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Month November 2010

Uprooting the Garden of Hate

The Southern Poverty Law Center, long a bulwark against prejudice in the US, this past week added a number of organizations to its list of hate groups; organizations with innocuous-sounding names such as The Family Research Council and The National Organization for Marriage, whose appellations belie the truth behind their agenda. Couched in a Bizarro-world interpretation of Christianity, in which Jesus would somehow approve of war, capitalism and capital punishment, these groups are little more than an engine of intolerance and hate. Naturally, these good folk are apoplectic about their inclusion on the list, assuming the venerable status of victim and claiming that they are being unfairly targeted, in the words of FRC’s president, Tony Perkins, by a “liberal organization.” Once again, like environmental issues, the extreme right has managed to politicize something that, in reality is a universal concern: human rights. They sanctimoniously plead that they are not anti anything, but simply pro-traditional marriage. Really? Then how to explain this missive by Peter Spriggs, a senior fellow for policy studies at FRC? Earlier this year, Mr. Spriggs told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that “homosexual behavior” should be made illegal. These aren’t words of hate, repression and prejudice? Neither were the Jim Crow supporters actually racist, right? I suppose that their practices of lynchings and wanton violence against African-Americans were actually a supreme expression of a commitment to justice and equality.

I’ll allow them to state their case, in their own words, with some examples of their “message of love”…

There is a strong undercurrent of pedophilia in the homosexual subculture. Homosexual activists want to promote the flouting of traditional sexual prohibitions at the earliest possible age….they want to encourage a promiscuous society – and the best place to start is with a young and credulous captive audience in the public schools.Robert Knight, FRC

Gaining access to children has been a long-term goal of the homosexual movement.Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex With Boys: Family Research Council publication, July 1999

You don’t have to eat the stale crumbs off the dirty floor, which is basically what lesbianism is. AFTAH (Americans for Truth) Web site interview with FRC’s Yvette Cantu

There is no taking these statements out of context, but if these quotes aren’t enough, there is no ambiguity to the following image:

You get the idea. Naturally, I take issue with bilious and spurious sentiments such as these, but what makes them even worse is that they are presented as somehow being consonant with Christian values. As someone who has studied the bible, I defy these suppurating souls to cite where, exactly, Jesus ever addressed this issue, let alone made recommendations contrary to his one dictum, Love!

 

Did my Bible exclude the Gospel According to Fred Phelps? The one in which Jesus, donning fatigues and an M-16, rides in on an Abrams tank, Goldman Sachs stock certificates in hand, and sets up perimeters to defend the money changers in the temple? Then, just for good measure, stones a same-sex couple; two people who have the temerity to hold hands over a Starbucks Frappuccino, on Jerusalem’s Main Street? I know, it’s absurd, but so is the notion that these hate groups aren’t, in fact, espousing hate and that they are “victims.”

 

There are people on all sides of the political spectrum promoting half-truths and outright lies, but the radical right has mastered the art of convolution. Just look at their success in convincing poor and working people that it is in their interest to vote for candidates beholden to big business and banking—the very people who have eliminated their jobs and foreclosed on their homes. It should come as no surprise, then, that these same hypocrites would spew venom and cower in a cloak of innocence, crying that they are being unfairly targeted. I have no love for anyone who encourages hate, but at least I could offer a begrudging sense of respect for those who have the courage of their convictions. Many on the right in this nation aver that they aren’t racist or homophobic, yet their very words, while sometimes devoid of actual epithets, prove otherwise. It’s beyond time that they were called to task for their divisive and hateful rhetoric and actions. Bravo to the SPLC for its boldness.

 

- Arthur Smilios is an unapologetic anti-capitalist, musician rabble rouser.   Arthur was the co-founder of the seminal New York punk band the Gorilla Biscuits. Since his days of performing “Cats & Dogs” (a song that encouraged thousands to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle)  Arthur has strived to braid his art with his passion for social justice.  The Sparrow Project has invited Arthur to continue to sound off on the issues he holds most dear through their blog on http://sparrowmedia.net .  Arthur’s articles are written exclusively in his own voice, and may not reflect the views of The Sparrow Project.

Black Friday & The Importance Of Having A Voice On The Job

Every Thanksgiving I remind my friends and family of the deadly war waged against Native Americans in this country. This Thanksgiving, there is another war I’d like to discuss: the war being waged against retail workers.  This year I call on progressives to not only speak up for native people, but to remind our friends and family how important it is that workers have the right to organize for better conditions at work. And there’s no better time than Black Friday to have these conversations.


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently sent letters to 14 major retailers urging them to adopt crowd control measures this Black Friday.  It would almost sound serious if one had no idea how impotent OSHA is and how powerful the big box retailers are. Yes, I’m sure receiving a “strongly worded letter” from OSHA has CEOs shaking in their booties!  In fact, it would be downright comical if it wasn’t for the fact that lives have literally been lost because of retailers’ utter disregard for their employees’ and customers’ safety.

 

Two years ago 34-year-old Jdimytai Damour, a temporary Wal-Mart maintenance worker, was trampled to death and four were injured at a Long Island Wal-Mart on Black Friday.

 

The bloggers and commentators used the event to lament just how crazy our consumer culture has become. While it’s tempting to comment on our frenzied consumer culture, the crowd basically did what any large crowd would do. News reports described a crowd of at least 200 people waiting outside one set of doors for the store’s 5am opening. Predictably, when the store opened, people bum rushed the entrance. And when 200+ eager customers are waiting to enter one set of doors at five o’clock in the morning on Black Friday, it’s going to be difficult, to say the least.

 

What’s amazing about this situation isn’t how the customers acted, but that they bore the brunt of the blame for what is gross negligence on the part of Wal-Mart. In any other situation, the company surely would have been to blame. When crowds get out of control at football games or rock concerts, the venue is immediately held to account. Where was security? Why wasn’t there better crowd control? Why weren’t safety measures properly enforced? We should expect no less of retailers expecting large crowds on Black Friday.

 

In May 2009, OSHA cited Wal-Mart for inappropriate crowd control and fined them $7,000. While most would argue that a life is worth much more than $7,000, apparently Wal-Mart feels that this number is TOO much! Wal-Mart is actually appealing the decision in court.

 

Aside from the OSHA fine, Wal-Mart cut a deal with the Nassau County DA to set up a $400,000 fund for victims, give $1.5 million to county social service programs, and implement a new safety plan at 92 of its locations. In exchange for this, Wal-Mart will not face criminal charges, and Mr. Damour’s family would have to waive their right to bring a separate civil suit against Wal-Mart if they participate in the victim’s fund. So as usual, the corporate executives shirk criminal responsibility and instead pay pennies (and yes, $2 million is pennies for a company that posted $3.44 billion net income in this year’s third quarter).

 

And now, two years later, OSHA is sending strongly worded letters. The letters, addressed to such retailers as Wal-Mart, JCPenney, Macy’s, and Target, stress the importance of safety on Black Friday and include the OSHA “Crowd Management Safety Tips for Retailers.” Tips include setting up barricades for crowd management and making sure employees are aware when the doors are about to open

Sounds reasonable enough. And, in fact, some chains have implemented these simple guidelines. “They’re pretty much identical to what we use at Macy’s,” Macy’s spokesman Jim Sluzewski said.

 

What’s to happen if stores don’t follow those tips? They get a citation from OSHA. Now, when someone literally died at Wal-Mart, the OSHA citation resulted in a $7,000 fine that Wal-Mart is now appealing. Does anyone really think any of the CEOs receiving this letter feel threatened by a possible $7,000 fine? Clearly, our society is in a sad state of affairs when retailers act with impunity, lives are lost, and the government is powerless to stop it. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and, in fact, it hasn’t always been this way.


Our country has a rich history of workers and communities coming together to organize against rampant corporate abuse. When workers have a unified voice on the job, they have the power to ensure that real safety measures be implemented. It’s worth noting that Macy’s, the one letter recipient that does have some safety measures in place, is one of the few retailers with some unionization (four of their NYC locations are organized with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union).

 

In 1955, over a third of workers in this country were members of a labor union. Unfortunately, that number has slowly declined over the past three decades, and today union density hovers at around 12%, and is only 7% in the private sector. This decline is in part due to the growth of professional union-busting firms that companies can hire to run highly sophisticated anti-union campaigns against its workforce. It’s also due to the increasingly aggressive anti-union policies of the past five presidential administrations.

 

Despite this general decline, there have been small yet inspiring victories, most notably the Republic Windows and Doors sit-down strike in late 2008, organized by members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America Local 1110. When workers were informed their factory would close down, nearly all the 260 workers sat down next to their machines, refusing to leave until the company at the very least paid the legally required accumulated vacation pay and compensation the workers were owed. The plant ended up finding another line of credit, and instead of closing, the factory still operates today, thanks to the actions of the workers.

 

A more recent union win was the victory of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union in their 3-year long fight to get the company to pay the holiday premium on MLK Day. For years, Starbucks refused to pay the time-and-a-half that they pay on other federal holidays. The company recently announced a reversal on this position.

In both these examples, it was a combination of workers staying organized and committed, on-point media messaging, and overwhelming community support that led to victory. Contrast this with the Wal-Mart example, where even after a worker dies the government can barely coax retailers into following OSHA guidelines.

The Wal-Mart example makes it clear: corporate executives will not take responsibility for the safety of retail workers. Nor will the courts or government agencies.

 

The government won’t do it. The CEOs sure as hell won’t do it. So we, working people, organized in our communities and on the job, must rein in the power of the retail giants, and ultimately build a better future for us all.

 

- Stephanie Basile resides in Brooklyn, NY. She works as a union organizer and is interested in labor, anarchism, feminism, and queer issues. She loves bike riding, running, and cooking vegan food.


The Largest All-Vegan Thanksgiving Food Share

Long Island Food Not Bombs, in recent years has re-defined food sharing programs, constantly outdoing similar programs and even themselves with the quantity of food shared, it’s quality, and the community participation the sharing inspires.   There has never been a Food Not Bombs chapter that has exponentially grown this way, and in LIFNB’s growth something beautiful is happening.  Next week LIFNB will be hosting  a series of events, the largest will be their all-vegan Thanksgiving Food Share, if you are able to attend please do.  If you live far away and are reading this, then get inspired and go out and do your own event!

 

Please take a moment to watch the video and then read LIFNB’s update below.  Share it with friends and get involved!

 

 

“Starting November 20th and going through November 25th Long Island Food Not Bombs will be holding its largest endeavor to date; it will include parties, Food Shares, copious amounts of decadent foods, the sharing of clothing, books and the organized efforts of thousands of community members. The largest of all these events will be Vegan Thanksgiving. It’s a 2-day affair that starts as an all night cooking party, (on Nov.20th, everyone is invited) and culminates into the Vegan Thanksgiving Food Share the next day in Hempstead (“the Hempstead Food Share Bonanza”).

 

Please Spread the word! This is our most ambitious project to date and to pull it off we are going to need your help, your friends help and even the help of their friends. Solidarity is what makes Long Island Food Not Bombs so strong and we ask that you help us make these events even more absurdly inspirational than we could ever imagine.

 

The Hempstead Food Share, on November 21st, will be the largest Food Not Bombs ever! We expect to be able to share a feast with everyone that comes! We’ll then be continuing the week with nearly a dozen events spread across our Food Shares in Bedstuy, Coram, Huntington and Farmingville.”

 

 

 

 

Saturday, November 20th @ 3pm: Expanded BedStuy Thanksgiving Food Share
Saturday, November 20th @ 7pm: Vegan Thanksgiving Cooking Party @ JonSTeps’ House
Sunday, November 21st @ 2pm: Hempstead Food Share Bonanza
Monday, November 22nd @ 5:30pm: Coram Thanksgiving Sleeping Bag/ Blanket Food Share
Monday, November 22nd @ 9pm: Dumpster Scavenger Hunt/LIFNB Olympics
Tuesday, November 23rd @ 6:30pm: Huntington Thanksgiving Food Share
Thursday, November 25th @11am: LIFNB Thanksgiving Lunch in Farmingville
Thursday, November 25th @ 6:30pm: Farmingville Food Share

 

 

 

A Plea for Progress

As Election Day is upon us, I vacillate between continuing to play my assigned role in the sham of American “democracy” (i.e. voting for someone who will, in the end, cater not to the needs of the people, but to whichever corporation has financed her/his campaign) and casting a non-vote of protest. This year, however, I’m firmly in the camp of voting; with a caveat and a plea. Too often, I’ve encountered the argument and fallen prey to it, myself, that voting for a progressive or radical third party is simply enabling the cause of the right wing. This is why, contrary to my instincts, I, an avowed and proud Socialist, voted for Barack Obama, who has proved himself to be an avowed and proud Wall Streetist. The logic is convincing: If we cast our ballot for the Green Party, one of the Socialist Parties, et al, we will simply take votes from the Democratic candidate, thereby ensuring the victory of the Republican. The first problem I see with this argument is that it presupposes that the Democrat is any better than the Republican. The only discernible difference between the two parties is that the Republicans make no pretense of caring for anyone but the banking class. Both parties perpetuate war; corporate subsidies; taxation favorable to the wealthy; a practiced anti-labor stance and a disregard for civil liberties.

I recall watching Jay Leno, during the 2004 presidential campaign season, as he derided, admonished and belittled Ralph Nader for siphoning votes from John Kerry. I also recall the revulsion and anger I felt at Leno’s condescension and audacity. Then, it occurred to me: the establishment has a fine-tuned apparatus in place to keep a third-party candidate from making a real showing in the polls, let alone actually winning a seat (an interesting exception being Vermont, whose citizenry is wise enough to have elected and reelected the Democratic Socialist, Bernie Sanders). It’s the age-old weapon of assuring conformity: terror. Forward-thinking people are browbeaten into submission for fear of the Republican winning. This is why union members continue to vote for a Democratic Party that has betrayed them, laughing as it cashes the checks culled from the hard-earned wages of working people. In my state, New York, the Democratic candidate, Andrew Cuomo, last week declared in a New York Times interview (read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/25/nyregion/25cuomo.html?_r=2&hp) , that he would take on the unions; that business has been victimized in my state. Really? The preponderance of Starbucks and not-really-the-mayor Mike Bloomberg’s support of Wal Mart establishing a foothold in my city (in spite of the people’s successful actions to prevent this malignant entity from poisoning our community) suggest otherwise. Still, co-opted parties, such as the ironically named Working People’s Party, which has bowed its head and endorsed Cuomo, and rank-and-file union members have averred their support for this establishment marionette of the ruling class. When I ask them why, the answer is the same: We fear the victory of the Republican candidate. Well, I counter with this: What if every one of us—and make no mistake, we constitute an overwhelming majority, which is the source of capital’s fear. Let’s really frighten them and be unified—voted for a candidate who actually is one of ours; who is a union member; who is not for sale? The answer is that the Democratic Party would cease to be relevant. This is good. This party acts as a means of confusing the working class and poor. Let a party of the people take on the Republicans.

 

This Tuesday, I petition all forward-thinking people to cast an honest vote; not a lesser-of-two-evils vote. Personally, I’m voting screw-both-of-the-evils, and abjuring both wings of the single capitalist party. If we all did this, we just might find that our so-called “representative government” actually represents us. People, as the great lover of humanity and justice, imprisoned for exercising his right to free speech (read, speaking an uncomfortable truth), Eugene Debs exhorted us, 105 years ago, GET OUT OF THE CAPITALIST PARTIES! Vote in the interests of people, not profit and capital. Peace, love and a knowledge that we will win!

 

I leave you with the words of that phenomenon, Helen Keller, on the fallacy of American two-party politics: “Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” Let’s reject capital’s parties, this Tuesday, and cast a vote for life.

 

- Arthur Smilios is an unapologetic anti-capitalist, musician rabble rouser.   Arthur was the co-founder of the seminal New York punk band the Gorilla Biscuits. Since his days of performing “Cats & Dogs” (a song that encouraged thousands to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle)  Arthur has strived to braid his art with his passion for social justice.  The Sparrow Project has invited Arthur to continue to sound off on the issues he holds most dear through their blog on http://sparrowmedia.net .  Arthur’s articles are written exclusively in his own voice, and may not reflect the views of The Sparrow Project.