From the March-April 2014 issue of News & Letters:
Readers’ Views, Part 1
TALKING ABOUT CAPITALISM AND ANTI-CAPITALISM
Turkey’s Gezi movement shows the universality of occupying as a protest strategy. Another world really is possible! Anti-capitalism is such a realistic worldwide goal for our generation. We aren’t benefiting from capitalism, and we are finally starting to talk about it.
Occupy Boston activist
When the rich get tax loopholes and don’t pay their fair share, when billions of dollars get put in the hands of special interest groups and wars, and legislatures vote to raise their own salaries, the poor and disabled are told that there is “a revenue problem” and more cuts in social services are coming. This is disgraceful, and yet only touches the surface of the problems with capitalism.
Disabled rights activist
Medicaid is a lifeline for the poor and people who are disabled. Without it, many people would die because of lack of healthcare. The cuts in this lifeline, and more proposed cuts that we are threatened with, show the inhumanity of our political system and how it likes to put fear and distrust into the lives of those who need services the most. No one should have to worry about their healthcare.
When the organization I was getting my medications from for free told me they could no longer get one of them, I found that the medication, with my insurance, would cost $350! Not being able to afford that, I had to stop taking it. I suffer from bipolar disorder, so this medication is crucial. Now I am going through an unpleasant withdrawal that leaves me somewhat unable to function. The drug company that profits from this medication has blocked the production of a generic form until the patent runs out. I am sick of drug companies making it difficult for people to get the medications they need while they make billions of dollars off us.
It is tragic that the Affordable Care Act did not reform healthcare, but became a freeway for health insurance companies to roll toward greater profits. Does the new law demand that insurance companies cancel old policies and charge huge fees and deductibles? Add to that the website problems, and people are mistrustful and unwilling to sign up. Meanwhile, needless tests, reams of paperwork and over-prescription of medications will probably shorten everyone’s life expectancy.
Thankful I’m old enough for Medicare
I used to work at Cook County Hospital and was pissed off to read an article arguing for hiring staff to screen for PTSD. That is a slap in the face to medical social workers who are already employed in hospitals, but have been reduced to discharge planners under the direction of Utilization Review Departments (the folks who kick you out of the hospital). All hospitals have understaffed social workers by management’s design. The solution is for hospital to hire more social workers, not separate screeners for PTSD. Social workers should help the patients and families, not just help the hospital save money by only coordinating discharges. Every unit in every hospital needs more social workers, even more in poor communities. And every trauma unit social worker should have the time to screen and provide interventions for those with PTSD.
USA RACISM IN THE 21st CENTURY
When I watched the trial of Michael Dunn, the Florida white man who fired into an SUV of unarmed Black young men 10 times because “their music was too loud,” killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis, I saw the same face of hate on him that I had witnessed in Selma, Alabama, nearly 50 years ago.
Civil rights veteran
I was shocked to learn that the Tucson, Ariz., United School District banned Gloria Anzaldúa’s magnificent work, Borderlands/La Frontera, when it threw out its Mexican-American Studies.
When the Gene Autry Museum took over the Southwest Museum, the first museum built in Los Angeles, in 2003, promises were signed for the Autry to restore it to its former glory. Instead, the Autry took the enormous collection of priceless Native American works and stored them in a warehouse. The Autry closed the Southwest Museum in 2006 and only after demands from the community agreed in 2012 to reopen it one day a week. But only one gallery is open. Now it is laying off workers and cutting the salaries of those left, claiming lack of funds. The Friends of the Southwest Museum coalition is against stripping away this collection of Native American artifacts. We have made signs, protested in front of the Autry and the Los Angeles City Hall and written letters and articles.
In the 1940s and 1950s they used construction of I-75 to eliminate Detroit’s Black community and gentrify Paradise Valley. Now, the sports stadiums are doing the same for downtown Detroit. Renovated buildings are no longer affordable. First they take the people out of jobs, so they are the ones who stay in Detroit, can’t pay their taxes and become “people displaced in place.”
MIDDLE EAST REVOLUTIONS
When Raya Dunayevskaya is speaking on the emergence of socialism in her May 1953 letters on Hegel’s Absolutes, it directly speaks to the condition of the unfinished revolution in Egypt. As Absolute Idea, the revolution in Egypt is in the process of development, creating an opening for the movement for freedom. It may turn out to be another Iran or another free society, but what is important to me is that the movement has begun.
Today is Feb. 11, 2014, the day when I want to be home in Sana’a, Yemen, so bad. Today, we Yemenis in the diaspora are immersed in social media networks and mainstream news, reading and watching anything that’s related to today’s epic celebratory demonstrations across the country. It’s the third anniversary of Yemen’s uprising and people are celebrating across Yemen, rallying with various political demands.
At a protest on the third anniversary of the Revolution of 2011, I was hoping to encounter Egyptians, other people from the Middle East, and North American supporters united in opposition to the military dictatorship. Tragically, secular Egyptians at the protest were marginalized by a pro-Muslim Brotherhood crowd demanding the restoration of Morsi to power. The American friends of the Egyptian Revolution were only allowed at a location separate from the main demonstration. I’m afraid this is happening in Egypt too: the marginalization of the Leftist, secular and democratic opposition to the Brotherhood and the military and the resurgence of the reactionary forces. However, among both secular Egyptians and some Morsi supporters there was interest in the discussion groups on the Middle East being held by New York News and Letters.
Friend of the Egyptian Revolution
Economist Hernando de Soto hosted a recent PBS program, “Unlikely heroes of the Arab Spring,” that promised to focus on ordinary working people who made the revolution. He presented mostly small business folk who have to work “extra-legally,” as they cannot get business permits, have no title to their property, etc. He concluded that what they want is inclusion in the legal capitalist system. As a capitalist economist, de Soto did not see the millions of students, women and youth who formed new human relations in street protests, he didn’t hear the millions of voices calling for a new kind of society where each could realize his or her humanity.
Susan Van Gelder
At a Valentine’s Day action on Syria with about 30 people, almost all were young Syrians. We handed out 750 flowers, each with a story of a Syrian child attached to it. It was interesting to see who cared. The silence is from the ruling class and the government. People on the street were supportive and wanted to talk to us. The Syrian people involved were moved. One young woman said, “This is so good for us, to see that people really do care.” The powers that be want you to think no one cares. But there is a new generation that rejects the present world and clearly cares deeply.
I was happy to hear of the death, finally, of Ariel Sharon. To so many, his name is synonymous with the Sabra and Shatila massacre. We can’t forget these massacres; they need to be on our minds in order to keep them from happening again, although they do keep happening. A Jewish tradition is to name a food after a tyrant, like the cookie Hamentashen. I don’t want to name a food after Sharon, but I do recommend that when a murderer like Sharon dies, the appropriate response is to treat yourself to a really good dinner and celebrate.
What the 1979 Iranian Revolution gave to history and thus to the Arab Spring—most of whose participants were not born when it occurred—is a heritage of never-ending struggle against a Muslim theocratic brutal dictatorship. Iran gave the world the reality of political Islam in power for decades. That reality is not lost on the Arab Spring participants—particularly women and the youth.
RUSSIA AND UKRAINE
The Olympics in Sochi, Russia, reflected in miniature the contradictions of Russia—and of world capitalism: Pussy Riot members are pepper-sprayed, beaten and detained for singing in public protest; Gay people are oppressed while the international Olympics bureaucrats say it’s not relevant to a world “without discrimination of any kind”; environmental activists are threatened and harassed when they expose the dirty side of the construction in Sochi; workers go unpaid; the media quickly forgets all this in their glorification of the spectacle; and an athlete flies home early to take part in Ukraine’s revolution.
The Ukrainian movement is a part of the wave of civil protests that has been unfurling for the last few years in every corner of the world. The main thing is that the movement is self-organized everywhere around the country, with activists occupying the town halls, etc. The same labor unions who participated in our conference in Kiev last year (see “Ukraine: New Unions and Democratic Left meet,” Jan.-Feb. 2014 N&L) have recently formed the all-Ukraine strike committee.
As far as the “leading personalities” of the movement are concerned, we see the same thing as in Russia, Turkey, etc.: politicians who are trying to put themselves at the head of the movement, but whom the great mass of protesters does not at all recognize as their leaders. The vast majority of protesters are regular citizens. On the condition that the politicians don’t turn it to their own ends, the popular movement will make the Ukraine a freer and more democratic country than it is today.
WHY READ NEWS & LETTERS?
I am an old friend of NLC, but I hope I am more than a friend. NLC is one of the very few organizations on the Left where the dialectic of the “outside” is as important as the dialectic of the “inside,” where the thoughts and actions of the “outs” are as important as the actions and thoughts of the “ins.” So don’t think you have to wait for permission from some bureaucrat in Moscow, or approval of conformity from some Party Central in New York City or San Francisco, jump right in. Write something for N&L yourself! Reflect what you are thinking, doing, witnessing, write to N&L. And then reflect N&L’s attention to you back to what you are part of in your grassroots situation.
News & Letters is the best Marxist newspaper I have ever run into. N&L and News and Letters Committees are all about the humanism of Karl Marx in their philosophy and practice or, as they say, they “do not separate mass activity from thinking.” They participate in anti-war marches and Free Syria rallies. Annually, they have a class series. NLC states what they are for as well as what they are against. Just read Andy Phillips’s article “Anti-worker Robots” in the Jan.-Feb. 2014 issue. He states clearly, and correctly, why and how robots are used by capitalists for profit only, to the detriment of humanity, decreasing— perhaps someday eliminating—the need for human labor. But he also states that robots can be used to help humanity, working in environments that can be harmful to people, such as in the midst of nuclear meltdowns (think: Fukushima).