Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters

Those of us who consider it disgraceful to have a giant statue of Robert E. Lee on his horse in a park in the middle of Charlottesville, and another of Stonewall Jackson for that matter, should try to understand those who think removing one of these statues is an outrage.

I don’t claim to understand them, and certainly don’t suggest they all think alike. But there are certain recurring themes if you listen to or read the words of those who think Lee should stay. They’re worth listening to. They’re human. They mean well. They’re not crazy.

First, let’s set aside the arguments we’re not trying to understand.

Some of the arguments being passed around are not central to this attempt at understanding the other side. For example, the argument that moving the statue costs money, is not what I’m interested in here. I don’t think cost concerns are driving most of the support for the statue. If we all agreed that removing the statue was important, we would find the money. Simply donating the statue to a museum or to some city where Lee actually lived would quite possibly produce a new owner willing to pay for the transport. Heck, donate it to the Trump Winery and they’d probably pick it up by next Thursday.[1]

True, if the statue is simply moved to a different Charlottesville park, Charlottesville will have to pay, and that money could have gone to creating a new park with monuments to peace and civil rights, etc. Perhaps there are  people for whom this really is the central argument. Perhaps they are also consistent in their frugality and put up the same struggle against billion dollar highways and trillion dollar militaries. Perhaps the announcements of how much good could be done for the poor with the money that could be spent to move a statue are being made by some people with a history of caring about the poor. We’ll save trying to understand them for another time.

Also tangential here is the argument that removing a statue erases history. Surely few of these history fanatics protested when the U.S. military tore down the statue of Saddam Hussein. Wasn’t he part of Iraqi history? Hadn’t the CIA meant well and gone to great efforts in helping to put him in power? Hadn’t a company in Virginia provided him with important materials for making chemical weapons? Good or bad, history shouldn’t be torn down and erased!

Actually, nobody’s saying that. Nobody’s valuing any and all history. Few are admitting that ugly parts of history are history at all. People are valuing a particular bit of history. The question is: why? Surely history supporters don’t believe that the 99.9% of Charlottesville history not represented in monumental statuary has been erased. Why must this bit of history be monumental?

There may be those whose historical concern is simply for the past 90 years or so of the statue being there in the park. Its existence there is the history they are concerned about, perhaps. Perhaps they don’t want it changed simply because that’s the way it’s been. I have some sympathy for that perspective, but it has to be applied selectively. Should we keep a half-built frame of a hotel on the downtown mall because my kids have never known anything else? Was history destroyed by creating the downtown mall in the first place? What I’m interested in trying to understand is not why people want nothing to change. Nobody wants nothing to change. Rather, I want to understand why they don’t want this particular thing to change.

Here’s what I think we should try to understand.

Supporters of the Lee statue whom I’ve spoken with or read or been yelled at by think of themselves as “white.” This is important to them. They belong to the white race or the white ethnicity or the white group of people. They don’t — or at least some of them don’t — think of this as a cruel thing. They see many other groups of people engaged in what some 40 years ago was intentionally described by its participants as “identity politics.” They see Black History Month and wonder why they cannot have a White History Month. They see affirmative action. They read about calls for reparations. They believe that if other groups are going to identify themselves by superficial visible features, they ought to be allowed to do so too.

On Thursday Jason Kessler, a blogger seeking to remove City Councilman Wes Bellamy from office, described the Robert E. Lee statue as being “of ethnic significance to southern whites.” No doubt, he thinks, and no doubt he’s right, that if there were a statue in Charlottesville of a non-white person or a member of some historically oppressed minority group, a proposal to remove it would be met with cries of outrage at the violation of something of value to a particular group — any group other than “whites.”

One might ask Mr. Kessler to consider the significance of the fact that there actually are no statues of non-white people in Charlottesville, unless you count Sacagawea kneeling like a dog beside Lewis and Clark. Or you might ask how his condemnations of political correctness fit with his denunciation of Wes Bellamy for old comments hateful toward gays and women. But what I’m asking you to ask, instead, is whether you can sense where Kessler or the people who read his blog may be coming from.

They denounce “the double standards” that they perceive all around them. Whether you think those standards don’t exist, or think they’re justified, it is clear that a lot of people do think they exist and are convinced they are not justified.

One of my professors when I was at UVA many years ago penned some thoughts that were widely cited a couple of months ago as having been a prediction of Donald Trump. This professor, Richard Rorty, asked why struggling white people seemed to be the one group liberal academics didn’t care about. Why is there no trailer park studies department, he asked. Everyone thought that was funny, then and now. But an anything else studies department — any race, ethnicity, or other identity, except white — is very serious and solemn. Surely ending bigotry of all sorts is a good thing, he seemed to say, but meanwhile a handful of billionaires are gathering up most of the wealth of this country and the world, while most everybody else is struggling, and somehow it’s acceptable to make fun of accents or teeth as long as it’s white people you’re mocking. So long as liberals focus on identity politics to the exclusion of policies that benefit everyone, the door will be open to a white supremacist strongman offering solutions, credible or otherwise. Thus opined Rorty long ago.

Kessler may see a bit more injustice out there than actually exists. He thinks that radical Islamic, mentally disturbed U.S. veterans are neglected until they engage in shooting sprees because of fear of political correctness. I highly doubt it. I’ve never heard of many mentally disturbed veterans who weren’t neglected. A tiny percentage have any interest in radical Islam, and it is exclusively those, who seem to end up on Kessler’s blog. But his point seems to be that there are non-white people who do horrible things, and that it is frowned on to make cruel generalizations about them — in a way that it is not always frowned on to make cruel generalizations about white people.

You can point to counter-trends. Numerous studies that show up only in the social media feeds of people who’ve read other similar studies have found that the U.S. media much prefers to cover killings by Muslims of whites than killings of Muslims by whites, and that the term “terrorist” is almost exclusively reserved for Muslims. But those are not the trends that some people are paying attention to. Instead they’re noticing that critiques of racism are permitted to make generalizations about white people, that stand-up comedians are permitted to crack jokes about white people, and that identifying as a white person can put you into a historical storyline as part of the tribe that created, not only lots of fun and useful technology, but also environmental and military destruction and oppression on a brand new scale.

Once you’re looking at the world this way, and your news sources are too, and your friends are too, you’re likely to hear about things that show up on Kessler’s blog that none of my acquaintances have ever heard of, such as the idea that U.S. colleges are generally teaching and promoting something called “white genocide.” Believers in white genocide have found a single professor who claimed to support it and then claimed he was joking. I don’t claim to know the truth of that matter and don’t consider it acceptable as a joke or otherwise. But the guy wouldn’t have had to claim he was joking if it was accepted standard practice. Nonetheless, if you believed your identity was tied up with the white race, and you believed people were trying to destroy it, you might have a negative reaction to giving Robert E. Lee the boot, I think, whether or not you considered black people inferior or favored slavery or thought wars were justifiable or anything of the sort.

Here’s how Kessler thinks white people are treated, in his own words:

“SJWs [apparently this stands for “social justice warriors”] always say that all white people have ‘privilege’, a magical and immaterial substance that belittles our hardships and dismisses all of our achievements. Everything we’ve ever achieved is portrayed as just a byproduct of our skin color. Yet, somehow with all this ‘privilege’ it is white America that is suffering the most from epidemic levels of depression, prescription drug abuse, heroin abuse and suicide. It is white Americans whose birthrates are precipitously declining while the hispanic population skyrockets due to illegal immigration. By comparison blacks have a higher rate of happiness. They are taught to be confident. All of the schoolbooks, entertainment and revisionist history portray them as plucky underdogs who earn everything over enormous obstacles. The whites are the only ones who are inherently evil and racist. Our great societies, inventions and military achievements are portrayed as ill-gotten and undeservedly won on the backs of others. With so much negative propaganda twisting their minds no wonder white people have so little ethnic identity, so much self-hatred and are so willing lay down and take it when anti-white bullies like Al Sharpton or Wes Bellamy want to shake them down.”

So, when people in Lee Park tell me that a statue of a soldier on a horse fighting a war on the side of slavery and put there in the 1920s in a whites-only park is not racist and not pro-war, what they are saying, I think, is that they themselves are not racist or pro-war, that those are not their motivations, that they have something else in mind, such as sticking up for the mistreated white ethnicity. What they mean by “defend history” is not so much “ignore the realities of war” or “forget what the Civil War was started over” but rather “defend this symbol of white people because we’re people too, we count too, we ought to get some damn respect once in a while just like People of Color and other glorified groups that beat the odds and get credit for ordinary lives as if they were heroes.”



All right. That’s my limited attempt to begin to understand supporters of the Lee statue, or at least one aspect of their support. Some have declared that taking down any war statue insults all veterans. Some are in fact quite openly racist. Some see the statue of a guy engaged in fighting against the United States as a matter of sacred U.S. patriotism. There are as many combinations of motivations as there are people supporting the statue. My point in looking a bit into one of their motivations is that it is understandable. Nobody likes unfairness. Nobody likes double standards. Nobody likes disrespect. Perhaps politicians feel that way too, or perhaps they just exploit others who do, or perhaps a little of both. But we should continue trying to understand what people we disagree with care about, and to let them know that we understand it, or that we’re trying to.

Then, and only then, can we ask them to try to understand us. And only then can we properly explain ourselves, through grasping who it is they currently think we are. I don’t fully grasp this, I admit. I’m not much of a Marxist and am unsure why Kessler constantly refers to opponents of the statue as Marxists. Certainly Marx was a Union partisan, but nobody’s asking for a General Grant statue, not that I’ve heard. It seems to me that a lot of what Kessler means by “Marxist” is “un-American,” bitterly opposed to the U.S. Constitution, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington and all that is sacred.

But which parts? If I applaud the separation of church and state, the limited executive, the power of impeachment, the popular vote, and limited federal power, but am not a fan of the Supreme Court, the Senate, slavery, winner-take-all elections without ranked choice voting, or the lack of protections for the environment, am I a Marxist or not? I suspect it comes down to this: am I labeling the Founders as fundamentally evil or basically good? In fact, I’m not doing either of those things, and I’m not doing either of them for the white race either. I can try to explain.

When I joined in a chant of “White supremacy’s got to go” recently in Lee Park, a white man demanded of me: “Well, what are you?” To him I looked white. But I identify as human. That doesn’t mean that I pretend to live in a post-racial world where I neither suffer the lack of affirmative action nor benefit from the very real privileges of looking “white” and having had parents and grandparents who benefitted from college funding and bank loans and all kinds of government programs that were denied to non-whites. Rather, it means that I think of myself as a fellow member in the group called humans. That’s the group I root for. That’s the group I hope survives the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the warming of the climate. That’s the group I want to see overcome hunger and disease and all forms of suffering and inconvenience. And it includes every single person who calls themselves white and every single person who does not.

So, I don’t feel the white guilt that Kessler thinks people are trying to impose on him. I don’t feel it because I don’t identify with George Washington any more than I identify with the men and women he enslaved or the soldiers he whipped or the deserters he killed or the native people he slaughtered. I don’t identify with him any less than with those other people either. I don’t deny all of his merits because of all of his faults, either.

On the other hand, I don’t get to feel white pride. I feel human guilt and pride as a human, and that includes a great deal. “I am large,” wrote Walt Whitman, as much a Charlottesville resident and influence as Robert E. Lee. “I contain multitudes.”

If someone were to put up a monument in Charlottesville that white people found offensive, I would object vigorously to that monument, because white people are people, like any other people. I would demand that that monument be taken down.

Instead, we happen to have a monument that many of us humans, and people who profess other identities, including African American, find offensive. So, I object vigorously to this monument. We should not engage in what many perceive as hurtful hate-speech because others deem it to be of “ethnic significance.” Pain outweighs moderate appreciation, not because of who feels is, but because it is more powerful.

If someone were to make a monument of some old hateful tweet from Wes Bellamy — and my understanding is that he would be the last to suggest such a thing — it wouldn’t matter how many people thought it was nice. It would matter how many people thought it was painfully cruel.

A statue that symbolizes racism and war to a great many of us has an enormously negative value. To respond that it has “ethnic significance to southern whites” as if it were a traditional soup recipe misses the point.

The United States has a very divisive history, dating perhaps from Mr. Jefferson’s two-party system, through the Civil War, and right on into identity politics. While Kessler claims African Americans are happier, and that Latinos are not happier but somehow winning through immigration, no U.S. groups record the levels of happiness found in Scandinavia, where, Marxistly or otherwise, there is no affirmative action, no reparations, no targeted benefits, and no labor unions out for the interests of their members alone, but rather public programs that benefit everyone equally and thus gain widespread support. When college and healthcare and retirement are free for everyone, few resent them or the taxes paid to receive them. When taxes fund wars and billionaires and some piddly handouts to particular groups, even the biggest fans of wars and billionaires will tend to view taxes as the primary enemy. If Marx ever figured that out, I’m unaware of it.

I’m willing to concede that supporters of the statue are not all pushing racism or war. But are they willing to try to understand the perspective of those whose parents recall being kept out of Lee Park because they were not white, or to consider the viewpoint of those who understand the war to have been fought for the expansion of slavery, or to take into account what many of us feel heroic war statues do for the promotion of yet more wars?

If seeing black people praised in a movie like Hidden Figures is difficult for someone who identifies as white, what does being excluded from a park for being black feel like? What does losing your arm feel like? What does losing half your town and all your loved ones feel like?

The question of whether the Washington Redskins should be renamed is not a question of whether the quarterback is a jerk or the team has a glorious history, but whether the name offends millions of us, as it does. The question of whether to send General Lee off on the horse he never rode in on is not a question about the people whom the statue doesn’t deeply disturb, but about all of us whom it does deeply disturb.

As someone who objects as much to the war element of the statue as to the race question, and who objects to the dominance of war monuments, to the virtual exclusion of anything else, on the Charlottesville landscape, I think we all have to try to imagine the viewpoint of some other people as well. Ninety-six percent of humanity lives outside the United States. Have we asked Charlottesville’s Sister Cities what they think of Charlottesville’s war statues?

The United States dominates the war business, the sale of weapons to other nations, the sale of weapons to poor nations, the sale of weapons to the Middle East, the deployment of troops abroad, spending on its own military, and the number of wars engaged in. It is not a secret in much of the world that the United States is (as Martin Luther King Jr. put it) the greatest purveyor of violence on earth. The United States has the most widespread imperial presence, has been the most prolific over-thrower of governments, and from 1945 to 2017 has been the killer of the most people through war. If we were to ask people in the Philippines or Korea or Vietnam or Afghanistan or Iraq or Haiti or Yemen or Libya or so many other countries whether they think U.S. cities should have more or fewer war monuments, what do we think they would say? Is it none of their business? Perhaps, but typically they are bombed in the name of something called democracy.


[1] Of course, we might end up footing the bill through federal or state instead of local taxes, if the Trump Winery used the National Guard to move the thing, but according to the Charlottesville Police that wouldn’t bother us as much — why else explain to us that having a mine-resistant armored vehicle is OK because it was “free”?



Talk Nation Radio: U.S. Mass Incarceration, Police Militarization, and Crimes Against Palestinians


Two guests this week: Jeff Fogel and Ntebo Mokuena.


Jeff Fogel is a candidate for Commonwealth’s Attorney here in Charlottesville, Virginia. After graduating from Rutgers School of Law in 1969, Jeff received a fellowship to work providing legal services to indigent residents in Newark, New Jersey.  After several years, he left that position to become a highly touted criminal defense lawyer.  Recognizing that he was limited in impact by representing one criminal defendant at a time, Jeff moved into a civil rights practice with the hope of having an impact on the criminal justice system while preserving the constitutional rights of everyone.  Jeff has practiced in NJ, NY, PR and, for the last 10 years, Virginia. He has been the executive and legal director of the ACLU of New Jersey and the Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights while teaching civil rights, civil liberties and trial practice at Rutgers and NYU School of Law. See http://fogelforcca.us



Ntebo Mokuena is a senior at American University and is majoring in Political Science with a gender, race,  and politics concentration along with a minor in Art History and a certificate in Women, Policy, and Political Leadership. She was born and raised in the DC area and on campus is involved with Students for Justice in Palestine, which is a decentralized student group that supports the BDS movement and self determination of Palestinians. The group is part of the Community Action and Social Justice coalition. See https://m.facebook.com/AmericanSJP/


Useful links with regards to Israel-U.S. police exchange programs:







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Black and Foreign Lives Matter: Ending Gun Violence Requires Ending War

Happy Human Rights Day, and what ever happened to the right to life?

We need to stop imagining that when wars come home to the land of their creators that the suffering created is something separate from war. And we need to stop imagining that racist cruelty at home doesn’t fuel the distant wars.

Imagine a country in which people condemn gun violence and police violence while actively pushing for a new cold war with Russia or urging the bombing of Syria or cheering a string of drone murders and tolerating the expansion of the U.S. military presence to darn near the whole globe. Or a peace movement that condemns foreign drone murders while failing to focus on the higher number of murders creating by U.S. police officers.

Weapons dealing is an integrated global enterprise that feeds on racist, bigoted, violent, and macho ideologies wherever it can find them. Trying to defeat it with separate anti-gun and anti-war movements not united in their work won’t succeed. Most of the guns are sold abroad, many of them deployed against U.S. fighters in the wars. Many gun owners’ fantasies are closely related to war.

When local police are given weapons by the U.S. military and training by the militaries of the United States and other nations, and when they employ veterans of the military, which employs veterans of the police and prison industries in turn, demanding that the warlike behavior that results on our streets and in our homes be restricted to foreign wars will not work, not practically and not morally. It makes as much sense as a protester asking that an oil pipeline be rerouted somewhere else. The damage to the earth will still be done, no matter the route. Donald Trump says he’ll have less war but more military spending. That’s like having more ice cream to lose weight.

When Dr. King said the bombs in Vietnam explode at home he was right in several different ways. The Black Lives Matter Platform asks for reparations at home but also to nations bombed abroad, as well as a 50% cut to U.S. military spending. This is because warlike policing and global-policeman warring are symptoms of the same disease. Military spending strips wealth from people at home and destroys the wealth of those it bombs and shoots at. Military spending eliminates, rather than producing, jobs. And it thrives on the same racist and violent thinking that sells guns and creates police violence. The National Rifle Association made a video with Charlie Daniels urging war on Iran, in order to sell guns to people who want nothing to do with participating in that war.

Millions of Americans for whom Charlie Daniels is not a smart marketing scheme are subjected to the Pentagon’s $600,000,000 annual advertising. Some of the regions and neighborhoods most impacted by domestic violence are also those hardest hit by military recruiting. This helps build the sort of thinking that says no to weapons on local streets but yes to the militarism that puts them there. Colin Kaepernick’s admirable protest of racist violence is damaged by his assurance that he supports militarism.

It is during periods of heavy warmaking that U.S. entertainment fills up with dramas justifying the murder of dark-skinned people or zombies or wizards, subhuman creatures, or bugsplat in the slang of the drone murderers. When it is acceptable for a liberal African-American Nobel Peace laureate to bomb 8 largely dark-skinned and Muslim nations, it is inevitable that some observers begin to question whether there is anything wrong with their own dark-skinned or Muslim neighbors. To challenge racism we have to be willing to challenge the idea that it’s acceptable to bomb some types of people.

I don’t recommend burning flags. I recommend refusing to worship them, refusing to compel children to robotically recite pledges of flag worship, and waiving global flags instead.

As long as we have wars and police, we should separate them, but the stronger each is the more they will merge. Border policing is on the metaphorical border between policing and war. War training for police blurs the distinction. The President’s pretenses that drone murders are a sort of law enforcement blurs the line. The anti-Russia committee created by the new so-called Intelligence Authorization Act is both policing and war — and propaganda for both.

We should deny war weaponry to police. We’ve made some small gains on that through President Obama. Congressman Hank Johnson’s bill would go further. We should ban exploding robots like that used by police to kill a man in Dallas, Texas. We should ban weaponized drones. We should ban military training for police. These are projects we can take on at the national, local, college campus, or global level. At RootsAction.org we have related petitions.

Wars come home and travel abroad through the erosion of rights. The powers to spy on and kidnap and imprison and torture and murder distant foreigners quickly become the powers to do those things to anyone back home. The power to torture prisoners in the United States quickly becomes the power to torture prisoners (and kidnap victims) of war.

Parts of “at home” have more in common with parts of “abroad” than with other parts of “at home.” Guns and other weapons are dealt by the weapons dealers to poor regions of the United States as to poor nations of the world. The wealthy handful of big warmaking nations make almost all the weapons and then push them on the world’s poor like alcohol or smallpox in the original “Indian Country,” or like opium in China. Since 2001 the sale of “small arms” has tripled. Unsurprisingly, deaths from small arms have approximately tripled as well. Arming terrorist groups against each other has proven as counter-productive yet profitable as permitting guns in churches, guns in bars, guns in classrooms, guns in shopping malls.

Teachers in some U.S. cities and states may try to teach against violence, but their public pension plans are heavily invested in weapons dealers. Their retirement is tied up with the promotion of war and violence. This we can end through campaigns to compel divestment — campaigns that also serve an educational and political purpose.

In the United States, approximately 1 of 40 adults is in prison, jail, parole, or probation (along with 1 of every 1,200 children being locked up). And 1 out of every 102 adults is in the military — not counting private mercenaries, contractors, subcontractors, etc. Of course virtually all U.S. children are exposed to the promotion of militarism. This normalization of violence makes opposition to violence of all sorts more difficult.

I’m convinced that primarily what is new about racist police violence is the videotaping, not the violence. But secondarily we are seeing organized and armed and equipped police violence that newly treats its own actions like war and speaks about what it is doing as war.

Someone told me this year that I should support a certain political candidate because she was not an overt racist. I have yet to see a major movement in the United States against the expansion of Africom — of U.S. bases and weapons and proxy armies across Africa. Without minimizing the horror of overt racism, should covert racism be good enough? Can we move forward at all while accepting it? And isn’t it possible that a silver lining in the dropping of the pretense of humanitarian war, in the blurting out of “steal their oil” and “kill their families” and other assorted snippets of honesty, could be an increased resistance to state violence at home and abroad?

I think the model of presidential drone murders, of a “law enforcement” officer going through a list of men, women, and children on Tuesdays and picking whom to have bumped off, has been disastrous for policing. But the big question now is whether, having accepted or avoided knowing about that for years, will people go on accepting it while it bears a more odious face, or will the new face allow people to get belatedly outraged?

I think we need to do more thinking locally and acting globally, which is what we try to do at World Beyond War.

I think we need to point out to people that the most powerful tools contain no bullets, that an armed resistance at Standing Rock would have long since failed.

And I think we need to inform people that for the price of some relatively small cuts in military spending we could demilitarize the police, fund schools, houses, clean energy, and healthcare at home and abroad, end hunger on earth, end the lack of clean drinking water on earth, and make the United States government loved rather than resented around the world and around the United States.

Give Wes Bellamy a Break

Charlottesville City Council Member Wes Bellamy is being widely denounced for tweets he tweeted years ago. I think he should be given a break.

I don’t know Bellamy well and have not communicated with him about this. I don’t support everything he’s done even in recent years. I have almost nothing but contempt for the Democratic Party. I don’t believe Bellamy deserves more of a break than would anyone else from some other demographic. I don’t sympathize in the least with the disgusting things he tweeted.

And yet I find this criticism of him outrageous. And I find it consistent with some disturbing trends that extend well beyond Charlottesville.

Bellamy speaking at a rally on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville.

1. Privilege

The problem of unfair privilege here is not one of race or class or gender but of age and position. If you grew up before every Spring Break lunacy and adolescent pretense was enshrined forever on the internet (outside of wise European efforts to provide a Right to Be Forgotten), you must be very careful in criticizing those who have grown up since that underappreciated age. If you have not stuck your neck out into the fire of partisan politics, you must give careful consideration to what most-ugly and most-deeply-forgotten thing you would be at risk of becoming known for if you did.

2. People Change

The cartoonish belief that people never change cannot withstand a moment’s skepticism. Scrawled across the Free Speech Wall on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville is: “Wes Bellamy = David Duke.” The intended point is presumably that a member of an oppressed racial minority can be racist. But there is an enormous difference here. Bellamy denounces and apologizes for the things he tweeted years ago, and in recent years there is no public evidence of his still holding those beliefs. Duke openly maintains and advocates for his racist beliefs. If people never change, and their ugliest actions are their true ones, while their better actions are always false, then this distinction doesn’t matter. But that isn’t reality. I can’t swear that Bellamy has changed, but the odds are heavily in favor of it. Most people do. Most people do dramatically. Most people deny to themselves the extent to which they do. Go find the oldest thing from yourself online, even if only a year old; it may not be at the level of repulsiveness of Bellamy’s tweets, but it will not be who you are today. If George Wallace or Robert McNamara had died sooner than they did it would remain ridiculous to maintain they could not have reformed their views. It is almost inevitable that views will evolve to some significant degree, for the better or for the worse.


3. Race

Much of the criticism of Bellamy is dripping with racism and indignant accusations of hypocrisy, both because Bellamy’s race is imagined to bestow privileges on him and because Bellamy has voiced criticism of the public display of Confederate statues as racist. Whether or not such criticism is racially motivated is irrelevant to its merits. If Bellamy’s actions merit his punishment, banishment, etc., then they do so, regardless of how we came to learn of them. But let’s be clear about race in the United States. The white portion of the Greatest Subsidized Generation (post World War II) benefitted widely from subsidized mortgages and insurance, free college, and grants and loans from the Small Business Administration. The median wealth of white households is 13 times that of blacks in large part because of massive privileges handed to whites over the decades and centuries. The United States is becoming a caste society with extremely low economic mobility, and those castes parallel racial divides created by the benefits of government-created wealth. This does not sanction unfairness to white people. This does not mean that a white person who made racist and sexist comments years ago and now rejects them shouldn’t be given a break too. But it does give context to the generally false belief that it’s easier to grow up black than white in the USA. That confederate statues were put in their places of prominence in Charlottesville in the 1920s for racist reasons, accompanied by banning blacks from the parks, is not actually a matter of dispute. Whether someone demands the removal of the statues for racist reasons doesn’t alter that reality.


4. Trivial Pursuit

U.S. media tends to present U.S. politics as akin to the election of a prom king or queen. That is, you are not supposed to approximate the ideal of direct democracy by electing someone who will enact the policies you favor. Rather you are supposed to elect a model human being whom you would like to be friends with and whom you wish to hold up as a model to children. Thus, we go through a presidential campaign, and the candidates are hardly even asked basic budgetary and policy questions — yet we learn their biographies in detail. There is nothing trivial about racism, sexism, misogyny, or violence in personal lives. Words are actions and do matter. But there is a difference between revealing that a politician is opposing the will of the people and revealing that a politician used to be, or even still is, a horrible person. Of course it would be ideal to elect both small-d democrats AND wonderful people. But we’ve been led to imagine that all that counts is the latter, whereas the former is actually far more important and far more lacking in our country.


5. Stop Trying to Throw Away Human Beings

We live in a society in which an airline bans a man for life for uttering some obnoxious, possibly drunken Trumpisms on a flight. For life! Our country allows the sentencing of children — children! — to prison for life. For life! Until death. Death in a cage. Our country still barbarically allows the state execution of prisoners, the presidential execution of drone targets (along with anybody nearby), and often the killing of unarmed non-threatening civilians by police without penalty. People who’ve gone to prison and served their time are denied the right to vote or travel or serve on juries FOREVER. We’re taught that skills, abilities, and — even more absurdly — attitudes are all in-born and permanent, including criminal tendencies. Our entertainment and our foreign policy are full of depictions of certain people and groups of people (or aliens or zombies or wizards) as inherently evil, and others as inherently good — regardless of the behavior of either group. This is intellectually unsupportable and morally disastrous. This denies the existence of, never mind the merits, of whistleblowers and reformers. And try to find a teacher who hasn’t tried to educate students not to repeat the teacher’s mistakes.


6. Hypocrisy

Has Bellamy himself argued against giving others a second chance? If so, he was wrong and should be opposed in that position. But is there no hypocrisy among his critics? Most of this country is prepared to completely forgive and excuse one or the other of these two things:

–Hillary Clinton taking millions from Saudi Arabia and Boeing into her family foundation and making it her mission to waive legal restrictions on Boeing selling planes to Saudi Arabia — planes put to immediate use slaughtering innocent families in Yemen.

–Donald Trump declaring that the United States should “steal their oil,” “kill their families,” ban Muslims, and wall off Mexico, while modeling intense sexism and cruel mockery of the disabled.

If you voted for either of those people, even as a “lesser evil,” please leave Wes Bellamy the heck alone!

Millennials Organize Gun Violence Prevention Intersectionality Summit

Millennials Organize Gun Violence Prevention Intersectionality Summit to Bring People Together Post-Election to Combat Divisiveness and Hate for a Day of Education, Organizing, Solidarity, and Art

Strength in Synergy Summit to be help December 10th at American University, DC

WASHINGTON, DC – On Saturday, December 10 from 9:30am – 7:30pm, a gun violence prevention summit organized by millennials will hold workshops, panel discussions, breakout grassroots organizing sessions, and conclude with a concert featuring local DC artists such as: Shepard Kings, Terry Gibson, and WERK for Peace. Workshops will be led by April Goggans (Black Lives Matter), Rachel Graber (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence), Miriam Pembleton (Institute for Policy Studies), and other significant members of gun violence prevention actions. To find more information about workshops and presenters click here.

Leading a workshops on intersections between domestic and foreign violence and racism will be David Swanson (World Beyond War and RootsAction.org), Jamani Montague (RootsAction.org), and Leah Muskin-Pierret.

Sign up: http://strengthinsynergy.com

“My host sister was murdered in Portland in 2008 by a man who bought a gun from a gun show with no background check; she was one of the many victims that would be alive today if we had a comprehensive, inclusive response to gun violence. Preventing the type of horror that affected my family is one of the most important issues to me. I recognize that gun violence is a deeply intersectional issue with the many oppressions that people face. With Trump’s violent and hateful rhetoric being quickly normalized, now is the time to bring our communities together.”
– Martha Durkee-Neuman, 20, CODEPINK.

Co-sponsoring/co-organizing organizations include: the Brady Campaign, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Black Lives Matter DC, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, CODEPINK, WERK For Peace, Gays Against Guns, the Coalition of Concerned Mothers, the Timothy Dawkins El Project, Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action, the DC Anti-Violence Project, and MomsRising.

Visit http://strengthinsynergy.com for more information,

or on Facebook: https://facebook.com/events/157950498008430

Registering Japanese Americans Is Precedent Only for Crime

Since World War I and the initiative of J. Edgar Hoover, and right up through all the no-fly and terrorist-watch lists of today, the U.S. government has kept unconstitutional lists of people, largely or in part on the basis of their national or ethnic heritage or their political activism. These lists were part of the process of interning in camps Germans and German-Americans during World Wars I and II, and Japanese-Americans and Japanese during World War II.

In 1936 President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the creation by the Office of Naval Intelligence of a list of Japanese-Americans who would be the “first to be placed in a concentration camp” once a war could be started. In 1939 FDR ordered the ONI and the FBI to create a larger “custodial detention index” of primarily Japanese-, German-, and Italian-Americans, renamed and continued as the “security index” by Hoover after Attorney General Francis Biddle ordered it shut down.

The Alien Registration Act of 1940 required all non-citizen adults to register with the government. In early 1941 FDR commissioned a study of West coast Japanese-Americans, which concluded that they were no threat at all. He commissioned another study that reached the same conclusion. Yet, on December 7, 1941, FDR issued a proclamation stripping Japanese in the United States of rights (and the very next day for Germans and Italians). On January 14, 1942, FDR proclaimed in another proclamation that enemy aliens could be put in internment camps. On February 19, 1942, he ordered the internment of citizens and non-citizens alike.

Roosevelt had secretly ordered the creation of a list by Henry Field of Japanese and Japanese Americans on November 26, 1941.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld this action, but those rulings were vacated in the 1980s when it was learned that the government had withheld relevant information from the court, and — perhaps more importantly — when World War II and its accompanying hysteria were long over. A 1943 government report had been altered; the original version had admitted that there had not been a lack of time to provide Japanese Americans due process; rather, it asserted, there is simply no way to determine the loyalty of such people, who must be kept away from the coasts of the United States for the duration of the war.

From 1980 to 1983 a Congressional commission studied the history and concluded that Japanese-Americans and Japanese had been locked up in camps, not due to any evidence of a threat, but on the basis of racism and bigotry. The commission recommended $20,000 in reparations to each victim. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation authorizing those reparations payments, and apologizing to the victims. This law acknowledged “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” as the factors that motivated the crime.

In 1992, President George H.W. Bush signed a law appropriating more finds for reparations payments. On the anniversary of Pearl Harbor he issued another formal apology, which included this claim: “The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”

In 2000, a memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., that includes, carved in stone, these words:

The lessons learned must remain as a grave reminder of what we must not allow to happen again to any group.

–attributed to Daniel K. Inouye, U.S. Congressman and Senator

In 2001, Congress passed a law making 10 of the camps historical landmarks and stating that “places like Manzanar, Tule Lake, Heart Mountain, Topaz, Amache, Jerome, and Rohwer will forever stand as reminders that this nation failed in its most sacred duty to protect its citizens against prejudice, greed, and political expediency.”

Born on Home Plate

Remember the satirical “Billionaires for Bush” protesters? Around this time in 2008 I asked them to become Oligarchs for Obama, and they refused. But I predict Tycoons for Trump will be born this month. Inequality, like war and climate destruction, has its face now.

Chuck Collins’ book, Born on Third Base: A One Percenter Makes the Case for Tackling Inequality, Bringing Wealth Home, and Committing to the Common Good, presents the problem of inequality as well as any I’ve seen. Collins was born into wealth, gave it away, but still refers to himself as one of the wealthy, perhaps because of all the lasting privileges wealth brought him. Collins sites other examples, as well, of the wealthy putting their wealth to better use than hoarding.

Collins explains how a lot of philanthropy is, however, counterproductive, benefitting those least in need of it. He argues for a popular movement to create progressive taxation and progressive restraints on income. But he also makes a case for appealing to one percenters for solidarity, rather than demonizing them — apparently because this has proven to work better but also because it’s too late for anything else. Wealth has been so concentrated that without defections at the top it will never be truly shared again.

Collins also makes the best case I’ve seen for reparations. Donald Trump’s money, Collins writes, came from his father, who sold homes to white people who could only buy them because of government subsidized mortgages. Trump’s father also got military contracts to build houses for sailors. What Collins calls the Greatest Subsidized Generation (post World War II) — or at least the white portion of it — benefitted widely from subsidized mortgages and insurance, free college, and grants and loans from the Small Business Administration. Imagining that the racism of the day, rather than these willfully forgotten government programs, made America “great” (for some) is nonsensical.

Collins makes the case that the median wealth of white households is 13 times that of blacks in large part because of massive privileges handed to whites over the decades, including not so many years ago. And now the United States is becoming a caste society with extremely low economic mobility, and those castes parallel racial divides created by the benefits of government created wealth.

Collins paints a powerful portrait of how a wealthy childhood gives a person a permanent advantage. And he conveys the radically different, more convenient, more worry-free lives of those in the United States with great wealth. He later comes around to noting that many of those advantages are widely enjoyed in Europe. Collins argues that the wealthy are not fundamentally different from the rest of us, but his facts suggest that in fact they are. And the book’s foreword by Morris Pearl suggests to me a perspective I find it difficult to relate to. Pearl writes:

“I read about the Occupy movement in Zuccotti Park in the newspaper from the comfort of my Park Avenue apartment. When I have wanted to complain about something to President Obama, I have arranged to do it face-to-face.”

This suggests that there have been days on which Pearl did not want to complain about anything. Of course I can imagine meeting with Obama, but I can’t imagine only occasionally wanting to.

I also have a hard time relating to the phenomenon of the Missing Military as it exists in Collins’ and virtually every other liberal book published in the United States. Collins laments that $200 billion per year may be lost to the super wealthy hiding their wealth in tax havens. Collins never mentions the $1 trillion per year wasted on the murderous enterprise of militarism. In his to-do list at the end of the book, he has no mention of opposing militarism, but one of his items for us to do is to pay our taxes (because of all the good that supposedly comes of doing so).

There are some things, Martin Luther King Jr. said, to which we should not wish to become well adjusted. I include in that list all discussions of U.S. economics that erase the military.

Slavery Was Abolished

By David Swanson, World Beyond War

I recently debated a pro-war professor on the topic “Is war ever necessary?” (video). I argued for abolishing war. And because people like to see successes before doing something, no matter how indisputably possible that thing is, I gave examples of other institutions that have been abolished in the past. One might include such practices as human sacrifice, polygamy, cannibalism, trial by ordeal, blood feuds, dueling, or the death penalty in a list of human institutions that have been largely abolished in some parts of the earth or which people have at least come to understand could be abolished.

Of course, an important example is slavery. But when I claimed that slavery had been abolished, my debate opponent quickly announced that there are more slaves in the world today than there were before foolish activists imagined they were abolishing slavery. This stunning factoid was meant as a lesson to me: Do not try to improve the world. It cannot be done. In fact, it may be counter-productive.

But let’s examine this claim for the 2 minutes necessary to reject it. Let’s look at it globally and then with the inevitable U.S. focus.

Globally, there were about 1 billion people in the world in 1800 as the abolition movement took off. Of them, at least three-quarters or 750 million people were in slavery or serfdom of some kind. I take this figure from Adam Hochschild’s excellent Bury the Chains, but you should feel free to adjust it considerably without altering the point I’m leading up to. Today’s abolitionists claim that, with 7.3 billion people in the world, instead of there being the 5.5 billion people suffering in slavery that one might expect, there are instead 21 million (or I’ve seen claims as high as 27 or 29 million). That’s a horrific fact for each of those 21 or 29 million human beings. But does it really prove the utter futility of activism? Or is a switch from 75% of the world in bondage to 0.3% significant? If moving from 750 million to 21 million people enslaved is unsatisfactory, what are we to make of moving from 250 million to 7.3 billion human beings living in freedom?

In the United States, according to the Census Bureau, there were 5.3 million people in 1800. Of them, 0.89 million were enslaved. By 1850, there were 23.2 million people in the U.S. of whom 3.2 million were enslaved, a much larger number but a noticeably smaller percentage. By 1860, there were 31.4 million people of whom 4 million were enslaved — again a higher number, but a smaller percentage. Now there are 325 million people in the United States, of whom supposedly 60,000 are enslaved (I will add 2.2 million to that figure so as to include those who are imprisoned). With 2.3 million enslaved or incarcerated in the United States out of 325 million, we are looking at a larger number than in 1800 though smaller than in 1850, and a much smaller percentage. In 1800, the United States was 16.8% enslaved. Now it is 0.7% enslaved or imprisoned.

Nameless numbers should not be thought to diminish the horror for those currently suffering slavery or incarceration. But neither should they diminish the joy of those not enslaved who might have been. And those who might have been is much higher than a number calculated for one static moment in time. In 1800, those enslaved did not live long and were rapidly replaced by new victims imported from Africa. So, while we might expect, based on the state of affairs in 1800, to see 54.6 million people in the United States enslaved today, most of them on brutal plantations, we must also give consideration to the additional billions whom we would see flowing in from Africa to replace those people as they perished — had abolitionists not resisted the naysayers of their age.

So, am I wrong to say that slavery has been abolished? It remains in a minimal degree, and we must do everything in our power to eliminate it completely — which is certainly doable. But slavery has largely been abolished and has certainly been abolished as a legal, licit, acceptable state of affairs, apart from mass incarceration.

Is my debate opponent wrong to say that there are more people in slavery now than there used to be? Yes, in fact, he is wrong, and he is even more wrong if we choose to consider the important fact that overall populations have increased dramatically.

A new book called The Slave’s Cause by Manisha Sinha is large enough to abolish various institutions if dropped on them from a significant height, but no page is wasted. This is a chronicle of the abolition movement in the United States (plus some British influences) from its origins up through the U.S. Civil War. The first thing, of many, that strikes me in reading through this valuable saga is that it was not just other nations that managed to abolish slavery without fighting bloody civil wars; it was not just the city of Washington, D.C., that figured out a different path to freedom. The U.S. North began with slavery. The North abolished slavery without a civil war.

The Northern U.S. states during the first 8 decades of this country saw all the tools of nonviolence achieve the gains of abolition and of a civil rights movement that at times eerily foreshadowed the civil rights movement that would be delayed in the South until a century after the disastrous choice to go to war. With slavery ended in 1772 in England and Wales, the independent republic of Vermont partially banned slavery in 1777. Pennsylvania passed a gradual abolition in 1780 (it took until 1847). In 1783 Massachusetts freed all people from slavery and New Hampshire began a gradual abolition, as did Connecticut and Rhode Island the next year. In 1799 New York passed gradual abolition (it took until 1827). Ohio abolished slavery in 1802. New Jersey began abolition in 1804 and was not finished in 1865. In 1843 Rhode Island completed abolition. In 1845 Illinois freed the last people there from slavery, as did Pennsylvania two years later. Connecticut completed abolition in 1848.

What lessons can we take from the history of the ongoing movement to abolish slavery? It was led, inspired, and driven by those suffering under and those who had escaped from slavery. A war abolition movement needs the leadership of those victimized by war. The slavery abolition movement used education, morality, nonviolent resistance, law suits, boycotts, and legislation. It built coalitions. It worked internationally. And its turn to violence (which came with the Fugitive Slave Law and led up to the Civil War) was unnecessary and damaging. The war did not end slavery. The abolitionists’ reluctance to compromise kept them independent of partisan politics, principled, and popular, but may have closed off some possible steps forward (such as through compensated emancipation). They accepted western expansion along with virtually everyone else, north and south. Compromises made in Congress drew lines between north and south that strengthened the divide.

Abolitionists were not popular at first or everywhere, but were willing to risk injury or death for what was right. They challenged an “inevitable” norm with a coherent moral vision that challenged slavery, capitalism, sexism, racism, war, and all variety of injustice. They foresaw a better world, not just the current world with one change. They marked victories and moved on, just as those nations that have abolished their militaries could be used today as models for the rest. They made partial demands but painted them as steps toward full abolition. They used the arts and entertainment. They created their own media. They experimented (such as with emigration to Africa) but when their experiments failed, they never ever gave up.

Police Brutality against Blacks Rooted in US Foreign Policy

By Tasnim News Agency

دیوید سوانسون

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A senior American peace activist and author said the killing of African American people by US police has its origins in the country’s foreign policy.

In an interview with Tasnim, David Swanson, who is the director of the “World Beyond War” website, said that the institutionalized “culture of immunity “for police officers in the United States has led to fatal shootings against African Americans, who are in most cases “unarmed, non-threatening and non-law-violating people.”

Highlighting the role the Israeli military plays in the training of US law enforcement forces, Swanson related the shooting culture to US foreign policy.

“What people in the United States and around the world don’t connect enough is that the lessons, the model for this comes from US foreign policy, and the weapons, the training comes from US foreign policy. And we have police departments in the United States being trained by US military and the department of so-called Homeland Security, and by the Israeli military- US police departments are going to Israel for training,” Swanson said.

Elsewhere in his comments, the Virginia-based activist pointed to endless efforts by the US media to demonize countries such as Iran, Russia and China in order to justify US foreign policy worldwide and said, “The nation of Iran -I’m sorry to say- is along with Russia and China, endlessly demonized in the US media so that when there is fear-mongering about foreign threats and the need for military spending and the need to violate laws and the need to strongly enforce justice- meaning US power- Iran is more often than not the enemy. That’s put into people’s minds”.

As an example of the influence of the anti-Iran media hype on the minds of the public in the United States, Swanson referred to the arguments for and against the nuclear agreement with Iran in US political circles. According to Swanson, both advocates and the opponents of the agreement based their arguments on the “non-existent” threat fabricated by the US media and US officials together.          

“And we had a debate a couple of years ago – a year and a half ago- on whether to have a nuclear agreement with Iran over Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons program. And the debate from both sides in this town, in Washington D.C. was ‘we must have the agreement, because the Iranians are so devious and evil and working on nuclear weapons or, ‘we must not have the agreement, we must bomb them, because the Iranians are so devious and evil and working on nuclear weapons’,” he said.

“We got the agreement which was the better alternative, but now we have the US public in a worse place and we have one presidential candidate talking about the need to go after Iranians because they captured a US ship that was in Iranian waters, as if the United States wouldn’t do the same if there was an Iranian ship in US waters. And the other candidate who has threatened to literally obliterate Iran if it steps out of line. These are your two choices of presidential candidates from the major parties in the United States,” Swanson noted.

Iran and the Group 5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States—plus Germany) reached a deal on Iran’s nuclear program on 14 July 2015. The deal, commonly known as the JCPOA, would settle a decade-old controversy over Iran’s nuclear development.

The United States has spearheaded propaganda campaign during the previous years to depict Iran’s nuclear program as one aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Iran has denied the charges, saying its program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.

As part of the anti-Iran propaganda, CIA launched a cover operation, codenamed “Operation Merlin” in 2000 aimed at sabotaging Iran’s nuclear program and branding it a weapons program. Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer who leaked the covert operation to a New York Times reporter has been imprisoned and convicted of espionage charges in the US.

Swanson touched on Sterling’s case in the Tasnim interview, noting he had been treated unfairly for doing what he was supposed to do. He also pointed out how Sterling, who is an African American, had been the victim of a selective, biased prosecution process because of his race.

Sterling’s wife told Russia Today in September 2016 that his husband’s incarceration is due to politics within the CIA that may be race-related. Jeffrey filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the CIA in 2000, but the issue was squashed in 2005 when, the government invoked state secrecy privilege stating that he could not have his day in court because it would be too detrimental and they would have to expose state secrets for Jeffrey to prove he had been discriminated against.

Swanson said, “And we have Jeffery Sterling – an African American man who was discriminated against at the CIA and became angry, as an employee of CIA who revealed to congress, as he was supposed to do, that the CIA was stupidly giving nuclear plans and nuclear parts to Iran trying to anyway dropping stuff through a mail slot in Vienna, Austria, and then accused based on nothing of giving that information to a New York Times reporter.”

“He’s now in prison, and he’s just had a heart attack, and they are not giving him proper medical care. And he’s in prison for upholding the rule of law, for saying here’s outrageous, dangerous behavior giving nuclear plans to other countries under the pretense that that’s going to slow down their non-existent nuclear weapons program, clearly in order to fine them for having one, just as they did with Iraq. And he’s in prison rather than being honored and thanked,” he continued.

Swanson also described the reasons behind efforts in US to demonize countries, including Iran.

“This is the US agenda to get troops and bases and weapons everywhere. Since the Second World War, since the permanent militarization of the United States, since the troops never coming home from Germany and Japan, there has been just this addition of more countries, more countries, and more countries”

“And the countries that do not yet have US troops are depicted in US media as threats, as destabilizing forces, as enemies of truth and justice,” according to Swanson.

“There was a poll by a US polling company, at about a year and a half ago, a Gallup polling of 65 countries around the world and they asked what country is the greatest threat to peace on earth? And in most countries the Unites States is easily one, but in the United States Iran is one- Iran which spends less than 1 percent of what the Unites States spends on wars. Iran which hasn’t started wars in centuries, Iran which isn’t threatening to nuke anybody, is seen by the people of the United States, a fairly educated group of people in some ways, as the greatest threat to peace on earth. Why? Because there are no US bases in Iran.   Even though, the US bases, where they are, instigate wars, provoke wars, create instability. The US public has been trained, taught over and over and over again that there must be US troops everywhere,” he said.

Arguing that “the US considers itself above justice”, Swanson said that “the United States cannot be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court, by the International Court of Justice, by any foreign nation.”

The American activist noted that the US is now involved in “illegal wars” in seven countries in defiance of international laws and treaties. 

“The United States is now in war in seven countries. Most people in the United States cannot name them. They can’t keep track of the wars. They can’t say Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen.

“Every single one of them is illegal; not a single one of them is legal under the United Nations Charter or Kellogg–Briand Pact; they are all violating the numerous parts of the Geneva Conventions. They are all, including the drone strikes – whether you call them war or non-war- violating the laws of the nations where they occur.”

Watch the video of Tasnim’s interview with David Swanson below: