Author: Douglas

Another Harvest In An Orchard Of Strange Fruit

It was a cold night in the fall of 2002 when me and my then-girlfriend pulled up to the public parking lot at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis to relax and snuggle a bit. I was 17, a country kid from southeastern Virginia who had just moved to the area with my father the previous summer to start college.

Doing this in the front of my car was not a particularly comfortable experience, so we decided to hop in the back seat. I had to clean it out first, of course, so I did just that before we settled in to watch the moonlight glistening off the lake. It was to be, it appeared, one of those nights that sticks with you long after the moment has passed. Not because anything dramatic happened, but because we tend to remember those little instances in our coming of age where things might have been a bit simpler and sweeter, particularly as the grind of adulthood makes such moments difficult to come by.

And, without question, that night has remained stuck in my mind. I wish that I could tell you that the memory was positive; it might have been, were it not for the Minneapolis Police Department.

I saw the police car entering the parking lot just a minute or two after we had settled in. I tensed up a bit — my parents gave me The Talk just like any other — but I figured they would just pass us by and leave us be. That changed when the cop in the driver’s seat flashed the spotlight into my car. I am thinking, “Oh God, I hope they don’t think I’m trying to fuck out here.” Figured that I would just explain to them how my parents would not particularly approve of such behavior and hope that they would just let us alone.

“Is this cup yours?,” asked the officer with the blinding spotlight.

In my rush to clean the car, snuggle for a bit, and then get home before it got too late out, I had forgotten to pick up a Wendy’s cup that I had dropped due to my hands being full of trash from the back seat. I stated that it was mine, apologized profusely, and went to throw it away. I figured that would be enough. But while one of the cops looked over my driver’s license, his partner kept getting more and more agitated.

“Oh, so you think that you can just throw your shit all over the place whenever you feel like it, huh? You think we’re gonna just pick it up like mommy and daddy do at home?”

You can probably imagine that I do not particularly care for people who speak of my parents this way. But having grown up with the highlight reels of Your Friendly Neighborhood Law Enforcement Officer At Work  — Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell — I knew that getting angry would result in a situation even more unpleasant than the one I was currently facing. So I simply stood my ground and said that he did not need to take it there and asked for their last names.

“Who do you think you’re talking to, you spoiled bitch?!”

At this point, the officer checking my driver’s license has to, basically, hold his partner back and tell him to calm down. My driving record was obviously spotless, and the officer handed back my license after a few minutes. With an admonition to “pick up your trash next time,” the two Minneapolis cops drove away in their patrol car. I never got their names. I never got their badge numbers.

When that cop stood there on a cold Minneapolis night and disrespected me so forcefully, every bit of anger and bile inside of me exploded. I yelled. I pounded the roof of my car. I spit. I cried. I punched my steering wheel.

And then I did something stupid: I got in my car, turned it on, and said that I was going to go after those cops. My girlfriend begged me not to do so, but I was not listening to anything she had to say. She was quick to pick up on this, and threw herself across my lap in order to prevent me from driving anywhere. I did not chase after those cops, which is probably why I am here to tell you this story in the first place.

I felt powerless then. And on July 6, 2016, that feeling of powerlessness came flooding back to me as news of a police shooting in St. Paul, Minnesota came flooding through Facebook in graphic detail.

When the work is PhD: labor struggles on campus.

To an outsider, the work that a graduate student has to do might seem easy. A bunch of people who get paid to read and write all day, yeah? What could be easier than that?

But the work that graduate students do is extensive: we read; we write; we teach, with all of the grading and outreach work that such a job entails; we are pressured to write on things that “contribute to the literature”, meaning that we must come up with ever more inventive lines of inquiry in our research; engaging such research requires that we do traveling to uncover the mysteries of America’s social, political, and economic history in our nation’s highly fragmented system of archives. In addition to this, students must navigate the politics of each department, making sure that the people on your dissertation committee get on well enough so that infighting does not compromise your ability to produce quality work and graduate.

All of this must be done while keeping an eye on the caps that most departments place on both the money they will give you and the time you have to complete your work. Small wonder that most graduate students spend at least 40 hours a week on their graduate work.

We have not even discussed the health care needs of many graduate students. Depending on the field, anywhere between a third to half of graduate students live with some sort of mental illness. The things needed to ameliorate these illnesses all cost money: psychiatrists, counselors, and medicine if necessary. These ills of the mind can also affect the body, with grad students often experiencing sore throats, muscle aches, stomach aches, and much more around stressful periods in study, such as comprehensive exams and dissertation defenses. Even if you go to the student health center on your campus, taking care of yourself is not necessarily a cheap proposition.

These realities have driven graduate students in the United States to fight for the right to collectively bargain ever since the late 1960s, when the graduate students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison formed the Teaching Assistants’ Association. Today, this fight has spread across the country’s graduate schools like wildfire, with campaigns at Washington, Duke, American University, Yale, Columbia, and the University of Chicago.

They Have Learned Nothing And Forgotten Nothing.

Look, I should be upfront about this: I am not a Democrat — though I was at one point — nor do I think that the Democratic Party is an entity that will ever have the working class’s interest at heart. In a way, the party’s flailing campaign of red-baiting and blame-shifting onto pointless crap that few people give a damn about works as a benefit to socialists who are working to build a politics of equality and liberation. Additionally, I really hate writing response pieces; I would much rather be thinking of ideas that can be put to use as we move forward.

But after reading Susan Bordo’s article in the Guardian — titled “The destruction of Hillary Clinton: sexism, Sanders and the millennial feminists” — I simply could not help myself on this.

So You Think You Can Take Over the Democratic Party?

The Democratic presidential primary has finally come to an end, with the longtime frontrunner Hillary Clinton clinching the nomination. Bernie Sanders has now come out and said that he will work with Hillary Clinton to defeat Donald Trump. It may have killed hopes that some leftists may have had that Sanders might still run as an independent or with Jill Stein on the Green Party ticket, but his endorsement of Hillary Clinton is far from unexpected.

With the nominating process now behind us, the question for supporters of Bernie Sanders both unwavering and critical is simple: What is to be done now?

One of the solutions that will eventually be bandied about is entryism, which is the practice of having people join a party en masse in order to engineer a takeover of the political party in question. The most famous modern example of entryism occurred within the Labour Party in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s through the mid-1980s. There, members of a Trotskyist organization known as Militant attempted to steer Labour to the left by signing up to join the party and winning control over the organization piece by piece. They succeeded in having a Militant member named as the National Youth Organizer after taking over the Labour youth organization, meaning that the organization had one person on the National Executive Committee (NEC). Attempts by more moderate Labourites to expel Militant were initially unsuccessful, but after the Militant-dominated Liverpool City Council decided to run a deficit in contravention of national law, Labour eventually succeeded in expelling the organization from the party. They even went to the extent of deselecting Militant’s two MPs (more on this later).

Left-liberals and social democrats in the United States might push forward by saying that working within the Democratic Party is the best way to ensure that the concerns of the working class get heard, and that we should use the enthusiasm generated by the Sanders campaign to bring people into the party with the hopes of changing it. Let’s engage with this idea and analyze just what it would take to have this happen.

Why Virginia matters to American labor in 2016.

The most important election in Virginia this year has no candidates on the ballot.

On February 2nd, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed the two-session threshold needed to put the open shop before the Commonwealth’s voters in November. You might be asking yourself, “Wait. I thought that Virginia was already an open-shop state?” Your inclinations would be correct: legislation barring union membership as a condition of employment was signed into law by Gov. William Tuck (a later adherent to Massive Resistance in response to Brown v. Board of Education as a member of Congress) in 1947. As a result, Section 40.1-58 of the Code of Virginia reads:

“It is hereby declared to be the public policy of Virginia that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.”

So why do this? The easy answer is that Virginia Republicans are fearful that, should the open shop meet a legal challenge in state court, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring would not seek to defend it. The sponsor of the bill and defeated 2013 nominee for Attorney General, State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), stated as much in the deliberations on the bill. In addition, should the Assembly find itself in pro-labor hands in the future, they could overturn the open shop with a simple majority vote. Never mind that the extreme amounts of gerrymandering in the Assembly (particularly in the House of Delegates) makes a unified Democratic state government unlikely for decades to come.

The vote this November will be the first popular referendum on the open shop since 54 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 695 on September 25, 2001. In this, an opportunity presents itself to the labor movement in this country, and it is one that labor unions must take.

An Open Letter to Rep. John Lewis.

Representative Lewis,

Yesterday, you stated the following about Bernie Sanders’s record on fighting for civil rights in the 1960s:

“I never saw him. I never met him. I was chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee for three years, from 1963 to 1966. I was involved with the sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery and directed (the) voter education project for six years. But I met Hillary Clinton. I met President (Bill) Clinton.”

We are going to ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater Girl, or that you once stated to a Clinton biographer that, “[t]he first time I ever heard of Bill Clinton was the 1970s”, or that it has already been well-established that Sanders worked with the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) at the University of Chicago in the 1960s. We are also going to leave aside the fact that every mention of Bill Clinton in your book Walking With The Wind described an instance that he opposed some policy that you cherished.

Instead, we are going to talk about another person that you never saw or met.

When Performance Is Your Politics.

(Roqayah Chamseddine is a writer and activist based in Australia. This post was originally shared on For Those Who Wander.)

After the frightening attack on Planned Parenthood some of the best commentary social media had to offer was in the form of increasingly smug and hollow sarcasma cyclic outbreak of facetious questions in regards to the shooter’s religious history, his racial background, and who will condemn his actions. This reaction is repulsive as much as it is procedural. It is deeply formulaic, and after a few minutes on Twitter, for example, anyone with a keyboard and even a minutely popular account is able to reach thousands upon thousands with their own banal witicisms:

When are Christians going to go on television and denounce the Planned Parenthood shooter?
Why didn’t law enforcement kill him? Why is he alive?
Why aren’t they calling him a terrorist?
When is the white community/Christian community going to be surveilled?