Racism and Cocktails

23 Jan

Disclaimer: There were no cocktails. For cheap cocktails (albeit watered down) go to Font Bar off of Oxford Rd. Hopefully this gets published on http://www.liberateyourself.co.uk (seriously, check it out)

To me the sin of colour-blindness is just a horrific as the sin of racism, the former is simply an avoidance of the latter. Colour blindness is rejection of racial difference, so to a liberal anti-racist, that’s the goal and to the oppressed its not something that we can ignore, a Panther can’t hide its elegant black hide. There’s no objectve thing as race, there’s no reason why we have to deal with race, unless someone brings it up or someone makes an ‘awkward’ racist comment. Bullshit. Racism is a complex social system but it becomes clearer from day to day events, or events such as what happened to me last Saturday.

Discrimination can come from both white and non-white people (e.g. I disrepect you apart from everyone else because you’re white), but discrimination has never involved the kind of horrors or current stagnant trends of disenfranchisement and disrespect that a non-white person may face on a daily basis: this is racism. This systematic disrespect is well documented, and it’is not merely a personal injury. Racism is the systematic devaluation of an individual within society. Yes, society exists; and it doesn’t really like us that much.

 

One thing that victims of racism have encounter is people seeing them as a lesser figure, as a novelty, or as a cartoon character that is apart of the show. I was the target of this form of disrespect from a gyrating moron attempting to sing Michael Jackson songs. “Hey your black! Michael Jackson, you know what I’m talking about right?”, whereas I could only say (and one should, maybe in smarter & varied ways), “fuck you”. The person who defined my musical tastes, ability to dance, individual character by my race in order to enjoy himself by making me a ‘hip’ disney character was a bit disorientated.”Haha, yeah but c’mon”, he said, and I hastily and replied “heheh, fuck you, no seriously. Fuck you”. My white anti-capitalist friends thought my response was epic (not to toot my own horn) and later on, in the conversation as I came back the gyrating moron (as he will be hereafter known)’s friend said, “hey, say what’s up”. His friend hastily said, “mate, I just wanted to hear your accent. I thought you were American, I love the American accent”. This indentification was rather benign and in Manchester, it starts many a conversation because, despite the government’s distaste for foreigners, the people seem to live visitors and new residents in Manchester alot. However, the gyrating moron thereafter said: “I’m sorry to make you angry but, you really shouldn’t be so angry, in fact I find racism to be funny”.

I protested and said, “you think racism is funny?”, then he indicated he was South African and his apologetic friend indicated that he was Iraqi British, “then tell me do you think the children and people of Soweto (a South African ghetto terrorised during the Apartheid era) think it’s funny? Or mate (pointing to his friend), do you think its funny when people do ‘Achmed the Dead Terrorist’ jokes or ‘Arabs Are Terrorists’ sterotypes reinforce racism and racist wars of aggression”? His friend was solemly silent and reflecting, but the Gyrating Moron continued to assert that he was just having fun, the bar isn’t a place to be indignant about things, and that I should just shake his hand as he demanded and continue to drink.

Now, freeze the scene, let’s focus on three things: a) racism isn’t fun; b) one should always be indignant when confronted with injustice or insult; c) I didn’t shake his hand because that- to me, was the ultimate racist insult. Racism isn’t fun, as I told them then and as we can see all around us from Oakland, to Gaza, to Tokyo, racism is a form of class oppression that creates haves and have nots and allows the governent to do things to you by virtue of the colour of your skin. It excludes people and it can range from violent lynching, rape, murder and poverty. In short, racism has never been fun or funny, it’s deadly.

One should know that liberals may try to pacify the stiuation & tensions, even in the face of a backhanded apology. Though, how dare that liberal sitting next to me, and the Gyrating Moron himself suggest that it was just a misunderstanding and that I shouldn’t be angry! Racism is ingornace; a misunderstanding but, not on the victim’s part. If the victim of racism doesn’t get angry, then the racist and the racist society won’t understand. Therefore, it is your duty if your a victim of racism to be angry. Anger is a fiery, intense form of resistance, and it can be educational.

Thereafter, I didn’t shake his hand for a good reason. As colourblindness is characterized by people shaking hands and being nice, it is more an act of pacification and closure. Before he finished his apology backhanded apoligy and interrogated him, “do you know what your apologizing for?” and he couldn’t really tell me: “I just want to apologize”. This isn’t rocket science, as I explained, one apologizes when one wrongs another so it is possible to apologize but he wasn’t apologetic about insulting me. But, more importantly he wasn’t apologetic about any possibility of racist communication and he didn’t want to feel any guilt for his racism. After all, if the black guy shakes the white guys hand, the black one excuses and accepts the white one and everyone is okay. Right, Apart of one big happy,human post-racial family?Wrong.

Many of us are familiar with white guilt, it is characterized but apologetic stories and messages to address racism, while maintaining their own lot or position. Guilt free, at no cost to the guilty. In the dynamic of white guilt, an apology, any apology, even if it does nothing for the victim or the oppressed is okay. No, I wasn’t going to play into his white guilt. We were going to discuss and work on this problem.

Therefore, I didn’t shake his hand as he didn’t come to a resolution where I was satisfied that he saw his actions as wrong (he never admitted he did); moreover, he didn’t apologize while he was beckoning me to shake his hand. Shaking a hand, getting resolution, creating peace is okay. One should create peace wherever they go but not if the peace is one in which they are at a hurtful disadvantage, and unjust conditions continue.

Lastly, I was in a bar with almost all white people around me who stared, including an additional couple who beckoned me to stop my indignance. None of them could see what I was saying, just that I was angry; this phenomenon represents the tragic effects of racism that affect all of us: 1) certain permissable expressions of emotion pursuant to race; 2) an systematic seperation of white people or privileged classes on this important topic. As many Black men and women find, when they get really angry they startle friends in a heavier way than public anger usually startles people. They are seen as dangerous, disruptive and unreasonable, almost as ingnorant hicks- no matter how educated they are (i.e. the “angry black person” figure). It’s not a good feeling that I felt, it’s demaning and it mutes any dialogue; one feels mute, subordinated, and surrounded. A more surreptitious tragedy is that many of these people meant well but, were facing a conceptual challenge that not many have the opportunity (but, it’s getting better as we educate people & speak out!) to overcome in their lives: they just didn’t understand.

Though through the course of this my socialist friend, John and a number of previously quiet white onlookers came to my side and supported my assertions. My friend came to my defence and said, “he has a point, that guy made a genuinely racist comment” and the adjacent shaggy onlooker said, “yeah, he isn’t being that unreasonable” and shook my hand. The latter gesture was small but in an emotional moment it was good to have friends: this is called being an ally.

Being an ally applies to struggles against sexism, homophobia, xenophobia (hating those who are different) or any day to day struggle. Being an ally means: a) just understanding; b) taking action to help the vicitm; c) improving social conditions at large. This can be personal, or one can join a group (which everyone should- just sayin’) but it is political no matter on what level because it is ultimately about empowering each other.

That night concluded with drinks and a further dialogue but the revolutionary moral of this story is, one shouldn’t accept racism (or insert form of oppression) and one should genuinely attack it head on. One shouldn’t do this just to make themselves better, but one should do it as a deep political act to improve society. Be loud, be indignant, talk to the person who offends you and interrogate their reasoning and the situation! What you’ll find is that the devaluation of individuals and the distribution of power isn’t right and its artificial. Though, know your oppressor. If you are confronted by a group of dangerous people (e.g. Skinheads) then the first rule is to survive and evade. The people who have been lynched or physically abused were trapped, whereas experienced and committed oppressors are cowards, so sometimes they rove in packs so be cunning. Although, on the other hand, there’s multiple collective and individual ways to fight (even against a bigoted hoarde) turn your friends into allies, engage the public, or join an organization and you’ll find that strength in numbers is quite litterally: strength in numbers.

The entire system is built on insanity, and it isn’t right, and it will remain so unless people inside it challenge it. It isn’t easy being radical or making a challenge but it is worth it. Without going into much detail as a young Black activist, socialite (partying is alright on a friday), and thinker (aren’t we all, really?) marginalization isn’t a new challenge and the response to it should be the same: it’s crap!

That night I saw a transformative moment as people talked to me and tried to understand what my grievance was and the politics of racism and cocktails as the Gyrating Moron fumed in the corner (and his dancing didn’t get better). You are never alone in resisting injustice; if anything, when you expose colour-blindess for a farce and show the world in technocolour you’ll become the most colourful & “epic” person in the room.

Ron Paul Hates Me (Black, non-white, GLBTQ, Working, and Poor People, really)

19 Jan

Ron Paul with White Nationalist & KKK Leader Don Black, centre

When talking to many friends about Ron Paul there’s one suggestion that always repulses me: ‘you should register Republican to vote for Ron Paul….he’s anti-corporate and anti-war’. No, I shouldn’t vote for someone who wrote in a 1980- 1990’s newsletter that “Order was only restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks”.  Ron Paul is tied to bigots and a friend to neoliberal capitalism and business. Furthermore, my non-U.S. friends may desire the empire to collapse but Paul will fiddle while completing the American ‘wall’: along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Issue by issue, Paul’s right-libertarian policies reproduce his populist ignorance. His is touted as a peace loving savior but, his KKK wizard friends, such as; David Duke and Don Black (seriously, look it up on News One) wouldn’t appreciate an America  that is apart of the global community. Paul’s paleo-conservative love of isolationism is precisely that. What is rather disturbing is that Paul’s isolationism means that we retreat to our borders, with the stuff we’ve expropriated and that U.S. corporations continue to expropriate from faraway places. A fortress America also would be an America of states rights’ (something which Ron Paul avidly supports) state’s rights enabled American Apartheid (a.k.a. Jim Crow) to occur by relieving themselves from observing U.S. constitutional or federal law.

Let’s remember, unless you were a white, wealthy landowning (probably slave-owning), male, Protestant Christian, and heterosexual (homosexuality was considered sinful and socially abhorrent at that time) America’s promise was simply propaganda. Only later on, constitutional amendments such as, the 13th (freedom from slavery), 14th (Equal Rights, Privileges and Immunities of citizenship, Due process, and Equal Protection), 15th (Right to vote), and acts such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were political and civil manifestations that were the result of struggle and of social and political change. These things weren’t conceived by the “founders” who dominated another class of people (namely my ancestors) by virtue of how much property that they had, particularly via the ownership of others. These changes however, occurred through a convergence of changing economic conditions, social movements, and political struggle from pressure from below that translated into concession s and adjustments from above.

Owners, bosses, slaveholders, agrarian America’s bourgeoisie led the revolution that Paul fervently alludes to like a fanatic. When I hear some Paul supporters hailing Paul and ‘constitutionalism’ they forget the aforementioned clash between classes and the evolutionary nature of bourgeois republics’. People like David Duke, just want to take us back to 1776 or 1950’s in Mississippi where WASPMH’s (white, Anglo-Saxon, protestant, male, heterosexual) ruled and people ‘knew their place in the real America’ and we didn’t have to worry about “Obama’s corporate commu-nazi fascist socialist imperialism”, a la big government.

In a few words: Paul’s aspirations are inspired by a system supported by slaveocracy and merchant-barons- the America of Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin. He’s very clear about this, no ifs, ands, or buts.

Paul’s positions against corporations have gotten a lot of support as well, but he’s more pro-corporate than the openly pro-business candidates! Paul’s position is complete laissez-faire. The machinery of the state, as opposed to being operated in the public’s interests or addressing historical inequalities will either be abolished or privately run. Upon the private sector being de-regulated corporations outsourced millions of jobs and reduced cities like Buffalo from gilded living cities to communities on life-support. In doing so, it widened the historical race gap. It has been government intervention, not abstention that has helped close the gap. For example, in the wake of the deregulation of the Bush regime, U.S. National Public Radio and the Pew Research Center cited a significant decrease in income for non-white people: the black home was 20 times poorer than white in 2009.

So whose interest is Paul’s utopia in? When he says that the 1964 Civil Rights Act “undermine[d] the concept of liberty”, I know that it wouldn’t include me; or anyone who comprises the has-nots.  However, one cannot completely erase history; the catch of this liberty is that it covers those with power, privilege or favor.

Ron Paul’s message of universal liberty from government intrusion, taxation, via the free market, based on what the founders intended wouldn’t have been good for a slave. I would have been enslaved in 1776 as America declared its independence! That’s what Paul’s vision means to me.

To my friends who suggest Ron Paul as a left-wing alternative to Obama and do mean well, I hope you consider that his agenda represents the opposite of what we want. Do we want capitalism to be unregulated so people with money can accumulate as much as they want and buy up the world around us? No, because that is control. It’s small government but big corporations where everything is a commodity and greed.

Lastly, For my anti-war friends, don’t just judge on moralistic talk. If we are for peace in general then we have to accept our mistakes.  Lastly, we’ve messed up. The last 100 years we have gone across the world and we’ve done horrific things but, the only thing we can do is make it right. Global poverty is not an accident and simply withdrawing bases and troops as a panacea is Paul’s pipe dream. We are the result of people we don’t even know, so we owe it to our brothers and sisters to work for a better tomorrow. Not praise slaveholders and imperialists and wish for Jim Crow, at home or abroad.

Also, on a racial note to my white friends who identify with Paul’s ideas, do you really want to identify with a particular (and recent) strain of libertarianism that is based on racial and class privilege? If so, then remember the true crime of racism is that we are stuck in our skin: you and I, white and black. Therefore, there’s a dynamic of privilege and un-privilege, whereas human beings are given goods and prioritized by an artificial category. Paul and likewise, European fascists who want to defend “western values” or ‘mainstream’ intellectuals like the riot-hawk David Starkey, who attributed the multiethnic riot to white kids “turning black”, refuse to see  race or acknowledge historical un-privilege. We have to deal with these things, or we fear repeating the horrors of the past. So let’s not start smoking Paul’s crack pipe.

A week in revolutionary Egypt and some departing thoughts

1 Jan

These are just my departing thoughts on Egypt. Thank you so much, to my friends and newfound comrades in Egypt and you have my eternal and unending respect and solidarity for your courage and political programme. Things may change but, the need for liberation remains the same. ***If your name did not get written in it is for security reasons and or, a lack of consent on the person’s part.  

This will not be published but, it is just a QUICK note about my time in Egypt. J

Arriving in Egypt on 21 December was probably like arriving in Egypt a year earlier; except one did not see Mubarak’s face everywhere. It was SCAF’s show now and to the expense of the Egyptian people, the show must go on.

 

The SCAF as the “defenders of the revolution” are orderly transitioning from Mubarak to a technocracy or as a friend and guide, Ahmed Saleh called it, “the Romanian Scenario”: from one dictatorship to plutocracy run by the second tiers, of the former. Citizens are the constituents of a state and they are not accepting anything less than ‘real democracy’ a la control in a fair system. As a fellow young revolutionary named Josef told me over shisha, “we have a goal [that is democracy] so we are going to take steps towards it”, not towards something sufficient but that goal itself, “as long as it takes”.

 

In Egypt, as I met 6 April coalition and Youth for Change and Coalition in Defence of the Revolution activist, Ahmed Saleh in person I turned a corner and found him conducting a meeting with 8 other activists and  newcomers who were looking to get involved. This wasn’t just passive interest but one of the attendees was looking at a newspaper and crying, and Ahmed said, “he lost someone, and he has four bruises over his body”. Many of the participants had lost someone or had originally participated and saw the repression and broken promises and forthwith decided to extend their solidarity wherever they could as ‘dignified’ citizens.

 

Dignity is a central concept. Too many of the Egyptian people have been denied their dignity as individuals. Dictatorship to them has violated their dignity, or their individual autonomy on various occasions and enough was enough.  Although this dignity also represented a shift in the power within the state, people were willing to challenge SCAF a la, the only legitimacy it has is through its guns and the promise of a transition.

Visiting Tahrir

 

The 23 December "million man march" against military-police brutality. They're demanding reduced police powers and an end to SCAF rule.

Finally, I visited Tahrir with Ahmed and this was my formal introduction to the resistance. Many democrats were discussing tactics, living issues, current events, or discussing the value of the struggle. There were a dozen of small meetings and I met one of the student leaders, Mahfouz. He had been part of the group who re-took Tahrir after the military had swept them away. From seeing the peaceful occupation of Buffalo, the anaemic occupation sites at Manchester, the spontaneity of the public assemblies in Spain and the decimations in the USA, to wit, Tahrir was the centre of resistance.

 

A center of resistance, is not just a physical space but it is a focal point of energy. The space is a space where parallel institutions and organization is legitimate, as the wobbly adage goes, “making the new world, within the shell of the old”. In a space such as Tahrir, it was made safe for people to openly discuss and criticise the legitimacy of both the political and economic relationships in society as well as practice and reinvent those relationships. Operationally, it takes the nature of this space and uses the space as a base of operations within a network for actions and activity: liberation & resistance.

 

SCAF’ tactic is the velvet glove as opposed to the iron fist, or rather its social attrition. After the decimation of the first camp in Tahrir, SCAF’s media war is parallel to a war of attrition on Tahrir. On my last full day in Tahrir, 28 December I sat down at Tahrir with organizer, Mohammed ElKomy and discussed the method that SCAF has used to try to dismantle the camp at the square.

SCAF has used the state media, which has been cited as a method of manipulation by Amnesty International as well as the 6 April coalition (note: It’s narcissistic, I am particularly happy that the coalition is named after my birthday) and other organizations. According to Mohammed, “our medical services have broken down…there were 4 or 5 clinics in Tahrir [square] and they all shut, I don’t know why but, now doctors only come when there are clashes”. He attributed the closing to SCAF’s coercion which included direct theft and attacks on the square by spies and assailants. When I interviewed Mohammed I noticed newly erected entrance gates at Tahrir that were established in order to check the flow of travellers in and out of the square; whereas, during the 40 day occupation of the square (including the recent raid), community members have come to know one another and may easily identify one another.

 

One examining any dictatorship, either by a military force or a political party, can see SCAF’s strategy and tactics on display. The use of assailants and mercenaries- hired thugs, really- is rather notorious parallel to the snach-and-grab tactics used by SCAF itself. Mohammed, said “[if you] step 100 meters out of the square then the police will come and snach you up, so here is the only place that is safe”.

 

The debates were between counter-revolutionary and revolutionaries (or sympathizers), the former came to the square to dissuade people from entering with the standard SCAF line: ‘these people are keeping Egypt back, Tahrir is merely a den of squatters and scoundrels, and during the revolution people came and handed out hundred pound notes to these people ( a la they are being financed to de-stabilize Egypt)’.  These were all rumours to disenchant people who favoured the revolution. The night I arrived here in my romanticized view of Tahrir- and heinous lack of any Arabic proficiency- I witnessed multiple discussions going on. Crowds would gather around 2-4 (mostly men) and they would vigorously discuss & debate, although later I learned that this was a fight going on.

 

Upon leaving Tahrir for the first time after I was guided through it I felt a warm feeling of solidarity as I passed out sanitary napkins and notebooks I had no use for as a non-lingual token of appreciation. The feeling of solidarity and warmth was not just because I was sympathetic but, because as an outsider I could communicate with the world and transmit their aims and what I saw there. In fact, after asking Mohammed what can westerners do to help the revolution is to act as a communications network and hear the stories opposite of the lies of the junta. Westerners, may also find another action used by the Egyptians and exercised in 2011 when outsiders called  in food aid to the occupation in Wisconsin’s state house.

The Demonstrations

On 21 December when I arrived, in Taalat Harb square, a walk away from Tahrir, there was a rally which has become a common occurrence at this intersection since the revolution: “don’t take away our voices”, read the sign depicting a young woman being silenced. The demonstrators had stickers on their mouths that read “our dignity”. Activists marching against the SCAF's repression and violence against women. On two other occasions Taalat Harb was the point of other public demonstrations and rallies, an auxiliary assembly point; at the point itself, the space is a space in conflict: graffiti, the messages, and signs of the revolution vs. Wealthy banks and business on the other hand.  

The silencing of women and the energy introduced by this event has raised the dialogue on the state of women in Egypt: bad. Women, according to a 2009 CESR report compared to other low and middle income countries in North Africa, Egypt has fallen significantly behind in making changes to improve the economic, health, and educational condition of women. Furthermore, in the CESR report, it cites Egypt as having one of the highest Female illiteracy rates in the Middle-East, and between 2002-2007 public expenditure has decreased except in defence and policing amidst a general upward trend in GDP.

 

Sexism or what many feminists would consider institutionalized patriarchy is in Egypt. Not all practices are sexist and as a westerner admittedly it would be ethnocentric not to exercise a flexible cultural relativism when accessing sexism yet, there are instances in public life that are clearly sexist. The inequality is rather dynamic in Egypt and I couldn’t do it justice to only briefly discuss it in a few paragraphs so, all that can be correctly stated are some of the testimonies I’ve received as well some key things from a discussion with an American friend living in Egypt I’ll call J.

The day after the demonstration, I made contact with a friend from New York introduced to me via others who has been living in Egypt for a year. Dignity of the family- and society as a whole- is represented in the women, and J went on to discuss a rather unnerving experience she had whereas after a demonstration and the women had mostly left, men attempted to grab her and because of her foreign status, she couldn’t assault them or it may have incurred xenophobic mob violence.

On the other hand, since women are the unit of dignity of the family and society in Egyptian society there’s a very serious culture of public (and private) respect for women in life. This respect excludes overt abuse in public, as Ahmed a “average guy” who graduated from American University told me: “I don’t know about in the west, but in the Arab world, hitting a woman is an absolute wrong….it’s just not acceptable, and when people saw the footage [of the girl being stomped on by the police] people flipped].

On 23 December, I was standing in a sea of demonstrations, multiple yet unified with only 5 days notice 2000 people were packed within Tahrir after a previous midnight crackdown of arrests, three protest marches, and then demonstrators vigorously chanted, “women are a red line” referring to the heinous footage of a woman being beaten by Egyptian military police and after a string of disgraceful cases of sexual and physical abuse of women. The demonstration was called on the 18th after the police burned down tents and mercilessly beat demonstrators. The 23rd December demonstration was a show of escalating force on the part of the protest movement yet, it was much less violent than the last demonstration according to my friend Ahmed Fakahany.

 

Ahmed gave me a tour of the area after I told him my intention to document the revolution. The area had been a site of resistance through self-defence not just political transformation, so this part of the news was actually correct. The kind of discipline came through a feeling of social solidarity created in a city or a people under siege, whereas there may be internal disagreements but one will not sacrifice the other to their common enemy. We were standing in front of a wall next to the burned out National Academy that according to Ahmed, who was a medic at the barricades, and as we walked towards Tahrir we entered Mohamad Mahmoud street which was also cordoned off. The walls around American University featured a mosaic tribute to revolutionaries and martyrs who weren’t that dissimilar to myself; “do you see how they all have one eye, that was the common wound during the clashes, so it’s a symbol of the revolution”, and thereafter, as I reflected upon it, walking through Cairo I saw many young adults with bandages on their heads or their eyes.

 

As we approached the American University library, we passed a demonstration led by a young girl that was no older than 12 years old. Street children played an impressive and important role in the clashes according to Ahmed, “they went into the smoke and teargas and pulled people out, threw rocks and ran for us, they were invaluable” yet “they are usually looked down upon and excluded and this revolution gave them a way to be included”.

As we left the site of the clashes and said goodbye to one another, the organization and the discipline struck me as brilliant. Brilliant because it was serious, this is not to say that there’s a certain discipline amongst western activists and organizers but, its a discipline that knows at the end of the day we may acquiesce to the apolitical but due to the situation itself and the importance of the political, self-defence became effective resistance to military repression.

 

The difference in the openness about self-defence was refreshing as well. Normally in the west we fetishise non-violence, whereas in a conversation with activists they made it clear that self-defence isn’t attacking but, not letting someone threaten your body. For example, with the riot police and the military police they throw stones because they know that their lives may be in danger and there’s already an asymmetry in force. Yes, they do live in a different system- a dictatorship and now a military junta- but, nevertheless there’s asymmetry in force between the armed state and protestors and refreshingly upon bringing up Gandhian non-violence, the idea for them was to resist violence but preserve life. This is more relevant to western activists now more than in the recent part, particularly Americans with skyrocketing institutional police brutality and systematic repression with force. In a few words: Be non-violent, not passive. The police are not our friends do not attack them, do not antagonize them but, defend yourselves collectively.

For example, if we go back to NYC, when a woman was punched in the face in late November after the “cleansing” of OWS; let’s all be like the crazy guitarist, tap the officer on the helmet with your guitar and hold your friend as they grab at you.

 

The Pyramids of Giza, Alexandria, the tourist industry and counter-revolution

 

The Pyramids, Sphinx, the Roman Tombs, Library of Alexandria and the other monuments I saw in Egypt were amazing, absolutely brilliant and informative about poverty and the consciousness of tourism entrepenurs in revolutionary Egypt.

 

I can write a book about how to and not to engage in tourism in Egypt but here are a few tips: 1) Always get a cab and say in English, “by the meter” or “Fee Meter” otherwise you ride at your own risk; 2) Check out Arabian Nights hostel in Al-Darassa on Al Mansoureia st. Of all 12 countries I’ve travelled to and all the places I’ve been in the US their hostel was the friendliest, resourceful, reasonable, and generous and safest hostel I’ve stayed in; 3) bargain like hell, ironically in the place I was staying they didn’t know that much English on the streets so they would either wave me on or we’d intensely bargain; 4) Bring toiletries and learn a few basic Arabic phrases such as, please and thank you- it goes a long way.

 

While touring all of these sites and staying the hostel I asked many people and according to them, the tourism sector has suffered considerably. In fact, according to a recent article in Reuters, “the tourists have yet to return, and Egypt’s tourism minister has forecast the industry’s 2011 revenue will be 25 percent lower than the previous year.” Although, the phenomenon of revolution also brought people like myself or “Tahrir Tourists”, journalists, activists, and politicos who wanted the real story behind the revolution.

 

This makes the small business entrepreneurs a wild card, because on the one hand many expressed to me- independently- their enthusiasm for the revolution. Or rather, many expressed reluctant approval for the revolution and or complete opposition to the revolution for its hindrance of business as usual. Ironically, many of the Tahrir revolutionaries were middle class and some of them entrepreneurs so this becomes an issue of political consciousness and desperation. Many of the tourist industry employees who voraciously appealed to me in the markets and on the streets, one could tell that they were under pressure to compete and as an American I met at the airport characterized their condition, “they’re trying to eat”.   

 

Therefore, the tourism industry is a potential hotbed of counter-revolutionary energy but all that is necessary is education. In SCAF’s plan, they are utilizing the media and misinformation to turn people against Tahrir and if you’re a local family vendor who’s struggling before and after and you are only told that SCAF equals stability and stability is what you need for business, what are you going to do? I hope that this is not where “honourable” citizens originate from to crush revolutionaries.

 

Its a revolution!

 

The revolution in Egypt is indeed a revolution of social movements. From what I’ve seen the political formations, liberal, socialist, moderate and centre-right (before Mubarak) are still fighting it against SCAF and for them they are ready to go to the limit and to fight a war to win democracy, although democracy means many things. The movement itself is liberal democratic but, as a photographer who was my age and involved with the revolt to some extent told me, “for Egyptians capitalism means slavery” but, Egyptians are not marching en masse with the revolutionary socialists leading the change for socialism. Therefore, the revolution itself will result in democracy being defined as equality and freedom as inseparable in order to realize a reversal of Mubarak’s neoliberal policies and to ensure that their police state didn’t return as a soft-autocracy.

 

This has been most of all a revolution led by the idea and promise of human rights. Human Rights as we know them are divided into two tiers Primary/ Real political and civil rights such as the right to vote, assemble and freedom of the press, and then Secondary/ Welfare rights, which are the rights to education, healthcare, employment, sustenance and housing. I however, reject this hierarchy of rights because the latter is necessary to secure the former; for example, if one does not have access to education how are they to know about how to interpret the platforms of different political parties in the election or have access to opportunities, or as we’ve seen in history certain classes were uneducated in order to maintain feudal relations such as European serfdom and later U.S. chattel slavery. Moreover, the state of Egypt has the resources to provide a bare minimum of these secondary rights so why not? Whose interest is it in to disadvantage people, certainly not the individuals themselves when they have no access to proper medical care when they are dying from various ailments (see CESR report on Egypt available at http://www.cesr.org) .

 

We should all be cheering on the revolution of 2011 to its completion in 2012 or in the future. After all, when the people take rights as political and civil power, we represent ourselves as subjects who have material consciousness and may rule together for, by and with ourselves.

 

All of these have just been a few thoughts….


Gallery

En Route to Cairo and Enter the Blog’s Rebirth: Red Emancipation

21 Dec

It’s 7:32 am in Zurich, 5:32 in the UK, and 12:32 on the U.S. east coast, per the title you can probably guess where this is coming from. A friend and collaborator in the U.S. suggested that I reinvigorate my writing muscles (and tendons too) and write and introductory article on my trip to Egypt today.

Currently, Egypt has been undergoing a counter-revolution by the military, who claim to “safeguard the revolution” but the military has been on the offensive since the former dictator, Hosini Mubarak was ousted from power in February. Since then, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) have controlled the country and promised national elections that began this past November and will end in the election of the President in 2012. Nonetheless, the elections are being done in phases as opposed to all at once, the military has enforced “constitutional power” to draft the new constitution on its own, in a nutshell: the repression is clear, the power play between government and the people is being shown in graphic detail.

So, there’s a possible military managed ‘republic’ being created in Egypt, what’s new? The Arab Spring was an unexpected event and in a significant way defines the position of players in our post-cold-war society in the 21st century; which I would argue, is the people versus the government.  The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are liberal democratic revolutions, as far as I know yet they came at a time where economic stagnation and political autocracy, either or technocracy (in the middle-eastern case, authoritarianism) converged after successive attempts at organizing and reform and the correlative effect was anger.

Anger, can be a powerful thing and it may cause protest, redress, riots, or revolutions but it is always the fuel for the incineration of the old to make way for the flourishing of the new. Therefore, the anger that the Egyptians felt and their tactic of occupying the square has resonated with activists from Athens to Oakland.

The conditions which fermented and matured this anger originate from the antagonism between governments and their people at the moment, with different conditions and relationships within different varying national structures. The technocratic coup in Greece and Italy (particularly apparent in Greece) represents an extreme deficit in democracy, or rather, the rule of the citizenry or the people et al (yes, even immigrants have a voice! Vive les sans-papiers!). To call enforced technocracy or private-sector interventions, a ‘coup’ seems rash but, when a foreign or politically illegitimate group of people pressures a government to abdicate in order to install a government that will create certain civil and socioeconomic relations, I call that a coup. On the other hand, in Egypt is much more complicated and it was not a liberal republic but a presidential dictatorship that is now experiencing military-led counter-revolution.

This is going to be an interesting week, as I feel indignant at the mistreatment, abuse, and decimation of my brothers and sisters in Egypt. I am equally encouraged by the tweets and the facebook posts and the images of protests from those who remain. Egypt will be the crucible and like in Spain in 1936, if we can win here then we can win again unelected technocrats, single-state dictatorships of the proprietors, or outright dictatorships and as opposed to default to simple reformist liberal democracy at best we can wipe away the refuse of our social history and build on solutions to our grievances.

Fin.

Police shooting in San Francisco

18 Jul

The following video was taken on July 16th. Following this was a protest on Sunday, July 17th by the community protesting this shooting by SFPD while the the 19 year old was avoiding paying a $2.00 rail ticket.

The Jimmy Johns Workers struggle, after Labor Day

7 Sep

Yesterday, on ‘Labor Day’ I met with new Buffalo resident & UB student, Crescenzo Scipione, a former Students for a Democratic Society activist in Rochester. Crescenzo alerted some of Buffalo’s activists to the new labor dispute between the new Jimmy Johns Workers Union (JJWU: ), organized by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and Jimmy Johns a new national greasy sub & sandwich franchise. The IWW has organized the JJWU in response to the company’s owners disdain to their workers grievances. The national owners have refused to sit down with the fast food workers union campaign.

The demands of the workers are for fairness and fair compensation. The Jimmy Johns Workers Union demand: higher wages above the minimum; consistent schedules and minimum length shifts; sick days; direct compensation for work related injuries; an end to sexual harassment at work; and, basic fairness at work. These conditions to some degree are enjoyed by workers in union shops around the country.

At the moment Jimmy Johns’ owners, Rob and Mike Mulligan of Miklin Inc., have refused to talk to the JJWU and their campaign. According to the JJWU website, Rob and Mike make an annual profit of $2.3 million individually and their planned franchise expansion will cost $1.2 million alone. Including the owners personal profit & the cost of capital expansion the Jimmy Johns franchise makes $264,270.00, thereby making their non-union, low-wage, sub franchise very profitable. Their small sub-sweat-shop franchise has opened up a beachhead in Buffalo (one of three shops in New York State).

Why is Jimmy Johns Sub Shop so important? As of 2010 the service sector comprises 76.9 percent of the U.S. economy according to the CIA fact-book. At the turn of the century the IWW (“Wobblies”) were persecuted because unlike the then separate, American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (now AFL-CIO conglomerate), the Wobblies advocated for workers control of industry and their direct demands. Today, the Wobblies are organizing workers in the small part-time jobs which are seen as expendable; the IWW is organizing the JJWU, while the establishment Labor Unions accept the legalized exploitation in America’s fast-food shops, retail stores, and coffee shops.

Capitalism has changed since the emergence of modern labor unions. Neoliberal capitalism is based upon finance, selling products, and consumption- not producing anything. Our labor goes to literally just making money by exploiting everything around us, and this system manifests itself in the service sector (retail, food-service, etc..). The factory floor of the 21st century is the un-unionized sub and sandwich shops. If the business unions are not using their money and their influence to change the labor laws so they can make the conditions fair and just in places like Jimmy Johns what are they doing? Oh yeah, they’re busy working on the 2010 bi-elections for the Democratic Party.

The IWW has called for a ‘national week of action’ beginning this week to put economic pressure on the company to meet with the workers, recognize the unions authority, and negotiate with the workers fairly. The IWW only has its activists to rely on as opposed to teams of lawyers and staff like the moneyed unions so a network activists have initiated informal pickets and leftleating campaigns of Jimmy Johns. Locally, some area activists have committed themselves to handing out literature in front of Jimmy Johns this week beginning at 1pm, and there’s legitimate discussion about mobilizing for a small picket later in the week.

Buffalo is the second poorest city in the United States, and any actions to “create jobs” amongst Buffalo’s elite usually amounts to chain stores and franchises like Jimmy Johns. In many cases these part-time and low-wage jobs are not an option for the employees. If we can unionize a place like Jimmy Johns Sub Shop, the national struggle for their union will reverberate throughout places like Buffalo and give service sector workers like the ones forming the JJWU a solution to fight back against exploitation and abuse at work.

For more information on the campaign; more importantly, if you know any Jimmy Johns employees, visit the Jimmy Johns Workers Union Website: www.jimmyjohnsworkers.org.

Ralph Nader speaks out in Buffalo and Endorses Mike Kuzma & Howie Hawkins!

5 Aug

Last night Green Gubernatorial candidate Howie Hawkins, insurgent Democratic State Senate candidate Mike Kuzma, and former Presidential Candidate and Consumer activist Ralph Nader stood side by side at Dnipro Ukrainian Center on Buffalo’s east side. Their message for Buffalo was: be defiant, reclaim your vote, and there is no choice in a two-party monopoly between two neoliberal capitalist parties. One key difference between them and the Democrats and Republicans is the issue of the “Stock Transfer Tax”.

The state of New York, that is in over $90 billion in deficit is expected to cut thousands of public sector jobs and slash everything on the budget, many things that New Yorkers depend on to get by every single day; yet the Stock Transfer Tax that would add and estimated $16 billion dollars that Wall Street is given tax-free through a 100% rebate cumulatively every year, goes unmentioned.

The local Green Party chairman, Eric Jones, introduced the speakers and pushed the petitioning effort for the NYS Green Party’s Gubernatorial run. Succeeding Eric was Mike Kuzma , who was described by Eric as the “Ralph Nader of Buffalo”. Mike is a local lawyer and activist who is often known for challenging city hall for their corporate puppetry. As more NYS national guard soldiers are sent to Iraq and Afghanistan to protect our colonial holdings Mr. Kuzma, unlike State Sen. Stachowski demands that the NYS national guard is brought home immediately. Senator Stachowski, the incumbent has not raised the issue.

The Stock Transfer Tax was one of the main points of the entire panel. To clarify, the tax would only affect the super-rich, particularly the multitude of stock trading & derivatives that are traded every second on Wall St. The gentry’s favorite, Andrew Cuomo won’t touch it precisely because this tax would touch the instant casino transactions on Wall Street that make a hedge fund managers millions annually. In fact, according to their press release Cuomo’s average campaign donation is $2666, and more than 130 of his donors have given in excess of $37,000 and about 544 have given over $10,000 to his campaign. At this point, Andy Cuomo may as well have a top hat, a monocle, and the deed to a Buffalonian’s house burning to light his cigar.

Alas, this is the nature of politics in the U.S. and particularly in New York State. The slate presented to Buffalo’s activist community on Monday night represents a clear break from that system. Kuzma, Hawkins, and Nader also endorsed a Green New Deal which included progressive taxation, a robust public works program, and the creation of “employment insurance”.

Employment insurance would take the form of a subsidy to the unemployed as they are offered a new job after their unemployment. The substitute employment would be in a robust public works program that would- particularly for Buffalo- aim at creating secure jobs with living wages, while reviving some of our crumbling edifices. State and local infrastructure and other sites, such as the Central Terminal would be main projects of this program.

Howie Hawkins, the “Green Hornet of Justice”,  is a community activist, bookstore owner, author, UPS teamster, and a Green Party leader from Syracuse, NY (for more information on Howie go here- insert campaign website link). Mr. Hawkins pushed the aforementioned Green New Deal as an alternative to the plan Andrew Cuomo proposes in a statement from the New York Times. According to Mr. Hawkins, the ballot line is not just a ploy for the governor’s mansion in Albany but it is also to a platform to push key issues that the Green Party stands for.

New York State has one of the most unequal income gaps in the developed world, as Mr. Hawkins stated and Mr. Nader reiterated: “the janitor in Trump Towers pays a greater share of his income in state and local taxes than Trump does”. In NYS tax code, according to Mr. Hawkins the tax is flat after the 40th percentile of earners.

Finally, the night ended as it began with the 78 year old ‘unreasonable man’, Ralph Nader, making a speech that galvanized the crowd and aroused the imaginations of the activists of the Queen city. As a consumer advocate Ralph Nader brought the same intense fire to Dnipro that burned major corporations such as the now revitalized receivership of General Motors. Mr. Nader stated that “there’s a lot of personal freedom in dictatorships…there’s personal freedom but, not civic freedom”! When we settle for the least worst we give up our right to exercise democracy, in really the most nominal way- elections. As Mr. Nader called it, we are in “civic slavery”, per the difference with legal slavery and the very material experience of human trafficking today or U.S. chattel slavery in the past; civic slavery entails the subjugation of the public’s political will by an autocratic few, against the will of a class of people, while simultaneously exploiting them. In other words, civic slavery takes place every couple years in September and November.

One felt empowered but, for those of us that gave into civic slavery it was a critical admonishment as he asked, “where is our self-respect”? That is a good question; as we critically analyze ourselves we find that we can all agree that the system is rotten but, we are “cowards, indentured slaves, and serfs” as Mr. Nader said, if we do not back our cynicism up with action. As he wrapped up, Mr. Nader re-told the story of an eighteenth century protest in Connecticut that brought the grievances of farmers to King George III’ attention and got them addressed; this protest preceded, and added to the energy for the later American Revolution. Mr. Nader was proposing reforms but, he is calling for a general revolt.

As we stomped in the hall, clapped, and raised our hands to the sky we exorcised one or two demons of timidity. If one walked into the speech, as it was taking place, one may think that they were walking into a baptist church service! This was the invigoration of leftists and activists in a city that is still the second poorest, one of the most segregated, and marginalized cities in the country; in addition to being in a highly politically corrupt state.

It is extremely clear that in 2010 we have the chance to make a difference; beyond the electoral spectacle, we have a key choice to make- should “we live on our knees” or “die on our feet”? Andrew Cuomo and the Democrats have a strangle hold on Buffalo and New York state that can only be challenged by a third party and in the electoral arena, the more votes they get the better off we’ll be. Outside of electoral politics, we have to create a robust peoples’ movement because as Ralph expressed whether you’re a conservative or liberal, the corporate conquest of everyday life is a threat to everyone. It is disgustingly clear that the Republican and Democratic parties and their fronts’ (Conservative & Working Familes, respectively) are the vanguard of corporate conquest.

So ask yourself, “People die, families break up, for who? For a criminal gang in Washington” (Ralph Nader, 8/3/10 in Buffalo)!

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