis.

 

The notion of liberation was pioneered by the Combahee River Collective whose contributions the American Left is returning to. What made them exceptional was that they were marginal subjects (Black working class lesbian women) who not only recognized the material conditions of their situation but they acknowledged that collective action through political education and organization were necessary precursors for the entirety of the working class. Yet, even further, they offer a corrective to feminist and antiracist struggles by suggesting, as titled in their new book How We Get Free, the necessary conditions for building resistance from below.

 

 

If we want to do justice to an obscured history and provide concrete solutions so that we may be free, that means finding those volcanic eruptions of struggle from below—not just on US soil but on an international scale. Borders sully international resistance—and capitalism’s ability to conquer and divide has metasized oppression especially among refugees, transgender people, and those living under war. Much can be learned from Afrofuturism and the possibilities that it offers—its proponents invite us to imagine a world where Black people are able to dream and create a world that through the arts, sciences, and beyond. When Afrofuturism is put into practice it gives hope. If we take Afrofuturism and internationalism seriously and make it a part of Black radical politics that means envisaging a world where we not only demonstrate how society is molded but how everyone can be free.

 

 

 

 

[1] Coates, p. 111-112

[2] Coates, p. 100

[3] p. ix

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Searching for Fanon by Edna Bonhomme

On 1 November 1958, Frantz Fanon contributed to El Moudjahid by making the following claim:

The independence of a new territory, the liberation of a new peoples are felt by the other oppressed countries as an invitation, an encouragement, and a promise. Every setback of colonial domination in America or in Asia strengthens the national will of the African peoples. It is in the national struggle against the oppressor that colonized peoples have discovered, concretely, the solidarity of the colonialist bloc and the necessary interdependence of the liberation movements.

The FLN moved their headquarters from Algiers to Tunis in 1956.2 Shortly after, Fanon wrote for the publication El Moudjahid, travelled as a delegate to various anti-colonial conferences in Accra and Cairo. He not only theorized about the anti-colonial movement in Algeria, but he was actively participating by publishing articles and engaging with revolutionary activity.

The son of a Black middle class Martinican famiy, Fanon excelled alongside his peer Aimé Césaire which provided them the opportunity to acquire an education in the metropole: Paris. While I was re-reading Frantz Fanon I was struck that Fanon spent the last several years of his life in Tunis—a direct product of his involvement with the Front de Libération nationale (FLN). Fanon saw institutions such as the Bandung pact as necessary steps to provide the material and ideological dimensions for the anti-colonial struggle.

During the final years of his life, he wrote The Wretched of the Earth while living in Tunis. Fanon connected his own life and history not only to the Black people on the African content, but to various people who were struggling for independence. His political trajectory, albeit circuitous, was a product of the international delegations and struggles that were brewing.

Given Fanon’s involvement, I was curious to learn the extent to which Arab and Black revolutionaries were systematically engaged in ideological, material, and political movements in North Africa. Were anti-colonial struggles merely concerned about the nationalist question or was there something more internationalist about these liberation struggles? How did Marxist perspectives on the nationalist question feature into these political movements? Was there a sense that anti-colonial invoked proletariat internationalism?

Afro-Arab solidarity was not merely a function of rhetoric but it was tied to material support at the national level. What this resulted in was that leaders and activists were able to convene in North Africa to discuss political strategies for independence and self-determination. Publications such as El Moudjahid represented one of many platforms where seasoned activists could display their call to action (Figure 1).

Arab and Black figures were collaborating and coordinating against colonial interests through intellectual realm, political delegations, and solidarity statements. El Moujahid was a publication and a political platform that helped to solidify Afro-Arab solidarity during the colonial period (Figure 2). It reads on the left hand side: “Vive le Kameroun indépendant! Vive l’Afrique libéré par notre combat commun!” “Long Live an independent Cameroon! Long live a Free Africa for our common fight!”

In another issue, there was an attempt to point to the liberation of Arab nations as well (Figure 3). By the 1960s, the dynamics between Arab and Black Africans shifted according to the local context where in some cases the relations were purely political and in others there were cultural and personal ties. What hap begun as overt operations to European colonialism festered into nationalist programs thus moving further away from the radical, internationalist tradition of the mid-1950s. Fanon never lived to see Algerian independence. However, his tenacity and legacy persist mostly because he dared to envision a world where Arabs and Blacks could be free.

 

El Moudjahid. 1958. Cover of El-Moudjahid. It reads Africa for Africans and it has Ako Adjei, Ghana’s Minister of Labor, M’hamed Yasid, Algerian Minister of Information; C.H. Chapman Togo minister;  D.A. Chapman, Ambassador of Ghana to the UN
El Moujahid: Independence for Black Africa. They describe a colonial pact and its impact on the region. Black marks the countries that were colonized by the French. Grey colonizes by the British and White were independent.
El Moujahid. Tomorrow for the Arab Nations. This goes into detail about Arab countries, their demographics, etc

Sontag: 1933-2004 by Edna Bonhomme

Susan Rosenblatt (popularly known as Susan Sontag) was born on 16 January, the year the Nazis came to power. Sontag’s family were Lithuanian and Polish Jews who found solace in New York City, a haven for African Americans escaping the Jim Crow American South and Southern and Eastern Europeans fleeing from famine and pogroms. Her cosmopolitanism fueled her literary acuteness and her willingness to understand the human experience furthered her political crusades.

 

Sontag’s literary genius was demonstrated in the range of texts she produced. From commentaries on war to meditations on health, she wrote an endless number of texts that dared to be serious and pensive.

 

In 1968, she went to Hanoi and eventually visited Vietcong. After conducting an investigative trip she reached the conclusion that “The Vietnamese are ‘whole’ human beings, not ‘split’ as we are.” They were whole because they resisted US militarization; Americans were not, because they could not understand the Vietnamese humanity.

 

On the history of medicine, Sontag showed that pathogens are biological but how we cope with them is political. When we navigate through a cold, cough, or headache, our bodily discomfort and our ability to transcend those feelings comes from the community and healing practices that deem fit. Originally published in 1978, Illness as Metaphor argues that the metaphors of cancer come from warfare not economics which goes to show how society normalizes disease but also uses disease imagery in political rhetoric to create of hierarchy of life and death. Tuberculosis, a nineteenth century disease was romanticized. In contrast, cancer coarsens the body and the soul with each malignant cell being a gateway to self-destruction.  

 

Staying with the theme of health, Sontag opted for a discussion on collective suffering in AIDS and its metaphors. It was here that the dimensions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic engulfed her community and loved ones. Yet, disease was not merely an allegory but rife with the panoply of death, an ascension of bodies whose talents, dreams, and loves would wither. Her outcry about the disease led to her vilification by religious conservatives in the United States. Their names: Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, Norman Podhoretz.

 

Sontag was regal, verbose, and a modernist and her analysis about war and health offer an intimate portrait on humanity and its demise. At the same time, it showed her capacity to uncover her close encounters with death and her capacity to mourn.

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MLK, Presente by Edna Bonhomme

On 29 October 1929, ten months after Martin Luther King, Jr was born, Wall Street crashed thus causing one of the worst Depressions in modern history. This led to a devastating deluge of crises mostly emanating from the financial industry but eventually influencing everyday life. Yet for the destitute, workers lost their jobs and farmers moved off their land. Relatedly, African Americans were further pressed under Jim Crow segregation often finding themselves to be the first hired.

 

Life had become dire but ethnic minorities found a way to resist. Autoworkers in Flint, Michigan led sit-in strikes and anti-racists defended the Scottsboro Boys against oppression. The wave of political activity during the 1930s and 1940s provided the foundation for Black Americans to collectively organize and build confidence in their community.

 

In 1955, when Martin Luther King became president of the NAACP in Montgomery Alabama, the organization had reached its 46th year. As a young Minister, King and an outsider to this town, he helped to lead a campaign with a community of seasoned activists, including Rosa Parks—a militant troublemaker who had a led a 1944 campaign against sexual assault. Turning to the 1955 Montgomery boycott, one is struck by King’s initial campaign and his insistence for justice. He proclaimed:

 

We have no alternative but to protest. For many years we have shown an amazing patience. We have sometimes given our white brothers the feeling that we liked the way we were being treated. But we come here tonight to be saved from that patience that makes us patient with anything less than freedom and justice.

1955 was not a year that existed in isolation but was part of decades of struggle—financial and racial—one where a growing number of African Americans were resisting the status quo. Many of the figures in King’s orbit were briefly impacted by Leftist politics. One of King’s most important mentors was Bayard Rustin, a gay Black American who briefly joined the Communist Party. Socialism, was not an impasse, but part of the guiding principle for how he politically oriented himself. By 1964, Rustin argued that the Civil Rights movement should link with the labour movement and took clear steps to make this a reality. Through his leadership at the A. Randolph Institute—a division of the AFL-CIO—he helped to promote unionization among Black workers and to help integrate historically white work places.

 

King’s legacy is often overshadowed by his “I Have a Dream” speech which was delivered at the March on Washington on 28 August 1963. Yet, it was the "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" delivered at Riverside Church in New York City on 4 April 1967 which unearthed Martin Luther King’s anti-imperialist platform. The speech is candid about the destructive forces of the US war in Vietnam by putting on display the impact of total war on Vietnamese life. He speaks about the concentration camps and the bombs. He describes how the US military poisons Vietnamese water and sabotages their illustrious forests. Beyond Vietnam, he points out that the destructive elements of war comes with a cost. King notes:

 

I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds on the rehabilitation of its poor so long as it adventures like Vietnam continue to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destruction suction tooth. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

 

King’s speech broke the silence that liberals could not endure. He pointed to the material consequences of war. In a world where the United States military occupied Vietnam and other countries, the working class and poor would continue to suffer. US imperialism was the enemy not the Vietnamese. This speech was delivered one year before King’s death and some argue that it was the beginning of his radicalization and subsequent death. Nevertheless, he was right to point out that “a time comes when silence is betrayal and that time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.” Today, that time has come for us in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

 Rosa Parks, the troublemaker.

Rosa Parks, the troublemaker.

Migration, "shithole," and liberation by Edna Bonhomme

Question: “Why are we having all these [African countries, Haiti, and El Salvador] people from shithole countries come here?”

 

My parents migrated from Haiti during the early 1980s following a wave of Caribbean and Latin American migrants who were escaping environmental destruction, political persecution and economic devastation. They were part of a mass that sought refuge from events much bigger than them, thus the decision to migrate was predicated on leaving a place whose politics was constantly being reshuffled from the outside and within. My parents are Black, Francophone, Creole speakers who travelled to the country that they thought would offer solace—the United States. Yet, the United States financially supported the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier leading many to live under state terror. As migrants from the poorest province in Haiti, my parents took separate paths and several years apart across the Caribbean Sea. When I ask them, “What was this like?” they have often respond in shame knowing that their path by boat is stigmatized. Boat people does not have a ring to it and it is telling of their class background.

 

When they speak of migration it is not a singular event but one mired by the physical and the immaterial, the eternal and the ephemeral. They migrated because the repression by national elites in the Global South was fueled by the ruling class of the Global North. They migrated to escape the calamitous and unpredictable changes on their seaside landscape. Dependent on subsistence farming, they noticed that the rains were less frequent and the birds were less vocal. They migrated because they knew political dissent could lead to imprisonment at Fort Dimanche. They migrated because they had every right to demand a life where their dreams were not overshadowed by their ongoing nightmare.

 

Unfortunately, the real shithole is apartheid America. This is a place where anti-Black and anti-Haitian sentiments have mutated into perilous policies during my parents’ thirty years in the United States. During the 1980s, the Reagan administration scapegoated Haitians for the HIV/AIDS epidemic. During the 1990s, the Clinton administration deported Haitians at record numbers and placed them in an open air prison—Guantanamo Bay. During the 2000s, the Bush administration backed a military coup and set the path for the UN military occupation of Haiti. In the new iteration of US imperialism and racism, it is important to take stock of how the current US president is continuing the racist and oppressive strategies of the past--the difference is that he is more forthright with his bigotry. These snapshots are telling of a broader issue—Haiti and Haitians has been punished since 1804 by US (and Western) countries because Haiti’s liberation was predicated on removing shackles from Black skin. The history is cogent: our liberation is considered a shithole from those who want to see us in chains.

The Evolution of Neoliberalism in Tunisia, 1980-2017 by Edna Bonhomme

In light of the recent protests in anti-austerity protests in Tunisia, I wanted to post a talk I gave at Historical Materialism (London) in November 2017.

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In October 2017, the Tunisian Parliament proposed a bill that would cut funding for public schools and hospitals. Shortly after, the Tunisian General Labour Union, with a membership of 900,000, responded:

 

“We express our condemnation of the inability of the government to intervene to stop the deterioration and the power of workers… We reject the adoption of the provisions of the General Budget Law 2018 at the expense of the workers and the general public. We call on the government to allocate funds to social programs and to control a fair fiscal policy that reduces the tax burden on workers which has been rising since 2011.”[1]

 

During most of its sixty-year history, the UGTT had been state controlled and did not make direct claims about to directly challenge the government and austerity by the state. This condemnation by the UGTT is a direct product of their newly emergent confidence as an independent trade union movement that recognizes that austerity will further weaken their position and the working class as a whole.

 

Neoliberialism has traditionally been understood within the dimensions of liberalization and the contours of austerity but it can also be understood within the framework of resistance. I argue that while neoliberalism has been a recent phenomenon in Tunisia (late 1980s), that neoliberal policies have been met with resistance and that labour movements and unions have been integral to that struggle. Concerning neoliberalism, I want to preface that the ascension and evolution of neoliberalism did not happen overnight but was part of a process that has been repackaged over time, emerging from early twentieth century free market ideologues such as Karl Polanyi, Friedrich von Hayek, and John Maynard Keynes to the 1960s Chicago School neoliberal architects such as Milton Friedman and Gary Becker. While these policies have shaped British context under Margaret Thatcher and in the United States under Ronald Reagan, many of us continue to inherit these legacies insofar as we bear witness to NHS defunding in the British context and the evisceration of public spending for education in the United States.

At the same time, countries in the Middle East and North Africa were subject to neoliberalism which was tied to a Euro-American international financial elite that reshuffled the economic and political frameworks of society. Relatedly, neoliberalism has been packaged as an intellectual authority, rooted in a devoutly apolitical worldview by centrists and liberals, on the other hand, it has produced ultra-reactionary politics grounded around two principles, namely liberalization and austerity. While liberaliation has long featured as an integral part of increased competition, austerity has also meant the erosion of state facilities.

 

Liberalization and austerity are not merely abstract concepts that exist in a vacuum but they are part of continuation of crisis or what Naomi Klein has called the shock doctrine. It bears noting this to show how the tentacles of this ideology permeates as a major node of crisis but also becomes the very seed that ignites protest.

 

The particularity of neoliberalism in the Middle East and North Africa is that it not only functioned as a set of economic policies but that it has influenced political and social life. As Adam Hanieh has written in Lineages of Revolt, he noted that neoliberalism in the Middle East was: [quote]

 

“Trapped in a cycle of debt and the conditionalities that accompanied loan packages, they saw patterns of social reproduction shift dramatically—the ways in which people met their basic needs, the kinds of work they did, and their relationship to the market and the state broke sharply with the forms of accumulation that had earlier characterized the Arab world.”

 

As such, liberalization was a central feature of neoliberalism but this was achieved through several means that international financial firms developed structural adjustment program and Public-Private Partnerships (otherwise known as PPPs).

 

By the 1980s, International financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in the Middle East and North Africa began to implant themselves throughout the region including but not limited to Sudan in 1979, Morocco in 1983, Egypt and Tunisia in 1987 and Jordan in 1989. Algeria, Lebanon, and Yemen followed suit in the 1990s. These international financial organizations—in their interest to protect a capitalist hierarchy, for the global ruling class, have used international law and multinational corporations to increase privatization, lower wages, and sway politics in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet, they were able to do so with the Arab ruling class.

 

The particularities of neoliberalism in Tunisia is that it rested on the tightening of wealth in the hands of the ruling elite. Economic restructuring in Tunisia during the 1980s was not entirely new and began during the anticolonial period under President Habib Bourguiba. Bourguiba laid out a set of reforms that were a continuation of French colonial policies yet, they were more concentrated within the confines of Tunisian nationalists. After the passage of Law 87-47 in August 1987, the Tunisia state transferred parts of the public sector into the private industry which laid the groundwork for the public-private partnership through such bodies as the CAREPP (Commission d’Assainissement et de Restructuration des Entreprises à Participation Publique). By 1989, the World Bank granted Tunisia a loan of $130 million to carry out the structural adjustment programs through CAREPP.

 

These policies were blossomed during the Ben Ali regime which included the privatization of public assets, the weakening of welfare policies, and the restructuring of tax and investment codes. Between 1988 and 1999, Tunisia had $0.59 billion in privatization deals. Most of these investments were directed towards manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture. With 90% of Tunisia’s textile production going to European countries. What is more telling about these policies is how they were gendered depending on the industry. For example, women’s employment in the textile and garment industry grew by 65% in Tunisia. At the same time, this was also met with a deterioration in job security and labour rights. Subsequently, the International Labour Organization report that there were 2,100 corporations that employed more than 200,000 workers in Tunisia in 2008, with an estimated 68% of the contracts in the textile industry were temporary and 19% were nonstandard.

 

In 1995, the European Union signed a treaty with Tunisia solidifying its financial relationship and free trade between Tunisia and European countries.[2] Thus, the reduction of levies further strengthened capitalists because their currencies could transcend borders. Capital, under neoliberalism, was flooded with debt. Under former dictator Ben Ali, foreign debt in Tunisia went from $6.8 billion to $21.7 billion which amounted to a little under 50% of the country’s GDP; today, Tunisia’s public debt is currently at 52%.[3] Debt and crisis also begets resistance.

 

One space where these policies was challenged was through labour and the trade union movement especially in the absence of a broader Left coalition to challenge neoliberal policies that are being enacted across the board.

 

It must be noted that under former dictator Ben Ali, the acceleration of privatization in the 2000s was an attack on labour and the conditions of work more generally. Labour has become more precarious and neoliberalism has sought to weaken labour’s power for higher wages and job security. By 2001, 15% of the Tunisian employed labour force held temporary contracts and by 2010, more than half of all employees were on temporary contract, and they earned 25% to 40% less than their permanent-contract co-workers.[4] Yet, this did not happen overnight. Rather, as early as 1996 Tunisian labour laws were subsequently removed protections for workers which resulted in the lax laws in hiring and firing. Moreover, the rise in temporary contracts meant that employers could more easily terminate employees without justification. Overall, this resulted in less job security and a diminishment of worker’s ability to organize, collectively bargain, and strike.

 

The economic crisis of 2008 that began in financial centers of North America spread globally resulting in mass turmoil, dissatisfaction, and protest. That same year, workers at the Compagnie des Phosphates de Gafsa (CPG) went on strike in the interior town of Gafsa after the company laid off 10,000 people. Gafsa, a small mining town in the interior of Tunisia challenging local corruption, environmental degradation and layoffs.[5] What made this set of protests remarkable is that civil servants, teachers, and the unemployed collected united to challenge the dire conditions with economic, political, and social sphere. They brought CPG—a company that was established in 1896 during the French protectorate—to heel.[6] Unfortunately, the largest organized labour group did very little to offer an alternative. Despite the resilience of mineworkers to conduct a strike, l’Union générale tunisienne du travail (UGTT) leadership did not support the miners’ strike in Gafsa, yet, the unemployed youth occupied the headquarters of the UGTT set up tents on site at CPG while also collectively directing their anger towards state police and the erstwhile president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. After six-months of protests hundreds were imprisoned and dozens of people were injured or killed. Gafsa was a dress rehearsal for what was to come.

 

The material conditions that ignited the six-month protests in 2008 in Gafsa were not merely a product of local governance but the exploitation carried out by neoliberalism and the global financial crisis. Neoliberalism can be a chokehold for the masses but the motivation that causes people to resist. Yet, tied to worker’s ability to resist shows the potential of Tunisian worker’s to confront neoliberalism directly.

 

Another feature of the evolution of neoliberalism in Tunisia was austerity which was achieved through the reduction in government spending and employment. Neoliberal reform policies instated during the Ben Ali regime included the privatization of public assets, the weakening of welfare policies, and the restructuring of tax and investment codes.[7] The growth of jobs in the private sector in Tunisia did not necessarily lead to meaningful work that was evenly divided in the country. Instead, most of the jobs created during the late 1990s and 2000s were low-technology, low skilled, and low paying.[8]

 

While there have been gains to address political sovereignty and transparency, unemployment has been on the rise with the rate in Tunisia going from 12.8% in 2010 up to 15.5% in 2016. [It must be noted that these “official” statistics are far less than reality.] Unemployment in Tunisia remains uneven with respect to geography resulting in unemployment rates of 10% in Tunis and up to 50% in interior and southern provinces. Ancillary to this, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that 40% of youth are unemployed.

 

Moreover, the implementation of austerity under neoliberalism meant that shrinking government expenditures became law. For example, the public-sector wage bill decreased government salaries by 65% in 2003 and 55% in 2008. In addition to wages, government subsidies, such for gas and electricity, were also reduced. In 2013, 23.8% of Tunisians lived below their poverty level, compared to 40% in Egypt.

 

The economic crisis of 2008 that began on Wall Street and spread globally, sparking mass turmoil, dissatisfaction, and protest sparked resistance in Tunisia because of the measures to diminish the quality of life. Nasfi Fkili Wahiba and Malek El Weriemmi have argued that the neoliberal process between the mid 1980s and the early 2000s meant that while the Tunisian economy grew so did economic inequality.[9] At the core of this was uneven development whereby a minority was able to profit while the majority became less rich.

 

The Arab Spring

While the Arab uprisings of 2011 have been in a lull, the tentacles of capitalism continue to mutate in Tunisia thus perpetuating mass unemployment in Tunisia’s interior. The Arab Spring was a mass movement to topple a dictator but it was strengthened by the self-activity of labour. Not only did they directly challenge capital but they helped to convert the decades of lethargy and state domination of the UGTT into a more active union. Concerning investments and structural adjustment programs, they have not only continued since 2011 but they have metamorphized into even larger loans from Euro-American and international financial institutions

 

The flow of goods between Europe and Tunisia has impacted the local context. More recently, the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, part of the Privileged Partnership signed in November 2012 between the EU and Tunisia, also reshaped the economic landscape causing further ventures by foreign companies in Tunisia. Newly developed financial relationships such as Partners for a New Beginning North Africa Partnership for Economic Opportunity and a free trade agreement with resulted in Tunisia becoming a non-NATO ally (MNNA) has meant that corporations such as Chilli’s, Johnny Rockets, and Papa John’s Pizza have begun to establish branches in Tunisia since 2011. Yet, these industries are not the only mechanism that foreign investments are incurring. International financial institutions continue to have a grip on these capitalist ventures.

 

Within the past five years, reforms have also been structured around international loans. In 2016 the IMF approved a $2.9 billion loan to Tunisia and in 2014, the World bank approved a $1.2 billion loan.[10] Yet, this has not only happened by international organizations but also through individual states. For example, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce wrote a letter of support for Tunisia's democratic process which then materialized into a $1 billion loan to Tunisia.[11] Some claim that these loans will help to stabilize the economy yet these economic programs further entrench Tunisia into a debt structure whereby they are indebted to the West.

 

What is to be done?

Neoliberalism has effectively acted to redistribute wealth from the region’s poor to the wealthiest layers of society and the Arab Spring did not eliminate these policies from being carried out by the Tunisian government. Neoliberal programs have undermined Tunisian labor, increased economic inequality, and empowered the capitalist classes. At the same time, these economic and material impositions on working class Tunisians have also been met with fierce resilience.[12]

 

The movement has a different flavour than labour movements on the ground that have directly challenged austerity. Returning to the UGTT, in October 2016, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed proposed an austerity package to control the fiscal deficit and government revenues. This was part of the government’s deal to accept $2.78 billion in foreign loans during 2017 - nearly double its 2016 external financing needs - to help cover a 2017 fiscal deficit seen at 5.4 percent of GDP. This announcement has been met with resistance by the largest labour union in Tunisia.

 

Tunisia’s UGTT labour union threatened to hold a general strike and called protests against the government’s plans to freeze public wage increases as part of measures to control the budget deficit. On October 2016, the union proclaimed,

 

“We call for regional protests, a large national protest in Kasbah Square (near the Prime Minister office) and another in front of the parliament.”

 

Although the Tunisian Parliament has been debating the extent to which they will carry out government reduction, the condemnation of the UGTT to challenge the state’s tactic to oppose labour dovetails with a radical opposition to challenge neoliberalism. The general strike and its potential to disrupt capital and international investments is part of the continuation of the radicalization of the Arab Spring and the militancy and potential of building working class power.

 

The economic, political, and social challenges in Tunisia have not been unique. However, the country has been purported as a “success” story given the massive repression in Egypt, the disarray in Libya, and the civil wars in Syria and Yemen. At the same time, the relative economic and political stability in Tunisia means that a victory here can spread elsewhere—as it did in 2010. Given the power of international and local elites to undermine worker’s power, it is important for social and political forces on the ground to coalescence around issues that simultaneously challenge economic and political exploitation. The upending of neoliberalism will require an international resistance where the left, labour, and civil society siphon money from the rich to the masses.

 

 

[1] http://www.ugtt.org.tn/%D8%A8%D9%8A%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%87%D9%8A%D8%A6%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%88%D8%B7%D9%86%D9%8A%D8%A9-2/

[2] http://eeas.europa.eu/tunisia/association_agreement/index_en.htm

[3] http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/5502/shouldtunisia-

pay-ben-alis-debts and http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/tunisia/publication/economic-outlook-spring-2016

[4] Ben Jelili and Goaied 2010 and Achy 2011: 10-11

[5] http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2008/07/GANTIN/16061

[6] http://www.gct.com.tn/english/wcpg.htm

[7] Karen Pfeifer, “How Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan and Even Egypt became IMF ‘Success Stories’ in the 1990’s,” 210 (Spring 1999), 23–27 http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057%2F9781137481429_2)

[8] Chedly Ayari and Hakim Ben Hammouda, “Tunisia: Letter of Intent, Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies, and Technical Memorandum of Understanding,” International Monetary Fund, January 28, 2014, https://www.imf.org/External/NP/LOI/2014/TUN/012814.pdf

[9] http://www.econjournals.com/index.php/ijefi/article/view/657

[10] http://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2015/09/28/04/53/sonew060216a and http://www.albawaba.com/business/tunisiaeconomy-

arab-spring-557981

[11] http://www.tunisialive.net/2015/03/06/uspledges-to-support-investment-andentrepreneurship-in-tunisia/

[12] https://www.cairn.info/revue-politique-africaine-2010-1-page-107.htm

For the alienated by Edna Bonhomme

In light of those who might be alienated from the festivities of the pagan, Christian supremacist holiday which marks the beginning of the end of the Gregorian year 2017 CE, I wrote a succinct poem. 

Today, and everyday, I honor
those with fragile kinship structures,
or non-existent romantic partners,
those whose histories are erased
or who are constantly displaced.

I have love for the
the riffraff,
the ratchet,
the eccentric
the indebted.

I am in solidarity with
migrants
refugees
sex workers
And folks who identify as LGBT.

Shout out to all my fellow weirdos
who create alternative families
the queers who build communities wherever they may be.

Whether or not you know it or feel it, your difference gives you clairvoyance and power in a world that actively tries to silence you.

Black Death and Black Resistance by Edna Bonhomme

In Mahler’s symphony Das Lied Von Der Erde, the first stanza reads “Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod” [Dark is life, and so too death]. When it is subtle, death travels like sand in an hour-glass, dawdling through the orifice—but later the velocity of the sand appears to accelerate eventually marking the end of time.

 

For many, racism is a slow of death encompassing agony and paralysis—that deep wound trickles unto one’s neck, one’s back, and one’s heart. It is a pain that reverberates whenever one hears about another eviction, deportation, or death. Our humanity and dignity is often pushed aside and we are told to take heed and to be patient. Unfortunately, the lives of Black American women pass like the sand through an hourglass—at first, slow and steady but with time, structural racism and sexism escalates their execution. To be young, impecunious, and Black means that one is subject to the reins of premature death. Yet, it does happen alone but transforms into various forms of terror, be it the Klu Klux Klan or the New York Police Department--state and vigilante terror are that--a major agent of Black death.

 

Black women in the American south, Midwest, and Northeast have been subject to death—and over and over again, these accounts and images conveyed to the viewer—and especially the Black public—that Black bodies can be subject to murder without retribution. Nevertheless, atonement for Black people does occur, and it often bears a political dimension. Even when Black Americans have been subject to chattel slavery, lynching, and segregation, they have collectively organized to challenge systems of oppression.[1] Yet, the national attention to the procession of Black women women’s death in the United States is summoning everyday people to think about these victims and the precariousness of their lives.

 

On 17 June 2015 during a bible study meeting nine Black church members were killed from racial terror in Charleston, South Carolina.[2] They were Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, DePayne Doctor, Ethel Lance, Daniel Simmons Sr., Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, and Myra Thompson. They were pious members of the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Six of them were women and most of them had leadership positions within the congregation as reverends and musicians. Their church was and continues to be a historic site that has consistently challenged institutional racism, such as, the antebellum legislation preventing Black slaves from worshipping in their own church. This was an act of violence that has stirred debates about gun control, white terrorism, and the confederate flag.[3] While these debates are important and they assist in challenging these individual acts of violence, one must also acknowledge the ways that state and police violence terminates Black life.

 

Upon being escorted by police officers to a mental health facility, thirty-seven year old Tanisha Anderson died under the custody of two officers in Cleveland, Ohio in November 2014.[4] Nineteen-year old Renisha McBride was murdered by a white man after she sought help in a Detroit suburb when she was experiencing car trouble.[5] The growing number of women of color that are killed at the hands of U.S. law enforcement officials is still being counted by activists and new agencies.[6] The numbers are striking; as of 22 June 2015 five hundred and twenty-five individuals were murdered by the police in the United States of America.[7] Various community based groups have been documenting these killings and reporting through social media.[8]

 

The U.S. media has shown, over the course of the past decade something that most Black Americans already knew—the police are not here to protect its Black citizens.[9] In 2015, protests emerged after the video circulated of a Texan police officer physically assaulting a fifteen-year old black girl.[10] The adolescent Black female body is met directly with the brutal force of a white male officer. She is pinned down and made to feel miniscule. Her body is a punching bag. Ancillary to this, the emotional toll and trauma that Black women endure when they witness their brothers and kin impetuous death to law enforcement reinforces precarity. Whether it is Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Kalief Browder, death haunts Black folks.[11] For the mentally ill, Black death is especially quick and insidious causing such things as morbidity from stress, health mental health issues, and suicide—as was the case with Kalief Browder.[12]

 

        Death is a tragedy, however, Black death is a laceration that divulges the fault lines of structural racism. There are multitudinous studies that show how environmental racism, poor health care, and housing discrimination shortens Black life. For example, structural racism in Harlem has meant that many black residents are more prone to asthma.[13] Racism and sexism—when linked—are particularly egregious in their ability to defile the mind, body, and spirit thus leading to increased rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.[14] Black women, of course, are not the only ones to suffer unintended health consequences or structural violence. At the same time, their position in society propels one to ask: how can the United States proclaim to espouse democracy and freedom when the state terrorizes its racial and ethnic minorities?

 

The interminable power of Black women’s struggle began from the moment they were forced to migrate across the Atlantic as slaves until today. Black women who resisted knew that living required coordinated action and strength. This meant that women such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth worked with a multiracial network of abolitionists who could transport slaves freely outside of the South. The Jamaican born Communist Claudia Jones worked with her fellow comrades in Harlem and London to challenge racial segregation. The astute Civil Rights leader Ella Baker organized sit-ins with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and would lead voting campaigns in the American.[16] By the late 1970s, the Black lesbian organization Combahee River collective exclaimed in their infamous statement: “the liberation of all oppressed peoples necessitates the destruction of the political and economic systems of capitalism and imperialism as well as Patriarchy”—the structural elements of racial oppression.[17] In the last line of his seminal poem, “Dream Deferred,” the African American poet Langston Hughes wrote: “Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?” The escalation of social movements in the United States against police brutality is because people are fed up with their lives and dreams being deferred.

 

Black women do not always die on their knees—facing the consternation of their executioners, but on their feet with fists raised. Whether it is Black women activists in Ferguson who led the Black Lives Matter movement or the mother of Trayvon Martin who demanded justice for the murder of her son, these social justice movements have called into question a police system that is built on discrimination and oppression. Through nascent coalitions and collective action, groups such as “We are the Protesters” and #SayHerName are taking to the streets to show that they are lives matter. #Metoo and #sayhername are intersectional. Women involved in the #SayHerName movement have also.[18]

 

Black people been taught to find themselves inherently defective, to the point where they literally are subject to live in under apartheid and state violence.  This is exactly what those in power want - they want Black people to hate themselves, to look at in the mirror with disdain, to feel shame about their lives, to be rendered immobile. In between and in the midst of politically struggling, Black resistance has shown that Black death is not inevitable, that Black life is possible, and that Black lives are not defective.

 

 

 

[1] http://atlantablackstar.com/2014/11/28/actions-ferguson-protesters-fit-squarely-long-history-political-protest-black-community-elsewhere-world/

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/22/us/ame-church-in-charleston-reopens-as-congregation-mourns-shooting-victims.html

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/19/terrorism-victims-black-killer-white

[4] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/05/tanisha-anderson-killing-cleveland-police

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/07/detroit-man-guilty-renisha-mcbride-shooting

[6] http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/05/black-women-police-killing-tanisha-anderson?CMP=fb_tc

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/series/counted-us-police-killings

[8] http://www.killedbycops.org/ and http://killedbypolice.net/

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jun/05/the-enemy-is-the-state-how-the-us-justice-system-started-a-civil-war?CMP=share_btn_fb

[10] http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/06/08/3667422/thousands-protest-brutal-police-treatment-black-teens-mckinney-texas/

[11] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/08/kalief-browder-death_n_7535420.html?ir=Politics&ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000013

[12] http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/10/opinion/rikers-island-and-the-death-of-kalief-browder.html?smid=fb-share&_r=1&utm_content=buffer5ab0b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[13] http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/19/nyregion/study-finds-asthma-in-25-of-children-in-central-harlem.html

[14] https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&ved=0CEQQFjAEahUKEwjIlZm7nIXGAhVLDywKHaooB8s&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov%2Fpmc%2Farticles%2FPMC4181672%2F&ei=STp4VYjNJ8uesAGq0ZzYDA&usg=AFQjCNFP4wcs8gUDjGcLQxn43oLIrGtxEg&bvm=bv.95039771,d.bGg

[15] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/25/racism-war-on-terror-awlaki

[16] http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker

[17] http://circuitous.org/scraps/combahee.html

[18] http://time.com/3893668/protest-topless-san-francisco-sayhername-police-brutality-black-women/ and www.aapf.org/s/SAYHERNAME-Social-Media-Guidecompressed.pdf

[19] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3134119/Thousands-march-Charleston-bridge-sing-hymns-unity-racist-killing-nine-churchgoers.html

[20] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/21/charleston-south-carolina-shootings-racism-walter-scott-church

 

Yemen and the Cholera Epidemic by Edna Bonhomme

I recently published an article in The Conversation highlighting the current cholera epidemic and contrasting this with its history.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As of October 1, 771,945 people in Yemen have been infected with choleraand 2,134 have died from the disease. The epidemic, rare on such a scale in contemporary times, reemerged as a formidable force last year due to Yemen’s ongoing civil war.

The Saudi Arabia-led war began in March 2015 and has caused a spiralling 7,000 new cholera cases per day. This is an enormous public health crisis – and one that could be solved simply. Treatment only demands providing clean water, oral rehydration salts, and gloves.

These wartime conditions allow us to draw parallels with the historical experience of epidemic – after all, it is the massive displacement and conditions of war that have allowed the disease to reemerge and wreak destruction in Yemen. War has overcome the near eradication of cholera that modern advances in medicine and international public health organisations have allowed. So how did these advances come to pass and what can we learn from the historical experience of cholera?

A patient drinks oral rehydration solution in order to counteract cholera-induced dehydration, 1992. Wikimedia Commons

Cholera imagined

We first find mention of a disease that is recognisably cholera in the works of Arab-Islamic scholars, where it is known of as “heydain”. Around 900 CE, the physician Muhammad ibn al-Razi described cholera in the following way:

It begins with nausea and diarrhoea, or one of the two, and when it reaches the stomach it goes on multiplying itself. The pulse fails, and the breathing is attenuated; the face and the nose become thin; the colour of the skin of the face is changed, and the countenance of the dead succeeds.

Despite this long history, cholera was, in particular, a 19th century tragedy. The disease, which travels through water, thrived on the world’s multiplying population and increased mobility. During the first cholera pandemic (1817-1823), the disease travelled across the Persian Gulf from Bahrain along the Indian Ocean and to the Red Sea in Aden. Over the course of the century, multiple outbreaks of the disease quickly spread through burgeoning coastal cities, along rivers, and into commercial ports from Delhi to New York City.

 

How to avoid the Cholera, 1848. Wikimedia Commons

The Arabian peninsula was particularly badly hit given the amount of trade and number of pilgrims travelling through the area, seeing several cholera epidemics during the mid-19th century. The disease wreaked havoc on the pilgrims who gathered in Mecca and Jeddah in 1828, 1831, 1835, 1865, 1881, and 1882. Of those, the Mecca pilgrimage was said to be the most horrific, with an estimated toll of 30,000 deaths over the course of the 19th century.

Medical and public health practitioners such as physicians and midwives played a major role in reducing transmission in the period. These people and institutions were financed through religious taxes and charity, which provided more resources to directly treat patients.

Public health reforms

But it was the emergence of modern medicine, the improvements on sanitation, and the isolation of Vibrio cholerae in 1854 by Filippo Pacini that worked to drastically ameliorate cholera’s impact in the latter half of the century.

The repeated outbreaks also arguably led to the creation of the kinds of public health institutions that we take for granted today. The International Sanitary Convention (ISC), which held its first conference in 1851 in Paris, was set up with the aim of ending the cholera pandemic. The ISC was a predecessor to the World Health Organisation (WHO), a body that was mostly represented by European actors along with the Ottoman central authority (based in Istanbul).

Vibrio choleraeWikimedia Commons

Although the cholera epidemic was still rampant on the Arabian peninsula during the early 20th century, with outbreaks in Mecca between 1908-1912, the disease was then nearly totally absent from the peninsula until it spread in Yemen in 1971 – following the aftermath of the last Yemeni civil war.

Yemen witnessed cholera outbreaks in the 19th century due to the free movement of people and a very limited understanding of the disease. But the conditions and ways that the disease spread was nowhere near as quick-paced and detrimental as they are in the current outbreak.

Cholera today

The human cost of cholera in Yemen today, as we have seen, is grave and growing. There are predictions that the disease could infect a million people by 2018. The incidence and prevalence of cholera infection far exceeds the numbers from the 19th century and the current crisis in Yemen will set a record number of reported cases in the country.

What makes the current epidemic so pernicious is the way that war has exacerbated the disease despite advances in medicine and public health. The doctors and nurses working in the 19th century were not mired by the catastrophic conditions of modern war: massive military occupation, infrastructure meltdown, and political decimation.

The Yemeni government ceased providing money for the public health department in March 2016, shortly after war began. International organisations have provided the principle support, but the amount they can do is limited by their ability to carry out treatment during military sieges. Less than 50% of hospitals in Yemen are operational, with shortages of staff and supplies due to the ongoing conflict. But austerity and war have fractured the public health system. The 30,000 doctors, nurses, and other health care workers of Yemen have been working for the last ten months without pay.

The treatment for cholera is very simple, yet materials – when available – are obstructed from being distributed due to bombing. The arc of authoritarianism and foreign occupation in Yemen has resulted in the destruction of Yemen’s infrastructure, leaving 14m people without access to clean water.

History provides a glimpse of the tragic past and demonstrates that it is through policy that we can help to correct the tragedies that continue to face Yemen. Cholera is preventable, but public health reform is nearly impossible under conditions of war. The historical trajectory of cholera shows that interventions lose their effect when the public systems are crippled – something we also need to bear in mind in relation to the increased extreme weather events caused by climate change.

Bringing Free Speech to the University Workplace: Adjuncts and Graduate Workers Unionizing Under Trump by Edna Bonhomme

University administrators say they tolerate free speech and association of students, expect for when their students and adjuncts exert their rights as workers. This has recently taken on purchase since the  National Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that student-workers at private universities could form and join unions. At the core of the wave in United States higher education unionization has been workers wanting control over their labor, transparency in their work place, and higher wages. For example, graduate worker have been seeking unionization at Boston College for the past three years demanding better healthcare and at Grinnell College in Iowa student workers hope to unionize their entire student body. Of late, Ivy league institutions in the United States have taken national spotlight on the unionization which has been met with defeat and success. In the early part of 2017, Cornell University and Harvard University were unable to whip up the votes for their campaigns marking massive anti-union campaigns by university administration as one of the obstacles.

 

At the same time, Columbia University graduate workers won the right to unionize in October 2016 and Yale University also voted for unionization in February 2017. Both campaigns encountered pushback, even when graduate workers led a prosperous democratic election, thus leading to a hunger strike at Yale University. On 22 May 2017, more than 1000 protestors joined Yale University hunger strikers as they fought to have their unionization vote recognized by the University. To date, this is marking one of the largest solidarity efforts since the surge of unionization campaigns at private universities. The organizers resorted to the hunger strike as a tactic, precisely because Yale University’s administration would rather elide a democratic process than to see their graduate workers exercise their collective power.

 

Graduate unionization campaigns are not entirely new in the United States but part of a tradition where graduate worker unionization began in the 1960s during the height of the Civil Rights movement. The first graduate student labor union to win legal recognition in 1966 was the Teaching Assistants Association at the University of Wisconsin-Madison which emerged after a massive wave of sit-ins to protest the United States war in Vietnam. The graduate student unionization campaigns during the 1960s was where anti-war activists, socialists and civil rights leaders put labor at the center of their campaign for a democratic university education. Yet, the material conditions and the political demands have shifted since the 1960’s especially with respect to the rise in student loan debt, poverty among adjunct workers, and the rise of the far right on campuses. These issues and more have generated anxiety but also come with an explosion of activity on campus with material realities and free speech at the center of those conversations.

 

Austerity and neoliberalism have been a centerpiece for why graduate workers have taken on unionization efforts. On a structural level, austerity is immolating the humanities insofar that public universities such as the University of Wisconsin will reduce the state’s public budget by $300 million. Adjuncts are at the center of the unionization campaign—in some cases pointing out how graduate workers and adjuncts necessitate a revolt to upend the poor working conditions, limited resources, and low pay. Most adjunct professors are not provided with stable income and offices, subsequently, leading many to juggle between multiple jobs and working from their cars and cafes. Some have argued adjunct positions are driving people to poverty, yet dovetailed with this neoliberalism distress is a deluge of student loan debt among many students and graduates.

 

In the United States, the $1.3 Trillion student loan debt crisis is a central feature of national debate in higher education. Ellen Tara James-Penny, an adjunct professor in English at San Jose State recently attracted national attention for living out of her car despite her salaried position. Although she takes in $2500 per month, she has a debut of $143,000. Another adjunct professor, Mary-Faith Cerasoli also reported to The New York Times that she is homeless and resides in her car. The precarity of these two professors are not exception but a rule insofar that the rising cost of living and austerity is driving up debt and desperation. In addition, these anecdotes are not merely hyperboles to dramatize the predicament in US higher education but they are confirmed by the American Association of University Professors which has documented that 76% of higher education are adjuncts with many of them living below the US poverty line.

 

Uncertainty has become the norm. That is to say that academic labor has shifted from a secure and well-paying professorship to contractual and low-paying jobs. A recent National Institute of Health study showed that of the 86,000 PhD students in biology in the United States, only 29,000 will get a tenure-track position—leaving 57,000 graduates with non-tenured academic positions or positions outside of the academy. These dynamics are taking on a new tune in the current political moment where conservative ideologues in the White House and the streets are explicitly anti-labor and targeting leftists on campuses.

 

As Thomas Frank surmised in The Guardian, Trump will most likely appoint an anti-union justice who will overrule the August 2016 NLRB decision yet some of those anti-union campaigns are coming directly from US campuses. At the University of Pennsylvania, the unionization campaign has dealt with massive anti-union propaganda from graduate students who oppose collective bargaining. One key organizer of the Graduate Student Union at the University of Pennsylvania campaign proclaimed that the anti-union groups are part of “a right-wing ideologue to hijack this process.”

 

Despite the national political mood, graduate workers have remained tenacious. At the University of Chicago, the Graduate Students United have scheduled an upcoming vote for 17-18 October to decide whether they will have a union. In response, the university has requested a stay—which would derail the mobilization efforts and the enthusiasm that has kept this issue going. One could also surmise that this could also be read as in concert with the projected conservative appointment of the Supreme Court Justice. However, the US Supreme Court has recently decided to take on the case  Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, which would hinder a public sector’s union ability to collect union dues—thus causing a detrimental impact on the existing public sector unions as well as the campaigns that are ongoing.

 

Free speech on university campuses has also emerged insofar that university administrators have used university-distributed e-mails to caution against responses from far-right attacks and have advocated for impartiality. In response to recent debates on US campuses about the rise of the right, Princeton University administrators decided to put for their own perspective about the free speech debate. The Vice President and Dean sent an e-mail to the student body indicating:

 

Regardless of where you stand on issues such as climate change, white nationalism, the rights of transgendered [sic] people and immigrants, and many more, we encourage you to learn from the divergent perspectives of others, including our many faculty whose expertise provides nuanced and varied analyses of just these topics.”

 

Nevertheless, students resist and construct their own narratives to combat the growing hate on US campuses. In a rejoinder, graduate student workers from the Princeton Graduate Students United, Black Student Caucus, Latino Graduate Student Association, Queer Graduate Caucus, and the Princeton University Democratic Socialists of America stood above the fray in their response. They exclaimed:

 

“There is no room in civil, democratic society for these two positions to ‘debate’ on an even playing field. Allowing or encouraging such “debate” does not affirm ‘free speech’ but instead threatens many people whose safety and personhood has long been devalued.”

 

What makes the graduate workers commentary so powerful is that the unionization efforts are uniting groups that have otherwise organized separately and they are putting forth a live debate about the free speech and hate speech debates brewing on US university campuses. While the university exclaims “neutrality,” the far right feels emboldened. As such, it is noteworthy that graduate workers are taking a principled stance that is also channeled through collective organization. They recognize that the university is not merely a place of rhetoric but where policies can shape vulnerable populations.

 

Relatedly, with the wave of deportations in the United States, immigrant students—especially Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, otherwise known as DACA, immigrant students have faced major scrutiny under the Trump administration. Graduate students and unionization campaigns have tapped into the pulse of a growing and vibrant immigrant rights movement to stand alongside and with immigrants who fear possible deportation. Ancillary to that, Donald Trump’s new iteration of the Muslim ban on 24 September, restricting travel of most citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea, will disproportionally be detrimental for Muslim students from these respective countries—something tied to the US government’s exercise of militarization in the Middle East.

 

Graduate student unions are not merely linked to austerity in the states, but it also a question of using the university system to decolonize education as is the case at the University of Cape Town. In the South African context, student-workers have called for national strikes and an end to discrimination in higher education. Their unionization mobilization has made explicit how the continuation of apartheid-like policies has perpetuated a systematic exclusion of Black South Africans from higher education. During the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2015, Black American students were explicit about making links to how American universities profited from settler colonialism and the enslavement of Black people, leading many to believe that the movement has reinvigorated breathe into university campuses.

 

Moreover, graduate student unions have the potential to gather students from various class backgrounds, ethnic groups, and immigration statuses. The battle for unionization for higher education in the United States reflects the fault line of universities today. They are not sites where people can collectively learn and flourish but are institutions that reinstitute power dynamics, rather, they are becoming a place where the right wing is encroaching and progressive professors such as Keeanga-Yahmatta Taylor are under attack. Groups such as the Campus Antifascist Network have been mobilizing across the United States to challenge these attacks by the so-called, alt-right. Much has changed from the 1960s where unionization efforts dovetailed with a massive anti-war movement, the upending of legalized segregation, and cultural shift in mainstream politics. At the same time, many of the graduate workers are living and breathing through the recent history of the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The experience of cohering at Zuccotti Park, Tahrir Square, and Ferguson has shown that people can and will collectively organize and the union can be that space where power is further realized.

 

 

Migration by Edna Bonhomme

Migration can be unsettling mostly because of the material costs of moving, the everyday miscommunication, and the feeling of exclusion. For many people who have had to flee from war, famine, cholera, and occupation, it is especially heartbreaking. I have come to terms with the fact that home has been and will always be contingent, fleeting, and precarious--especially since contractural, short-term labor has become the norm for my generation. But I have never been able to digest that as Black woman, I am regularly disregarded by others, subjected to street gendered/racial harassment, and stared at & touched by strangers. These interactions are not unique to Berlin but emulate some of the encounters I have had in Brooklyn, Cairo, Managua, Paris, and Port at Prince. Nevertheless, there is beauty in hearing raindrops hit the tin roof, smelling the morning dew during an early morning run, and reading a good book. There is solace in running one's finger through the grass and having the wind blow on one's eyelid. The late Black American playwright, Lorraine Hansberry wrote:


"I wish to live because life has within in it, that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love. Therefore, since I have known all these things, I have found them to be reason enough and--I wish to live."

Like Lorraine, I wish to live but I want to go a step further and thrive and love even when the world is telling me otherwise. Perhaps that is an essential feature of the Black radical tradition--or perhaps it is product of being a spore that wishes to find roots. Convening with nature and literature shows that the world is beautiful even when it is not apparent from looking in the mirror or floating through the world. Yet, working in concert with the living and learning from the ancestors who have wanted to make it more humane will be a key feature to our collective liberation.

Graduate Students Are Workers by Edna Bonhomme

In light of the Cornell University Graduate Students Vote I am posting an unpublished piece that I wrote on the importance of graduate worker unionization especially in a moment of austerity and attacks on academic freedom. Enjoy!

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Unionization is in the air. Across the United States, graduate students, non-tenured faculty, and undergraduates are beginning to organize union drives.[1] Over the past several years, graduate students at Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania, have started unionization drives to represent graduate workers. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling from 23 August 2016 stated “that student assistants working at private colleges and universities are statutory employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act” which means that they have the right to collectively organize and form a union.[2] This is historic in that it overruled the 2004 NLRB decision with Brown University (342 NLRB 483) which previously argued that graduate workers were primarily students and could not be classified as employees.[3]

 

Graduate students want better protection for their labor, academic freedom, more transparency against discrimination, better health and childcare benefits. Moreover, they want to have meaningful connections with other graduate workers at public universities who have been engaged in collective bargaining and labor rights in higher education. For many people who have taken part in the unionization drives, they recognize the work produced by graduate students for the university and ensures that the university consider working conditions of graduate students a priority as well as the social dimensions that effects their ability to work. In an era of academic corporatization and the increasing reliance on contingent researchers and teachers over tenured faculty, graduate worker unions give us a powerful voice in shaping our working conditions as well as the future of academic work and the university as a whole.

Graduate student unionization is not entirely new but began during a period of high radicalization in the 1960s.[4] Students from the New Left Movement and the Berkeley Free Speech movement recognized that unions were integral to fair treatment and protection with their university. At the University of Wisconsin graduate teaching assistants were part of the anti-war movement, led sit-ins, and began the core of forming the graduate union on campus.[5] Since the 1960s, graduate worker unions have given students the power to improve their economic benefits, health benefits, job security, and better protection for undocumented students. They have made connections between the fight for labor, anti-war movement, environmental movement and broader progressive issues.

 

In the current neoliberal moment, unionization campaigns are simultaneously addressing the working conditions of graduate workers and challenging the precarity of the academy. The 2008 global financial crisis has exacerbated austerity in higher education, which has meant that administrators have pushed for neoliberalism within the system—even going so far as to undermine collective bargaining for unionized faculty. In September 2016, the administration at Long Island University—in Brooklyn, New York—took a draconian measure to lockout faculty members as they were negotiating their contracts.[6] Outside of the attack by administration, the academy has less tenured track academic jobs available for people graduating with a doctorate. The prospects are even more dire for women and people of color.[7] Furthermore, humanities have taken a toll since the economic crisis resulting in the state of Wisconsin significantly reducing the state budget for the University of Wisconsin by $300 million over the next two years.[8] For graduate students who want to continue working in the reduction of tenure track positions and university the budget cuts are related to the movement to organize graduate workers. They matter insofar as we have the ability to shape a broader movement about academic freedom, labor, and job security.

 

Emergent Unionization Drives

 

In the northeastern region of the United States, graduate students at private universities have begun or strengthened unionization campaigns with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and the United Autoworkers (UAW) having a major influence in higher education organizing. Those institutions include Cornell, Columbia, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Northeastern, Fordham, New York University, Princeton, and Yale. Of these, NYU’s graduate student union—GSOC UAW local 2110—has one of the strongest positions.

 

During the spring of 2016, graduate students at Princeton began meeting regularly to discuss the possibility of forming a union keeping in mind the efforts that were being done at Columbia, Harvard, and Yale. What emerged was a provisional group of graduate workers and postdoctoral fellows that formed Princeton Graduate Students United (PGSU). After the NLRB decision in August 2016, a larger layer of Princeton University graduate students began an outreach campaign that to help make unionization possible had two goals of pursuing an affiliation vote and getting more graduate students involved. After having been approached by representatives from AFT and SEIU, PGSU disseminated information and held a two-day election. Of the 2500 graduate student body, over 6% voted (approximately 162) for an affiliation vote. In the end, graduate students overwhelming supported AFT (with 77% of the vote) because it would allow for more local autonomy and connections with other higher education unions in the state of New Jersey. What this vote for affiliation meant is that an already established union would help graduate students begin a unionization drive on campus thus lending the he resources, experience, and legal protection for forming a union.

 

The actual campaign to form a union at Princeton will be a multi-step process that will include the entire graduate student body. Since November, Princeton members of PGSU have been getting students to sign mission cards. In addition to this, students are engaged in a campaign to make Princeton a sanctuary campus. This has been met with various e-mails from the university president condemning this. The Dean wrote, “We are a close-knit and intimate academic community, one that strives to be responsive both to each individual and to the student body as a whole.” For students from working class, LGBT, and ethnic/racial minority backgrounds this is not always the case. In a moment where students, faculty, and staff from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen face condemnation from the Trump regime,[9] the administration has not taken a formal stance to make Princeton a sanctuary campus. Which means that they will be vulnerable to the woes of discriminatory national policies and challenges as they enter and leave the United States. Graduate student unionization would provide another layer of protection to ensure that all students—no matter their national origin—are provided the protection.

 

Moreover, the anti-unionization rhetoric of the Princeton University administration has been disingenuous to labor struggle at best and patronizing at worst. After several meetings generated by PGSU—town halls and general assemblies—we have received explicit e-mails feigning objectivity while explicitly discourage graduate students stating: “I again encourage you to defer any decision to sign a union authorization card until all of your questions about unionization are answered to your satisfaction.”

 

In order for both unionization drives to be successful, at least 30% of the bargaining units at Fordham and Princeton need to vote to approve the union before being officially recognized by the university. That means raising consciousness about the importance of unionization, designing a fair contract, and having an open election. Graduate students are organizing for a host of reasons. Not only do they want to connect people throughout campus but they want to ensure that they can help shape an open and inclusive university. But this also comes in a politically volatile moment where it is not clear that the August 2016 NLRB decision will be upheld. Trump’s cabinet pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, and his potential nominee for the Supreme Court justice may do a disservice to the many gains that graduate workers have been having on campuses.

 

The Necessity of connecting graduate worker unions with broader labor issues

While graduate workers do not neatly fit the campus framework their struggle in labor has opened up broader questions on campus about endowment, cross campus labor coalitions. For one, administrative attacks on graduate workers and their organizing drives has broader implications for developing more precarious labor in academia, i.e., contractual adjunct positions. Moreover, the struggle around academic freedom in higher education will also be fragile in this political moment.[10] Moreover, the anti-union campaigns by administrators often take on the similar language and intimidation.[11]

 

Despite the steps forward at Princeton University and other institutions, there has been tension between pro-union graduate students and their anti-union peers. Anti-union constituents have often argued that graduate students are receiving professional training and that collective organizing would undermine their professional development.[12]  However, this perspective elides the fact that graduate students often provide a range of services for universities including but not limited to teaching undergraduates, conducting innovative research, and participating in a vibrant intellectual life.

 

The graduate unionization campaigns are not unique to Princeton but they have entered the mainstream media as was the case with the Columbia University legal controversy[13] and Harvard’s close but ultimately unsuccessful vote.[14] Brown University graduate workers recently made a decision to cast a vote between AFT and UAW in an effort to develop a successful campaign.[15] Graduate workers at Penn recently posted a statement about the history of their unionization efforts, the August NLRB decision that says graduate students are workers, and the conditions of their labor on campus. Graduate works have been organizing for the past several months and they went public about their drive and the necessity for solidarity, which also shows the willingness of graduate workers to have agency and power in their academic future. In light of the growing movements, this is an amazing victory for increasing labor union membership and taking on broader questions about academic freedom, austerity, and inter-union solidarity on university campuses. Moreover, at Princeton we had 120-150 people at our last union organizing meeting; many of whom are also part of efforts to get our university to be a sanctuary campus.

 

Overall, these campaigns are beneficial for socialists and the left because they are revealing the extent to which universities are undemocratic and the lengths to which university administrators are undermining social movements on campus. Organizing graduate student workers can be one of the many sites to strengthen the sanctuary movements on college campuses and to connect with other unionized workers on campuses—including but not limited to facilities and dining workers. Moreover, the mobilization will especially be crucial as higher education and academic freedom are sidelined with the upcoming four years of a Trump administration. In a moment where the left is growing and more people are interested in socialist politics, organizing within higher education labor can provide an opening to further strengthen anti-racist struggles and austerity measures on university campuses.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/04/graduate-students-of-the-world-unite/390261/).

[2] https://www.nlrb.gov/news-outreach/news-story/board-student-assistants-covered-nlra-0

[3] http://apps.nlrb.gov/link/document.aspx/09031d45800076ac

[4] http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/37393-graduate-students-are-workers-the-decades-long-fight-for-graduate-unions-and-the-path-forward

[5] http://taa-madison.org/history/

[6] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/09/15/union-announces-end-faculty-lockout-long-island-u

[7] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/22/study-finds-gains-faculty-diversity-not-tenure-track

[8] http://inthesetimes.com/article/17962/how-austerity-killed-the-humanities

[9]https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/new-executive-order-bans-travelers-from-six-muslim-majority-countries-applying-for-visas/2017/03/06/3012a42a-0277-11e7-ad5b-d22680e18d10_story.html?utm_term=.1047ebee2296

[10] https://www.aaup.org/our-work/protecting-academic-freedom

[11] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/30/crop-anti-union-university-websites-sparks-criticism-proponents-graduate-assistant

[12] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/08/30/crop-anti-union-university-websites-sparks-criticism-proponents-graduate-assistant

[13] https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/19/nyregion/columbia-challenges-vote-by-graduate-students-to-unionize.html

[14] http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2016/12/23/harvard-union-vote-close/

[15] https://brownsugs1.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/reportongraduatestudentunionaffiliationoptionsatbrown3-15-2017.pdf

In honor of Derek Walcott, a great Caribbean poet by Edna Bonhomme

The poet and Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott passed away today at the age of 87 leaving behind a corpus of verses about the Caribbean, the sea, and love. The prolific writer not only described the alluring and ever changing landscape of the Caribbean present but the horrific tragedy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. His poetry gave breathe to a place where Indigenous people were massacred, Africans brought to work endlessly, and where European tourists have begun to use as their playground. His poetry brought life to a region who's archive was living amongst the population, i.e., saturated in the West African syncretic religions of Santeria & Voodoo and the Creole languages that persist on the Anglophone, Francophone and Dutch Islands. Not only do the people from Jamaica, Haiti, Aruba, and St. Lucia hold on to these members, Walcott managed to show how the sea--in its contours, waves, and dimensions--provide a glimpse into the history. As he noted in the poem, "The Sea is History":

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

In The Haitian Trilogyhe captured the revolutionary spirit of the Black slave uprising on the Island of Hispanola. Not only was this text a testament to a revolution that is so often overlooked by historians, it also pointed to the political tensions and concerns in the aftermath of liberation. Where should power lie? How does one transition to freedom? Jean Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe appear as the main figures who appear flawed in their political squabbles but also humane in their attempt to make a country anew. Religious figures and aristocratically hungry people are the villains while the mostly slightly Black majority are being rooted for. The Haitian Trilogy picks up from the lively fervor of C.L.R. James The Black Jacobins yet it often comes across as more sanitized and less political. Yet, what Walcott provided in his capacity as a poet and playwright is the flexibility to add dimension to these characters.

Literature has the capacity to provide strength and reprieve when the world is harrowing. Walcott's legacy will live on because he provided hope and beauty for a region whose resilience lays in the aftermath of force migration and enslavement.  As a Haitian-American woman, Black Caribbean writers such as Aimé Cesaire, Audre Lorde, Claudia Jones, and Frantz Fanon were part of my upbringing and tradition. They were the fore bearers who gave me hope in internationalism and radical politics. Derek Walcott was part of a generation of writers who used their craft to bring light to the world--while also witnessing the Civil Rights movement from afar. May his legacy and those who are fighting for internationalism, beauty, and the sea continue honor his works.

Revolution and Counterrevolution in Egypt: The attack on academics, journalists, and leftists by Edna Bonhomme

Since July 2013, a number of academics, artists, and journalists have been arrested, censored, or tortured by Egyptian military. Egyptians and foreigners have been quelled by the state leading revolutionary socialists such as Sameh Naguib to propound that repression under the current regime are worse than they were under former President Hosni Mubarak. The repression began with the June 2013 coup that ousted former President Mohammed Morsi and his fellow Muslim Brotherhood supporters but it shortly extended to high journalists and researchers who were based in Egypt.

Egypt was never immune to censorship legislation but the practice of arresting Egyptian and foreign-born journalists that critique the military, president or government has led to the arbitrary arrest of a host of reportersAl Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy, and Peter Greste were detained for over a year by the Egyptian state for allegedly “aiding a terrorist organization.” At the same time, Egyptian journalist Rasha Gafaar was arrested for filming polling stations. French journalist Alain Gresh was arrested for having a conversation with an Egyptian female journalist in a Cairo cafe in November 2014. Journalists, in their power to relay the suppression of the state, are a target but they are not the only ones.

Within the academy, scholars have been detained or tortured. In July 2015, a French master’s student was deported after conducting research with members of the April 6th movement in Damietta. Most recently, Cambridge University doctoral student Giulio Regeni was murdered and tortured by the Egyptian government. Like other scholars who conduct research in Egypt, Regeni’s murder not only undermines one’s ability to conduct research in Egypt but it can potentially rupture academic partnerships between Egyptian and foreign scholars.

In rhetoric, the Egyptian government has mostly directed its counterrevolutionary tactics towards the Muslim Brotherhood, however, in practice they have extended their tentacles to all forms of opposition–including Egyptian leftists. Most notably, the anti-protest law from November 2013 that bans public demonstrations. The Egyptian state murdered poet and Socialist Popular Alliance Party activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh on 24 January 2015 during a peaceful protest in Cairo. Her death was not only a loss for those she inspired but it was also a temporary defeat for public demonstrations by the organized left in Egypt. Most notably human rights lawyer and socialist Mahienour al-Massry was detained for allegedly violating anti-protest laws. Moreover, Dr. Taher Mokhtar, Ahmed Hassan, and Hossam al-Din al-Hamady are leading activists for the Egyptian Doctor’s Union who were detained by authorities on 14 January 2016 for wanting better conditions for health workers. The doctors were detained for protesting and allegedly “possessing publications calling for the overthrow of the regime.”

The attack on the journalists, academics, and leftists are embedded within two facets of the counterrevolution and both have stifled democratic organization from below. On the one side, the state has cracked down on broader political movements and lumped together all forms of resistance as “terrorist” activities. On the other side, there are armed terrorist groups that have exercised violence and sabotaged the bona fide demands for bread, dignity, and freedom from the 2011 uprisings. The rebel violence directed toward the state has been initiated by such groups as Ansar Bait al-Maqdis. Based in Sinai, they have taken credit for some of the bombings in Egypt including a series of attacks in 2014 and 2015. In one attack, the group bombed the Islamic Art Museum which is adjacent to the Egyptian National Library. It must be noted that Ansar Bait al-Maqdis’s violence are counterproductive, sectarian force that gives the Egyptian regime legitimacy in cracking down on everyone. The assassination of Hisham Barakat on 29 June 2015 also heightened the regime’s surveillance. These counterrevolutionary tendencies do not happen in isolation but are part of a broader contingent that go against the hope and prospects of the Egyptian masses.

Counterrevolution has also been coupled with the imprisonment and detention of Muslim Brotherhood supporters or those presumed to be part of it. The Egyptian state is using such repression to demonize all Islamist and secular organizations as “terrorist”—under the guise of Islamophobia—while also criminalizing everyone who dissents. Death sentences have become commonplace and these jurisdictions have lacked fair and speedy trials. They have also gone so far as to sentence a four year old to a life sentence.

President Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi has relied on populist authoritarianism by invoking a neo-Nasserist program and rejected the upsurge of class struggle. When collective actions of workers and peasants exceeded authorized boundaries and challenged the regime, they were quashed. Similarly, in 1952, the Free Officers suppressed the textile workers’ strike at Kafr al-Dawwar by hanging two of its leaders. The Egyptian state has asphyxiated dissent through arrest, disappearance, and torture. Prior to the fifth year anniversary of the Arab Spring, the government arrested four key April 6th movement activists (Source: http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2015/12/29/april-6-leaders-detained-ahead-of-anniversary-of-25-january/). Since March of 2015, over 1,840 people have disappeared.

Whenever the masses lead a rebellion authoritarian regimes go on the offensive and quell the vestiges of resistance. Socialists should unequivocally condemn the oppression of the Egyptian state against academics, journalists, and revolutionaries. As the Revolutionary Socialists in Egypt have indicated in a solidarity statement:

“Every dictatorship uses terrorism as an excuse to increase repression and create a state of national panic and hysteria across the widest sections of the masses in order to force everyone to close ranks behind the dictator. However, this hysteria now extends to liberal and leftist opponents of the regime, who at least in theory are opposed to Sisi’s coup and his counterrevolution, and this is creating surprise and disgust.”

Similar to the 1973 coup in Chile, the Egyptian security apparatus is a bulwark against democracy. However, it is key to look to domestic and international forms of struggle to challenge Egypt’s repression.

Resistance within the sea of state suppression can take on a variety of forms but it is essential for the working class to use its powers in the ways that they have yielded substantive results. At the domestic level, the April 6th movement and the strikes in Mahalla were key to putting forth economic and political demands under the Hosni Mubarak regime. Moreover, the Ultras and soccer’s popularitywere able to garner public protest with a working class and left base during the 2013 coup.

International solidarity has particularly been key for challenging the regime. The Al Jazeera journalists were able to be free after a year of campaigning and international support. On the question of arms, the European Union parliament passed a resolution to suspend military cooperation with Egypt because of Giulio Regeni’s murder. The United States could follow suit to honor the lives of the many people who have disappeared.

As it currently stands, Egypt has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world. The global economic recession has hit Egyptians hard and the working class wants to improve their materials conditions—even at the behest of the current regime. President Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi recently indicated that he would be cutting water and gas subsidies. However, President Sisi received high levels of criticism when he delivered this news after walking on a 1.6 million Egyptian pound ($200,000) red carpet. In the context of the economic crisis and the callousness of the elite, it is important for Egyptian labor to exercise its power in a collective fashion. Recently in Alexandria and the Delta, public sector workers utilized their power in a strike wave and demanded that they be paid their overdue bonuses.

At the same time, the counterrevolutionary forces must not solely be defeated on Egypt’s terrain. Rather, it is essential to end U.S. military funding to Egypt. The money spent on suppressing the population could be spent on housing, education, etc. At the same time, terminating military contracts would also make the state less capable of repressing its population. As of October 2015, Egypt spent $2.6 billion on French warships and the Russians provided the Egyptian government with $1 billion in equipment.

Dovetailed with these other initiatives, it is imperative the Egyptian state allow for free press to reign and to free all political prisoners including individuals such as Mahienour al-Massry, Mohamed Adel, Ahmed Maher, Aya Hegazy, Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein, and countless others. Of these, Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein is Egypt’s youngest political prisoner and he was arrested for wearing a t-shirt that read “A nation without torture”.

Finally, if the revolution will continue then the working class must be able to democratically assemble and labor must be able to freely organize. Labor was and will continue to key to challenging the regime. In 2011, Egyptian doctors held sit-ins and teachers led strikes thus revitalizing the previously sedentary labor movement. In fact, it was the strikes led by transportation and dockworkers in Egypt that were tipping scale for Mubarak’s fall. The latest phase of worker militancy in Alexandria, Aswan, and the Delta actually shows that the Egyptian working class is bringing material concerns to the forefront. It is in this vein that the political strategy is key and that Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists were right when they proclaimed:

The only revolutionary road is to revive the weapons of mass struggle through strikes, sit-ins and protests against the corrupt military dictatorship that will bring us nothing but poverty, repression, violence and terrorism.”