Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Meanings of Ferguson



            Harry Targ

In addressing violence, researchers, educators, journalists and religious leaders have usually concentrated on its most visible forms: murder and war. The central features of such violence include physical assault and killing. In our own day terrorism has joined war as the most popular common subject for study.

Over the years, peace educators have developed intellectual tools to uncover more diverse meanings of violence, their differences and their connections. Structural violence has been distinguished from direct violence. Researchers continue to analyze direct violence, physical assault and killing, but also study structural violence, the various forms of human suffering that take more time, impose pain and suffering on populations, and are perpetuated by leading institutions and relationships in society. Structural violence includes economic inequality, low wages and poverty, inadequate access to health care and education, and the psychological damage that economic suffering causes. These injustices, the concept of structural violence suggests, are embedded in economic, social, and political institutions.

It is possible to disaggregate further the structural violence that is embedded in institutions. Institutional violence refers to unequal distribution of power and influence in major societal institutions: political, criminal justice, and educational, for example.

Finally, cultural violence refers to the images, symbols, and educational materials that value some population groups over others. Culture refers to the public consciousness of history, traditions, and popular narratives that describe people. Stereotypes are short-hand representations of a culture.

In total then violence is direct, structural, institutional, and cultural. These kinds of violence may occur separately but in most cases are inextricably connected. It is this fourfold conception of violence that is relevant to the current crisis in Ferguson, Missouri.      

The tragedy of Ferguson, Missouri came to national attention because of direct violence. A Ferguson policeman shot and killed an unarmed young African American male. In response to the collective expression of community outrage that followed, the local police initiated a multi-day barrage of tear gas, strong-arm arrests, threatening street protestors with military vehicles and loaded rifles. The images on television screens nationwide have been of a people under assault, parallel to Israeli bombings in Gaza and United States targeted air strikes in Iraq. The fear that young African American males in Ferguson have historically felt every time they stepped into the streets of their city have escalated since the killing of Michael Brown.

Beyond the threat of direct violence in Ferguson is structural violence, less visible but as important. Brookings Institute researcher Elizabeth Kneebone (“Ferguson, Mo. Emblematic of Growing Suburban Poverty,” brookings@edu, August 15, 2014) reported that the community of Ferguson has experienced a qualitative economic decline over the last decade. The city’s unemployment rate increased from 5 percent in 2000 to 13 percent by 2010. Average earnings of community members have declined by one-third. One-fourth of the population lives in poverty.

Kneebone indicated that poverty rates have doubled in suburban neighborhoods surrounding the 100 largest cities. “By 2008-2012, 38 percent of poor residents lived in the neighborhoods with poverty rates of 20 percent or higher. For poor black residents in those communities, the figure was 53 percent.” Of course, poverty is highly related to declining schools, inadequate access to health care, lessened prospects for jobs, and large-scale youth unemployment.

Institutional violence is reflected in a 300-year history of slavery and racism. Professor Clarissa Hayward, Washington University, said: “The St. Louis metropolitan area has been an extreme example of racial segregation for 100 years.” She pointed out that St. Louis geographically was at the nexus of the South, the Midwest, and the West and added: “The practices and politics of St. Louis created the problems that underlie the tension that boiled out in Ferguson this week.” (Puneet Kollipara, “Wonkbook: The Social and Economic Story Behind the Unrest in Ferguson,” Wonkblog, The Washington Post, August 18, 2014).

In terms of the Ferguson political system, two-thirds of the community is Black and the local government is almost all white. Five of six city council members are white, the Mayor is white, and six of seven school board members are white. Fifty of 53 police are white.

Finally, cultural violence addresses the issue of ideology, consciousness, images of the other, and additional ways in which whites see African-Americans. Racist culture socializes the dominant class and race to reflect its superiority. For example, Missouri Lt. Governor Peter Kinder said: “That’s one of the great advances of Anglo-American civilization, is that we do not have politicized trials. We let the justice system work it out.” The mayor of Ferguson recently declared that his community was free of racism.

Since the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, police and politicians have organized a campaign to demonize the victim of the police killing. The tall young man, an African-American, was a robber, a drug consumer, and violence-prone. Also, the days of protest in Ferguson were framed to privilege the peaceful, religious, mourning adults and to explain night-time violence (not as police violence) but violence by outside agitators from New York, Chicago, and California. The fact that young African Americans leave their houses at their own risk could not, the frame implies, engender outrage.

So from police violence--killing, gassing, beating--to economic despair, to lack of political representation to cultural rationales for state violence, the basic characteristics of American society are uncovered. And once again, the victimization of people of color, as well as workers, and women, lead to the following conclusions:

--the root cause of exploitation, racism, and sexism is structural violence (capitalism).
--physical violence is used to crush rebellion against class exploitation and racism.
--unrepresentative political institutions are dominated by the wealthy and powerful.
--dominant cultural stereotypes and specific narratives about society reinforce the economic system, the political system, and justify the police violence in the St. Louis area.

In sum, in addressing violence, its multiple forms should be taken into consideration.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Middle East: Militarism, Growing Economic Inequality, and Starvation (reposted from January 11, 2014)



Harry Targ

Global Economic Context     

Looking at the last third of the twentieth century, Canadian economist James Davies, in a study prepared by the World Institute for Development Economics Research, wrote “income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth.” In 2,000 the study showed, the top 1 percent of the world’s population accounted for 40 percent of its total net worth, with the bottom half owning 1.1 percent. Edward Wolff, another economist participating in the study, wrote “With the notable exception of China and India, the third world has drifted behind.” (New York Times, December 6, 2006).

The starkest interpretation of this kind of data was reflected in a 2003 article by Egyptian economist Samir Amin, who asserted that the global economy is creating what he called “the precarious classes,” both in agriculture and manufacturing, who cannot count on day-to-day remunerative activity to survive. He estimated that 2/3 to 3/4 of humankind is among the “precarious classes.”

Relevance to the Middle East in the 21st Century

A financial publication entitled “Arab Banker” printed a summary of a World Bank study, “Two Years After London: Restarting Palestinian Economic Recovery” in 2007.  The World Bank, the Arab Banker, and other sources presented the following alarming data:

-The percentage of Gazans living in poverty steadily increased from 1998 (21.6%) to 2006 (35%).
-Israeli policies barring imports and exports isolated Gaza from the Israeli and global economy made matters worse; a 90 % decline in Gaza’s industrial operations occurred between the 2006 parliamentary election victory of Hamas and 2007
-Industrial employment in Gaza declined from 35,000 in 2005 to 4,200 in 2007. 

During the first decade of the new century, comparative economic data on Israel and the occupied territories indicated that West Bank and Gaza gross national product per capita was about 10 percent of that of Israel.

More recently, the United Nations issued a report entitled “Socio-Economic and Food Security Survey 2012: West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestine.” This report was produced under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, and the World Food program. It documented a connection between food insecurity in Palestine and external constraints on the economies of the West Bank and Gaza imposed by occupation and blockades. Among their findings were the following:

-34 percent of Palestinian households, comprising over 1.5 million people live in situations of food insecurity (19 percent in the West Bank and 57 percent in Gaza).
-Food insecurity, increasing since 2009, derived from growing unemployment, declining purchasing power, and slowed or abandoned aid thus decreasing jobs, income, and consumption.
-Food insecure households (often with larger families) are more likely to experience disabilities and chronic illnesses.

The report made three general recommendations: lift the embargo on Gaza, increase West Bank access to the Israeli economy, and support efforts to increase economic productivity in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Middle East Wars

The contested land of Palestine had been largely populated by Muslim peoples from the 7th century until the mid-twentieth century.  In 1947, the year that the United Nations recommended the partition of Palestine into two states, only 1/3 of the land’s inhabitants were of Jewish background. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and the chairman of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, declared the establishment of a new state of Israel, and the first Middle East war between the new Israeli army and Arab states ensued. Palestinians and Arab neighbors regarded the creation of the new state as an occupation of the historic residents of the land. Over the course of this first Middle East war and those that followed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became a displaced population.

Subsequently wars occurred in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and intermittently from the 1980s until today. Wars were fought among Israelis, her neighbors, and Palestinians who lived in what became the occupied territories. Disputes have involved the legitimacy of the state of Israeli; Israeli expansion particularly its continuing construction of settlements in the West Bank and the displacement of Palestinian people; the rights of Palestinian peoples inside Israel, control of water and land throughout the region; and other issues. Various organizations challenging the Israeli state and land expansion emerged over the last fifty years including the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Outside nations, the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War; former European colonial powers such as Great Britain and France; and neighboring Arab and other Muslim states; have provided support for contending Israeli and Palestinian parties to the continuing conflict.

The United States became Israel’s main ally during all these years. Since 1979 Israel has been the largest recipient on a per capita basis of foreign assistance from the United States of any of the latter’s clients. In addition, Israel has become the best equipped and most powerful military force in the region, largely due to the billions of dollars of U. S. military assistance. Israel is the only state with nuclear capabilities in the region.

Finally, pro-Israel lobby groups in the United States support continued military and economic aid to Israel, Israel’s opposition to serious negotiations with what is now the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas ruled Gaza, and oppose  initiatives from peace groups in the U.S. and the international community. Currently, militant pro-Israel lobby groups are pressuring Congress to pass legislation threatening expansion of Iranian sanctions in the midst of a major Obama administration effort to reach accords with Iran on nuclear weapons. These domestic groups and the Israeli government regard Iran as the number one enemy in the region.

Violence and instability in the region, the tragedy of 9/11, worldwide terrorism directed against U.S. targets, and insurmountable and spreading conflicts have been directly related to Israel’s economic isolation of and military policies toward the Palestinian people and the continuing US support of Israel’s behavior. Within the United States, critics of U.S. support of Israel are excoriated and politicians are intimidated such that policy debate on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians inside Israel as well as economic embargoes and military attacks on interim Palestinian institutions and people in Gaza and the West Bank are largely censored from public discourse.

What Does This Mean?

First, violence and political instability in the world is intimately connected to the absence of economic well-being.  The economic crises faced in recent years in the industrial capitalist world are small compared to the punishing crises of survival that some countries of the Global South still experience in the 21st century; countries and territories of the Middle East are prime examples.

Second, data suggests clearly that in the occupied territories (the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, all conquered in the 1967 Middle East war) the notion of “precariousness” (joblessness, land theft, food insecurity, grotesque economic and political inequalities in the region) is an apt way to describe the condition of the Palestinian people.

Third, shifting currents in Palestinian politics have been connected to patterns of economic growth and decay. In the 1950s and 1960s, secular leaders in the Arab world, including Palestinians, offered a vision of economic change and political autonomy for their people that was processed in Washington, and European capitals as threatening to dominant economic interests. Paradoxically, the U.S. began to support political actors in the region with a religious agenda, such as the followers of Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan and Hamas in Palestine. Subsequently, these groups responded to the sense of economic injustice that peoples like the Palestinians experience.

There is no easy solution but the United States and other wealthy countries have an obligation to participate in a disinterested economic reconstruction of the occupied territories and support for complete political autonomy of the Palestinian people. Only that will break the back of anger, mutual hatred, and political instability. The United States should stop fueling the violence in the region by ending military aid to Israel. Economic reconstruction requires negotiation toward the creation of a viable Palestinian state, land repatriation, and guarantees of security from Israeli military attack. For example, Israeli settlements in the West Bank need to be dismantled. Economic development must be coupled with economic justice.

In the United States, the political climate needs to change so that a resumption of frank dialogue can proceed on United States foreign policy toward Israel, ending the violence in the region, and supporting economic justice and political rights for the Palestinian people.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

THERE'S SOMETHING HAPPENING HERE



Harry Targ

There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear…

I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound?
Everybody look--what's going down?

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
A gettin' so much resistance from behind…

Everybody look--what's going down?
We better stop, now, what's that sound?
Everybody look--what's going down

(From “For What It’s Worth,” Stephen Sills, Buffalo Springfield, 1967)

The Center for Global Justice, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico sponsored the conference “Moving Beyond Capitalism” (with a variety of partnering activist and scholarly organizations) which was held from July 29 to August 4. About 200 participants came from Mexico, the United States, Central America, China, and Israel. Some were progressive academics, others community activists, environmentalists, film makers, artists, and trade union representatives. The support staff included activist retirees, mostly United States citizens, who live in San Miguel.

The conference reflected on visions of grassroots transformations of economic, political, and physical environments everywhere on the planet. There were debates about workers’ democracy, cooperatives, a green socialist agenda, and the salience of the spread of protest all across the globe driven by exploitation, authoritarian institutions, environmental devastation, hunger, and violence.

Cuban philosophers and economists spoke about the reforms being carried out in their country to stimulate further economic sustainability and human development. A centerpiece of the Cuban reform strategy, they argued, was building workers’ cooperatives in both the rural and urban sectors. Others spoke of their research on forms of workplace democracy and cooperatives in Chiapas, Mexico, Spain, the United States, and Argentina.

Several participants emphasized the environmental imperatives that must be incorporated into any efforts to move beyond capitalism. Data was presented that showed conclusively how threatened planet earth is by carbon emissions and that immediate steps must be taken to begin to reverse climate change.

At virtually the same time the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung-New York office assembled about 100 progressives, mostly from left organizations and the media from Europe and North America to discuss “Mapping Socialist Strategies.”  Panelists and workshops addressed the impacts of and responses to neoliberal economic policies, protests against austerity programs, recent political mobilizations including the teachers strike in Chicago, and efforts to expand cooperatives in Jackson, Mississippi. Most critically, this conference addressed rebuilding the Left in the Global North addressing key questions about the labor movement, community organizing, electoral politics, political education, and alternative media.

Most recently, Sarah Lazare of Common Dreams reported on the opening of a conference in Richmond, California, on August 6, titled “Power Without Pollution: Communities United for a Just Transition.” This conference, attended by hundreds of activists from organizations that represent indigenous people, people of color, and working class whites, addressed the need for social equality and environmental sustainability. Diverse grassroots groups were represented including the Climate Justice Alliance, the Black Mesa Water Coalition of Arizona, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Cooperation Jackson of Jackson, Mississippi, Southwest Workers Union of San Antonio, and the East Michigan Environmental Action Council.

One participant, Mascarenhas-Swan, said:  “We are here to connect our struggles for food sovereignty, zero waste, clean community power, and finding ways for people to stay rooted in neighborhood. It takes roots to weather a storm, and the storm is here.”

What does this flurry of meetings and discussion mean?

First, the deepening crises of global capitalism, manifested in growing economic and political inequality, hunger and disease, violence, racism and sexism, and life-threatening environmental destruction are bringing activists together. They come from many political backgrounds, demographics, and regions of the globe. They see the need to dialogue, plan agitation, and build new 21st century organizations to respond to the life-threatening crises.

Second, participants are drawn together because of the deepening pain and suffering of economic austerity, the policies most people around the world refer to as “neoliberal.” Data indicates conclusively that the gaps between rich and poor in and between countries has widened, the number of people living in poverty on a global basis has grown, and jobs providing livable wages are shrinking. The future, particularly for the young of planet earth, is looking bleak. Protests all across the globe are driven by these stark economic realities.

Third, participants at these and other assemblies assume that there is an inextricable connection between human beings and nature. Global capitalism, everyone realizes, not only destroys lives because of hunger, inadequate health care, and poverty but the land, the air we breathe, and the climate. Years ago ecologist Aldo Leopold wrote eloquently of the loss of the “land ethic,” a sense that humans and nature are one, not adversaries. And, it is capitalism that destroys this unity.

Fourth, the meetings suggest, now more than ever, that building a more humane future requires connections between workers of all races, genders, nationalities, professions, and political ideologies on the Left. As suggested by the new Moral Mondays campaigns in parts of the United States,  21st century progressive politics must be based upon “fusion,” that is uniting around the many issues that motivate people to act.

Fifth, these meetings represent metaphorically the struggles to survive that are going on everywhere: in the streets of Athens, in Soweto, in Cairo, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Wherever people are suffering economically or are breathing coal dust, or are threatened by the loss of water, or are being evicted from their homes, activists are rising up.

Sixth, while not the subject of these conferences, it is clear that hegemonic states and ruling classes are increasingly using violence to undermine the mobilization that characterizes our age. From bombs, to subversion, to the transfers of billions of dollars of military equipment, to the use of police forces to beat, arrest, and kill the rebellious, the struggles between repression and resistance escalate.

And as the song says: 

There's somethin' happenin' here
What it is ain't exactly clear…

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"IN TIMES LIKE THESE" AGAIN



Harry Targ

In times like these when night surrounds me
And I am weary and my heart is worn
When the songs they’re singing don’t mean nothing
Just cheap refrains play on and on
When leaders profit from deep divisions
When the tears of friends remain unsung
In times like these it’s good to remember
These times will go in times to come
 
I see the storm clouds rise above me
The sky is dark and the night has come
I walk alone along this highway
Where friends have gathered one by one

I know the storm will soon be over
The howling winds will cease to be
I walk with friends from every nation
On freedom’s highway in times like these.
(From Arlo Guthrie, “In Times Like These.”


In December, 2012, I wrote an essay drawing upon Arlo Guthrie’s powerful lyrics about tragic times. My thoughts have been coming back to this song over the last two weeks as dramatic events have occupied media attention.  Recent stories about the Ukraine, Gaza, and refugees at the U.S. border involve death, destruction, pain, and suffering. And to compound conflicts and human tragedy, media portraits of these latest calamities are framed by conscious lies and ignorance.

In Ukraine, events have unfolded since last fall involving public demonstrations against a corrupt but elected government, covert intervention by key United States officials to encourage the ultimate overthrow of that government, and the stimulation of domestic conflicts interconnecting legitimate demands for change in that country with fascist political organizations. Reactions to the newly created Ukraine government led to rebellion in the east of the country and increased outside involvement in the affairs of Ukraine by the United States and the European Union. Russia joined the fray on the side of rebels and residents of Crimea. And just last week, during a war between Ukraine and rebels in the country’s east, a commercial aircraft was shot down over rebel territory in southeast Ukraine killing 298 travelers. Since the air crash the United States and Great Britain have launched a crusade to blame Russia for the disaster while the Ukraine war continues in the area where the Malaysian airline crashed. 

And in occupied Gaza, Israel launched a brutal bombing campaign on July 7 and followed the bombing with an invasion of this tiny piece of territory densely housing over two million people. Since the war started, homes, schools, hospitals, and neighborhoods have been bombed. More than 700 residents of Gaza have died and thousands wounded. Water and electricity are scarce. Local residents are urged by Israeli leaflets to flee but there is no place to go (except the sea). 

Even though Israelis point to Hamas rocket attacks on targets in Israel, which have yielded minimal casualties, as the motivation for this latest war, the Israeli response has been of genocidal proportions. And the United States government, and politicians of both parties, support this Israeli policy that can only result in the extermination of the people of Gaza.

And on the southern border of the United States thousands of children who are refugees from Central America are desperately seeking relief from the poverty and violence in their home countries. But leaders of both political parties endorse policies to more efficiently return these young victims of United States policy in Central America to the countries from which they fled. The Governor of Texas has ordered the mobilization of 1,000 National Guard personnel to the Texas border to protect the state from this invasion of children.

All three of these stories are reported in the U.S. media in ways that minimize the United States role for the suffering and that identify Russia, Hamas, and Central American children as the  causes of the problems. These stories implicitly or explicitly support U.S. allies who are complicit in the crimes against people; for example, the governments of Ukraine, Israel, and Honduras. The corporate media, through biased reporting and interviews, suggest that the United States should prepare to use more force. Few stories are published or presented on television which encourage humanitarian policies.

The photo images of death and destruction in Gaza and children climbing hills and walking trails to the United States challenge the verbal messages of television commentators. As a result media consumers can get some sense of what is happening to people in these troubled places. The visual images being presented about the war in Ukraine, the downing of the civilian aircraft, and the demonic gaze of Russia’s Vladimir Putin, however, support the clear effort of the corporate media to create a Cold War climate of fear. Russia almost immediately was convicted of being behind the rebels who are assumed to have shot down the commercial aircraft. Putin is the devil. He is a wealthy oligarch. He is shifty. He has a master plan to reconquer Central Europe. His Russia is the embodiment of evil, just as was its predecessor regime in the Soviet Union.

Together, the public story of these past two weeks is about the Russian threat, the justified Israeli attacks on Palestinians, and the inevitability of war and the need to prepare for it. 

At the same time that I cry inside for the relatives of those who died in the plane crash, all Ukrainians embroiled in war, the people of Gaza, and the children walking to what they hope is a better life in the United States, I also remember history and Arlo’s last stanza:” I know the storm will soon be over, The howling winds will cease to be….”
I also experienced tears, this time of joy and hope, last Sunday watching the three hour Seegerfest concert honoring the lives and legacies of Pete and Toshi Seeger at Lincoln Center in New York. Songs and musicians captured the legacy of Pete and Toshi touching on labor, peace, and civil rights struggles and their efforts to revitalize the natural environment.  The performers representing different age and demographic groups captured the essence of the Seeger vision, his love of humanity and nature, and the possibilities of saving the planet from destruction. And while the song selection could have highlighted more fully Seeger’s commitment to political struggle, viewers could not help but be reminded of Seeger’s politics: “keep your eyes on the prize,” know “which side are you on,” “waste deep in the big muddy and the big fool says to push on,” and “bring em home.”  Arlo’s admonition still stands: “I walk with friends from every nation, On freedom’s highway in times like these.”