Tidbits - February 6, 2014

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Pete Seeger

He sang it raw, he sang it rough.
It hit the air as clear and tough.
It wasn't nice, it wasn't sweet.
It was the truth, its name was Pete.

Seymour Joseph

Another Pete Seeger story - three of them

Much has been written and recalled about Pete Seeger's life and legacy.  It has caused many of us to reflect on our past.

At Pete Seeger's 90th Birthday Celebration at Madison Square Garden in 2009, Bruce Springsteen included in his heartfelt remarks - "Pete, you outlived the Bastards!"

At a 2001 conference in Los Angeles at Occidental College the focus was the future of Los Angeles.  At that time my 87 year old husband, Frank Wilkinson was a participant.  During the Q&A a young activist asked Frank what advice he could give them, to which Frank replied, "Keep on doing what you're doing, take care of yourselves and then you can outlive the bastards".

Frank was blacklisted from the Los Angeles Public Housing Authority in 1952 and spent the remainder of his life as a civil liberties worker.  When called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) he, as did Pete Seeger, challenged the Committee on the basis of the First Amendment protection. Both were convicted.  Frank was sentenced to a year in Federal Prison and Pete Seeger was blacklisted for many years.  Upon Frank's release from prison Pete gave a concert at Carnegie Hall in 1962 in honor of Frank and Carl Braden, who was Frank's co-companion on the case.

In Chicago 1976 Pete performed in A Concert in Celebration of the Defense of the Bill of Rights honoring Frank, Harvey O'Connor and Richard Criley and the demise of HUAC.   

We need to carry on outliving the bastards!

Donna Wilkinson

When I was a little girl back in the 40's my mother used to sing "Union Maid."  I still know all of the words. Nothing could be more powerful in today's struggles by fast-food, hotel & restaurant, and all low-wage workers.

Claire Carsman

Memories of Pete

Since we're contributing these memories, I thought I would contribute some of my own. They reveal sides of Pete that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere else. They come from two different periods of my life.

When I was a college undergraduate at Queens College in New York City, some of us decided to start a folk song club. For our first public activity, we decided to put on a performance and, naturally, we thought that Pete would be the best choice. This was especially true at that particular point in history, since The Weavers had just been blacklisted and he would probably be "at liberty," as they say.

So, we got in touch with him and he said, "Well, I know you're a fledgling group without ready cash, so I'll charge you a `reverse sliding scale'."

"What was that?" we wondered.

"What that means," he went on, "was that the more people who attend the performance, the less I'll charge you." So, we put on the concert and a thousand people came...and he charged us twenty-five dollars.

It was a typical Pete Seeger concert - lots of joyful audience participation, some songs of pure fun and some with strong political content. But for me, some sixty years later, what I remember most was him pulling out and putting back into his banjo a pair of children's underpants, which he had been using to mute the banjo. He explained that that was what had been "at hand."

The other memory was much, much later, when I had become a choral conductor and arranger. Pete, believing that the entire world should be singing, started a chorus in New York City, called "The StreetSingers." I was asked to conduct. Pete attended every rehearsal, commuting to and from Beacon (where he lived) to the Community Church in Manhattan, where he sang in the Bass section.

When I first came on board, he invited himself over to my house to sleep over. We have a three-bedroom house, one of which was for my wife, Nancy, and me, another was my daughter, Hallie's room; she was then about four. We had converted the third bedroom into a library.

Together, we squeezed Pete's long, lanky frame into the library and we all went to sleep, though I subsequently realized that Pete had not gone to sleep immediately - he undoubtedly had taken in the titles to all our books, since seeing our book collection provided him with an ideal snapshot of who we were. In the morning Nancy and I awoke to find Pete giving Hallie a private concert, which she still remembers two decades later.

It wasn't until a considerable time later that I learned where the money to pay me was coming from. Apparently Pete had been in touch with Bruce Springsteen, praising him for his contributions and complimenting him on remaining artistically honest despite becoming a celebrity. He must have mentioned The StreetSingers, since Bruce had donated enough money to cover my salary for two years.

Everyone is aware that Pete Seeger was a special human being. I contribute these stories to help flesh out just how special he was.

Eugene Glickman

Re: In Defense of Pete Seeger, American Communist - Tidbits - Jan 30

Re Mandel's comment. After he left the CP, Pete reportedly called himself a "communist with a small "c".

Mike Munk

Two of the comments on Pete Seeger, as a communist, and as a Communist, caught my attention. Phyllis Mandel wrote: " It's my understanding of Marxism that in order to be a communist, one must be a member of a Communist Party." My understanding of communism is that to be a communist, you must believe in communism as the desirable form of social organization. You need not be a Marxist, never mind associated with a party that calls itself Communist.

My personal idea of the inherent elements of communism as an ultimate social state, that link the visions of many socialists and anarchists, would include the proposition "to each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities," in both material life and social-cultural activities; the abolition of private property and thereby of class warfare; egalitarian, participatory and mostly localized social decision-making; and a cooperative ethos. On both the socialist-communist side and anarchist-communist side of the big communist split of the 1870s, I believe that these elements are held to make the state unnecessary. Implicit and sometimes explicit in the idea is a view that wars and class wars are social institutions, not inherent features of human nature, and that humanity in our nature also has the capability to institutionalize peace, freedom and cooperation.

The socialist-feminist organization Solidarity, has been circulating an internet meme with a picture of Seeger over a quotation: "I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it." According to "The Hindu", the quotation comes from a New York Times Magazine article from 1995.  A fuller extract is illuminating:

    Q: How have your politics changed?

    A: I like to say I'm more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other. My father, Charles Seeger, got me into the Communist movement. He backed out around '38. I drifted out in the 50's. I apologize [in his recent book] for following the party line so slavishly, for not seeing that Stalin was a supremely cruel misleader.

    I still call myself a communist, because communism is no more what Russia made of it than Christianity is what the churches make of it. But if by some freak of history communism had caught up with this country, I would have been one of the first people thrown in jail. As my father used to say: "The truth is a rabbit in a bramble patch. All you can do is circle around and say it's somewhere in there."

    I've been trying to write a song for years on the general theme of "don't give up." Now I just quote the bumper sticker: "There's no hope, but I may be wrong." I've been saying it so much that people think it's mine, but it's not. "

Insofar as David Laibman's debate with Bhaskar Sunkara have to do with Pete Seeger at all, and how he viewed himself and the issue, it would seem that Sunkara has the better part of the argument. Seeger clearly did distinguish between as "good communism" that he continued to embrace to the end of his life (I have seen another similar quote from 2005), and the "bad" Communist Party affiliation of his young adulthood of which he later became ashamed, and for which he explicitly apologized.

Of course, Laibman's point is broader than Seeger, and surely his point that the moral-political choices people make are rarely simple is true -- we live in a world in which there are no clean hands. And yet I wonder, if someone put forward a similarly structured argument to defend Cold War anti-communist liberalism and socialism/social democracy, and their complicity with or acquiescence to say mass-murderous U.S. warfare Vietnam and Cambodia, which is probably the most direct parallel in scale and direct responsibility to the vile Soviet crimes under Stalin, in would Laibman accept it?

In fact, it seems to me that Sunkara's argument handles the complexities of choices faced by individual Communists and communists in the U.S. during the Stalin period more persuasively than Laibman's. The paradox today, if not quite irony, is that the combination of Cold War repression and self-destructive Leninist sectarianism (beginning with Zinoviev and Stalin's murderous variety, enabled by the structures Lenin and Trotsky helped create, and its echoes outward through Trotskyism, Khruschevite "revised Stalinism," and Maoism) has left the Left so weak that the moral questions once asked about Left complicity with Stalin's crimes overseas for the sake of domestic politics, or with murderous U.S. imperial wars, are now merely about pantomime poses of no consequence. Should leftists accept imperial war for the sake of backing Center Right Democrats as a feeble and ineffective alternative to the ultra-right at home, or embrace violently obscurantist religious ideologues and their oppressive actions within their own societies, in the name of "anti-imperialism"? As far as I am concerned, any kind of communism or Communism which embraces either of those poses is "bad communism," but what's just as sad is that it doesn't matter any more than leftists' choices about fantasy football or Dungeons and Dragons.

Christopher Lowe

Re: Open Letter from NY Jews to Mayor de Blasio: `AIPAC does not speak for us'

I'm sure that I'm not the only reader who will seize the opportunity to add his or her voice to those affixed to the "open letter from NY Jews to Mayor de Blasio."  I had been looking forward to doing so in response to what may be the only blemish on de Blasio's record.

Henry Foner

Re: Rosa Parks: Angry, Not Tired; She'd Be 101 Today

Because I am old, and know this story, I forget that younger people have no idea of the real story - I am eager to pass this on to contacts in and around the pacifist movement.

David McReynolds

Re: The Day We Lost Atlanta - How 2 Lousy Inches of Snow Paralyzed a Metro Area of 6 Million

"Since the 1950s, the car - and the highway - has dominated Atlanta's transportation system."

just substitute "america's" for "atlanta's"...there are regional aspects to the problem but it is national, even global, and needs to be solved with action motivated with that in mind, or it won't be solved at all.

Frank Scott

Very good work Rebecca Burns!

Kimberly Bridges

Re: How the NSA Threatens National Security

Good article on stupidity of "collect it all" quantity over quality approach but be careful of your main premise regarding the ricin attack on August 21 in Syria. As, even in hindsight and months later, no real consensus or solid evidence as to who attacked Ghouta exists.  As many commenters note and which Sy Hersh and others later exposed, there's a big difference in the (extremely flimsy) intelligence case that Kerry et al attempted to make and what the actual (internally contradictory) intelligence the U.S. possesses and possessed.  Huge controversy remains to this day.  Whatever actual intel the U.S. did have remains secret so it's hard to assess but at very least the trajectory theory (referred to by Samantha Powers and used by the NYT and Human Rights Watch) has been significantly discredited. The NYT was forced to print a retraction and two weapons experts recently reported as follows in late January, 2014 (see MIT report: "Possible Implications of Faulty US Technical Intelligence in the Damascus Nerve Agent Attack of August 21, 2013"):

    "Richard Lloyd, a former UN weapons inspector, and Theodore Postol, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), published a report which challenges the ballistic data used by U.S. intelligence services in connection with the 21 August 2013 massacre in Ghouta, a Damascus suburb.

    The authors show that the sarin-laden rockets could not have been fired from a distance of more than 2 kilometers from their point of impact. Based on the intelligence maps published by the Pentagon, they concluded that under no circumstances can Syria be held accountable for the massacre."
Coleen Rowley

Re: Staples Plucks Postal Jobs

[Many thanks to the artist, Mike Konopacki, for sharing his cartoon with Portside.]

Re: Labor Demands, Organizes, Obama Responds

$10.10 is worse than low hangin fruit. It would, at best, take us back 46 years to 1968 minimum purchasing power.  IF we calculated not merely cost of living but increases in labor productivity the rate would extrapolate to $21.92.

Martin Morand

Re: Liberated and Unfree, Douglas R. Egerton's `Wars of Reconstruction'

However, and very disappointing Eric Foner, who is usually spot on, on all issues of Reconstruction, neglected to mention , that Reconstruction did not provide equal citizenship for all people. Women were specifically excluded from the 14th amendment's definition of citizen and denied the right to vote.

Barbara Winslow

The real "failure" of Reconstruction happened even before Reconstruction began: it was the decision to not break up the large estates and distribute land to the former slaves (and poor whites). This was the "Forty Acres and a Mule" promise, which was implemented in only a very few places. With land ownership and hence economic power still in the hands of the planter class, Reconstruction was doomed before it ever started. See The Invention of the White Race, Vol I, by Theodore Allen.

Don Pelles

Re: Worker Education: Setting the Record Straight - Brooklyn College and Worker Education continued

Good to read this long letter.  A much shorter version would fit the NYT parameters for printable letters.  A challenge, but worth the  attempt.  Btw, I believe casting aspersions on NYT writers is not within their acceptable range. I write this as no fan of NYT editorial standards.

Tom Gogan

Re: We're Losing This Drug War

No . . . we've already lost the drug war, long ago.

What might be more relevant here is to make note of the enforcement, and prison-industrial complex industries, which have much to lose should the current prohibitions actually be reversed or even reduced to a lesser level of enforcement.

Charles Ostermann


When the government - any government -  prohibits popular addictive substances, it sets up the criminal gangs in business.  The war WITH drugs against the population = the prison torture mass incarceration new jim crow complex.   Like  nicotine & alcohol, the answer is legalization regulation taxation education rehabilitation.   Addiction is MEDICAL, not criminal. The    unbelievable, unspeakable monstrosity of prohibition - remember Prohibition ? - must end.

Matthew Borenstein 

Re: Christie, Clapper and other Officials who should be in Jail instead of Snowden

I am glad to see an article with outrage. I am very disappointed in Obama. I am beginning to worry about Snowden as he only has a year of protection in Russia. I gather no other country has offered him asylum. I wondered if he might apply to Canada as a political refugee? I suppose the Harper government would not do that as U.S. and Canadian spies are working hand in glove and want to punish Snowden for showing them up. There need to be some mass protests to protect him, so that the privileged see that the rest of us want an honest man protected. I was hoping Germany would take him in. What are we going to do for him?

Laurel MacDowell

Re: U.S. Unions Still Divided on Keystone XL Pipeline

What the pipeline would cost could better be spent on our infrastructure and existing pipelines!

Aaron Libson

Excellent New Musical Video - "Close Guantanamo"- by Stephen Longfellow Fiske & Robert Corsini  ~ Sung to the Song Guantanamera

"Close Guantanamo"

I am introducing a music video project, Close Guantanamo, which I have just completed with filmmaker Robert Corsini. The project is based upon the popular Cuban folk song, Guantanamera -- and is dedicated to the life and work of the late Pete Seeger.

I feel his spirit with this project. When I first heard the song, Guantanamera, performed by Pete Seeger many years ago -- it was a lifting, romantic melody that immediately captured me -- unforgettable. It was a popular song in Cuba, descriptive of the writer's romantic vision of a young woman of Guantanamo. Over the years, the song became the framework for poets and musicians to express themselves. Often the expressions reflected a romantic closeness to the land, solidarity with common people and those who are less fortunate and oppressed, social sentiments, as well as capturing the tonality and melodic beauty of the place.

At a meeting of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), when the subject of Guantanamo prison was being discussed, Reverend Ignacio Consuela suggested that, "Fiske should write new lyrics to Guantanamera reflecting closing Guantanamo." I took the challenge and with the support of ICUJP, the result is this music video calling for America to shutdown Guantanamo Bay prison.

Guantanamo Prison represents the lowest levels that human intention and endeavor can reach. The violence, the war consciousness, the torture, the inhumanity, the violation of rights, the damage of the spectacle to our international relations, the cost in dollars, and the emotional and psychological cost to the collective consciousness of humanity should never be what a democracy creates. Guantanamo sits like a cancerous tumor metastasized through the military/industrial/corporate system, which builds empire through the war machine. Any righteous human being of conscience and some semblance of humanity would condemn the nightmare of Guantanamo.

Thank you for reviewing this video. Listen and watch and share it in your communities and circles, support peace and justice efforts, go to gatherings, and remember how Pete would say, "Sing it Out". As President Obama inches closer to his pledge to close Guantanamo, may this work serve as some small catalyst in that direction.

Yours in Peace,
Stephen Longfellow Fiske:

Egyptian Revolution in Perspective - Forum - New York - Feb. 8

The Egyptian Revolution in Perspective
Saturday, February 8 - 1pm
LGBT Center 208 W. 13th Street, NY, NY

A public forum marking the anniversary of Mubarak's resignation, and the continuing struggle for bread, justice and dignity!
Three years since the Revolution pushed Mubarak out of power, the military has regained its control of the country's politics and media, the Muslim Brotherhood is banned and supporters have been detained and massacred for peaceful protests, and now the left and the revolution's leaders are being jailed and repressed.
In this climate of fear and repression, the regime has pushed through despotic anti-protest laws and a new undemocratic constitution.
Yet protests against all the above, defense campaigns for framed-up revolutionaries, and workers' strikes continue.
What are the revolution's prospects? How can we build solidarity with the victims of repression? What is our responsibility in continuing to spread the word on the Revolution's example, and how does the Egyptian Revolution today fit in with the region-wide uprising?

Sponsored by the MENA Solidarity Network - US
For more information:
https://www.facebook.com/MENASolidarityUS and https://menasolnetus.wordpress.com/

SF Educational/Action Conference-Come Join The Fight Against VEOLIA Stop Privatization - Bay Area - Feb. 8

Saturday, February 8 -- 1:00 - 6:00 PM

Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts
2868 Mission St., San Francisco

$10 Sliding scale (No one turned away)

Come Join The Fight Against VEOLIA Stop Privatization, Defend Human Rights & The Environment

The Veolia Group is a French owned multi-national, which plays a growing role in the world economy pushing privatization of water resources, transportation and other public services.

In the Bay Area, Veolia has pushed for the privatization of water treatment in Richmond, California, which has led to union busting and environmental degradation.

Thomas P. Hoch, Vice President of Veolia Transportation Services was hired to represent BART management in recent negotiations and sought to attack the ATU 1555, SEIU 1021 and AFSCME 3993 union locals. It is also involved in privatizing transportation services and attacking union such as the Boston School Bus Drivers USW 8751, where they have blatantly violated their union contract and fired 4 of the union leaders.

They are still fighting for their jobs back.

Globally, the Veolia group is the largest water privatization company and various environmental groups have tracked its record of destruction and corruption. In the occupied West Bank, subsidiaries of the group operated segregated buses to illegal Israeli settlements, operated an illegal settler dump

and ran a light rail system that sustains the Israeli settlements around Jerusalem.

Communities all around the world have organized against Veolia and managed to get their cities and unions to pass anti privatization resolution declaring their cities "Veolia Free".

In light of the importance of their role in the United States and internationally, on February 8, 2014, we will be having an international education conference at the Mission Cultural Center. Topics will include their labor, environmental and human rights record and what working people and the public can do about their activities.

We invite your union, organization to endorse and support this conference.

Endorsers: UTU 1741, San Francisco Labor Council, AFSC, Food And Water Watch, United Public Workers For Action, Inter Union Organizing Committee at CDPH, Labor Video Project, Workers World Party, Marcha Patriotica, International Action Center, American Friends Service Committee, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink, Transport Workers Solidarity Commit- tee TWSC

For registration and contact: call 415-282-1908

Book Signing - Black Revolutionary: William L. Patterson - Los Angeles - Feb. 11

Dr. Gerald Horne Book signing - Black Revolutionary William Patterson: And the Globalization of the African American Freedom Struggle http://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/36cnb3xd9780252037924.html

February 11 -- Start 7:00 PM

4331 Degnan Blvd
Los Angeles, CA
(323) 290-1048

A leading African American Communist, lawyer William L. Patterson (1891-1980) was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the defeat of Jim Crow by virtue of his leadership of the Scottsboro campaign in the 1930s. In this watershed biography, historian Gerald Horne shows how Patterson helped to advance African American equality by fostering and leveraging international support for the movement. Horne highlights key moments in Patterson's global activism: his early education in the Soviet Union, his involvement with the Scottsboro trials and other high-profile civil rights cases of the 1930s to 1950s, his 1951 "We Charge Genocide" petition to the United Nations, and his later work with prisons and the Black Panther Party.

Through Patterson's story, Horne examines how the Cold War affected the freedom movement, with civil rights leadership sometimes disavowing African American leftists in exchange for concessions from the U.S. government. He also probes the complex and often contradictory relationship between the Communist Party and the African American community, including the impact of the FBI's infiltration of the Communist Party. Drawing from government and FBI documents, newspapers, periodicals, archival and manuscript collections, and personal papers, Horne documents Patterson's effectiveness at carrying the freedom struggle into the global arena and provides a fresh perspective on twentieth-century struggles for racial justice.

Come early and enjoy the discussion.

Was Organized Labor Once a Poor People's Movement - Forum - New York - Feb. 21

The Murphy Institute for Worker Education & Labor Studies invites you to a forum in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the War on Poverty.

"Was Organized Labor Once a Poor People's Movement and Can It Be Again?"


Friday February 21, 2014 -- 8:30 to 10:15 am

25 West 43rd St, 18th floor
Murphy Institute, SPS, CUNY

A light breakfast will be served.

RSVP to Eloiza Morales at 212-642-2029 or eloiza.morales@mail.cuny.edu

The Murphy Institute is part of the School of Professional Studies and the CUNY Graduate School.

Volunteers Needed: Arkansas Poultry Worker Survey

Interfaith Worker Justice

Join Arkansas Poultry Workers During Spring Break
Bring Change to  Meat Processing Working Conditions

Workers in chicken processing factories do some of the hardest and most dangerous work in the U.S. Help interview workers from chicken factories as part of a workers' center's state-wide survey documenting violations of: wage and hour; minimum wage; health and safety; discrimination; sexual harassment.

Volunteers will have housing, food, training, and plenty of fascinating, urgent, meaningful work. If you speak Spanish, Haitian, or Marshallese, we really need you! (Volunteers are also needed to interview English-speakers.)

Contact ajanks@iwj.org about the Poultry Worker Spring Break Project.

Source URL: https://portside.org/2014-02-06/tidbits-february-6-2014