Eliseo Medina Named an Honorary Chair of DSA
Health Care Justice Act Signed
Detroit DSA Douglass - Debs Dinner
by Bob Roman
While hundreds of thousands marched against the Bush agenda
at the Republican National Convention in New York, similar demonstrations
were held on a much smaller scale in numerous cities across the
nation on Sunday, August 29. In Chicago, some fifteen hundred
people gathered in the Federal Plaza at Dearborn and Adams for
a Unity Rally for Peace and Justice, a demonstration against the
Some press reports estimated the crowd at 1000, others at 500,
and all of them were accurate. It was a bright, unseasonably chilly
afternoon. Even fifteen minutes after the scheduled start, there
were only a few hundred people. The numbers then ballooned until,
after about an hour, people began drifting away faster than they
gathered. But people had come from all across the metropolitan
area and beyond. A "feeder" rally was organized in DuPage
County with participants taking the train into Chicago, a chartered
bus came from the Rogers Park neighborhood, and car pools were
organized from as far away as Fort Wayne, Indiana.
One of the goals of the rally was to answer the policies that
the Bush Administration would be advocating at the Republican
National Convention by providing the news media with an alternate
story. And the rally was somewhat successful at this despite the
The "Unity Rally for Peace and Justice" was organized
by a coalition of community, labor, political and religious organizations.
In July, a call to organize the rally was issued by 30 of the
leaders who had organized the March 16, 2003, Daly Plaza demonstration
against the Iraq war. The number of participating groups grew
to over 60 by August 29. Much of the organizing work was done
by Chicago Jobs with Justice
and its Committee
for New Priorities, Chicago
Labor for Peace Prosperity and Justice, Chicagoans
Against War and Injustice, and the American
Friends Service Committee. But the event actually mobilized
a significant percentage of the sponsoring organizations to help
with various tasks beyond mobilizing their own people.
Rallies such as this one are not cheap. This event had a bare
bones budget of $12,000. That this was an ad hoc coalition and
that the money had to be raised in a month and a half, these facts
made fundraising interesting. Deep pocket contributions from SEIU and UNITE HERE started
the process, but the overwhelming majority of the money came in
smaller amounts from each of the other sponsors, including Chicago
DSA. Some additional money came from a grant and from individuals.
The rally organizers emphasized that the opposition to the
Bush agenda was far more than just being against the Iraq war
and occupation. But they did want that issue prominently displayed
at the rally. To that end, Chicago DSA distributed hundreds of
fluorescent "No War" buttons. DSA signs also complimented
the broader agenda of the demonstration and were quoted by the
press, for example: "Bush says leave no billionaire behind"
and "Georgie Porgie, president by theft. We will not miss
you, once you have left."
The rally organizers needn't have worried about the war. While
the speakers at the rally did indeed cover a range of issues,
they also made the war a central issue. It is ironic, then, that
the speakers almost uniformly boosted Kerry, a candidate with
not exactly an anti-Iraq war record. (The organizers had told
the speakers that this was not a Kerry rally, but once
you let people loose on a platform) It's even more ironic that
the best turn out for the rally was from the anti-war movement.
But I think it's true that if the rally audience had been polled,
the vote would have been overwhelmingly (not at all unanimously)
for Kerry. And it's not that most of those (and certainly not
the rally organizers) have any great expectations for Kerry. We've
had far too many Presidents who have promised peace then delivered
war. Then too, Daniel Ellsberg
pointed out in his memoir, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and
the Pentagon Papers, how U.S. policy toward Vietnam was really
pretty consistent from Truman through Nixon. Ellsberg does not
claim that it makes no difference who wins a presidential election
even in the context of Vietnam, but it does illustrate the difficulty
in voting for peace except, perhaps, as a gesture or wishful thinking.
Yet from Tariq Ali to George Kennan, analysts have noted how
domestic political considerations in the States (and we are not
unique) have driven U.S. foreign policy. And in electoral politics
here, the foremost principle guiding most of our politicians is
"Cover Your Ass." It seems that it should be easy: that
the guiding principle for the peace movement should be to speak
loudly and carry a big stick.
Except it's never so straightforward. Because of the deliberately
built in advantages of incumbency (including gerrymandering of
districts), Kerry will (should he win) most likely face a Congress
still run by Republicans, Republicans mostly well protected by
safe districts. It will be conservatives who have a first and
best shot at Kerry's hams.
What to do? This is very much on the minds of the rally organizers.
And in the weeks and months following the November elections,
you will be hearing more from them as part of an effort to address
that very question. But that brings us to the final goal of this
rally, one explicit in its title: unity.
Those with an eye for such things will have noticed a fairly
well balanced selection of speakers at the rally, from politicians
(Representatives Schakowsky and Gutierrez, Alderman Munoz), labor
(Lynn Talbott and Tom Balanoff), religious, community and others.
This was not to display an esthetic of political correctness;
these speakers were intended to illustrate the breadth of opposition
to the Bush agenda and the unity of the opposition to it. I'm
afraid the latter is mostly wishful thinking.
First, my experience with ad hoc coalitions has been that they
do their work then die or they are institutionalized as an organization
or as part of an organization, gaining resources while narrowing
in scope. Except that the core of this coalition is a network
of organizations that have a history of working together, I don't
see that there is any reason to expect things to be different.
The coalition that organized this rally will not be that One Big
Venue sought so earnestly and endlessly by the left, nor will
it even be the harbinger of it.
Second, with respect to foreign policy, the movement has always
been fragmented among a variety of ideologies, theologies and
constituencies, all speaking in one way or another to a basic
political fracture. That is: it would be possible to develop a
laundry list of policies and approaches to policy for a democratic,
peaceful foreign policy that would be supported by a large majority
of the movement. But there would be no agreement on whether it
would be possible to use as tools the State Department or the
Defense Department to implement such a policy. The arguments vary
from case to case, from ideology to ideology, etc., but the point
is the permanent lack of agreement.
The peace movement is fairly good at saying "no".
Often enough that is a good and honorable statement. But it is
a crippled vehicle for proactive advocacy.
Even so, the Unity Rally for Peace and Justice accomplished
most of its immediate goals. The two most common criticisms were
that, however worthy individually, the speakers in sum were too
much. And a great many people really were not in the mood to be
talked at; they wanted to march, to demonstrate their displeasure,
something that a rally alone did not provide.
Adopted July 17, 2004 by the Democratic
Socialists of America PAC. This statement was not approved by
any candidate or any candidate's committee.
The Republican monopoly over all three branches
of government has enabled an unprecedented rightist attack and
rollback of the economic, legislative and policy gains won by
the social movements of the twentieth century.
The Bush administration has steadily gutted
the democratic regulatory state begun by the New Deal and Great
Society. This dogmatic commitment to rapacious corporate domination,
combined with the administration's hostility to civil rights,
has led to outright attacks on environmental protection, labor
rights, public education, and the living standards of low-wage
workers. In addition, the right's cultural war in favor of the
misnamed "traditional family values" threatens to turn
back the crucial gains of the movements for women's and gay and
lesbian equality. The Bush administration's continued hold on
power for another four years would be a devastating blow to the
economic security and cultural freedoms of most Americans, as
well as to the prospects for peace and stability in much of the
At home, Bush's tax giveaway to the rich
has created a massive budget deficit, one conservatives will use
to justify siphoning public funds away from desperately needed
health care, housing, and education. While both major parties
have a sorry history of catering to the needs of corporate America,
the present Republican Party leadership is directing and facilitating
a brutal assault on a wide number of fronts.
Internationally, the administration's neo-conservative
ideologues are implementing a unilateral, militaristic, and imperial
foreign policy that has not only sparked the war in Iraq, but
also endangers both civil liberties and domestic security. While
the Bush administration's threat to the United States' domestic
well-being is enough to justify militant political and social
resistance at home, its foreign policy has also created a mass
democratic opposition internationally - one that we proudly join.
In reaction to the administration's record
of war at home and war abroad, massive voter education and mobilization
efforts by the feminist, trade union, environmental, peace, and
civil rights movements are building for the 2004 elections. Their
goal is our goal: to kick the Bush regime out of office. Given
that only the Democratic presidential candidate can defeat the
Bush administration, these movements - and the Democratic Socialists
of America Political Action Committee - will work to elect John
F. Kerry the next president of the United States. DSA members
are encouraged to join with other progressive forces in get-out-the-vote
and voter education projects.
DSA activists strongly disagree with Kerry
on many issues, including his past support of pro-corporate "free
trade" policies, as well as with his failure to make universal
health care a central issue of his presidential candidacy. But
DSA and other movement activists also recognize that if a Kerry
administration and a Democratic Congress were to be elected, they
would face pressure from below by the very social movements whose
activism put them into office. Thus, on a host of issues of crucial
import for ordinary Americans, the terrain of struggle will be
more favorable after the defeat of a hard-right Republican administration.
With such issues as raising the minimum wage, appointing pro-choice
and pro-civil rights Supreme Court justices, restoring basic environmental
protections, and appointing National Labor Relations Board members
who support the right to organize at stake, almost all significant
mass community, trade union, and Black and Latino organizations
are mobilizing to defeat the Bush regime.
The 2004 election is not just about the
presidency, although that is clearly the most important race.
The elections also will offer many opportunities to strengthen
progressive and independent forces. DSA members are encouraged
to participate in appropriate Democratic and independent campaigns
wherever they find them.
But DSAPAC has no illusions about the mainstream
national leadership of the Democratic Party nor about its presumptive
presidential candidate. Many Party leaders oppose the restoration
of progressive taxation and expansion of the democratic public
sector necessary to redress massive social inequality. The corporate-backed
Democratic Leadership Council has far too much influence, while
the Progressive Caucus and social movements have far too little
within the Party. At the highest levels of the national Party,
rejecting the logic of empire in favor of forging a democratic
foreign policy is at best a minority opinion, so a Democratic
presidency is no guarantee that the US government will even extricate
itself from Iraq.
We also know the limits of electing politicians
to office absent social movements that bring unrelenting pressure
to bear on them. FDR alone did not give the United States the
New Deal, nor did LBJ single-handedly force the enactment of Medicare
and civil rights legislation. Rather, these centrist politicians
and their administrations came to support incremental democratic
reforms precisely because of the strength of the trade union and
civil rights movements and the ensuing agitation these movements
visited upon political elites.
After November, the trade union and citizen
movements will need to continue to pressure whatever President
and Congress result from the 2004 elections to enact fair trade
policies that would level up the global economy rather than perpetuate
the global corporate "race to the bottom." Privatization
of the public sector is not the solution; it is the problem.
Regardless of who is the victor in November,
the peace movement will still need to oppose militarization and
support a democratic foreign policy. Civil rights and antiracist
activists will still need to struggle for class-based economic
remedies as well as significant extensions of affirmative action.
Structural reforms to increase and strengthen electoral democracy
- such as public financing, free TV time, same-day voter registration,
election-day holidays, and proportional representation - will
only come about if corporate influence over the electoral system
We firmly believe that the defeat of George
W. Bush and the Republicans is a necessary but by no means sufficient
condition for moving the world towards a democratic and socialist
future. Removing Bush from office is the next crucial and tactical
step in the long march to remake the world.
Our long-term strategy remains the revitalization
of the mass democratic Left. Only by rebuilding such a Left -
rooted in the trade union, feminist, and anti-racist movements
- will Americans ever get the choice of more attractive and constructive
by Dennis Dixon
When Jobs with Justice
(JwJ) and the Chicago
Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) teamed up in 1999 to fight
for the rights of day laborers in Chicago, Erie
Neighborhood House had already been organizing in this area.
The Interfaith Committee
on Workers' Issues enthusiastically joined the effort. The
Latino Union subsequently has done extensive direct organizing,
while the Jewish Council on Urban
Affairs (JCUA) has given valuable support to the effort.
The ingredients of Labor, Community, Faith-based, and fundamental
grassroots organizing is in place in Chicago.
The two basic categories of day laborers are people who work
through day labor agencies and those who stand in public areas
waiting for employers to come and offer them work. The latter
category consists largely of immigrant Hispanics and Poles. The
Hispanics constituent is called la parada ("the stop").
The individual workers are known as jornaleros. Polish
workers congregate at Belmont and Milwaukee (and possibly other
places), but any organizing among them is not known to this writer.
In the spring of 2000, initial meetings took place that included
"professional" organizers and academics with workers
being victimized by the day labor "system." The University of Illinois
Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) performed studies
showing the demography of day labor. JwJ and CCH did surveys
of people in homeless shelters finding that most people there
had worked day labor within the past year but would prefer to
have permanent jobs. One CUED study demonstrated that day
labor agencies were usually located near homeless shelters. The
studies also demonstrated that a person working at the minimum
wage of $5.15 (the most prevalent wage in the day labor "industry")
7 days a week for 52 weeks per year could not pay rent in Chicago.
The largest concentration of day labor agencies in any neighborhood
in the United States was found to be in the Greater Humboldt Park
area (which suffers from post-industrial "structural unemployment"
and poverty). Agencies have also concentrated in Pilsen, Little
Village, the Southwest Side, the town of Cicero, and
have opened in many other suburbs. While the initial study seemed
to indicate that homeless shelter locations might be a target
for day labor operators (and day labor agencies and "contractors"
do contact homeless shelters looking for extra workers), organizing
practice demonstrated that the real target for the day labor employers
in Chicago is immigrants. Native born people are demonstrably
discriminated against by the day labor agencies. This discrimination
is ordered by clients asking for "Spanish speakers."
(Puerto Ricans are citizens, so dispatchers know not to send them).
Since day labor employers operate on the basis of desperation
and intimidation, who better to target than people who are new,
desperate, and have no expectation of rights?
At the initial meetings, the jornaleros complained of
low pay. They complained of contractors not paying them for work
done. The employers also renege on the pay rates that are agreed
on. There were instances of workers being deserted out in the
suburbs. General mistreatment and unsafe conditions are rampant.
The jornaleros wanted to form "Workers' Centers"
that would perform several functions. They would give people a
place to wait inside (we all know and love Chicago's mid-continental
climate of extreme heat, extreme cold, rain, snow, sleet, etc.).
The buildings would be centers for self-organization among the
workers, themselves, to establish a reasonable wage floor and
to look out for each other. Employers would have to register with
the Workers' Center so that they could be identified to the workers
if they did not pay standard rates or to the State if they violated
Wage and Hours laws. Centers also have the potential to provide
safety training, workers' rights training, language lessons, educational,
health, and social benefits that the members desire.
Political roadblocks for the la parada workers in their
present situation of standing in convenient and known locations
as well as in developing workers centers clearly are due to racial
and class prejudice and illusions. Alderperson Laurino (Ward 39,
Albany Park) has been singularly less than helpful. The demand
of the workers to control their own centers is also an issue that
the "powers-that-be" cannot accept yet.
The issues at the agencies are somewhat different, but related
to the complete lack of respect that so many people have for labor
and the status of these workers, in particular. People come to
the agencies as early as 4AM in order to wait to be called
for work by their employer which is the agency. (One rationale
for using day labor is to outsource one's personnel department
and the responsibilities of unemployment compensation, insurance,
benefits, etc.). People wait hours for work, often leaving the
agency around 9 AM without having been sent out, often returning
at noon for the afternoon shift! The dispatchers are abusive
and dismissive when asked questions of any kind. These matters
often have to do with lack of pay for days or hours worked, the
location of someone's whole check, mistreatment by the clients,
or to get a work ticket for time already worked. The Chicago Day
Labor Ordinance requires that tickets be made available for the
employees but they never are!.
When people are sent out, they are often charged excessively
for delivery to the job site (the only commodity labor power
that pays for its own delivery!). The drivers, partly due
to the "piece work" nature of this "transportation"
system, often drive recklessly in unsafe, overcrowded vehicles.
There are any number of reports of drivers being drunk. Women
complain of sexual harassment by the drivers. Many people complain
about being abused by the drivers who use this pathetic bit of
authority as a license for terror. One worker reported being threatened
by a driver with a gun who disapproved of his organizing for rights
on the job. (People's families have even been threatened through
code words that all the immigrants understand).
The Chicago Day Labor Ordinance that was passed on May 1, 2002
was supposed to relieve this "commodity" of its burden
of coughing up its own delivery charge. The agencies have used
rather transparent methods to imply that the drivers do not work
for them (secret signals, etc.). They say that they "do not
provide 'transportation'." (Can one imagine a machine tool
company telling its customers that it does not "provide delivery"
of its product? While arrangements might be made for delivery,
would the machine tool, itself, provide the money for the truck
and driver?) Unfortunately, the Day Labor Ordinance has left a
loophole that the agencies are using successfully so far.
The San Lucas Workers'
Center in Humboldt Park and the Chicago Day Labor Collaboration
in Little Village, are working through direct action campaigns
for political and economic pressure to force the day labor agencies
to accept a code of conduct that respects each worker for her
dignity as a person who labors as well as a human being with real
human needs. There have been many victories in getting back
pay, repayment of over $100,000 in illegal transportation charges,
and even shutting down an agency. But the general view from the
day labor "industry" is that the City will never enforce
the Law, so they will do business as usual for now.
The City of Chicago Day Labor Ordinance was developed through
experience of organizing in the day labor "industry."
People who experienced the ordeal of working for a day labor agency
were the source of the demands that were made through the ordinance.
While the state law dealing with day labor was the strongest in
the country, everyone recognized that it was only a start. People
needed to have the right to get a copy of their work tickets:
to have a record of the hours that they worked. They needed to
be free from having to pay for their own delivery. A mechanism
to prove discrimination against certain groups was necessary.
There needed to be a means by which to revoke the license of agencies
that did not follow the rules. All of these areas were addressed
in the ordinance, but the City of Chicago has refused to enforce
The ordinance landed in the City Council Licensing Committee.
And the loss of license is the most effective threat to
the agencies. The most able persons to "test" the veracity
of the agencies' compliance with the licensing requirement of
complying with the ordinance are the workers themselves! The means
to report abuses and direct disregard of the law has never been
established. This is true while anyone can go to any
agency and hear the same complaints of abuse and discrimination
that were heard at the all the other agencies!
The problems are known and ubiquitous. There is little creativity
among these abusers.
The Interfaith Committee on Workers' Issues, the Latino Union,
and the Jewish Committee on Urban Affairs have all
been working on issues relating to La Parada. People waiting
for work have been harassed and forced out of parking lots at
McDonald's and Home Depot while waiting for contractors
to come looking to hire them. The City and Alderperson Laurino
have closed down various sites like the Juan Diego Workers' Center
(JDWC) which workers hoped to develop into a place to organize.
Home Depot in Chicago has not been forthcoming in negotiations
with the jornaleros for development of centers although
more productive negotiations have taken place in another part
or the country.
Neighbors report problems involving the jornaleros in
the Albany Park area. But, it seems clear that fear of Latino
men exaggerates the negative perceptions of the residents in a
neighborhood with changing demographics. A lack of sympathy for
these person's needs has to be overcome. People must think of
creative ways to relate the plight of the jornaleros to
those of others who are trying to survive in the hostile capitalist
Temporary labor is growing at a phenomenal rate in this so-called
"global" environment. While not new, there is a growing
trend for producers to work in a permanent temporary status. This
maintains them at minimum wage levels without benefits. As mentioned
above, these people are technically employed by the agency. But
the National Labor Relations Board has said in the past that people
in this situation have a "double employer" status that
allows them to form bargaining units based at the point of production,
giving them the ability to organize into unions. UNITE-HERE has
succeeded in helping people organize in this situation with the
help of the San Lucas Workers Center, Jobs with Justice and the
Interfaith Committee on Workers' Issues.
Permanent jobs are being filled by "temporaries"
every day. It will take internal organizing by the day labor workers,
the labor unions, and people in the community to put people into
those jobs at the same status as regular employees. Labor, grassroots,
faith-based, political, and social pressure must be brought to
bear on the greater business community demanding that contingent
labor as an employment strategy will not be tolerated. This needs
to be part of a world-wide social revolution that demands alternatives
to corporate neo-liberal exploitation.
The Five-Star Laundry strike of 2000 (a UNITE victory!)
and the Congress
Hotel strike are instances in which day labor agencies
have and are scabbing on permanent employees. In strike situations,
state law requires agencies to tell its employees that they are
entering a labor dispute. In the Five-Star situation, many
people refused to cross the picket lines. The Congress situation
has not been as successful in this respect.
Refusing work from agencies is never a good idea if one is
desperate for work. Exposing oneself as sympathetic to unions
will also threaten any further work with that agency. The onus
must be taken off the individual by making the law concerning
day labor scabbing stronger and part of the Federal Labor Law.
We still need the Labor Law to outlaw hiring "replacement
workers" in economic strikes as it is outlawed in other industrialized
nations. The laws need to be strengthened at all governmental
levels while scabbing and crossing picket lines has to become
socially unacceptable again as it was in South Chicago when I
was growing up.
In the world of day labor, people's checks are held up. People
are cheated out of hours and days of pay. People are not picked
up from jobs after working in remote suburbs. People are placed
in sweat shop conditions, lacking safety equipment, and without
recourse to any defense from the arbitrariness of the employers
or their "clients." The "owners" buy Lexus's,
Jaguars, fine houses in "exclusive" suburbs, and vacation
homes with the wealth extracted from day labor. Exploiting day
labor keeps the client companies from having to take any responsibility
for the people who produce their products. They have purchased
abstract labor power and will mine that resource
to its fullest with no regard for the actual laborer
doing the actual labor.
Many of the clients of the day labor agencies are well known
corporations like Sara Lee and the Chicago Tribune who
consider themselves, and are indulged as, "good corporate
citizens." The contractors exploiting jornaleros are
avoiding hiring at union pay scales, pocketing the difference
so they can live and vacation with the day labor agency owners.
It is going to take social, political, and economic pressure on
the clients of the day labor agencies, the agencies themselves,
and the la parada contractors to make them abide by a code
of conduct that reasonably reflects human sensibilities. While
the Workers' Centers can provide space and certain resources for
the workers to organize and help themselves, the wider Community
is needed to can make it impossible for those who use day labor
to treat the workers with less than the dignity that any human
How long people will submit to the systematic destruction of
long fought for labor standards and a return to the Wild West
standards practiced by the day labor exploiters depends on organization.
This organization has to take place both at the "grassroots"
level as well as at the "advocacy" level, much like
one fights a "ground war" that is supported by an "air
war" and the infrastructure for "support services."
Clauswitz might call it "politics by extraordinary means",
at least in the way that most people have learned "politics"
in this less-than-democratic republic. It has to engage society
at every level. People need to fully comprehend the inhuman effects
of contingent labor in order to combat it. If people broadly work
together, we can overcome the plague of neo-liberal accumulation
that drives the contingent labor "industry."
Editor's Note: Dennis Dixon is a day laborer, busker, organizer
and activist about town in Chicago.
by Stephen Selka
As a student of race relations in Brazil, I was eager to hear
the Reverend Jesse Jackson speak at the Healthcare
rally in Lincoln Park this past June 19th. Reverend Jackson
has visited Brazil several times to meet with black leaders and
politicians involved with Brazil's black consciousness movement.
In fact, one could say that Jackson and his counterparts in Brazil
take part in a transnational anti-racism movement. Despite what
North American and Brazilian activists have much in common, however,
the context in which they are struggling against racial domination
is significantly different.
Most Brazilians are proud that Brazil has never experienced
the legal segregation, race riots, and racial hostility that the
U.S. has suffered. According to the Brazilian national ideal of
racial hybridity (mestiçagem) and racial democracy,
all Brazilians share African descent, so how can anyone be racist?
In fact, many Brazilians identify themselves as neither black
nor white. According to the logic of the Brazilian ethnoracial
classification system, there are no races per se, there is only
a spectrum of color. Many Brazilians believe that their country
is a racial paradise, free of racism.
It comes as a surprise, then, that Brazilian activists are
calling all people of African descent to identify themselves as
black and to join the struggle against racism. For those involved
with the black consciousness movement, it is important that people
of African descent affirm a shared identity and confront the ways
they have been dominated. For many Brazilians, however, any talk
of race is racism, and organizing along racial lines entails reverse
This idea that racism is not a problem in Brazil has a long
history. In the 1930s, the anthropologist Gilberto Freyre championed
the notion that Brazil was a racial democracy, founded on the
mixture of diverse races. Although this idea is still popular
today, starting in the 1950s researchers showed that racial inequalities
indeed existed in Brazil. This early research, however, tended
to reduce racial inequalities to class inequalities: ultimately,
inequalities were the legacy of slavery and the difficulties blacks
experienced adapting to modern capitalist production.
Class inequalities are indeed a major problem in Brazil, where
the gap between rich and poor is the greatest of any country in
the world. Research conducted over the past few decades, however,
has showed definitively that racial discrimination exists in Brazil
independently of class inequalities. Today, therefore, the challenge
is not to show that racism exists in Brazil, but to show how discrimination
and racism work in Brazil and how people are organizing against
it. As I examine here, the parallels and divergences between Brazil
and the United States are interesting and perhaps instructive.
In both Brazil and the United States, of course, responses
from black communities to racism have been varied. For the most
part, however, the existence of a shared black identity and of
racial discrimination is not nearly as contested of an issue among
people of African descent in North America as it is in Brazil.
In the United States, the Jim Crow laws drew a clearer line between
black and white than anywhere else in the Americas.
There is, of course, nothing redeeming about the Jim Crow system.
Yet one result of segregation in the U.S. was that it fostered
racial solidarity and the growth of alternative black institutions.
In Brazil, by contrast, Afro-Brazilian institutions (such as temples
devoted to African-derived religion) are diffuse and Afro-Brazilian
culture is continually co-opted by white elites in order to stimulate
Furthermore, Brazilian blacks are significantly worse off in
comparison to whites than their counterparts in North America.
In the US there is a considerable black middle class with a well-developed
sense of its political and economic interests. In Brazil, the
black middle class is very marginal (although there are some individuals
with money) and historically black schools and businesses like
those in the United States are virtually nonexistent.
While black identity is certainly not monolithic in North America,
in Brazil solidarity among people of African descent is comparatively
weak. A major division between people of African descent is that
of blacks versus mulattos, for example. Although research shows
that mulattos are subject to the same kinds of discrimination
as people who identity themselves as black, mulattos are reluctant
to see themselves as among the contingency of a black consciousness
From the perspective of many Brazilian activists, however,
the division between black and mulattos works like the divide
and conquer strategy of the used by the white elite in the past.
During Brazil's colonial period, plantation owners encouraged
ethnic affirmations among their slaves in order to prevent them
from joining together in revolt. Today, this pattern of fragmentation
is replicated in Brazilian electoral politics, where parties of
all kinds proliferate and compete for voters' allegiance. Observers
of Brazil and the U.S. point out that it is no coincidence that,
in contrast to Brazil, the U.S. has a clear divide between black
and white as well as between Democrat and Republican.
Those involved with the black consciousness movement find themselves
in a predicament. How can activists mobilize when most people
of African descent do not identify as black or confront the racial
inequality in Brazilian society? Perhaps the majority of Brazilians
accept the idea that racism exists in Brazil, but it always exists
somewhere else (for those in the north, racism happens in the
south, and vice-versa) and hardly ever in one's own personal experience.
Many Brazilians feel that because racism in is exceptional rather
than systematic in their country, racism need not be confronted
in any organized and sustained way.
Surely this sounds familiar. The issue of racism is a looming
blind spot for Brazilians just as it is for Americans. Furthermore,
those involved with movements for social justice and economic
equity in the United States confront denials of the existence
of classes that are similar to the denial of the existence of
races in Brazil. This lack of class-consciousness in the US is
of course a central obstacle to political mobilization. Just as
working Americans cast their lot with the parties of the wealthy,
Brazilians of African descent identify with those who are whitest.
Yet the Brazilian black consciousness movement aims to raise
people's awareness of the political stakes involved in denying
one's membership in a dominated social group. During the Brazilian
census taken in 1991, activists launched a campaign to encourage
people of African descent to identify as black, but this was largely
unsuccessful. Since Brazilians know that blackness is denigrated,
many people want to identify themselves as mulatto instead, similar
to the way that many poor Americans throw in their lot with the
So where does that leave the black consciousness movement?
Brazilians activists are trying to talk about race in a place
where race is thought not to exist, trying to raise awareness
of racism in a country that denies racism, and trying to affirm
blackness in a nation where most people of African descent do
not identify themselves as black. In the context of such adversity,
a working definition of success for the black consciousness movement
might focus on increasing awareness of the political interests
that people of African descent share as a result of racial domination
and exclusion. As the November election approaches, perhaps a
similar definition of success one centering on raising awareness
of the interests that we non-elites share and the benefits of
joining together to struggle against political marginalization
would be appropriate for the socialist movement in the US.
Bowser, Benjamin ed.
Crook, Larry and Randal Johnson
Fontaine, Pierre Michel
Hanchard's influential writings provide a good introduction
to the contemporary black consciousness movement in Brazil.
North American Council on Latin
Twine, France Winddance
Editor's Note: Stephen Selka is a sociocultural anthropologist
interested in the intersection of religion, ethnic identity, and
social movements. His research has focused on religious movements
in Latin America in particular, where he conducted fieldwork from
2000 to 2002 in the northeastern state of Bahia. He has taught
at Harold Washington College in Chicago and he is currently a
visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Tulane University
in New Orleans.
by William Pelz
Chicago in August is more known for summer heat than political
light. This year was quite different with a wealth of political
activity, anti-war protests and a unique International Conference.
Entitled "A Better World's in Birth? Struggles against Globalization".
This gathering was held August 5 through 8 at DePaul University
and witnessed nineteen separate sessions with a total combined
attendance of 331 with participants from Europe, Asia, Latin America
and the Middle East. As a modest attempt to overcome the isolation
between theorists and activists, members of diverse solidarity
movements and the U.S. left from the rest of the world, the conference
was a success. Numerous participants commented that they learned
much which was new and valuable.
The conference began Friday, August 5 with a timely (and well
attended) session on "International Labor Opposition to War
& Occupation." Michael Eisenscher, United States Labor
Against the War (Oakland, California), outlined the case for labor
activism against policies of war and occupation while Jean-Pierre
Page, former head of the International Department of the French
trade union CGT, stressed the need to support the Iraqi resistance.
Friday, August 6, began with a Jobs with Justice sponsored
panel on the plight of day laborers.
Later the more theoretical inclined could attend "Beyond
Anti-Globalization: the Humanism of Marx as Grounds for a New
Society" and "Left Theory in the Age of Capitalist Hegemony."
The later panel included a presentation on "Economic Globalization
and the Fate of Contemporary Socialism" by Professor Song
Mengrong, Liaoning Provincial College of Economics and Politics
(People,s Republic of China). For those with a more concrete orientation,
there was the session on the "Effects of Globalization on
the Philippine People" lead by Riko Rosete, Committee on
That night the conference featured a "Night of Solidarity
with Latin America" where traditional Guatemalan Food was
served and Chuy Negrete performed. Chuy Negrete was born in Mexico
and grew up in Texas and Chicago, the South Side Steel Mills.
He has been hailed by Studs Terkel as the "Chicano Woody
Gutherie". He has performed for a quarter century the corridos,
the folk music of his Mexican and Chicano heritage.
The struggles of the Colombian people against Globalization
and Neoliberalism, in the context of U.S. intervention in Latin
America was the subject of "America's Other Dirty War: Plan
Colombia and the Neoliberal Agenda" on Saturday. Speakers
included Luis Adolfo Cardona - SINALTRAINAL Colombian food &
beverage workers, union as well as Mario Novelli - Colombia Solidarity
Campaign (United Kingdom) and Tom Burke- Local 73 SEIU, Veteran
Iranian activists lead a panel on the "Condition of Peoples'
Struggle in Iran" that detailed the current status of struggles
against the "Islamic" Republic in Iran. Meanwhile a
session on "The Truth about the Korean Situation" brought
Yoomi Jeong, Deputy Secretary General of Korea Truth Commission
to discuss her experience working on the Korea Truth Commission:
US war crimes during the Korean War and the cover-ups by both
US and South Korean governments, continued presence of US in South
Korea, dispatch of SK troops to Iraq, death of Kim Sun-Il, and
the anti-war and anti- US movement in Southern Korea. As one of
the few individuals who have traveled to both Koreas and one who
has a close networking and working relationship with people in
both Koreas, Yoomi Jeong gave a unique perspective.
The historical underpinnings and present day analysis of Venezuela's
Peaceful and Democratic Revolutionary process and the August 2004
national referendum on the Chavez presidency was presented during
the "Venezuela: There's Something Happening There" panel.
The Vietnam Veterans Against The War (VVAW) held a workshop on
"War Without End? Warfare in the 21st Century" which
featured VVAW leader Barry Romo. "Wal-Mart: Enforcer for
Globalization" joined Jaime Daniel, Director of Organizing
& Development, UPI Local 4100 and James Thindwa, Executive
Director of Chicago Jobs with Justice to detail the efforts to
organize against Wal-Mart in Chicago while giving both global
and local perspectives. More theoretical, but no less compelling,
was "Imperialism in the Era of Globalization," that
discussed the nature of imperialism in today's world, the relevancy
of Lenin's position on imperialism, examining old and new forms
of domination, as well as the current divide within the capitalist
class over the nature and direction of the international system
between the new globalist world order and the resurgence of unilateral
imperial rule under the Bush administration.
A session on "Cuba Faces Capitalist Globalization"
brought together Gisela Lopez, Cuban-American activist speaking
on the Globalization and immigration conference in June 2004 in
Havana; Joe Shuman on Legal and economic aspects of the embargo
and its effects on the people of the US and Cuba and Neal Resnikoff
relating Political and other aspects of Globalization on Cuba.
On Sunday - August 8th, "Social Movements and Imperialism"
sponsored by the Global Studies Association - North America saw
"Striking Back at the Empire"- Lauren Langman, Professor
of Sociology, Loyola University and "US Hegemonism, Globalization
and the 2004 Election" -Carl Davidson, Networking for Democracy.
At another panel, the Mexican Solidarity Network presented "U.S.
- Mexico Relations - At the Heart of Corporate Globalization"
where the centrality of the US-Mexico relationship in defining
the process of corporate-centered globalization, with special
emphasis on bilateral agreements, economic and cultural factors
and immigration was examined.
Another Latin American session presented "Nicaragua: Sandino
Vive Sandinismo Second Millennium" where the Nicaragua Solidarity
Committee, Nicaragua Medical Alliance and Mexican Cultural Institute
noted: "It is 25 Years Since July 19, 1979 and more than
500 Years since the Europeans set foot on the Americas. The triumph
July 19 1979 was of the people of Nicaragua overthrowing the brutal
US puppet Somoza Dynasty and verging into their own autonomy and
dreams. The dreams are 500 Years Rising Up." From over the
great pond, two Europeans discussed "Another Europe is Possible:
Reflections from the Front Lines." Penelope Duggan, International
Viewpoint and Jean-Pierre Page, Trade unionist (Paris) led
a gathering where veteran left-wing European activists shared
their insights into the ongoing struggle for a Europe that truly
practices liberty, equality and solidarity. Among the topics discussed
were the struggles against the neo-liberal assault on the welfare
state, the U.S. war against Iraq and the attempt to "Americanize"
the European masses.
The conference's closing session asked the very relevant question:
"Is there a future for anti-globalization struggles?"
Veteran activist Andy Thayer, Chicago Coalition Against War &
Racism; Chicago Anti-Bashing joined Penelope Duggan, International
Viewpoint in a spirited discussion of how opposition to capitalist
globalization can continue to broaden and strength its reach.
The depth and breath of the discussion revealed that conference
participants were serious in their desire to "think outside
the box" and search for new tactics and insights. While there
were doubtlessly areas of the conference that could be improved,
it appears clear that this was a vital first step. Information
on the next conference will be posted on the web site: internationalconference.info
Editor's Note: William Pelz is a Professor of History at
Elgin Community College, International Secretary of the Socialist
Party USA, and Director of the Institute for Working Class History.
The Institute for Working Class History sponsored the conference
along with the DePaul University International Studies Program
(Chicago), Research Institute of Comparative History & Culture
(Seoul, Korea), Spectre Magazine (Belgium), and the Global
Studies Association of North America (USA).
By Hugh Iglarsh
There was a time a Golden Age, perhaps when the
life of the mind centered on the Salon: that convivial urban space
where opinions on everything circulated among everyone, where
ideas were honed and alliances forged. The Enlightenment emerged
from the European Salon and declined as the Salon Spirit fell
victim to specialization and spectacle. Left homeless, secular
culture then self-divided into High and Low, the one institutionalized
by academia, the other commodified by the media.
The Open University of the Left (OUL) is reviving the Salon
tradition in Chicago seasoned with an inclusive spirit and
a leftward tilt with its ongoing and evolving series of
presentations, discussions, debates and showings. While the OUL
maintains a progressive viewpoint, it is open to people of all
political persuasions looking for substantive conversation on
everything from history and philosophy to literature and art.
A typical OUL event took place this July 14 Bastille
Day, 2004. A group of 20 or so souls gathered in Bucktown on a
Wednesday evening, not for the usual Bastille Day drink specials,
but rather to take part in a meaty program on the revolutionary
Paris Commune of 1871. Two presenters provided historical background;
a couple of respondents made their points; then the group as a
whole discussed the issues that interested them. Some debated
the use and abuse of historical myth; others noted the similarities
between the re-gentrification tactics used in Paris in the 1860s
and in Chicago today.
Scheduled to end at 9 PM, the session continued another half-hour,
and some participants reconvened at a neighborhood café
for further discussion. While no poll was taken, people appeared
satisfied that they had gotten their $5 worth. (Donations are
requested to cover basic expenses, but no one is turned away for
lack of funds.)
OUL's literary subset Literature in Three Dimensions
has hosted presentations on classics and contemporary works,
from Herman Melville's Typee to Palestinian writer Ghassan
Kanafani's novella, Men in the Sun and Morris Berman's
iconoclastic The Twilight of American Culture. The L3-D
program aims at linking the artistic and political aspects of
literature without slighting either. Presenters begin by offering
biographical, historical and critical context about the work,
which enriches and broadens the ensuing discussion. Unlike other
book groups, sessions are open to all and are posted on various
Web sites and publications, including Third Coast Press.
Recent OUL events include a series on the history of third-party
politics in the United States, a well-attended colloquium on James
Weinstein's (founder of In These Times magazine) The
Long Detour: The History and Future of the American Left,
and a showing of Sam Greenlee's The Spook Who Sat by the Door,
a film about Black uprising in Chicago that was essentially snuffed
by theaters and distributors upon its 1973 release.
After a long nomadic existence, the OUL is ensconced at Acme
Art Works, a cultural hub at 1741 N. Western Avenue managed by
the Near Northwest Arts Council. The funky café space at
Acme serves as an ideal intellectual home away from home.
"The goal is to offer a nonsectarian common ground for
questioning people, who often feel isolated," says David
Williams, who founded the OUL back in 1987 and still has a leading
role in the organization, despite his recent move to Madison,
Wisconsin. "We also help bring together the scholarly and
activist communities. Our programs are an enlivening alternative
to the usual diversions you can make it a Melville night
instead of a Blockbuster night."
Unless ideas are shared, energy for change is fragmented and
movements remain narrow. The OUL provides a forum for creating
connections as well as individual learning and growth. The enthusiasm
is infectious and, as the robust (and lively) crowds at recent
events show, the momentum is growing. For more information about
the OUL or if you'd like to host a presentation e-mail
the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org
or call (847) 677-5474.
The currently scheduled programs for the "Fall Semester"
are at ACME Artworks, 1741 N. Western Ave. Thursday programs are
7 PM - 9 PM and Saturday programs are 3 PM -5 PM.
Editor's Note: a version of this article previously appeared
in Third Coast Press.
compiled by Bob Roman
Eliseo Medina, an Executive Vice-President of the Service Employees
International Union, was elected an Honorary Chair of Democratic
Socialists of America. Medina was elected to fill the vacancy
created by the death of Millie Jeffrey earlier this year. The
election was a unanimous vote of DSA's National Political Committee.
Bogdan Denitch, Barbara Ehrenreich, Dolores Huerta, Eugene "Gus"
Newport, Frances Fox Piven and Cornel West are the other Honorary
Chairs of DSA.
Medina is widely credited with playing a key role in the AFL-CIO's
decision to adopt a new policy on immigration a few years ago,
and was one of the organizers of the Immigrant Workers Freedom
Bus Rides last year.
His first interaction with DSA came in Chicago when, as a young
worker, he was sent by Cesar Chavez to lead the Chicago grape
boycott campaign. Medina was the 2004
recipient of Chicago DSA's Debs-Thomas-Harrington Award.
Governor Rod Blagojevich on August 21st signed
into law landmark health care reform legislation that is designed
to develop an affordable and accessible health care plan for the
people of Illinois by December 31, 2006.
"The signing of the Illinois
Health Care Justice Act will be a shot that will be heard
around this country. As a major state like Illinois commits to
move forward to implement an affordable and accessible health
care system, other states and public policy makers in Washington
DC will take notice," stressed Jim Duffett, the Executive
Director of the Campaign
for Better Health Care. Duffett continues, "States across
our nation have no choice but to act, since there is no leadership
or commitment by the U.S. Congress and the White House to deal
with crisis. Our health care system is in a meltdown and immediate
action is needed."
Bi-partisan support for the Health
Care Justice Act did occur in the House. The House bill's
chief sponsor is State Representative William Delgado and the
chief sponsor in the Senate is State Senator Barack Obama and
Democratic Candidate for the U.S. Senate.
According to a study that the CBHC released in June of this
year, approximately 3,492,000 Illinoisans (one out of three people
under 65 years of age) were uninsured at some point of time during
2002-2003. The report, based mainly on Census Bureau data, showed
that most of these uninsured individuals lacked coverage for lengthy
periods of time: almost two-thirds of the 3,492,000 Illinoisans
(64.0 percent) were uninsured for six months or more; and over
half (50.6 percent) were uninsured for at least nine months.
"The growing number of Americans without health insurance
is now a phenomenon that significantly affects working families,
including the middle class," said Duffett. "As a result,
this problem is no longer simply an altruistic issue affecting
the poor, but a matter of self-interest for almost everyone."
The Health Care Justice Act is a multi-step public policy that
will engage the public throughout the state to debate the current
crisis and solution(s) to enact affordable and accessible health
care for Illinois. This debate will occur in each congressional
district. A Health Care Task Force chosen by the Governor and
legislative leaders will make a recommendation(s) to the General
Assembly by March 15, 2006 on how to solve the health care crisis
in our state. The General Assembly is then strongly encouraged
to vote on solution(s) by no later than December 31, 2006, with
implementation to begin by July 1, 2007.
The Campaign for Better Health Care's Annual Meeting will take
place on Tuesday, October 26, 2004, at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza
in Chicago, 9 AM to 1 PM. If you're interested in helping build
a health care system for Illinois, this would be a good meeting
to attend. For more information, contact Meghan McCann at 312.913.9449
or Jim Duffett at 217.352.5600 (email@example.com).
Detroit DSA's 6th Annual Frederick Douglass - Eugene V. Debs
Dinner will honor former UAW President Doug Fraser, Gray Panthers
co-convener Ethel Schwartz, and past head of the UAW's Education
Department Alice Audie-Figueroa. The Dinner will be held on Saturday,
November 6th in Detroit at the UAW Local 600 hall. For more information
go to http://kincaidsite.com/dsa/.