citizenship

Put Away the Flags

july 4 image

by Howard Zinn

On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.

Is not nationalism — that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder — one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

These ways of thinking — cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on — have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours — huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction — what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.

That self-deception started early.

When the first English settlers moved into Indian land in Massachusetts Bay and were resisted, the violence escalated into war with the Pequot Indians. The killing of Indians was seen as approved by God, the taking of land as commanded by the Bible. The Puritans cited one of the Psalms, which says: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the Earth for thy possession.”

When the English set fire to a Pequot village and massacred men, women and children, the Puritan theologian Cotton Mather said: “It was supposed that no less than 600 Pequot souls were brought down to hell that day.”

On the eve of the Mexican War, an American journalist declared it our “Manifest Destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence.” After the invasion of Mexico began, The New York Herald announced: “We believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country.”

It was always supposedly for benign purposes that our country went to

war.

We invaded Cuba in 1898 to liberate the Cubans, and went to war in the Philippines shortly after, as President McKinley put it, “to civilize and Christianize” the Filipino people.

As our armies were committing massacres in the Philippines (at least 600,000 Filipinos died in a few years of conflict), Elihu Root, our secretary of war, was saying: “The American soldier is different from all other soldiers of all other countries since the war began. He is the advance guard of liberty and justice, of law and order, and of peace and happiness.”

We see in Iraq that our soldiers are not different. They have, perhaps against their better nature, killed thousands of Iraq civilians. And some soldiers have shown themselves capable of brutality, of torture.

Yet they are victims, too, of our government’s lies.

How many times have we heard President Bush tell the troops that if they die, if they return without arms or legs, or blinded, it is for “liberty,” for “democracy”?

One of the effects of nationalist thinking is a loss of a sense of proportion. The killing of 2,300 people at Pearl Harbor becomes the justification for killing 240,000 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The killing of 3,000 people on Sept. 11 becomes the justification for killing tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And nationalism is given a special virulence when it is said to be blessed by Providence. Today we have a president, invading two countries in four years, who announced on the campaign trail in 2004 that God speaks through him.

We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.

We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.

SPLC Releases Annual “Year in Hate” Review, Includes List of “Hate Groups” in Michigan

The Southern Poverty Law Center has published its annual “Year in Hate” review. According to its research, there are now a total of 844 hate groups in the United States, a rise of 5% over the year before. This number is a 40% increase since 2000, with the Southern Poverty Law Center attributing much of this increase to the use of immigration as an issue to gain recruits. While much of the white supremacist right has been in disarray with infighting, deaths of old leaders, and no single group dominating the scene, there has been a “breathtakingly rapid rise of a right-wing anti-immigration movement made up of groups that are xenophobic but mostly stop short of the open racial hatred espoused by hate groups.” The report cites the formation of 250 nativist groups since 2005 and argues that these groups are becoming more violent.

Along with their annual review of hate groups, the Southern Poverty Law Center has updated their “Hate Group Map” that documents hate groups across the United States. According to that map, Michigan is home to 25 hate groups (the second highest total in the Midwest after Ohio) encompassing groups ideologically aligned with the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi, white nationalist, Christian Identity, and “black separatist” movements. The latter category, has been a subject of some contention within the left, with some arguing that groups such as the Nation of Islam and other “black separatist” groups should not be included amongst historically violent groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. In response to these criticism, the Southern Poverty Law Center states that it “recognizes that much black racism in America is, at least in part, a response to centuries of white racism” and as such must be confronted.

Many of the groups listed in Michigan have been written about and profiled by Media Mouse over the past year as part of our “Far Right in West Michigan” database. Among the groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Media Mouse has documented activities by the Council of Conservative Citizens, the Ku Klux Klan, the National Socialist Movement, and Young Americans for Freedom. In addition, we have also documented activities by groups not mentioned in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report including the Heartside Boot Boyz, the European American Association, and the Nazi Low Riders.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s report also mentions the connections between the racist Council of Conservative Citizens and the anti-affirmative action Proposal 2 (Michigan Civil Rights Initiative) that was passed in Michigan. The report states:

Last fall, the CCC’s Michigan chapter head, the Rev. John Raternik, allied with Ward Connerly, a well-known black conservative, to back a state referendum to ban affirmative action. Connerly rejected calls to denounce the CCC, which has referred to blacks as “a retrograde species of humanity.” The ban passed.

While the report is correct to cite the Council of Conservative Citizens as one of the few groups in Michigan supporting Proposal 2 (the other being the Ku Klux Klan), it gives too much credit to the Council of Conservative Citizens for their “role” in the passage of the measure. Aside from a rally overshadowed by protestors and a letter writing campaign that resulted in a few letters printed in newspapers, the Council of Conservative Citizens did little organizing around the issue. It also neglected to mention that Connerly made a weak public dismissal of the Council of Conservative Citizens in the media, although he did praise the Ku Klux Klan later in the campaign.

The report officially lists the Michigan State University chapter of Young Americans for Freedom, the first student group to be listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It was added to the list in response to its anti-gay and anti-immigrant actions, as well as its efforts to eliminate organizations of color on Michigan State University’s campus.

Minuteman Founder Speaks at MSU Despite Protests

On Thursday, April 19, Chris Simcox, co-founder of the Minuteman Project and current leader of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, spoke at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, Michigan. Simcox spoke after his lecture was delayed for twenty minutes by protestors that chanted and disrupted attempts by Simcox and Young Americans for Freedom, the organization that brought Simcox to MSU's campus, to start their lecture. The speakers were drowned out until the campus police began arresting protestors and ordering people out of the lecture hall. While the lecture hall was cleared by the police under the pretext that the "event was cancelled," once the protestors were removed the police allowed the lecture to continue.

Simcox began by focusing his attention on the protestors, stating that an actual dialog about "the problem" on the borders could now take place. He stated that the protestors were "no better than the 1800s vigilante committees" and that his organization would not "still be in operation if the allegations [from the protestors] were true," asking "would he be here if he murdered people on the border?" Protestors and those opposed to him were a significant focus of Simcox's comments, as they were for the Young Americans for Freedom members in attendence. Simcox referenced the protestors throughout his talk, describing them as a "violent threat to society" and charging that the "people protesting were in diapers five years ago [when Simcox began working on the border], they didn't understand [border issues] then and still don't." He referred to a male Latino protestor as a "violent gangbanger" on the basis that the man wore hip-hop style clothes and had tattoos. When questioned about it, Simcox again said that "a gangbanger was arrested here, he violently attacked a police officer" before sarcastically stating in response to an audience member who called him out for his stereotyping that he "will be more tolerant" in the future and will instead "call him a violent hate-mongering individual." The MSU Young Americans for Freedom chapter was similarly focused on the protestors, with members of the group videotaping protestors before the lecture started, trying to identify conflict areas to record while the lecture was being disrupted, and appearing bored and uninterested in the actual talk.

Simcox also denied many of the prominent allegations against him–that the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has members that are also involved in white supremacist groups and that he has a history of abuse towards his former wife and daughter. Simcox said that his organization has no ties with the National Alliance or other racist groups. According to Simcox, his organization does thorough background checks "using the internet" to keep out white supremacists. He argued that "the other side" makes this a racial issue when in fact the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps is a "mixed raced organization" and that "separatists don't like us." Of course, this comment directly contradicts reports of white supremacists in the Minuteman ranks, widespread advertising on the Internet for the Minuteman efforts on white supremacist websites, and the underlying racism that is contained with in many of the comments that he has made in the past and even within this talk. Similarly, Simcox dismissed allegations that he abused his wife and daughter, arguing that the only crime he has been convicted of is carrying a gun in a national park. Again, evidence available elsewhere disputes his claim, but Simcox argued that these allegations are the product of journalists that "defame and spread lies" as well as the Southern Poverty Law Center, whom he referred to as "the worst hate group" in the country.

However, while Simcox denied allegations that his organization was connected to organized racists and white supremacists, he made several comments during his talk that were racist. At one point, he said that there were immigrants in the country that "find it a badge of honor to drive drunk." He referred to immigrant agriculture workers as "the bottom of the food chain" when stating his opposition to Guest Worker programs. A similar hierarchy was implied when he advocated biometric profiling for immigrants–presumably of both the documented and undocumented variety–stating that he supported immigrants being given biometric identification cards that would track their purchases. Simcox said that he opposes this type of profiling for himself and other Americans, stating "they [immigrants] need to be tracked, not American citizens." Simcox advocated the idea that immigrants must learn English as a means of becoming "functional members of society," a statement that implied that those who do not know English are dysfunctional. In his comments, he also supported the idea that undocumented immigrants who had committed felonies–including the common crime of document fraud–be deported and said that he does not support citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States. Moreover, much of Simcox's talk equated immigrants with criminality and advanced the idea that immigrants are criminals, a view that can create a climate in which either vigilante or state-sponsored violence towards immigrants is tolerated. These comments went so far as to equate immigrants with murderers, with Simcox saying that the country needs to do its "best to make sure people want to come in and prosper, not kill and murder." He also associated immigrants with terrorists, charging that 652 undocumented immigrants caught last year had connections to terrorists.

Simcox expressed support for the Young Americans for Freedom's "Catch an Illegal Immigrant Day" activity, which was held this year at Michigan State University. Ignoring the inherent racism and serious potential for the event to create a hostile climate towards Latino students on MSU's campus, Simcox said that he supports the idea because it brings national attention to the problem of immigration. In response to an audience question he said that "'I'll pick my own lettuce' shirts are not offensive, I'll wash my own toilets–I do." The Minuteman Civil Defense Corps was formed according to Simcox because both parties of the government have failed to address "the flood" of undocumented immigrants across the border. He explained that his organization has adopted its tactics because they had previously "tried everything" to get the government to address "the problem," but they had not done anything. He said that rather than the murdering vigilantes that they are portrayed as, the Minutemen are an organization that is trying to save lives, explaining that they allegedly give water and medical attention to immigrants whom they stop on the border before handing them over to the Border Patrol. Simcox, who stated that "nobody knows the border better than me," said that he had never seen a vigilante on the border and said that you would have a "better opportunity finding Bigfoot on the border than a vigilante." Of course, this comment is contradicted by widespread evidenceof the growth of vigilante groups on the border. He explained that he advocates addressing immigration by securing the border, enforcing laws, and removing lawbreakers from the United States. After that, Simcox said there could be a discussion about how to address the demand for immigrant labor. Simcox also asserted that if the government were to enforce the immigration laws on the books, the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps would end its operations once it had "certified" that the laws were indeed being enforced.

Throughout his talk Simcox's comments illuminated why racist groups should be taken seriously. Simcox talked about the displacement of American workers through modern day capitalism, adopting a rightwing populist rhetoric that views corporations and the government as two parts of the same problem. He called corporations "modern day plantation owners" that exploit people, but his concern was informed more by a desire to scapegoat immigrants rather than a true desire to hold corporations accountable for their role in exploiting workers en both sides of the border. Simcox identified the fact that "NAFTA is a disaster," but did not examine how it has increased immigration and negatively impacted workers in both the United States and in Mexico. Perhaps fortunately for those organizing to oppose the Minutemen and other racist groups, Simcox's arguments were occasionally contradictory and frequently went from advocating increased laws to restrict immigration to telling people not to trust the government. These contradictions imply a weak ideology that could be combated by anti-racist and pro-immigrant activists, but Simcox, the Minutemen, and other vigilantes present an argument that is quite persuasive to those who have been displaced by capitalism and for whom real notions of solidarity have been discouraged by involvement in a system that pits people against each other. Thus far, an alternative ideology has not been presented by the left.

Professor Challenges Audience to Think Beyond Pink Ribbons

The Aquinas College Women’s Studies Center hosted a presentation by GVSU Professor Julia Mason titled More Than a Cure: Examining Breast Health, Cause Related Advertising and the Environment. She provided an interesting critique of the proliferation of the use of pink ribbons and how it actually can distract the public from really thinking about what causes breast cancer.

Professor Mason began by talking about some of the basic realities in regards to breast cancer. About 2 million women in US are living with breast cancer and in 2006, breast cancer accounted for 1 out of 3 cancer diagnosis in women. Men can also develop breast cancer but that accounts for only about 1% of all people diagnosed with the disease. She also touched on the fact that there are cultural and social factors in the public understanding of breast cancer. Western medical traditions are rooted in male dominated ideology, so our understanding of breast cancer has historically been distorted.

The growth of consciousness-raising led some women to produce the resource Our Bodies, Our Selves. Women became their own health advocates, by talking with each other about their bodies and their sexuality. During the 1970s, breast cancer activists didn’t have a focused political agenda according to Professor Mason, but they did change the conversation about breast cancer. She mentions that environmental research pioneer Rachel Carson had breast cancer, but didn’t want to address it for fear that her research would be discredited. Mastectomies often happened without consultation between doctors and their female patients.

During the 1990s breast cancer activism finally became politicized and went mainstream. October is now breast cancer awareness month, with the pink ribbon as the main symbol. The pink ribbon, according to Professor Mason, has social significance, but the pink ribbon has also evolved with a broader meaning. The Pink ribbon “product” has promoted the notion of “shopping as activism instead of social change.” People just buy stuff with a pink ribbon on it and think it is making a difference.

At this point the presenter examined the media’s role around representation of breast cancer and what she called “consumer activism.” Breast cancer advertising is prolific, with many products displaying the Pink Ribbon on their packaging. Several large corporations are even spending lots of money to associate themselves with the “benign” social message of breast cancer. Professor Mason looked at two ad campaigns in particular; Avon and the Ford Motor Company.

Avon ads have raised $450 million for “breast cancer awareness,” but the speaker pointed out that what consumers need to is “look at what is being sold, especially what the environmental impact of the product is.” This commercialization of breast cancer puts its emphasis on a cure, but not prevention. “The largest drug companies who make cures also make carcinogenic products, which cause cancer.” Professor Mason referred to this phenomenon as Pink-washing, where companies distract the public from thinking about the causes of breast cancer to the feel good detection aspect. Pink-Washing is very similar to Green-washing, where corporations try to present themselves has environmentally friendly.

The Ford Motor Company campaign is called “Ford Cares.” They have created “Warriors of the Pink Scarf” with celebrities wearing this pink scarf. The messages are focused on personal health and personal detection. Ford also promotes Race for the Cure, but Professor Mason pointed out that chemicals in combustion may lead to breast cancer. Ford has donated around $87 million, but much of that amount has been on ads promoting the company’s role in breast cancer awareness.

What Professor Mason was demonstrating was that there needs to be an emphasis on prevention with breast cancer, the public cannot assume that because a package has a pink ribbon on it that it is for a “good cause,” and that people need to scrutinize the corporate roll in this issue. “Pink ribbons might cause us to become complacent and individualistic. We need to move beyond corporate sponsorship of breast cancer.” She encouraged people to investigate this issue on their own and suggested the Think Before You Pink campaign as well as support for the Sister Study.

Study: Michigan’s Campaign Finance Laws Lacking

A recent study by the Brennan Center for Law and Justice at New York University has found that Michigan’s campaign finance laws are lacking and is urging reform. The 24-page study, titled “Campaign Finance in Michigan,” assesses the state of Michigan’s campaign finance laws and highlights ways in which the laws could be strengthened. The Center argues that by strengthening campaign finance laws, the democratic process in Michigan would itself be strengthened.

According to the study, Michigan’s campaign finance laws suffer from large loopholes that limit their effectiveness. These loopholes include a lack of limits on contributions to PACs and political parties, an inadequate disclosure system that does not require disclosure for independent expenditures on so-called “issue ads” that do not urge people to vote “for” or “against” a particular individual or proposal, and limited use of public financing. The study its analysis into four areas covering disclosure, contribution limits, public financing, and enforcement. Disclosure in Michigan is limited by infrequent reporting and reporting that exempts “electioneering communications” (defined as advertisements in designated media, made within a specified period before an election that refer unambiguously to a candidate and are targeted to the candidate’s constituents) that do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, according to the study. The study demonstrates that there are large loopholes in laws setting contribution limits, including laws that allow individuals to make unlimited contributions to PACs and committees despite a $20,000 annual limit on contributions to individual candidates. Similarly, while there are prohibitions on contributions from corporations and labor unions, they can be circumvented easily as there are no prohibitions on contributions to state parties as long as they are not used for “expenditures.”

In the areas of public financing and enforcement, the study argues that further laws are needed as well. The report argues that current public financing laws–described as “relatively ineffective”–set the spending limits too low and therefore lead many candidates to opt-out from public financing. The current public financing limits include a grant of $1.125 million dollars and a spending limit of $2 million, making it near impossible to compete in gubernatorial races that spend tens of millions of dollars. When it comes to enforcement of existing campaign finance laws, the Secretary of State, who is responsible for enforcing the laws, has little power to actually do so. The office cannot issue subpoenas or cease and desist orders and has no power to conduct investigations. Furthermore, the maximum penalty that can be assessed for violating campaign finance laws is $1,000.

The study makes several recommendations in each area, arguing that the improvements would enhance the democratic process in Michigan. In the area of disclosure, the study advocates increasing reporting frequency, enacting laws that regulate “electioneering communications,” requiring the disclosure of independent expenditures within 48 hours, and implementing laws that would require disclosure of donations to political parties for “party-building expenses,” a move that would close a soft money loophole. To improve laws governing contribution limits, the study encourages Michigan to implement limits on contributions to PACs and political parties as well as calling on Michigan’s Senate to extend the prohibition on corporate and union contributions to political parties for expenditures to “electioneering communications.” With regard to public financing, the study asserts that Michigan’s public financing system is “almost obsolete” and encourages the state to increase the amount of funding offered and the spending limits in order to increase participation in the program, which the study argues should be expanded to include all statewide, legislative, and judicial races. Finally, to enhance enforcement, the study calls for the Secretary of the State to be given the power to investigate campaign finance violations, issue subpoenas, and issue cease and desist orders. Penalties should also be made more proportionate to violations.

The study is the fourth in a five-part series authored by the Brennan Center that examines how campaign finance laws have worked and not worked in the Midwest. Previous studies have been published examining campaign finance laws in Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Minnesota.

Part 2: Michigan Senator Carl Levin on the Iraq War: His Views and Policies in Public Statements September 2002 to March 2007

This is Part 2 of a review of Michigan Senator Carl Levin’s statements on Iraq. Please see Part 1 for an introduction and analysis.

04/11/03: “Levin Statement on the FY 2004 Budget Resolution”

In this statement on President Bush’s FY 2004 budget, Senator Levin objects to the Bush administration’s proposal to cut taxes and pay for the Iraq War with debt spending, arguing that:

One symbol of those future generations are the men and women who now are putting their lives on the line for us in the war in Iraq. It seems to me unthinkable that when we welcome them home – hopefully with the parades and the welcome and the hugs they deserve – we would also tell them: by the way, the war you are fighting is going to be paid for by you and your kids, not by us; we are going to borrow money, but not to pay for this war; we are going to borrow this money to pay for a tax cut that mainly goes to the wealthiest among us.

04/10/03: “Hearing on the Military Implications of NATO Enlargement and on Post-Conflict Iraq”

In this statement, Senator Levin expresses support for a joint statement by President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair that they will seek a new United Nations resolution endorsing “an appropriate post-conflict administration for Iraq.” Levin argues that involvement of the United Nations will “add significant credibility to and confidence in the interim Iraqi government and give the lie to those who propagandize that the removal of Saddam was motivated by a desire to dominate Iraq or control its resources.”

04/09/03: “In Support of U.S. Troops Serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom”

In this statement, Senator Levin highlights the various ways in which Michigan residents have “supported the troops” in Iraq. This support has included rallies, letter writing, care packages, and other such actions. Levin concludes by stating that “on behalf of all of the people of Michigan, I say thank you to all the men and women of our armed forces who are carrying out the dangerous mission of disarming Saddam Hussein and his regime.”

03/20/03: “Levin Statement on Commencement of Military Operations in Iraq”

As the invasion of Iraq began, Senator Levin issued the following statement:

Now that hostilities in Iraq have begun, our thoughts and prayers are with the brave and dedicated men and women of our armed forces who are carrying out the mission of disarming Saddam Hussein. Their mission is a dangerous one, and our nation is grateful for their courage and their service.

03/20/03: “Senate Unanimously Passes Resolution in Support of Troops”

In a floor statement, Senator Levin related a story from soldiers in Iraq who asked about what was going on in the United States with antiwar demonstrations:

I told them that those demonstrating back home were carrying out and exercising a right, which is something we all cherish. As a matter of fact, they were exercising the very freedoms that our Armed Forces have protected throughout our history. I told them we had a vigorous debate in the Senate last fall about the wisdom of initiating an attack against Saddam Hussein if we were unable to persuade the world community, acting through the United Nations, to authorize and support such an attack. I told them that, in the end, a majority of both Houses of the Congress voted to authorize the President to use military force with or without that explicit authority of the United Nations.

I told them that our democracy functions through debate and decision, and that the decision to give the President this authority was democratically arrived at. Finally and most importantly, I told these Marines I was confident that, after the debate in Congress about the wisdom of instituting an attack without the support of the world community through the United Nations, if hostilities should start, those who have such different views will come together and will rally behind them and give them the full support hey deserve.

Levin said that this was now coming true and that people were coming together to “support the men and women who are now in harm’s way” and that the “democratic debate has occurred.”

03/17/03: “Levin Reaction to President Bush’s Address on Iraq”

In this statement, Senator Levin said in reaction to Bush’s speech that “those of us who have questioned the Administration’s approach, including this senator, will now be rallying behind the men and women of our armed forces to give them the full support they deserve, as it seems certain we will soon be at war” and that “The decision to give the President wide authority was democratically arrived at.” He further stated that it is important to support the troops “as they carry out their missions.”

03/17/03: “Senate floor speech on Iraq”

In this floor speech, Senator Levin argued against President Bush’s decision not to go before the United Nations to get approval for the invasion of Iraq. Levin criticized Bush’s decision because a united Security Council might be able to pressure Saddam Hussein without military action, that not going to the UN will jeopardize relationships in the Middle East, that the attack will fuel anti-American sentiment, and that it will make it lessen international participation in Iraq’s reconstruction. Levin also asserted that the United Nation’s rejection of the Bush administration’s policy was a result of divisive rhetoric stating that countries were “with us or against us” or that inspectors were “so-called,” while the spinning of facts by the White House–citing minor issues that were overcome in the inspections process as proof of Iraq’s duplicity–further limited UN support. Senator Levin concluded that while “we will prevail militarily in Iraq on our own” but that “it will be more difficult to win the larger war on terrorism without the world community in our corner.”

02/14/03: “Levin Reaction to Presentation by Blix and ElBaradei”

In this statement, Senator Levin expressed support for increased intelligence sharing among UN countries for the purpose of supporting weapons inspections in Iraq, but criticized the actions of the United States:

The Administration has never embraced the U.N. inspections. It prejudged their outcome, referring to them publicly early on as “useless” and recently to me personally as “doomed to failure.” In the absence of an imminent threat, it is very much in our interest to have a U.N. resolution authorizing Member States to take military action before initiating a pre-emptive attack against Iraq. The best chance for obtaining such a resolution and keeping the world organization united is if the inspection process is being given a fair chance.

02/12/03: “Hearing on Worldwide Threats with George Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence and Lowell Jacoby, Defense Intelligence Agency”

In this statement, Senator Levin argued that the best way to disarm Saddam Hussein is through actions supported by the United Nations. Levin argued that Osama Bin Laden would like to see the United States and Britain attack Iraq without UN support and that the only opportunity to get Saddam Hussein to disarm without war is through coordinated UN actions. Levin also criticized the claims of those in the Bush administration that discredit weapons inspections before they are done and criticized the Bush administration for failing to share intelligence with the United Nations.

02/05/03: “Reaction of Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) to Secretary Powell’s Presentation to the UN Security Council”

In this statement to the press, Senator Levin expressed support for Collin Powell’s going to the United Nations and explained that it is a critical step in building international support for the invasion of Iraq. Levin argued that the presentation was convincing:

Secretary Powell presented a compelling case against Saddam Hussein. I didn’t need convincing, as I have long believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in the form of chemical and biological weapons, since they have not accounted for the materials that UNSCOM determined they had. The question now is how convincing it was to the UN Security Council.

Secretary Powell’s presentation included satellite imagery that suggests Iraq’s deception. Human intelligence serves to buttress the imagery. But without access to the source and an opportunity to verify his or her credibility, this intelligence may not be sufficiently convincing to skeptics. The use of communication intercepts further buttress the case of Iraq’s deception. In the words of Secretary Powell, there is no smoking gun, but there is a lot of smoke. I leave it to others, who were not already convinced that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, to draw their own conclusions.

Levin asserted that he believes “intrusive and effective” UN inspections are the best way to disarm Iraq without war. He expressed disappointment at Bush administration officials who have described the UN process as a “waste of time.” Levin also announced support for a military attack on Iraq to disrupt chemical weapons operations being done in Iraq by al-Qaeda:

Secretary Powell disclosed this morning that al Qaeda has been producing and exporting poisons and toxins from a laboratory in northeastern Iraq that is beyond the control of Saddam Hussein. I favor prompt and forceful U.S. military action to deal with that problem as we have done in attacking al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan and Yemen. Such action should not be hindered or delayed by the process involved in how to proceed against Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

02/04/03: “Levin, Clinton Urge Bush to Propose U.N. Resolution Authorizing U-2 Flights in Iraq”

In this letter, Senator Levin and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York), urge Secretary of State Collin Powell to introduce a resolution rejecting Iraqi conditions on U-2 flights at his appearance at the United Nations.

01/28/03: “Levin Statement on the State of the Union Address”

In this statement, Senator Levin argues that “the President is correct that Saddam Hussein has not met the burden of disclosing and destroying his weapons of mass destruction” but also asserts that the Bush administration must provide the United Nations with intelligence that can help the inspections process in addition making sure that military action will make the United States more secure.

01/27/03: “Statement of Senator Carl Levin on the U.N. Weapons Inspectors Report”

In this statement, Senator Levin expressed support for continued weapons inspections by the United Nations and called for the Bush administration to share intelligence with the United Nations. Levin urged the administration to “support the UN inspection process as long as the inspectors are making progress before deciding to take another course of action, including the use of military force.”

01/24/03: “Levin Urges President to Share U.S. Intelligence Information with Weapons Inspectors”

In this letter, Senator Levin urged President Bush to share intelligence with the United Nations, release information publicly about how the United States has shared information, and to support the inspections before advocating a military attack.

01/12/03: “Hearing on Worldwide Threats”

In this statement, Senator Levin argues that Iraq continues to “flout international community” and is not assisting weapons inspectors. He argues that Osama Bin Laden would like to see Iraq attacked unilaterally by the United States and that not only would coordinated action by the United Nations be a blow to this desire, but it might also have the potential to disarm Saddam Hussein without war. Levin also expressed disdain for the way in which the White House has dismissed and rejected the inspections as destined to fail. Similarly, Levin expressed frustration that the Bush administration has not shared intelligence with the United Nations.

01/09/03: “Levin Floor Statement on the Situation in Iraq”

In this statement, Senator Levin argued that an update from weapons inspectors to be shared with the United Nations on January 27, 2003 should be viewed as an “update”–not a final conclusion by the Bush administration and the press. Levin argued that while the United States has just begun sharing its intelligence information with the United Nations, there is a history of Iraqi activity that justifies the inspections including the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq on August 1, 1990, the passage of a United Nations resolution on November 29, 1990 authorizing member states “to use all necessary means” to liberate Kuwait, a United Nations resolution passed in April 1991 that established conditions for a cease-fire including the destruction of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and the failure of Iraq to comply with the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). United Nations resolution 1441, which initiated the current round of inspections in Iraq, is proceeding on pace according to Senator Levin but will “take months, not weeks” as part of a timetable that was understood by the UN Security Council when the measure was passed.

10/11/02: “Statement of Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) Final Passage of Lieberman Amendment”

This is a major floor statement by Senator Levin articulating why he voted against the resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Because of its importance, it has been reprinted in full:

I would like to briefly explain why I voted against final passage of the Lieberman amendment. I have already explained much of my reasoning at different times during the debate on earlier amendments.

Section 4 of the Lieberman amendment authorizes the President to use the Armed Forces of the United States (1) “against the continuing threat posed by Iraq;” and (2) to “enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq.”

This grant of authority under (1) above, with its threshold of “continuing threat,” is virtually the issuance of a blank check to the President to use U.S. military force, since the Findings section of the amendment already contains the statement that “Iraq poses a continuing threat to the national security of the United States.”

The only limitation on the President’s authority is found in section 4 of the amendment which requires that the President submit his determination to the Congress, within 48 hours after he exercises such authority, that further diplomatic or other peaceful means alone will not protect our national security or is not likely to lead to enforcement of all relevant Security Council Resolutions and that exercising such authority is consistent with the continuation of the United States and other countries actions against international terrorism.

This grant of authority is also unacceptable since it empowers the President to initiate the use of U.S. military force although the threat against which it is used is not imminent. International law has required that there be an imminent threat before one initiates an attack under the rubric of self defense. The resolution’s language regrettably, therefore, serves to implement the President’s desire, as expressed in his September 2002 National Security Strategy, to “adapt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today’s adversaries.” This unfortunate precedent, if followed by, for example, nation A as a justification to use aggressive military force in the name of self-defense against nation B that nation A perceives poses a continuing threat to it, although the threat is not imminent, could lead to an increase in violence and aggression throughout the world. And it could have extraordinary consequences for the world if one or both of such nations possess nuclear weapons, such as India and Pakistan.

The grant of authority under (2) above, to enforce all relevant U.N. Security Council Resolutions regarding Iraq is also unacceptable. For instance, Iraq is presently in default on its obligations under relevant Security Council Resolutions that require it to return Kuwaiti archives and property. It is exceedingly unwise to provide such a broad grant of authority when the real threat that Iraq poses is because of its refusal to destroy its weapons of mass destruction and prohibited delivery systems.

The Lieberman amendment also sends the wrong message to the United Nations. It contradicts the thrust of the President’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly on September 12th when he said “We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions” and “We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful.” That is so because, at the same time that Secretary of State Powell is trying to negotiate with the U.N. Security Council for the very resolution that the President said he wants, the Congress would be vesting extraordinary authority in the President of the United States to “go it alone,” to use U.S. military force whether or not the Security Council authorizes Member States to use military force to enforce its resolutions. By telling the Security Council, if you don’t act, we will, we are letting them off the hook. We should, instead, as we did at the time of the Gulf War, be putting all of our focus on having the Security Council adopt the requisite resolution and committing forces to implement it. We should be working to unite the world community, not divide it.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, the Lieberman amendment compounds all of these problems by authorizing the use of U.S. military force at this time unilaterally, i.e. without U.N. Security Council authorization. The unilateral, go-it-alone use of U.S. military force carries with it risks that could be avoided or, at least, reduced by acting multilaterally, i.e. with the strength and world wide political acceptance that flows from U.N. authorization. If we act unilaterally, will we be able to secure the use of airbases, supply bases, and overflight rights that we need; will there be a reduction in the international support we are receiving for the war on terrorism; will it destabilize an already volatile region and undermine governments such as Jordan and Pakistan; will Saddam Hussein and his generals be more likely to use weapons of mass destruction against our forces and other nations in the region; will we be undercutting efforts to get other nations to help us with the expensive, lengthy task of stabilizing a post-Saddam Iraq? These are serious short- and long-term risks that will be exacerbated if we act unilaterally rather than multilaterally.

Accordingly and for all of these reasons, I cast my vote against final passage of the Lieberman amendment.

10/07/02: “Statement of Sen. Carl Levin following the President’s Statement on Iraq on October 7, 2002″

In this statement made in reaction to remarks by President Bush, Senator Levin argues that while there is “consensus” on the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, there has yet to be a serious debate over whether or not the United States should invade unilaterally. Levin says that this is “the question which Congress is faced with,” yet the President did not “discuss this issue” despite seeking the authority to attack unilaterally in the resolution before the Senate.

10/04/02: “Resolution on Iraq”

In this floor statement, Senator Levin spoke in favor of an alternative resolution on Iraq in light of two major problems Levin identifies with the resolution proposed by President Bush–that the White House resolution authorizes the unilateral use of force and that it authorizes force beyond dealing with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. While Levin asserts in the statement that Saddam Hussein has “defied the will of the entire world as expressed in United Nations Security Council resolutions by refusing to destroy his weapons of mass destruction and prohibited ballistic missiles,” Levin argues for the importance of a multilateral solution to the situation. According to Levin, his resolution–The Multilateral Use of Force Authorization Act of 2002–” provides for the use of force pursuant to a subsequent UN Security Council resolution that authorizes UN member states to use force. It withholds judgment at this time on the question of whether the United States should go it alone, unilaterally against Iraq.” It would urge the United Nations to adopt a resolution allowing unconditional access for weapons inspectors and authorizing force if Iraq fails to comply, authorizes the United States military to be used if the UN authorizes force, affirms that under international law the United States has authority to use military force in self-defense, will prevent the adjournment of Congress if such a resolution is not passed, and requires President Bush to report to congress every 60 days on the progress towards adopting the resolution or in Iraq’s compliance with the resolution. Levin argues that it is key for the security of the United States and the region to have multilateral support for military action against Iraq. Levin also asserts that Saddam Hussein might disarm voluntarily in the face of international pressure.

09/20/02: “Statement of Senator Carl Levin on President Bush’s Draft Iraq Resolution”

In this statement, Senator Levin announces his opposition to the language in President Bush’s draft resolution authorizing force:

A number of Democrats and Republicans, myself included, think some of the language in the President’s draft Iraq resolution is too broad. I believe the resolution should support the President’s goal of having the United Nations give Saddam Hussein a clear ultimatum to open up to unfettered inspections and to disarm or face the use of force by member states. It should also authorize the use of force by the United States to support UN efforts to enforce disarmament.

09/19/02: “Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on U.S. Policy on Iraq”

In this statement, Senator Levin makes many important assertions that provide an important indicator of his stance on Iraq before the invasion. Several excerpts are reprinted below:

We begin with the common belief that Saddam Hussein is a tyrant and a threat to the peace and stability of the region. He has ignored the mandates of the United Nations and is building weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivering them.

Last week in his speech to the United Nations, President Bush rightfully declared that the Iraqi threat is “exactly the kind of aggressive threat that the United Nations was born to confront.” The President reminded the world that Iraqi aggression was stopped after the invasion of Kuwait “by the might of coalition forces and the will of the United Nations.” And the President called upon the United Nations to act again, stating:

“My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge. If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary resolutions.”

We in Congress applauded President Bush’s efforts to galvanize the world community through the United Nations to deal with the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, and our actions now in Congress should be devoted to presenting a broad bipartisan consensus in that critical effort. This does not mean giving a veto to the UN over U.S. foreign policy. No one is going to do that. It is an acknowledgment that Saddam is a world problem and should be addressed in the world arena, and that we are in a stronger position to disarm Iraq, and even possibly avoid war, if Saddam sees the world at the other end of the barrel, not just the United States.

Some have suggested that we also commit ourselves to unilateral action in Iraq, and that we do so now, in the middle of our efforts to enlist the world community to back a UN resolution or resolutions enforcing Iraqi compliance with unconditional inspections and disarmament requirements. They say that although we told the UN that their role is vital just a week ago, we should now say that we are just fine in proceeding on our own. I believe if we really mean it when we say that we want the UN to be relevant, then we should not act in a manner that treats them as irrelevant.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August of 1990, the United Nations – at the urging of former President Bush and with the full support of Congress – condemned Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, demanded that Iraq withdraw its forces, and in November of 1990 passed a resolution authorizing member states to use all necessary means to free Kuwait. Two months later, in January 1991, after debate and a close vote Congress passed a resolution authorizing the participation of U.S. armed forces in that effort. The military campaign against Saddam Hussein in 1991 by the U.S.-led Coalition was carried out with the active participation of most of our NATO allies, the ground forces of several Muslim nations, and the support and backing of virtually every nation in the world.

UN resolutions paved the way for the establishment and enforcement of the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, and for the air and missile attacks on Iraqi facilities related to its weapons of mass destruction programs in December of 1998 following Iraq’s expulsion of the UN weapons inspectors.

The experience of the last decade teaches us that in dealing with Iraq, the United States has been able to work with the world community through the United Nations. A “go it alone” approach where we attack Iraq without the support and participation of the world community would be very different – it would entail grave risks and could have serious consequences for U.S. interests in the Middle East and around the world.

If we go it alone, would we be able to secure the use of airbases, ports and supply bases and overflight rights in the region important to the success of a military operation against Saddam Hussein?

If we go it alone, would we continue to enjoy broad international support for the war on terrorism, including the law enforcement, financial, and intelligence cooperation that has proven to be so essential?

If we go it alone, what would be the impact on the stability of moderate Arab nations, and what would be our future relationship with moderate Arab and Muslim nations?

If we go it alone without UN authority in attacking Saddam Hussein, wouldn’t he or his military commanders be more likely to use weapons of mass destruction against other nations in the region and against U.S. military forces in response than would be the case if he faced a UN-authorized coalition, particularly if that coalition included a number of Muslim nations as the Coalition did during the Gulf War?

If we go it alone, would other nations use our action as a precedent for threatening unilateral military action against their neighbors in the future? Members of this Committee are ever mindful of the fact that confronting the threat posed by Saddam Hussein could ultimately lead to committing U.S. military forces, including ground forces, to combat. How, and under what circumstances, we commit our armed forces to an attack on Iraq could have far-reaching consequences for our interests throughout the world and for the future peace and stability in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.

09/12/02: “Levin Statement on the President’s Speech to the United Nations”

In this statement, Senator Levin reacts to President Bush’s speech to the United Nations:

I support the President’s strong and clear message that action by the United Nations is the best way to address the threats posed by Saddam Hussein. It is important that America be unified in that message to the U.N., and to digress to a discussion of whether the U.S. should go it alone if the U.N. doesn’t authorize the use of force would detract from that united appeal to the U.N. to carry out its duties.

09/04/02: “Levin Statement on Bush Meeting on Iraq”

In this statement, Senator Levin makes comments on Iraq policy after meeting with President Bush:

I welcome the apparent shift in position by the President, at least from the Vice President’s position, to an acknowledgment that Iraq is not solely a U.S. problem but a world problem that the international community needs to be involved in addressing.

I also welcome the President’s statements today that in the process of deciding how to proceed, he welcomes discussion and debate and he will seek congressional approval and U.N. support for whatever course of action he proposes.

I am also encouraged by the President’s suggestion that he would support the resumption of U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq.

Government Raids Target Immigrants in West Michigan

Last weekend, a series of raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained 41 people in West Michigan in what ICE officials are describing as a “cross-check” operation aimed at arresting the “worst of the worst” of immigrant “lawbreakers.” According to reporting in the Grand Rapids Press, ICE officials were targeting “illegal aliens” whom ICE claims committed crimes that make them a danger to the West Michigan community. Of the 41 detained, an ICE spokesperson named Greg Palmore said that one arrestee had previously been charged with murder and others have been convicted of sexually abusing children or assault. Thirty-one of the forty-one arrested were detained in Grand Rapids, with the rest being detained in Holland.

However, while the Press’ coverage highlighted the detainees alleged past crimes and the justifications for the raid offered by ICE officials, others have raised questions about both how the raids were conducted and the targets of the raid. In a story from WOOD TV 8, local attorney Richard Kessler is quoted as saying that the raids were part of a “get tough” media spin being conducted by ICE at the expense of immigrants and their families. This media effort associates immigrants with criminality while perpetuating the idea that harsh punitive measures are the only way to address immigration. Kessler highlighted a raid that in which a mother was taken from her 2-year old daughter on the morning of March 25. According to Kessler, ICE agents were “pretty physical” with the mother, who was handcuffed and put in foot chains after which she was “kind of dragged, pushed” out to a car driven by ICE officials. This treatment occurred even though the mother had no criminal record or convictions and has an issue with the immigration court that is a civil rather than a criminal matter. Kessler pointed out that her legal status was similar to that of many who were arrested over the weekend, with Kessler stating “I would say the majority of them are not felony convictions. A lot of them, particularly this weekend, don’t even have criminal records.”

Similar actions, which many have called heavy-handed on the part of ICE officials–including another series of raids in September of 2006 in Grand Rapids–have taken place across the country in recent years as part of an operation called Endgame that aims to “remove all removable aliens” from the United States by 2012. In addition to home raids, ICE officials have dramatically increased the number of workplace raids (http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/kutalik290107.html) that they conduct, with ICE claiming to have arrested more than 2,100 people from October 2005 to March 2006. These raids have been characterized by agents in riot gear storming workplaces, allegations of racism, and limited success in detaining “dangerous” criminals. Instead, the raids have the goal of advancing the idea that “immigrant” means “criminal” despite studies showing that there is no relationship between immigration and crime, building support for guest worker programs that would allow workers to “legally” come into the United States to be exploited by corporations, and undermining union organizing among immigrants. Some have highlighted the fact that raids–such as those at meatpacking plants in December of 2006—aside from seeking to advance the association of “immigrant” with “criminal,” also undermine union organizing in the United States, as undocumented immigrants make up a significant percentage of workers in industries such as cleaning, hotels, and meatpacking, all of which are targets for union organizing. The raids at the Swift & Co. meatpacking plants–undertaken due to claims of “identity theft” for which none of the 1,300 detained were guilty–serve the function of intimidating workers and putting them in a position of constant fear in which they are understandably hostile to and skeptical of union organizing efforts. In fact, the Swift detentions were due to warrants issued for ICE to check workers’ documents, not to conduct a criminal investigation into identity theft and only 65 of the workers apprehended were ultimately charged. As is the case in most of these raids, those detained as a result were detained for immigration violations, not because they are violent criminals.

Aside from the indignities that come from being forcibly and violently detained, there are numerous stories of mothers being separated from their children and held for days in ICE detention centers, including a raid earlier this year in Auburn, Washington. Immigrants have been detained in prisons with limited access to lawyers, healthcare, food, and other human rights, while prisons run by private corporations have provided even worse treatment. New Mexico ACLU Director Peter Simonson has asserted that, “Nationwide, the ICE raids exhibit a pattern of recklessness and disregard, not just for basic civil rights, but also for the fundamental welfare of families that are broken apart by these operations.” As indicated above, reports of abuses by ICE officials are widespread. ICE’s Assistant Secretary for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Julie L. Meyers, who oversees ICE, is currently facing a legal investigation for illegally shipping detained immigrants in Colorado out of state while ICE has received scrutiny from government agencies for the conditions in its prisons.

Around the country, the raids by ICE are increasingly becoming the target of protest and organizing. Protests have been held against ICE raids in Hartford, Houston, Boston, and Philadelphia, among other cities, since the start of the year. Additionally, numerous groups are offering legal assistance to immigrants detained in ICE raids.

Senate Votes to Continue Funding Occupation of Iraq

On Thursday, the Senate passed a $123 billion bill that will fund the ongoing occupation of Iraq. The bill, which passed by a vote of 51-47, was supported by Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. While the bill continues to fund the occupation of Iraq, it makes symbolic gestures towards ending the military occupation of Iraq, with language urging President George W. Bush to begin withdrawing combat troops from Iraq within 120 days of enactment. The bill also sets a non-binding “goal” of having the withdrawal completed by March of 2008. On Tuesday, both Senators Levin and Stabenow opposed a measure that would have removed this withdrawal date from the bill. That measure failed by a vote of 50 to 48. The bill passed by the Senate differs from the bill passed last week by the House of Representatives, which had a more concrete timeframe for the withdrawal of US troops, requiring President Bush to begin withdrawing troops by July 1 and completing the withdrawal by March of 2008. This would be conditioned on the Iraqis meeting a series of “benchmarks” imposed in the bill. If the Iraqis do not meet the US imposed benchmarks, the President would be required to withdraw most troops by the end of 2007.

The two bills will go before a conference committee in the next few weeks where a compromise will be reached on the differences before a final bill is sent to President Bush. For his part, President Bush has pledged to veto any bill containing a timeframe for withdrawal because he believes that it will “substitute the judgment of politicians in Washington for that of our [the United States'] generals on the ground” and “set an arbitrary date for surrender and withdrawal in Iraq.” Despite President Bush’s claims, recent public opinion polls show that 58% of the public supports legislation that calls for a withdrawal no later than August 2008. The bill has also met widespread opposition in the antiwar movement, with prominent national antiwar groups including Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Military Families Speak Out opposing the bill because it continues the occupation of Iraq. Similarly, antiwar members of the Democratic Party such as Representatives Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, and Lynn Woolsey all voted against the bill recognizing that one cannot claim to want the war to end while continuing to fund it.

The antiwar movement has rejected the spending bills because they continue to fund the war, they allow the war to continue, and because their dates for withdrawal are ambiguously worded and are unlikely to require a complete withdrawal. An analysis prepared by United for Peace and Justice of the House bill points out that whole categories of troops are exempted from the withdrawal requirement including those that are “training the Iraqi military,” participating in “special operations,” or “protecting diplomatic enclaves.” The bill also purports to restrict the deployment of troops not adequately trained, equipped, or rested between deployments, but President Bush is given the authority to override these restrictions if he simply informs Congress of his intention. Similarly, the bill bans the construction of new military bases in Iraq but includes billions of dollars for “military construction” in the country. The bill also allows enforces the same US-imposed “benchmarks” sought by the Bush administration including the passage of a US-backed bill that outlines how oil revenues are to be shared, reining in sectarian militias, and taking the lead in fighting anti-US forces. Beyond that, the bill does not fundamentally challenge the underlying logic of the “war on terror” and is instead written from a perspective that accepts the underlying premise that the United States has a right to wage imperialist wars. Many troops would likely be redeployed to Afghanistan while a measure requiring the Bush administration to get congressional approval to attack Iran was removed. Others have argued that the bill is simply a “timetable for politics as usual,” with the Democrats using the vote simply as a means of giving the appearance of being against the war when they know full well that they do not have the votes to override a presidential veto. Following this logic, the Democratic Party is simply making a move to minimize the war as an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign by being able to claim that they already authored a bill to end the war.

What is clear is that the occupation of Iraq needs to come to an end and that it will not come through the political maneuvering of the Democratic and Republican parties. While the politicians do have the power to end the war by voting to stop funding it, they are unlikely to do so unless the antiwar movement continually pressures them. Around the country, activism such as the Occupation Project’s civil disobedience at congressional offices or the camp outside of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s home does have the potential to ratchet up the pressure on congress, but it must be sustained and greatly expand its current level. For that to happen, the antiwar movement must maintain its independence from the Democratic Party and avoid the mistakes of the 2004 and 2006 elections when focus shifted from antiwar organizing to getting Democratic candidates elected. The stakes are simply too high to put the aims of the antiwar movement in the hands of the Democrats, with 655,000 Iraqi civilians killed, 3,252 US soldiers killed and 24,314 wounded, the displacement of 3.2 million Iraqis, the decimation of Iraq’s infrastructure, and more than $413 billion being spent by the United States to fund the Iraq War, often at the expense of social programs.

March Calls for End to Street Killings in Grand Rapids

On Saturday, approximately 75 people marched through Grand Rapids calling for and end to street killings as part of a community march organized by the group M.A.S.K. (Mothers Against Street Killings). M.A.S.K. was formed in 2005 largely at the behest of Darnella Powell whose son was shot to death on the streets of Grand Rapids during the summer of 2005. Powell has committed to using the tragic death of her son as vehicle for preventing further deaths.

As the march wound its way through Grand Rapids, moving from Garfield Park to Joe Taylor Park near the intersection of Diamond and Baxter, it garnered supportive reactions from the neighborhoods that it went through. Drivers honked in support, people came out on their porches, and people joined the march as it progressed. The march went on Burton to Eastern and then onto Baxter, taking it through many neighborhoods that have seen street killings over the past several years. The march was led by a banner reading M.A.S.K. while organizers kept the crowd together and moderated the pace to ensure that the march remained cohesive. For much of the march, Kent County Commissioner Paul Mayhue led chants on a megaphone and kept the energy of the crowd up. The chants included “We’re Fired Up, Don’t Want No Dope” and “The People United Will Never Be Defeated.” Many participants in the march also wore shirts with the faces of friends and family members that had been killed on the streets.

Before and after the march, a variety of speakers with M.A.S.K. and other community groups, as well as various community leaders, talked briefly about the problem of street killings and violence in Grand Rapids and called on the community to prevent black youth from becoming “another statistic.” One of the most powerful moments of the event was at the concluding rally, when organizers had the mothers and family members in the crowd come forward if they had lost children and relatives to street violence. Unlike much of the corporate media reporting that sensationalizes the violence and blames the problem on “out of control” youth, the speakers placed the blame for the problem on the entire city of Grand Rapids, arguing that the education system, the police system, the religious system, and the political system were all responsible in some way for the ongoing violence. While identifying institutional failings that contribute to the violence, the speakers asserted that the community can and should take responsibility for the problem, with one speaker reminding the crowd of the importance of talking to the youth that gather on street corners as a means of getting to them before the police do. The speakers emphasized the need to be proactive in addressing the problem, arguing that it is important to take actions such as this march to raise awareness, highlight the problem, and undertake preventative measures before more deaths occur. The speakers and organizers emphasized that this was only one part of an ongoing organizing effort around this issue.

As a follow-up event, members of the local chapter of ACORN and organizers with M.A.S.K. promoted an April 17 “Save Our Youth” Town Hall Forum that will take place at 6:30pm at the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church located at 514 Eastern Ave. SE. According to the flyer, a variety of city leaders including Mayor George Heartwell, City Commissioner Elias Lumpkins Jr., City Commissioner James White Sr., City Manager Kurt Kimball, Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Director Jay Steffen, and Chief of Police Harry Dolan have been invited to hear residents talk about more Southside youth programs as a potential solution to violence.

Descendent of Sitting Bull Addresses Myths of Sitting Bull’s Legacy

Today at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Ernie LaPointe, the last surviving great-grandson of the Lakota leader Sitting Bull, spoke about his great-grandfather’s legacy and the ways in which Sitting Bull’s life has been distorted and mythologized in official histories. LaPointe, speaking to an audience of well over one-hundred students and faculty, told the GVSU community that while there have been a number of books written about Sitting Bull, most have gotten the story of Sitting Bull’s life wrong. Traditional histories have not related Sitting Bull’s human characteristics–his compassion, his generosity, and his humility–nor have they gotten even the simplest of facts right–the year and place he was born–according to LaPointe. Sitting Bull’s story has been preserved in his family’s oral history and stories of his life have been passed down to LaPointe with extraordinary detail. Yet, despite this, no scholars have ever approached him or anyone in his family when doing research on Sitting Bull.

One of the most famous distortions of Sitting Bull’s life is his murder, according to LaPointe. LaPointe explained that when Sitting Bull returned from Canada, he was seen as held as a “political prisoner” for two years and was then closely monitored by the United States who feared his influence. At this time, the Lakota people were badly fractured and split between those who supported the US government and those who had converted to Christianity, with few promoting the traditional way of life that Sitting Bull continued to advocate. The authorities at Fort Yates continually tried to get Sitting Bull to renounce his traditional ways and buy into the system, but Sitting Bull refused and consequently became a target for “elimination” according to LaPointe. In his account, LaPointe argues that the authorities viewed Sitting Bull as a “nuisance” and began to plot against him. However, rather than using the military to crush Sitting Bull, the authorities convinced the tribal police and some of Sitting Bull’s own relatives to turn against him. The “official” story of Sitting Bull’s murder argues that Sitting Bull either participated in or allowed the Ghost Dance movement to take hold on the reservation. However, LaPointe argues that Sitting Bull never supported the Ghost Dance–a fusion of Christianity and native spirituality–because he was a traditionalist. LaPointe claims that Sitting Bull had come to view the Ghost Dance movement as a problem after initially allowing it, and was attempting to meet with another chief–Red Cloud–when he was murdered by the state. In Lapointe’s version of Sitting Bull’s death, Sitting Bull was murdered on his way to discuss the Ghost Dance with Red Cloud after the authorities prohibited Sitting Bull from leaving.

LaPointe had several criticisms for anthropologists, archeologists, and other “PhDs” whom he accused of frequently distorting Lakota culture for their own gain. He explained that anthropologists often come into native cultures without respect and have very little consideration for the wishes of native peoples. For example, LaPointe described how anthropologists do not respect native spirituality and frequently write about ceremonies that they observe in books, despite LaPointe’s assertion that the ceremonies should stay where they are and should not be discussed in books. Similarly, the skepticism which some anthropologists report from “traditionalists” on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota comes from the fact the “traditionalists” remember what happened to their people during the colonization of the continent. However, LaPointe argues that if one approaches them with respect and in a humble manner, they likely will share their culture. Still, anthropologists continually miss the essence of native spirituality, isolating ceremonies and taking things out of context without relating the fundamental fact that native spirituality is a way of life. LaPointe had similarly harsh words for the “archaeologists [that] come to native areas like bees on honey… or roaches on bread” with no respect for native cultures.

Conditions remain very harsh for the Lakota people, with LaPointe articulating many problems that continue to face the Lakota nation. LaPointe asserted that South Dakota is one of the most racist states in the union with the white population being extremely hostile to native peoples. The Pine Ridge Reservation is one of the poorest places in the United States and unemployment is widespread. Even those with college degrees often remain unemployed, because many Lakota college graduates have strong family bonds and ties to their homes and are unwilling to trade those ties for jobs. This underscores one of the many ways in which many Lakota people are unable to accept American society, as its ways of thinking are radically different from the Lakota ways. As an example, LaPointe contrasted views of warfare in the two cultures, explaining that in traditional Lakota warfare the goal was to disrespect or humiliate an opponent by hitting him on his head (“counting coup“) in front of his peers, not the annihilation practiced by this culture. his has driven many Lakota people to alcohol and it is such a serious problem that if a Lakota man lives to be 48 he is considered an elder because such a great number die from either liver disease or drunk driving accidents. Illegal drugs–especially meth–have also taken hold in recent years. Competition between individual Lakotas is a major problem as well, with competition undermining the sense of the Lakota as a “people” with common interests.

Despite the dismal conditions, the Lakota nation continues to survive and LaPointe’s work to correct Sitting Bull’s legacy is part of a larger native resistance to more than 500 years of conquest. In addition to talks like the one LaPointe delivered at GVSU, he is completing a two-volume DVD of his family’s oral history, is actively collecting materials pertaining to Sitting Bull’s life for an exhibit at the Little Big Horn battlefield, and is working to have Sitting Bull’s body moved from an unkempt gravesite rapidly becoming surrounded by development to a permanently protected spot on the Little Big Horn battlefield. LaPointe explained that these are just some efforts by natives to carry on their legacy, and briefly mentioned efforts by Crazy Horse’s relatives to get land that was promised to him.