Tuesday, April 14, 2015
Yesterday I just learned of the passing of Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015) in Uruguay. I have been deeply influenced by Galeano’s work "The Open Veins of Latin America" translated from Spanish by Cedric Belfrage. I consider the book a chilling alarm of modern technology’s ironic inability to end human suffering. I first read it about five years ago and I consider it a Latin American version of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth which was published about ten years prior. The book consists of three main parts: one, mankind’s poverty as a consequence of the wealth of the land; two, development is a voyage with more shipwrecks than navigators; and three, seven years after. I liked most what he wrote in Seven Years After especially in talking about how the best press he got from the book was “from the military dictatorships that praised the book by banning it” (265). I think his role as a writer in attempting to end human suffering by exposing the brutality of military dictatorships is unprecedented, remarkable, and a very important example for me to follow. I’d like to talk about key points in each of the three main parts that struck me. In his first section he writes that “the ultimate goal of the Latin American colonial economy from its inception” was to function “at the service of capitalism developing elsewhere.” The dominant classes he said “prevented the development of an internal consumer market” (30). He traces the colonial history of Latin America beginning with Columbus, and quotes Bartolomeo de las Casas: “He once remarked that the Indians preferred to go to hell to avoid meeting Christians”(42). Galeano here challenges the understanding that those who do bad on Earth will end up in hell. This is a broad reference to the indigenous fighter against the Spanish, In his Caribbean History text, Tony Martin quotes Hatuey saying “I’d rather go to hell than go to any place Christians are.” Hatuey challenges the concept of hell as an undesirable place and the notion that the Spanish colonizers were in any way humane or good Christians according to Europe’s own terms. Galeano traces the role that Spanish imperialism played in building English industrial capitalism: “Brazilian gold was channeled to London by licit as well as illicit methods…without this tremendous accumulation of gold reserves, Britain would not have been able, later on, to confront Napoleon” (56). He traces the key role that Latin America played in English being an imperial power. This included the creation of a sugar monoculture today whose detrimental effects can still be felt today. However Galeano is clear on the key role that the monoculture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had in amassing British capital: “Caribbean sugar plantations, condemned as they were to cane monoculture, were not the dynamic center of development for the “thirteen colonies solely because of the impetus the slave trade gave to naval industry and to the New England distilleries; they also provided a large market for the export of foodstuffs, timber, and sugarmill implements, lending economic viability to the farm and budding factory economy of the North Atlantic” (82). I don’t know another writer who can sum up the instrumental role of the Caribbean in U.S. history in this succinct way that Galeano does. In Spanish. Also in this main part he describes Cuban ingenuity in rejecting the monoculture imposed on it by Spain and the United States and discusses the important gains since its revolution: “Cuba was crippled by its dependent status, and walking on its own feet has not been easy. Half of its children did not go to school in 1958…Cuba now has the lowest percentage of illiterates and the highest percentage attending primary and secondary school in Latin America. Medea Benjamin today asked a very important question regarding the U.S. decision to remove Cuba from a list the State Department created called “State Sponsors of Terrorism.” She asked if by removing Cuba from that list if the State Department was really accepting Cuba as a sovereign nation or if they are trying to undermine and overthrow the revolution by different means. The need to defend the socialist character of Cuban revolution is clear to Galeano when he writes in a way that personifies it: “the Revolution is forced to sleep with its eyes open, and in economic terms this also costs dearly. Constantly harassed by invasion and sabotage [which Benjamin described] it does not fall because—strange dictatorship!—it is defended by people in arms” (77). And although I support the Cuban government defending itself, I also witnessed first hand the machismo and the policed culture of Black men on Havana streets that this defensive posture creates. And it concerns me. But before I critique the Cuban government for its machismo and policed culture, I have to critique FIRST the machismo and policed culture created and enforced by the ruling class, most of which Galeano names in his book, later in his first part when he describes the monoculture of Brazilian coffee: “In July 1968 Brazilian coffee cost 30 percent less in the United States than in January 1964 but U.S. consumers did not pay less: they paid 13 percent more. Thus in the 1964-1968 period middlemen kept the 13 percent as well as the 30 percent feathering their nests twice over. Who are the middlemen? Six U.S. concerns control more than a third of the coffee that leaves Brazil, and another six control more than a third of what enters the United States: these firms dominate the business at both ends” (100). Galeano’s discussion of middlemen here reminds me of the spending waste associated with private property and capitalist ownership, and why Obama’s Affordable Care Act needed a government run public option to avoid the fraud and the abuse by these middlemen that are represented by the private insurance companies. In terms of the banana industry, Galeano describes how U.S. businesses dominate the economies of Central America to maximize their profit: “the United Fruit Company swallowed up its competitors in the production and sale of bananas and became Central America’s top latifundista [landowner] while its affiliates corner rail and sea transport” (107). I last remember seeing a reference to United Fruit in the work of Assata Shakur. This reminded me of how Assata Shakur described the Judge presided over the unfair trial that falsely accused her of shooting a New Jersey state trooper. He was “the kind they could send to wipe out the “natives” in Africa, make Central America safe for United Fruit Company, or run a sterilization center in Puerto Rico.” Both Galeano and Shakur write about the ways that United Fruit company essentially took over and colonized, as a U.S. private entity, the economies of Central America. They exert control by installing leaders that serve their interests. Like the Freedom newspaper that brought the case of Paul Robeson to worldwide attention, Galeano acknowledged the socialist character of the Guyanese government led by Cheddi Jagan in the 1960s and how as he writes “the CIA played a decisive role in Jagan’s defeat.” Galeano made an important connection between multinational corporations funding military dictatorships: “in Venezuela, the largest U.S. military mission in Latin America sits on Standard and Gulf’s great petroleum lake. Argentina’s frequent coups d’etat erupt before or after each offer of oil concession.” Hugo Chavez came from the Venezuelan military that protected the interests of Standard Oil. So despite his deep popularity, it was difficult for Chavez to refine or develop the socialist character of his nation, where the private sector to this day, still has more money than the public sector because of the oil resource and the machinery infrastructure needed to refine it. In his third section, “Seven Years After,” Galeano writes in 1978 that “in Venezuela the economy of waste and extravagance continues intact. The neon-lit center is as resplendent as ever with the squandermania of a multimillionaire class” (268). I vehemently reject Obama’s March 7th declaration that Venezuela is a national security threat and I stand with the Venezuelan people in rejecting that idea. I am glad to see that the State Department has backtracked and no longer deemed this a threat. And I also raise the warnings that Galeano raises about using natural resources to meet the increasing needs of the people around it. The popular quote of Galeano’s read by Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now speak to the ways that any natural resource needs to be used to alleviate poverty instead of making the rich richer: “The lake is a forest of towers. Within these iron structures the endlessly bobbing pumps have for half a century pumped up all the opulence and all the poverty of Venezuela. Alongside, flames lick skyward, burning the natural gas in a carefree gift to the atmosphere. There are pumps even in houses and on street corners of towns that spouted up, like the oil, along the lakeside-towns where clothing, food, and walls are stained black with oil, and where even whores are known by oil nicknames, such as 'The Pipeline,' 'The Four Valves,' 'The Derrick,' 'The Hoist.' Here clothing and food cost more than in Caracas. These modern villages, of cheerless birth but quickened by the euphoria of easy money, have discovered that they have no future. When the wells die, survival becomes something of a miracle: skeletons of houses remain, oily waters lick abandoned shores and poison the fish. Mass firings and growing mechanization bring misfortune, too, to cities that live from exploiting still-active wells. (158-159) Galeano shows how, like gold, the discovery of the natural resource of oil causes more poverty than the alleviation of poverty. He wrote that “petroleum has not only sparked coups d’etat in Latin America: it set off a war—the Chaco War of 1932-1935—between South America’s two poorest people… It was a quarrel between two [U.S.] corporations, enemies and at the same time partners within the cartel, but it was not they who shed their blood. In the end Paraguay won the war but not the peace” (163). In this section of the book he is very optimistic about the kind of society Chile will become in 1971 when this book is first published: “nationalization will put an end to a state of affairs that had become intolerable for Chile, and prevent repetition in copper of the plunder and descent into the abyss of the nitrate cycle.” Unfortunately, for the same reason that petroleum set off the war between the poorest, the copper plunder ends with U.S. corporations working to topple the Marxist Chilean leader Salvador Allende, as Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick write about in their history: “prodded by Chase Manhattan Bank’s David Rockefeller and former CIA director and ITT board member John McCone, Kissinger instructed U.S. Ambassador Edward Korry and CIA station chief Henry Hecksher to stop Allende [who]…said ‘We are potentially rich countries, yet we live in poverty.’ Allende took his own life with a rifle…Pinochet seized power…Kissinger saw to it that the United States quickly recognized and provided aid to the murderous regime”(S&K, p.372). Unfortunately nationalization did not put an end to the state of affairs that had become intolerable for Chile. It invited the U.S. to topple it. In his third section, Galeano writes that “infant mortality, substantially reduced during the Popular Unity regime, rose dramatically with Pinochet” (271). However what inspires me is that Galeano writes with the hope that nationalization can in fact do that. It reminded me of what I read in Julio Garcia Luis’s edited collection published by Ocean Press called Cuban Revolution Reader: A Documentary History and how the revolution nationalized the U.S. companies that had, before the revolution, pocketed the profits of companies. Galeano’s writing underscores the importance of this revolution. In Galeano’s second section called “development is a voyage with more shipwrecks than navigators,” talks about Paraguay in the nineteenth century and how it was ruined by imperialism: “the woes of the Paraguyans stem from a war of extermination which was the most infamous chapter in South American history: the War of the Triple Alliance, they called it. Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay joined in committing genocide. They left no stone unturned, nor male inhabitants amid the ruins. Although Britain took no direct part in the ghastly deed, it was in the pockets of British merchants, bankers, and industrialists that the loot ended up. The invasion was financed from start to finish by the Bank of London, Baring Brothers, and the Rothschild Bank, in loans at exorbitant interest rate which mortgaged the fate of victorious countries…our bourgeois of today are agents and functionaries of prepotent foreign corporations. Truth compels us to admit that they never did anything to deserve a better fate” (188, 208). Richard Philcox’s English translation of Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth which was published about a decade earlier says that the “vocation” of the national bourgeoisie is to “serve as a conveyor belt for capitalism, forced to camouflage itself behind the mask of neocolonialism…the national bourgeoisie sells itself increasingly openly to the major foreign companies.” (100,117) Galeano later writes that “foreign oligopolies, with their ultramodern techonology steadily and not very secretly took over the national industry of all Latin American countries, including Mexico, by the sale of manufacturing techniques, patents, and new equipment” (212). He writes that the creator of the IMF has essentially created a Capitalist Manifesto that says that poor countries are poor because they are meant to be poor (220). This I think is one of the strongest points in his book and it really bothers me. It essentially says that God has ordained the English ruling class to rule the world forever, and I just don’t agree with that. Especially as a child of Jamaican immigrants that the IMF is so harshly destroying with its policies of austerity. I guess that cabal thinks that austerity just might prevent another influential thinker like Marcus Garvey who inspired the parents of Malcolm X. I don’t think austerity would stop the influence of another thinker like Marcus Garvey from emerging in the world. When Davie Ann Tucker asked President Obama about the whether the IMF could write off Jamaica’s debt on April 9th this year, Obama said basically that the IMF shouldn’t write off the debt and that the IMF policy should happen. Galeano’s writing has essentially taught me that Obama agrees with the IMF’s Capitalist Manifesto that countries that are poor deserve to stay poor and countries that are rich deserve to stay rich. Classic Darwinism. That depends on systemic imperialism, sexism, racism, and capitalism. Galeano talks also about the assumptions of the USAID program and how they ban trade “with Cuba and North Vietnam and make the administrative tutelage of AID technicians obligatory.” This “tutelage” involved forcing governments to pass laws that made foreign companies exploitation of their land and resources easier. In Toni Cade Bambara’s “Vietnam Notebooks,” she writes about what North Vietnam’s socialist government achieved: “through the efforts to emancipate the woman, progressive legislation that benefited everybody immediately occurred such as social security and free medical care” (Savoring the Salt, 106). By this logic according to Galeano, USAID would tutor countries how to repress women and deny medical care and social security to all its citizens. Galeano’s point on page 235 about the World Bank, that it “channeled its loans toward birth-control promotion, education plans, agro-business, and tourism,” reminded me of how the Rockefeller Foundation document “predicting” Ebola virus outbreak in 2014 still is proof of how birth control promotion continues. Galeano writes that Latin America “is condemned to suffer the technology of the powerful, which attacks and removes natural raw materials, and is incapable of creating its own technology to sustain and defend its own development,” I think that this is too fatalistic, and I reminded of what I think is the BEST review of this book by Ernesto Verdeja for the Critical Sociology journal. Verdeja wrote that Latin America, in Galeano’s book “is portrayed as having no agency or capacity to resist foreign economic penetration. It is docile, pale body abused by a succession of foreign adventurers. The reality, however is much more complex…This functionalism fails to engage the legacy of leaders such as Zapata, Maximo Gomez, Toussaint L’Ouverture, and Tupac Amaru, or social movements within civil society and revolutionary struggles outside it” (177). I agree wholeheartedly with Verdeja’s point here and point to Costa Rica as an example of a nation that is not following the U.S. or Venezuela’s lead in its economic self determination. I do think it is more complex than Galeano’s narrative. I do agree with his last point however in his second section where he says that “for U.S. imperialism to be able to ‘integrate and rule’ Latin America today, it was necessary for the British Empire to help divide and rule us yesterday” (259). Any economic exploitation by the British empire is in part the fault of individuals unable to work together to prevent this “divide and rule” strategy that still is used among so many oppressed groups today, like the Somalis and the Kenyans in the tragic bombing of the university students for their religious beliefs, as Margaret Kimberley writes about most recently. I think it is the duty of anti-imperialists across the world, including the Black abolitionists like John Brown Russwurm who edited Freedom’s Journal to avoid the tricks that imperialists use to divide and conquer. The most important question he asks in the entire book is in the last section and gets to the heart of Angela Davis’s point that a capitalist democracy is an oxymoron. It is impossible for this country to proclaim democracy and be the world’s leading seller and exporter of guns. Galeano asks: “Do we perhaps understand that the militarization of poor countries’ regimes is one of the consequences of economic and cultural domination by the industrialized countries, where life is ruled by the lust for profits and the power of money?” The message to me behind this question is to not let the lust of profits and the power of money ruin our individual and collective selves. The King James Bible said that the love of money is the root of all evil. Galeano helps us see evil in U.S. imperialism. We are the better for his writings. –RF.
Thursday, April 9, 2015
(Paul Robeson painting by Robert Shetterly) Paul Robeson, like my beautiful grandmother, was born on April 9th. As President Obama travels across the Caribbean sea to Panama today, Paul Robeson’s words that he spoke at a rally on June 19, 1949 for the Congress of African Affairs ring incredibly true, and speak to the successful 2015 efforts of the people of Latin America to get the U.S. government to backtrack on their efforts to deem Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security because of their successful work with the PetroCaribe program that allows Caribbean and Latin American countries low cost oil. The following are Robeson’s words: “Almost every Negro in Princeton lived off the college and accepted the social status that went with it. We lived for all intents and purposes on a Southern plantation. And with no more dignity than that suggests—all the bowing and scraping to the drunken rich, all the vile names, all the Uncle Tomming to earn enough to lead miserable lives [describing it in terms that recalls Michelle Robinson Obama’s Princeton senior thesis that questioned the obligation of Black Princeton graduates to the Black citizens of Princeton”]… There, in my childhood, I saw my father choose allies. To him, it was the Taylor Pines’ of the Wall Street millionaires. They helped the church. They spread around a little manna now and then—that was an age philanthropy. But I recall that my father could never think of attacking these men for the conditions of those times. Always one had to bend and bow. That was forty years ago. Those present-day sycophants of big business, these supposed champion of Negro rights, can’t grow up to the knowledge that the world has gone forward …They can’t image that our people, the Negro people, forty millions in the Caribbean and Latin America, one hundred and fifty millions in Africa, and fourteen million here, today, up and down this America of ours, are also determined to stop being industrial and agricultural serfs…And you stooges try to do the work of your white bourbon masters, work they have not the courage to do. You try to play the role of cowardly labor leaders who are attempting to do the same job in the ranks of labor….Let them get their crumbs from their Wall Street masters. Let them snatch their bit of cheese and go scampering rat-like into their holes, where, by heaven, the Negro people will keep them, left to their dirty consciences, if any they have…As a consequence of my activities for Negro freedom, I had 86 concerts cancelled out of 86…I finished my professional tour at its height and announced that never again would I sing at a five dollar top, that I would sing at prices so that workers could come in comfort and dignity. I did this because I belonged to working people…as English workers came to understand that if cheap labor could be obtained in Africa or the West Indies or in Southeast Asia, their living standards in England would suffer accordingly. This is a lesson white workers in America must increasingly learn. For the tentacles of American imperialism are stretched far and wide into colonial countries: Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Trinidad, Panama…American big businss tells all of Western Europe what to do, what it can produce, where it must buy, with whom it can trade. And finally with the Atlantic Pact, the western Europeans are told that they must be ready to die to the last man in order to defend American Big Business…The Marshall Plan means enslavement of our people all over the earth, including here in the United States on the cotton and sugar plantations and in the mines of the North and South. And the Atlantic Pact means legal sanction for sending guns and troops to the colonies to insure the enslavement and terrorization of our people. They will shoot our people down in Africa just as they lynch us in Mississippi. That’s the other side of the coin. For who owns plantations in the South? Metropolitan Life—yes, the same Metropolitan Life Insurance Company that owns and won’t let you live in the Stuyvesant Town flats in New York. It is such giant financial interests that are getting millions from the Marshall Plan. They enslave us, they enslave Western Europe, they enslave the colonies. Many of our Negro leaders know this. But some of these so called distinguished leaders are doing the dirty work for Stettinius, aiding his scheme for the exploitation of Liberia and its people, or are serving as errand boys for Forrestal’s cartel interests, even though the chief has now departed. And there are a few other of these so-called Negro leaders who are too low and contemptible to give the courtesy of mention. Are these financial big boys America? No! They are the former enemies of Roosevelt. They were the ones who were glad when Roosevelt…At the Paris Peace Conference I said it was unthink able that the Negro people of America or elsewhere in the world could be drawn into war with the Soviet Union. I repeat it with hundred-folk emphasis. THEY WILL NOT. …To fulfill our responsibilities as Americans, we must unite, especially we Negro people. We must know our strength. We are the decisive force. That’s why they terrorize us. That’s why they fear us. And if we unite in all our might, this world can fast be changed. Let us create that unity now. And this important, historic role of the Negro people our white allies must fully comprehend. This means increasing understanding of the Negro, his tremendous struggle, his great contributions, his potential for leadership at all levels in the common task of liberation…let this be a final answer to the warmongers. Let them know that we will not help to enslave our brothers and sisters and eventually ourselves. Rather we will help to insure peace in our time—the freedom and liberation of the Negro and other stuggling peoples, and the building of a world where we can all walk in full equality and full human dignity” (p.201-211). From the book Paul Robeson Speaks edited by Philip Foner (New York, Citadel, 1978)
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
This is a photo of a young man who lived in Jamaica named Denlyn who was reportedly killed because of his sexuality. Dear President Obama: Good day. My name is Dr. Rhone Fraser. On behalf of the Caribbean Alliance For Equality (CAFE) and in light of your upcoming visit to Jamaica tomorrow, I am writing to ask that in order to stop the egregious human rights abuses that the government of Jamaica is condoning against its LGBTQI citizens, that you evaluate the need for an economic boycott of the tourist economy in Jamaica. You are the very first president to acknowledge and legitimize gay rights, and you mentioned the struggle at Stonewall in your second inauguration speech. I am writing to ask that you put your vocal support of LGBTQI rights to practice by holding leaders who ignore human rights abuses against LGBTQI citizens accountable. The government of Jamaica for centuries has completely ignored the murders of its LGBTQI citizens. It still follows outdated buggery laws that criminalize sex between same gender loving individuals. The government still condones the oppressive practice of corrective rape against lesbians. President Portia Simpson-Miller said she will review the buggery laws but to this day, has made no effort to discourage or prosecute murders of LGBTQI individuals. On July 21, 2013, Dwayne Jones, a transgender citizen was murdered in a fashion similar to the way that Emmett Till was murdered in 1955. On August 18, 2011, O’Shane Gordon was murdered by machete for his sexuality. Despite repeated lobbying attempts, the Jamaican government will only respond to a boycott of their most lucrative industry which is the tourist industry. As you visit Jamaica, please think about the murdered LGBTQI citizens who were denied their right to life that so many citizens are allowed in the United States. You made clear that the United States is a partner in creating a healthy democracy. Please arrest Jamaica from taking tourist dollars and refusing to prosecute or discourage murders of its LGBTQI citizens. Sincerely, Rhone Fraser, Ph.D. General Secretary Caribbean Alliance For Equality
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
(Tim Carpenter here with his daughter Sheila) Today would have been the 56th birthday of Tim Carpenter, whose work with the Progressive Democrats of America truly inspired me. He was its national director until his passing last April from cancer. He represents everything that is SALVAGEABLE in the Democratic Party, at a time in my life when I am believing more and more that the Democratic Party of today cannot be saved. I remember getting their emails around the time that I moved back home to Florida in 2004, and was completely unsure about what I wanted to do with my life. I remember reading Tim’s emails and getting a sense of direction. His firm belief that the Democratic Party could in fact be saved and used to serve the people is what inspired me. I remember using the capwiz petitions to send letters to my elected officials disapproving of their continued military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. I remember using their DataBank server grids to know which congressperson voted for the war. I think Tim Carpenter was instrumental in teaching me that the internet can be used as a watchdog against elected officials serving the interests of the ruling elite. In The Nation’s respectful obituary to him, he is described as never being “a member of the Democratic Party establishment. He was a thorn in its side, declaring, ‘I’m not satisfied with the party as it is. I want the party as it should be.” He helped radicalize me into believing that revolution can only come about by being involved inside and outside the electoral process. Tim Carpenter taught me how to be involved inside the electoral process. I remember attending the 2009 Progressive Democrats of America National Conference at the University of the District of Columbia, where I met Barbara Lee for the first time. So much was happening in my head and my mind: it was around that time also that I knew what it felt like to be in love with someone. I was very supportive of the goals of the Progressive Democrats of America. I led chapter meetings at Temple University for years up to the important healthcare debate in 2009 when PDA fought to include the public option as part of the national debates. I had so many “Healthcare Not Warfare” bumper stickers. When I think about Tim Carpenter, I think about his belief in the electoral process, despite it being so easily corrupted by moneyed interests. I think about how vehemently he fought against the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that granted Fourteenth Amendment rights to corporations. I was most humbled by how much Tim respected my work when he and David Swanson showed up to Temple University to have a discussion about David Swanson’s book Daybreak. I remember feeling so completely validated by Tim Carpenter when I was so disappointed that more people did not show up to David Swanson’s Daybreak book talk in Anderson Hall of Temple University on November 4th, 2009. I remember former Philadelphia Mayor John Street showing up to this book talk. Tim reassured me that the event was a success even though I thought it was a failure. That was so validating. I will never forget that. I will also not forget him giving me a copy of Jeff Cohen’s book "Cable News Confidential" when I went to DC on a canvassing trip for PDA. I appreciate his supportive role in my time as a chapter member of the Progressive Democrats of America. I have connected with so many life changing events and people as a result of his leadership of PDA. The work of Tim Carpenter has created a base that helped elect Donna Edwards. I see how the Democratic Party machine assigns those popularly known as “progressive” to the most mundane, soul-destroying fundraising tasks of the party, to remind them and every educated observer that the Democratic Party is ultimately under the thumb of the almighty private capital. This is what Obama’s 2009 bailout proved to us, and Obama’s making the Bush tax cuts permanent for the top 2% of income earners. Tim Carpenter taught me, like Manning Marable wrote in his biography of Malcolm X, the importance of being educated about the electoral process. Even though I learned the value of the electoral process, the administration of Barack Obama has showed me the ultimate futility of depending on it, and the Democratic Party for any real change. These institutions are fundamentally interested in window dressing. We need more people like Tim Carpenter to hold the Democratic Party accountable. It amazes me how deeply he truly believed in the function of our electoral process. Tim worked on conceivably every issue, from healthcare to the environment, to make the Democratic Party better. He forced me to learn how to critique the Democratic Party in a way that will expose its loyalty to private capital. I will always hold him dearly in my heart. His work is why the Democratic Party is remotely close to addressing the issues of working people. May he rest in power. –RF.
Monday, February 16, 2015
(photo of me and Medea Benjamin by Shahid Buttar) I had a powerful experience in my travel to Cuba this past week, as part of the CODEPINK delegation, “to Cuba, With Love.” The theme of this whole visit was to show Cuba more love than its been getting from our country. The delegation made clear that they hope this trip would accomplish three goals: one to take Cuba off of the list of nations that the U.S. has defined as “terrorist” nations. Two, to lift the fifty plus year old trade embargo that former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower imposed since 1959 because of their sovereign socialist revolution, led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, that ended the dictatorship of U.S. puppet Fulgencio Batista. Three, to close Guantanamo Bay prison which the U.S. military has used for over one hundred years to torture extradited individuals from mainly Arab countries that have been held there without charge. Guantanamo Bay prison is one of the last remaining bastions and symbols of the increasing police state that the United States is becoming. On our first night we met with Kenya Serrano of the Cuban Institute of Friendship With the People. She said that the closing of Guantanamo will be a historic justice. She also talked about the character of the Cuban parliament since their revolution: 45% of those in the Cuban Parliament are women. Medea Benjamin said that in the U.S. not even 20% of the U.S. Congress are women, and that we have a lot of work to do to get Cuba off of the terrorist list. Medea asked the President of the Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, what challenges between U.S.-Cuba relations exist from the Cuban perspective. Alarcon said that the U.S. government still has the same goals despite their announcement of wanting to establish diplomatic relations, but that they have other means of accomplishing their goals. This statement was an allusion to the efforts of think tanks like the National Endowment For Democracy that are currently spending millions of dollars to topple the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. Obama’s federal budget that he drafted this month has more money than ever for the U.S. military while no more money was allocated to public schools. Alarcon said that we have to take on the challenge implicit in the decision to establish diplomatic relations. That we have to work at those decisions as civilized as possible. He said that Obama made an important decision to recognize the failure of the embargo. He said he decided to use his executive authority, like Eisenhower used his, to make the embargo more flexible. He said that more can be done, not just to reopen an embassy, and send an ambassador, which requires consent and advice of the Senate. It is also important to eliminate the economic embargo and the travel ban. Alarcon noted that “it is clear that a majority of Americans do not want a confrontation with Cuba.” Then he defined what Cuban values in the twenty first century are. He said that Cubans believe in the majority to have healthcare and education. Why should any state determine healthcare and education in any other country? He asks. He says that in the Cuban constitution, healthcare is a human right, and that the U.S. continues to support countries that do not recognize the right of women. Without naming such countries, Alarcon is referring here to Saudi Arabia which as a theocracy boasts some of the most oppressive sexist laws, such as those laws that forbid women from driving and from serving in the government. When the question and answer time came up, Kenya Serrano answered my question about whether the Cuban government recognizes same sex marriages. She said that the country does not yet recognize same sex marriages. In Cuba she said that such an idea is respected at an individual level, but not tolerated. In the United States, however, same sex marriage is welcomed in an increasing number of states. I spoke with several Cuban citizens about how public display of affection is not tolerated. I also spoke with several U.S. citizens about how LGBT rights is about much more than same sex marriage. It also includes a right to education and employment which in most cases makes the right to marriage moot. I think that the right to marriage for many of us have to take a back seat to the rights to employment and healthcare that the nation routinely denies to not only people of color but also LGBTQ individuals of color. I was very impressed with the fact that Cuba, unlike the United States, has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world (4.43 deaths per 1000 births). Alarcon said powerfully at the end of this talk that Cuban is not for sale, and that the notion of a country being for sale is a neoliberal policy. Cuba will welcome foreign investors, but on Cuba’s terms and not on the terms of the foreign investor. This reminds me of how democratic socialism operated in Jamaica, compared to the revolution that was pursued in Cuba. Kenya said that the internet is mainly for social use and that it is expensive for the Cuban government to get internet from Canada. This makes the internet on some level cost prohibitive to the majority of Cubans. However it has paid a lot from the Canadian government to secure internet use for its citizens. Serrano said that the Cuban government is committed to the protection of political prisoners like Assata Shakur. Alarcon added that Assata Shakur is a victim of racist U.S. policy and under a very serious threat by the U.S. government. I am grateful that leaders in the West recognize the sheer racism of the U.S. government towards Assata Shakur. After teaching the autobiography of Assata Shakur called Assata to two of my English classes, I completely opposed the idea of Eric Holder and Barack Obama sanctioning her being on the U.S. Most Wanted Terrorist List as of May 2, 2013, forty years after she was shot in the arm by a New Jersey State Trooper and wrongfully accused of shooting a state trooper. I am disappointed in my country for persecuting a woman, not for a crime she actually committed, but for her political beliefs. This goes against everything the United States claims to stand for. Alarcon said that the United States effort to improve diplomatic relations with Cuba may put Assata in a more dangerous situation. This is especially true after watching the leaders of South American nations in Oliver Stone’s film South of the Border who suggest a very real threat of assassination in the wake of “more diplomatic” relations. Alarcon vowed to help defend Assata Shakur from any increased threat to her life that this “improved” diplomacy might bring. I was able to give letters of support to Assata Shakur to U.S. citizens who strongly disagree with her being placed on the terrorist list. (Above is a photo of myself and Kenya Serrano of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People) Later that evening on Monday, February 9th, I visited the home of an LGBTQ rights activist in Havana and learned a perspective of Cuban life from an LGBTQ perspective that was more critical of the Cuban government. I was told about how the Cuban police use the charge of prostitution to silence, intimidate and jail Black Cubans. But I was also later told about how prostitution is in fact a serious issue that the Cuban government is seriously trying to curb. I was with a friend who said she observed the Cuban police arrest a young Black man for no apparent reason. The activists during this visit educated me immensely. One told me about an article in the Granma newspaper that featured an interview with Fidel Castro being asked about LGBTQ rights since the revolution. The activist said that when Castro was challenged about the persecution that LGBTQ activists face after the Cuban revolution, he admitted that the abuse of the LGBTQ community was not acceptable. But he also gave what these activists thought was a sorry excuse for an apology. The activists at this meeting agreed that while the Columbian police actually protect protestors, Cuban police do not. The police was seen as a tool of repression against the working poor, like its seen in the United States. They described CENESEX as a paradise that in reality does not exist. Activists explained to me that Cuba is still a homophobic country because of patriarchy and because of the machismo that was inherited since the Cuban revolution, seen in the images of Che, Fidel Castro, and Camilo Cienfuegos. While I read in Leslie Feinberg’s book “Rainbow Solidarity in Defense of Cuba” that individuals who want transgender operations can have then paid for by the Cuban government, I learned from these activists that there are actually very few who can have these operations at CENESEX. Those seeking these operations have to go through a lot of red tape that ultimately denies access people who are not very close in some way to people in CENESEX. In order to get through this red tape, applicants for this transgender operation in Cuba have to be in line with the Cuban Communist Party, and be part of the system and Afro Cubans are generally excluded from that process. Meanwhile later this evening, a second, different group met at the home of an older psychologist who works for CENESEX. I learned from this psychologist that the country has come a long way in approving transgender operations. On the day we visited the activist group, we learned that the police passed a law saying that LGBTQ individuals passed a law saying that LGBTQ individuals cannot assemble in certain places like Malecon, which was within feet of the Hotel that I was staying at. In the home of a CENESEX employee, I read and learned about their human sexuality primer, called in English “puberty” that described the possibility of a same sex relationship between two men and two women. There were some questions in this second group about whether this book in fact discussed the possibility of same sex relationships and before our second meeting was over, we in fact discovered that yes, this Puberty text which is available to all public schools in Cuba does in fact teach the possibility of same sex relationships. That alone puts it light years ahead of the Jamaican government which in its brazen ignorance is obviously hostile to the idea of teaching its youth about the possibility of same sex relationships. (This photo is a page of the Puberty text issued by CENESEX in Cuban primary schools) On Tuesday I visited two schools: first, the San Alejandro School of the Arts and the second was an Elementary school. The day we visited the Arts School, the students were taking an entrance exam however we were able to visit some of the art galleries featuring the memorable work of some students. One of the pieces featured was by Marian Rodriguez who showed me the stone on which she sketched. My limited knowledge of visual art prevents me from sharing the type of art that this is. I also appreciated visiting the Elementary School and to hear a poem about Jose Marti by an eight year old young man. I was struck by the fact that each school has an administrator that is a member of the Cuban Communist Party and makes some effort to enforce some standard of learning throughout the country. This made me think of the U.S. public schools and how a quality education depends on the income of the parents and not the level of commitment of the child. It seemed that a majority of the Cuban citizens had a deep awareness of their history and the importance of their revolution. The day we visited these schools we went to one of the many cooperatively owned businesses in Havana, El Jardin De Los Milagros. The government provides a tax cut from 29 to 13% to cooperatively owned businesses like these in order to encourage them. The food was remarkable. I have absolutely no complaints about the food in Cuba. If anything for me, it could have been a bit more spicy. The owner of this restaurant was a part of an Agricultural cooperative with thirteen other co-owners. What if small businessowners in the U.S. would form a cooperative and receive tax incentives? I think I had an important conversation at this restaurant about the way that the Cuban government’s role for the Cuban people is a like a father protecting a child from the potentially dangerous (as it was called on this trip) “tsunami” of imperialism. There were some serious critiques of the Cuban government that I heard, however in most cases, I either agreed or sympathized with the decisions the government took to defend itself. I think free market capitalism in theory might work, but in the United States, its coupling with mass incarceration and crippling austerity policies makes it extremely harmful and I think ultimately dangerous for countries like Cuba. In most cases what others call the repression of the Cuban government I would call a protective measure against the danger of Yankee imperialism. Later this afternoon we visited the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medica. We learned that this school has graduated 24,000 students from 88 countries including the United States. The students go through a six year program. The first three years are at a central location and the rest at other schools across the country. The first two years they are trained in Cuba and during the third year, they leave to work in a hospital in Cuba. At the end of their fourth year, they have to perform an exam. PANORAMA is the journal of the school. These doctors are trained to treat transmittable diseases like Measles. They have MRI machines, nuclear medicine, CTC scanners. We were given a tour of the school from its secretary. I had an important conversation with two medical school students about their time here. This routine reminds me of the role that American universities played for African intellectuals in improving the plight of their home countries. I am thinking specifically of Robert A. Hill’s article in the book Marcus Garvey And the Vision of Africa edited by Amy Jacques Garvey and John Henrik Clarke. He talks about the role that colonial education for intellectuals like Marcus Garvey, (and Hubert Harrison, Kwame Nkrumah for that matter) can play in advancing the anticolonial struggle. These two men took the colonial education they learned and applied it to improving the plight of their home countries. Unfortunately because of the West’s military superpower, anticolonial struggle has so far resulted in neocolonial leadership that still serves the interest of the West. It is clear that the Escuela Latinoamericana de Medica was interested in training doctors to serve their country, not to serve neocolonial, private capital interests. I had very interesting discussions with two medical school students about the helpful roles that Cuban doctors played in the Caribbean, South America, and Africa. (this is a photo with a medical student at Escuela Latinoamericana de Medica) There was some discussion in our casual conversations about two drugs made in Cuba that could help U.S. citizens if they were imported. One was a cancer vaccine and another was a diabetes medication. CODEPINK members on this trip were able to talk with a representative from the U.S. State Department in Cuba about whether these helpful drugs provided by Cuban medicine could be imported to the United States. The representative said no: only privately owned goods could be imported into the United States. When asked for his rationale for this restriction, the Representative, of what is called the U.S. intersection (an intermediate stage of a developing U.S. embassy) replied that the United States’ whole goal is to have the Cuban people wake up in the morning and not need anything from their government. Their policy which is to promote the private sector can be seen here. Jodie Evans of CODEPINK said that this kind of policy by the U.S. essentially creates INEQUALITY, which is exactly why Fidel Castro and Che Guevara led the socialist revolution that toppled the U.S.-appointed leader Fulgencio Batista in 1959 in the first place. This policy of not wanting the Cuban people to wake up in the morning and not need anything from their government is the red flag that Ricardo Alarcon warned us about in his Monday, February 9th talk to our delegation. My goal as part of CODEPINK is to call attention to, and to end the inequality and the brutal imperialism that the socialist revolution fought against. Haber Biotech is a Cuban state-run pharmaceutical company that will not be allowed to import drugs treating diabetes or cancer in the United States. The U.S. government enables and encourages this profiteering behavior by U.S. pharmaceutical companies that care more about profits than about people. It will take work to prevent the inequality that U.S. government “diplomacy” will create. I had conversations with other delegates about the different ways that the Cuban government can tax goods that they sell at a high rate and redistribute that revenue in order to continue the founding principles of the socialist revolution, which are detailed clearly in the book A Cuban Revolution Reader edited by Julio Garcia Luis. On the fourth day of the trip, I took a tour of Casablanca where I saw a monument of Jesus Christ done by Gilma Madera. This was the most powerful day of the trip, because I attended a talk about the work of filmmaker Gloria Rolando, who directed and produced the film Eyes of the Rainbow about Assata Shakur. (this is a photo with Cuban filmmaker Gloria Rolando) At this talk, we saw two at least two other films she produced, that she later discussed. One was Las Raíces De Mi Corazon (The Roots of My Heart) about Sara Gomez, a fearless Afro-Cuban journalist who fought the demands of Western industry to study and present stories about Afro-Cubans. The other was Los Hijos de Baragua about the migration of a family from Jamaica to Cuba. We saw another film on the 1912 massacre of Cuba’s Partido Independiente de Color (PIDC). I asked her before we saw this film if she interviewed Aline Helg about her book Our Rightful Share, and Gloria told me that she did. I was absolutely mesmerized and inspired by the art of Gloria Rolando. Her film on Gomez reminded me of my dissertation, which focused on radical journalists like Pauline Hopkins who sought to study and uncover for her readers the radical histories of Toussaint L’Ouverture and John Brown. We also discussed her very new film called My Grandmother which is dealing with her grandmother’s relationship with the Catholic order of nuns in Maryland. Very interesting. Rolando said that the Cuban revolution tried their best in many ways to abolish colonial oppression but the past of slavery is real. Another film by Rolando focused on the appeal of U.S. jazz and its icons like Cab Calloway to Afro-Cubans. On the next day, we heard the director of CENESEX, which is Cuba’s Center For Sex Education (Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual) who is Mariela Castro Espín. She said that a society of socialism is a society that lifts everyone, and that even though the Cuban revolution bought many important changes, “there is still generalized homophobia in society.” She acknowledged that sometimes the police mistreat citizens. I remember specifically meeting a young Afro-Cuban gay man who said that he knows he will be less harassed by the police compared to others because he has a Swedish passport. Like Serrano, she said that same sex weddings are not legal in Cuba, but that their process of socialist transformation in Cuba is not yet completed. I was personally impressed with the way that sexual education in Cuba teaches the imperialistic history to its citizens in a way to avoid it. It also teaches the history of gender roles. I am fondly reminded by Sarah Schulman’s book Israel/Palestine and the Queer International, that discusses the phenomenon of homonationalism (a term Schulman borrows from Jasbir Puar), which is using gay or queer identity to advance colonialism. Homonationalism is barely checked or critiqued in the United States much less challenged. I think Cuba guards itself from this mindless homonationalism by teaching the very important imperialistic nature of homophobia. In a formerly Spanish Catholic society I think homophobia will be very hard to eradicate, but even though the nation does not recognize same sex marriages, they have much more to teach the United States about how to meet the basic healthcare and educational needs of its citizens. Castro Espín said that our sexual parts should be instruments not of power but of emancipation. This reminded me of the film Goodbye Uncle Tom produced by two Italian filmmakers, Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, who in a deranged way were able to force their audience to, contrary what Castro Espín says here, enjoy seeing men use their organs to rape or to use their sexual parts for instruments of power. It is a very disturbing experience but a very necessary one to understand the psychology of a rapist who thrives on imperialism. She said that women knew about their G-spot long before the German psychologist Ernst Grafenburg started writing about it. She said that all humans come from Africa, and the stereotypes used to essentially justify rape of oppressed women like Sarah Baartmen are wrong. Lymphomania and Homosexuality were wrongfully classified as pathologies. What matters more than a man’s penis is his mind and his spirituality. Teaching about contraception only is insufficient sex education, Castro Castro Espín. If we want to create a new society, she said we cannot use the historic ways of understanding sex. Castro Espín said that there a lot of individuals in the Cuban parliament that are sabotaging same sex marriage, even though the political will is there. She said that CENESEX so far has been able to complete 26 (twenty six) transgender operations. On Thursday, I visited the University of Havana, and got the contact information of some very important professors. I saw the spot where journalist Gil Noble was able to interview Assata Shakur and I took a photo of it. I was also looking for their library. I learned from filmmaker and very inspirational tour guide Catherine Murphy that the journal Afro-Hispanic Review published by Vanderbilt University is an important scholarly journal that reports historic trends in the Afro-Hispanic world. A final powerful message of this trip was a sit-down with a powerful political refugee from the United States, Ms. Nehanda Abiodun. She sat down with us and explained how she became a political prisoner. Her mother was a Baptist integrationist and her father a revolutionary nationalist. She met Malcolm X when she was eight years old. She attended Columbia University and started working at a methodone clinic. She said she later learned that methodone was more addictive than heroin. She worked at the Lincoln-Detox Acupuncture Center that Mutulu Shakur founded. She said that she had to leave the methodone clinic she was working at when one of her clients was struggling with illicit drug addiction. She was told by her superiors that if she did not raise her client methodone dosage, she would be fired. She refused, and was fired. She later said that former New York mayor Ed Koch closed the addiction clinic because he said it was “a breeding ground” for terrorists. She worked for a network of anti-drug defense centers set up in part by H. Rap Brown that was dedicated to weaning individuals off of drugs, and to providing political education. Eventually, because of her political beliefs and affiliations, she, like Mutulu Shakur, became targets of the COINTELPRO operation. By 1980, she was #3 on the Most Wanted Terrorist List. The government claimed she had stolen $4.8 million over several years. When I asked her what she had in common with Assata Shakur, she said that they are both committed to the freedom of their people, that they are extremely comfortable in Cuba, and that they will do what they can to help their people. When I asked her what the U.S. can learn from Cuba, she said that the U.S. can learn from Cuba how to be more humane. They know how to divide one egg among one million people instead of dividing over half of it to less than 0.1% of the people, like the U.S. has done with wealth. She said the Cubans have maintained a certain dignity and have not reneged on their principles of humanity. She said that we should all write Mutulu Shakur and thank him for trying to curb the deliberate effects of the U.S. government in making heroin addicts out of Black people, as Gary Webb wrote about in his book Dark Alliance. She said when Sekou Odinga was murdered tortured by U.S. authorities, he refused to speak and still could not be broken because he believed in his principles. Principles, Nehanda said, will maintain a relationship even in hard times. She said that the Cuban government saved her. They have also promised not to return any political prisoners. They forced her to sit down and to recuperate after the persecution by the U.S. government. This reminded me of Assata Shakur drawing similarities between herself and runaway slaves, on whom local sheriffs and patrollers put a bounty, like the outstanding $2 million the federal government promises to anyone who is able to capture her. Nehanda said that the reason Mumia is off of death row is because of the power of the people. She made very clear that her and Assata’s work with the Black Liberation Army did not start in the 1960s, or even the twentieth century for that matter. She said that the work of the Black Liberation Army started with the first Africans on the African continent who resisted. Nehanda’s words reminded me of the reality of Assata Shakur’s statement that Black revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. They are created by their social conditions. The United States ruling class and government that they operate through helped create political refugee revolutionary because they create a social conditions that creates drug addicts for the purpose of creating individual private wealth. That closes public schools and creates private prisons for the purpose of enriching individual private wealth. Her message was clear. This was an absolutely amazing trip. Special thanks to several individuals who made my trip to Cuba possible: my grandmother Maudlin, my father Anserd, my sister Marilyn Greene and her husband Dr. Quincy Greene, Dr. Elaine Terry, Dr. Heather Thompson, Dr. Lena Ampadu, Larry Robin, Amy Kietzman, Mr. & Mrs. Carlton & Arlene Brown, Andre Brown, Patrick Reid, Revan Sheriffe, Dana Shepherd, Evan Todd Green, and especially Ahmier Gibson. -RF.
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
(Image of book cover "Ready For Revolution,"; Center image of myself (right) and J.e. Franklin; image of "Black Power" by Ture & Hamilton) This piece discusses two works: a popular film directed by Ava DuVernay, Selma, and a recently performed stage play Freedom Rider written by Ms. J.E. Franklin. It compares the different messages that each piece sends about the period. This piece looks at Selma mainly through the lens of one of the most influential organizers Kwame Ture (1941-1998), then known as Stokely Carmichael, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). While the Selma film looks at the Black freedom struggle through the Black bourgeoisie, Franklin’s play Freedom Rider looks at the freedom struggle through the lens of the Black working class. Carmichael’s presence was completely absent in the film DuVernay’s film even though without Ture’s organization as a member of SNCC, the Selma-to-Montgomery march would have never happened. This is no reason however to ignore the film. Selma must be seen. However, watching Selma should not be a substitute for reading and understanding the history of this Selma-to-Montgomery march: it should be a supplement. Clayborne Carson’s book In Struggle should be required reading before, during or after seeing Selma. Kwame Ture’s autobiography called Ready For Revolution edited by Ekwueme Michael Thelwell provides a necessary in-depth, first hand account of Selma from a SNCC member. Ture’s book that he co-authored with political scientist Charles V. Hamilton called Black Power, that was edited by Toni Morrison, provides a philosophical understanding of the work of SNCC in that time and must also be read. SNCC member Charles Cobb also has written two important books about the movement called On the Road to Freedom and This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed. Judy Richardson edited a collection of women’s experiences in SNCC called Hands On The Freedom Plow that should be read as well to get a deeper understanding. The nineteenth and twentieth chapters of Ture’s autobiography, called “Selma: Crisis, Chaos, Opportunity,” and “Lowndes County: The Roar of the Panther” mention the lessons learned from the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery march that the popular film Selma cannot provide. Ture begins his nineteenth chapter talking about Jack Minnis, the director of SNCC research and how he briefed Ture on the Alabama power structure, telling him “which capitalists owned what, their historical relationship to the terrorist network, and so on.” Ture wrote: “it was Jack…who would find the old Alabama law that would be the key to how we organized in Lowndes County” (442). Clayborne Carson in his book In Struggle wrote that this law that Ture was referring to “allowed for the formation of a political party at the county level. Residents of a county could nominate independent candidates simply by holding nominating convention” (164). Knowing this is what began the work in Selma which eventually, without King’s involvement, became the Lowndes County Freedom Organization. Ture’s autobiography details the effort the SNCC members put into registering Black voters and encouraging them to vote for third-party candidates, members of the Lowndes County Freedom Organization who were outside the two-party mainstream. From its inception, SNCC was encouraging Black voters to vote their interests and to reject the two party-mainstream, which we still have to deal with today. The genius of SNCC was encouraging Black voters to vote for candidates outside the oppressive two party mainstream. Ture said of Selma that “the one thing SNCC did not have to do in Selma was identy and develop grassroots community leadership. As I said, this was a self contained community , and its Dallas County Voters League had a might impressive group of leaders” (444). The film Selma tells the story through the perspective of the Black bourgeoisie, specifically through Dr. King performed by David Oyelowo. King was leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) which was a hierarchical organization composed largely of church leaders that depended on support from the white power structure. The oppressive white power structure preferred dealing with SCLC rather than a more consensus-based organization like SNCC. Paul Webb’s screenplay with DuVernay’s direction of Selma shows a very serious philosophical disagreement between SNCC and SCLC. Ture said: “the problem was in the SCLC approach of massive, temporary mobilization and press agentry as opposed to creating powerfully organized communities capable of sustaining political struggle” (445). The film Selma privileges temporary mobilization and press agentry as opposed to the long, drawn out process of creating powerfully organized communities capable of sustaining political struggle. Ture said the catalyst of the Selma to Montgomery march was the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson (1938-1965) who died the night that “an SCLC preacher came to speak…at a Perry County church, when the people left the church after the speech, the state troopers ran amok, just chasing and whipping people everywhere” (447). The film shows Jimmie, his grandfather and mother marching in an alley before Jackson was murdered by an Alabama state trooper but in reality they were running from “a Perry County Church,” into a café before the murder. Ture, like the film, tells the story of three marches. The first march in the Selma film was without Dr. King and ended in the Alabama state troopers attacking marchers in a bloody melee that was televised and covered. The film’s most important indictment of the federal government came in the way it showed federal agents support of abuse of Black citizens by the Klan and by Alabama state troopers. During the bloody march, federal agents were reporting to their authorities the organized masses’ agreement with King’s critiques of American society instead of trying to stop the troopers’ naked attack of the Selma marchers. This film shows them as individuals who ultimately upheld the system of social control and the system of white supremacy that sanctioned the unfettered abuse by state troopers. The first march was the infamous “Bloody Sunday” march that took place on March 7, 1965. Ture said that he did not support this march because it was not planned properly. There were no plans made for the security of the marchers. The bloody attacks by troopers on the nonviolent marchers raise the importance of violent protest. Following the bloody melee, Ture said that “the scene in Brown chapel was like a wake in a MASH unit” and the film depicts this. When one of the protestors decide to retaliate against the troopers, seeks a gun, and asks who will join him. A young Andrew Young played by Andre Holland quickly dissuades this violent protestor from retaliating violently by telling him about the superior military power that the state troopers had and the futility of violent retaliation. This speaks to the kind of response and reaction to white racism that the SCLC, the producers, and the U.S. film industry endorses: a nonviolent passive response that continues to reinforce white supremacy. In her 1959 keynote address at the American Society for African Culture (AMSAC, which turned out to be a CIA front group according to Mary Helen Washington), Lorraine Hansberry said that one of the illusions that the mainstream media perpetuates is that “radicals are infantile, adolescent, or senile” (“The Other Blacklist” by Mary Helen Washington, p.262). The film Selma shows the radical thinker who wanted to retaliate with a gun as infantile after Andrew Young talked him out of it. This popular film does not show the development of the radical thinker in a realistic light. Radical thinkers were those who allowed King a base with which to march from Selma to Montgomery. The film improperly suggests that the masses came together simply as a result of King’s charismatic leadership. This is not true. The masses were built by SNCC with the perspectives of people like Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, and Kwame Ture. During the second march on Tuesday March 9th, Dr. King marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, this time with a larger number of white clergy. The Alabama state troopers hear orders from Jim Clark to let the marchers pass. However, before the march completely crosses the bridge, King stops the march, kneels, prays and decides to turn all the marchers back. Thelwell, the editor of Ture’s autobiography includes a first hand account of this second march from director of the SNCC Alabama project, Silas Norman: “The march proceeded to turn around. Well, Jim Forman was close to me. We were all sort of baffled. Jim kept saying, ‘what’s going one? What’s happening? We had no idea. We discovered later that there had been some agreement with Robert Kennedy, with the government, that the march was not to proceed. Personally I did not participate in that march again. I felt we’d been betrayed and I no longer wanted to participate.” (451). The film shows LBJ and his staff disapproving of King’s ambition to march, but according to Norman’s account, King had by the time of the second march already acquiesced to the demands of LBJ’s administration and called off the strike in the disguise of a prayer. The film showed an incensed reaction by SNCC to King calling off this second march mainly through the lines of James Forman played very convincingly in the film by Trai Byers. The film showed two very sympathetic whites watching the first “Bloody Sunday” march: Catholic laywoman Viola Liuzzo and Methodist Reverend James Reeb. After the second march in the film, a federal agent starts a conversation with Reverend Reeb about his reasons for leaving the North to visit Selma. As two hostile white men start attacking him for being a “ni—er lover,” the federal agent starts to run away and, like their sanction of the troopers’ bloody beating of the marchers, the film shows this agent sanctioning the murder of Reverend James Reeb. The third march on Wednesday, March 17th was charged with the memory of Jimmie Lee Jackson and with Reverend James Reeb. Ture wrote that LBJ was “moved to send a message of condolence to Mrs. Reeb, with a government plane to transport the widow and corpse home…the march had been called, remember, in response to a local Africa man’s murder. Where was LBJ’s and the nation’s response then?” The film gives credit to King for this critique of LBJ, but it originally came from Ture. The third march successfully went all the way to Montgomery after a legal challenge to SCLC from the state of Alabama who sought an injunction against the march. A federal judge federalized the Alabama National Guard on March 20th, three days after the march in order to protect the marchers and allow them to reach Montgomery safely. The film ends with LBJ vowing to sign the Voting Rights Act, however it misleads viewers into thinking that the right to vote was achieved by three factors: one, top down hierarchical leadership; two, court decisions, and three, presidential executive action. The film misleads viewers into thinking that these factors caused the signing of the Voting Rights Act. In reality, it was much more. King’s influential hierarchical leadership could not have had any influence had SNCC not been there years earlier. LBJ’s decision to sign the Voting Rights Act also was reluctant and was recently reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 in their Shelby v. Holder case. The film betrays the reality that voting rights are not in fact bolstered by the courts or executive action. The work of SNCC after the completion of the Selma to Montgomery march point most directly to the futility of depending the federal government or its electoral system for voting rights or responsible political leadership. The work of SNCC in helping to establish the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) that built strength off of the momentum of the Selma-to-Montgomery march. In Black Power, Ture & Hamilton (T&H) write that “the two major political parties in this country have become non-viable entities for the legitimate representation of the real needs of the masses, especially Blacks—in this country” (42). The film ends by suggesting false hope in the two major political parties, especially in the narrative of success it presents in its summaries of each of the actual individuals that the film was based on, namely the narrative of Andrew Young who it says became mayor of Atlanta “twice.” The film betrays the very hard work that organizing requires by focusing on King. In her biography of Ella Baker, Dr. Barbara Ransby writes that Ella Baker believed that King did not identify closely enough with the people he sought to lead. The film shows him in a slightly more pedestrian manner, showing him taking out the garbage and voicing concern about how his physical appearance makes him look too high and mighty. Ultimately the film shows his actions confirming this belief by Baker (Ransby, 180-192). T&H write that “civil rights leaders” like King who rely on passage of civil rights legislation “reveal the fact that they are operating from a powerless base” (78). T&H write that dependence on civil rights leaders, promoted by Selma, create essentially a fantasy where “all problems would be solved by forming coalitions with labor, churches, reform clubs, and especially liberal Democrats.” T&H write that “the building of an independent force is necessary; that Black Power is necessary” (78). They define Black Power as a system that “means proper representation and sharing of control. It means the creation of power bases of strength from which Black people can press to change local or nationwide patterns of oppression” (42). The film provides a very incomplete picture of Black Power. The book Black Power essentially shows the futility of depending on the electoral system that the film Selma celebrates through two organizations: the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and especially the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO). The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) fought, as Ture said, to replace the original all white male delegates of the Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. They were offered two symbolic seats from the Johnson administration which they rejected. Ture described this rejection of liberalism at the convention as a triumph: “they saw through the blandishments of the snake-oil salesmen…I was also especially proud that among the strongest and clearest were my ladies from the Second Congressional District—the Delta” (410). King and Rustin were “civil rights leaders” that encouraged the MFDP to accept the two seat compromise, which the MFDP voted to reject. They were celebrated in the Selma film as civil rights leaders. The Lowndes County Freedom Organization, organized by SNCC was able to run candidates in the May 3, 1966 election for sheriff, coroner, tax assessor, tax collector, and three seats on the Board of Education. Black citizens were punished by the white power structure for voting. By the end of 1965, T&H write that “some twenty families were evicted and spent the rest of the winter living in tents, with temperatures often blow freezing…despite the ever-present threat of loss of home and job and even possibly life, the Black people of Lowndes County continued to build. Mass meetings were held weekly, each time in a different part of the county. Unity and strength, already developing over the winter [of 1965-6] grew” (107). However on the day of the election, T&H write that “white plantation owners were bringing in ‘their ni—ers’ by the truckload.” The LCFO basically lost each seat they ran candidates in, and T&H attributed this to the voters brought in by white plantation owners who voted in the interests of these owners. They (T&H) write: “there will always be those Black people who will vote for whites against Blacks because they fear economic and physical reprisal, because of an embedded belief that politics and voting are indeed ‘white folks business.’” (119). In the historic look at the MFDP and the LCFO, T&H show what the film Selma could not show, that reliance on voting rights and electoral system is a dilemma for the Black working class because they will either be plagued by token compromises like the Johnson administration supported by token Blacks who support the endemic racism within the electoral system or they will be plagued by an overwhelming number of Black voters who will vote to keep the status quo against their own interests. In his 1992 afterword of this book, Ture writes that “Africans are more integrated into the Democratic Party today than ever before; they have more elected officials than any other ethnic group, yet they have no power at all in the Democratic Party! They represent powerless visibility” (190). Obama and Holder’s inability to prosecute the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, and Eric Garner prove Ture’s point. Ture makes crystal clear his point in Black Power: “one must not assume that because the MFDP did not succeed in displacing racism, exploitation and corruption from the body politic of U.S. capitalism that the struggle diminished. One must not assume that because LCFO-BPP did not achieve independent party status, the struggle was diminished. On the contrary, Revolutionary history shows that the People do not nurse their wounds. After defeat, they begin immediately planning the next step in the forward ever march…it is crystal clear to the African masses worldwide that capitalism cannot be reformed; it must be destroyed.” (198). Freedom Rider is an incredible drama for the stage written by the J.e. Franklin (writer of the 1970 play Black Girl) that shows the arc of one ambitious Black female college student named Clarissa who comes to Harmony, Mississippi, in 1964 in order to “destroy everything segregated” that she can find. This production ran from October 17th to November 2nd, 2014, at the Dwyer Cultural Center and was directed by Eric Coleman. The arc that Clarissa travels during this play shows the harsh reality of a Northern Black activist trying to achieve social change in the Jim Crow South. This is an arc that the Selma film showed a much milder version of. Clarissa, played by Kayla Ross, is portrayed as a young, naïve organizer from the North who, like Carmichael in 1965, faces the harsh realities of the Jim Crow South. The family that Clarissa is sent to, by Northern organizers, is the home of Hank and Agnes played, respectively, by Sean Turner and Malika Nzinga. The entire play takes place on the porch of the home of Hank & Agnes. Hank is in charge of assigning Northern field workers to homes in Harmony. Hank’s Aunt Flora, performed unforgettably by Vinie Burrows, plays a key role as a healer, adviser and inquisitive aunt. The play opens with Clarissa trying to convince Hank, a settled Black southerner, on the virtues of integration, but Hank is not sold. Like SNCC organizers, Franklin’s Hank character also calls King “De Lawd,”although the context in which he describes King is much less derisive. Hank says that rather than integration, “we just want the same respect that gived to the white man, that’s all.” By the second scene, Aunt Flora chastises Hank for assigning her to host white women Freedom Riders when she preferred to host Clarissa. At this moment, the entire four person cast hears on the radio that the bodies of three missing civil rights workers (Andrew Schwerner, James Chaney, and Michael Goodman) were found in an earthen dam. Clarissa says she met them “at a non-violent training camp in Oxford, Ohio.” She reiterates to Aunt Flora her conviction that she came down to Harmony to “destroy everything segregated” and that she won’t rest until she does that. Aunt Flora is upset with Hank for assigning her white field workers instead of a Black field worker like Clarissa. In the third scene, Agnes and Clarissa have a very intense conversation about Clarissa’s motives for coming to Harmony. Clarissa tells Agnes that “most of the field workers agree with Nancy and Susan” that “while the FBI is down here, we should strike while the iron is hot!” Clarissa is unaware of the ways that FBI agents cooperated with the Klan to dissuade, terrorize and murder local Blacks who choose to defy the Jim Crow order. Agnes responds: “so, you done fell under the white-girl spell, too, huh? Is it ‘cause they went to a high-falutin’ school up north, or ‘cause they white…” Franklin deals with the white supremacist education that teaches social Darwinist notions, like the idea that Blacks are unable to want to vote or know how to vote without the assistance of whites educated in the traditional Western education. Hank & Agnes completely shatter this stereotype. Clarissa responds to Agnes’ charge saying about her fellow white female organizers Nancy and Susan: “they’re the only ones of us who’ve done political work for their senators, their councilmen, their congressmen.” “Only”? Did Clarissa ask if Hank and Agnes did political work for their senators or, if they didn’t, did she try to find out why they were unable to? Clarissa completely assumes that Hank and Agnes have done no work for their senators and, typical of Western education, privileges the experiences of white organizers over those of Black organizers. She is one who uncritically accepts the social Darwinist-based education that privileges meaning making experiences of her white counterparts simply because theyre white. T&H challenge this way of thinking in their book Black Power when he describes running Black candidates for office in the LCFO: “it was the old game of putting Black people on the defensive, making the Black man question his ability, his talents, himself. No one seriously questioned Wallace’s qualifications to be governor, of Jim Clark’s to be sheriff of Dallas County… For that matter, in the 1770s, the American colonists did not spend sleepless nights worrying whether they could rule themselves. This point bears emphasis, for white Western “civilization” is always projecting itself as ready whereas the Black man must prepare himself” (107). Clarissa speaks of her fellow organizers Nancy and Susan in these terms. She does not question their qualifications to be serious organizers in the South simply because they have done work with white politicians within the power structure that supports white supremacy. Agnes completely challenges Clarissa’s assumptions of traditional Western education in a way that the characters of John Lewis and James Forman as SNCC members are unable to do before King in Paul Webb’s screenplay of Selma. When Clarissa, Nancy and Susan joined Hank and Agnes in their traditional circling with their local Shaman, we learn that Nancy and Susan walk out of the circle because they felt uncomfortable. Clarissa defends them, saying “those girls came all the way from St. Louis to help us get our freedom…” Agnes rejects the idea that white organizers from the North along with Black organizers who support them, could help them get freedom: “All I see ‘em doing is questioning everybody…just fishing, fishing! What they gonna do, write a book about us, give it to the White Sheets!” Hank gets furious after he learns that Clarissa’s group of organizers have a list of addresses of local residents without clearance from the Jackson office. He says: “You think we don’t wanna vote? It ain’t just ‘cause its dangerous. People need a break! You know what we get put through when we try to register? Test after test!” Then Agnes asks Clarissa, in a tone that mocks the kind of white registrar we saw in the Selma film that denied Annie Lee Cooper the vote: “How many bubbles in a bar of soap?” Hank plays along and adds: “I know you can’t answer that ‘cause ya’ll don’t bathe, do you gal?” When Clarissa tells Hank that her group’s ultimate plan is to register thousands of Black voters for the MFDP, he doubts the plan out of fear that voters may be killed like Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney. Although he is helping to place Northern activists in sympathetic homes, the recent murders of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney brings doubt into Hank’s mind about the Clarissa’s purpose of registering voters and his overall role in it. Agnes supports Hank. Aunt Flora altogether disapproves of any more voter registration work. When Hank and Agnes describe and perform the ugly reality of Klan thought and behavior, Clarissa listens to them, however, with some doubt. Until it visits her. Two days later after this exchange, Aunt Flora visits Hank and Agnes demanding they read to her pages in an apparent diary of Nancy or Susan that she took while they left her house that morning. Hank reads something in this diary he does not reveal to Aunt Flora, Agnes, or the audience and quickly leaves. We learn from Agnes that Clarissa joined Nancy and Susan on a ride into town where they went into a white restaurant to be served. Agnes tells Aunt Flora and the audience that Clarissa, Nancy and Susan were beaten and stomped on. Nancy and Susan were jailed while Clarissa is brought back to Hank and Agnes home to be treated for injuries. Clarissa was not only beaten, but tarred and feathered. The healer side of Aunt Flora emerges as she orders Agnes to get some kerosene and some spiderwebs to place on Clarissa’s wounds and tells Clarissa: “got me round here bragging ‘bout you! Only time Colored can go in them places is if they taking care-a white chil’luns…take your food in a paper-sack, you can set right there and eat til the chil’lun finish…ain’t nothing but educated fools, all of you!” Aunt Flora tells Clarissa “they done kicked something loose inside you, child!” And hints that Clarissa’s beating may have, like Fannie Lou Hamer’s visit to a Mississippi doctor to remove “a bit on her stomach,” made her infertile. When Hank asks Clarissa if she remembers anything they said to her, she replied: “Ni—er…ni—er…ni—er! It’s a question of mind over matter! We don’t mind, and you don’t matter!” Aunt Flora instructs Hank to bring Nancy and Susan to her house. Agnes tells Clarissa what Aunt Flora’s little Cyrus found in the diary of Nancy and Susan; that one of them wrote: “’I now realize Negroes are just people.’ Just people?! What the hell did she think we was before she got here?” Clarissa yet again justifies the racist beliefs of Nancy and Susan, to which Agnes responds: “I know how it is when you have a dream and don’t wanna lose it…but we already tried loving these people.” This is exactly the sentiment of Kwame Ture who was one of the few SNCC organizers who developed in his revolutionary thought enough to know that the Clarissa’s methods of ending Jim Crow and institutionalized racism will not happen nonviolently. Agnes reassures that Aunt Flora in her broad history and knowledge as a former domestic to the powerful whites in Harmony who knows all their secrets, will not let them keep Nancy and Susan in jail. Act two begins two months later after the attack against Clarissa, during which time Clarissa is recovering from her injuries, and during which time the MFDP rejected the insulting Johnson compromise. Agnes and Clarissa discuss this rejection and celebrate it. The film Selma instead encourages acceptance of liberalism by selling the myth that lobbying executive leadership is the key to achieving social change. Aunt Flora tells Hank in private that she received a two thousand dollar check from the parents of Nancy and Susan for getting them out of jail. She wants to use the money to build a Freedom school and tells Hank to keep her plans a secret. When Aunt Flora leaves, Hank celebrates her in front of Agnes and Clarissa and the tricks she employed to get young Hank out of trouble: “after Mother ‘Dear died and daddy was killed my auntie was the only one in the family that wanted me. I ain’t never told her how much I ‘preciate what she did for me.” Hank leaves the scene towards Aunt Flora, and Clarissa and Agnes converse about the nature of Jim Crow. Agnes tells Clarissa: “white folks hate us ‘cause we the cause of them gonna have to be human-people!” Clarissa tells Agnes that she was hurt when she learned that Susan and Nancy wrote to William and he wrote back, revealing her hopes for a relationship with William. Agnes tells her that Nancy and Susan were trying to get poor whites to join Ms. Hamer but got run out because they were having sex “with some woman’s husband.” Clarissa also tells Agnes what Aunt Flora suspected: that she would not be able to have children because of the beating. Like Fannie Lou Hamer, who was also deprived of the opportunity to have children without her consent, Clarissa sacrificed her life in order to make meaningful steps to end Jim Crow segregation. Agnes shares with Clarissa that she had a nine year old son who died of a fever the day that Aunt Flora was midwifing elsewhere. Both women share the loss of children. Agnes tells Clarissa that Hank got the local children in the Harmony community to do a dance called “The Mind Over the Matter,” as a way to invert the racist meaning of Clarissa’s attackers, however Clarissa is unimpressed: “A dance? I don’t wanna see that! I don’t even wanna hear those words ever again in this life! That ain’t nothing to be dancing to! How could they…?! I don’t want it, Miss Agnes…I don’t!” The film Selma also shows a reverse appropriation. LBJ in announcing that he plans to (he took five months to follow through on his promise) sign the Voting Rights Act, said "and we shall overcome.” He appropriates the language that white and Black SNCC organizers in the South use in nonviolent marches and sit-ins while they are being beaten by white attackers. LBJ gives the false impression that executive and legislative leaders of the U.S. government, that represent the interests of staunch segregationists, actually want to end the laws that have maintained their power. They use the language of nonviolent struggle to essentially sanction and continue violent struggle against protesters. Clarissa in Freedom Rider thought her lone visit would end centuries of white supremacy. Franklin’s stage directions tell us that she “is too choked with tears to respond” to Aunt Flora’s question of whether she decided to stay in Harmony or leave. Agnes tells Aunt Flora: “she’s upset ‘cause she couldn’t fix these white people,” to which Aunt Flora says: “Fix white people? That’s what you come here for, girl? We ain’t need you here for that! Didn’t I tell you to leave these white folks to God and just keep praying for ‘em!” Aunt Flora tells Clarissa that although she may not be able to have children, “h’its plenty chil’lun in Harmony. If you got a mind to stay…you’ll find mercy here.” Aunt Flora leaves, but Clarissa tries to make one last point: “I wasn’t trying to fix them…I just wanted all of us to love one another like Jesus and Dr. King told us to…to love them and them love us so the hate would stop…so we could get our liberation…!” Franklin’s stage directions tell us that “AUNT FLORA whips around and lets off a blast of anger which shocks both women: “THEY AIN’T GOT NO LOVE TO GIVE TO US, GIRL! NOW, WE EITHER GONNA KEEP ON LOVING THEM, OR WE CAN JUST STOP! BUT THEY AIN’T GOT NO LOVE TO GIVE US! THEY AIN’T ABLE! They just ain’t! They can’t!” The capital letters in these lines indicate emphasis which Vinie Burrows’ performance delivers. She notices Clarissa’s reaction and responds more in kind: “Do you understand that, child?” Clarissa replies: “Yes-mam Aunt Flora…I understand.” When first Hank and then Agnes invite Clarissa to see the local children do their dance at the play’s end, the stage directions tell us “Clarissa just shrugs and remains non-committal.” The play shows how Clarissa’s ambition to “destroy segregation” has been tempered by her experience at the hands of an angry white mob in Harmony, Mississippi. The second to last sentence of the play’s final stage directions say: “she collects herself, dries her eyes and hurries out to join the others.” Ultimately Clarissa decides to join Hank and Agnes to see how the local children, the younger generation re-appropriate the words of a white racist mob in order to assert their own power to live boldly and continually break down the barriers of Jim Crow. The film Selma ends with a false hope in the federal government while the play Freedom Rider ends with the promise of the younger generation vowing to challenge the Jim Crow that did not end in 1965. Michelle Alexander’s popular book The New Jim Crow has closed the argument that Jim Crow essentially died. Kwame Ture in Black Power and in his autobiography Ready For Revolution has shown how Jim Crow has expanded in new forms in terms of the growth of the military-prison-industrial complex that kills unarmed Black men at will, like the white troopers did to the Selma marchers, and like the white attackers did to Clarissa. As Ture said, meaningful change will only come about by revolution of the capitalist order. Both Franklin’s play and Webb’s screenplay do not seriously engage a revolutionary response to the Jim Crow order. This is a call to action to fulfill more of what Lorraine Hansberry said in that 1959 speech. She said the Negro writer must discuss issues of war and peace, and wage a war against the romance of the Black bourgeoisie. Franklin’s play does a better job at dispelling this romance than Paul Webb’s script which is intended for a mainstream audience. Franklin’s play shows Clarissa as an individual who believes that liberation will come by cooperating with a culture that is based on the denigration of African people and their labor. Aunt Flora in her decades of wit and wisdom states clearly that they have no more love to give. She and Ture suggest that the real work for revolution must not be led by sympathetic whites, but by devoted Blacks. Malcolm said that revolution should not be in the vocabulary of any individual not prepared to die for it. Franklin’s Agnes and Clarissa have the conversation that Selma is unable to have. The romance of the Black bourgeoisie is a big barrier not only for Hansberry but also for Kwame Ture, whose enduring message in his autobiography is: “Question everything. Challenge every authority. Always seek information and organize, organize, organize. And never, ever despair. Trust yourself. Trust the people. Never settle for less. Never give up, organize, organize, organize. History is full of surprises. Especially for exploiters. Organize, organize, organize. Stand ready for revolution” (773). All quotes of Freedom Rider by J.E. Franklin come from the book "To Break Every Yoke" which is a collection of Ms. Franklin’s plays: Freedom Rider; Mother, Dear Mother; I Reckon That’s Why They Calls Us Colored…Bless They Hearts; and Black Girl. (New York: Xlibris, 2013).
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Sony Pictures has gotten a lot of negative press regarding its attitudes about the film industry. Most striking is the email to CEO Michael Lynton asserting that films with Black leads should not be distributed internationally because they would not be profitable. People only believe propaganda like this because Hollywood since "Birth of A Nation" has spent a lot of energy promoting a white supremacist capitalist agenda without calling it that. Well Sony Pictures and other liberal film companies within the Hollywood film industry have a phenomenal opportunity to prove once and for all that they in fact do not want to pander to a market that would be offended by a Black lead. The opportunity is to distribute a film about the legendary actress and activist Ruby Dee (1922-2014). Her life is powerfully captured in a new documentary about her called "Life's Essentials With Ruby Dee" produced by her grandson Muta' Ali Muhammad. Ms. Dee's life and career embodies the success of Blacks and whites working together in the film and theater industry. Her life shows the incredible potential that one life can have in eliminating institutional racism. She brought Black writer Alex Haley together with white producer David Wolper to produce the highest rated television miniseries "Roots." She starred in the first Off-Broadway production co-produced by a Black woman and a white man, Alice Childress and Joseph Papp in a powerful production called "Wedding Band" at the Public Theater. The play is about an interracial couple trying to survive in early twentieth century South Carolina and starred Ruby Dee alongside James Broderick at the Public Theater. The new documentary about her life was recently screened in Philadelphia on Thursday, December 18th. Before the screening was a reception that featured performances in tribute to Ms. Dee by Lois Moses, Bruce Robinson, Indiya N. Glenn, Kira Brown-Gray, and Professor Sonia Sanchez. In the remarks that I shared at the beginning of this reception, I shared that Ms. Dee supported the work of Paul Robeson (1898-1976) who like Ms. Dee was a pioneering actor. In a 1976 interview with Nicolas Guillen, Robeson said that "I am convinced that the great American and English companies are controlled by big capital, especially by the steel trust, and they will never let me do a picture as I want...The big producers insist on presenting a caricature image of the Black, a ridiculous image, that amuses the white bourgeoisie, and I am not interested in playing their game." The email to Lynton is evidence of the industry's catering to this white bourgeoisie. The emails prove that big capital still insists in 2014 on presenting "a caricature image of the Black" by creating a market for only white leads. By supporting a film about Ruby Dee, they can completely shatter this stereotype. Last week, President Obama promised to return the remaining three of the Cuban Five. Ms. Dee had a developed and sophisticated opinion about the Cuban revolution in her 2000 interview with Harold Dow for the American Archive of Television where she said "we need Cuba on the other side" in order to keep our democracy healthy: "in order to walk, one foot has to go forward and the other backward." She believed that the Cuban revolution keeps American democracy healthy. She disagreed soundly with the purpose of U.S. embargo of Cuba as a tool to punish the Cubans because of their socialist revolution. She understood and explained to Dow exactly why Fidel Castro would be disgusted with the social conditions in his country up to 1959 in order to change them to benefit the masses in a more direct way. Ms. Dee supported Paul & Eslanda Robeson when their passports were seized by the U.S. State Department in 1950 after Robeson refused to perform before racially segregated audiences and when he said in 1949 in Paris that it is unthinkable for Negroes in the U.S. to fight the Soviet Union who has raised its citizens to the full dignity of humankind. 1950 is the same year that the U.S. invaded the Korean peninsula under the Truman Doctrine to stem the spread of communism. But they could not dominate the entire peninsula: only the southern half which they have occupied to this day. While Sony Pictures wants to promote a comedy that belittles the current leadership of North Korea, it and another film companies should think more about messages of reconciliation and diplomacy rather than messages of ridicule that originate from an imperialist and racist doctrine that caters to a white bourgeoisie. This country has a lot to learn, based on the murders of Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Mike Brown, and countless others from other countries about how to relate to its own citizens. Ms. Dee was a world citizen and this film about her by her grandson exposes her heart not only for working together, but it exposes her heart to her own family, namely her grandson. Distributing "Life's Essentials With Ruby Dee" will make a strong statement to the world that Hollywood no longer promotes racist stereotypes. By distributing this film, Hollywood has a phenomenal opportunity to show the world, that reconciliation is possible. -RF.