Monday, April 23, 2012

MONEY AND POLITICS;THREATS TO WORKER RIGHTS, REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE AND PUBLIC EDUCATION: A Rebuild the American Dream-Greater Lafayette Panel

Harry Targ

Seventy community activists were intensely engaged in a three hour panel discussion on Saturday, April 21 focused on how millionaires and billionaires have translated their wealth into power in Indiana to attack worker rights, reproductive justice, and public education.

The event was hosted by the Rebuild the American Dream Coalition-Greater Lafayette initiated last summer by activists from labor, women’s reproductive health, civil rights, civil liberties, peace, and environmental movements. Organizers hope to build grassroots strength from the energy, enthusiasm, and anger expressed at the meeting.

The first panelist provided the general context for discussing money and politics. Julia Vaughn, Policy Director, Common Cause, Indiana dated the dramatic increase of  big money in politics to a 1976 Supreme Court decision, Buckley v. Valeo, which declared that spending money on elections was a constitutionally protected form of free speech. In the 2010 Citizens United Case, the Court went further declaring that corporations are persons. From these decisions, Vaughn argued, the floodgates were opened for the wealthiest individuals, banks, corporations, and their foundations, to buy elections and public policy.

Vaughn discussed the national influence acquired by the infamous Koch brothers since the Court proclaimed money as speech and corporations as persons. The brothers funded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), organized in the 1970s to prepare for the time when conservative politicians gained power in state legislative and gubernatorial positions. For forty years ALEC has been planning to impose policies that are anti-worker, anti-women, and anti-human rights.

In Indiana ALEC provided incumbent anti-public education rightwing Governor Mitch Daniels, with $400,000 for his reelection bid in 2008. Several state legislators formally associated with ALEC worked vigorously to pass Indiana’s Right-To-Work law in 2012.

ALEC and the Koch brothers are just part of the story, Vaughn said. Other super wealthy individuals, corporations, and foundations funded campaigns to privatize public education and weaken or destroy Planned Parenthood. From a Common Cause perspective, she said, a constitutional amendment overturning the Buckley and Citizens United Supreme Court decisions are needed to take money out of politics.

Katie Blair, Director of Activism for Planned Parenthood Indiana, warned of the implacable opposition of 2012 Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence to women’s reproductive health rights. Pence, currently a Hoosier Congressman and a favorite of the influential Tea Party in Indiana, has advocated ending any government support for Planned Parenthood, a position already taken by the Indiana legislature and being challenged in the courts. While Pence’s expected Democratic opponent, John Gregg, is not pro-choice he has committed himself to continue state funding for reproductive health services.

Blair also challenged claims made by those who argue that there are 600 “providers” of accessible women’s health services in the state of Indiana. Blair secured a list of these alleged providers of women’s health services from opponents of Planned Parenthood. She had interns call the ‘providers.” On the list was a prison facility and a deceased doctor. Many of those listed would not take Medicaid recipients as patients.

Blair claimed that large amounts of anti-Planned Parenthood lobbying money came from the Indiana Right to Life advocacy group, which had national organizational ties and the Conference of Catholic Bishops. While she did not link the anti-women’s health justice groups to the Koch Brothers and ALEC, opposition to Planned Parenthood has been on ALEC’s agenda for years.

Pete Rimsans, Executive Director of the Indiana State Building Trades, opened with an admission he had heard from the distinguished Congressman from Indiana, Lee Hamilton. Hamilton admitted that if he received two calls, one from a local constituent and another from a huge financial contributor, he would answer the latter’s call first. For Rimsans, the fact that Hamilton who served the state with dignity would respond first to “big money” over grassroots advocacy illustrates the problem.

Rimsans referred to two kinds of battles in politics today: the “ground war” versus the “air war.” The former represents the only power workers and others, the 99 percent, have; that is their numbers. The “air war” is fought by millionaires and billionaires who have unlimited financial resources to influence the media and candidates from both parties, and in the end the public policies that cause the vast majority of people pain and suffering.

Rimsans reported that in the recent struggle over Right-to-Work, the National Right-to-Work Committee played a significant role. Most statehouse Republicans were recipients of NRTW money. Although anti-worker money and influence in the state had been applied for years before the final legislative victory of reaction in January, their long-term investments insured victory when the Indiana Republicans captured both houses and the governorship in 2010.

The final panelist, Ed Eiler, retiring superintendent, Lafayette School Corporation, projected a power point slide that crisply defined the problem: money=power and greater money=greater power. He suggested there were links between the declining support for quality public education over the last thirty years and sustained campaigns to convince the American people that our political and economic crises, including educational ones, are the result of government. As former President Ronald Reagan put it, “government is the problem, not the solution.”

A propaganda campaign, orchestrated by think tanks and corporate funds, has promoted the argument since the 1970s that markets create economic development, better the human condition, and advance the quality of  education. This campaign, Eiler suggested, challenged the perspective popular since the depression of the 1930s that during periods of economic crisis government must step in to protect and preserve the quality of life of the citizenry.


In addition, Americans, he implied, have believed that they are entitled to certain rights; quality education, access to health care, jobs, and basic public services. However, the top one-tenth of one percent, who dominate public policy today, oppose the idea that government can and should serve human needs. For them, government services mean more taxes, more regulation, and ultimately more fairness in governance and policy and less profit.

Eiler argued that the application of “free market” ideology has been disastrous for education. Campaigns to privatize education, to shift from the provision of education to the distribution of vouchers which parents presumably use to choose the schools they wish to send their children to, create a catastrophe for the poor and working class. Children from economically disadvantaged homes may not have access to schools in the future, as private institutions establish barriers to admission (in part to insure that only children, especially those from advantaged homes, who can score well on tests are admitted).

After weaving the narrative about the connection between money and power, the shift to free market ideologies, and linking these to the privatization of education and its consequences for poor and working class families and their children, he addressed the reasons behind so-called “school reform.” Central to such reform, Eiler showed, was the drive for profit. Corporations create charter schools because they can gain financially from tax credits and other government subsidies. State governments pay charter school corporations to educate the young, while they defund public schools. If charter schools fail, governments still pay private contractors, for example, for rent on the buildings no longer in use.

Eiler carefully presented data showing that major foundations (such as Gates, Broad, Walton) allocate huge amounts of money to lobby politicians and to “educate” the public about school privatization. Hedge fund managers are major advocates for the privatization of education. While progressives may be skeptical of the “public service” provided by the Koch brothers or the Walton Foundation, Eiler argued that virtually every foundation, hedge fund, and research institute involved in educational reform advocacy is motivated to serve the holders of great wealth and their ideology of “free markets.” The long-term implications of the influence of big money, market ideologies, and school privatization for the future of the young are profoundly negative.

In sum, panelists and discussants noted how fundamental the issues being raised were and that great wealth is transforming public policy in the United States, largely at the expense of the vast majority of the people. Also it was clear to the energized audience that the same institutions of wealth have advanced programs to challenge worker rights, reproductive justice, and public education.

Summing up the morning’s discussion, Dream Coalition member Harry Targ referred to the 100th anniversary of the birth of Woody Guthrie, who wrote that this land “was made for you and me.” He reminded those assembled of the 68th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s call for an Economic Bill of Rights that would guarantee employment with a living wage, adequate housing, and access to medical care, education, and social security. Targ also referred to the fiftieth year anniversary of the writing of the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which called for the creation of a “participatory democracy.”

Following from the 16 months of mobilization from Tahrir Square, to Madison, Columbus, and Indianapolis, to the flowering of Occupy movements around the country, he urged attendees to participate with the new Rebuild the American Dream-Greater Lafayette Coalition to fight the wealthy who are destroying our country.

INDIANA LABOR, UNITED WAY COLLABORATE TO HELP THOSE IN NEED


Harry Targ

For 28 years the Northwest Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO), in cooperation with United Way of Greater Lafayette, has celebrated labor’s role in the community at its annual banquet. The banquet includes a “Peer/Union Counselor Graduation” and the presentation of Community Service Awards to union locals and individual members who help workers and the community.

On April 13, 2012, fourteen union counselors received graduation certificates for completing a ten-week course that included classes offered about Salvation Army services; information about financial health and foreclosure prevention; legal aid; food banks and pantries and other emergency assistance; and workers compensation. The course included a poverty simulation that presented participants with a powerful role playing exercise about the daily struggles of the poor. 

Union counselor graduates, mostly carpenters, and postal, sheet metal, auto, and steel workers in the community but also interested persons not in unions, learn about services available for union and non-union brothers and sisters facing personal crises. They then can more effectively refer those in need to appropriate agencies.

Union counselor graduates pledged to assist all persons who have “problems affecting their health and welfare…. regardless of their race, creed or color.” In addition counselors pledged to “increase my knowledge and understanding so that I may better serve the needs of my Union and the Community in which I live.”

In addition various locals received awards for services they provided to United Way and community organizations during the year. Awards were presented to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 668, Carpenters Local 215, the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 466, and the Tippecanoe Building and Construction Trades Council. 


The Northwest Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO) presented a special award of appreciation to the Building Trades and two of its officers, Eric Clawson and Jim Ogden for "their leadership in the defense of the rights of all working men and women" in the state of Indiana. These union brothers were thanked particularly for their organization of large and visible protests in 2011 and 2012 against Indiana's push to make the state a Right-to-Work state.

The annual banquet culminates a year of labor/community activism and recognizes how critical organized labor is to the functioning of the Greater Lafayette area, especially in its collaboration with United Way of Greater Lafayette.

Earl Cox, Director of Labor Relations at United Way and the AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison, closed the banquet with a statement about the critical role labor plays: 

“With increasing job losses, energy crises, economic injustice, health care crises, housing and foreclosures, bankruptcies, the increase of personal and national debt, increasing homelessness—especially with veterans and children, and the list goes on…. this all adds up to a lowering of the standard of living and quality of life for huge segments of the population, especially for many middle class people who are falling through the cracks. This is a depressing picture…… we need to do something about it to bring change….

Many years ago a Southern Baptist Minister was at the forefront of another type of attack. He was a leader that preached that these protests must be non-violent no matter what was said or done. These protests led to a monumental change in this Country, the Civil Rights Act. While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led this crusade he had a lot of support from many different organizations one being organized labor…. Dr. King spoke frequently that the Civil Rights Movement and labor had a lot in common and had the same mission that is equality.

,,,,We must remember that when Organized Labor stands up for the common good we are not only fighting for ourselves we are fighting for all working men and women. We are Nurses, Teachers, Firefighters, Carpenters, Electricians, Machinists, Laborers, Factory Workers, and Construction Workers. We Are One!!!!

Thank you for all that you do….   and will do….   and must do!”

Friday, April 20, 2012

ON BEING OVERWHELMED:HOW DO WE BUILD OUR MOVEMENTS?

Harry Targ

Over the last fourteen months we have observed Arab Spring, the Wisconsin uprising, labor ferment throughout the American Heartland, and the formation of Dream Coalitions. In addition Occupy Movements last fall spread like wild fire all across the country and with the arrival of spring are resuming. Most recently anti-racist mobilizations have occurred in response to the execution of Troy Davis and the murder of Trayvon Martin.

In response, socialist and progressive organizations, single issue groups, political party activists, and visible pundits have called for or organized rallies, marches, conferences and other mobilizations in Washington D.C., Chicago, New York and elsewhere. Grassroots activists, motivated by a passion for change, and sometimes a sense of desperation, are on the move. While these are exciting times for progressives and lifetime organizers, it makes sense to take a deep breath, reflect on the concrete situations of struggle we face, and to ask ourselves how best to channel (and preserve) our energies and resources.

Particularly, three questions need to be addressed and readdressed as political contexts change:

-How do we build our movements?

-What do we want to achieve?

-How do we decide what to do?

Building Our Movements

It still is the case that movements are built out of a complicated array of forms of activism. Obviously there are no easy answers or mathematical formulae but several tools are regularly used in our work. First, education, propaganda, calls to action, and programmatic visions are communicated through the innovative use of various media. Print publications such as newspapers, pamphlets, books, and flyers have been staples of organizers since the printing press was invented. There are some communities, including my own, in which progressive newspapers are printed regularly and distributed. Various progressive presses, such as Changemaker, have published books and edited materials not readily available to the left reading public. In some communities alternative radio and television programs tell the story of activism on a regular basis. I know of regular progressive radio shows in West Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Texas, and Oregon.

And, of course, 21st century electronics have added a broad array of blogs, listservs, Face Book and web pages, to the tool kit of radical communication. For all its flaws, and there are many, the internet has dramatically democratized and cheapened the ability to communicate messages near and far.

Second, political events provide a way of communicating to and educating audiences of potential activists. In virtually every community where progressive politics is alive and well, groups sponsor public lectures, films, concerts, and picnics and other social gatherings. The idea is to bring people together to listen and talk about key issues, hoping that such activities will recruit new members

Third, activists organize rallies, marches, sit-ins, leafleting campaigns, petition drives and other public actions that are designed to educate and mobilize activists at the same time. These actions can make the movements more visible, if they receive media attention, and, at least, catch the eye of passersby who are concerned about the issues raised and have not yet committed to organized work to bring about change.

Fourth, organizers generally believe that the most effective but yet the most demanding work involves interpersonal interactions: door to door campaigns, tabling at public events, organizing study groups, and holding meetings that address substantive issues as well as organizational business.

Obviously, each of these forms of activism is vital to the construction of progressive groups and mass movements and if we reflect on the work that we do, all of the four forms are used. In addition, the first three forms can occur at regional or national levels as well as in local communities. The fourth, however, requires work in face-to-face communities, or in what we call the grassroots.

What Do We Want to Achieve?

Most progressive movements are motivated by a variety of goals. Of necessity, most of the goals are short or medium range, while in the end most progressives and/or socialists are committed to the construction of a humane, democratic, and socialist society; one in which the basic needs and wants of every person are met.

Progressives want to educate. That is, they want to communicate and convince a large group of people that particular policies and the general vision of a more humane society is desirable and achievable. Education involves presenting a compelling analysis of the nature and reasons societies are failing to meet the needs of the people, presenting an alternative vision of society that can meet peoples’ needs, and some explanation as to how we can move from here to there.

Progressives want to mobilize large numbers of people to their cause. The forces of reaction have vast economic resources, are positioned in the apex of powerful political and economic institutions, and oftentimes have access to the repressive apparatuses of the state. Social movements throughout history have been effective to the extent that they have been able to assemble their one potential resource, large numbers of people. While “people power” is a slogan, it also is a fact. Again, from Tahrir Square, to Madison, Wisconsin, to Occupy Wall Street, it has been large numbers of loud, militant, and angry people who have forced their resistance on the public stage.

Progressives want to use people power to deliver demands to those who administer the state. The wealthy and powerful can communicate their wishes to policymakers in the corridors of power. The people can communicate primarily by delivering demands. While small groups of progressives have been able to make their demands visible through bold actions that find their way some times in the media, we have learned over and over again that masses of people, delivering demands, have a greater likelihood of being heard and mobilizing others to the cause.

Many progressives believe that electoral work remains a powerful tool for educating, mobilizing, delivering demands and, on occasion, successfully transforming their passions into policies. In a society like our own in which “politics” is defined by most people as elections, progressives need to engage in that arena (along with other venues). It is because of elections that activists can knock on doors, talk about single payer health care, convince people that wars in Afghanistan and other places are ill-advised, and communicate to people that the rights of workers, women, and people of color must be protected.

All of these goals require raising money and signing up new members. Organization building is both a goal and a means to achieve other goals. One of the enduring dilemmas of today’s progressives is that on the one hand vast majorities of people support progressive change when asked but only tiny minorities step forward to work to create that change. Further, there are traditions among political activists that claim that organization-building is antithetical to political change. And, many of those who are readily available to protest, sit-in and generally raise hell are resistant to attending meetings, debating strategy and tactics, entering names of new members on computer lists and all the other necessities of organizational building that are frankly boring.

In certain circumstances, progressives feel a need to bring institutions to a halt. Tactics such as the strike, the occupation, the work slowdown take on a life of their own as activists seek to bring the institutions of oppression and exploitation to a halt, at least for a time. Such actions are themselves a goal and a tool for achieving other goals. In each of the path-breaking campaigns listed at the outset, dramatic actions stimulated the creation of mass movements. Oftentimes the actions themselves spark the construction of movements for fundamental change.

Finally, some progressives have acted on the belief that alternative institutions can and should be built within the old order. Progressives learn by doing, engage in trial and error institution-building, and provide visible models for those who have not yet joined the movement. Sometimes the alternative institutions fulfill a need irrespective of the effectiveness the alternatives served in building a mass movement.

Deciding What To Do

This is the perhaps the most difficult issue to address. The year 2011 was an extraordinary time in social movement history. After a long drought in America (and perhaps around the world) masses of workers, women, people of color, youth, the elderly, and people from faith communities stood up and said “no” to dictatorship, attacks on workers’ rights, the war on women, violent racism, and further destruction of the air, water, and natural landscape. The magnitude of the uprisings probably matches “the thirties” or “the sixties” in the United States. Paradoxically, despite the long years of grassroots activism and important work done by national organizations, progressives were caught by surprise.

As a result of the shock waves of 2011 we should reflect upon the issues that need to be addressed, prioritizing work on them based on available resources. Progressives should make decisions about prioritizing short and/or long term policy and structural changes and the question of the location of venues for action at given times. For some (I am one) politics begins at the base; that is in the communities in which activists are located. For others, coalition building at the national level must be prioritized.

What seems clear is that the forces of reaction in the United States and elsewhere are organized. They have enormous resources. They have been planning for a long time to reconstruct economic and political institutions to shift power and wealth back to the few. Since the 1980s at least ruling elites have sought to return America to the “gilded age,” the post-civil war era when bankers and speculators ruled America without cumbersome government provisions of some rights and resources to the vast majority of people.

The response of 2011 was spontaneous, passionate, daring, and electric in its transformational possibilities. But now, progressives need to reflect on where we are, what our resources are, how to use them effectively, what priorities in action need to be developed, and how we might most effectively empower people. Spontaneity and reflection represent two dimensions of a successful social movement. One alone will not create the kind of humane society most of us are working to achieve.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

OCCUPY LATIN AMERICA:CHANGING UNITED STATES/LATIN AMERICAN RELATIONS

Harry Targ

The 2012 Summit of the Americas ended Sunday, April 15, without a closing statement as is traditional. In fact, it ended with acrimony. Countries with political regimes as varied as Colombia, Brazil, and Bolivia condemned the refusal of the United States to formally recognize Cuba, thus allowing that country to attend. Rafael Correa, president of Ecuador, did not even attend the summit to protest Cuba’s exclusion. By the end of the meeting, Evo Morales, Bolivian President, made it clear that no future summits would occur if Cuba were not included.

Along with political conflict between the United States and Canada and the rest of the Hemisphere countries over Cuba, most rejected the decades long violent and destructive “war on drugs” launched by the United States in the twentieth century to maintain a rationale for a pervasive military presence in the region. Also, President Cristina Fernandez of Argentina left the meeting early to protest the lack of U.S. support for her country’s claims on the Malvinas Islands.

The Summit of the Americas was launched in 1994 by President Clinton to advance Hemisphere diplomacy beyond the traditional regional organization, the Organization of American States. Clinton and George Bush used the summits to lobby for a Hemisphere wide free trade agreement, a North America Free Trade Agreement, writ large. In 2003, the former Brazilian President, Luiz Inacion Lula da Silva, demanded that the United States end farm subsidies for U.S. products before Brazil would consider a trade agreement. Subsequently Brazil joined forces with Russia, India, and China (the BRICs) to challenge the hegemony of the United States, Western Europe, and Japan in the global economy.

While visible global political/military contests in the twenty-first century centered in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, significant changes have been occurring in Latin America. A continent pillaged by Spain, Britain, France, Portugal, and the Netherlands for hundreds of years has been doggedly moving towards political autonomy and economic independence. Colonialism came to an end with the Spanish/Cuban/American war in 1898. In its place, the United States established neocolonial control over the politics and economics of virtually every country in the Hemisphere. At first, from 1898 until 1933, the U.S. maintained control through repeated military interventions (over 30 in 35 years with long marine military occupations of Haiti, Cuba, and Nicaragua).

From the 1930s until the 1980s, U.S. control was maintained by putting in place and supporting military dictatorships in such countries as Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. During the time Reagan, Bush senior and Clinton were in office, control was enhanced by so-called “neoliberal” economic policies. These demanded of countries, increasingly tied to international banks by crippling debt, the creation of open markets, foreign economic penetration, and reduced domestic spending for its own citizens.

During the years of dictatorship and neo-liberalism, the primary example of resistance to U.S. economic imperialism and militarism was Cuba. For that reason, the United States put in place a policy of diplomatic isolation, an economic blockade, and a fifty year campaign to subvert and overthrow the revolutionary government. As the 2012 election season approaches, presidential candidate Barack Obama, apparently felt he could not buck the declining but still influential counter-revolutionary Cuban Americans of South Florida, despite what Latin America thinks.

Latin America’s rejection of U.S. diplomatic dominance at the Cartegena, Colombia summit signifies the decline of U.S. power in the region. The power of the newly formed Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), an organization promoting economic and political cooperation in the region constitutes one kind of challenge to the United States. Another is the trade regime, Common Southern Market or Mercosur, which has a membership of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay (with membership of Venezuela in process) and associate membership status for Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

More importantly, economic populist (some say 21st century socialist) regimes are in power now in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and, of course, Cuba. In addition center/left regimes rule in Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Peru.

In addition, Hal Weitzman documents in Latin Lessons: How South America Stopped Listening to the United States and Started Prospering(Wiley, 2012) Latin America’s growing relationships with China and to a lesser extent Europe. He identifies a troubling contradiction in the U.S. regional relationship: “The longer-term trend is clear: while Latin America becomes an increasingly more important trade partner for the United States with every passing year, the United States is becoming less and less important to Latin America.”

And finally, in advance of electoral shifts to the Left in the region, mass organizations all around the Hemisphere have emerged based on class, gender, and race. Also indigenous people struggling to keep their land in the face of expropriation by multinational corporations have risen up, even against what they regard as oppressive policies of populist regimes. The World Social Forum, launched as a dialogue among the poor and oppressed in Porte Alegre, Brazil, in 2001, was a forerunner of the Occupy movements of our own day.

In short, the rejection of United States policies at the summit signifies the fundamental transformation of U.S/Latin American relations. The winds of change are becoming gusts.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

ECONOMICS, POLITICS, AND CULTURE:THE CUBAN EXPERIENCE

Harry Targ

(These remarks were prepared for a presentation before a musical performance at Purdue University by Sierra Maestra, the stirring band formed at the University of Havana in 1976. The band was named after the mountain range in Eastern Cuba that was the site of the formation of the Cuban revolutionary force that overthrew the U.S. supported dictator in the 1950s. The nine-person band promotes and celebrates the classic Cuba Son music that has its roots in the diversity of class, race, ethnicity, and gender in Cuban history).

People’s lives begin with the struggle for existence and are supplemented by the pursuit of joy and liberation. Culture, often reflecting the pain of daily existence and the vision of a better life, is intimately embedded in history, economics, and politics.

Cuba’s revolutionary poet Jose Marti describes his place in history, economics, and politics.

“I am a truthful man,
From the land of the palm,
Before dying, I want to
Share these poems of my soul.

My poems are light green,
But they are also flaming red
My verses are like a wounded fawn.
Seeking refuge in the mountain.

(Pete Seeger reports learning these two additional Marti verses from a Cuban of African descent in 1983.)

Red, as in the desert,
Rose the sun on the horizon.
It shone on a dead slave
Hanging from a tree of the mountain.

A child saw it, trembled,
With passion for those that wept,
And swore that with his blood
He would wash away that crime.”

Latin American social theorists and activists of the era of the Cuban revolutionary process (since the 1950s) defined the economic and political context of countries like Cuba, less passionately but rigorously, as a result of dependency. For example, Brazilian social scientist, Theotonio Dos Santos wrote about what he called “the structure of dependence.”

“Dependence is a situation in which a certain group of countries have their economy conditioned by the development and expansion of another economy, to which the former is subject.”

Andre Gunter Frank, looking at the broad sweep of history beginning with the rise of capitalism out of feudalism referred to “the development of underdevelopment.” During the fifteenth century the sectors of the globe now referred to as the “Global North” and “Global South” were roughly equal in economic and military power. But as a result of the globalization of capitalism and militarism, some countries, primarily in Europe and North America, developed at the expense of most of the other countries of the world.

Dependency theorists began to include domestic class structures in their analysis of relations between dominant and dependent nations. In addition to dominant and weak countries bound by exploitation and violence, within both powerful and weak countries class structures existed. In fact, rulers in poor countries usually were tied by interests and ideology to the interests and ideology of the ruling classes in powerful countries. And, most importantly, the poor, the exploited, the repressed in both rich and poor countries shared common experiences, often a common outlook, and potentially a common culture.

I have written a book chapter about “Themes in Cuban History” from the point of view of dominance and dependence (from Harry R. Targ, Cuba and the USA: A New World Order? International Publishers, 1992). The chapter addresses:

-Spanish conquest between 1511 and 1515

-Cuba as sugar producer

-Cuba as slave society. By 1827 over 50 percent of Cuban residents were of African descent.

-Britain’s economic and military penetration of the island beginning in the 18th century

-Revolutionary ferment, particularly slave revolts, permeating 19th century Cuban society

-The visions of U.S. leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, that some day Cuba would join the new nation to the North.

-U.S. investor penetration of the island, challenging the Spanish and British. By the 1880s over 80 percent of sugar exports went to the United States and large plantations on the island were owned by Americans.

-The Spanish/Cuban/American war of 1898 which lead to a full transfer of colonial and neo-colonial hegemony from the Spanish and British to the United States

-The United States establishment of economic, political, and cultural domination of the island from 1898 to 1959. Subordinate wealthy and powerful Cubans controlled the political system, benefitting from U.S. hegemony, while “the poor people of this earth” on the island made up the vast majority.

-1953 to 1959 armed struggle which overthrew the Batista dictatorship and the elimination of U.S. interests on the island.

-1959 to the present Cuba haltingly, with international and domestic opposition, pursuing a new society to “wash away that crime” of long years of empire and dependency.

How is this history relevant to indigenous Cuban music and its connections with U.S. culture?

Culture, it seems to me, grows out of the experience of peoples. That experience is shaped by history, economics, and politics. Music is a common way of communicating and sharing experience, particularly of pain and joy.

The seeds of a common Cuban culture were planted in various fields--Africa, the sugar plantations of the island, and growing relations between Cubans and people of African descent in the region, including the United States.

Finally, culture can be revolutionary when it expresses pain, implies a better life, and extends the experiences of some to others--of similar class, racial, ethnic, and gender histories.

So as we listen to Sierra Maestra and reflect on the roots of its music, its contribution to jazz in the U.S., and the commonalities of Cuban Son and U.S jazz and blues, we might remember Marti’s expression from the poet’s point of view:

“With the poor people of this earth,
I want to share my lot.
The little streams of the mountains
Please me more than the sea.”

(All verses quoted here are from Pete Seeger, Where Have all the Flowers Gone; A Singer’s Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies, A Sing Out Publication,1993).

ECONOMICS, POLITICS, AND CULTURE: THE CUBAN EXPERIENCE


Harry Targ

(These remarks were prepared for a presentation before a musical performance at Purdue University by Sierra Maestra, the stirring band formed at the University of Havana in 1976. The band was named after the mountain range in Eastern Cuba that was the site of the formation of the Cuban revolutionary force that overthrew the U.S. supported dictator in the 1950s. The nine-person band promotes and celebrates the classic Cuba Son music that has its roots in the diversity of class, race, ethnicity, and gender in Cuban history).

People’s lives begin with the struggle for existence and are supplemented by the pursuit of joy and liberation. Culture, often reflecting the pain of daily existence and the vision of a better life, is intimately embedded in history, economics, and politics.

Cuba’s revolutionary poet Jose Marti describes his place in history, economics, and politics.

“I am a truthful man,
From the land of the palm,
Before dying, I want to
Share these poems of my soul.

My poems are light green,
But they are also flaming red
My verses are like a wounded fawn.
Seeking refuge in the mountain.

(Pete Seeger reports learning these two additional Marti verses from a Cuban of African descent in 1983.)

Red, as in the desert,
Rose the sun on the horizon.
It shone on a dead slave
Hanging from a tree of the mountain.

A child saw it, trembled,
With passion for those that wept,
And swore that with his blood
He would wash away that crime.”

Latin American social theorists and activists of the era of the Cuban revolutionary process (since the 1950s) define the economic and political context of countries like Cuba, less passionately but rigorously, as a result of dependency. For example, Brazilian social scientist, Theotonio Dos Santos wrote about what he called “the structure of dependence.”

“Dependence is a situation in which a certain group of countries have their economy conditioned by the development and expansion of another economy, to which the former is subject.”

Andre Gunter Frank, looking at the broad sweep of history beginning with the rise of capitalism out of feudalism referred to “the development of underdevelopment.” During the fifteenth century the sectors of the globe now referred to as the “Global North” and “Global South” were roughly equal in economic and military power. But as a result of the globalization of capitalism and militarism, some countries, primarily in Europe and North America, developed at the expense of most of the other countries of the world.

Dependency theorists began to include domestic class structures in their analysis of relations between dominant and dependent nations. In addition to dominant and weak countries bound by exploitation and violence, within both powerful and weak countries class structures existed. In fact, rulers in poor countries usually were tied by interests and ideology to the interests and ideology of the ruling classes in powerful countries. And, most importantly, the poor, the exploited, the repressed in both rich and poor countries shared common experiences, often a common outlook, and potentially a common culture.

I have written a book chapter about “Themes in Cuban History” from the point of view of dominance and dependence (from Harry R. Targ, Cuba and the USA: A New World Order? International Publishers, 1992). The chapter addresses:

-Spanish conquest between 1511and 1515

-Cuba as sugar producer

-Cuba as slave society. By 1827 over 50 percent of Cuban residents were of African descent.

-Britain’s economic and military penetration of the island beginning in the 18th century

-Revolutionary ferment, particularly slave revolts, permeating 19th century Cuban society

-The visions of U.S. leaders, including Thomas Jefferson, that some day Cuba would join the new nation to the North.

-U.S. investor penetration of the island, challenging the Spanish and British. By the 1880s over 80 percent of sugar exports went to the United States and large plantations on the island were owned by Americans.

-The Spanish/Cuban/American war of 1898 which lead to a full transfer of colonial and neo-colonial hegemony from the Spanish and British to the United States

-The United States establishment of full economic, political, and cultural control of the island from 1898 to 1959. Subordinate wealthy and powerful Cubans control the political system, benefitting from U.S. hegemony, while “the poor people of this earth” on the island make up the vast majority.

-1953 to 1959 armed struggle overthrowing the Batista dictatorship and the elimination of U.S. interests on the island.

-1959 to the present Cuba haltingly, with international and domestic opposition, pursues a new society to “wash away that crime” of long years of empire and dependency.

How is this history relevant to indigenous Cuban music and its connections with U.S. culture?

Culture, it seems to me, grows out of the experience of peoples. That experience is shaped by history, economics, and politics. Music is a common
way of communicating and sharing experience, particularly of pain and joy.

The seeds of a common Cuban culture were planted in various fields--Africa, the sugar plantations of the island, and growing relations between Cubans and people of African descent in the region, including the United States.

Finally, culture can be revolutionary when it expresses pain, implies a better life, and extends the experiences of some to others--of similar class, racial, ethnic, and gender histories.

So as we listen to Sierra Maestra and reflect on the roots of its music, its contribution to jazz in the U.S., and the commonalities of Cuban Son and U.S jazz and blues, we might remember Marti’s expression from the poet’s point of view:

“With the poor people of this earth,
I want to share my lot.
The little streams of the mountains
Please me more than the sea.”

(All verses quoted here are from Pete Seeger, Where Have all the Flowers Gone; A Singer’s Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies, 1993).