On October 22 of 1883, Frederick Douglass attended a civil rights meeting in Washington D.C. where he observed a disturbing pattern of hatred that disempowered Americans showed toward their Black countrymen: “Perhaps no class of our fellow citizens has carried this prejudice against color to a point more extreme and dangerous than have our Catholic Irish fellow citizens, and yet no people on the face of the earth have been more relentlessly persecuted and oppressed on account of race and religion than the Irish people.”
Douglass singled out Irish immigrants, but the phenomenon he noticed was not unique to this group. What he condemned was the all-too-common failure of civic imagination – the reluctance to acknowledge a shared humanity and reach out to the oppressed still struggling to gain full citizenship in a society plagued with prejudice and injustice.
This pattern has persisted over time and is now evident in the anti-gay stance taken by the Frederick Douglass Foundation. According to Clarence Henderson, head of the North Carolina chapter of this conservative African American organization, “there’s no comparison” between the LGBTQ fight for gay rights and the African Americans’ struggle for civil liberties. “How many gays or lesbians were lynched?” asks Henderson. “There is a difference between what a human being is and what a human being does.”
This is from a man who in 1960 defied the authorities by refusing to vacate the Whites-only lunch counter in Greensboro. Over half a century later, he became a leader in the organization that filed the amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the White bakery owner’s right to snub a Black couple looking to buy a wedding cake.We need your support to bring the kind of analyses and information Tikkun provides. Click Here to make a tax-deductible contribution.
The ambivalence toward gays among African Americans has deep roots. When Martin Luther King Jr. was tipped off about Bayard Rustin’s openly gay lifestyle, he distanced himself from the fellow civil rights leader and kept him at bay for several years. As did Roy Wilkins who prevailed on his colleagues at NAACP to render Rustin invisible in the 1963 March on Washington.
In his autobiography, W. E. B. Du Bois gave a moving testimony about his own struggle with the issue: “A young man [Augustus Granville Dill], long my disciple and student, then my co-helper and successor to part of my work, was suddenly arrested for molesting men in public places. I had before that time no conception of homosexuality. I had never understood the tragedy of Oscar Wilde. I dismissed my co-worker forthwith, and spent heavy days regretting my act.”
We should be careful to distinguish the deficit of civic imagination from the surfeit of bigotry driven by a hatred toward people on account of their membership in a supposedly inferior class. Yet freedom fighters are known to harbor strong prejudices, juxtapose their political identities to those of lesser tribes, and insist on the superiority of their constitutional claims.
Susan B. Anthony, a women’s right pioneer and a committed abolitionist, turned against her longtime ally Frederick Douglas when he backed the 15th Amendment enfranchising Black men before White women. Speaking at the 1869 American Equal Rights Association’s meeting, Ms. Anthony declared: “The old anti-slavery school say women must stand back and wait until the negroes shall be recognized. But we say, if you will not give the whole loaf of suffrage to the entire people give it to the most intelligent first. If intelligence, justice, and morality are to have precedence in the Government, let the question of woman be brought up first and that of the negro last.”
A few decades later, Alice Pole expressed a similar sentiment when she bristled at the prospect of Black and White suffragists marching side by side in the 1913 Women Suffrage Parade: “As far as I can see, we must have a white procession, or a Negro procession, or no procession at all.”
Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s bias was blunter still. An ardent feminist and the acclaimed author of Women and Economics, she inveighed against immigrants inundating American cities. Her attitude toward Jews was unabashedly racist, as she alleged in her autobiography that “one third of the inhabitants of New York now are Jews” and predicted “the rapidly descending extinction of our nation, superseded by other nations who will soon completely outnumber us.”
As these examples attest, being marginalized is no guarantee that one will be sensitive to the needs of minorities further down the totem pole, or that exclusionary practices would not infect the victorious liberation movement. The tension brewing within the LGBTQ community is the latest manifestation of this pattern.
Midway through the 1990s, transgender activists began to join forces with the organizations advocating for the rights of gay, lesbians, and bisexual people on the assumption that their shared interests and the political clout of the LGB community would help advance the trans agenda. Now the alliance shows strain, as the transgender and transexual activists discover that their priorities aren’t always aligned with the coalition partners.
Several activists writing for the inaugural issue of Transgender Quarterly sounded alarm about the fact that “more and more gender-normative, economically and racially privileged, coupled, and metropolitan gays and lesbians are crossing into the mainstream” (Heather Love). Ana Cristina Marques recently published a paper where she spotted the “radical trans-exclusionary feminist attacks on transgender people” which, her research showed, could make transgender people feel unwelcome in the spaces patronized by gays and lesbians.
The issues dividing the advocates for these group are complex, the most salient ones being the traditional gender binary and the embodiment challenges stemming from sex-reassignment, neither of which riles gay and lesbians the way they can disrupt the lives of transgender folk. But these issues are serious enough for students of gender and trans rights advocates like Susan Stryker and Zein Muribo to contend that “LGBT privileges the expression of sexual identity over gender identity,” that “listing ‘T’ with ‘LGB’ – and at the end, no less – locates transgender as an orientation,” and that “although the inclusion of transgender alongside lesbian, gay, and bisexual opened up new political alliances across these groups, it also closed off possibilities for coalitions with different political groups – such as activists fighting for immigrant rights who face concerns over documentation that are similar to those of transgender people.”
I will not go into the nascent friction between the transgender and queer advocates over who better represents the marginalized people, the friction that threatens to further weaken the LGBTQ coalition. The point is that we need to rethink what we mean by “identity” and “alliance” if we want to fend off the more destructive implications of identity politics.
Identity is not a fixed quality, a visible attribute manifesting itself in predictable fashion across space and time. It is an ongoing accomplishment, a project we undertake to realign our actions, feelings, and words in response to competing possibilities for enselfment. Contrary to popular belief, self-identity has more to do with what one does than with what one is. It is always tested by our rival commitments which are bound to clash on occasion and muddle our allegiances.
The competing demands on our civic imagination remind us that alliances we form are not sacrosanct, that cliques, groups, and classes we belong to are not entities safeguarded by border patrols but emergent social fields whose gravitational pull is bound to breed ambivalence – a mark of emotional intelligence pervading moral life.
Nor should the exercise of civic imagination be limited to human targets. What about animal rights, living creatures subject to vivisection for the benefit of humankind? Maybe it’s time to phase out Premarin, the estrogen-based drug (used by transgender people among others) which is extracted from the urine of mares forcibly impregnated and kept for months in cramped stalls. And is it too fanciful to extend civic imagination to the planet earth whose depth we plunder and whose habitats we methodically destroy?
So, before we cast a jaundiced eye at the civil rights fighters of yore who were not as woke as we are, we should check our own privileges and reach out to those who fair worse than we are.
Bayard Rustin lived as an openly gay man long before society acknowledged his right to do so. The year he died, in1987, he stated: “Twenty-five, 30 years ago, the barometer of human rights in the United States were black people. That is no longer true. The barometer for judging the character of people in regard to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian.”
Not everybody is blessed with the clear-sightedness and audacity of Bayard Rustin. It took years for Barack Obama to evolve on the issue of marriage equality before he summoned his valor and got onboard. There is room for all of us to evolve. And keep evolving, as we practice civic imagination and reach across political divides.
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Dmitri N. Shalin is professor of sociology and director of the UNLV Center for Democratic Culture. Dr. Shalin is coordinator of Justice & Democracy Forum series, editor of the Social Health of Nevada Report, co-director of the International Biography Initiative and Erving Goffman Archives, and organizer of international forums on Russian politics and culture. His research interests and publications are in the areas of pragmatism, emotional intelligence, autobiographical discourse, democratic culture, and Russian society.
Note: I have not listed any Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) an animal rights group that list a variety of events on Indybay, when listed the internet police block what I try sending out. Please check Indybay for their events
Site for other Bay Area Events
A. Unaccompanied Minors Sent to Contaminated Military Bases – April 5, 2021
B. Over objections of Dem Hawks, Biden agrees to indirect Talks with Iran in Vienna to return to the 2015 Nuclear Deal – April 3, 2021
For almost 30 years, this father, human rights advocate, and attorney has been fighting for Indigenous people who were poisoned by Chevron’s 16 billion gallons of toxic oil dumping in the Amazon. The oil company then strong-armed a US judge & now he’s under unconstitutional house arrest for over 600 days for protecting his sources – which he has a legal obligation to do – so they don’t go after them, too. If this could happen to him, it could happen to you or anyone who dares to speak up
APTP co-founder Cat Brooks will be speaking at Mijente‘s digital town hall with Representative Ilhan Omar on tech surveillance, the Department of Homeland Security, and how the federal government’s surveillance machinery is being turned against activists, immigrants, protesters, and the rest of us.
Mijente has been leading the No Tech for ICE campaign since 2018, primarily organizing against tech companies that provide technology to ICE and CBP that enables deportations and border enforcement. We’ve worked with dozens of immigrant and civil rights groups, academics, students, shareholders, and lawmakers on different parts of the campaign, targeting the corporate ties to immigration enforcement.
Now, with President Joe Biden elected, we know the administration has inherited a sweeping surveillance state that has strong bipartisan support. Top Democrats have spoken of their support for a “virtual wall” on the border and have routinely expanded the surveillance technologies available to ICE, CBP, the police, and various law enforcement agencies. Contracts with companies like Palantir have been renewed under the Biden administration, continuing to supercharge agencies like ICE in their mission to deport every undocumented person in the country.
2. Tuesday, 4:00pm -5:30pm, Art and Imagination Inside Prisons: Making, Learning & Teaching Art Behind Bars
This conversation will explore art-making inside the prison industrial complex as a practice of freedom by incarcerated artists. Panelists will discuss artworks crafted behind the prison wall and the creative processes involved in making, learning, and teaching art behind bars.
3. Wednesday, 10:00am – 11:00am, 5 year commemoration of the Life of Luis
Luis’s Altar Shotwell (nr 19th Street) SF
Wednesday will mark 5 years since Luis’s life was unjustly stolen by SFPD police violence. We invite community members to help set the altar, and meet with family to commemorate the life of Luis Góngora Pat on April 7th at 10am. www.justice4luis.org
This panel will explore how writers of color are creating their own paths to book distribution, community- and audience-building.
Many marginalized writers celebrate the moment that they receive “a seat at the table,” and this is quite often their goal. Yet, others of us believe that having a seat at the table is another way of waiting to be included or invited to attend, thereby still centering whiteness. This panel will focus on writers of color who are creating their own tables
Originally from San Francisco, Tongo Eisen was recently named San Francisco’s eighth poet laureate and is a movement worker and educator who has organized against mass incarceration and extra-judicial killing of Black people throughout the United States. He is launching Black Freighter Press, a platform for building movement culture and supporting Black literary arts, with a specific focus on incarcerated poets, Bay Area poets of color, and Black women.
Tara Betts is the author of the poetry collections Break the Habit, Arc & Hue, and the forthcoming Refuse to Disappear. Aside from coediting several anthologies, Tara is Poetry Editor at The Langston Hughes Review and the Lit Editor at Newcity. She is currently working on establishing The Whirlwind Learning Center on Chicago’s South Side as a space for arts education, community space, and cultural programming.
Neelanjana Banerjee’s writing has appeared in Prairie Schooner, PANK Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, World Literature Today and many other places. She is the Managing Editor of Kaya Press, an independent press dedicated to Asian Pacific American and Asian Diasporic literature. She teaches writing and literature classes at UCLA and Loyola Marymount University. She lives in Los Angeles, and is at work on a novel.
5. Wednesday, 5:30pm – 7:00pm, Demand that CCSF rescind faculty layoffs and expand job training programs! (Rally)
CCSF Wellness Center 800 Ocean Ave. SF
Join SLASH (SF League Against Systemic Harm) at our rally.
The City College of San Francisco administration has sent out lay-off notices to 163 full time faculty members, claiming a budget shortfall. However, there are funds available to maintain programs and staffing as they are currently. The threatened cuts are really about downsizing the college during a period when working people need education and job retraining to recover from the pandemic.
The rally will feature CCSF faculty, students, graduates and community members who will share their experiences about the importance of the college and demand that the layoffs be canceled and that job training programs, community-based courses, and academic equity initiatives be expanded. All are welcome to voice their concerns at an open mic after the scheduled speakers.
Everyone is encouraged to speak during the public comment to let the committee know that you are opposed to the layoffs and program cuts.
Thursday, April 8
6. Thursday, 1:00pm, Honoring Revolutionary Poverty Skola Shero Ancestors
The Ancestor Forest at Homefulness-honors 3 powerFULL Revolutionary Poverty /Disability Shero Ancestors with a humble a tree planting and prayer bringing ceremony
Kiilu Nyasha, is a revolutionary journalist, Black Panther, Organizer, Poverty /Disability Skola and Mentor to POOR Magazine who transitioned on her spirit journey April 18, 2018
Barbara Brust, is a Poverty /Disability Skola, warrior shero in the Come-Unity and founder of Consider the Homeless in Berkeley, transitioned on her spirit journey Feb 21, 2021
Geraldine Ambrose, a domestic worker, a gentrifUKation victim, poverty disability skola, mama of 3 and grandmomma of so many, who cleaned the toilets and washed the clothes of wealth-hoarders in SF only to be evicted from her home of 40 years to homelessness in Sacramento
Join us in a humble prayer and tree-planting ceremony for these warrior ancestors at the sacred Ohlone/Lisjan land us landless, houseless, indigenous peoples call #Homefulness
In personal stories from twenty years of activism and reporting, an award-winning journalist calls on readers to imagine a world without borders.
Todd Miller has been reporting from international border zones for over twenty-five years. In Build Bridges, Not Walls, he invites readers to join him on a journey that begins with the most basic of questions: What happens to our collective humanity when the impulse to help one another is criminalized?
A series of encounters—with climate refugees, members of indigenous communities, border authorities, scholars, visionaries, and the shape-shifting imagination of his four-year-old son—provokes reflections on the ways in which nation-states create the very problems that drive immigration, and how the abolition of borders could make the world a more sustainable, habitable place for all.
Is it possible to create a borderless world? How could it emerge, and how might it be better equipped to solve the global emergencies threatening our collective survival? Build Bridges, Not Walls is an inspiring, impassioned call to envision—and work toward—a bold new reality.
Wells Fargo World Headquarters 420 Montgomery St. (between California & Sacramento Sts) San Francisco
10:00am – 12:Noon – Street Mural & Music
12:30pm – March to Black Rock
STREET MURAL ACTION: Help paint a giant street mural as community groups will paint circle murals of solutions
PROTECT NEXT GENERATIONS SIGN PROJECT: Rows of (distanced) people vigiling will line the street, holding signs with the faces of the next generation in their lives (kids, grand kids, nieces/nephews, siblings, relatives, friends, yourself…). Bring a photo of a young person/s in your life (8 12/x11 landscape/horizontal format) and we will have screen printed DEFUND LINE 3 & FOSSIL FUELS/PROTECT FUTURE GENERATIONS posters (and tape/glue to attach it).
MARCH TO BLACKROCK: BlackRock owns a big part of Wells–and must vote fire Wells Board Chair if they are to walk their climate talk.
WHY: WELLS FARGO: Wells Fargo has been the world’s third largest financier of fossil fuels over the last five years, with $223 billion in lending and underwriting over 2016-20. It is the world’s leading funder of fracked oil and gas.We Call on all Wells shareholders to Fire Board Chairman Charles Noski; Help us urge city, county, state state pensions and retirement funds, endowments of universities and cultural institutions, foundations, etc to protect future generations by voting Noski out.
#DEFUNDLINE3: Because Stopping This Pipeline is a Matter of Justice
“The fight to stop the Line 3 tar sands pipeline is about justice for the land. It’s about justice for the water. Justice for Anishinaabe people whose culture and way of life it threatens. Justice for people all over the world who are being impacted by the climate crisis.
Hosts: East Point Peace Academy, DIRT, Extinction Rebellion SF Bay Area, Idle No More SF Bay, 1000 Grandmothers Bay Area
9. Friday, 1:00pm – 2:00pm, Shut Down the Police Officers Association
SF Police Officers Association 800 Bryant St. (at 6th St.) SF
Wear masks; social distancing
RESIST with Mothers on the March, Black and Brown for Justice, Peace and Equality, Family’s who loved ones have been killed by SFPD, and Community
– Demand the San Francisco Police Officers Association be Shut Down!
– The SF Police Officers Association Be Declared a Non Grata Organization
– Demand the Police Officers Bill of Rights be Abolished.
– Jail Killer Cops – we want killer cops to be charged with murder.
– Abolish the Police
Saturday, April 10
10. Saturday, 10:30am – 2:00pm, March on Golden Gate Bridge (Support of Farmers in India)
Meet Location: Crissy Field – 1989 Long Ave. San Francisco, California 94129
Where to park: Main Parking (Lot 8): West Bluff Picnic Area Overflow Parking (Lot 9): Fort Point Senior/Handicap Parking (Lot 6): Welcome Center
•Starting point for the march will be at West Bluff Picnic Area •March will begin promptly at 11:15am, come early to find parking •Please wear comfortable shoes and clothes (anticipate windy conditions)
•Mask & social distancing are mandatory at all times •Public restrooms available at all lots
Please join us for an iconic march on the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge in solidarity with the Indian Farmers. Farmers have been on the borders leading into Delhi for over 120+ days. With over 300+ deaths so far, the Indian government has yet to acknowledge the injustice towards its own citizens. The purpose of this march is to raise awareness for the farmers as they protest to have the 3 new farm bills repealed.
(This event is for our neighbors in the Mission, but all are welcome.)
Join us on Saturday for a community rally to discuss how to achieve public safety for all, without police! Meet several organizations from our neighborhood, hear about their work, and learn how to continue these conversations about defunding the police with our friends and neighbors.
We’ll also have take-what-you-need supplies (clothing, menstrual items, etc.) available!
WE’RE MARCHING. From 24th & Mission BART to Dolores Park. March will be livestreamed via Instagram
We want to KEEP our faculty and staff, ALONGSIDE:
ETHNIC STUDIES: African American Studies will get cut by 33%; Philippine Studies Department, the ONLY department in the nation, may close. IMMIGRANT & INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS: ESL classes are getting slashed, potentially losing up to 53% of faculty. LGBT STUDIES: if this faculty gets laid off, certain classes will get cut affecting programs & the #SexualHealthEducatorCertificate. DISABILITY RIGHTS: Students with disabilities, and DSPS staff/faculty are outraged that the #DSPS program may get cut by 40%!! ENDING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN AND ALL GENDERS: Our ONLY self defense class got cut, our Women’s and Gender Studies faculty got pink slips with classes and programs like Project SURVIVE threatened. HEALTH EDUCATION: during this pandemic, nursing & child development students want to protect their education!
13. Sunday, 3:00pm – 4:00pm, SF Rally – Stop the Nukes and Japan Olympics
San Francisco Japanese Consulate 275 Battery St. (nr. California St.) SF
Masks / physical distancing
Despite a world pandemic including in Japan, the Suga Japanese government is going ahead with the Olympics which will also be held in radioactive contaminated Fukushima.
The Japanese government is also proposing to dump over a million tons of radioactive water into the Pacifica because the melted nuclear rods in the broken reactors continue to leak and must be cooled by water.
Nuclear clean-up workers including workers from overseas and other workers continue to get contaminated with no proper health and safety education and tens of thousands of bags of radioactive waste continue to remain scattered throughout the prefecture with no place to go. The government is also seeking to spread the contaminated waste throughout Japan in road construction and other projects.
The criminal negligence of having the Olympics under these circumstances with a full blown pandemic and a three leaking nuclear reactors is a sign of insanity and a danger to not only Japan but the world.
No Nukes Action asks you to join us to demand the cancellation of the Olympics, the halt to re-opening Japan’s nuclear plants and defense of the Fukushima people. We oppose as well the militarization of Asia including the development of the new Haneko base in Okinawa. The residents continued to be terrorized by US military jets and helicopters. The US is even training with these aircraft in the center of Tokyo despite the great dangers.
Bowdoin College In the aftermath of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the College is presenting a series of discussions with leading experts on the current state and future prospects for American democracy. Timothy Snyder is the Richard C. Levin Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. He specializes in the history of fascism in twentieth-century Europe. He is the author of On Tyranny, described by The Washington Post as “a slim book that fits alongside your pocket Constitution and feels only slightly less vital,” and published an essay in The New York Times titled “The American Abyss” about the sources and meanings of the January 6 insurrection. Moderated by Page Herrlinger, associate professor of history
SAN FRANCISCO – Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) CEO Charlie Scharf today issued the following statement regarding voter rights:
“Wells Fargo supports the right of every American to exercise their voice by voting. This is a key pillar of our democracy and we oppose legislation that attempts to limit this right or is discriminatory in nature. We also encourage Congress to establish Federal Election Day as a national holiday, thereby establishing the importance of this right.
“As an employer, Wells Fargo provided paid time off for voting in the last presidential election. We also enhanced efforts to promote voter turnout by holding registration events at Wells Fargo locations, supporting third-party Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns, and utilizing our brand channels to encourage participation in our nation’s electoral process.”
About Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) is a diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.92 trillion in assets. Wells Fargo’s vision is to satisfy our customers’ financial needs and help them succeed financially. Founded in 1852 and headquartered in San Francisco, Wells Fargo provides banking, investment and mortgage products and services, as well as consumer and commercial finance, through 7,200 locations, more than 13,000 ATMs, the internet (wellsfargo.com) and mobile banking, and has offices in 31 countries and territories to support customers who conduct business in the global economy. Wells Fargo serves one in three households in the United States. Wells Fargo & Company was ranked No. 30 on Fortune’s 2020 rankings of America’s largest corporations. News, insights and perspectives from Wells Fargo are also available at Wells Fargo Stories.
It was Oct. 2, on the floor of the House of Representatives, and he rose as one of only two Republicans in the chamber to speak in favor of a resolution denouncing QAnon. Mr. Riggleman, a freshman congressman from Virginia, had his own personal experiences with fringe ideas, both as a target of them and as a curious observer of the power they hold over true believers. He saw a dangerous movement becoming more intertwined with his party, and worried that it was only growing thanks to words of encouragement from President Donald J. Trump.
“Will we stand up and condemn a dangerous, dehumanizing and convoluted conspiracy theory that the F.B.I. has assessed with high confidence is very likely to motivate some domestic extremists?” asked Mr. Riggleman, a former Air Force intelligence officer. “We should not be playing with fire.”
Six months later, conspiracy theories like QAnon remain a threat that most Republicans would rather ignore than confront, and Mr. Riggleman is out of office. But he is ever more determined to try to expose disinformation from the far right that is swaying legions in the Republican base to believe in a false reality.
Mr. Riggleman is a living example of the political price of falling out of lock step with the hard right. He lost a G.O.P. primary race last June after he officiated at the wedding of a gay couple. And once he started calling out QAnon, whose followers believe that a satanic network of child molesters runs the Democratic Party, he received death threats and was attacked as a traitor, including by members of his own family.
The undoing of Mr. Riggleman — and now his unlikely crusade — is revealing about a dimension of conservative politics today. The fight against radicalism within the G.O.P. is a deeply lonely one, waged mostly by Republicans like him who are no longer in office, and by the small handful of elected officials who have decided that they are willing to speak up even if it means that they, too, could be headed for an early retirement.
“I’ve been telling people: ‘You don’t understand. This is getting worse, not better,’” Mr. Riggleman said, sitting on a stool at his family bar one recent afternoon. “People are angry. And they’re angry at the truth tellers.”
Mr. Riggleman, 51, is now back home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he and his wife run the bar and a distillery. And for his next move in a career that has included jobs at the National Security Agency and founding a military contracting business, he is working with a group of other experts to shine a light on what he calls the “social disease” of disinformation.
His experience with the issues and emotions at work is both professional and personal. He was so intrigued by false belief systems that he self-published a book about the myth of Bigfoot and the people who are unshakably devoted to it.
Mr. Riggleman, who first ran and won in 2018 after the Republican incumbent in his district retired, joined the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus and was endorsed by Mr. Trump.
Now he says it “gives me shivers” to be called a Republican. He hopes to show that there is still a way to beat back the lies and false beliefs that have spread from the fringe to the mainstream. It is a heavy lift, and one that depends on overcoming two strong impulses: politicians’ fear of losing elections and people’s reluctance to accept that they were taken in by a lie.
Mr. Riggleman summarized his conversations with the 70 percent of House Republicans he said were privately appalled at the former president’s conduct but wouldn’t dare speak out.
“‘We couldn’t do that in our district. We would lose,’” he said. “That’s it. It’s that simple.”
Stocky, fast-talking and inexhaustibly curious, the former congressman is now working for a group of prominent experts and academics at the Network Contagion Research Institute, which studies the spread of disinformation in American politics and how to thwart it. The group has undertaken several extensive investigations into how extremists have used propaganda and faked information to sow division over some of the most contentious issues of the day, like the coronavirus pandemic and police violence.
Their reports have also given lawmakers a better understanding of the QAnon belief system and other radical ideologies that helped fuel the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Mr. Riggleman said he had written one report about the involvement of far-right militants and white supremacist groups in the attack specifically at the request of a Republican member who needed help convincing colleagues that far-left groups were not the culprits.
Getting lawmakers to see radical movements like QAnon as a threat has been difficult. Joel Finkelstein, the director of the Network Contagion Research Institute, said that in June, when the group tried to sound the alarm on QAnon to members of Congress, Mr. Riggleman was the only one who responded with a sense of urgency and agreed to help.
“We were screaming it from the rooftops,” Mr. Finkelstein said. “We said: ‘This is going to be a problem. They’re growing increasingly militant in their conspiracies.’” When the institute’s members spoke to Mr. Riggleman, he said, “We showed him our data and he said, ‘Holy moly.’”
Far from a theoretical or overblown concern, disinformation and its role in perpetuating false beliefs about Mr. Trump’s election loss and its aftermath are problems that some Republicans believe could cripple their party if left ignored.
In a sign of how widespread these conspiracy theories are, a recent poll from Suffolk University and USA Today found that 58 percent of Trump voters wrongly believed the storming of the Capitol was mostly inspired by far-left radicals associated with antifa and involved only a few Trump supporters.
“There was a troika of us who said, ‘This is going to a bad place,’” said Paul Mitchell, who represented Michigan in the House for two terms before retiring early this year in frustration. He said he had watched as members dismissed Mr. Riggleman, despite his experience in intelligence. “There weren’t many people who gave a damn what your expertise was,” Mr. Mitchell said. “It was inconsequential compared to the talking points.”ImageBob Good defeated Mr. Riggleman in a state Republican Party convention in June.Credit…Amy Friedenberger/The Roanoke Times, via Associated Press
Mr. Riggleman’s loss last summer in a closely held party convention allowed him to be more outspoken. The winner, Representative Bob Good, is a former associate athletic director at Liberty University who took issue with Mr. Riggleman’s officiation at the gay wedding and called him “out of step” with the party’s base.
And as Mr. Riggleman kept it up and spoke out more aggressively against Mr. Trump after the election, his fight got lonelier.
“I had a colleague of mine pat me on the shoulder and say: ‘Denver, you’re just too paranoid. You’re killing yourself for the rest of your life politically by going after the big man like this,’” Mr. Riggleman recalled.
When he returned to Virginia for good in January, he said he sometimes felt just as isolated. Family members, former constituents and patrons at the distillery insisted that the election had been stolen from Mr. Trump. And they couldn’t be talked out of it, no matter how hard he tried.
He recalled a recent conversation with one couple he is friends with that he said was especially exasperating.
“I go over stats,” he said. “I go over figures. I go over the 50 states, how that actually works. How machines that aren’t connected are very hard to hack. How you’d have to pay off hundreds of thousands of people to do this.”
“Did not convince them,” he added.
Other friends of his, some of whom are also members of the growing group of former Republican lawmakers now publicly criticizing Mr. Trump, said that many conservative politicians saw no incentive in trying to dispel disinformation even when they know it’s false.
“What some of these guys have told me privately is it’s still kind of self-preservation,” said Joe Walsh, a former congressman from Illinois who ran a short-lived primary campaign against Mr. Trump last year. “‘I want to hang onto the gig. And this is a fever, it will break.’”
That is mistaken, Mr. Walsh said, because he sees no breaking the spell Mr. Trump has over Republican voters anytime soon. “It’s done, and it was done a few years ago,” he said.
Mr. Riggleman, who is contemplating a run for governor in Virginia and is writing a book about his experience with the dark side of Republican politics, sees a way forward in his experience with Bigfoot. The sasquatch was how many people first learned about him as a politician, after an opponent accused him of harboring a fascination with “Bigfoot erotica,” in 2018.
“I do not dabble in monster porn,” he retorts in his book, “Bigfoot … It’s Complicated,” which he based in part on a trip he took in 2004 on a Bigfoot expedition.ImageMr. Riggleman paid $2,000 to go on a Bigfoot expedition with his wife in 2004.Credit…Matt Eich for The New York Times
The book is full of passages that, if pulled out and scrubbed of references to the mythical creature, could be describing politics in 2021.
Mr. Riggleman quotes one true believer explaining why he is absolutely convinced Bigfoot is real, even though he has never seen it. In an answer that could have come straight from the lips of someone defending the myth that Mr. Trump actually won the 2020 election, the man says matter-of-factly: “Evidence is overwhelming. Check out the internet. All kinds of sightings and facts.”
At another point, Mr. Riggleman describes a conversation he had with someone who asked if he really thought that all the people claiming to have seen Bigfoot over the years were liars. “I don’t think that,” Mr. Riggleman responds. “I do believe that people see what they want to see.”
He did find one way to crack the Bigfoot false belief system: telling true believers that they were being ripped off to the tune of hundreds or thousands of dollars to go on expeditions where they would never actually see the creature.
“They got very angry,” he said. But eventually, some started to come around.
BBC Subscribe and to OFFICIAL BBC YouTube https://bit.ly/2IXqEIn Stream original BBC programmes FIRST on BBC iPlayer https://bbc.in/2J18jYJ With a million species at risk of extinction, Sir David Attenborough explores how this crisis of biodiversity has consequences for us all, threatening food and water security, undermining our ability to control our climate and even putting us at greater risk of pandemic diseases. Extinction is now happening up to 100 times faster than the natural evolutionary rate, but the issue is about more than the loss of individual species. Everything in the natural world is connected in networks that support the whole of life on earth, including us, and we are losing many of the benefits that nature provides to us. The loss of insects is threatening the pollination of crops, while the loss of biodiversity in the soil also threatens plants growth. Plants underpin many of the things that we need, and yet one in four is now threatened with extinction. Last year, a UN report identified the key drivers of biodiversity loss, including overfishing, climate change and pollution. But the single biggest driver of biodiversity loss is the destruction of natural habitats. Seventy-five per cent of Earth’s land surface (where not covered by ice) has been changed by humans, much of it for agriculture, and as consumers we may unwittingly be contributing towards the loss of species through what we buy in the supermarket. Our destructive relationship with the natural world isn’t just putting the ecosystems that we rely on at risk. Human activities like the trade in animals and the destruction of habitats drive the emergence of diseases. Disease ecologists believe that if we continue on this pathway, this year’s pandemic will not be a one-off event. Extinction: The Facts | BBC #BBC #BBCExtinctionTheFacts #BBCiPlayer All our TV channels and S4C are available to watch live through BBC iPlayer, although some programmes may not be available to stream online due to rights. If you would like to read more on what types of programmes are available to watch live, check the ‘Are all programmes that are broadcast available on BBC iPlayer?’ FAQ https://bbc.in/2m8ks6v
Minneapolis fire fighter Genevieve Hansen, who was off duty when she witnessed and recorded the fatal arrest of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, testified on Tuesday and Wednesday during the murder trial of former MPD officer Derek Chauvin. (Photo: Court TV screen grab)
The first week of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd last May 25, wrapped up Friday, capping a week of vivid eyewitness accounts, harrowing video evidence, and testimony by officers from the defendant’s own department who called his deadly use of force against the unarmed Black man excessive and “totally unnecessary.”
“Holding him down to the ground, face down and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for. I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger.” —Lt. Richard Zimmerman, Minneapolis homicide detective
During opening statements Monday, prosecutors repeatedly referred to 9:29; that is, nine minutes, 29 seconds, the amount of time Chauvin actually kneeled on Floyd’s neck—significantly longer than the “8:46” rallying cry that was often seen on the signs and heard from the mouths of demonstrators at last summer’s worldwide Black Lives Matter protests.
Prior to the first of many screenings of video showing Floyd slowly dying beneath Chauvin’s knee, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told the jury: “You will be able to hear Mr. Floyd saying, ‘Please, I can’t breathe. Please, man. Please.’ You will see that as Mr. Floyd is handcuffed there on the ground, he is verbalizing 27 times… ‘I can’t breathe. Please, I can’t breathe.'”
“You will see that Mr. Chauvin is kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck and back,” Blackwell continued. “You will hear Mr. Floyd as he’s crying out. You hear him at some point cry out for his mother… He was very close to his mother, you will learn. You will hear him say, ‘Tell my kids I love them.’ You will hear him say… ‘I’ll probably die this way… They’re going to kill me..'”
“You will hear him… cry out in pain… and you’ll see at the same time, while he’s crying out, Mr. Chauvin never moves,” said Blackwell. “The knee remains on his neck… And it just goes on. You will hear his final words, when he says, ‘I can’t breathe.’… You will hear his voice get heavier. You will hear his words further apart. You will see that his respiration gets shallower and shallower and finally stops, when he speaks his last words, ‘I can’t breathe.'”
And they did, over and over again, day after day, throughout the week. The jury, the court, and everyone watching around the world saw and heard recordings of the incident from eyewitness’ phones, officer body cameras, and public police surveillance cameras in Powderhorn Park, what Chauvin defense attorney Eric J. Nelson called a “high-crime neighborhood.”
People from that neighborhood, or in it last May 25—people Blackwell called “a veritable bouquet of humanity”—testified throughout the week.
After hearing from 911 dispatcher Jena Scurry, who said Monday that she had a “gut feeling” that what she saw on the police surveillance camera that fateful evening “wasn’t right,” another public servant, off-duty Minneapolis firefighter Genevieve Hansen, took the stand on Tuesday. Hansen was present at and recorded video of Floyd’s arrest; she can be heard repeatedly imploring officers to check his pulse as he died. Prosecutors played a recording of Hansen’s 911 call in which she told a dispatcher that police “fucking killed” Floyd.
When Nelson—who during his opening statement attempted to blame Floyd’s drug use, underlying health problems, and even distraction caused by bystanders for his death—asked Hansen during cross examination if onlookers were upset by what they saw, she replied, “I don’t know if you’ve seen anybody be killed, but it’s upsetting,” earning a stern rebuke from Judge Peter A. Cahill.
Hansen also said she would have rushed in to administer life-saving first aid to Floyd, but “officers didn’t let me into the scene.”
Hansen shed the first of many witness tears throughout the week when prosecutor and Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank asked her how that made her feel.
“Totally distressed,” she replied.
Testifying on both Monday and Tuesday, eyewitness Donald Williams, who has trained and competed in professional mixed martial arts, provided damning expert analysis of the “blood choke”—which causes unconcsiousness by starving the brain of blood—Chauvin applied to Floyd’s neck.
“The knee was diagonal across the throat,” Williams testified. “The officer on top was shimmying to actually get the final choke in while he was on top, the kill choke.”
Williams wiped away tears while listening to his 911 call, during which he told the dispatcher that Chauvin “just pretty much killed this guy that wasn’t resisting arrest.”
When Nelson—who attempted to portray Williams as “angry”—asked why he called 911, Williams replied, “Because I believe I witnessed a murder.”
On Tuesday, more eyewitnesses to Floyd’s arrest and death were called to the stand, including people who were not shown because they were under 18 years old at the time of the incident. Darnella Frazier, who was 17 years old last May, told the court that she lies awake at night “apologizing and apologizing” to Floyd “for not saving his life.”
However, Frazier ultimately concluded that “it’s not what I should have done, it’s what he should have done,” referring to Chauvin.
“When I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad,” said Frazier. “I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black. I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them.”
“I look at my brothers. I look at my cousins, my uncles, because they are all Black. I have a Black father. I have a Black brother. I have Black friends. And I look at that, and I look at how that could have been one of them.” —Darnella Frazier, witness
Frazier’s 10-year-old cousin Judeah Reynolds, who was also present at Floyd’s death, took the stand after Darnella, saying she was “sad and kind of mad” at what she saw.
Wednesday saw emotional testimony from witnesses who were in or near the Cup Foods store where Floyd allegedly used a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase a pack of cigarettes shortly before his fatal arrest. The jury watched CCTV footage from inside the store showing Floyd, apparently intoxicated, harmlessly interacting with customers and staff.
Christopher Martin, a 19-year-old Cup Foods cashier, testified that Floyd was “very friendly” and that he considered accepting the fake $20 bill and charging it to his account, or not taking it at all. Saying he felt “disbelief and guilt,” Martin told the court that “if I would have just not taken the bill, this all could have been avoided.”
Martin’s testimony was interrupted by Judge Cahill, who ordered a 20-minute break after a juror, a white woman in her 50s, suffered what she called a “stress-related reaction.”
On Wednesday jurors were also shown officer body camera footage on which Chauvin is heard for the first time in his own words.
“We got to control this guy because he’s a sizable guy, and it looks like he is probably on something,” he says. The video shows Floyd begging officers to “please don’t shoot me” and saying he is “scared as fuck” by the encounter.
On Thursday, Courteney Ross, Floyd’s girlfriend of nearly three years, broke down in tears as she told the court that he was a loving partner, a devoted father, and had tremendous love for his mother. Ross also testified about the couple’s shared struggle with opioid addiction—a strategy prosecutors hoped would establish that Floyd had a high tolerance for fentanyl and methamphetamine and refute defense claims he died of an overdose.
“Our story, it’s a classic story of how many people get addicted to opioids,” Ross said. “We both struggled from chronic pain. Mine was in my neck and his was in his back.”
Testimony from police officers also began on Thursday, with one of Chauvin’s supervisors, Sgt. David Pleoger, telling the court that he believed officers should have stopped pinning Floyd down as soon as he became unresponsive.
“When Mr. Floyd was no longer offering up any resistance to the officers, they could have ended their restraint,” Pleoger said.
During a shortened session Friday, homicide detective Lt. Richard Zimmerman—who, with 35 years of service, is the longest-tenured officer in the Minneapolis Police Department—testified that he has never been trained to kneel on a suspect’s neck, and that such action was “totally unnecessary” in Floyd’s case.
“Holding him down to the ground, face down and putting your knee on a neck for that amount of time is just uncalled for,” Zimmerman testified. “I saw no reason why the officers felt they were in danger, if that is what they felt. And that is what they would have to have felt to be able use that kind of force.”
“If your knee is on a person’s neck, that can kill him,” Zimmerman added.
Chauvin’s trial is set to resume on Monday at 9:30 am local time.Our work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License. Feel free to republish and share widely.
The ascendance of Wall Street, and of a managerial bureaucracy (PMC) more generally, largely explains the political realignments that have been playing out in the U.S. Beginning in the 1970s, the American political class made decisions at the behest of business interests and oligarchs to restructure the U.S. economy in ways intended to shift the balance of political and economic power towards capital. Finance was, and still is, the method of affecting this transfer of power. However, the current epoch of finance capitalism has run its course. Its logic has been lost. The threats to the neoliberal order are now internal to it.
Bi-partisan claims that China is a growing economic and military threat to the U.S. places economic competition within the national frame that American capitalists have spent the last five decades arguing is no longer relevant because of globalization. This posture of a unified national interest follows several decades of American industrialists cum financiers doing everything they can to concentrate wealth and power for themselves. Now, having done so, the frame of ‘nation’ is being opportunistically reasserted to claim a unified national interest to oppose ‘foreign’ competition. However, China didn’t pass NAFTA and China didn’t bail out Wall Street.
Graph: the top contributors to U.S. GDP are also the beneficiaries of government bailouts and favorable policies. This may seem reasonable until you consider that they might not be the top contributors to U.S. GDP without bailouts and favorable policies. Contrast this with manufacturing that has been shedding workers as the result of trade policies. The balance between the people who make stuff and those who facilitate the making of stuff has grown top-heavy as a result of these policies. This imbalance threatens economic stability. Source: statista.
The contours of current U.S. political divisions can be seen in the graph above. The top three sectors in terms of contribution to GDP by industry are finance, professional services and government. Manufacturing has declined as a relative contributor just as the neoliberal program intended. Unionized industrial jobs have been replaced with non-unionized service jobs. The PMC is the functionary class facilitating this shift as it assumes roles as, and managing, service sector workers. It is the representative face of capital as manufacturing has been migrated abroad. The ‘anti-labor left’ that has emerged in the U.S. since the 1990s is concentrated within the PMC.
The latter point isn’t meant to be gratuitous. In descriptive terms, a central goal of liberalism is to make capitalism fair. However, fairness in capitalist terms is that .0000000000001% of the population owns half of the national wealth. This is equitable distribution in capitalist theory. So, liberalism wants to make the system where .000000000001% of the population owns half of the wealth fair without changing the system or redistributing wealth. Inclusivity— the ‘level playing field,’ is the metric of fairness. Support for labor, and the power of labor, is a challenge to that system of distribution. It balances the power of employers. But it is antithetical to neoliberalism.
Caution needs to be applied in considering the actual economic contribution of finance. In the first, the GDP arithmetic is Price X Quantity = Output. Government support for finance has resulted in a very large rise in ‘P’ in finance and professional services. Pay levels (‘P’) in these industries have risen as they have stagnated or declined for ‘ordinary’ service workers. This represents the concentration of economic power, not the production of the stuff that money can buy. The tautology that people are paid the value of what they produce gets turned around when bankers create most of the money.
The size of finance relative to the making of actual stuff is a case of the proverbial tail wagging the dog. The theoretical justification for its existence is as facilitator of the productive economy. As facilitator, its ‘cut’ should be a small fraction of what is produced. The same is true of the PMC whose role is to manage the production of stuff and the provision of services. What has been effectively created in the U.S. is a bureaucratic neo-feudalism where nominal facilitators take most of what is produced globally for themselves. The rising power of China is seen as a threat to this practice.
The imperial-colonial frame of ‘managerialism’ is of an elite class that organizes the labor of colonial subjects who are constitutionally incapable of organizing their own economic production. Modern managerial practices were first conceived and implemented to ‘manage’ slaves on American plantations. The 1990s narrative of neoliberalism was of American managers organizing global economic production. This explains in part the willingness of industrialists and the U.S. political ‘leadership’ to send industrial production abroad. The result: an eviscerated and immiserated domestic working-class now lorded over by wildly overpaid and self-congratulatory bureaucrats.
This economic taxonomy has thus far left out the petite bourgeois shopkeeps who Gramsci identified a century ago as the reactionary core of European fascism. While the prevalence of small business is often overstated through the inclusion of branch offices of large corporations, small business owners exist on the front-line of capitalist mythology. And they are often the victims of its ordinary tendency toward economic concentration. Most small businesses fail very quickly. Those that succeed feed a myth of self-reliance that turns to resentment when power or happenstance turn against them.
The fragility of the global ‘supply chain,’ the dependence of billions of people on the interdependence of globalized production, was brought to the fore through shortages caused by the pandemic. In fact, people who are dependent on international trade for critical supplies like food, energy, medical supplies, etc. are vulnerable to the whims of predictable and unpredictable forces. The power dynamic of this manufactured ‘state of nature’ is of economic dependencies to which screws are then applied. In good times, this leverage is used to enforce favorable terms of trade. In bad, famines and world wars are its product.
Since the pandemic began a large number of small businesses have gone under and large enterprises like automobile makers that made themselves reliant on global supply chains have been forced to limit production. On the one hand, the pandemic is a rare enough occurrence in recent history to have made planning for it a low-payoff endeavor for businesses. On the other hand, prior epochs of globalization ended quite poorly for related reasons. Economic dependencies are sources of political and economic leverage. Economic warfare tends to be taken with offense by those on its receiving end.
With globalization under reconsideration by economists in the West, the intersection of state with business interests is being restated in geopolitical terms. The base charge is against the utopian ‘one-world’ version of global capitalism that grew to prominence in the U.S. in the 1990s. In this version, an adjunct of the Marshall Plan capitalism that followed WWII, global trade would produce political integration to facilitate the economic integration undertaken between trading partners. This theory requires near-total ignorance of the impact of the Great Depression on global trade and its contribution to the rise of European fascism.
The newly restated frame of globalization whereby business interests represent the vanguard of state interests is (descriptively) liberal politics attached to a liberal theory of the state. Posed as an answer to the charge of globalization utopianism, it relies on the imagined history of the early capitalist theorists. ‘The state’ is neither singular, nor has its non-singularity been static across time. The American state has spent the last five decades in league with oligarchs to support their interests. In contrast, the Chinese state— motivated in part by a desire for political stability, has concentrated on raising living standards for the Chinese people.
In Western economic theory ‘Mercantilism’ is the integrated state-private enterprise whereby state power is used to support the expansion of business interests. The sleight-of-hand used to bring ‘us’ from this earlier period to the present is an imagined starting point where economic power was equitably redistributed in the way needed to make capitalism ‘fair.’ If Western states supported the accrual of private wealth— which many did, then capitalism was rigged from the start. At any rate, the fantasy of the clean break of capitalism from state support is just that, a fantasy. Otherwise, when did it occur? Please be specific.
More recently, the Obama administration rebuilt Wall Street under the theory that it would serve as a vanguard against growing Chinese political power. That Wall Street, in league with PMC neoliberals, spent three-plus decades outsourcing U.S. military production to China illustrates the not-well-thought-outness of economic liberalism with respect to so-called national interests. While most of the anti-China rhetoric in the U.S. is for domestic political consumption, the idea that the U.S. would launch a military conflict against China while it is dependent on military production from it illustrates the shallow logic of neoliberalism.
To bring this back around, Wall Street was rebuilt (in 2009) to serve the state interests that it effectively controls. This makes it true that capitalism is a projection of state power without answering the question of the nature of state power. The U.S. war against Iraq is a modern example of state power being used to assure a steady supply of oil for Western oil companies. All of the current U.S. geopolitical flash-points— Iran, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, Ukraine, Russia, etc. tie to the resource needs of capitalist enterprises. The Bush administration stated publicly that Iraq played no role in 9/11— a geopolitical event, while it used the attack as a pretext for its war against Iraq.
The ‘political’ question within the U.S. from the perspective of citizens in an allegedly democratic nation is: what makes the economic interests of wealthy bankers any more worthy of state support than anyone else? In fact, banks make loans that create a legal obligation to repay. Debt has been used as a geopolitical weapon for centuries. Its utility as a weapon lies in the legal obligation to repay it. Failure to repay can be used to seize assets and / or assume a controlling interest in far more valuable enterprises. In this sense, debt joins other economic dependencies— such as fragile and tenuous global supply chains, as potential weapons in power politics.
Graph: one way to explain student debt is as the failure of the state to educate its people. Along with housing and transportation, in economic terms household debt represents costs of production borne by workers. And rising household debt in the face of stagnant wages means a falling capacity for ‘political’ self-determination. Source: New York Fed.
This isn’t to argue that debt is universally or intrinsically bad. It is to make the point that U.S. policy makers have long understood that it is a geopolitical ‘tool.’ Austerity is a term used to describe the economic conditions imposed by the IMF on debtor countries to force them to accept neoliberal reforms. However, if these reforms are mutually beneficial, why are countries being forced to accept them? Additionally, ‘countries’ are historically and legally contingent entities. From the side of power, oligarchs and political leaders benefit from the political leverage that indebtedness provides them.
For oligarchs, corporate executives and workers in industries favored by government policies and bailouts, neoliberalism is producing its promised benefits. That these benefits are the product of, or more minimally, associated with, specific government policies and largesse points to the role of ‘the state’ in economic outcomes. The IMF has long represented the economic interests of large banks along with the political interests of state representatives in the Federal government. This is an integrated relationship, not a matter of serendipity. The banks make loans, a business decision, after which the IMF forces reforms that assure both the repayment of money owed and future business for the banks.
What is being brought into focus is the growth in class privilege that is created through the integration of state with private power. There is no logical reason in purely political terms for the oil industry to have a say in U.S. foreign policy, for agricultural conglomerates to have a say in agricultural policy, or for the health care industry to have a say in healthcare policy. In ‘political’ terms, these are realms to be legislated by and for citizens, not corporations. And yet these industries determine policy. They not only determine it, but in many cases, they write the actual legislation.
The short-sightedness of elevating the alleged facilitators of capitalism—finance, professional services and government, has a bloated, lemon-socialist quality in that the question of how people get by in the world ultimately impacts the political-economic order. That this elevation is tied through policy and history to ‘freeing’ industrial workers to compete internationally while creating a large working class of service workers who labor for less than a living wage without benefits, gives a distinctive class character to this elevation. That managerialism is tied to the imperial / colonial projects through hierarchies of labor crafted through dubious distinctions adds to this class dimension.
This all ties back to the question of globalization through complicating the (descriptively) liberal conceptions of both ‘the state’ and capital. It is telling that a central role of U.S. presidents has been to sell wars of economic conquest as having geopolitical motives. One of Howard Zinn’s contributions in A People’s History of the United States was to ascribe economic motives to American ‘political’ history. Adam Tooze did an admirable job in The Wages of Destruction detailing the economic motives of the Nazis. In class terms, the PMC now plays the reactionary role of the petite bourgeoisie described by Gramsci in the 1920s. That didn’t end well.
Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.
THOM GUNN, LEFT, IN 1960 AT HAMPSTEAD-WHITE STONE POND. OLIVER SACKS, RIGHT, WITH HIS BELOVED BMW MOTORBIKE AT MUSCLE BEACH. COURTESY OF THE OLIVER SACKS FOUNDATION. PHOTO TAKEN FROM SACKS’S MEMOIR ON THE MOVE.
Back in the early eighties, when I first met up with the neurologist Oliver Sacks, he was still largely unknown. Though his masterpiece Awakenings had appeared in 1973, it had gone largely unread and was actively dismissed, if read at all, by the medical community, since its layering of nineteenth-century-style case histories ran against the double-blind, quantitative-tracking, peer-reviewed conventions demanded of medical writing at the time.
Newly arrived at The New Yorker, I persuaded Sacks to let me attempt to frame him as the subject of one of the magazine’s legendary multipart profiles, and we began to spend a lot of time together. Ever so gingerly, Sacks began to broach a quite astonishing prehistory—how at age twenty, when his Orthodox Jewish mother, one of England’s first female surgeons, first learned of his homosexuality, she had torn into him with hours of “Deuteronomical cursings” (filth of the bowel, abomination, the wish that he had never been born); how a few years later, in the late fifties, having completed his initial medical training at Oxford, he bolted free of homophobic England, like a bat out of hell, racing toward California, where he undertook four years of medical residencies, first in San Francisco and then in Los Angeles, and threw himself into a leather-clad, motorcycle-straddling, bodybuilding, drug-fueled scene. His original impetus for heading to San Francisco, he told me, may have been the presence there of the poet Thom Gunn, who was openly dealing with material Sacks felt he still couldn’t. Sacks urged me to go visit Gunn to get his sense of things, which I happily did, meeting him at an espresso place in the Castro.
After I’d worked on the profile for more than four years, Sacks asked me to shelve it: still deeply closeted, and in fact entirely celibate at that point for the fifteen years since he had left California for New York, he couldn’t deal with the prospect of having his sexuality revealed—and I certainly had no intention of outing him if he did not want to be outed. Seven years before his death, after by that point thirty-five years of celibacy, he finally allowed himself to fall in love and be fallen in love with, by the superbly kind and elegant writer Bill Hayes—and indeed a few years after that, Sacks wrote about his sexuality in his late-life autobiography, On the Move. And then, on his very deathbed, Sacks urged me to return to my original intention, to write up the multipart profile I’d been planning to all those years earlier. “Now,” Sacks said. “Now, you have to do it!”
I met Oliver here in San Francisco in it must have been 1961, shortly after he’d arrived in California as a medical intern. He rode a motorcycle and called himself “Wolf,” which is apparently his middle name. One time he kiddingly said, “What would my maternal grandfather think if he knew the way I am using his name?” It sounded nicely ferocious. And he wrote a great deal. He wanted from very early on to be a writer, and he kept extensive notebooks. Extensive. I remember at one point there being something like a thousand typed pages of journal. One summer he decided to chronicle the trucking life, had gotten on his motorcycle, which broke down, and ended up hitching with truckers and coming back with a long account of what it was like to be a trucker.
Another time he took his motorcycle down to Baja, Mexico, very remote, I’m not sure where he even got his gasoline, but he told me about it when he came back, how he’d slept in his sleeping bag by the side of the road. I said it must have been wonderful, and he said, yeah, except for all those vultures circling overhead. And I said, yeah, but everyone knows that vultures don’t attack a living person, to which he replied, “Yes, but it kept crossing my mind that there might be the odd schizophrenic vulture that didn’t know that.”
I don’t know what happened to that journal, at one point I had the whole thing, I wish I could show it to you right now, it may well have gotten inadvertently thrown out a while back when I moved, I know I haven’t seen it since I’ve been living in this house, which has been ten years.
What was he like, especially on just arriving?
Well, this is something I really wanted to tell you about, because he has gone through the most extraordinary changes of anybody I’ve ever known. I wasn’t present for the change, but I witnessed both the before and after. Going back to the journal, for example, there was one bit that became quite notorious among his acquaintances, because he wrote a scathingly satirical piece about a sadistic eye doctor, a guy who in the meantime unfortunately has gone mad, but at the time he was sane, or as sane as he was ever going to be, though slightly odd. I mean, he wasn’t a sadistic doctor; he was sexually sadistic. So Oliver wrote this satirical piece on him, referring to him as Doctor Kindly, and the piece was quite funny. But it was very unsympathetic toward someone whom Oliver basically liked personally. And then he went and showed the piece to the guy. And the guy didn’t like it at all, was actually quite hurt, as who wouldn’t be, nobody would like being made fun of in such a way. And Oliver was quite taken aback by the reaction.
My criticism of him at the time, and I don’t know how overt it was but it was there, was that the piece was well written, wonderfully observant, obviously good training for some kind of writing career, but … It was as if he was the only person there, everybody else was being judged so harshly, so contemptuously, and so sarcastically. He seemed to have a great inability to put himself inside the skin of others, or even to be able to imagine how they might react to him. Not that he did this so much in person, it was entirely literary. I mean, obviously it had something to do with what he felt about people, but it was not at all what he really felt about people: he was a much nicer man than he appeared, than he presented himself as being in his writing. He was much more transparently self-dramatizing in those days. I mean, there is of course still a sense of drama about him, though you don’t feel it is in any sense posturing. It was never unpleasant posturing at all, he was always nice, but in his youthful enthusiasms he was always trying on poses.
Then he went down to Southern California, and I saw less of him. I didn’t start seeing him frequently again until after he’d moved to New York, by which time he was an entirely different man.
This would have been before he wrote Awakenings?
Oh yes, but he was obviously the man who would be able to write Awakenings. The first Oliver I knew would have been the last person I would have thought capable of writing Awakenings. It was precisely his problem that he couldn’t sympathize with people enough. It wasn’t that he was lacking in kindness; rather he was lacking in sympathetic imagination. And that is of course what he has now—in his conduct and his talk and his life and his writing—more than anyone else I know.
Now, what happened in between, I don’t know. I’m sure it was a great complex of things. There was obviously a maturing. When he arrived in California, he still had no sense of who he was or what he wanted to be—as I suppose none of us do when we are young and everything is changing. And he was unhappy. Maybe it’s just that whatever we mean by maturing, the sort of thing most people go through in their early twenties, he still hadn’t gone through any of that.
Perhaps it had to do with his having been something of a prodigy, the way that a child who is already the intellectual equal of adults at, say, age five is likely nonetheless to lack the emotional maturity to go along with it, and indeed may still have the emotional maturity of a five-year-old well into his adulthood.
I think that could be right, and that other maturity didn’t really come till his late twenties or early thirties, though when it did, finally, it was a much deeper and more meaningful and more thoroughgoing maturity than maybe any I’ve ever seen.
As to how it could possibly have arisen, I know it’s unfashionable and dated to say this kind of thing, but I think Oliver might support me in saying this: I think it may have had something to do with his taking a lot of acid, at a time when we were all taking a lot of acid. We didn’t exactly coincide in this, he’d already left San Francisco by the time I myself started, but he did do a lot of chemical experimentation, I mean, outrageously extreme, far more than anyone else I knew.
His old slogan: “Every dose an overdose.”
Right! Precisely. And I think that may have had something to do with it. I mean, there are a lot of outrageous claims made about acid. Nevertheless, I find that it helped me get insight into myself and my life and other people that I might not have attained otherwise.
But going back to the before version of Oliver, when his brilliance was coupled to a certain—what shall we call it?—shallowness.
A bit, yes, maybe, but any word I could use makes it sound more vicious than I intend. Self-centered? Perhaps, but it wasn’t so much self-centered as there was an inability to get beyond the self. There was that cleverness at the expense of others, an inability to recognize how he might be hurting others, as with Doctor Kindly. The sort of thing we all go through perhaps in our teens, being smartasses as a way of proving ourselves, defining ourselves by scoring off others, but here he was approaching thirty. He was never very nasty, if anything I was sometimes nasty to him. He was always generous, but there was this other … Actually, I often found him a bit irritating in those days, and embarrassing because he was so enthusiastic about me, and I just didn’t feel there was much to be enthusiastic about. He seemed to be finding things in me which I honestly didn’t think were there.
What kinds of things?
Wisdom and stuff. I don’t know. The motorcycles in my poetry. I know Jonathan Miller first got him to read me.
One thing he has said about you is that in your poetry you were so much more at ease with issues that were still causing him grief, the homoeroticism in particular being what I suspect he is referring to.
Well, he did seem to be just beginning to come to terms with that, fitful terms perhaps. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind my telling you how he seemed to fall for a series of what struck me as rather silly little boys, who were immensely attracted to his motorcycles. A series? Maybe it was only two or three, but it did seem endless, and they were all very butch, and very nice-looking, and very young, and very rough. They seemed to be off the streets, and obviously he was a great big burly father figure to them, and a wonderfully romantic figure.
What with the motorcycles and all, did you have the sense that he was living dangerously?
I think he is a dangerous rider, yes, or a reckless driver, let’s put it that way.
And also dangerous in terms of the people he hung out with?
I don’t know that they were dangerous. I mean, I don’t think they had knives. As I say, they tended to be more like little street boys. But no, he hung out more in leather bars, as I did, and they’re not dangerous. He was a boisterous presence, and I suspect he probably charmed half the people and annoyed the other half.
I could easily imagine him getting into trouble with those he annoyed.
Well, yes, no. I mean, he might have gotten beaten up, though remember he was very strong, still there was an obliviousness to danger with him. On the other hand, you’re really no more likely to get yourself beat up in a leather bar than anywhere else, it’s all just for show.
And then, of course, he got to know Mel, I guess you know about Mel …
Not that much.
Well, Mel was the … a wonderful boy. He was probably about the same age as the others, physically he looked like them, but he was—is—a person of great sensitivity and intelligence, and they did live together in Southern California. I found him rather attractive myself. I didn’t get to know him that well, since they were down there, the last time Oliver visited here was with him—that was many years ago. Mel seemed to me, without oversentimentalizing things, to be the great love, and a worthy love he was, too. I don’t know what difficulties there were, or I suppose there must have been, since he never moved to New York with Oliver. They are still friends, I believe, and they obviously feel a great deal for each other. He struck me as very fine, on the few occasions I met him, I liked him a lot. Today he lives somewhere up north, Oregon or something. I don’t know whether Oliver has had any love relationships since then. My sense is he hasn’t.
Did you have a sense of his living a very split life in those days, with his medical work to one side and the rest to the other?
No, I didn’t see it as split, on the contrary it seemed wonderfully integrated. All of the enthusiasms would spill over into each other. Part of the richness of his mind comes from the fact that there are all these interests, and all this knowledge of different sorts, and none of it is categorized. He’s not like the professor of eighteenth-century literature who hasn’t read any of seventeenth- or nineteenth-century literature since having taken his Ph.D. He’s more like Ezra Pound or somebody like that.
Indeed, he strikes me as coming from the period before the sciences and the humanities split apart. Leibniz and Browne and people like that seem his contemporaries.
Just the other day he was quoting William Harvey on the musicality of movement.
Yes, it’s as if they were all his contemporaries and he was merely adding his observations to theirs, almost as if he were expecting them to reply, and sometimes even hearing their replies.
Pretty early on, I think before the migraine book or else immediately afterward, he said to me how he longed to write a book that would be good science and good literature. Maybe not exactly those words, but something close. And then he went and did just that.
Though of course this capacity of his is still all tied up with the most remarkable sense and pressure of compulsion. I mean, I recognize a certain compulsiveness in myself, the sense sometimes that I just have to do things, or that I can’t write, or whatever—but nothing like him. My blocks are never so lengthy or so absolute. On the other hand, when I do then write, I could never write the way he does either, you know, through days and nights, nonstop, thousands of words all perfectly ordered in just a few weeks. Migraine in nine days, that kind of thing: the ability to tap into demons like that. The epic blockages, on the other hand, seem in some way allied to his feeling of sympathy with the patients in Awakenings, who are more completely blocked than anyone else one can imagine. When he describes how they are running and their steps are getting so much smaller and smaller until, ultimately, they are just running internally—one sees this imaginative sympathy, perhaps also coming in some way from his brother, who I sometimes think he conceives of almost as an alternative self.
Indeed, what about his brother?
Well, as you may know, he is, I don’t know the word, maybe schizophrenic or something. Oliver once apparently overheard him say, “I went mad so the rest of you could stay sane.” Most extraordinary remark. I’m not sure what one makes of that, though I am sure he means a lot to Oliver, over and beyond his just being a relative.
[A long silence, and then, as if to leaven the gravity of that last remark, Gunn breaks into a wide smile.]
The funniest thing he ever told me, or I should perhaps say the strangest, though he was himself laughing when he told it to me, was how at a very early age, maybe six or seven, maybe even earlier, he conceived a sort of presexual desire for a blimp. A sensual desire. I mean, who but Oliver could desire a blimp?
But he was serious, he was not making this up, this was not a retrospective fantasy. I cannot imagine Oliver lying, when I think about it—almost less than anyone else. And if he were to exaggerate, he would believe the exaggeration.
[As I am getting set to leave, I ask Gunn if he still has a copy of the letter he wrote Oliver after Awakenings came out in 1973; he rifles through some files, finds it, makes a copy, and hands it to me, graciously offering permission for me to cite or reprint it.]
Lawrence Weschler, a longtime veteran of The New Yorker and a regular contributor to NPR, is the director emeritus of the New York Institute of the Humanities at NYU and the author of nearly twenty books, including Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, Everything That Rises, and Vermeer in Bosnia.
Intro to DSA Recurring March 3, 2021 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm Come learn what Democratic Socialists of America is doing to build the socialist movement in San Francisco. There will an introduction to the mission of DSA, the socialist project, and what our organizers are doing locally. Bring your questions and a friend! RSVP at dsasf.org/intro-mtg-registration
Next General Membership Meeting We’ve got an election around the corner! The gubernatorial Recall Election is on September 14. Granted, we’re are not fans of Newsom, but the SF Berneicrats have nonetheless voted to oppose all of the statewide and local Republican-led recall efforts. If Republicans beat us in voter turnout in this special election, we can end up with a conservative governor, who can do a lot of damage to our schools and communities as the person who controls the budget and can veto legislation. That’s why at our membership meeting on Wednesday, we’ll be hearing from Peter Gallotta,… Continue reading →
A More Equitable Future for Traffic Tickets Posted by LaborSolidarityCommittee WHEN: August 5, 2021 @ 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm WHERE: Online CONTACT: Event website EVENT Register California gives out more than four million traffic tickets each year, the majority of which disproportionately fall on Black and Brown communities across the state. It also has the most expensive traffic tickets in the country, with the bulk cost of these tickets being driven by numerous fees on top of the base cost of the ticket. Failure to pay the full cost of a ticket can result in even greater penalties, including added… Continue reading →
Join us Thursday for another engaging conversation on our national organizing call at 6PM EST. We’ll be discussing the Supreme court and Birddog strategies with Center for Popular Democracy’s very own Julia Peters from CPD’s Innovation Team! We’ll also be discussing Medicare-for-all and Senate filibuster updates happening in our progressive fight. Hope to see you all Thursday at 6PM. Register here to join! Thank you, Innovations, Center for Popular Democracy CPD Action 449 Troutman Street, Suite A Brooklyn, NY 11237 United States
ISF Federal Working Group meeting: Thursday, August 5, 7:30–9 PM. Register here for a Zoom meeting to help us develop strategies to influence our Members of Congress and the Biden administration to enact a progressive agenda.
The Institute for the Critical Study of Society at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library Sunday Morning at the Marxist Library OUR CURRENT SCHEDULE (NOTE: These are all tentative and may be changed. Please check back the week before, or sign up for our weekly reminders/updates at email@example.com) Sun, Dec 27, 2020: 10:30 am to 12:30 pm CONFIRMED: The Three Concepts of Freedom Synopsis: In this session we will compare and contrast the Liberal, Democratic, and the communist concepts of freedom. We will discuss that the Liberal freedom consists of the legal guarantees against outside intrusions. Democratic freedom emphasizes the right to participate in the… Continue reading →
Neighborhood Outreach to Renters in the Fillmore Interested in tenant organizing? Join Neighbors United for our weekly phonebank, Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. We’ll be calling tenants in the Fillmore to let them know about their rights, and how to access rent relief. On June 30th at 6:00 p.m. in Jefferson Square Park, we’ll be hosting a tenant’s rights bootcamp. Want to become more involved on a regular basis? Join our weekly meeting on Sundays at 12:00 p.m.