Archive for the ‘Activism’ Category

The Left Still Opposes the Wars

June 16, 2009

ufpjOne of my least favorite memes lately is the idea that progressive opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has disappeared with Obama’s election.  These excerpts from the Ostrowski asylum are typical enough:

has the WNY peace center been protesting Obama’s escalation of the Afghanistan war and/or his widening of the conflict into Pakistan? You know, the conflicts which are claiming massive civilian casualties on a weekly basis? . . .

It’s a good progressive war now.  So as it’s for a larger purpose, you can blast away.

That’s bullshit, of course.  Apart from the standard marches and rallies against the two wars, groups like United for Peace and Justice are calling on their members to pressure Congress into voting against Obama’s supplemental request to fund the wars.  You know, just as they did when Bush was in office.


One Sunset and IDA Reform

June 5, 2009

IDA RallyEarlier today I attended a press conference to support reforming Industrial Development Agencies statewide.  These agencies play the lead role in economic development in NYS, granting some $400 million in subsidies and incentives to businesses who promise to provide increased employment and opportunity for state residents.  The rally was organized by the good folks at the Coalition for Economic Justice, as part of a statewide campaign.

So what’s wrong with giving away tax  breaks and subsidies to create jobs?  Nothing, unless you’re a strict libertarian.  The problem is that so few of these deals actually produce the benefits they promise.  In fact, a 2006 audit found that only 1/3 of these projects met the job creation targets on which they were premised, and another 1/3 actually ended up losing jobs.

On top of that, the state has 115 different IDAs while Western New York has 6 of its own.  The result is that, in typical NYS fashion, services are duplicated and agencies fight amongst themselves to protect turf rather than working for the greater good.

Just recently, the One Sunset scandal has shed some light on how the Erie County IDA makes its decisions.  It ain’t pretty:

City officials, including Barron, urged the Erie County Industrial Development Agency to loan the restaurant $50,000 without disclosing the restaurant was on the brink of closing. The IDA made the loan without checking financial statements or public documents showing One Sunset was in trouble.

Wow.  Maybe I can get IDA money to start my own business — say, a blog — without submitting financial information or having a sound business plan.  Never mind — I’m not connected to Byron Brown.

An IDA reform bill recently passed in the State Senate, and our own Sam Hoyt is sponsoring a similar bill in the Assembly.  The business community is up in arms, of course, because the free market demands that private businesses should receive taxpayers dollars with no guarantee of actual public benefit.  Sam spoke at the press conference.

That's an activist podium, nothing fancy like the mayor's . . .

That's an activist podium, nothing fancy like the mayor's . . .

Blackface and the Black Bloc

May 24, 2009
Recycled from a post on the blog for my African-American History and Art class last fall:
During class on Thursday when we were talking about the history of white folks “blacking up” before protesting or rioting, I started thinking about how this history relates to the modern black bloc. For those who may not know, a black bloc is a protest tactic often used by anarchists and involves “masking up” and wearing identical clothing to facilitate property destruction and lawlessness. It first came to public attention in this country at the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999.

I’ve been in a black bloc before, and there seem to be similarities between this tactic and the donning of blackface or other disguises in the past. The need to assume a different identity before taking part in transgressive behavior, the safety provided by blending into a monolithic body, the “masking” of the face, even the color choices.

One of the important critiques of the black bloc has been that it’s an almost entirely white tactic, and I think that’s a fair critique. Many of the participants lead fairly privileged lives, and are able to return to them afterward because of they have masked up. In the same sense that the colonists could take off their Indian garb after the Boston Tea Party, or 19th-century white rioters could take off their burnt cork, modern bloc-ers can remove their masks — their radical identities — and put them on the shelf until they are needed again.

Buy American?

May 21, 2009
A progressive message?

A progressive message?

On Wednesday I attended what was billed as a “Save America” rally organized by the United Auto Workers.  It was an odd experience, and it illuminated the ways that labor “gets it” and the ways that they don’t.

To the degree that it focused on trade policy, I think events like yesterday’s rally are helpful and positive.  I have a history of putting my ass on the line when it comes to trade policy, so it’s good to see more mainstream voices pick up that message.  And these policy arguments can be effective — the Obama administration is apparently backing away from a NAFTA-style agreement with Panama in the face of labor opposition.

Unfortunately, most of the message coming from yesterday’s rally wasn’t about trade policies.  Instead, it was an appeal to “Buy American” based largely on naked nationalism.  I didn’t hear concerns that shipping jobs overseas sets in motion a race to the bottom that’s bad for workers everywhere.  Or concerns that outsourcing leads to more work being done in countries without environmental or worker safety standards.  Or that solidarity with workers in Mexico and China is what’s needed in the face of policies that are explicitly aimed at pitting worker against worker.  Instead of attempting to meet globalized capital with globalized solidarity, yesterday’s message was local, parochial, and nationalistic:

“Enough is enough,” said Robin Maloney, who was laid off last December from her assembly job at Delphi’s Rochester plant. “Build it here, buy it here . . .”

“Every time someone in our community loses a manufacturing job, we are all hurt in some way,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown . . .

Joe Ashton, regional director of UAW Region 9, gave an impassioned defense of the benefits that union retirees receive, saying the retirees “built this country and fought the wars.”

He also lashed out at U. S. companies that move their manufacturing to ever-lower-cost countries, saying “if they could get it cheaper on Mars” that is where production would go.

America -- fuck yeah!

America -- fuck yeah!

I can understand the frustration felt by workers who fear that their jobs will be sent overseas, but Mexicans and Chinese aren’t Martians.  Their labor is cheaper because of a whole set of policies championed by the government of the country symbolized by the red, white and blue flags that were out in force yesterday.  Rather than trying to shame companies into keeping jobs in the country, or consumers into buying US-made products — strategies that have failed for decades — maybe those concerned with keeping manufacturing jobs should stop resenting foreign workers, ditch their flags and go after the star spangled culprit.

Gay Marriage, Black Churches, and Kyriarchy

May 19, 2009
Rev. William Gillison: Homophobe

Rev. William Gillison: Homophobe

As the marriage equality issue heats up, the media continues to pit blacks and gays against each other in a competition to define “civil rights.”  The Buffalo News got into that game with an article on Monday:

Black clergy have long opposed the march toward legal same-sex marriages. Now, they’re also challenging the growing efforts of gay-marriage supporters to frame the issue as a civil rights cause.

The Rev. William Gillison, pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church, a large African-American congregation on East Delevan Avenue, said he is insulted by the comparison.

“We know what we have gone through as an ethnic group. We feel the terminology, the definition itself, has really been hijacked,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s just another ploy to garner more support from people who may not understand what the civil rights struggle was all about.”

Bishop Michael A. Badger, pastor of Bethesda World Harvest International Church on Main Street, said that he doesn’t doubt there is discrimination against gay people but that it is hardly on the order of what African-Americans have encountered and still face.

“As an African-American, I don’t have a choice in the color of my skin. I have a choice in whether I’m abstinent or not,” Badger said. “I don’t think you can compare the two.”

The intended effect of articles like this is twofold: first, they damage the credibility of marriage equality advocates by removing one of their strongest claims to legitimacy; and second, they damage the reputation of the black community as a whole by highlighting those black “leaders” who are bigots and buffoons.  Of course marriage equality is a civil rights issue — it questions whether the government has sufficient cause to deny equal rights to a particular (and historically oppressed) group.  And of course homosexuality isn’t a choice, nor can someone stop being gay by abstaining from sex.

What can’t be as easily dismissed are the tensions between different forms of oppression that are at the heart of the conflict.  Trying to sort out whether racism or homophobia (or other oppressions) are “more important” or “worse” seems like a waste of energy at best, and dangerously counterproductive at worst.  Nobody wins when racial minorities, women, LGBTQ folks and the poor are fighting amongst themselves, yet our typically rigid and dichotomous way of looking at oppression practically guarantees that that’s what happens.

I was doing some reading on this subject when I came across the concept of kyriarchy. Some may already be familiar, but it was new to me:

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.

Let me break this down for you.  When people talk about patriarchy and then it divulges into a complex conversation about the shifting circles of privilege, power, and domination — they’re talking about kyriarchy.  When you talk about power assertion of a White woman over a Brown man, that’s kyriarchy.  When you talk about a Black man dominating a Brown womyn, that’s kyriarchy.  It’s about the human tendency for everyone trying to take the role of lord/master within a pyramid . . .
But, the pyramid stratifies itself from top to bottom.   And before you start making a checklist of who is at the top and bottom – here’s my advice: don’t bother.  The pyramid shifts with context.  The point is not to rank.  The point is to learn.
This seems like a much more valid — and useful — model for understanding oppression and how it operates.  It recognizes that everyone — even members of historically oppressed groups — can be oppressors themselves, and it steers us away from contests about “who has it worse” while recognizing that all oppressions aren’t the same.  And it doesn’t allow people like Gillison and Badger to hide their bigotry behind their own history of oppression.

James effin’ Baldwin

May 11, 2009

CEJ and Bathroom Robots

May 9, 2009
I, Robot . . . need to pee

I, Robot . . . need to pee

I attended CEJ’s 23rd Anniversary banquet last night at the convention center.  It was another great event from the folks responsible for Buffalo’s living wage legislation, but that’s not what I want to write about.

I want to talk about the Convention Center.  I’ve organized several events there in the past and have always been pleased with the result.  The people are great, and the food — at least the vegetarian food — is great.  If I could have all my meals catered by the Convention Center, I’d be a happy camper.

I don’t think it’s news to anyone that the place is brutally ugly, though.  That was reinforced for me by the sign on the men’s room, which is just comically ugly and spartan.  It looks like a robot graphic from an early-80s Atari game.  What was wrong with architects and designers in the 70s?

Introducing “The Buffalo Activist”

May 8, 2009

pic.phpThe Peace Center has revamped its membership newsletter into “The Buffalo Activist,” a print and web publication aimed at — and drawing from — the wider community of local activists.  It was launched a few days ago, and you can check it out here.  From Executive Director Elea Mihou:

The WNY Peace Center is proud to announce that we are revamping our newsletter and expanding our audience! The newsletter will now be called “The Buffalo Activist, A Publication of the WNY Peace Center” and will be an online publication as well as a quarterly print addition mailed to
members and dropped off at local businesses. The Peace Center’s members are known for a wealth of knowledge and insight into peace and justice issues today as well as great writing about them, and we want to take full advantage of this organizational strength.

It’s early days yet, so I imagine that the site will get a bit more spit and polish.  And I wonder if anyone checked with old-timers from the Buffalo Activist Network before picking the name.  Still, this is a very cool idea that deserves support.

One of the reasons I left the Peace Center was that it needed a new energy and a new way of looking at things.  Both Charlie and I operated in that post-9/11 bunker mentality, I think.  But Elea’s done a number of thing, like re-tooling the Conflict Resolution Program, that indicate she’s been able to step back and rethink what the Peace Center can be in these post-post-9/11 times.  Kudos.

Buffalo School Board Elections

May 4, 2009
Catherine Collins: taxpayer-funded glamor shot?

Catherine Collins: taxpayer-funded glamor shot?

The Buffalo School Board elections are tomorrow, Tuesday May 5th.  Three at-large seats on the 9-member board will be up for grabs tomorrow.  You should vote, and you should kick the incumbents out on their collective ass.

CEJ has been all over this issue, and they’ve put together a candidate questionnaire.

Business groups and entrenched politicians have spent more than $30,000 in an effort to retain the current at-large board members — Chris Jacobs, Catherine Collins, and Florence Johnson.  This support comes despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that these three board members are at the heart of the corruption and ineffectiveness that have marked the board in recent memory.  For instance, the board has spent some $33,000 on meals and snacks for itself over the last 18 months:

Last week, for instance, they could choose from egg rolls, shrimp lo mein, General Tso’s chicken, pepper steak, sesame chicken, cheesecake, cookies and flan, among other goodies, before they sat down to discuss finance matters.

Other weeks, board members enjoy meatballs, turkey, chicken, potatoes, corn and salad. Sometimes, it’s steak fajitas and chicken wings.

Besides the $300 or so that’s spent each week on meals for the board and administrators who stay late for meetings, another $100 a week keeps the board’s kitchen in City Hall stocked with soft drinks, chips and cookies.

There are two issues here.  First, the obvious fact that gainfully employed adults can feed themselves rather than gorging at a taxpayer-funded smorgasbord.  But second, and more interestingly, these Board of Ed buffets are being catered by a woman named Joyce Livingston.  This seems odd, since board members could keep their business within the school system — and save money — by having their meetings catered by Emerson Commons, the culinary arts high school on Chippewa that runs its own restautrant and catering service.  Who wants to bet that Joyce Livingston knows someone in City Hall?

Beyond that, we’re paying to send these people to conferences around the country with little apparent benefit to the district.  Collins is one of the worst offenders, racking up more than $14,000 in expenses for 9 trips over the previous 18 months.  Johnson has taken “only” 4 such taxpayer-supported vacations, while Jacobs — the son of a billionaire — has spared the district and used Daddy’s money, instead.

Ok, the board may be full of greedy leeches, but what kind of job are they doing?  Remember the Jayvonna Kincannon fiasco? Or how about the decision to give ResultTech millions of dollars to run an alternative school, despite achieving a 100% failure rate with its 8th grade students?

These people are free to continue ripping us off because turnout is so low for school board elections.  If we let it continue, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Is the Worker’s Paradise Here Yet?

May 1, 2009


Happy May Day everybody!  I wasn’t sure if I would say anything about the holiday, but then I noticed the flyer above taped to a pole in the parking lot at Home Depot.  It’s the first Soviet/Marxist-themed handyman flyer I’ve ever seen, so I took it as a sign.

Three years ago, I was one of a couple hundred folks who held a rally and unpermitted march down Main Street as part of a huge day of action for immigrant rights.  The police broke up the march and arrested two of the organizers, including my friend and fellow Colin caucus member Colin O’Malley.  From the May 2, 2006 Buffalo News:

About 200 college students listened to speeches, chanted and held signs Monday in front of Harriman Hall on the University at Buffalo’s South Campus as they protested proposals to crack down on illegal immigrants.

They then marched a mile to Shoshone Park to listen to more appeals for illegal immigrants.

“Our battles are not with immigrants to this country,” rally organizer Carlos Lizarraga, a nursing student, told the crowd at the beginning of the rally. “Our enemies are the rich, the capitalists, the lawmakers, the politicians, the elite and those who leave us disenfranchised and oppressed.”

He also had his problems with the police.

Police arrested Lizarraga and Colin O’Malley after the two rally organizers stepped onto Main Street during the crowd’s walk to the park.

Police in eight patrol cars guided the marchers through the University Heights business district during heavy early evening traffic. A road repair project already clogged traffic along a stretch of Main Street, with a single travel lane for each direction.

Police, who said they had two hours advance notice of the march, said they instructed the marchers to stay on the sidewalk. Some marchers said the road repair project made that difficult at various points along the route and accused the police of being aggressive.

The UB May 1st Coalition, consisting of several organizations, sponsored the “No Human Being Is Illegal” rally as part of a nationwide “Day Without Immigrants” boycott to show solidarity with illegal immigrants.

The rally turned a little tense in Shoshone Park, with at least one speaker using profanity as he chided police. Officers in 11 police cars kept their distance, but surrounded the rally. Children played on a playground about 30 yards from the speaker.

Still, those in the diverse, college-age crowd were peaceful. And they expressed concern for those who have entered this country illegally and now fear what a congressional bill could mean for them.

A measure passed by the House of Representatives would treat being in the country illegally as a felony.

Wow, I’d forgotten how militant that action was.  Carlos was actually put in a  chokehold before being arrested.  That was just about the hairiest local action I can remember during the Bush years.

In 2005, I spent May Day at a big anti-nuke rally in NYC.  It gets lost in the shuffle now, but one of the big victories of the peace movement over the last decade was thwarting Bush’s plan to build a new generation of nuclear weapons systems.  The trip was most memorable, though, for a late-night discussion I had with some friends from Peace Action.   We were bitching about the state of the movement, and we came to the story of one Peace Action group that had gone bankrupt after opening its own coffeehouse.  According to the president of the local chapter, it couldn’t be helped since “our coffee wasn’t any good.”  The great Catherine Detwiler’s timeless response — “that seems like a solvable problem!” — still tickles me to this day.

Back in Buffalo (and back two more years) I was involved in a much less eventful May Day march down Main Street.  A group of younger anarcho-types had come together to plan direct actions against the Iraq War in April 2003, but since the war had ended so quickly — ha! — we decided to form our own organization and kick things off with a weekend of events around May Day.  And so the mighty Buffalo Coalition Against Poverty (BCAP) was born.  It was a neat weekend — a Wal-Mart demo, a benefit concert, the march, a big picnic and skill share — but over time it became clear that scensters and crust punks weren’t a solid base on which to build an organization.  Oh well.

Then, I organized and put myself on the line.  Now, I blog.  Hasta la victoria siempre? (shrugs shoulders)