Home About CDSA New Ground Events Debs Dinner Links Join DSA Audio Email us

Your contribution is appreciated
but, because of our advocacy work,
not tax deductible.

New Ground 85

November - December, 2002


Has Bush Unified the Left?

By Harold Taggart

The great unifier seems to be well on the way to fulfilling his pledge. The difference is, he is unifying his opposition. Bush's unilateral propensity has encouraged the rest of the world, with a couple exceptions, to challenge the U.S. economic and military monstrosity on several issues. More importantly, there are indications he is unifying the Left opposition at home.

The latest evidence of a unifying Left was the protest on October 26th. The protest was initiated as an action against the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act. October 26 was the first anniversary of the implementation of that heinous bill.

P.A.T.R.I.O.T. was not mentioned at any of the actions I attended or cited in any report I read about the day's events. Taking on a life of its own and controlled by external events, the October 26th action morphed into a protest against war in Iraq. It poured over the borders and picked up support around the world. Anti-war protests took place in Mexico, Japan, India, Italy, France and numerous other nations.

Chicago DSA participated in organizing the protest in our nation's capitol. I personally believed interest would subside as the Bush rhetoric degenerated from immediate unilateral action on Iraq to cooperation with the United Nations. That was not the feeling of other Americans. We estimated three buses would be needed to take everyone to D.C. Thirteen buses departed from Chicago on October 25th. National organizers' estimates were even farther off the mark. They estimated on their march permit request that 20,000 protesters would come to D.C.

San Francisco was the center of protest on the West Coast. Between the two locations, buses came from over 35 states and over 130 cities.

Nearly 200,000 people attended the D.C. protest according one reliable source who took dozens of photos. The police estimate, which is always conservative for Left issues, was over 100,000. Either way, it was the biggest anti-war protest since the Vietnam era.

The local solidarity protest had a large turnout considering so many people were in D.C. What was significant about the Chicago protest was that it was not organized by the International Action Center, the lead organizer of the D.C. protest. It was put together primarily by a group calling itself the Committee of 100. The Committee is faith-based. The speaker's rhetoric often was as radical as the leftist activists.

Speakers from the religious community spoke first. They condemned the proposed war, the method of the proposed war and its justification. It does not meet the just war criteria of the Christian religion, said Bishop Joseph Sprague of the United Methodist Church.

Sprague echoed the United Methodist Church position, which issued a strong condemnation of the war. George Bush belongs to the United Methodist Church.

Chicago protesters numbering about 2,000 marched from their gathering place at the Federal Plaza around several Loop blocks and back to the Federal Plaza for the second group of speakers. Many motorists and pedestrians signaled their support. The later speakers were predominantly from the activist community.

The media covered the event. All the major networks ran short stories that lacked significant details. ABC found some pro-war demonstrators and gave them equal time. I walked around the entire plaza and never saw a single war supporter.

Many unions have come out against the war. Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago drafted a strong resolution opposing the war. A couple UPS Teamster members introduced the resolution. They presented the resolution to the executive committee that agreed to bring it to the floor for a vote at a general meeting. Of nearly 400 who attended the meeting, only one person expressed opposition. Several SEIU locals and other locals have drafted similar resolutions.

Except for obedient lap dog Tony Blair and bloodthirsty Ariel Sharon, the entire world seems to be against Bush's war. Bush either believes the entire world is wrong, or he has personal interest in the war such as oil to enrich the fortunes of the Bush family and those of his major campaign contributors.

A recent Sun Times poll reported that only 17% of residents of Illinois favor a unilateral attack on Iraq, placing Illinois in opposition to the nation as a whole. An additional 51% support an attack if a broad international coalition joins the U.S.

According to historian Warren Leming, Herman Goering gave the following testimony at the Nuremberg Trials: The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.

This convenient Nazi tactic has served the current administration very well and provided the opportunity for military adventurism. The rest of the world does not seem to be as ill informed as the American people. Resistance and opposition are rising around the world. The promise of eternal war frightens many leaders including U.S. allies. Where are they on the Axis of Evil list?

Unfortunately, issues of this magnitude of gravity get the most superficial discussion, if any. Leaders tell us that to question issues about war is unpatriotic and undermines the appearance of unity thus encouraging the enemy.

The Bush Administration threw out numerous justifications for a war in Iraq only to have each declared untrue. Undeterred, it continued to throw garbage excuses against the wall in the hopes that one would stick. It claimed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iraq was within six months of developing a nuclear bomb. When someone thought to ask the head of the IAEA, the Agency responded that it never issued such a report. The Bush Administration fired back that it were referring to 1991. IAEA president responded that no such report was made in 1991 either.

Next, the Bush Administration claimed Iraq evicted the weapons inspectors. Scott Ritter, one of the inspectors, said that was a lie. The UN withdrew the inspectors, he said. The U.S. had seeded the inspection team with spies. One of their duties was to locate Saddam Hussein. They reported a sighting to President Clinton. Clinton advised the U.N. to withdraw the inspectors because he intended to pulverize the buildings where Hussein was reported to be. The inspectors were withdrawn and two days later the U.S. military commenced a massive bombing of the alleged Hussein location. Needless to say, the information was not valid.

George Bush then self-righteously whined that Hussein had attempted to kill his daddy. In typical hypocrisy, he didn't mention that his daddy attempted several hundred times to kill Hussein. Also, Bush failed to mention that his daddy tricked Hussein into invading Kuwait in the first place.

Bushs hard-headed and wrong-headed policies have unified and emboldened those who oppose the heavy-handed tactics of capitalism. Brazil just elected a Leftist to lead it. Last year, Venezuela did the same. Nicaragua would have, but U.S. threats to renew its monstrous tactics of the 1980s alarmed enough supporters of the Leftist candidate that the U.S. choice won.

The Media predict a second Seattle

Surprised by the huge turnout on October 26th, the media began searching for the next flash point. They determined it was the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) meeting in Chicago November 6-8. Thousands would descend on Chicago from all over the U.S., they predicted, including many like the anarchists who went to Seattle and caused extensive damage.

This was news to Chicago activists who had planned some street theater using a few dozen people. Seeing their honor at stake, activists began organizing in earnest. With lots of organizing experience since Seattle, it was easy to launch a major protest in a very short time.

The TABD is a villain worth the attention. What was surprising was the media interest. Activists got numerous opportunities to make their case. Even an anarchist named Rocky was given ample time to make his point. Mostly, it was Sarita Gupta from Jobs with Justice who emerged as the spokesperson. Young, bright and articulate, she was an ideal representative.

The great irony was that in the Sheraton Hotel on the east side of the Loop, the worlds worst gangsters were assembled. On the west side of the Loop, activists who oppose war, exploitation, sexism and racism gathered. Corporations steal approximately $200 billion per year in the United States alone. Activists might break a window or two costing $200 to replace. Faced with this dilemma, Chicago's finest decided the widow breakers were the greater menace to society. The decision is consistent with law priorities in America. If you rob a train you get twenty years. Steal an entire railroad company and you get a $20 million bonus.

If TABD gets its way, the discrimination and disproportionate treatment of rich and poor will increase. TABD was founded in 1995. It has 150 corporate members. According to the media, only 70 members signed up for the meeting in Chicago. Members include Wal-Mart, Boeing, who hosted this event, and other large corporations based mainly in the U.S. and Europe. They invite high-level government commerce officials to attend. Their objective is to influence the World Trade Organization to make trade more convenient and profitable for corporations even if people are adversely affected.

Interest groups concerned about the environment, exploitation of workers, better health care and the welfare of human beings are not invited. Usually the cost to attend in about $25,000 so few non-profit groups could afford to send someone.

It is no secret that the corporate elite form an oligarchy that want to rule the world. They are attempting to do it is by using economic leverage. That way, they can claim the free market like a god decides who will be rich or poor, privileged and disadvantaged. They write freely and publicly about their intentions. They have no need for secrecy because most Americans don't care and certainly won't do anything to stop them before the sovereign power of the people is expropriated. All TABD needs to do is denounce the opposition. Activists have been characterized as wealthy suburban kids rebelling against parental authority by breaking property and unable to understand the workings of the marketplace.

James Wolfensohn, chairman of the World Bank, was one of the guest speakers at TABD. The media were invited to attend his speech. Wolfensohn said TABD needed to have greater social concerns especially in the poorer countries. Obviously this was for public consumption to defuse criticism.

TABD members are heartless. People with a conscience do not get multi-million dollar salaries and nearly limitless benefits by being nice guys. Not only are they heartless, they are just plain mean too. For instance the Disney Corporation went to Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, and offered to set up a factory if the government would waive the minimum wage for them. The minimum wage at that time was 33 cents per hour. With the waiver in hand, Disney paid its employees 11 cents an hour.

Disney is not the meanest. Sam Walton, co-founder of Wal-Mart was the lead competitor for that title. Sam constantly pressured his sub-contractors to reduce wages and benefits. If grumbling at a factory became too loud, Sam mercilessly shut it down and moved out of town.

As Margaret Meade said, all change results from the determined efforts of a small group. The anti-TABD protesters got the full attention of the media. Can success be far behind? Protesters are discrediting neoliberalism. George Bush is alienating the rest of the concerned world and uniting those who value people above property and profits. Activists must continue to build an international peoples movement against war and racism and against bosses and borders.

Chicago Anti-War Protest

by Gene Birmingham

While tens of thousands protested war with Iraq in Washington, D.C. on October 26, Chicago provided its own protest, along with cities all across the U.S. Between 1,000 and 2,000 gathered at the Federal Plaza at noon to hear speakers and walk north several blocks on State Street from Adams, then west a block and return on Dearborn Street to the Plaza, where the event concluded with a few more speakers.

Planners of the event were an interfaith group of 100 Protestant and Catholic clergy who had committed themselves to mobilizing 100 people from each of their congregations. They invited speakers from Jewish and Muslim groups to participate, resulting in many non-Christians, religious people or not. The rally began with a plea to reach out and touch one another in an act of unity. There followed speakers from the variety of religious groups. Jewish participation included those opposed to the policies of Ariel Sharon.

George W. Bush should have been proud to see a faith based approach to international policy, since he thinks that is the way to deal with poverty at home. God should be quite at home in the Middle East, where the spiritual descendants of Abraham began their journeys and wrote the Bible and Koran ­ Jew, Christian and Muslim. Somehow Bush's Methodist membership leaves God at home to deal charitably with the poor, while the U.S. handles evil in the rest of the world by force. This schizophrenic God allows followers to use God for their own purposes rather than allowing themselves to follow the golden rule of treating all people as they want to be treated.

The best speaker was a bishop of the United Methodist Church, Joseph Sprague, who had returned from a visit to Afghanistan and consultations with people in the Middle East. He listed many political and economic reasons to avoid war, saying he would not speak about them; but, like a good lawyer, inserted them into the minds of the crowd anyway. Then he called attention to the immoral nature of a war that would only increase the pain and suffering of people in Iraq, as well as those of other nations, including the U.S.

The highest bodies of major Christian denominations have spoken against war in Iraq: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church, to name the best known ones, in addition to the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., an umbrella group of 36 Protestant and Orthodox member denominations.

Endorsers of the demonstration indicate a broader involvement than religious in this event. Included were ACORN, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, American Friends Service Committee, Arab American Media Guild, Chicago Anti-Bashing Network, Chicagoans Against the War on Iraq, Chicago Coalition Against War & Racism, 8th Day Center for Justice, Free Palestine Alliance, International A.N.S.W.E.R., Nation of Islam, Neighbors For Peace, Palestinian American Community Center, Palestinian American Council, Pax Christi, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, Puerto Rican Cultural Center and Southwestern Community Coalition.

One of the greatest challenges to democracy in the U.S. is the proliferation of religions, all of which have believers who see themselves to be the one true path to God. One can only hope that their call for peace will apply to their relations with one another. If they cannot affirm the validity of their competing theologies, at least they can keep the competition to words instead of violence. Swiss Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Kung, has said that there will be no peace in the world without peace among the religions. Finding common ground in a stand against war would be a good first step.

The West Suburban Peace Movement

By Gene Birmingham

Conservative Du Page County seems an unlikely place for a peace movement to begin, but begin it did, just after the events of 9/11/01. Representatives of various groups came together with a common opposition to war. Organizers responded immediately to the bombing of Afghanistan. With the threat of war against Iraq, the movement has grown rapidly.

Meetings for education on issues and action planning were held separately, leading to the formation of a steering committee to give leadership. Educational film programs on related issues were offered at the Du Page Unitarian Church in Naperville. Actions have produced growing participation. A candlelight vigil on September 8, 2002, in Naperville found about 100 people combining a memorial for the victims of the 9/11/01 events with a brief walk into the downtown area to demonstrate against the proposed war. On a later date, about 150 people showed up at House Speaker, Dennis Hastert's, Batavia office to plead for a delay in considering a resolution to approve war in Iraq. Hastert was not present. Some engaged in a sit-in, leading to their forceful ejection. Non-violent resistance is an option offered to people without pressure to engage in it.

Just over 300 marchers gave public expression to their opposition to an Iraq war on Saturday, October 5, beginning with a rally at the Du Page County Courthouse in Wheaton. Following speakers, including two Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives, running against Dennis Hastert and Henry Hyde, the group walked south to Roosevelt Road, where it formed a line with many signs and banners for a very busy traffic area. A banner reading, "Honk for Peace" brought a loud response, while opposition was hardly worth mentioning.

Besides the walks for peace, smaller groups have shown banners from the overpasses over expressways during afternoon rush hours. With earlier darkness, they have shifted to holding up banners and leafleting early mornings at commuter train stations in Elmhurst, Villa Park and Wheaton.

Organizers have emphasized a faith based and cellular approach to the peace issue. The latter is not an emulation of underground revolutionary organizations but an adaptive response to the sprawling geography of the western suburbs and the variety of personal circumstances already encountered in the movement. A cell of 8 or 10 has formed in the Villa Park area. Others are projected for Naperville and La Grange. Each gathering begins with reading from the Bible, prayers and singing, followed by education on current issues, and plans for action. This approach leaves non religious participation to the public events. It also fails to deal with religious people who are neither Christian nor Jewish. It is a matter that needs addressing lest it become divisive, because it may limit grassroots involvement of non religious people dedicated to peace. Some who come from secular orientations take an active role in the steering committee. Perhaps non-religious cells will appear if a need is presented. In any case, no one's religious view is questioned and all people are cordially welcomed to participate in the events. A peace movement in Du Page County holds promise for a wider progressive movement in the days ahead.

Capitalism, Globalization, White Supremacy:

Others Must Be Kept Down

by Tom Broderick

The weekend of October 25th through the 27th had people gathering around the country to protest the Bush administration's passion for escalating our continuing torture and murder of Iraqis. Simultaneously in Chicago, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) held its National Convention. The goal of the convention was not very different: Halt the torture and murder of people caught up in the American judicial system: A change in specificity, not theme.

In her welcoming comments, Jane Bohman, Director of the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty (ICADP) said "We must promote humane and reasonable alternatives to the death penalty. We must not resort to killing each other to solve problems." While the first sentence was specific to the focus of the NCADP Convention, the second spoke to the general use of violence as a tool of oppression. This was a good lead-in to the opening plenary.

It was titled Critical Links: The Death Penalty, Overincarceration, and the Prison Industrial Complex. Pat Allard of The Sentencing Project moderated. The panelists included Shana Agid of Critical Resistance, Mary Price of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, Boone Nguyen of Prisoner Activist Resource Center and Danny Glover, human rights activist and actor. This group took the death penalty focus and spread it wide. It was a welcome reintroduction to the scope of our work.

The whole Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) was targeted as the issue beyond, yet linked to the death penalty. Execution unfairly abuses the poor, the marginalized and people of color. The same can be said of our criminal system of justice. The panel reminded us that while execution will end one life, injustice and repression kill entire communities.

"Capitalism, globalization, white supremacy . . . many people benefit, but others must be kept down, must be disenfranchised . . . During census counts, prisoners or residents of prisons are counted in the area of the prison ­ mostly rural ­ and urban areas lose political and financial benefits while rural areas are artificially enhanced." (Pat Allard)

"Incarceration is a tool of social control. We have moved away from the idea of rehabilitation . . . Sentences for drug use are much tougher than for many violent crimes . . . We want to change the injustice system to the justice system." (Mary Price)

"We must develop a vision of what a world without prisons would look like . . . We are all affected by the expanding machine of injustice . . . Historically, the PIC has a racial aspect . . . newly freed slaves were arrested for minor infractions and then leased out as indentured labor under the black codes." (Boone Nguyen)

"Issues that are discussed in the abolition movement are important in the whole anti-prison movement . . . Policing and the removal of people from communities is destabilizing to communities . . . We need to focus on the fact that the increased use of cages is considered normal . . . We are calling more and more things criminal . . . non-violent crimes are played off against violent crimes to sell criminalization in a more palatable way." (Shana Agid)

"Focusing on abolition opens a Pandora's box and we must understand the tentacles from that box . . . 80 to 90% of the incarcerated are functionally illiterate, so we must commit to education." (Danny Glover)

The panelists were passionate as they linked abolition work to broader themes of social justice. Their comments brought to mind a statement by Eugene V. Debs: "while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

Following the opening plenary, we were addressed by convention attendees with family members on death row. The inability to afford good legal help was a recurring issue. A minister from St. Louis, Missouri, with a son on death row stated "Dealing with a death penalty case costs tons of money." A woman from Georgia with a brother on death row said "Lawyers are convincing people to make deals when they haven't even committed crimes."

"Innocence will not protect you if you don't have good representation" stated another woman from Georgia. She had a brother and a son on death row. Her brother was executed in 1995 and her son was taken off of death row and given a sentence of life + 50 years. "My family was portrayed as animals" in the media.

Isolation was a common thread. The minister from St. Louis said "people look at you like you had some role in creating a killer." One of the women from Georgia put it "People pull from you, not for you. Family members are afraid to get involved because they worry they will lose their jobs. I go to court and I am alone. People look at me like I raised a killer."

In his closing remarks, the minister from St. Louis said "We find parole officers and police as regulars in the schools . . . drugs like Ritalin are used to control children . . . children are told they need drugs to function . . . control is the issue for the schools . . . we need to focus on the children and deal with the real issues. Racism and classism are the threats to America."

This weaving together of activist theory and strategy with first person accounts of suffering was an integral part of the convention. There were workshops intermixed with presentations by exonerated prisoners. There was a march down Michigan Avenue ending in a rally at the Thompson building. At the rally, members of Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation spoke about the injustice of the death penalty. This group is made up of family members of murder victims ­ whether killed by a person (crime) or by the state (execution). During a lunch session, there was a call in by two members on Illinois' death row who thanked us for our support and commented on the commutation hearings going on in Illinois.

Abolitionists traveled from Ireland, Germany and Japan as well as from Alaska, Texas and Virginia. Octogenarians were present, as were teens. Caucasians made up the majority of the gathering, but African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians were part of the approximately 500 participants. There were representatives of faith based groups as well as secular organizations. I'm proud to report that the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America was one of the convention sponsors.

Twenty-two workshops were offered during three sessions. It was difficult to choose between them. They included Creative Activism: Using Arts in Resistance; Prescribing Death ­ Stopping Drug Company Involvement in Lethal Injections; SILENCE = DEATH ­ Organizing LGBT Voices to Come Out Against Capital Punishment; Kitchen Table Discussion ­ Influencing Your Local Media and Effective Lobbying Strategies.

I made the mistake of attending Building Allies ­ Working with State Legislators. This was moderated by Brian Roberts, NCADP State Legislative Liaison. The panelists included a representative from the South Carolina legislature, a representative from the Maryland legislature and a lobbyist from New Jersey. It was a love fest of lobbyist and legislator. We were told of the need to build trust and show respect. We were told how busy our elected representatives are. We were treated to their expertise in influence: We can persuade with money or votes. Not very insightful or helpful.

Late Saturday afternoon, there were several special interest sessions. The one that I attended was the Illinois/Maryland caucus. Maryland's Governor recently enacted a moratorium on executions joining Illinois as the only other state with an official moratorium. The big issue for Illinois was the commutation hearings, which were going on during the convention. How damaging were they? The Governor appeared to be backpedaling on commutation ­ how could we counter this?

In hearing after hearing, the suffering of the victims' families was combined with the prosecutors' pronouncements of the beastial character of the condemned. The media was covering the hearings in full force. The prosecutors were doing their job ­ they requested the hearings and were using them effectively ­ to demonize every person requesting commutation. Prosecutors are paid to convict. If they seek capital punishment, they must succeed in executing. Anything else is a loss. It could be a financial loss for the state or it could be a career ending loss for the prosecutor. While no definitive answer came from the caucus, it was clear that the hearings were lessening the likelihood that Governor Ryan would commute the sentences of all currently condemned to death row.

If fact, Governor Ryan, who was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the Saturday night Awards dinner sent his regrets and did not attend. Taking his place was Juan Melendez, the 99th person to be exonerated from death row since its reinstatement. Mr. Melendez spent many years on death row in Florida, only to be found innocent. He spoke about the changes people go through when they are tried, convicted and caged like something not human.

During the dinner, awards were presented to several activists in the abolition movement. Jane Henderson, founder of the Quixote Center's Equal Justice, USA program was presented with Abolitionist of the Year. Equal Justice USA, based in Maryland was crucial in the struggle for a moratorium.

Public Service Awards were presented to Lovana Jones and Arthur Turner, both members of the Illinois House of Representatives. Representative Turner is the chief sponsor of House Bill 576, which would abolish the death penalty in Illinois. Representative Jones is also a sponsor of the bill and both have taken leadership roles in working to abolish capital punishment.

Legal Service Awards were given to Charles Hoffman and Terri Mascherin. Ms. Mascherin has an active pro bono practice and has successfully challenged death sentences imposed in Illinois. Mr. Hoffman is an Assistant Defender in the Supreme Court Unit of the Illinois Appellate Defender and has argued more than 30 death penalty appeals before the Illinois Supreme Court.

Community Service Awards were given to Sally Timms and Jon Langford, perhaps best known as members of The Mekons. Mr. Langford working with The Pine Valley Cosmonauts released The Executioner's Last Songs: Vol. 1, a CD benefiting the Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty. Ms. Timms (one of the musicians performing on the CD) and Mr. Langford have organized fund-raisers for the ICADP.

John Lyons, Illinois State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International, received the Youth Activism Award. Working with Jackie Rivet-Rivers and Brian McGee, he is putting the finishing touches on an educational video on the death penalty in Illinois.

The wrap up was left to the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. on Sunday morning after an interfaith service that included a blessing prayer by a Navajo spiritual leader. Rev. Jackson also connected the abolition movement to the broader spectrum of justice work. He had been in Washington, DC the day before, protesting Bush and his belligerence towards Iraq. He discussed the Children's Health Insurance Program and said "Children who can't see well, can't read well, can't hear well do poorly in school and have a tendency to drop out and do what? If you can't participate in a legal economy, you will participate in an illegal economy."

In discussing capital punishment, Rev. Jackson declared "We must establish the moral foundation of our cause and argue it to its logical conclusion. Slavery had to be made immoral before it was made illegal. Racial segregation had to be made immoral before it was made illegal. The death penalty must be made immoral to be made illegal." He wondered how "college educated and degreed men (judges and lawyers) find comfort in politically OK'd killing." I'd say Pat Allard already gave us the answer during the opening plenary: "Capitalism, globalization, white supremacy . . . many people benefit, but others must be kept down."

Away From the Parties, Closer to Politics

by Jorge Mújica

A big event happened in Mexican politics in the United States since the September - October issue of New Ground: Dozens of Mexican activists gathered in Chicago to get away from official Mexican political parties and to create their own organization to participate in politics.

Mexican legislation recognizes to ways to organize politically: political parties and a figure known as a National Political Association. The main difference between the two is that while political parties are mostly organized to participate in elections and therefore compete for seats in the federal and states' Mexican Congress, National Political Associations (NPA) are organized to promote, lobby and educate the electorate about a particular issue. Since its inception, in the early 1990s, dozens of NPAs have been created and registered with the IFE, Federal Electoral Institute, in charge of organizing and running the electoral process.

For Mexicans in México, some of these NPAs have been the base to launch efforts for new political parties, two of them just succeeded and will have full political rights in the mid-term election of 2003, while other are exactly the opposite, defeated political parties that have lost their electoral registration due to lack of votes, and have to conform with the status of an NPA until time and effort see them return to the electoral arena.

Some others, actually the majority, have been created just to fulfill political gaps on particular issues, whether is women's and/minority issues, peasants or rural residents, etc., issues not fully covered by the main political parties.

And that is precisely what Mexican immigrants living in the Unites States and fighting for their full political rights are doing: creating a new organization to push for a particular issue: their right to vote and be voted for from abroad.

MUSA, Mexicanos in the Unites States of América, just like that, in "bilingual", including accents and words in both languages, was formally organized on October 12, right here in Chicago, the city some recognize as the political capital of Mexican politics abroad.

To fulfill the requirements and be able to register the new NPA, MUSA activists must gather 7,000 valid signatures. "Valid" in this case means signatures of Mexican citizens registered in México, with addresses in 10 different states in México. In itself, that poses a problem: most Mexicans living in the US are not registered in México, whether because they left the country before the current electoral system was in place or because they came to the north without documentation, leaving behind all kind of ID's to avoid the Immigration Services creating a record on them if they are arrested crossing the border.

Therefore, the task at hand has to be a bi-national effort. Signatures must be gathered not only in the United States but also in México, among relatives of Mexican migrants in the US with electoral cards. As a matter of fact, all NPA's must have delegations in at least 10 states (of México), so MUSA needs to find 10 people to serve as representatives in as many states.

Away from The Parties

Why creating MUSA? The answer might sound simple, but it involves complicated political issues and alliances.

Out of the three major Mexican political parties, the PRD, Democratic Revolution Party, has the only one responding to some of the political demands of Mexicans abroad, mainly the right to vote and be voted for, and to be represented in Congress. The other two, PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party, in power for over 70 years, and PAN, National Action Party, the oldest political party and the newest in office, have voiced their strong agreement with such political rights but done nothing to see them in practice.

However, even the PRD has shown limits in their willingness to lead the migrants' efforts. At a recent meeting, Rosario Robles, National President of the PRD, decided not to seek the migrants' vote for the 2003 federal elections but for the 2006 presidential election. For many migrants, even those affiliated with the PRD, it was the proverbial pebble that broke the camel's back. And even so, the PRD does not have the strength to carry out a law initiative, since it holds only about 15% of the House of Representatives and about 20% of the Senate. Only a coalition of the two major parties, PRI and PAN, could get the necessary qualified majority to amend the Constitution and allow Mexicans abroad to vote and be voted for.

The only serious proposal for Mexican migrants in the U.S. for 2003 came from a Senator from the PRI, Genaro Borrego, in the form of "Migrant candidates without Migrants voting". Borrego's formula is to include candidates living abroad in his party's list, but to elect them in México. To migrant activists, that's a right to seats, not the right to vote and be voted for. As they put it, it's equivalent to designating representatives, not to elect them.

From the activists' point of view, migrants are held hostage by Mexican political parties and the party system. The party system implies that once a congressman or senator is elected, the legislator automatically loses his/her quality as a representative of the voters and becomes a representative of his/her party. Committees and commissions are given based on the strength of parties, not the popularity or the interests of a former candidate turned congressman, and law initiatives are not decided personally but by party, majority or minority leaders or parties' whips.

In the case of the Sexta Circunscripción, citizen's initiative proposed as a bill by the PRD, what happened is that once introduced, it was frozen by the other parties in a Committee that needs two thirds of its members to vote positively in order to continue the process. Obviously, PAN and PRI members of the Committee never voted in favor of the PRD proposal.

In the end, Mexican parties consider migrants as a political liability, rather than a political asset, since it is not clear migrants, in the event of voting, would favor either political party. They are a good political object, good to talk about, good to show off, not so good as to grant them and let them exercise political rights.

Closer To Politics

Creating MUSA, Mexican activists in the US are trying to play a role as subjects, rather than objects of party politics. As a National Political Association dedicated to push, lobby and educate voters about the migrants' issues, and given that it fulfills the IFE requirements, MUSA would have access to political parties on another level. Rather than asking for appointments to see politicians, migrants expect politicians to come to them (and it's rather happening already!) seeking political alliances.

As an NPA, MUSA would not have the right to participate in elections with its own candidates, but the law allows for political coalitions between parties and NPA's, for parties to carry NPA's candidates in their lists. It is, according to organizers for MUSA, to turn politics upside-up, the way politics should be, rather of expecting politics to be the way they are not.

Immigrant's issues are valuable by themselves, MUSA organizers insist, that naturally attract not only migrants themselves but their families also. And their families, those who receive $10 billion dollars a year to survive in México, are pretty susceptible to be influenced to vote for any given party.

Obviously, to practice política in a bi-national dimensión, en two países, at the same tiempo, in dos languages, is what seems apropiado in a global mundo by a global nation, ¿O qué no?

Statement on Iraq

Adopted October 6, 2002 by the DSA National Political Committee

The Bush Administration is using all the influence and levers of power available to it to push the world into a military invasion of Iraq. The new national strategic doctrine of preemptive war that the Administration articulates is a dangerous escalation. Demanding that the US military police the world unilaterally determining which regimes' transgressions shall be punished and which shall be overlooked makes the world and the America people less safe.

The case for immediate military action in Iraq flies against reason. By the estimate of the CIA and British intelligence, Iraq is years away from acquiring nuclear weapons. There is also no evidence that the Iraqi government has any ties to the Al Qaeda network.

Therefore, DSA opposes military intervention in Iraq and will work with like-minded organizations to organize effective political opposition to this war and the new strategic and military doctrines. DSA calls upon its members to join in political action in opposition to military action against Iraq.

Statement on Reparations

Adopted October 6, 2002 by the DSA National Political Committee

DSA joins in solidarity with the position expressed by the Black Radical Congress (April 17, 1999):

"Reparations is a well-established principle of international law that should be applied in the US. Historically, the US has been both the recipient and disburser of reparations. As the descendants of enslaved Africans, we have the legal and moral right to receive just compensation for the oppression, systematic brutality and economic exploitation Black people have suffered historically and continue to experience today. Thus, we seek reparations from the US for its illegal assault on African peoples during the slave trade; its exploitation of Black labor during slavery; and its systematic and totalitarian physical, economic and cultural violence against people of African descent over the last four centuries."

DSA, as a socialist organization, rejects the proposition that corporate wealth and individual property are the same. The wealth that we plan to re-distribute is corporate wealth not personal private property.

The wealth of the US corporate class was developed from the exploitation of vast numbers of Africans and a great many indigenous peoples by slavery and the theft of indigenous wealth and land by the Spanish, the Portuguese, and the English-speaking peoples. The current wealth of the ruling elite and the poverty in African-American and Indigenous communities are direct consequences of this incorporation by force and terrorism of these and other dominated communities into the capitalist system.

And we, along with the Latino Commission of DSA, further call for reparations for the assaults and despoliation of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and their descendants, including Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and others, for the loss of their lands and the attempted destruction of their cultures and institutions. This includes supporting the land claims and other treaty-related social justice cases of the Native American tribal nations.

In pursuit of these reparations, we take the following steps:

1. DSA supports H.R. 40, introduced by Representative John Conyers, to study the issues related to slavery and to make recommendations to Congress.

2. We further recognize that reparations are fundamentally a social rather than an individual process. It is clear from a number of studies that the underdevelopment of communities of African Americans, Indigenous people, and their descendants continues to this date. We recognize that this underdevelopment is a direct result of the crimes of the past, and the forces subjugation of these people and their incorporation into a White Supremacist society based upon the unfair and inequitable extraction of labor and capital from the work, and death, of these people.

We, therefore, call for monetary reparations to be in the form of public ownership of utilities and means of production. And we call for the investment of compensatory funds into publicly owned institutions for the development of their communities. And, public funds shall be used to promote the general welfare, education, health care, public transportation and infrastructure targeted on those communities historically denied lack of access to capital and education by prior governmental and corporate actions.

3. DSA will conduct internal and public education around the issue of reparations.


by Bob Roman

The Chicago DSA web site experienced a minor surge in traffic immediately after the election, as if people were wondering what our reaction to the results might be. For my part, I'd suggest you check out the spin masters at the American Prospect for usable prefab opinions.

Some may take comfort in Nancy Pelosi's election as the Democratic leader in the U.S. House. It is an improvement. But it bothers me that when challenged by reporters on her "liberalism", she declined to make liberalism a banner and instead retreated into the proverbial "big tent".

Here in Illinois the Republicans lost badly and I take a dismal satisfaction in it. But the state faces a significant financial problem, and I can't help thinking of the one time about a decade ago when the New Democrats won the Canadian province of Ontario under similar circumstances. There were some good people in that government. Instead of challenging the power of wealth, they followed a fairly conventional approach to resolving the budget problems, an approach that was almost guaranteed to alienate their base. They're still paying for that mistake, big time.

Chicago DSA sat out this election. Chicago area progressive candidates that we might agree on did not face any significant challenges. There were two Greens running for the Illinois House, and some DSA members worked as individuals for them. Greater Oak Park DSA did a candidate survey on the death penalty. YDS did send some students to Minnesota to do voter registration. DSA's most significant contribution to the election was as a target.

Red Baiting

Some years ago, an obscure group of Ayn Rand-ite libertarians, the "Free Republic", noticed the link from the DSA national web site to the Progressive Caucus web site. Being a group that enjoys fantasy far more than they enjoy the truth, they concocted a wonderful story about 52 secret socialists in the House of Representatives, about the Progressive Caucus being a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Socialists of America. After spreading a while on the web, it was picked up by more mainstream conservative media in DC and used as an attack on the Progressive Caucus. It worked.

The story subsided like a case of herpes until this fall when, for obscure reasons, boredom perhaps, it was revived by a few other conservative news sites on the web. It was then picked up by Pete Calderon, a conservative fanatic from Galesburg, Illinois, who was running for Congress against Lane Evans. For some reason, local media picked up the story. DSA was front page news in Peoria and Springfield. This was all for naught. Evans kicked Calderon's ass.

But it did pique conservative curiosity about DSA. Conservative activist David Strom in Minnesota discovered DSA's "send a student to Minnesota" campaign. This was just too tempting. Not only is it risky business to mention electoral politics in the same context as an appeal for tax-exempt contributions, but the "same day" voter registration provisions of Minnesota election law are a bete noir of U.S. conservatives. By squinting at the text, you could actually imagine that DSA was raising tax exempt money to send legions of wild, porcupine pierced punks to vote for Wellstone. Fraud is their standard argument against making it easy for people to vote, and here was such a lovely hate-object seeming to conspire to just that. The story made it to the Drudge Report and Rush Limbaugh's program in mid-October. That day the national DSA web site received 98,000 hits. Even Chicago received 600, somewhat over a hundred coming from Minnesota.

Interestingly, David Strom later claimed that his original press release was "tongue in cheek" as "There are so few socialists left that they could meet in a phone booth." Also interestingly, Wellstone's press secretary was less than truthful when he claimed Wellstone "knew nothing of the group". There had been a Youth Section (YDS) chapter at Carleton College for which Wellstone had been the faculty adviser.

Rather more seriously, DSA was used against a "former" member and past director of United for a Fair Economy, Dennis Kalob, who was running for the New Hampshire legislature. This was used both underhandedly (as in "push polling") and openly (direct mail pieces), financed by the Republican Party. It was a close election. Kalob lost; it may have been his lack of candor on the subject that did him in.

Nancy Pelosi is a member of the Progressive Caucus' Executive Committee. You can imagine what the extreme right web sites are doing with that.

The Labor God's Wife

By Bob Roman

Mother Jones and the Union Miners Cemetery edited by Leslie F. Orear (Chicago, Illinois Labor History Society, 2002) 156p $20.00 paper

Within the constraints of remaining affordable, this is a handsomely designed coffee table book. It is an anthology of articles about Mother Jones and the institutions that preserve her memory. Interest in her actual history has undergone period revivals. With the publication last year of Elliott Gorn's Mother Jones: the Most Dangerous Woman in America and the publication of this book, I think it fair to say any recent decline in interest was brief.

Most lefties are at least vaguely acquainted with Mother Jones, if only because of the magazine that has appropriated her name. She was the "Miner's Angel", an itinerant labor organizer in the early years of the last century who tackled some of the most dangerous and difficult organizing campaigns at a time when employer violence was endemic. The articles in this book both provide the standard biographical facts of her career (not just the United Mine Workers of America but the Appeal to Reason, the Socialist Party, the Western Federation of Miners as well) and provide a great deal of insight into the complexities of her career and the labor movement to which she devoted her life.

Mother Jones is rather more complicated than you might expect. It turns out the most elementary biographical information about her is suspect. She is said to have been over 100 when she died; her admirers had in fact held an elaborate 100th birthday party for her. But no one actually knows the year of her birth and her publicly stated age varied from speech to speech. How many children did she have? Did she have brothers or sisters? Until the time she began her work for the labor movement, all is uncertain. As Ronnie Gilbert said: "I would say that she was one of that talented breed of great storytellers who would never let the absolute truth spoil a good yarn."

And indeed, in my not so humble opinion, Ronnie Gilbert's essay, originally written as a preface to her play Mother Jones: Face to Face with the Most Dangerous Woman in America, really is the star of the book. This essay attempts to make sense of what we know of Mary Jones, to understand her as a woman, as a political activist, as someone who made a career of labor organizing. Does Ms. Gilbert succeed? Only Mother Jones could tell us. I can only say that Gilbert has imagined a convincing portrait from the available evidence.

The chapter "In Their Own Voices: a Mother Jones Scrapbook" is interesting as well, if only for some of the selected letters written by Mother Jones to her friends. I'm sure some will be delighted to learn of her difficulties with that new-fangled Internal Revenue Service.

The book is also about the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive, Illinois, where Mother Mary Jones is buried. There are two articles and the one by Robert Sampson is useful for learning about the present day celebrations of Mother Jones' memory in central Illinois. I recently attended the annual Mother Jones Dinner in Springfield, Illinois, and can tell you her memory is alive and well.

But "A Spirit-Thread of Labor History: the Union Miners Cemetery at Mt. Olive, Illinois" by John Keiser is a wonderful essay about the early (colorful! heroic!) history of the United Mine Workers of America in southern Illinois, the internal factionalism within the union that inevitably involved the cemetery, Mother Jones and her monument. Those were days when giants walked our land. But those were complicated days with complicated people whose ultimate good or ill were not always obvious, people with feet of clay commensurate with their scale.

25 Years of In These Times

by Bob Roman

Appeal to Reason: 25 Years of In These Times edited by Craig Aaron (NY, Seven Stories Press, 2002) 388p $19.95 paper

When Chicago DSA gave Jim Weinstein, the founder of In These Times, a Debs ­ Thomas ­ Harrington award in 1997, we were impressed by Weinstein's record as a founder of left institutions when so much about our politics seems so ephemeral. In These Times has survived Weinstein's retirement and a business scandal, adding to this aura of permanence. At some point, the current staff of the publication discovered just what a treasure trove of writing, opinion and journalism that is the history of In These Times. Such a wealth calls out to be shared and not forgotten, and that is partly what this book is about.

The book is not simply an anthology of the best of In These Times though I might have preferred such. Being typically American, the staff at In These Times realized that history could very well not be their readers' strongest point. The reprinted articles needed context. And being lefties, they were also interested in analysis and the question "what next?" The book is organized into topics and each topic is accompanied by a central essay addressing just that topic by an In These Times contributor.

The idea has merit and it makes for some interesting book design (appropriately, as in its early years In These Times won design awards), but it has its problems. The quality of the essays varies. The reprinted articles are often highly excerpted, leaving the reader still hungry.

There is a fairly extensive index. If you look for "Democratic Socialists of America", you will find exactly one entry which does not refer to Michael Harrington's exactly one reprint. It does, however, refer to an article by Jim Weinstein on Harold Washington's election as Mayor of Chicago. DSA's role in the 1983 Washington campaign is one of the more interestingly unreported, unrecorded aspects of that campaign, and that mention even in passing is a good example of the high quality that In These Times often achieves.

"Appeal to Reason" in the title of the book refers to a socialist weekly that achieved a 750,000 circulation in the very early years of the last century. It's a sentimental reference and not exactly appropriate except perhaps as an aspiration. The Appeal was a popular publication in the sense that it was readable by someone who was not primarily interested in politics. This has never been the case with In These Times. The book also illustrates In These Times' ambiguous identity (a quality shared by DSA): is it a journal of muck raking journalism or is it a journalism of opinion? It could be both but to do both well consistently, at the same time, requires far more resources than the publication has been able to muster. On the other hand, that very ambiguity may be one of the qualities that has contributed to the publication's survival.

Other News

Compiled by Bob Roman

In Case of War, Break Glass

"Chicago DSA is opposed to the military invasion of Iraq by the United States or proxy forces, in the absence of a military attack or massive crimes against humanity. We encourage participation in anti-war rallies planned for 5:00 p.m. in the Federal Plaza, Dearborn and Adams, Chicago, on the day of an attack and the following day." ­ adopted by the Chicago DSA Executive Committee at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, November 12 and amended afterwards by email.

Office Warming and Used Book Sale

Chicago DSA has been in Room 403 of the Northwest Tower Building since 1988. We've been in the building since 1985. Only one other tenant has been there longer. The office has been only just adequate to our needs. Those of you who have visited, worked or attended meetings there know that while we have packed a dozen people in the room, it wasn't much good for any more than a half dozen sitting in a circle. On October 16, we took over the office next door and tore down the wall between, creating a much more usable space, comfortable for meetings of as many as two dozen.

Come see! We're having an office warming / used book sale party on Saturday, December 14, 11 AM ­ 4:30 PM. We'll have coffee and snacks, show political videos, and solve all the problems of the world. We'll also have a whole bunch of used books for sale: political stuff including some Trotskyist and Stalinist ephemera and books from the 1930s and 1940s, European political posters and a fair amount of Green stuff from the present; philosophy and social science; and fiction, including science fiction, thrillers and mystery. We also have a Mac Classic II running System 7.1, with a 33k external modem, loaded with various software. Best offer!

The Northwest Tower Building is 1608 N. Milwaukee at the corner of Milwaukee, Damen and North Avenues. It's right next to the Damen stop on the CTA Blue Line, and street parking is available.


To the Editor:

Rod Blagojevich was one of only two Illinois Democrats in the House of Representatives who voted to give our unelected President, George Bush, one of the most ignorant men to ever hold that office, authority to attack Iraq. How sad that this candidate for Governor of Illinois was the biggest recipient of organized labor's electoral support. CDSA, one of progressive labor's best friends, should re-think the role of organized labor in our coalition to get sane leadership that favors social spending over militarism and insist that the labor movement support only electoral candidates who oppose a foreign policy that represents Capitalism at its empirically ugliest.

--- Mark Weinberg


Editor's note: While I appreciate the frustration, I disagree, very much so, with the conclusion. But rather than me hogging the soap box, let's have some letters from our readers. Pro or con, the letters should be 500 words or less; anything more risks being excerpted.

 Add yourself to the Chicago DSA mailing list (snail mail and email).

 Back to top.