December 30, 2015

We will rise again, like the good Mary Ellen Carter

GUESTS: Peter Blood and Annie Patterson, creators of "Rise Up Singing" and their followup new songbook, "Rise Again," talk about the process and motivation behind this collection of words & chords to 1200 different songs, just published by Hal Leonard Performing Arts and Publishing Group.

Peter and Annie were great guests. Their enthusiasm for songs and communal singing is evident in just about every topic we covered. Rise Again was published to bring group singing to another generation. 

Pete Seeger often talked about the transformation that happens when people come together to make music. He believed that there was something magical in group singing:
All God's creatures got a place in the choir.
Some sing low and some sing higher,
Some sing out loud on a telephone wire,
Some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they've got now.
I used to sing that song with my kids, and it was often quite moving to think of all living creatures finding common inspiration, be it in a choir or out loud on a telephone wire. Wonderful words for bringing our family closer together. We were all part of a grand musical plan.

I still play at open mics and music circles. Most of us are from the 1960's, but there are always some younger performers as well. Music brings us hope in an age of greed and militarism. Sharing hope makes us think that nothing is impossible, that we can create a just and loving society one day despite the odds.

We will rise again, like the good Mary Ellen Carter.

December 20, 2015

Easily waylaid by racism and fear

GUEST: Les Leopold, an economic researcher who co-founded The Labor Institute and The Public Health Institute, talks about his latest book: Runaway Inequality: An Activists Guide to Economic Justice.

Les Leopold is a story teller. What happened in the early 1980's that started giving all of society's wealth to the very rich? It is sort of a detective story, with the University of Chicago, and major corporation think tanks playing a role. Somehow, most economists embraced this new doctrine favorable to Wall Street, and the genie was out of the bottle. 

But why bother with understanding how the average wage earner has been screwed over the last few decades? Most Americans know that working people are now under the thumb of major corporations and Wall Street. Why not start the revolution now?

Eli and I had that discussion after the interview. I said that all liberation movements have to start with understanding and self knowledge. Unless people can see the totality of their oppression, they are easily waylaid by racism and fear. That is why we are seeing the return of fascist candidates now, eager to point the finger of blame in any direction but the wealthy elite. 

Eli had a good point too. Both of us had lived in occupy camps, although certainly not for very long. Wan't that a better way to see the emerging of a new world? Isn't it going to be a communal experience rather than a history lesson that really brings change!

Of course, self awareness groups are communal experiences, like our local reading of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. Les Leopold's last chapter is all about group learning, facilitators going out into the field to tell the story of Wall Street's takeover. 

The 99% has to be educated and organized to take on the neoliberal national security state. Organize a group and read Les Leopold's book for the new year!

December 12, 2015

Starting to take it apart

GUEST: James Kilgore, writer and social justice activist who spent six years in prison, talks about one of the books he was inspired to write while behind bars: Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People's Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time.

James Kilgore presents the case in a way few people have done. I found his narrative very easy to understand, especially the connections he points out between a neoliberal economic system and incarceration of human beings for corporate profit. 

Mr. Kilgore is white, and I asked him if only white people were unaware of what our criminal "justice" system had become. He said that whites were the least informed, of course, because it was mostly not happening to them. Their schools were not in the poorest inner cities, and geared to criminalize student behavior. Their kids aren't stopped on the streets because of skin color. They could afford better lawyers and demand preferential treatment by white judges. Yes, the term "white privilege" is often a mystery to whites. Blacks have felt the pain of racism for centuries.

The movement is more than a wakeup call to whites, however. It is a chance for all of us to work together to undue systemic racism. Understanding Mass Incarceration shows us the nuts and bolts of oppression. It is up to an informed mass movement to start taking it apart. 

December 7, 2015

The Web of Interlocking Oppressions

GUEST: Barbara Smith, author, long time civil rights activist, and subject of the new book Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around, talks about the Combahee River Collective and the interlocking oppressions of race, class, sexuality and gender in today's society.

Barbara Smith is very careful about words. The interview started with a discussion of the correct pronunciation of Combahee, not such an important matter in the long run. At some point, she asked to start the "official" interview recording, and we did. Why waste a few minutes on how to pronounce a word, especially since there is no consensus on the correct way? We started the interview again.

I used the above picture, not to represent the whole of Barbara Smith's emphasis, but because LGBTQ rights often get lost in discussions of women's and African American liberation. Barbara Smith explains that the fight for equality involves all groups that are debased by the majority culture, and that we can't achieve true freedom from discrimination unless we achieve freedom for all.

For Muslims too? For Palestinians? That is where Barbara Smith's radicalism comes out. She is soft spoken and articulate, but what she is saying challenges the establishment thinking about freedom. Is the US a land of opportunity for immigrant once they assimilate to American culture, or has our country always been a web of interlocking oppressions beginning with the genocide of indigenous peoples and continuing with the enslavement of millions of Blacks?

We live in an era that wants to separate antiSemitism from discrimination against Muslim Americans. Our country supports a brutal 65 year oppression of Palestinians by the apartheid state of Israel, yet our role in the Middle East is supposedly about bringing human rights to the people. The US also supports most of the brutal dictatorships in the region. Is this another example of interlocking oppressions? Can Blacks, women, and gays ever be free if they support the crushing of human rights abroad by the American Empire? Perhaps we have to rethink what racism is to include the interlocking exclusions upon which our society is built. The white males of Wall Street dictate the endless war against "terrorism" as a way to increase their obscene profits. Are they part of the interlocking oppression? Visionaries like Barbara Smith can show us the way.