Monday, February 17, 2020

Why Donald Trump Hates Our Educational System and Demonizes Teachers- A Personal Reflection

Why Donald Trump Hates Our Educational System and Demonizes Teachers- A Personal Reflection
As someone who is exactly the same age as DJT and went to school during the same years, I look at his rise to the top of our society with astonishment. As a young person from a family of modest means, going to public schools in Brooklyn, I did everything people told me to allow me to move into the middle class and become a respected professional. I got good grades. I scored well on standardized tests and on my SAT's. I became a successful athlete whose exploits were written up in school newspapers and occasionally the local press I applied for every scholarship in sight. And it worked. I got into Columbia where, after a slow start, the same pattern emerged.Starting in my sophomore year, I got excellent grades in my major. My sports exploits were written up in the school paper. With the support of my professors, I received numerous fellowships to go to graduate school. Every single thing I mentioned here is a matter of public record- the grades, the standardized tests scores, the articles in school newspapers the fellowships. Yet our President, who went to school during the same years, is a person who not only didn't register those accomplishments in academics or sports , but has threatened to sue every school he went to to prevent his grades and test scores from being released! Not only that, he sees the people responsible for recording such information, the teachers, the school administrators, the journalists, as his enemy! And he has taken half of the country with him in venting his rage at the professional class, those with the credentials he never achieved and who he could circumvent because he had a multi millionaire father with limitless political connections. To DJT, intellect is something to be mocked; and those who have played by the rules just "suckers" to be laughed at, bulldozed, and pushed aside. That half the country cheers him on when he does this- using the term "loser teachers" to refer to people who work in our public schools- scares the hell out of me. We have seen this before, in Nazi Germany among other places.... and the results have always been disastrous.

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Tragedy Facing the Garifuna People of Honduras- A Guest Post by Geraldo Sambola

As many Blacks in the U.S. face systemic violence and challenging policies threatening their livelihood, Blacks in Honduras, Central America also face distressing threats to their survival.  Last year 2019 Honduran Blacks also known as “Garifuna or Garinagu (plural),” faced unprecedented deaths from criminal acts.  Though many of their murders were associated with the cycle of violence in Honduras, some deaths were associated with Garifuna activist organizing and resisting seizure of their lands by outsiders.  

The largest Black population in Honduras are known as the Garinagu, a mixed Black and Amerindian group which established coastal towns along the Circum-Caribbean coast in Central America the late 1700s, there population concentration area.  Although Garinagu largest population is in Honduras they are also in Guatemala, Belize, Nicaragua, and hold population segment in the U.S. specifically in New York with their highest concentration in the Bronx.  Due to their many contributions, including as soldiers in Honduras this Black population was recognized by their government in the 1821 Constitution.   Since the early 1900s till the present the Honduran businessmen, and government have collaborated with foreign businesses utilizing the Caribbean coastal areas, Garinagu region, to reap their economic development goals.  At first 1900s development initiatives were large scale banana plantation and railroad by U.S. based agro-industries, and 1970s cattle-ranching projects. This was followed by increase tourism development initiatives the 1990s.  At the turn of the century mineral extraction, hydroelectric plant projects and African palm growth and large-scale tourism continue challenging Garinagu subsistence. 

In the northeast Garifuna community of “Masca,” 25 miles from San Pedro Sula, several Garifuna community leaders lives have been threatened and some murdered.  On September 8, 2019 an unidentified assailant arrived at the restaurant of Mirna Suazo Martinez shot and killed her driving away on his motorcycle.  Mirna was president of the community board in the region.  The community board historically rejected the construction of a hydroelectric power plants in the Masca river.  Mr. Oscar Francisco Guerrero, was also shot to death the following month on October 18, 2019.  He was assigned as part of Mirna security team due to death threats she constantly received.  On December 28, 2019 Karla Ignacia Piota Martinez, Mirna’s sister was also shot receiving seven gunshot wounds and two weeks later dying.  Ignacia was seventy years of age and president of the Masca community board of trustees.  These occurrences continued from the past as, four years ago October 14, 2017 Garifuna community leader/businessman Silvinio Zapata Martinez was killed, shot 5 times by unknown individuals while closing his restaurant business also in Masca.  Zapata contributed in leading the community successfully resisting the building of the hydroelectric dam in the Masca river, which was to be supported by the United Nations Carbon Fund.  Community protests and involvement of the Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH) resulted in pausing development efforts, nonetheless threats and assassinations continue.   

In another Garifuna residential coastal area, earlier last year January 24, 2019 Garifuna leader Celso Guillen was detained by authorities although he was freed from charges by a Canadian landowner in his community.  Mr. Guillen an activist from the Garifuna community “Guadalupe,” in the municipality of Trujillo, 140 miles from San Pedro Sula, was arrested and mistreated by police on October 2017.  A lawsuit and order of capture was filed by a Canadian businessman against Guillen for trespassing land he purchased originally belonging to the activist.  Canadian businessman Randy Jorgensen obtained about 1,500 acre of Garifuna land constructing tourism and real estate project in this Trujillo bay region of the Garinagu territory.  OFRANEH was successful in contacting the United Nations as well as the Honduran government Special Prosecutor of Ethnic group absolving and freeing Guillen of his arrest, nonetheless he continues facing threats. 

At a September 2019 meeting at “Casa Yurumein,” a Garifuna meeting place in the Bronx, Omar Suazo alongside other leaders explained challenges faced in their individual communities.  Suazo was imprisoned since May 2017 on false charges and eventually freed in 2018.  Mr. Suazo was the president of the village township association of Sambo Creek in La Ceiba, 85 miles from San Pedro Sula, and successfully for years resisted the building of a dam in the Sambo Creek river in which the Japanese International Cooperative Agency is involved.  At a public gathering in his hometown Suazo was attacked and sought to defend himself as he was thrown to the ground by several men and was knifed by one of them in his back injuring him.  Gun shots came from the outside injuring one individual and killing one of the Ladino individuals. The result was Suazo arrest and charges with murder and jailed with his injuries.  Suazo explained being accustomed to death threats and that he was set up because of his community activism.  He shared his thankfulness to all who rallied behind him resulting in his released imprisonment. Nonetheless, challenges continue as Honduran officials have re-opened the case again charging him with murder.

On August 2019 the Bronx based, Garifuna Coalition organization submitted a letter to the Honduran Minister of Human Rights expressing its solidarity with The Black Fraternal Organization OFRANEH demanding the government to comply with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, December 18, 2015 verdict.  OFRANEH filed the grievances 2006, focusing on two Garifuna communities, due to exhausting their possibilities of justice through the Honduran court system and the Special Prosecutor for ethnic groups.  Part of the verdict resolution declared that the Honduran government was to provide demarcation of land originally granted with collective ownership to the community of “Punta Piedra,” also to assign the demarcation of the land to the community of “Triunfo de la Cruz,” and ensure that the Garinagu have free access to their entire land undermined by mining regulations.  In addition, the resolution called for the government to investigate the past murders of Garifuna activists Óscar Brega, Jorge Castillo Jiménez, Julio Alberto Morales, and Jesus Alvarez.  The response deadline December 2017 passed, nonetheless the Garifuna community continues waiting for response to this and many others grievances filed regarding territorial challenge in their other coastal communities. 

An estimate of 47 Garifuna communities exist along the Honduran coast, and those mentioned here are just a few facing land challenges, violence and repression.  Meanwhile, with territorial and other difficulties, many Garifuna continue migrating to North America (some as part of the Central American migrant caravan) seeking safety from the cycle of violence, and better economic opportunities for their subsistence. 

By Geraldo Martinez

Dorchester resident fighting to protect Garifuna community, by Yawu Miller

A Letter to Honduras’s Minister of Human Rights by José Francisco Ávila López- Garifuna Coalition USA, Inc. info@garifunacoalition August 27, 2019

El Exterminio del Nuevo Amanecer by Juan Almendarez January 10, 2020

La Ofraneh denuncia que la expansión de la frontera de agrocombustibles y el impulso de ciudades modelo, compromete la sobrevivencia de los pueblos ancestrales.

HONDURAS, HUMAN RIGHTS, INDIGENOUS RIGHTS, OFRANEH, Racism in Honduras: New Attack on Garifuna Leader in Masca, Posted by INTERNATIONALIST 360° on JANUARY 3, 2020

Silvinio Zapata Martinez

#WHRDAlert HONDURAS / Assailants kill Mirna Teresa Suazo, community leader and Garifuna territorial defender

IACHR condemns the prevalence of murders and other forms of violence against Garifuna women in Honduras REPORTfrom Inter-American Commission on Human RightsPublished on 24 Sep 2019 

Honduras: Policía detiene ilegalmente a Miriam Miranda defensora de la tierra y territorio, tras horas ella y su compañera fueron liberadas Autor(a): Criterio (Honduras), Publicado en: 22 April 2019

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Bronx's Revival Shows Why Sanctuary for Immigrants is Sound Policy

   From the early 1970’s, when an arson and abandonment cycle destroyed almost a quarter of the Bronx’s housing stock, through the Crack Epidemic of the late 80’s and early 90’s, which caused the borough’s murder rates to soar, the Bronx  served as a cautionary tale for everyone seeking to explain what went wrong in the nations cities. While scores of other cities in the Northeast and Midwest from Buffalo and Baltimore  to Youngstown, Gary and East St Louis would experience the same cycle of abandonment and decay, the Bronx was the example etched in everyone’s minds.

  Today, however, the Bronx  immortalized as an landscape of urban decay in films like “Fort Apache” and novels like “ Bonfire of the Vanities” is nowhere to be found! Every stretch of abandoned land where apartments and factories once stood has been filled with town houses, shopping centers and apartment buildings, the murder rate has plummeted to a fifth of what is was during the crack years, and hundreds of new churches mosques and restaurants have opened up.

      What has happened to turn the Bronx from a symbol of Urban Decay into the nations Great Urban Success Story. Some of this is a result of enlightened urban policy by New York’s state and city governments, some as a result of New York’s dramatic revival as a center of global commerce, but much of it is a result of the Bronx becoming a destination of choice for hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many legal, many undocumented. As gentrification has raised rents in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, the Bronx has been the recipient of large immigrant streams from West Africa, the Dominican  Republic, Mexico, and South Asia.  The results can be observed by anyone walking through, driving through, or taking public transportation through the Bronx. New stores and restaurants reflecting diverse ethnic cultures popping up everywhere, people speaking Twi and Bengali as well as Spanish on streets and public conveyances; and women in hijabs walking and shipping in neighborhood as far apart as Highbridge and Parkchester. The immigrant presence has also revitalized Bronx schools- among 100 student visitors to Fordham from PS 140 in Morrisania- we counted families from 27 different countries.

       If you want to know why policy makers in NY City and NY State support sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants, look no further than the Bronx and other once decayed and dangerous parts of the city that immigration has helped revive. Immigration may be the single most important engine spurring  economic revival of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, if you think I am wrong compare what has happened to the Bronx to what has happened to decayed neighborhoods in cities which have NOT received mass immigration- cities like Buffalo, Youngstown, Baltimore and Gary. The most decayed areas still look like they did 25 years ago.

   Intelligent policy makers and urban planners in New York know that any policy which destabilizes immigrant neighborhoods threatens the economic viability of the entire city. They will not only challenge the Trump Administrations narrative about immigration as a source of crime and danger, they will use every policy at their disposal to protect immigrants already here

Friday, January 24, 2020

Woodie Guthrie and Billie Holiday- Revolutionizing Music and Society in the Great Depression

The Great Depression was a moment in US history when two features of American life in the 1920's were decisively challenged- the unchecked leadership of the nation  by its business elite,  and the rigid segregation of Blacks in all areas of social and economic life  As the nation's economy collapsed, and a large percentage of its population experienced poverty and insecurity on an unprecedented scale, radical activists- some of them Socialists and Communists-  organized protests which challenged the idea that  the leadership by the rich, and the segregation and stigmatization of Black people was good for the nation as a whole. In fact, they argued the opposite- that if the nation was to be saved, its working people, not its wealthy elite had to take the lead, and that Black people had to be an integral part of every movement for progress and national renewal. Little by little, these ideas began to influence political discourse, labor organizing, journalism and literature. and by the end of the decade,  popular culture and popular music  Though racism remained virulent in all spheres of American life, the Depression marked a time when a critical mass of whites began to join with blacks in movements to protest lynching, employment discrimination, limitations on voting rights, and segregation in all its forms. These anti-racist  protests drew strength from, and were often connected to, an unprecedented upheaval of America's working people, resulting in the funding of  government aid to the jobless, the beginnings of a social safety net and the unionization of the nation's largest industries, efforts in which Black people played an important part

Popular music of the Depression reflected, and at times reinforced these changes in the way the nation saw itself and conducted its business.  For the first time in many years, artists began singing  about the hardships faced by the poor, the displaced and the homeless; others challenged racial barriers in their lyrics, their choice of accompanists and the audiences they sang for. Songs which would never  have seen the light of day in the 1920's turned into some of the most memorable cultural products of the Depression years- in part because of their eloquence, in part because they fit a new vision of American society promoted by intellectuals, academics, and political activists.   As the the nation's most respected businesses, its banks and largest corporations, either failed or approached collapse, and as white workers who were promised security if they drew the color line  fell into poverty and despair, artists who sang of rebels and commoners as the nation’s true heroes, or who broke the color line in the way they performed as well as in lyrics, began to attract and audience.

Two artists who best symbolized the reinvention of American identity during the Depression years were Woodie Guthrie and Billie Holiday. Guthrie, a white farmer and laborer who grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, was part of a generation of displaced people who were driven off the land by bankruptcy and dust storms during the early years of the Depression and who tried to make a life for themselves in California, where there was still a demand  for hourly workers in the factory like farms of that state which had once heavily depended on Mexican labor. .The humiliation of being transformed from proud independent farmers into hoboes riding the rails or migrant laborers  living in tents and shanties  ruled by over by gun toting straw bosses and foreman was the subject of Guthrie's songs, as they were of John Steinbeck's novel "Grapes of Wrath"  First sung around the camp fire to fellow "Okies", they were picked up by a Los Angeles radio station, and became an instant sensation for their vivid imagery describing the humiliation of the nation's poor along with their  angry condemnation of  bankers and employers who profited from others misery. Within months, Guthrie found himself invited to perform in union halls where a reinvigorated labor movement was seeing to organize the nation's working poor, and in concert venues where music of the common people was being presented  as the musical accompaniment of a popular upheaval that would save the nation.  Guthrie, angry and prolific, gave voice to the rage and pathos of the displaced in songs like "I Ain't Got No Home"  "Pretty Boy Floyd" and "Do Re Mi" and turned a song about the injustice of private property-"This Land in Your Land,” into a new patriotic anthem.  Almost a century later, these songs  continue to inspire those motivated to sing about injustice :

" As through this land I've traveled, I've seen some funny men, some will rob you with a six gun, some with a fountain pen As through this land I've traveled, as through this land i've roamed, you’ll never see an outlaw drive a family from their home"  ( Pretty Boy Floyd)

"Gambling man is rich and the working man is poor, I ain't got no home, in this world any more"
(I Ain't Got No Home.)

Billie Holiday, whose music had and still has an equal impact to Guthrie's, carved out a career through a voice possessing such emotional power, reinforced by an exquisite sense of timing, that the best jazz musicians of her era wanted her to front their bands even if it meant shattering racial barriers. Raped, sexually exploited, brutalized by police on numerous occasions,  starting before she even reached her teens, Holiday, a Harlem resident, had an ethereal, haunting voice that left musicians and audiences equally mesmerized, and she found herself asked, while still in her teens, to front the nation's greatest white swing band, the Bennie Goodman Orchestra.
The Harlem community in which this quiet musical revolution occurred, was one where racial barriers were being shattered on a daily basis-not only were interracial bands of Communists putting the furniture back of evicted families and marching on relief centers; there were “Don't buy where you can't work" campaigns to end discrimination in Harlem stores, led by Black nationalists. and weekly marches to "Free the Scottsboro Boys" ( 9 Alabama youth facing a death sentence on a trumped up rape charge), When Bennie Goodman put a black singer in front of his white band,  and later stared adding black musicians to his orchestra, he was responding to an emerging sense that racism was part of the reason why the nation had fallen on hard times.  But Holiday, arguably the greatest song stylist in American history, put a face and a sound on this emerging ethos.  Holiday began touring with all Black bands, all white bands, and racially mixed ones, leading to a life of turmoil, trouble and brilliant achievement.  She never escaped the wounds of racism- and found herself on the verge of addiction and imprisonment on numerous occasions. But she was also called upon to sing the most important song of her era
on any subject- "Strange Fruit"-an anti lynching anthem of such power that it still haunts us. Not only was this song written for Holiday by a Bronx school teacher named Abel Meerpool, but it was performed for the first time, in 1939, in the first openly interracial club  in the United States-“Cafe Society."  For the next 15 years, Holiday would perform this song before hushed audiences in clubs throughout the country, transforming  the nation's ugly legacy of racial violence into a sonic memory that no one could ever forget.

These two great artists- products of poverty and  hardship and in Holiday's case, the extremes of racist cruelty- are still with us,-their lives and lyrics a critique of how we live that continues to influence some of our best musicians, and our most impassioned fighters for a just nation and a just world

Appropriating Black Music While Segregating Black People: The Paradox of 1920’s American Culture

The period from the beginning of World War I to the onset of the Great Depression was one of change, turmoil, tragedy, resistance and great cultural creativity among Black Americans. More than 1 million Black people left the rural South for the Urban North and Midwest during those years, seeking higher incomes and greater freedom, but encountering levels of violence and segregation that sometimes equaled, if not exceeded what they encountered in the rural South.Race Riots- which sometimes were more like Racial Pogroms- took place in Chicago, East St Louis and Washington DC during the first part of that period, alongside the mass killings in Elaine Arkansas and Longwood Texas, and the unprecedented destruction of the wealthiest Black community in the nation in Tulsa Oklahoma in 1921

Despite this violence, and despite fierce discrimination in housing and labor markets, enough Black people got jobs in stockyards, steel mills, and auto factories to assure that Black urban communities began to flourish in a score of Northern cities, and with them a vibrant black press and a number of important resisitance movements. The NAACP grew rapidly during those years, along with the National Urban League, but they were dwarfed in size by Marcus Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association, the largest mass movement among Blacks in US History. A literary movement called the Harlem Renaissance also emerged in those years as well as the first emergence of recorded music aimed at a Black audience. The first Great Migration led to an expansion of a Black consumer market for commodities ranging from newspapers, to books, to hair products and recorded music as well as the opening of clubs and theaters catering to black audiences.

One result of this was an explosion of music created and marketed in Black communities which combined African polyrhythms and syncopation with European instrumentation, which encouraged dancing and vocal improvisation, and incorporated an irreverent and something erotic atmosphere where it was performed. This music, sometimes called "Race Music" sometimes called Jazz, captured the imagination of whites wherever they heard it, but did not lead to any substantial crossing of racial barriers in the music's performance and consumption. When whites began performing the music, they did not include any Black artists in their bands, and when whites went to hear Black artists perform as they did at numerous clubs in Harlem, they insisted that no Blacks be allowed in the audience,

No greater example of this astonishing record of appropriation and exclusion can be found than in the 1930 film "King of Jazz" which after claiming that the music the film highlighted had roots "in the African Jungle" then proceed to annoint a white orchestra leader, Paul Whiteman, "The King of Jazz" while presenting scores of while musicians and dancers in evening wear performing George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue."

This was done at a time when arguably the two greatest jazz musicians of the first half of the 20th Century, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, were reaching their creative peak!  But so powerful was the belief, not only in the South, but the North and Midwest, that the prosperity and stability of the nation required the preservation of white racial superiority, that Blacks were rigidly segregated and socially isolated  even when performing music they had created 

Not until the Depression destabilized the economy and political system, and drove large portions of the white population in the country into poverty, was even limited headway made in integrating the creation, performance and audience for popular music.