As a supporter of anarcho-syndicalist movements, which advocate for democracy for the working classes in politics as well as the workplace, I’ve been following the news about the strikes against the Spanish government’s spending cuts, which create severe consequences for workers and their families. Following these events, I came across one of their leaders, Sister Teresa Forcades.
For folks who have their doubts about capitalism, Teresa has launched a political manifesto to counter austerity measures by the Spanish government. The document calls for an independent Catalonia to carry out a more democratic and progressive agenda, including nationalizing banks and energy corporations.
On my first evening in Barcelona, I’m going to an event, Women, Spirituality and Social Change, a dialogue between Teresa and Lekshe Karma Tsomo, a California Tibetan nun, who share the same commitment: to promote social change based on inner transformation.
Travel Log to Northern Provinces of Spain
If you might travel to Spain or if you have been there and would like to compare notes, please check out my page here where I am chronicling a trip to the Northern provinces, which will include commentary on politics, cuisine, language and art.
I will occasionally do a post, but for the most part I’ll be updating the web page. Thanks for checking it out!
The chance to experience a voyage on a schooner while reflecting on the circumstances that brought free people into the imprisonment of slavery was an opportunity I could not miss. On Saturday and Sunday high winds cancelled the river tours aboard the Freedom Schooner Amistad, but by Monday the breezes died down, and we were good for a launch from the Independence Seaport Museum’s dock. The Freedom Schooner Amistad, a replica of the original La Amistad, has collaborated with international organizations throughout the Americas, Europe and Africa to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the former British empire and the United States abolishing the slave trade in the first decade of the 1800s.
Before starting the sail on the Delaware River, I had to get “onboard” with some research on the history of the La Amistad.
1840 engraving depicting the Amistad revolt. Wikipedia.
In 1839, Portuguese slave hunters kidnapped Africans from Sierra Leone and sent them to Cuba, a center for the slave trade. Treaties at that time banned the practice; nevertheless, Spanish planters purchased 53 Africans, including four children, who were shipped toward a plantation in the Caribbean aboard the schooner La Amistad. The Africans seized the ship, killing the captain and ordering the planters to sail to Africa. On August 24, 1839, the La Amistad was seized off the coast of New York, and the Africans were imprisoned on charges of murder. Despite having the charges eventually dismissed, the Africans were held in prison because of the issue of property rights. The case went to the Supreme Court; the justices ruled in favor of the Africans, and 35 survivors were returned to Sierra Leone. The Amistad case advanced the abolitionist movement, which eventually led to the abolition of slavery.
Julia Weathers related the story in her own words . . .
Films and Books
Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film, Amistad, popularized the story and received mostly positive reviews. Roger Ebert wrote,
What is most valuable about Amistad is the way it provides faces and names for its African characters, whom the movies so often make into faceless victims.
The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom by Marcus Rediker, published in 2012, retells the story from the point of view of the slaves. An article in the Philadelphia Tribune offers a detailed description of this book. Previous films and books centered on the legal battle and interplay of the politicians, abolitionists and judges rather than on the rebellion and the experience of the Africans. By taking this short voyage on the Amistad, I could imagine how the first sparks of rebellion were ignited against those who had the audacity to believe they could enslave another human being.
Twelve members of the crew are part of the Ocean Classroom Foundation, an organization that offers programs of sea education to students. Watching the students do their tasks was amazing as they climbed the rigging and hoisted the sails. What was great about the experience was the crew encouraged passengers to take part in helping out with some of these chores. Passengers pulled the ropes in unison to bring the sails into the wind. A student assisted my friend, Frances, in stacking the rope in a pattern of thirds. It then occurred to me that this is where the expression “learning the ropes” came from.
Amistad Hoisting Sails
The Amistad, built in 2000, is a 129-foot Baltimore Clipper and a replica of the original vessel. Classified as a Sailing School Vessel, the schooner is equipped with modern navigation equipment and is certified to make international voyages.
The rig and construction are authentic; and as I walked the deck, I admired the wooden pulleys, steering wheel and mast, which retained that old-world feel of craftsmanship, the wood shining with the richness of spar varnish.
The original ship has been long-lost somewhere in the Caribbean, but the Freedom Schooner Amistad will not let the story of 53 determined freedom fighters be forgotten.
“Dry Your Tears Afrika,” written by John Williams, is from the movie, Amistad.
Thanks to Abi Iverson for rearranging our tickets and providing additional information for the blog.
The American Cemetery was our final destination the day we visited Normandy. The grounds, landscaped with perfectly shaped trees and gardens, were well ordered. The blue waters of the English Channel framed the far side of the cemetery, and along the walk we could view cliffs in the distance. The beach, stretching for miles, vast and remote, rested against a scrub forest. On the carefully manicured lawn rows and rows of grave markers stood at attention facing the West. The trees swayed in a gentle breeze as the stillness of the markers remained ever-present.
Where have all the flowers gone?
On the dunes below the cemetery, we found these delicate pink blossoms entangled in barbed wire.
When I was a child, the book I treasured most was The Bumper Book: A Harvest of Stories and Verse. The condition of my book would not command the $350 that this vintage edition is selling for on eBay: the binding is gone, pages are torn and the cover is well-worn. Published in 1946, and given to me for my fourth birthday, these stories, fables and poems were my bedtime companions. “Wynken, Blynken and Nod” by Eugene Field, “Animal Crackers” by Christopher Morley and “The Swing” by Robert Louis Stevenson were some of my favorites. The colorful illustrations, printed on heavy glossy paper, fascinated me, drawing me into the stories because of the sweet depictions of the children in their vintage clothing.
Thoughts on Anachronisms
One particular poem featured vignettes of the days of the week, illustrated with a little girl doing chores for each day. Around the turn of the 20th century, women’s chores were assigned a day of the week, as described on the blog, A Hundred Years Ago. When I was a child, I loved play houses, and the settings in these illustrations seemed to take place in child-sized surroundings. I marveled that somewhere children played in these finely crafted miniature homes.
The Week’s Calendar
Monday, Watch the bubbles fly –
Tuesday, See the wash get dry –
Wednesday, Mend with all our might –
Thursday, Make things clean and bright –
Friday, Bad for dust and flies –
Saturday, Good for cakes and pies.
Sunday, From all tasks we’re free
After church we have our tea.
Because the little girl was cleaning and cooking in these picture frames, I wonder about the message that gave me about preparing for the eventual role of running a house. And then I wondered again, was that such an unfortunate model? Regardless of our path in life, we do have to take care of a home, either as a single person or with a partner and children. Of course, the drawings would have been more socially progressive if she had a boy to help out.
In our hierarchy of important jobs, our culture views work inside the home as a lower value. Yet today, with so many demands on our time, managing a home is a difficult responsibility. Cleanliness, orderliness, household finances and meal preparation offer considerable challenges. Work inside the home is the glue that keeps any society held together. This is honorable and necessary work that is best shared by all in the household.
My laundry circa 1949.
Question: Artistic Greatness
Eulalie Banks, a British/American illustrator, born in 1895 and who lived to be 102 years old, did all the artwork in the book. In her obituary, Nicholas Tucker wrote,
Eulalie Banks illustrated over 50 children’s books during her long lifetime. Never a great artist, she was always a popular one.
Interesting how the terms never a great artist, fill the second line. Really? I’ve seen many testimonials on the Internet to the Bumper Book, as adults reflect on how the stories and artwork became part of their childhood. Many, like myself, read the stories to their own children. The delightful illustrations offered a window into a rich fantasy world, enhancing the writing of the authors and poets. Conventional interpretations of greatness rarely include the breadth of experiences of children, which would lead to wider interpretations of artistic influence and “greatness”.
“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality.” Dante
As social justice activists, we often identify with Dante in his frustration with those who either criticize the most nobel of justice campaigns or refuse to become involved.
What I’ve learned from doing activist work is that some folks just don’t like being bothered by our latest efforts to bring light on various social justice issues, and it almost doesn’t matter what the cause is: environment, poverty, corporate power, or gun control. It’s a universal difficulty of organizers but infrequently identified as a problem in solving the issue of understanding reactions to our most reasonable requests for social change in response to oppression. I would like to offer some thoughts on how we might consider what making change means to those who stand on the sidelines.
1. I’m frazzled. Facts, figures, charts, graphs are logical approaches to making our case, but what we sometimes don’t address are the emotional responses to change, which makes some folks get out of sorts when they feel change is thrust upon them. Often first responses are instinctively negative.
It’s important for activists to be aware of this problem before beginning to strategize solutions. Figuring out what emotional responses might surface assists in anticipating reactions from the community. In this way the organizers will have fewer surprises or objections when their campaign begins.
2. Don’t bother me in my bubble. People get comfortable with familiar routines, while thinking differently takes a great deal of energy. Folks may not want to hear that their water is dirty, their neighbor doesn’t have health care or that the schools are short on funding. If we examine even superficial social changes, like in the 1960s when guys began to grow their hair long or when mini skirts came into the fashion scene, there was a huge backlash against even these relatively minor cultural changes.
Don’t be surprised that your cause, no matter how compelling, has brought on criticism and resistance. Expect it and prepare for it. Look for possible scapegoats, either persons or ideas. It is important to help the community think rationally and critically. Hold educational events on neutral subjects such as researching and critical thinking. Later, you may become involved in panel discussions and open forums; be ready to clarify your reasonings, demystify assumptions, consider points of view, and support your data by evidence.
3. I’ll follow the pack.Since we are social creatures, we are part of a pack of similarly thinking people, which encourages a group think mentality.
Sometimes people have difficulty making decisions because they lack the information to make an informed decision. This is where the reports and data that are easily understood are important. Answer specific questions that arise. In some cases, experts can offer clarity to the community.
4. Don’t Tell Me What to Do.When change is imposed by others, people naturally resist, which seems especially true when this happens with peer groups. People sometimes accept authority from those with status, wealth or power. People feel they have to acquiesce to these authority figures, who get a pass because they are seen in status positions. Authorities also command the comfortable status quo and can use the comfort of the old familiar routines to sway opinion to their side when controversy strikes. When peers bring change, there is a vulnerability, as they may have little power or position, from which many view as legitimacy to make change.
Identify groups, people and organizations that may command attention because of the hierarchical position, and break down the power structures by giving people a voice to their concerns. Create venues in which people can participate.
5. I’ve got my own problems. And who’s paying attention to those, they may ask. People see the world from their own view and cannot face another distraction about other people’s’ problems. Facing up to social justice issues brings the next logical step: solving the problem and that puts folks on the spot. Then they may feel compelled to do something about it. But they don’t really want to solve the problem so they often find a convenient scapegoat.
Identify ways in which your cause may create difficulties for others, whether real or imagined. Listen carefully to those who express concerns and address those concerns. Invite them to be part of the process of change. You may have to alter your focus to include larger groups.
6. I’m above the fray.Some folks have privileges that allows them the luxury to ignore the problem. For example, they have enough money to get by or they are wealthy and can afford to fix problems for themselves.
Most people experience some form of discrimination because others have privileges. Find ways in which people experience oppression. One common form of almost universal oppression is lack of voice in the work place. Most employers do not operate in a democratic fashion, and workers resent injustices they have experienced in their place of employment. Point out the advantages of everyone contributing and how that helps the organization and democratic practice. Don’t make people feel guilty about their privilege. Talk about how liberation benefits everyone.
7. I’m scared.Perhaps they are a gun owner and fear that the privilege they have had with unfettered regulation will in some way be restricted. Others fear that what little they have will be taken away. If you advocate to pay a living wage to lowest paid workers, the middle-rung workers may feel neglected. They might wonder, where’s my pay increase? Institutions perpetuate this way of thinking. I was at a meeting recently where activists were pressing the administration to provide a day care center. An administration minion said, “What will employees be willing to give up for a day care center?”
Activists and social justice organizations must look at the bigger picture and listen to as many different constituencies as possible. It may be difficult, but try to involve them in the process or at least invite them. Create specific steps and supporting documentation for each step. Try to dispel rumors and myths. Look for ways in which your message might be undermined by fear messages from the opposition.
Organizations and activists will not be able to bring everyone on the side of their cause. However, it is possible to bring along folks who stand at the fringe or even the center who might consider what you have to say. Don’t be discouraged as staying strong in the face unrelenting criticism is part of our responsibility and not to be taken personally. Changing a culture is a long process and takes careful attention to detail while remaining compassionate to all involved. Integrity should always be the cornerstone of your campaign. People respect that even if they disagree with your mission. You might just might cancel a few of those reservations to the inferno.
Honoring Workers Who Fought and Won the 8-Hour Work Day
Many people believe that May Day is a socialist or communist celebration, when in fact the May Day holiday grew out of the eight-hour working day movement in the United States in 1884. The struggle for a shorter workday began in the factories as the unions pressed their employers for shorter hours and higher wages. At that time, millions of people were out of work. During the convention of the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions announced that eight hours “shall constitute a day’s work from and after May 1, 1886.” Honoring May Day is an important part of our American heritage, and in Philadelphia Elmwood Park provided the perfect place for a rally and celebration in front of the monument by Irish artist, John Kindness, which stands as a tribute to the American worker.
Alexandria with John Jerzak, member of Friends of Elmwood Park who advocated for the labor memorial.
Jim Moran, Committee Chair of the May Day Committee introduced Alexandria Knox, proudly representing her union, the American Federation of Musicians, Local 349, Manchester, New Hampshire. Alexandria played a rousing version of Scotland the Brave on the bagpipes, beginning the afternoon’s entertainment. We were extremely fortunate that Alexandria, who is dedicated to the cause of unionization and solidarity, had agreed to play for the event as she is one of a very small number of totally visually impaired Highland bagpipers throughout the world. Next up Mike Stout & The Human Union Band filled the air with energetic rock music with a worker message. I was moved by their first song, The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Song, especially in light of the recent tragedy in Bangladesh, where over 1,000 workers were killed in a building collapse. I immediately bought three of their CDs. Mike describes himself as
a socially conscious singer song-writer and community leader who leads crusades against local and global economic injustice, rallying people with his music, and he organizes them to take action.He tells his stories from the heart about people who are affected by unemployment, or social injustice or war.
Mike Stout and the Human Union Band
Other musicians performed including K&A Mob, Tha Truth, Dina Yarmus and Maryta Fields, who sang the National Anthem. Pete Matthews-AFSCME DC 33, Gwen Ivey-APWU 89, Cathy Scott-AFSCME DC 47, John Johnson-TWU 234, Helen Gym-Parents United for Public Education, Philadelphia Student Union, Chicago Teachers Union 1, Cathy Brady-Friends of Elmwood Park & SEIU HCPA were some of the scheduled speakers. A member of the Chicago Teachers Union, Andrew Heiserman, shared stories of their courageous battle against the city’s austerity measures against the schools. . Sonia Sanchez, Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate, spoke about peace benches. Jim Moran presented the Aggie Moran Human Rights Awards to Sonia as well as to labor historian, Alice Hoffman, labor rights campaigner, Barbara Rahke, and the Restaurant Opportunities Center. The “SRC 19,” the activists arrested at the last School Reform Commission meeting in Philadelphia when the SRC voted to close 23 Philadelphia Public Schools, were also honored. Occupy Philly Food Committee provided a great selection of food: sandwiches, bbq, salads, cake and beverages.
on 47th and Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia.
The city of Philadelphia displays the largest collection of public murals in the country. One of the 2,000 murals rests on the wall outside of the A-Space, a collectively run anarchist community center and art gallery. Titled The Heart of Baltimore Avenue, the muralist, David Ginn, depicts West Philly neighbors working together.
Passing by on May Day 2013, caught this moment . . . which stands as a tribute to all workers who make our cities great.
When grew up in Springfield, Pennsylvania, in the 195os and 60s, I was very much aware that the Republican machine ran the politics of the town, as well as the county, going back to the Civil War. My parents were Democrats, and I remember my father remarking how a Democrat didn’t have a chance of being elected to any office in the county. As a teenager I became interested in supporting the Democratic underdogs, and I attended several events for John J. Logue of Swarthmore, who tried to unseat the entrenched Republican congressman in the 7th district. Young and idealistic, I felt betrayed by the democratic process and wondered how the voices of the people could be drowned out by the powerful Delaware County Board of Republican Supervisors, nicknamed the “War Board.”
In 1974 the Republican machine still controlled Delaware County, and the War Board monopolized local politics. The break came when the public became outraged over the Watergate scandal. What fired me up was when President Nixon demanded the resignations of Attorney General Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus. Bob Edgar, a Methodist minister, decided to run for the 7th Congressional seat, and I signed up to join his campaign.
I canvassed with Bob and stood train stations and malls, handing out flyers. His parents lived a few blocks away, and his Dad and I would walk through the neighborhoods of Springfield talking up the cause. I attended strategy meetings with his dedicated campaign staff and spoke to union representatives. Bob had a platform we could believe in:
As election night approached, we were still very much uncertain of the outcome. We faced a voter registration of 3:1 in favor of Republicans. The Republican party ran a new candidate, county district attorney Stephen J. McEwen. The G.O.P. had plenty of monitory resources while Bob’s campaign spent only $3,000 on his primary. Even the Associate Director of the Democratic National Committee stated that “the national party does not rate the chances of winning the 7th district seat as high as other districts.”
Undaunted, the campaign soldiers solicited friends, neighbors and family members to help Bob’s campaign. We were determined to keep the momentum going. I signed up to distribute campaign literature outside the polls at the old Central School in Springfield on Election Day. After the polls closed, my job was to call in the voting tallies to the Edgar headquarters.
That evening after the voting was complete, I held my breath as they opened the voting machine and read the numbers. Bob had won with a clear majority. I called in the tallies, and headed over to the headquarters. We were still waiting for final results to come in from the other precincts when Stephen McEwen entered the room with his entourage. I could hardly believe Steve was conceding as we expected a long night of vote counting. The joy of the victory spread through the crowd as we shared that moment of celebration with each other.
Bob passed away on April 23, and his contributions to Common Cause, as well as his accomplishments when serving six terms as a progressive congressman, are being remembered in The New York Times, the Nation and Huffington Post. For me, Bob’s greatest legacy is when he stood with the people of the 7th Congressional District to restore democracy from control of one-party rule.
For many years now, a social justice movement has been underway to create awareness the working conditions and wages of farm and migrant workers who pick the fruits and vegetables that we eat. According to the report, “Toward Social Justice and Economic Equity in the Food System,” the public is increasingly attracted to goods produced under socially just conditions.” Fair trade and sweatshop-free products have become popular with consumers.
But what are the conditions that workers face in the manufacture of our electronic devices, and what is our responsibility as conscientious consumers to support fair workplace practices for these workers? Do we think the skill levels required to work in this field would offer fair pay and good working conditions? I believed that the stunning success of the iPad, which Apple sold over three million in three days back in November 2012, would benefit their employees, as well as their stockholders. What I learned was that Apple uses an intermediary company, Foxconn, to manufacture their products. While Apple has a positive image as an employer, Foxconn employment practices have come into question.
Unfortunately, conditions in many of these plants operated by Foxconn in China, as well as in other countries, reveal that many workers are subject to exploitive practices. In April 2011 the story broke that seven Chinese workers had committed suicide. The Guardian reported that Chinese sociologists condemned workplace practices that served as a “model where fundamental human dignity is sacrificed for development.” The article continued . . .
In Shenzhen and Chengdu a joint Foxconn workforce of 500,000 is providing the labour that, in the first quarter of 2011, contributed to Apple Inc net profit of $6 billion (£3.6bn). Interviews with mainly migrant employees and managers have laid bare the dark side of those profits: a Dickensian world of work that would be considered shocking in the west.
To bring attention to the problem of worker exploitation in these factories, on April 21, 2013, The Wooden Shoe, IWW and Solidarity sponsored an activist from Germany, Ralf, to speak in Philadelphia.
Ralf’s talk was based on gongchao.org’s collective research and activity around the struggles of migrant workers, and he presented photos and films to explain the situation at Foxconn. Ralf focused the discussion on ways to support the iSlaves, relating their struggles to our own labor issues. Formed in September 2008, gongchao researches and documents labor unrest and social movements in China from the perspective of class struggle, migration, and gender. The website offers both analytical texts and workers’ stories.
While the web has a number of resources and webpages on working conditions in China, hearing the stories first hand from Ralf brought the reality closer to home. In the coming weeks, Ralf will be in Washington, Detroit, Chicago, Madison, Saint Paul, Minneapolis, Seattle, Bay Area and Los Angeles. You can click on this link for the details of his schedule.
Foxconn Workers on Strike
The Wooden Shoe: A Philadelphia collectively-run, anarchist book store and educational space supported by volunteers.
Anarchism: Political philosophy advocating that people are better served if they make decisions for themselves and communities rather than from any form of centralized power structure.
IWW: Industrial Workers of the World, member-run union for all workers.
On March 29, Heeding God’s Call, held their Fifth Annual Good Friday Procession and Vigil to protest the continued gun violence in the city. Nearly 200 worshippers gathered late in the afternoon at St. Paul’s Baptist Church, where worship services began, and then “en masse” marched to Benjamin Franklin High School on North Broad Street for the vigil.
The Tabernacle United Choir and Arch Street Methodist Choir joined the Healing Presence Singers under the backdrop of the Common Threads Mural, which is representative of hope for the future. Holly Phares directed the choirs during the ecumenical service that included guest speakers from several faith-based organizations and families who have lost children to gun violence. By joining together, the worshipers affirmed that it is possible for citizens to fight for legislation and social policies that would help bring peace to our streets and homes.
According to CNN, Philadelphia has one of the worst homicide rates in the country, with more than 80% of these crimes committed with a gun.
A young, black man, has a greater chance of being shot and killed in Philadelphia than he would have if he were a soldier serving in the conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq,
An average day in US has 30 gun-related murders with another 162 wounded based on the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, 53 people kill themselves with a gun each day. Our homicide rate of 4.7 murders per 100,000 people is one of the highest of all developed countries. Unfortunately, statistics of these daily tragedies mean little in the public consciousness and only when mass shootings occur, do citizens begin to take notice. This outrage that follows these shootings is followed by frustration as law-makers, indebted to the gun lobby, block even the most sensible gun restrictions, such as high-capacity magazines. If the Tucson shooter had only ten bullets, Christina Taylor Green would be with her family today.
At the rally in Philadelphia, parents of children who were killed by guns spoke of their loss.
Rally Against Gun Violence
While this was a peaceful demonstration, just a day before mothers in Indiana had to stand in defiance in front of a line of armed men carrying AR-15 semi-automatic weapons. The moms, advocating for restrictions on purchases of high-capacity magazines and legislation requiring background checks on gun sales, were protesting in front of the Indiana statehouse. An armed opponent admitted that his rifle was loaded. Some might argue that the Indiana protest was also peaceful, but the potential for violence, either because of accident, mental instability or provocation, undermines the tenants of democracy to live free from the threat of gun violence.