Thursday, February 25, 2010

So I was starting to write about a debate I heard last night on KQED on "California is the first failed state." It was on Intelligence Squared, so I went to their website to look something up and lo and behold, found this one lurking in their recent broadcasts:


And here's the great news: Before the debate, the live NYC audience voted 33% for the motion, 42% against and 25% undecided. Following the debate, 49% voted for the motion, 47% against and 4% undecided. Roger Cohen & Rashid Khalidi carried the day.

So sounds like we all want to catch it! You can download the full or edited audio and watch the video by clicking here.

The Enemy Is Ourselves

I don't like using this blog to criticize other activist groups, but today I feel like I have to.

This morning, the radio show Letters to Washington had a round table on the anti-war movement, inspired by the report (not quite accurate, according to Democracy Now!) that the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan topped 1,000 in the last couple days. My friend David Solnit was on the panel, as was Medea Benjamin, founder of Code Pink, and some other people I can't actually remember right now. So they started out talking about how in order to reenergize the anti-war movement, we need to make alliances with people who are affected and outraged by the economic and budgetary crises in the country. They talked about making connections with the students organizing the March 4 protest of the dismantling of California's educational system.

Now that's obviously an idea I agree with; just today, I was making stickers for March 4. But it's not a new and untried idea. Back in the 1980s we were chanting, "Money for Jobs, Not for War," "Money for Health Care, Not for Warfare," "Money for Schools, Not for War," "Feed the People, Not the Pentagon." That was when the wars were in Central America, something the students organizing March 4 probably never even heard of. Back then I remember going to meetings where people explained and adjured and harangued each other that if we wanted poor people and people of color to join the movement to end the wars abroad we needed to start talking about the "war at home." In 1983, people from the various anti-war and social justice groups formed a Coalition for Jobs, Peace and Justice, which had an annual demonstration by the same name. It was a nice coming together for a day, but it did not succeed in creating a unified movement, and it certainly didn't succeed in putting an end to imperialist wars or the war-based economy.

So if it's not clear by now, I was kind of peed off right off the bat.
But then Medea Benjamin started talking about how we need to reach out to the Tea Party people, because they're also against the wars because we can't afford them. The host of the panel asked her if we were going to see joint Code Pink-Tea Party actions, and she said that that was being discussed. And then I lost it. As it happens, just last night I was at a meeting where someone said something similar about the movement for single-payer health care, that we should be able to make an alliance with the Tea Partiers because they hate the corporations too. My friend Deeg laid out very succinctly and eloquently why that's not possible. I sure wished she had been in that round table, and I also wished they were taking call-ins, since no one else on the panel decided to point out that the Tea Parties may hate corporations (though they are funded by them), and some of them may think the wars are too expensive, but they also hate "welfare cheats," which in their mind means (all) Black people, and they also hate paying taxes so that the children of immigrants can go to school, and they also hate that the President is an African American whom they believe is a socialist and a Muslim.

That an anti-war movement could even be considering for one moment reaching out to a group whose folk hero and keynote speaker is Sarah Palin shows that it is not serious about making alliances with the groups they started out saying they needed to ally with, groups which are largely people of color, immigrants, and people who need public financing for their education.

Moreover, a legitimate anti-war movement is not going to align with people whose opposition to the war is based on the cost, because a true anti-war movement knows that once we withdraw our troops, we cannot simply keep all the money at home. We are going to owe – we already owe – massive reparations to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. And you are never going to sell that to the Tea Party people.

Are we so afraid of poor people, people of color and youth that we would rather join up with gun-toting bigots? If so, we have met the enemy and it is us.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Chapter 3 is up - Rania and Chloe Meet Top Killer

Chapter 3 is up! In Chapter 3, Chloe and Rania encounter a soldier called Top Killer, and Rania gets a clue about the abandoned car.

Chapter 3 - Meet Top Killer

Rania sought out one of the coffee kids and bought two small hot cups, nos hilwe, half sweet. She handed one to Chloe, and they settled under the shade of an olive tree. She sipped at the bitter cardamom-tinged liquid, savoring the feel of the tiny grounds in her teeth.

“Are you a journalist?” she asked.

“Not exactly.” Chloe had been evasive about the little object around her neck, and now she didn’t want to say what her work was. Rania started to wonder if it was so wise to be hanging around this woman. Perhaps she was an Israeli spy. But a spy would probably take care to have her story down.

“A student?” Rania persisted, though certainly, the woman was too old for a student in the conventional sense.

“Sort of … I’m trying to learn about the situation.”

“But why here?”

Chloe hesitated again. “Well, I’m Jewish,” she said, confirming Rania’s presumption. “I always heard great things about Israel growing up, but then I heard about the Intifada. So I wanted to see for myself what is really going on.”

“And what have you concluded?”

Chloe was quiet for a few beats, but this time Rania didn’t feel she was hiding anything. It seemed more like she was asking herself the question for the first time.

Keep reading

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chapter 2 is up

Chapter 2 of Murder Under the Bridge is online. In Chapter 2, Abu Anwar makes a startling discovery (you might be able to guess...) while going to his olive groves.

It's short, but there are some new photos to enhance the reading experience.

I'm really enjoying having everyone read my book. I wish I had done this months ago! I thought that self-publishing online wouldn't be as satisfying as having a "real" publisher publish a "real" book, but I have to say that so far, it's an absolute blast. It just makes me so happy to hear people saying, "I can't wait for the next chapter," "give me more," and telling me what they're thinking about the characters and the place. And I think that the serial format is really going to work for building the suspense and also creating a community around the novel, which is one of my goals.

I think some people are the type of writers who can't be happy putting out writing that is not the absolute best that it can be. Like my friend Steve, whose discipline I admire so much. For those writers, writing is as much about self-discovery and learning the craft as it is about creating something. Pure writers, I guess you would call them. I'm not like that. For me, writing is communicating. I can't be interested in one-way communication. That's why blogging is easy for me, and hard for Steve. Of course I like the thought that people will think my work is "good," but what's most important to me is that it's read. Which is why publishing may or may not be the right venue for me. What's great is that I'm exploring how the blog format can be adaptable as an online fiction journal, and it's surprisingly effective.

I'm also trying to figure out what all these different blogs and websites that I have now are going to be for, what I will put here, what on the Murder Under the Bridge blog, what on the facebook page, and what if anything will be on the website other than the blog. For now, the only thing I know for sure is that this will continue to be my home for random thoughts about everything under the sun, and the MUB blog will only have the book.

Comments always welcome here as well as there.

Read Chapter 2.


Monday, February 8, 2010

How do we "make him"?

Since the day Obama walked into the White House, people have been quoting the story, which he himself told on the campaign trail, about FDR’s alleged challenge to A. Philip Randolph to “go out and make me” end discrimination against African Americans in government hiring. (The story may be apocryphal; it was apparently told to Tavis Smiley by Harry Belafonte who heard it from Eleanor Roosevelt.) Every left-wing commentator points out ad infinitem that if we want Obama to do anything, or if we want Congress to do anything, we need to create a movement to make them do it.

That goes without saying. It did before Obama and it will long after Obama.

What I don’t hear people talking about nearly enough is what it takes to build such a movement. It’s not as simple as 1-2-3. Okay, we need a movement, let’s go buy one at Wal-Mart or log on and sign up at Wanting it doesn’t get it done, and neither does believing it’s necessary.

One thing I had forgotten, is that Obama told the story in response to a question about finding a just solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. That’s pretty significant, because that is one issue on which we know Obama has flip-flopped since coming into public life. So we can assume that the policy he’s pursuing, of total appeasement toward Israel, is based on opportunism and not deeply held belief. Does it matter? Well it might, especially since policy toward Israel, as people like Walt and Mearsheimer have pointed out, is one area on which elite interest and the interests of justice could be made to, or made out to, coincide. And on the other hand, it’s one issue on which the interests opposed to justice are highly mobilized to stop any change from occurring. But so were the Dixiecrats. Kennedy and Johnson and their allies were deeply beholden to the southern Democrats, and for years they tried to ignore, marginalize, criminalize and defuse the civil rights movement until they couldn’t any more. The civil rights movement made them do it.

It’s also a popular myth – professor Chomsky, among others, spreads it – that U.S. policy toward South Africa changed in the 1980s because the government simply changed its mind, that the U.S. government was an early opponent of apartheid. Not true. U.S. policy towards South Africa changed because of several years of intense organizing following the Soweto uprising in 1976, and that organizing built on decades of less intense but no less critical organizing by groups such as the Committee of Americans for South African Resistance (AFSAR), of which Philip Randolph incidentally was an active member, and the Congressional Black Caucus. The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act was only passed in 1986 (by overriding a veto by president Ronald Reagan), 14 years after the first anti-apartheid legislation was introduced by Ron Dellums, 25 years after the first boycott legislation was passed in Europe, and 24 years after the International Olympic Committee voted to exclude South Africa.

So by that standard, the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions to end Israeli apartheid is doing pretty well right now. But what hasn’t happened, at least certainly not in the Bay Area, is any upswelling of activism aimed at, or with a prayer of, making Obama (or anyone else in officialdom) change his policy toward Israel.

Why not?

In thinking about this question, I Googled “How to make a successful social movement” and the first thing that came up was something I’ve read a bunch of times before, “8 Stages of Successful Social Movements” by Bill Moyer. Well worth re-reading. One of the things that’s helpful about Moyer’s movement trajectory is that he incorporates down-turns as well as up-turns. So Stage 4 is “Take-Off” at which time “A catalytic (“trigger”) event occurs that starkly and clearly conveys the problem to the public” – think the invasion of Lebanon in 2006 or the assault on Gaza a year ago, or the threatened collapse of the U.S. economy – as a result of which, building on previous organizing by the movement, “The problem is finally put on ‘society’s agenda.’”

Most of us assume that once that happens, it’s full steam ahead. We think of the Montgomery Bus Boycott as the trigger and wiping out six years of ups and downs before the lunch counter sit-ins began, we see an inexorable urge toward the March on Washington and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But Stage 5, in Moyer’s outline, is "Movement Identity Crisis — A Sense of Failure and Powerlessness,” during which time “Those who joined the movement when it was growing in Stage 4 expect rapid success. When this doesn’t happen there is often hopelessness and burn-out.” And, says Moyer, “It seems that this is the end of the movement; in fact, it is now that the real work begins.”

So if I look at any of the movements I’ve been focusing on in the last few years: Palestine solidarity/BDS, anti-war, anti-torture, health care, I would say they’re nearly all in Stage 5 right now. Okay, so what does Moyer say to do in Stage 5? “Recognize that movement is nearing Stage Six and pursue goals appropriate to that stage.”

What’s Stage 6?
“Winning Majority Public Opinion. The movement deepens and broadens, finds ways to involve citizens and institutions from a broad perspective to address this problem. Growing public opposition puts the problem on the political agenda; the political price that some powerholders have to pay to maintain their policies grows to become an untenable liability. The consensus of the powerholders on this issue fractures, leading to proposals from the powerholders for change (often these proposals are for cosmetic change). The majority of the public is now more concerned about the problem and less concerned about the movement’s proposed change. Often there is a new catalytic event (re-enacting Stage 4).”

Wait, so if we’re at the stage of hopelessness and burnout, dwindling numbers at actions, that means we’re on the verge of winning majority public opinion? Maybe, maybe not. But part of the equation is that “new catalytic event,” and I think we can pretty much count on those. Israel will for sure take some new aggressive action before too long, because when has it not? The U.S. economy is too unstable not to have another, bigger crisis (not that this one is anywhere near over). Certainly Haiti could have been a trigger if the movement were in a position to remind people about Katrina.

So the real question is, what do we need to do to be ready to respond to the next catalytic event in a way that pushes us forward, instead of backward?

One of the things that occurs to me in looking at the movements that have been successful in this country is that nearly all of them have been strongly rooted in a specific community and culture. So, for instance, I looked at the website of the Building Movement Project, which looks at case studies of five nonprofits which moved to incorporate a social change agenda into their social service work. The stories are fascinating and inspiring, and one of the things I noticed about them are that they are all working with or in a very specific community. Several are primarily immigrant-oriented, all are limited to a pretty narrow geographic area (a city or neighborhood).

When I think about social movements in this country that have succeeded in bringing about significant social change, I think of the anti-apartheid movement, the civil rights movement, the United Farm Workers, the women’s movement, the AIDS treatment access movement, the retirees movement. And all of these movements were fairly culturally homogeneous, not necessarily in terms of who participated, but in terms of where their leadership was coming from and having a strong cultural base in one community or another. I mentioned this to a friend who said, “What about the labor movement?” But I think that the labor movement actually illustrates this point perfectly. We call it “the labor movement,” but in fact, it was many different movements. It’s not like “labor” suddenly rose up and demanded respect and contracts and got it. Every industry, often every workplace, had to be organized uniquely (and still does) and the organizing had to take into account who the people were who were working in that industry. The UFW involved thousands of organizers from many different backgrounds, but its heart and soul were in the Chicano community. The New York garment industry was organized by Jewish and Italian immigrant women, drawing on Eastern European and Italian traditions of labor militancy. The civil rights movement, of course, was rooted in the Black church, the anti-apartheid movement in the African American intelligentsia. The feminist movement had its base in primarily educated middle-class women, the AIDS movement among middle-class white gay men.

I am not trying to say that movements should be homogeneous, but I think one problem nowadays is that too many of the movements I’ve been part of have had as one of their goals being something they are not. We’re embarrassed about being who we are, we are not coming out of a place of pride in our community and wanting to flex our power, the way that the immigrant rights May Day marches have been. Instead we are well-meaning people who want to help others, or we are people who are ashamed of what our country is doing, or we are professional organizers “working with” a population we are not part of, or we are trying to become part of another culture because we don’t have one we identify with, or we are leftists who basically feel alienated from our whole society. And I just don’t see any of that as a recipe for success.

One of the things I always try to do with groups I’m in is look at who we are, and then try to figure out who we can influence. I think the trend in social movements right now is to do the opposite – to do power mapping, to look at who has the power to change the policy we’re focused on, who has influence over those people, and then try to craft a strategy to reach those influential people. So, for instance, I’ve sat in too many meetings where everyone insisted that the key to a successful movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel is campus activism, and we talked about that for two hours before recognizing that we had no students in the room. Or people were determined to target Lockheed Martin, which is really hard if you don’t know anyone who runs an airline. On the other hand, QUIT! (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism) set a goal as getting our local queer film festival to stop taking Israeli money, and we’ve been successful in getting them to take the issue seriously and recognize that it is not going away.

If FDR in fact told Philip Randolph to make him act to eliminate federal job discrimination against African Americans, he knew that Randolph had the constituency and the clout to do that. Randolph was the leader of the first African American trade union, and together with Bayard Rustin and A.J. Muste was threatening to organize a March on Washington in 1941 to demand integration of the armed forces. Obama, on the other hand, knows that we don’t have the base to make him change his policy on Palestine or on health care or end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We can’t bring a million people to Washington, not for single payer, not for justice for Palestine, not against the war. So why should he listen to us?

Either we are going to go home and wait for someone who does have a base to build a movement we can cheer from the wings, or we’re each going to give some thought to who we are and whom we can bring with us. I don’t mean the kind of “What 5 people are you going to bring to the next meeting?” exercise that the Organizing Institute people always make us do, but that we all do come from somewhere, we all live somewhere, almost all of us work somewhere, we all have people who care about us, and it’s time we start thinking seriously and strategically about how we can get those people into our movements. Because that’s what it will take to “make them do it.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Open Letter to Democracy Now! - Stop Promoting Queer Militarism

Dear Amy and producers of Democracy Now!,

As a loyal listener, I have been shocked and appalled at your coverage of the controversy over whether LGBT people should be kicked out of the military.

Now, as a lesbian, and as a progressive and a supporter of human rights, of course I support people's right not to be fired from their chosen profession. That goes without saying. It's a civil right to be in the military. But the position of the group I work with, LAGAI - Queer Insurrection, and of most other progressive queer people, is that it's a human right to stay out of the military.

You would never have a heterosexual soldier on your show uncritically talking about their work, and not even ask them one question about why they want to be part of an institution whose purpose is to oppress and repress people all over the world and maintain U.S. control over the world's resources. By having those gay people on air, and not even challenging them, you are treating them - us - as less human than straight people. You are reinforcing the very policy that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is based on - that gay people are less moral, or cannot be held to the same ethical and human rights standards, as straight people.

There are many queer organizations that work against discrimination AND for human rights. In 1991, during the first Gulf War, we launched "We Like Our Queers Out of Uniform," a counter-recruitment packet for LGBT youth, and did tabling in the Polk District of San Francisco, where a lot of gay youth hang out. In 1993, we led a "Queers Out of Uniform" contingent of over 100 people in the LGBT March on Washington, carrying signs that said, "The U.S. Military: It's Not Liberation." We were even on the Sally Jesse Raphael show, but were ignored by the left.

As far as I can recall, you have never had an openly queer person on your show as a spokesperson for the antiwar movement. You have never had anyone from our group on your show, and it's not because we haven't tried. But you don't have to have us. There's Stephen Funk, a gay man who became a military resister, was in prison and has made connections with Israeli military resisters. There's Ryn Gluckman, author of the article "Ten Reasons Why Militarism Is Bad for Queer People," from Hampshire College. There's Sarah Lazare, who used to work for you, who is now an organizer with both Courage to Resist and the Queer Youth Organizing Project. There are so many people to choose from, you could probably have one on every day for a month.

Please stop promoting the image of gay people wanting to assimilate into militarist, heteronormative, nuclear family based society. You owe it to your listeners, you owe it to yourselves, and you sure owe it to us, the queer liberation movement.

In struggle,

Kate Raphael