Friday, August 29, 2014

Where Ferguson and Occupy Meet...

I watched the coverage of the Ferguson uprising on MSNBC and a lot of what I saw the police doing looked disturbingly familiar to the police riots I experienced when I participated in Occupy Oakland. There were flash-bang grenades, bean-bag projectiles, rubber bullets and plenty of tear gas. The sound cannons were new “toys,”  for our militarized boys in blue.

When I was arrested, as part of a mass arrest in 1991 following the Rodney King excessive police force incident, the cops had little access to all this weaponry. They simply surrounded around the 400 people peacefully participating in the protest, handcuffed us and hauled us away. Today what cops are engaged in is more like a live staging of World of Warcraft.

Let me state unequivocally that racism plays a huge role in out-of-control policing in this country. There exists a rampant, unbridled fear of young, black males in our society. Beyond that, the government and its enforcement arm are tremendously afraid of resistance of any kind and invest everything they have in crushing rebellions before they can spread and take hold. This has been of utmost importance since the economic collapse of 2008.

Sure, the NSA and its defenders will say that heightened security dates back to the September 11th attacks of 2001. But why then has the collection of metadata increased to a loud crescendo at this point in time. Why are racism and all forms of ethnic hatred being constantly and continually promoted just as labor unions, job security and workers’ rights and the right to a living wage are being hammered into non-existence?

It's a simple divide and conquer tactic to perpetuate capitalism. The existence of a cheap, disposable underclass is the foundation that buttresses the wealth of the one percent. Those in power are especially afraid of young, black males but they are afraid of all of us. They know they are sapping our life-blood both as low-wage workers and as an unemployed poverty class.With the highest incarceration rate in the world, the USA is now rounding up folks who can't pay their bills, thus reinstituting debtors' prisons. Economic inequality here has reached an all-time high and that's not going to change anytime soon. The bottom line is:  as long as WE are at each other’s throats, THEY are safe. The second we begin to rise up, they beat us down with ten times the force required to do so.

Racism is a real problem but it is not a "black" issue. It is an American issue that affects all of us. “We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” That quote is from Ben Franklin at the signing of the declaration of independence. And he wasn’t including women, everyone considered "non-white," immigrants, non-landowners and a whole host of others. But he still has a point. We can all learn from his mistakes and try to do it right this time!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Suicide / Survival

Robin Williams’ suicide is a devastating waste and loss. The shock waves reverberating around the world seem out of proportion for one comedian however brilliant, poignant and universally respected and loved.

This is a reaction to the big question that if someone like Robin Williams could end his life, how can the rest of us poor fools ever manage to trudge on? If wealth, fame and universal adoration aren’t strong enough reasons to compel someone to stay here on earth, what does that say about all our struggles? It compells us to imagine a depth of despair that is truly terrifying. It speaks to the immense difficulty of this life that someone can go against every survival instinct as opposed to just waiting for inevitable, eventual death, an experience guaranteed to every one of us.  

Death in our culture is very scary. In my sixth decade, I currently see more friends taken down against their will than because of it. That was not always the case. I’ve had friends and family members and friends who’ve ended their lives. My grandmother took pills. my high school friend, Jill hung herself with her knee socks when we were in our early twenties. In those years, my friend Liz stole her uncle’s gun and shot herself in the head. As one of those they left behind, I felt grief was overwhelmed by a sense of failure.What could I have done or said that might have made a difference? Couldn't I have talked them into one more pizza, one more movie?

Yet, I have certainly gone through periods in my life when I’ve considered suicide as an option. Fortunately, there is a vast abyss between thought and action. Taking your own life is a violent act that requires a high level of desperation as well as commitment. It demands totally abandoning the idea that things will improve, that tomorrow will be that proverbial new day.

The tragedy of suicide is that violence is perpetrated not only on the departee but on the survivors. I blame my mother leaving me because of ovarian cancer, but if it had been her decision to go it would have made my anger that much stronger. We all want to debrief with the dead but, except for dreams and visions, they are no longer available to us. Anger, frustration and fear are the collateral damage that suicide leaves in its wake.

So grieve for Robin Williams and for everyone who couldn’t bear to wait around for the grim reaper and instead took things into their own hands.It’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to be pissed off. But the best outcome is to support the people you care about right now and make sure each one of them can keep on keepin’ on!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Israeli Government is not the Jewish People

By the time I was born, the Second World War was over and Israel was already a fact. I have been an Anti-Zionist since the seventies when Jews like me were all termed “self-hating.” I do not confuse supporting the struggles of the Palestinian people with prejudice against Jews which is erroneously termed Anti-Semitism, since all people of Middle-Eastern descent are Semites. 

I thoroughly and totally condemn the brutality of the Israeli regime. I despise the whole premise of a religious versus a secular state and I do not think that a person expressing Anti-Israel sentiment necessarily implies will towards Jewish people. Yes, I fervently wish my relatives in Europe had taken Germany instead of Palestine, that the railroad tracks to Auschwitz had been bombed, that the ships taking Jewish refugees to the USA had not been turned away. But those things happened and, just as we are now dealing with the ramifications of slavery, the legacy of the brutal oppression of Jews has left the world with an out-of control “Jewish homeland.”

That having been said, I would like to address something else. The blog entry I wanted to publish this week was about the ancient synagogue and adjoining Jewish Museum in Rhodes, Greece. I am delaying that entry and writing this one because I don’t believe anything about Jewish history would be well-received right now and I find that fact, in and of itself, to be a misguided, biased reaction.

As a Jew, I would like to be proud of my ancestors the way that Italian, Irish, Black, Native American and all other minorities are of theirs. I should be able to post historical articles about my relatives without fearing misinterpretation or worse. Jews are not responsible for each other’s behavior anymore than other members of minority groups are. And the actions of the Israeli government don’t represent the will of the Israeli people just as the actions of the US government, don’t represent our will. But getting carried away with thoughtless generalizations of an entire group of people is destructive and counter-productive.

Here is an example of the problem. A longtime, leftist comrade recently, and I believe inadvertently, posted an article about the violence against the people of Gaza that came directly from a right-wing, Neo-Nazi, propaganda website. This is not okay! Read what you post before you hit that button! Here are some things to watch out for so you don’t repeat this mistake: references to the Talmud or publications like “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The use of Yiddish words like “goyim,” concepts like, “Jewish blood,” the substitution of the word, Jews for the word, Israelis and frankly, just plain, nasty, stereotyping.

It is absolutely imperative that we be as critical of Israel as we are of other imperialist, warmongering countries. But, just as drones and smart-bombs turn out to be not all that targeted or smart, we must be mindful of the way we categorize people and precisely how we utilize our words. The keyboard is mightier than the sword! The end result, peace, is vitally important, but so is what we do on that journey to get there. If we are sloppy and compromise our ethics to reach this goal, we will have effectively thrown out the baby with the bathwater!