'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, April 29, 2011

In Memoriam: Vik Arrigoni 

A moving obituary by Max Ajl and an exploration of a life of activist commitment as well. For more background about Arrigoni, consider these reflections by Daniela Loffreda, as well as this apology by Mohammed Said Alnadi.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Peculiar Form of Protest 

You probably heard about it while I was on vacation. On April 21st, a group of people paid to attend an Obama fundraiser in San Francisco, sang a whimsical political sang and called for the release of Bradley Manning:

According to a White House pool report, Obama was speaking to about 200 supporters when a woman stood up at one of the tables of 10 attendees and declared that the group had written a song.

Obama tried to convince the woman to wait, the report said, but the table then broke into a song that referenced Manning, the cost of the fundraiser, and Florida Rev. Terry Jones, who recently burned a copy of the Koran and sparked an outcry in Afghanistan.

Each of us brought you $5,000. It takes a lot of Benjamins to run a campaign. I paid my dues, where's our change, they sang.

The group passed around signs that read Free Bradley Manning

The pool reporter, Carol E. Lee of the Wall Street Journal, reported that Obama took the song in stride although she also noted that he looked “displeased,” as did House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was also present.

The woman was soon escorted from the ballroom by aides.

That was a nice song, Obama said. Now where was I?

Pentagon officials recently announced that Manning, who is charged with 34 counts, including aiding the enemy, would be transferred from the Marine brig at Quantico, Va., where he was kept in conditions akin to solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and heavily chained when he was moved, to a medium-security facility in Leavenworth, Kan., where he likely will enjoy more freedom in his daily activities.

Was I the only person that considered this a little odd? First of all, it has been reported that the attendees contributed $105,000 to enter the fundraiser in order to serenade the President as to his political deficiences, with $76,000 of it contributed by one of the primary ringleaders, Naomi Pitcairn. So they protested the President by contributing $105,000 to his reelection campaign. No doubt, you will be surprised to discover that Pitcairn is a supporter of the President, responding to a subsequent media inquiry by saying that he's the best shot we have. Pitcairn, a fourth generation heir to the Pittsburgh Plate Glass fortune, also contributed $28,000 to the Obama campaign in 2008. According to Jeff Patterson, project director of Courage to Resist, an activist group that took part in the protest, Pitcairn describes herself as a trust-fund brat/artist.

So, as usual in liberal circles, the protesters were having their cake and eating it, too. If criticized by their pro-Obama friends, they can say, hey, we contributed $105,000 to the President's reelection camapaign, how much have you given? If criticized by their more issue oriented associates, they can say, hey, what's the problem, we publicized the President's fidelity to corporate interests and his abuse of Bradley Manning, and it got reported by all the major newspapers and cable news channels. In other words, we have a classic instance of political protest drained of all transformative potential, protest intentionally designed to be innocuous and non-threatening by the people who paid for it and participated in it. It was, as senecal would say, another example of the reduction of human expression into spectacle, something to entertain viewers on CNN or Fox News while waiting for the Giants game to start on Comcast.

Beyond this, I know a lot of progressive to radical political organizations that could do quite a bit with $105,000, with more enduring results. For example, I host a public affairs program on a free form, non-commercial radio station, KDVS 90.3 FM, and $105,000 is about half of its yearly operating budget. Barbara Lubin of the Middle East Children's Alliance would be ecstatic to receive a contribution of this size for the benefit of the people of Palestine, as would any number of local grassroots labor, environment and anti-war organizations. But these substantive concerns aren't really the point. When Teddy Partridge reported the protest over at firedoglake, there were numerous comments by people who just loved the fact that the President was being discomforted. Sadly, for many who feel disempowered, this is all that remains, to revel in ongoing efforts to personally embarrass Obama. It symbolizes the passive aggressive relationship that some liberals have with him, they give him money, they defend him against criticisms from the left, but then take out their anger of his betrayals by confronting him during rare instances of personal contact. They want him to stay in the White House so that they can continue to vent their frustrations through him.

And, there is an elitist condescension embedded with this as well. The protesters sang, Each of us brought you $5,000. It takes a lot of Benjamins to run a campaign. I paid my dues, where's our change? Given Pitcairn's history of campaign contributions to Obama, it comes across rather arrogantly. It can be translated as, we gave you money and you didn't do what we said. The racial and class implications of such an attitude are troubling, to say the least. Of course, the song is satire, so perhaps, I shouldn't take it so seriously, except that the costs of the protest were primarily paid by someone who appears to believe that political change requires contributing substantial sums of money to Democratic presidential candidates. I can't help but recalling the old adage that people reveal the most about themselves through their humor. A protest that emphasized that the political system has been corrupted by money exposed something equally disturbing, that activism has been as well.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Typical Davis 

I lived in Davis, California for a long time. I went about 20 miles across the causeway from Sacramento to attend the undergraduate program at UC Davis in 1979. Upon graduation from law school six years later, I stayed in the adjacent city until I moved back to Sacramento in 2005. During my time there, the population grew from about 30,000 to just over 50,000 today. There is one important thing about Davis that you need to know. Regardless of what you might think, there is no bigotry in Davis of any kind because there are always other explanations for acts that would be considered bigoted elsewhere, such as this ongoing campaign of harassment against the Islamic Center. My impression is that the first training that cops hired by the city go through is how to come up with alternative explanations for criminal acts motivated by racial and religious bigotry.

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Film Notes: The Battle of Chile 

Just before leaving on vacation, I had the opportunity to see Patricio Guzman's epic documentary, The Battle of Chile, at the Pacific Film Archive. In this approximately four and a half hour film, released in 1975, he profiles the intensifying class conflict during the presidency of Salvador Allende that culminated in the 1973 coup. Fortunately, for those of you who are interested, the film is available on DVD.

Guzman lived in Chile during the events in question, and filmed them, and the public response to them, as they happened. His emphasis is upon the transformation of society by collective, popular action, and the challenges associated with such an endeavor, as most concisely expressed in a famous sentence from Allende's last speech during the coup: History is ours and the people make it. Within the polarized, politically charged climate of Chile in the early 1970s, such a seemingly homogenized statement of political rhetoric constituted a commitment of perpetual resistance. Guzman's effort to smuggle the footage for the film out of Chile to Sweden so that it could be edited and publicly released was one form of such resistance.

For it was within Chile that the neoliberals entered their Garden of Eden, implementing policies of extreme austerity and privatization by means of a destabilization of society orchestrated by the CIA, ITT and the AFL-CIO and the subsequent authoritarian social controls associated with a military regime. It was here that Milton Friedman and the Chicago School, with their purported concern about ensuring that people are free to choose, persuaded General Augusto Pinochet to radically implement capital friendly, market based policies against the will of much of the Chilean populace. In an instance of dialectical irony, the truck drivers, copper workers and middle class people that served in the vanguard of opposition to Allende found themselves among the victims of Pinochet's policies. People around the world have been fighting the export of these neoliberal policies with varying degrees of success ever since. Guzman conveys the ferocity of the initial struggle within Chile as a sort of fatalistic, documentary noir.

Of course, this is a well known history, a tale told many times, most recently by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. Lesser known is the provocation for the coup, the vision of society that so threatened the middle class, the military and economic elites, including investors thousands of miles away in the United States. In his documentary, Guzman focuses upon the people and social movements that sought to socialize Chilean society and the opposition to them. As Part 1 began, I was overwhelmed by the emotional political participation of people within Chilean society. From the socially alienated, politically disengaged world of 2011, I almost thought that The Battle of Chile was a newly created film genre, the political science fiction period film. One cannot dismiss this by claiming that Guzman was speaking solely with politically engaged people, as he conducted many of his interviews with people from all walks of life, especially those involved in industrial production. He is seemingly everywhere, filming mass rallies, election campaigns, factory occupations, land seizures and organized campaigns to transport people and supply food during the effort to disrupt the Chilean economy and interviewing the participants.

By doing so, Guzman reveals the collective liberatory possibilities embedded within the emergence of popular power, the fusion of political and economic power within communities, administered through increasingly anti-authoritarian forms of social organization, something that, in a different context, Samuel Huntington alarmingly described as a democratic distemper, a situation whereby people demanded more of the government while becoming increasingly resistant to its authority. Within Chile, democratic distemper took the specific form of workers, who had been exploited by their employers and investors for decades while living in terrible conditions, responding to the election of Allende by accelerating the pace of the nationalization of some sectors of the economy by taking over taking over factories themselves. Meanwhile, peasants carried out their own land reform independent of the government by taking land for themselves. Parallel to these efforts, people mobilized to distribute necessities, such as food, during times of scarcity, and provide transportation during CIA financed strikes by transport workers, on a more egalitarian, socially conscious basis. Such actions, combined with the alliance by local economic elites and the United States to make the daily lives of Chileans more and more chaotic and difficult, shattered the effort of Allende to administer a peaceful path to socialism by taking control of the commanding heights of the economy for the benefit of middle and lower class Chileans.

The argument on the left as to the whether such actions facilitated the coup remains, as near as I can tell, unresolved. My impression, after watching the film, is that Guzman sided with those who believe that Allende should have more forcefully embraced the seizure of economic power by workers and peasants within their communities and the creation of local institutions to administer them. Of course, I can't say whether the socialist experiment in Chile would have survived if Allende, and the coalition of left political parties in support of him, had decided to do so, but I can say with more confidence that this democratization of the economy must have been the most frightening form of democratic distemper that imperialists like Huntington could imagine. The coup was, in essence, the Huntington solution to this peril, the reassertion of hierarchical political power and the cultivation of political apathy. In Chile, both were violently enforced. If private property and the hegemony of capital are to be preserved, there are potentially desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy. One suspects that Pinochet was more interested in the social dimension of the policies of the Chicago School, the potential for eliminating possible sources of collective resistance through atomization, than he was in its economic theory, which ultimately, within less than 20 years, resulted in such a severe economic crisis than he was forced from power.

But Guzman also has a clear eye for the internal problems associated with economic democratization. For example, such a process makes great demands of the populace. In one telling sequence, he films a meeting where a cadre attempts to persuade a group of workers that they need to proceed carefully because they work in a plant owned by a Swiss company. Switzerland, he earnestly explains to them, is a member of the Club of Paris, and the Club makes important decisions related to the Chilean foreign debt. Needless to say, they are not convinced, with one person telling the cadre that the workers in the plant will not understand it, that he needs to address issues of importance to them. Guzman had a great insight here, one that can be misunderstood. It is not so much that the workers were too self-centered or ignorant to engage with what the apparently better educated, more articulate cadre had to say. Instead, he contrasts the self-confidence of the workers, and a perspective based upon experience, with the practical diffidence of the cadre derived from abstract knowledge, all manifestations of the difficulty in communication that they must overcome. In this, Guzman echoes Godard, without losing his optimism. Hidden within this nascent collective discourse is the sinister allure of leisure, one of the most significant creations of capitalism in the last 100 years. Working your shift, participating in the distribution of food during your off days and going to meetings at night is emotionally and physically exhausting. Better to leave the decisions and the provision of services to others and watch television.

Neoliberalism, leisure and their accompanying disassembly of collective forms of social organization, have come at a high cost. This is one of the themes that has been engrafted onto The Battle of Chile with the passage of time. Mass mobilization against the brutalities of global capitalism are no longer possible, and it is absurd to believe that it can peaceably tamed through the electoral process, as was attempted in Chile, with the possible exception of South America. Hence, they have been replaced by what is commonly called terrorism. In Italy, Germany and the United States, the process was surprisingly rapid, with mass protest movements fragmenting into covert, small group violence within about 10 years. None of them sparked resistance sufficient to threaten the established order, and, now, decades later, hostility to capitalist excess in all three places is primarily expressed through xenophobia. Most of the participants ended up isolated from the marginalized people in society that motivated them. Meanwhile, with the developmental aspirations of the lesser developed world aborted, such violence has persisted, but it has not politically inspired the millions of wageless people who live in it. So far, as noted, it is only in South America where the residue of the Chilean experience still resonates, as described by Ben Dangl, but the achievements to date have been of a mild, Keynesian nature. One of the forgotten aspects of the coup against Allende is that it signaled the beginning of a coordinated, attempted extermination of the left throughout the southern cone with assistance of the CIA, a campaign known as Operation Condor. At minimum, it has been estimated that the governments of Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Bolivia and Uruguay killed 60,000 people and incarcerated 400,000 more.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

On Vacation Until 4/21 

Meanwhile, the Second Reagan Revolution proceeds unimpeded.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Eurocentrism (Part 1) 

UPDATE 1: Oh, by the way, if you are a woman, and show silent support for a woman wearing a niqab, you'll get arrested, too:

Halima, a 53-year-old mother from Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, who wears a normal headscarf, was detained by police for standing silently with the niqab-wearers at Notre Dame. She said: This is the first time I've ever protested over anything. I'm not in favour of the niqab, I don't wear it myself. But it's wrong for the government to ban women from dressing how they want. Islamophobia is on the rise in France. First it's the niqab, then they'll ban the jilbab, then it will be plain headscarves outlawed.

She was, you see, participating in an unauthorized protest.

And, then, there's the Saudi exception:

Shop-owners said luxury fashion boutiques near the Champs Elysées were unlikely to call the police to detain female tourists in niqabs from the Gulf. This would create a two-tier system between rich tourists and poor French people, one trader complained. Emmanuel Roux from the police union, Syndicat des Commissaires de la Police Nationale, said the law would be infinitely difficult to apply and infinitely little applied.

Roux no doubt understands that the poor Muslim women of France are the precisely the intended targets of this measure. After all, Hugo would have appreciated the care with with which the authorities drafted it:

The law is worded to trip safely through legal minefields: The words women, Muslim and veil are not even mentioned. The law says it is illegal to hide the face in the public space.

While Italy also has a law against concealing the face for security reasons, France's law was the first conceived to target veil-wearers. Sarkozy said he wanted a ban, and that the veils are not welcome in France.

INITIAL POST: The more things change, the more they stay the same. The French Communist Party, the PCF, supported the war in Algeria in the 1950s, and, now, if media reports are reliable, the French left supported the ban on the niqab as well. The level of police harassment associated with enforcement of the ban is ludicrous, consider, for example, the following:

The guide sent out last week to police notes that the burqa ban does not apply inside private cars, but it reminds officers that such cases can be dealt with under road safety rules.

The police presence in front of Notre Dame today, where 12 women participated in a protest against the ban, was predictably over the top:

Scores of plain clothes police, a riot van, several police vans and long police buses drivn in to take away 2 small women in a niqab

Sarkozy certainly spares no expense when it comes to street theatre for the purpose of entertaining the racist, sectarian part of his base. Women who wear the niqab now attract more cops than anarchists! The use of plain clothes police is particularly interesting. Will we soon be hearing of an effort to infiltrate the niqab movement by female undercover officers wearing the niqab themselves? All of this effort because of between 350 and 2,000 women in France who wear it. As Chuck D. of Public Enemy rapped decades ago, it takes a nation of millions to hold us back.

More seriously, though, there is a subtext here. And, you've probably already figured it out. In France, people like Sarkozy put forward the sinister notion that liberty, fraternity and equality are uniquely French, uniquely the creations of the European enlightenment. So much so, that, if necessary, they can be imposed upon balky people from purportedly feudal cultures, like those in the Islamic world, for example, by the police. Or, on a more international scale, they can used to justify the subjection of civilian populations in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan to military violence. No wonder that Sarkozy took the lead in launching airstrikes in Libya.

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

Egypt Erupts (Part 13) 

UPDATE 1: The Arabist has another account of the attack. Interestingly, the person who provided it also says that a sit-in at the Israeli embassy was attacked brutally. David Dietz has also provided a description of the attack that confirms that it appears to have been prompted by the participation of Egyptian military officers in the protest:

The desperation turned to delight when 15 army officers joined one of the many stages set up around the square to protest against their own organization.

A few hours later delight turned to sheer panic. Not long after the 15 rogue army officers took the podium, the military moved in to arrest the defectors.

Worried for their safety the crowd sprang to action. Linked arm-to-arm the protesters formed a human wall to defend their compatriots. Human might however was no match for the guns and tasers of the army.

Shortly after nightfall the military encircled Tahrir Square systematically dispersing the crowd. According to several protesters who acted more like bodyguards, they where able to save six of the soldiers. The others were not as lucky. They were captured and taken away, their fate unknown.

His account is worth reading in its entirely for the graphic presentation of the violence of the assault.

INITIAL POST: Egyptian troops attack hundreds of protesters in Tahrir Square:

The military appears to have responded to a large protest where people criticized military control of the country:

Demonstrators burned cars and barricaded themselves with barbed wire inside a central Cairo square demanding the resignation of the military's head after troops violently dispersed an overnight protest killing one and injuring 71.

Hundreds of soldiers beat protesters with clubs and fired into the air in the pre-dawn raid on Cairo's central Tahrir Square in a sign of the rising tensions between Egypt's ruling military and protesters.

Armed with sticks and other makeshift weapons, the protesters vowed not to leave until the defense minister, the titular head of state, has resigned.

The soldiers swept into the square around 3 a.m. and waded into a tent camp in the center where protesters had formed a human cordon to protect several army officers who had joined their demonstration in defiance of their superiors.

An article just posted by the Guardian provides a provocative first person account:

Tamer el-Said, an Egyptian film-maker who was in the square, described what happened.

There was a huge demonstration that started at about 11 o'clock [on Friday]. There were some military officers who joined it who were dissatisfied with what the supreme military council was doing. There were between 15 and 20 of them. Obviously it was really dangerous for them so the other protesters decided that they would protect them from being arrested by the military police.

At about 11 o'clock last night the security forces, who had surrounded the square, tried to enter it to try and catch these soldiers but the protesters would not allow them to come in. There were army and police and special forces. At 3 o'clock they attacked the square. They were firing bullets in the air: at first rubber bullets and then live rounds. They pushed all the demonstrators out of the square. Then they started to chase the protesters into the surrounding streets and the downtown area using tear gas and bullets. I have a friend who was there who said there was continuous shooting.

The huge turnout in the square has followed growing fears in some sections of Egyptian society that the army has hijacked the revolution.

According to eyewitnesses, the raid was led by a mixture of army, police and internal security forces in 20-30 military trucks. They said the firing continued in the square until about 5.30am.

A splinter group of protesters broke away and marched to the Israeli embassy, demanding the closure of the embassy in support of the Palestinians:

Feeling against Zionism appear to be getting more and more intense, as one of the presidential candidates, El Baradei, expressed the intention to explore ways of militarily supporting the people of Gaza earlier in the week. According to As'ad Abukhalil:

The lousy military council is digging its own grave. It is in a terrible bind: they can only control the people by resorting to Mubarak's style repression, but they know they cant: they minute they emulate Mubarak rule, they will go down. Tantawi is already a chant in Tahrir square. The worst for Arab regimes, and Israel, is yet to come. Keep watching.

The US, Saudi and Israeli response will, of course, be escalation. Personally, I believe that we are entering a very dangerous period. The US and the Saudis now appear willing to export the violence and suppression on display in Libya and Bahrain to Egypt, with the military council as its instrument. Of course, suppression, on the Bahrain model, is the preferred option, but, if necessary, the transformation of Egypt into a failed state, with perpetual violence and unrest, if not civil war, as in Libya, is acceptable. They will rely upon their historic method of manipulating sectarian conflict, as they have done in Lebanon and Iraq, and, now, Bahrain. The ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods in Bahrain has already begun. The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia rightly perceive the revolutionary movement throughout North Africa and the Middle East as a mortal peril to their continued hegemony.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Surveillance of Student Protest at the University of California, Davis 

I graduated from the University of California, Davis undergraduate program in 1983, and the campus law school in 1986. The intensity of student protests against substantial registration fee increases while the salaries of high level administrators skyrocket has prompted this response from Chancellor of UC Davis, Linda Katehi:

Students are questioning their rights to free speech after a Public Records Act request revealed the existence of a group of UC Davis administrators and staff charged with monitoring campus protests.

While members of the group, the Student Activism Team, view it as a way of ensuring student safety and promoting free speech, others deem it a breach of trust as well as an infringement of first amendment rights.

Students have a right to know the entire story here, said Cres Vellucci, a member of Sacramento County's American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) board of directors, in an e-mail interview. Who was monitoring them, and why, and if any files have been created relating to student organizers and participants. Students have the right to organically organize and conduct free speech-protected activities, free from interference and surveillance.

Having a presence at student protests isn't anything new, said Griselda Castro, assistant vice chancellor of Student Affairs and team organizer. Realizing that the budget crisis would likely stir more action this year, administrators recruited volunteers and formalized the team in August of 2010.

But, the funny thing is, UCD didn't tell anyone about it until it was exposed as a consequence of records recently released in response to a Public Records Act request. You'd think that the university would have publicly announced it upon its creation so as to inform the campus community about it, so as to facilitate the attainment of its alleged innocuous objective of preventing the escalation of conflict between protesting students and their own police. Furthermore, there is the additional troubling fact that an undercover UCD police attended the most recent March 2nd rally and lied about their identity when challenged, as also described in the California Aggie article linked hereinabove. Not to worry, though, the cops will be honest in the future. After all, UCD says so.

Such conduct is consistent with what has happened at other UC campuses. For example, the University of California, Santa Cruz spent $6,000 to hire a private investigator to photograph and videotape student protests on March 18 and 19, 2010. Meanwhile, at the University of California, Berkeley, Amanda Carlton, an administrator in the Student Leadership office, joined a student organization involved in the protests and passed along information that she learned from it to the UCB Police Department and Vice Chancellor Harry LeGrande. Another UCB employee, spokesperson Claire Holmes, used her Facebook account to join a student Facebook group and obligingly passed along information about planned protest activities to the UCB Police Department as well. But, at UCD, students should believe that the the Student Activism Team was created, according to Chancellor Katehi, to embrace student activism.

UC Davis English Literature professor Joshua Clover was not convinced:

The program purports to ensure [demonstrators'] safety and the safety of those in their path. We should therefore ask: have demonstrators at UCD harmed anyone, in or out of their path? No. Not a soul. We might add, with some confusion, that no one has been in their path.

But this is not quite true. The administration has repeatedly placed the police in this path, has effectively stood there with them. Yet only protesters have been thereby placed in harm's way. Across the UC system, as students and workers have organized against the unequal devolution of austerity, all incidents of bodily injury have been meted out by the police, none by protesters. The feverish fantasy of dangerous protesters is just that. Contrarily, the police have exercised their monopoly on violence, threatened and real, at the administration's behest. Last fall a UCI police officer leveled a loaded pistol at an unarmed protester. Naturally he claimed to have been threatened. The video shows otherwise.

Along these lines, UCD student Brienna Holmes has filed a lawsuit against the UCD Police Department for unreasonable seizure, excessive force, malicious abuse of process and battery. She alleges that she was violently thrown upon the hood of a police car and painfully jerked and grabbed while her arm was stuck in the strap of her bag.

As a consequence of the Public Records Act request and subsequent California Aggie news coverage, UCD has been compelled to release the names of the people associated with the Student Activism Team:

The Student Activism Team is comprised of five organizers - [Griselda] Castro, [assistant vice chancellor for student affairs and team leader], Associate Vice Chancellors of Student Affairs Lora Jo Bossio and Emily Galindo, Director of Campus Unions Brett Burns and Anne Myler, associate director of the Center for Student Involvement.

The volunteers are Wells, Kristee Haggins, training director with Counseling and Psychological Services, Ayesha Alcala, graduate Financial Aid assistant, Jeff Austin, programmer with Financial Aid, Joyce Cleaver, Financial Aid data analyst, Katy Maloney, director of Financial Aid, Don Dudley, associate director of Student Judicial Affairs, Sara Hawkes, math skills specialist with the Student Academic Success Center, Kelly Cole, academic coordinator of Student Housing, Chuck Huneke, assistant director of Student Housing, Nathan Moses, leadership coordinator of Student Housing, Josh O'Conner, conduct coordinator of Student Housing, Lisa Papagni, assistant director of Student Housing, Branden Petitt, associate director of Student Housing, Amanda Seguin, conduct coordinator of Student Housing and Anthony Volkar, orientation coordinator of Student Housing.

The team also has additional resource staff. They are Atkinson, Steven Baissa, director of the Cross-Cultural Center, Peg Swain, director of the Women's Resources and Research Center, John Ortiz-Hutson, Student Affairs coordinator of African American and African Studies, My Diem Nguyen, Student Affairs coordinator of Asian American Studies, Alma Martinez, Student Affairs coordinator of Chicana/o studies and Judith LaDeaux, Student Affairs coordinator of Native American studies. There are also six community advising network counselors - Carolyn Bordeaux, Roxana Borrego, Jezzie Fulmen, Paul Kim, Renee Lopez and Romana Norton.

As one peruses these names, interesting questions come to mind. Why are so many people who work for Financial Aid and Student Housing involved in this effort? Are UCD administrators accessing the private information of people who receive financial aid and/or live in Student Housing for the benefit of those who monitor the protests, including UCD police officers? Are UCD administrators considering building files on particular protesters for the purpose of rescinding their financial aid and/or evicting them from student housing in response to alleged misconduct at protests? Perhaps, as suggested by Vellucci, they have already done so.

The participation of UCD employees associated with the Cross Cultural Studies Center, the Women's Resource and Research Center and various ethnic studies programs is especially disheartening. They have appparently embraced a new mission of monitoring student protest for Chancellor Katehi. UCD students went on a hunger strike in the early 1990s to save the Cross Cultural Studies Center, but I doubt that they anticipated that its employees would subsequently engage in these activities. It is, I believe, another cautionary tale about how institutions with purported progressive purposes are now acting to preserve the privileges of entrenched authority, as addressed earlier this week in relation to those allied with the Obama administration.

As for politically active students at UCD, they are best advised to be circumspect in their communication with anyone associated with Student Activities Team. The safest course of action is for them refuse to cooperate with this effort in any way. Pro-Palestinian students at UC Irvine are currently facing criminal prosecution for conspiracy for involvement in a raucous protest at UCI against Israeli ambassador Michael Oren. Responses to inquiries about political activity that appear innocuous could provide an evidentiary basis for a similar sort of prosecution in the event of this sort of protest at UCD. Facts about one's conduct that are, by themselves, legal, can still establish the overt act necessary for a conspiracy prosecution. Furthermore, such information could find its way into actions by UCD to sanction or expel students. And, oh, by the way, anyone on this list of organizers and volunteers should disassociate themselves from the effort, immediately.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

Vote or Die (Part 10) 

It has been awhile since I have posted on the subject as to whether the US political system provides any meaningful opportunity for participation for the vast majority of the populace. I have periodically elaborated on this theme in posts entitled Vote or Die, an sarcastic reference to someone here who commented that the choice in the 2008 election was either death or voting for Obama. If you are interested in persuing my previous posts about it, you can find some of them here.

Last week, I encountered this Democracy Now! interview with Ari Berman about the selection of Jim Messina as Obama's 2012 campaign manager that prompted me to briefly revisit this topic:

AMY GOODMAN: New York Times saying the nation’s top Democratic contributors were given an ambitious set of marching orders on Thursday, yesterday, with a select group of 450 donors each asked to raise $350,000 before the end of the year. If all members meet their goal, the tally from this one group alone would be $157 million. A new goal will be set next year, expected to be much higher.

ARI BERMAN: Well, the Obama campaign wants to raise a billion dollars for this campaign. And in these events, you know, they’re not public. The names are not released. We don’t know who these donors are. We don’t know what promises are being made. Maybe they’re all just doing it out of the goodness of their own heart, but my feeling is, if you’ve got all these donors in a room, it would be a very different configuration of people than all the small donors who helped power the Obama campaign in 2008.

Leaving aside Berman's apologia for the 2008 campaign, which was as reliant upon the bundling of large corporate donations as any other previous campaign (he is, after all, affiliated with The Nation), his remarks raise a number of challenging questions. What is the point of participating in a political campaign as either a donor or a grassroots campaign volunteer, or, for that matter, even as just a voter on election day, if the campaign is centered around raising a billion dollars from wealthy, well connected donors? How could anyone delude themselves into believing that they could achieve any of their political goals through such an activity? It is about as plausible as a group of ancient Egyptian slaves believing that they have something to say about how the pyramids should be constructed. It is now evident that one of the great, enduring successes of the 2008 Obama campaign was the destruction of the campaign finance system, which provided the illusion of constraints upon the involvement of large capital interests.

But Berman also provides some insight into another related question as well. How was it that one of the most idealistic political campaigns in recent memory, evocative of JFK and RFK, subsequently degenerated into a presidency of expediency without any meaningful protest? Berman provides the answer:

JUAN GONZALEZ: And with these progressive groups, there was a weekly meeting, every Tuesday, Common Purpose. Could you talk about how Messina dealt with that group and what it is?


JUAN GONZALEZ: Because most people across the country don’t even—have never heard of it.

ARI BERMAN: Yeah. There was this group set up called the Common Purpose Project, which really was supposed to be the gathering where administration officials would brief progressive groups. Big progressive groups like MoveOn.org, labor unions, AFL-CIO, SEIU, Planned Parenthood, all the gamut of progressive groups in Washington, inside and outside of Washington, would be at these meetings. And there was supposed to be a back-and-forth.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And they’d meet every Tuesday?

ARI BERMAN: They’d meet every Tuesday evening at the Capitol Hilton in Washington. But what Messina did is he really tightly controlled the discussions, and it was very much a one-way mode of doing business, where he said, This is the strategy. Go support it. And what it was supposed to be, it was supposed to be a back-and-forth. And there was supposed to be outside mobilization by progressive groups on things like healthcare, on things like gay rights. That was the whole purpose of the Common Purpose Project.

But really what happened is Messina and the White House, Rahm and other people, demobilized these progressive groups, took them out of the equation on things like healthcare, didn’t want them talking about a public option, didn’t want them criticizing Max Baucus. And that had a very detrimental effect when the Tea Party exploded, and there was all this mobilization on the right and none on the progressive side.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And he would threaten to not—to disinvite you if you didn’t go along with the program?

ARI BERMAN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, to be at these meetings, you had to be in line, you had to be with the administration. If you weren’t, you would not be invited, or you’d be excommunicated. It was very much a take no prisoners style. Messina has a take no prisoners style; the problem is, the people he’s often taking prisoner are Democratic activists and grassroots organizers. And that’s why Obama supporters are worried about his role in 2012.

Of course, the problem is much greater, much more profound than whether Jim Messina serves as Obama's 2012 campaign manager, more profound, in fact, than whether Obama wins reelection. Without acknowledging it, Berman exposes an institutional breakdown in American progressive politics, one in which organizations that sought to facilitate a generational transformation of the country in a more humanitarian, egalitarian fashion, embraced a new mission, however reluctantly, to rationalize the militaristic, neoliberal policies of the Obama administration as consistent with their espoused ideals. Not surprisingly for someone associated with The Nation, which is, of course, the house organ for this bankrupt political perspective, he excuses them on the ground that it was Messina's fault. I mean, for chrissakes, he threatened to disinvite them! What else could they do except bow down before such a bully? Instead of holding these groups accountable for their craven abandonment of their supporters, he peddles the pathetic explanation that Messina and the White House, and Rahm demobilized them. If so, it was a demobilization that they were all too willing to accept. As for the rest of us, we are, as the old protest song says, on our own.

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