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 96

September - October, 2004


  • Chicago Rallies for Peace and Justice by Bob Roman
  • The 2004 Election - DSAPAC statement
  • Day Labor Organizing in Chicago by Dennis Dixon
  • A Comparative Look at the Politics of Race by Stephen Selka
  • International Conference by William Pelz
  • OUL: A Salon for the Progressive Community by Hugh Iglarsh
  • Other News compiled by Bob Roman
  • Eliseo Medina Named an Honorary Chair of DSA
    Health Care Justice Act Signed
    Detroit DSA Douglass - Debs Dinner

    Chicago Rallies for Peace and Justice

    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 Bush agenda.

    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 modest turnout.

    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.


    The 2004 Election

    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 world.

    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 is challenged.

    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 electoral alternatives.


    Day Labor Organizing in Chicago

    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.

    Organizing Begins

    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?

    The Jornaleros

    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.

    At the Agencies

    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

    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 it!

    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.

    La Parada

    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 environment.

    A Global Problem

    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 being deserves.

    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.


    A Comparative Look at the Politics of Race

    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 discrimination.

    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.

    Racial Politics in Brazil and the United States

    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 tourism.

    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 movement.

    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.

    Social and Political Mobilization

    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 wealthy capitalists.

    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.

    Suggested Reading:

    Bowser, Benjamin ed.

    Crook, Larry and Randal Johnson

    Degler, Carl

    Fontaine, Pierre Michel

    Hanchard, Michael

    Hanchard's influential writings provide a good introduction to the contemporary black consciousness movement in Brazil.

    North American Council on Latin America

    Reichmann, Rebecca

    Sansone, Livio

    Schwartz, Joe

    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.


    International Conference

    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 Pilipino Issues.

    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).


    OUL: A Salon for the Progressive Community

    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 oulchicago@yahoo.com 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.


    Other News

    compiled by Bob Roman

    Eliseo Medina Named an Honorary Chair of DSA

    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.


    Health Care Justice Act Signed

    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 (mmccann@cbhconline.org) or Jim Duffett at 217.352.5600 (jduffett@cbhconline.org).


    Detroit DSA Douglass - Debs Dinner

    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/.

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

     Back to top.

    Privacy policy.