Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Jeremiad in defense of Barack Obama’s pastor

By Emile Schepers
People's Weekly World
Online Extra

Barack Obama is being subjected to Willie Hortoning by the right, via a
made-up controversy about the pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ, which Obama attends. Rev. Jeremiah Wright is accused of being a crazed, anti-American Black racist. Fox News and others repeatedly show clips of his sermons, highly edited to shock. This is a vicious racist injustice.

Reverend Wright’s namesake is the Prophet Jeremiah, preaching at a time when the Jewish Kingdom established by Saul and David had split in two (Israel and Judah) and was beset by existential threats from within and without.

Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, had invaded Judah and destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, dragging many of the inhabitants off to slavery. Jeremiah denounced Nebuchadnezzar. But he also blasted the rulers and people of Judah for worshiping false idols and for thinking that an alliance with Necho, Pharaoh of Egypt, instead of faith in Jehovah, could save them. The ferocity of this prophet’s denunciations is the origin of the word "Jeremiad," i.e. a fierce preaching against moral decay and evil acts on the part of the powerful.

Wright’s denomination is not an extremist cult. The United Church of Christ comes from the 1957 amalgamation of the Congregational Church, to which many of the most enlightened thinkers in our history belonged, and the German-origin Evangelical and Reformed Church. It believes in the compatibility of faith and science and that God wants Christians to worship him by doing justice to their fellow humans.

So what did Jeremiah Wright really say that got people so worked up? I will rely on some quotes from the Washington Post, March 15.

"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, we nuked far more than in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye … America’s chickens are coming home to roost." (September 2001)

Millions think the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a war crime.
Far more died in those bombings than died on Sept. 11. Rev. Wright is pointing out that the United States cannot claim to be uniquely victimized by Sept. 11, and that the U.S. state has committed far worse atrocities. Who can deny this, except by denying history?

"We are descendents of Africa, not England …we have a culture that is African in origin — not European. The Bible we preach from came from a culture that was not English or European." ("Blow the Trumpet in Zion," 2005)

That African-Americans have an African cultural heritage (with European influences) is not seriously denied by any modern scholar. And the Bible came mostly out of a Hebrew and Aramaic speaking culture in the Middle East, not Europe.

"The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no; God damn America! That’s in the Bible for killing innocent people." (Sermon, 2003)

The idea that the CIA helped to develop the inner city drug trade for the illegal funding of the Nicaraguan contras is based on some evidence. The rest — bigger prisons, three strike law, killing innocent people — is unquestionably true. The fierce tone may shock, but it is no fiercer than Frederick Douglass’ famous Jeremiad against celebrations of the Fourth of July, in which he said U.S. independence from Britain was a misfortune for Black people.

"Racism is how this country was founded and how it is still run." (Sermon, 2006) Can anybody deny that this country was founded on the racism of slavery, lynch law and Jim Crow, and that even today racial inequality serves the interests of the ruling class that fosters it?

Wright’s sermons and deeds show him to be a passionate man fighting for social justice for oppressed people, and couching his rhetoric in the language of the pulpit. Compare this with people like Pat Robertson who burn incense to Ahab and Jezebel and egg them on to greater crimes.

A movement that consciously understands racism and why it’s in everyone’s interest to struggle against it is essential in order to make progress. If Wright’s sermons have served to initiate that process, then we should learn from them.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Crucified to be resurrected: the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr.

By Dr. Denice Miles
People's Weekly World

Online special

The experience of Dr. King encourages us to develop some appreciation for the role of the preaching of the social gospel and the Black church in the spirit of resistance within the African American community. The cultural traditions of the African American people are deeply rooted in the protective collective tradition of resistance emanating from the Black church, going all the way back to slavery. "Don't let them destroy your spirit; don't let them take away your joy" are just two of the pillars of internal resistance cultivated in the progressive Black
church to encourage parishioners to hold on and keep moving forward against all odds.

Witness the truth in context of what the much-maligned Rev. Wright said. Go to essence.typepad.

com/news/2008/03/listen-to-rev-1.html and to listen to the sermons from which the remarks characterized as being most incendiary were extracted. I believe that, in an attempt to upset the Obama campaign, a wrong has been done to the people of the USA by the spread of a big lie about Wright, who so passionately preaches the social gospel. Share these web links far and wide so that all can hear for themselves.

These sermons prove that the Rev. Wright is not a man of hate; he is a man of passion. He is a man who loves his God and his people "the downtrodden of the world, not just African Americans" and his country, the USA, with all his heart and soul, based on the concept that to dissent is patriotic. He is a highly educated man fluent in liberation theology, the preaching of the social gospel, psychology, musicology, history, political science, sociology and more. He uses his education and intellectual capacity to provide his congregation each week with relief and a way to understand the society in which we live, from a revolutionary Black nationalist point of view, coaching them in how to continue on through the pain and suffering of lives lived under multifaceted forms of oppression, discrimination and exploitation.

When you listen to these sermons yourself, you will see that a big lie was constructed to bring down the Obama campaign. Wright was painted to be a hate mongerer. Nothing could be further from the truth, but you have to listen and hear for yourself.

Just days after 9/11, Wright was quoting someone else " in fact a former Reagan ambassador" as having said the "chickens were coming home to roost," and he was letting his congregation know that a white man in a prominent position had said those words. You have to listen to the sermon to hear for yourself his compassion for all of us as victims of the 9/11 horror.

In what has come to be known as the "God damn America" sermon, Wright described a dichotomy between the America of the tormenters, those who will do anything to satisfy their greed including steal the presidential election and wage unnecessary war, and the America of the tormented. His point was simply that when we are called upon to sing "God Bless America," more appropriate would be God damn the America of the tormenters who walk around Earth as if they were God and supreme. But again, you have to listen for yourself to hear the distinction as preached by Wright.

What is hard to believe is that the media would promote such a big lie, and anyone who does not gain access to the full context of the sermons will never know the truth. You may still not agree with what Wright said, but in context you will know that his comments were not what they are being made out to be.

Resurrecting the truth is important because masses of people in this country now have the impression that the preaching of the social gospel is akin to the cult preaching of hate. This is yet another attempt to diminish part of the great contribution of the African American people to the culture of our country. It is yet another attempt to distort our history and our very being.

The point is not that those who preach the social gospel are right on every question. Many are wrong on the role of women, wrong on the issue of homosexuality, imbalanced in their view on the Middle East, and the list could go on and on. Yet, Wright is among the most advanced thinkers and has fought for the rejection of backwardness on many questions.

The vilification of Wright is wrong. You have to listen for yourself to develop a righteous anger against the big lie. It can embolden you to contribute even more to the movement for change which deserves to reach fruition.

Denice Miles is a Chicago educator and social activist.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

'We are against Chicago school closings'

By Pepe Lozano

CHICAGO — Parents, community groups, teachers and students are fed up with Chicago Public Schools officials who voted to close, consolidate or restructure 18 schools here Feb. 27.

School officials say 10 schools will be consolidated, six will undergo a “turnaround program” and two will close due to low enrollment and underperformance. The plan would require more than 2,000 students to move to other schools.

There are currently 655 public schools in Chicago serving over 400,000 students. The overwhelming majority of students are African American and Latino.

In the turnaround program students would remain at their school but the entire staff will be laid off and a new one hired. Up to 800 jobs could be affected, including 500 teachers who could apply for new positions.

Many argue that the new plan is a quick fix that fails to address a bigger problem.

The Chicago Teachers Union said the plan violates their collective bargaining agreement and has filed a grievance.

CTU members unanimously passed a resolution condemning Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan and Board of Education President Rufus Williams. The resolution voices a lack of confidence in their leadership.

“Once again, decisions have been made by individuals who have never spent a day teaching in a classroom,” CTU President Marilyn Stewart said in a recent statement. “What does it say to those who are entrusted to teach when their experience and input is ignored time and again?”

Stewart added, “The board has also completely ignored the important role of collaboration between management and labor in employment matters and in doing what is best for Chicago’s children.”

Before the board made its decision on Feb. 27, more than 100 students at Orr High School, one of the schools that will be affected, walked out of school in protest and showed up at the board meeting.

The students joined parents, community and religious leaders, local school council members and teachers at the Chicago Public Schools headquarters to oppose the sweeping changes that they say will disrupt their education and in some cases threaten students’ safety.

School officials argue that the changes will save millions of dollars and help improve academics, but others are fighting the cuts and feel minority children are being victimized.

“CPS is not operating in the interests of lower-income Latino and African American families,” said Jitu Brown, education organizer with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization. “Our schools have been historically neglected,” he said.

Brown added, “Our schools are turned upside down rather than being supported and we are against the school closings. Schools are the one place that young people can go to and when you remove that you further destabilize the community.”

Julie Woestenhoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, told the World, “It’s very clear this is not about improving schools. It’s about manipulating developers and big business and it’s a shame, because they are disrupting so many people’s lives.”

Woestenhoff also felt that the poorest and underserved communities are being victimized and said the CPS plan sends a message “that they don’t have room for us.”

“This is a philosophical and moral battle about what public schools mean,” she said. “Ultimately we’ll have no place to go.”

Brown said, “We need to consider the human aspect. The new CPS plan is another way for special interests to have their financial needs met at the expense of our kids.” The No Child Left Behind Act is “a national plan to privatize public education and that’s a problem,” he added.

Brown described some steps that could help solve the shortcomings of Chicago’s schools, measures that he said the school system should endorse.

These include real democracy in the system, he said, including electing board members and holding them accountable, strengthening local school councils and their political role as decision-makers with community impact, a thorough analysis and evaluation of Chicago’s schools and their weaknesses, and redirection of resources including an emphasis on social and emotional learning for students.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

'Political earthquake' shakes Illinois

By John Bachtell
Chicago - In a “political earthquake” whose aftershocks may be felt all the way to the November elections, Democrat Bill Foster defeated Republican Jim Oberweis in a special election to fill the vacant seat of former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert in Illinois’s 14th Congressional district.

Foster won the March 8 election 53 to 47% in what is widely seen as a resounding rejection of the Bush administration and Republican policies. Foster and Oberweis will face each other again in November for the full term.

The cash strapped Republican Congressional Campaign Committee had poured over $1.5 million into the race and even brought in Presidential nominee John McCain in a bid to avoid embarrassment.

Foster’s victory has alarmed Republicans over the prospect of a Democratic landslide in November. “This is a political earthquake,” declared Rep. Jan Schakowsky. “One would have thought the DNA of this district is Republican. This means there’s not a district in America that’s safe for the Republicans.”

The 14th CD has been a Republican powerbase for the past 30 years, including the last twenty with Hastert, who was the longest serving Republican Speaker in history. He had won reelection in 2006 with 60% of the vote, but his margins steadily narrowed over the years. Bush carried the district with 56% in 2004.

Ousted as House Speaker on the heels of the Democratic Party victory in the 2006 congressional elections, Hastert abruptly resigned late last year. He is one of a record 29 Republicans who have quit in the face of a political climate that is increasingly hostile to the Republican ultra right.

The 14th CD stretches from the western Chicago suburbs almost to the Mississippi River. It includes suburbs, exurbs that carve out new housing developments in the endless farmland, but also light industry, an increasingly diverse population and growing poverty.

The district has been the site of sharp battles against anti-immigrant hatred. The billionaire dairy owner and investor Oberweis, is a right wing extremist, perennial candidate and Republican laughingstock. He made the immigration issue a central part of his campaign. However, it turned out to be far down on the list of concerns expressed by voters.

A political newcomer, Foster is a Fermi Lab scientist and businessman. He ran unabashedly against the Bush agenda, denounced the Iraq war, called for repealing the Bush tax cuts to the rich and opposed retroactive immunity to the telecommunication corporations for their part in illegal spying on American citizens. He ran on the standard Democratic immigration platform.

Foster included Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama among his prominent supporters. Obama’s popularity in the district could signal his appeal in similar suburban and exurban districts were he to become the nominee. Foster’s election gives Obama another superdelegate.

A solid coalition that put an army of volunteers on the ground backed Foster. The Illinois State AFL-CIO was a key factor in the election. “In a short span of three weeks, organized labor made more than 40,000 live phone calls to union households and hundreds of members volunteered to knock on doors of union member urging them to vote on March 8,” said state fed President Michael Carrigan. Particularly prominent were trade union volunteers from IUPAT, SEIU, AFSCME, IBEW, and the Letter Carriers.

This victory signals the potential for a Democratic takeover of other Republican held seats in Illinois. In the 10th CD, incumbent Republican Rep. Mark Kirk faces a stiff challenge from Dan Seals, an African American candidate running on an anti-Iraq war platform. Kirk very narrowly defeated Seals in 2006.

In addition, Democratic State Senator Debbie Halvorson is running to fill the seat of Congressman Jerry Weller in the 11th CD. Weller, one of the most corrupt members of Congress, also announced he is jumping ship.

However, Halverson suddenly finds herself without a Republican opponent, after New Lennox Mayor Tim Baldermann unexpectedly dropped out of the race after winning the Republican primary. Baldermann said the campaign was taking up far more time than he imagined, but the real reason may be he is having great difficulty scraping together money for the race.

John Bachtell is Communist Party of Illinois district organizer

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The NIU Killings- Making Sense of the “Senseless”

By Cristobal Cavazos

Dekalb, IL- On the afternoon of February 14, Valentine’s Day, Steven Kazmierczak, age 27, emerged from behind the stage of a small lecture hall at Northern Illinois University opening fire upon the students and their student-teacher. Armed with a pump-action shotgun and three handguns he mercilessly sprayed the hall of this suburban Chicago school with bullets in a seemingly random manner robbing 5 of their lives while injuring 15 others before ultimately turning the gun upon himself, ending his own sad saga.

The tragedy, put in perspective, demonstrates how commonplace school shootings and mass violence have become across the United States. One remembers the Columbine High School massacre of 1999 which killed 12 students and wounded 23 others and the more recent rampage on the campus of Virginia Tech last year in which a student would take the lives of 32 of his peers and wounding many more before ending his own life.

Further, a rash of mass violence has stricken the Chicagoland area with recent shootings in commercial centers and the recent conviction of a young man for the slaughter of his entire family- an act police called “monstrous.”

Local and national press have deemed the NIU tragedy along with many of the other mass killings “senseless.” Meanwhile liberal pundits go a step further in making calling for increased gun control, criticizing the ready availability of firearms in the United States. Such ready-made interpretations forget however that relatively peaceful countries like Canada enjoy comparable levels of gun ownership. At the same time right-wing organizations like the NRA and their ideologues threatened by gun control invariably will take a leap off the deep end in calling for the militarization of society- arming teachers, students, everybody in an attempt to put a check on those few bad-seeds.

The superficiality of such interpretations and panaceas attempting to make sense of the “senselessness” leaves us thirsting for what we are not hearing. Emphasizing remedies to keep individual perpertrators from doing violence foolhardily- or intentionaly directs our attention away from a sober analysis of a society rapidly decaying.

The growth of acute social and economic tensions abound for millions pitting Americans and especially youth into a seemingly individualized, alienated struggle against ever more powerful social forces. Students suffering cuts in educational funding and a lack of living wage jobs graduate with tens of thousands of dollars of debt and the insecurity of ever even finding a good job upon graduation. To just get by our time is increasingly colonialized with work leaving us less study time to get by in our ever-more competitive classes.

Meanwhile there is a lack of outlets to air our grievances. Our problems seem to be our’s and our’s alone. The labor union, the politicians office, the social movements, even the bowling leagues are no longer there for the many- even if we had the time. The collective experience, where we battled- and triumphed together- has de-evolved into an individual one.

Meanwhile, the social fabric of American life shredding, violence permeates popular culture. It seems a primal defense, promoted by media magnates, to the offensive of the dumb beast that is the profit before people America Establishment - the explosion, the rain of bullets, the detonation of all that is that binds us. Through the propagation of such violence we become numb to the unacceptability of the taking of another’s life conveniently as our nation exports violence abroad in our names- most prominently in the killing over 1 million men, women and children in Iraq.

We must ask ourselves amidst the alienation and violence of American society where one can we go for community, for beauty? As funding for war and calls for, in the words of Barack Obama, “putting more boots on the grounds,“ in addition to tax cuts for the opulent and construction of more prisons dominates our national agenda resources for parks and for the arts are not prioritized.

Growing inequality, militarism and violence is especially jarring on the most alienated sections of society: those with mental illness, economic misfortune and for minority youth in general.

Tragedies like the killings at NIU sadden us profoundly but at such times we can faintly make out how another, more civilized society might be. A series of vigils took place on campus after the killings with students and faculty embracing, sharing, caring for each other in ways never before seen on this campus. There was a family there, a space for a true community that was contrary, even antagonistic to the ebb and flow of typical, everyday campus life.

There is a crisis in contemporary America whose social roots run deep and a debilitating frustration seems at times hard to avoid. But we do know that killing and inflicting pain- even discomfort- upon another human being does not come naturally to us, it is an act arrived at as the culmination of having crossed, or been pushed across a variety of unnatural thresholds in a society that sighs for what is not.